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The Talmud Ketubot 106a states that a standard copy of the Hebrew Bible was kept in the court of the Temple in Jerusalem for the benefit of copyists; there were paid correctors of Biblical books among the officers of the Temple.[1]

The Talmud Yerushalmi Ta'anit 68a, perhaps referring to an earlier time, says that while the Temple was still standing, standard codices of the Pentateuch were officially recognized. These were deposited in the court of the Temple and served as models for accuracy. According to the passage quoted, three were known by the following names respectively: Sefer Me'on, called on account of its reading instead of Deuteronomy 33:27; Sefer Za'aṭuṭe, because of its reading instead of Exodus 24:5; and Sefer Hi, because of its reading with a yod in nine passages instead of eleven. The Masorites, too, seem to have consulted standard manuscripts celebrated for their accuracy in the redaction of the text and in the compilation of the Masoretic glosses.

It is a tenet of halachic Judaism that the Tenach (Bible) has been preserved in its entirety from its original writing until today. Minor variations are mentioned in rabbinic literature, but Jewish law has not found these to imply any differences in meaning or in implication. (This fact has been reinforced by modern scholars who have analyzed the Qumran fragments, see below, indicating that they confirm that the meaning and implication of the text has remained faithful to what we now call the Masoretic Text for more than two thousand years).

The first nine manuscripts described below are referred to as authorities in almost every manuscript of importance. The Aleppo and Leningrad manuscripts have been preserved until the present time.

Codex Muggeh (ספר מוגה)

i.e., the corrected Codex: Quoted by the Masorites either by its full title Sefer Muggeh or simply as Muggeh.

Codex Hilleli (ספר הללי)

The origin of its name is not known. According to Zacuto, this codex was written by a certain Hillel at about 600 of the common era. In his Chronicle, compiled about 1500, Zacuto expresses himself as follows:

"In the year 4957, on the twenty-eighth of Ab (Aug. 14, 1197), there was a great persecution of the Jews in the kingdom of Leon at the hand of the two kingdoms that came to besiege it. At that time they removed thence the twenty-four sacred books which were written about 600 years before. They were written by R. Hillel ben Moses ben Hillel, and hence his name was given to the codex, which was called 'Hilleli.' It was exceedingly correct; and all other codices were revised after it. I saw the remaining two parts of it, containing the Former and Latter Prophets, written in large and beautiful characters; these had been brought by the exiles to Portugal and sold at Bugia in Africa, where they still are, having been written about 900 years ago. Kimḥi in his grammar on Num. x. 4 says that the Pentateuch of the Hillel Codex was extant in Toledo."

Codex Sanbuki

Frequently quoted in the Masorah Parva, and highly praised for its accuracy by Menahem de Lonzano in his "Or Torah." According to Christian D. Ginsburg, the name of this codex is derived from "Zambuki" on the Tigris, to which community it belonged.

Codex Yerushalmi

As attested by Ḳimḥi ("Miklol," ed. Fürth, 1793, p. 184b), the codex was for many years in Saragossa, and was extensively used by the grammarian and lexicographer Ibn Janaḥ. It is often quoted in the Masorah as exhibiting a different orthography from that of the Codex Hilleli.

Codex Jericho, also called Jericho Pentateuch (חומש יריחו)

The name seems to imply that the manuscript embraced only the Pentateuch. It is mentioned by Elijah Levita, in "Shibre Luḥot," as most reliable for the accents.

Codex Sinai (ספר סיני)

Many opinions exist as to the derivation of its name. The most plausible is that it was derived from "Mount Sinai," just as the codices Jericho and Yerushalmi denote the places of their origin. It is mentioned in the Masorah, and is also cited by Elijah Levita in his work quoted above.

Codex Great Maḥzor (מחזורא רבה)

This probably contained the annual or triennial cycle ("Maḥzor") of lessons to be read on week-days, Sabbaths, feasts, and fasts; hence its name.

Codex Ezra

Quoted in the Masorah Parva. A manuscript professing to be a copy of this codex is in the possession of Christian D. Ginsburg.

Codex Babylon (ספר בבלי)

Differences (, "ḥillufin") existed between the Western schools (), the chief seat of which was Tiberias, and the Eastern (), the principal centers of which were Nehardea and Sura, in the reading of many passages; this codex gives the Eastern recension (see Masorah).

Another standard codex which served as a model at the time of Maimonides was that written in the tenth century by the renowned Masorite Aaron ben Moses ben Asher of Tiberias (compare Maimonides, "Yad," Sefer Torah, viii. 4). This codex was for a long time believed to be identical with that preserved in the synagogue at Aleppo (Jacob Saphir, , i. 12b; Grätz, in "Monatsschrift," 1871, p. 6; 1887, p. 30; Strack, "Prolegomena Critica," pp. 44-46). [E. N. Adler ("Kaufmann Gedenkbuch," p. 130) argues that the Aleppo Codex is a copy, not the original; but Wickes ("Hebrew Accentuation," Preface, p. vii., Oxford, 1887) makes it clear that "the statement assigning the codex to (Aaron ben Moses) Ben-Asher is a fabrication." E. G. H.

Aleppo Codex (כתר ארם צובא)

Two celebrated manuscripts believed to be very ancient are still extant in Syria. One of these, the Aleppo (Damascus) Codex, which, according to the inscription on its title-page (added, however, by a later hand), was written in the third century of the common era, belongs to a Jewish family of Damascus named Parḥi, and is exhibited to the inhabitants on feast-days. The other is kept in a grotto by the inhabitants of Jobar near Damascus.

The Aleppo Codex was at one time the oldest complete manuscript of the Hebrew Bible,[2] however approximately one-third of it, including nearly all of the Torah, has been missing since 1947. It is considered the most authoritative document in the masorah ("transmission"), the tradition by which the Hebrew Scriptures have been preserved from generation to generation. The consonants in the codex were copied by the scribe Shlomo ben Buya'a in Israel circa 920. The text was then verified, vocalized, and provided with Masoretic notes by Aaron ben Asher. Ben-Asher was the last and most prominent member of the Ben-Asher dynasty of grammarians from Tiberias, which shaped the most accurate version of the Masorah and, therefore, the Hebrew Bible. Thus, the Aleppo Codex is seen as the most authoritative source document for both the original biblical text and its vocalization (cantillation) as it has been proven to have been the most faithful to the Masoretic principles.

The responsa literature show the Aleppo Codex to have been consulted by Jewish scholars throughout the Middle Ages in many geographically remote locations.

The Rambam (1135-1204) used the Aleppo Codex when he set down the exact rules for writing scrolls of the Torah, Hilkhot Sefer Torah ("the Laws of the Torah Scroll") in his Mishneh Torah. This halachic ruling gave the Aleppo Codex essentially supreme textual authority, even though Maimonides only quoted it for paragraphing and other details of formatting, and not for the text itself. "The codex which we used in these works is the codex known in Egypt, which includes 24 books, which was in Jerusalem," he wrote.

Even modern scholars have analyzed the Aleppo Codex and found it to be the most accurate representation of Masoretic principles to be found in any extant manuscript.

Leningrad Codex

The Leningrad Codex, which dates to approximately the same time as the Aleppo codex, has been claimed to be a product of the Ben-Asher scriptorium. Its colophon says that it was corrected from manuscripts written by Ben-Asher; but it is not known if Ben-Asher himself ever saw it.

Qumran Fragments

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran, dating from c.150 BC–AD 75, show numerous small variations in orthography, both as against the later Masoretic text, and between each other. However, despite these variations, most of the Qumran fragments can be classified as being closer to the Masoretic text than to any other text group that has survived. According to Shiffman, 60% can be classed as being of proto-Masoretic type, and a further 20% Qumran style with bases in proto-Masoretic texts, compared to 5% proto-Samaritan type, 5% Septuagintal type, and 10% non-aligned.[3] Furthermore, according to Haas, most of the texts which vary from the Masoretic type, including four of the Septuagint type manuscript fragments, were found in Cave 4. "This is the cave where the texts were not preserved carefully in jars. It is conjectured, that cave 4 was a geniza for the depositing of texts that were damaged or had textual errors."[4]

Hebrew Text

English Text

Other Hebrew

Other English

Photographic Reproductions


  1. This copy is mentioned in the Aristeas Letter (§ 30; comp. Blau, Studien zum Althebr. Buchwesen, p. 100); in the statements of Philo (preamble to his "Analysis of the Political Constitution of the Jews") and in Josephus (Contra Apion i 8).
  2. There exist scrolls of individual books of the Tanakh which are much older: see Dead Sea scrolls.
  3. Shiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls
  4. Gretchen Haas