The Masoretes

The Masoretes were a group of Jewish scholars who collected all kinds of grammatical and textual notes in order to preserve the text of the Hebrew Bible. This collection of information was called “Masorah,” a word that means “tradition.”

The work of the Masoretes was related to the work of the sōpěrîm. The word sōpěrîm is generally translated as “scribes.” However, the word literally means “”those who count.” The work of the sōpěrîm was to copy and preserve the transmission of the consonantal text. The work of the Masoretes was to collect information about the text, make corrections when necessary, and make observations about the books, words, and letters of the Bible.

In order to preserve the traditional pronunciation and chants of the words in the text, the Masoretes developed a system of vowel-points and accents. These vowels and accents are never used in the texts used in the liturgy of the synagogue. However, they are used in texts designed for scholarly study.

The following information is an example of the work of the Masoretes. The Masoretes prepared a list of how many times the Hebrew letters appear in the Hebrew Bible.

א Aleph occurs 42,377 times.

ב Beth occurs 38,218 times.

ג Gimel occurs 29,537 times.

ד Daleth occurs 32,530 times.

ה He occurs 47,554 times.

ו Vaw occurs 76,922 times.

ז Zain occurs 22,867 times.

ח Heth occurs 23,437 times.

ט Tet occurs 11,052 times.

י Yod occurs 66,420 times.

כ Kaph occurs 48,253 times.

ל Lamed occurs 41,517 times.

מ Mem occurs 77,778 times.

נ Nun occurs 41,696 times.

ס Samech occurs13,580 times.

ע Ayn occurs 20,175 times.

פ Pe occurs 22,725 times.

צ Tsade occurs 21,882 times.

ק Koph occurs 22,972 times.

ר Resh occurs 22,147 times.

ש Shin occurs 32,148 times.

ת Tav occurs 59,343 times.

The Masoretes applied themselves to the study of the Hebrew Scriptures. Their labor of love and their commitment to the integrity and preservation of the text prevented these Scriptures from perishing in the dispersion of the Jewish people throughout the centuries.

It is true that in the transmission and preservation of the text, the scribes and the Masoretes introduced some conjectures, explanatory notes, and even some corrections of their own. However, notwithstanding these minor changes made by the scribes, their work established the Hebrew text that serves as the basis for the modern translations of the Bible.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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One Response to The Masoretes

  1. Pingback: Who Will Never Die: God or Us? | Claude Mariottini - Professor of Old Testament

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