Reader question: I forget the name of this practice but I recall seeing an enlarged character at the center point of a book or section of the Masoretic Text. My understanding is that this would assist in the quality control of the scribal process because all of the letters and/or words of a scroll to be copied were counted. Can you please point me to some reliable literature about this scribal practice, when did it originate, was it a specifically Jewish practice or is it known in other cultures, etc.?
Answer: Thanks for this question. The rabbis explained the term soferim, usually translated as “scribes,” as referring to the fact that they counted (Hebrew sofer means to count) because they counted the middle letters and words of books to ensure their accuracy. This is one purpose of large letters in the Hebrew Bible. E. Tov talks about this in detail in his Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible pp. 57-58. I do not know this phenomenon from other cultures, but I can’t claim expertise. See also http://jbq.jewishbible.org/
Reader question: I recently read on your wonderful website:
“The law presumes that meat found in the possession of a non-Jew may have been slaughtered by him. Although forbidden to be eaten, such meat may be sold or benefit may be otherwise derived from it.”
Would you please say a little more about this? Not as it relates to the minim, but specifically as it relates to Gentiles. I have been told by others that Hellenistic Jews in the first century were allowed to eat meat obtained from Gentiles, with the presumption that it had not been sacrificed to idols. Is that true?
Answer: Jews were required to eat meat that was ritually slaughtered. When the New Testament speaks of “eating with Gentiles,” they are talking about “carrion,” that is, non-kosher slaughter meat as well as meat and milk mixed together. I believe that this means that meat in the hands of non-Jews cannot be assumed to be kosher and hence may not be eaten.
Reader question: How do the Dead Sea Scrolls books such as Isaiah differ from the later Greek Septuagint copies – were there multiple copies?
Do they come from two different peoples/groups? When Christians quote Isaiah 53 they add in “pierced” and the Dead Sea Scrolls don’t say pierced.
Answer: The question you ask is very complex. There are a number of Qumran Hebrew biblical manuscripts that actually demonstrate a Vorlage (the underlying Hebrew text) of the textual form preserved in the Greek manuscripts of the Septuagint. However, if we take, for example, the Isaiah A and B manuscripts from Cave 1 from Qumran: Isaiah A is quite close to the Masoretic text in its text form, except that it is written in the Qumran writing practice that includes lengthened endings and a whole variety of linguistic characteristics of a kind of spoken insider dialect known to us only from Dead Sea Scrolls. Isaiah B, on the other hand, is essentially a proto-Masoretic text, the basis of the Hebrew texts used in the synagogue today. However, if we were discussing Jeremiah, we can point to a Hebrew manuscript found… Continue reading