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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MAY 23, 2014 Scholars seek Hebrew Bible's original text00but did one ever exist? By Anthony Weiss LOS ANGELES (JTA)--Ac- cording to Jewish tradition, the Torah is so sacred that even a single error made on a single letter renders the entire scroll unfit for use. And yet the Hebrew Bible, including the Torah (its first five books), is riddledwith cor- ruptions and alterations that have accrued and been passed down over the millennia. Now an international team of scholars is working to fix all that. For the past 14 years, the team behind "The Hebrew Bible: A Critical Edition" has been laboring on a project to sift through the text and reverse the accumulated imperfections and changes, returning the books of the Hebrew Bible to something like their original versions. The first volume is due out later this year. "It is a little chutzpadik," acknowledged Ronald Hendel, HBCE's general editor and a professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of California, Berkeley. It's also a messy, painstak- ing and controversial en- deavor that has been criticized by some of the world's leading biblical scholars. The critics argue that what Hendel and his team are attempting to do is misleading, counterproduc- tive or fiat-out impossible. "I think it will actually end up causing more problems," said Michael Segal, a senior lecturer in Bible at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The difficulties in the proj- ect stem from the Bible's long history of transmission from scribe to scribe through the centuries. HBCE is trying to reverse engineer that process, to sift through the various extant texts of the Bible and by analyzing grammatical glitches, stylistic hitches and contradictions of the texts establish a reading closer to if not the original, then at least the archetype on which the subsequent copies were based. The goal is to rewind the clock as far as possible toward the time when the various biblical texts attained their canonical form. around the start of the Common Era. The text of the Hebrew Bible now being used descends from what is called the Masoretic text, which was assembled between the sixth and 10th centuries by Jewish scribes and scholars in present-day Israel and Iraq. But even among the various versions of the Masoretic text there are subtle differences. Many of today's printings of the Hebrew Bible come from the Second Rabbinic Bible, a text assembled in 16th- century Venice. The Jewish Publication Society uses the Leningrad Codex, which at ap- proximately 1,000 years old is the oldest complete surviving text. Still others use the 10th- century Aleppo Codex, which the Torah scholar Maimonides praised for its accuracy but has been missing much of the Torah since a 1947 fire. Contemporary scholars seeking to understand the history of the Hebrew Bible's text utilize a range of other sources, including ancient Greek and Syriac translations, quotations from rabbinic manuscripts, the Samari- tan Pentateuch and others. U.S. congressmen on the Temple Mount shocked by discrimination against Jews Many of these are older than the Masoretic text and often contradict it, in ways small and large. Some of the errors are natural outgrowths of the process of scribal transmis- sion-essentially typos in which the scribe mistook one letter for another, skipped a word or transposed words. In other cases the scribes may have changed the text intentionally to make it more comprehensible or pious. The level of variation differs from book to book. Hendel estimates that it ranges from approximately 5 percent in Genesis to some 20-30 per- cent in books such as Samuel and Jeremiah. While many changes are small, others are more substantial. Just before Cain slays Abel, the Masoretic text announces that Cain speaks but offers no dialogue. Both the Samaritan Pentateuch and the ancient Greek translation called the Septuagint supply the miss- ing speech: "Let us go out to the field." In this instance, emending the text is relatively straightforward. But elsewhere the task be- comes complicated. The book of Jeremiah in the Septuagint is approximately 15-20 per- cent shorter than the version in the Masoretic text, and the text appears in a different order. In this case. editors are not just dealing with glitches butwith entirely differentver- sions of the same text. The scholars behind "The Hebrew Bible: A Critical Edition" argue that textual scholars now have enough evidence at their disposal to make reasonable judgments about where the text has been corrupted, why and how to fix it thanks in large part to the discovery and publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls. These ancient manuscripts, though largely fragmentary, are by far the oldest Hebrew copies of the Bible, and they gave scholars a key by which to judge the accuracy of the subsequent texts. "The Dead Sea Scrolls have created a new era in the study of textual history of the He- brew Bible," Hendel said. "The kind of thing that we're doing couldn't have been done even 15 to 20 years ago because the field wasn't really ripe." Hendel's team uses a two- fold approach: In the case of the more limited variations, they make the correction in the text according to their best judgment while noting the variants and the reasoning in the accompanying notes. Where entirely separate ver- sions seem to exist, as in Jer- emiah, HBCE will reproduce both side by side, indicating multiple editions. The effort is now bearing fruit as the Society of Biblical Literature is preparing this fall to publish the first HBCE volume, "Proverbs," edited by Michael Fox, an emeritus professor at the University of PAGE 11A Wisconsin-Madison. Hendel hopes the project will con- tinue to print a new volume every year or two. (Up until a few months ago, the project was slated for printing by Ox- ford University Press and was known as the Oxford Hebrew Bible. Hendel said the project and Oxford parted ways over the scope of an electronic edi- tion. Oxford did not return a call seeking comment.) There have been various previous attempts to produce a single, corrected text of the Bible dating back for over a century. All have foundered due to the inherent difficulty in peering back through the centuries. Instead, the preferred method has been to produce what is known in the field as a "diplomatic edition'--that is, a reprint ofsomeversion of the Masoretic text accompanied by notes listing possible vari- ants and corrections that one could make to the text. In fact, there are two such scholarly biblical projects currently taking place. One, the Hebrew Univer- sity Bible Project, was estab- lished in 1956 to assemble every known textual variant of the Hebrew Bible. Unlike HBCE, the project is designed to assemble variations, not to choose one that is correct. Massively comprehensive and aimed largely at high-level scholars, the HUBP has pub- Ttonpe14A Shown here (l-r): Congressman Ron DeSantis and his wife, Casey Black DeSantis; Rabbi Chaim Richman, international director of the Temple Institute, and Congressman Andrew Harris and his wife, Sylvia "Cookie" Harris. Two U.S. congressmen participated in a fact-finding mission of the Temple Mount last week. Congressmen An- drew Harris (R- Maryland) and Ron DeSantis (R-Florida) and their wives witnessed first- hand how non-Muslims are discriminated against at the holy site. Rabbi Chaim Rich- man, international director of the Temple Institute led the group, pointing out religious  and historical landtliarks along the way. The group witnessed how outwardly looking Jewish groups are singled out and ac- companied by both Jordan Is- lamic Waqf guards and Israeli police officers that scrutinize their behavior for signs of prayer or non-Muslim wor- ship. In addition to the usual entourage, the congressmen were also followed by an Israeli intelligence officer that filmed their every move for much of the visit. Both were clearly moved by the experience and expressed concern at the lack of religious freedom for Jews and Chris- tians at the site. Congressman Harris ex- pressed his concern at the lack of religious freedom on the site. "It's a pleasure to be here on the Temple Mount, obviously an area of religious significance for many religions including Christians like myself, Jews and Muslims... but I'm actu- ally surprised that access is so limited and especially the discrimination against Jews above any other religion in visits to the Temple Mount. It surprises me as an American, believing in religious free- dom, that [such conditions] would exist." "It was an honor to guide these two distinguished congressmen and their wives on the Temple Mount, holiest spot in the world, and focal point of mankind's spiritual aspirations," said Richman. "The congressmen, as part of a 'Jewish group,' were able to experience first-hand, what it is like to be victims of anti-Jewish discrimination. Were Jews to be treated in this manner in any other country, the State of Israel would protest vehemently against such grievous dis- crimination." The congressmen are in Israel as part of a week- long visit organized by the Yes Israel Committee. The trip was arranged in con- junction with the YESHA Council, which represents the 375,000 Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria. In ad- dition to the Temple Mount tour, highlights of the trip included Hebron, ancient Shiloh, Ariel University and various strategic outlooks that overlook 70 percent of Israel's population. Health & Fitness Issue An Annual Issue Published By HERITAGE Florida Jewish News and Featuring a Variety of Thought-Provoking Articles on Health and Fitness Related Subjects Publication Date: June 20, 2014 Reaching a Responsive, Health-Conscious Market Deadline for this Important Issue is Wednesday, June 11,.2014 CALL TODAY TO RESERVE YOUR SPACE 407-834-8787