Massorites

The class of Jewish doctors called Massorites were grammarians, who engaged with peculiar ardor in the revisal of the Hebrew scriptures. The Massoritic notes and criticisms relate to the verses, words, letters, vowel-points, and accents. All the verses of each book and of each section are numbered, and the amount placed at the end of each in numerical letters, or in some symbolical word formed out of them; the middle verse of each book is also marked, and even the very letters are numbered; and all this is done to preserve the text from any alteration, by either fraud or negligence. For instance, Bereshith, or Genesis, is marked as containing 1,534 verses, and the middle one is at--“And by thy sword thou shalt live” (Gen_27:40). The lines are 4,395; its columns are 43, and its chapters 50. The number of its words is 27,713, and its letters are 78,100. The Massoritic notes, or Massorah, as the work is called, contain also observations on the words and letters of the verses; for instance, how many verses end with the letter samech; how many there are in which the same word is repeated twice or thrice; and other remarks of a similar nature.

It seems now generally agreed upon that the Massorites of Tiberias, during the fourth century of the Christian era, were the inventors of the system of the vowel-points and accents in the Hebrew Bible; and although they multiply them very unnecessarily, it must be allowed that this is the most useful of their works. From the points learn how the text was read in their time, as we know they were guided in affixing them by the mode of reading which then prevailed, and which they supposed to have been traditionally conveyed down from the sacred writers.

The Massoritic notes were at first written in separate rolls, but they are now usually placed in the margin, or at the top and bottom of the page in printed copies. Many opinions are entertained about the authors of them; some think they were begun by Moses; others regard them as the work of Ezra and the members of the great synagogue, among whom were the later prophets; while others refer them entirely to the rabbins of Tiberias, who are usually styled the Massorites, and suppose that they commenced this system, which was augmented and continued at different times by various authors, so that it was not the work of one man, nor of one age. It is not improbable that these notes were begun about the time of the Maccabees, when the Pharisees, who were called the masters of tradition, first began to make their observations on the letter of the law though they were regardless of its spirit. They might have commenced by numbering first the verses, next the words and letters; and then, when the vowel-points were added, others continued the system by making observations on them. On the whole, then it appears that what is called the Massorah is entitled to no greater reverence or attention than may be claimed by any other human compilation; but, at the same time, it must be allowed that it has preserved the Hebrew text from the time it was formed, and conveyed it to us as perfect as any ancient work could be given.