In fifteen passages in the Bible, some words are stigmatized; i.e., dots appear above the letters. (Gen 16:5, 18:9, 19:33, 33:4, 37:12, Num 3:39, 9:10, 21:30, 29:15, Deut. 29:28, 2Sam 19:20, Isaiah 44:9, Ez 41:20, 46:22, Ps 27:13) The significance of the dots is disputed. Some hold them to be marks of erasure; others believe them to indicate that in some collated manuscripts the stigmatized words were missing, hence that the reading is doubtful; still others contend that they are merely a mnemonic device to indicate homiletical explanations which the ancients had connected with those words; finally, some maintain that the dots were designed to guard against the omission by copyists of text-elements which, at first glance or after comparison with parallel passages, seemed to be superfluous. Instead of dots some manuscripts exhibit strokes, vertical or else horizontal. The first two explanations are unacceptable for the reason that such faulty readings would belong to Qere and Ketiv, which, in case of doubt, the majority of manuscripts would decide. The last two theories have equal probability.
In nine passages of the Bible are found signs usually called "inverted nuns", because they resemble the Hebrew letter nun ( נ ) written in some inverted fashion. The exact shape varies between different manuscripts and printed editions. In many manuscripts, a reversed nun is found—referred to as a "nun hafucha" by the masoretes. In some earlier printed editions, they are shown as the standard nun upside down or rotated, because the printer did not want to bother to design a character to be used only nine times. The recent scholarly editions of the Masoretic Text show the reversed nun as described by the masoretes. In some manuscripts, however, other symbols are occasionally found instead. These are sometimes referred to in rabbinical literature as "simaniyot", (markers).
The primary set of inverted nuns is found surrounding the text of Numbers 10:35-36. The Mishna notes that this text is 85 letters long and dotted. This demarcation of this text leads to the later use of the inverted nun markings. Saul Lieberman demonstrated that similar markings can be found in ancient Greek texts where they are also used to denote 'short texts'. During the Medieval period, the inverted nuns were actually inserted into the text of the early Rabbinic Bibles published by Bomberg in the early 16th century. The talmud records that the markings surrounding Numbers 10:35 - 36 were thought to denote that this 85 letter text was not in its proper place. One opinion goes so far as to say that it would appear in another location in a later edition of the Torah!
Bar Kappara considered the Torah known to us as composed of seven volumes in the Gemara "The seven pillars with which Wisdom built her house (Prov. 9:1) are the seven Books of Moses". Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus and Deuteronomy as we know them but Numbers was really three separate volumes Num 1:1 to Num 10:35 followed by Number 10:35-36 and the third text from there to the end of Numbers.
The 85 letter text is also said to be denoted because it is the model for the least number of letters which constitute a 'text' which one would be required to save from fire due to its holiness.
History of the Masorah
The history of the Masorah may be divided into three periods: (1) creative period, from its beginning to the introduction of vowel-signs; (2) reproductive period, from the introduction of vowel-signs to the printing of the Masorah (1525); (3) critical period, from 1525 to the present time.
The materials for the history of the first period are scattered remarks in Talmudic and Midrashic literature, in the post-Talmudical treatises Masseket Sefer Torah and Masseket Soferim, and in a Masoretic chain of tradition found in ben Asher's "Diḳduḳe ha-Ṭe'amim", § 69 and elsewhere.
Jacob ben Hayyim ibn Adonijah, having collated a vast number of manuscripts, systematized his material and arranged the Masorah in the second Bomberg edition of the Bible (Venice, 1524–25). Besides introducing the Masorah into the margin, he compiled at the close of his Bible a concordance of the Masoretic glosses for which he could not find room in a marginal form, and added an elaborate introduction – the first treatise on the Masorah ever produced. In spite of its numerous errors, this work has been considered by some as the "textus receptus" of the Masorah (Würthwein 1995:39), and was used for the English translation of the Old Testament for the King James Version of the Bible.
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