Eastern & Western Readings

Besides the various readings called the Keri and Cetib, which the Jews admit to be the oldest, there are two other kinds of various readings which deserve our notice, because they are given in some printed bibles. The first are those of the eastern and western Jews; the second, those between the manuscripts of Ben Asher and Ben Naphtali. By the eastern Jews we are to understand those of Babylon; by the western, those of Palestine. At Babylon and in Palestine, after the destruction of the city and temple, there were famous schools for many ages, and between the learned men of these places much rivalship existed; so that each party, by following their own copies, gave rise to a collection of various readings, or corrections of the text, whose antiquity is acknowledged, though it does not appear exactly at what time it was made.

The other collection is called after the heads of two celebrated schools--Ben Asher, at Tiberias, and Ben Naphtali, at Babylon, who were two famous Massorites, that lived about the year 1,030, and were the last of them. Both of these rabbis labored to produce a correct copy of the Scriptures, and the followers of each corrected theirs by that of their master. The variations between them relate to the points, and in but one instance is there any difference in the writing of a word; so that they do not affect the integrity of the text.

What has been said of the integrity of the text of the Old Testament, may be  applied also to the New, in so far as it may he charged with corruptions, in consequence of the negligence of transcribers, as also in consequence of the attempt of heretics to make it conform to their erroneous sentiments. Though it must be admitted that the New Testament text, by being more frequently transcribed than that of the Old, became liable to a greater proportion of various readings, originating from the mistakes of the transcribers; yet thus very circumstance was likewise a sure protection against willful perversion or corruption; for in proportion as copies were multiplied, the difficulty of effecting a general corruption was increased. No such system as that of the Massorites was ever adopted to preserve the purity of the New Testament text; but we have it in our power to use various means for ascertaining what is the true reading of the text, without having recourse to such a plan as that of the Massorah; and concordances, which are now brought to an uncommon degree of perfection, are of great use in preserving it from corruption; in fact, the single one of Buxtorf has done more toward fixing the genuine reading, and pointing out the true meaning of Scripture, than the entire body of the Massoritic notes. We have the consent of the church, in all ages and countries, to prove our copies of the New Testament scriptures authentic, and the authenticity of the Hebrew text is confirmed by Christ and his apostles; and, in concluding this part of the subject, it may be remarked, that the general integrity of the Hebrew text receives additional confirmation from the ancient versions, as will more fully appear hereafter.