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There are two basic texts in existence in Hebrew, the false one, edited by Ben Asher, and the true one, edited by Ben Chayyim. Both texts are still referred to as "Masoretic", so care must be taken as to which text is being referred to.
The Ben Asher text was based on a text called the Leningrad Manuscript (B19a; also called simply L), which was dated around 1008 A.D., and differs widely from the Traditional Hebrew Masoretic Old Testament. The Ben Asher is exhibited in Rudolf Kittel's Biblia Hebraica (BHK, 1937) with all of his suggested footnote changes, as well as in the Stuttgart edition of Biblia Hebraica (BHS, 1967-77) with all of their suggested footnote changes. It had apparently not dawned on Kittel (and others) that the Ben Asher version was based on a small handful of corrupt manuscripts. Both of these false Biblia Hebraica (BHK & BHS) Hebrew texts offer in their footnotes about fifteen to twenty suggested changes per page (changes from the authentic Ben Chayyim Masoretic text). This adds up to about 20,000 to 30,000 changes in the entire Hebrew Old Testament text. One or the other of these false Hebrew texts, either BHK or BHS, are used as the basis for the Old Testament in all modern bible versions, as can be shown by reading their introductory pages.
The true text of Ben Chayyim on which the KJV is based is the authentic Hebrew Masoretic text. It is called the Daniel Bomberg edition or the Second Great Rabbinic Bible (1524-25). This is the traditional Hebrew Masoretic Text represented by the vast majority of existing Old Testament manuscripts. The Ben Chayyim Masoretic text was the uncontested text of the Old Testament for over four hundred years. In fact, Rudolf Kittel, in his first two editions of 1906 and 1912, used that text in his Biblia Hebraica. It was not until 1937, that he changed his Hebrew text from the Ben Chayyim to the Ben Asher text. Kittel found a large and receptive market in the rapidly growing modernist camp that had grown to hate the traditional texts of both the Old and New Testaments.
In 1516, Daniel Bomberg published a text of the Old Testament under the name "First Rabbinic Bible." This text was followed in 1524 by a second edition that had been compiled from ancient manuscripts by a Hebrew scholar and converted Jewish Rabbi named Abraham Ben Chayyim. Today this work is called the Ben Chayyim Masoretic Text, and is the text that underlies the Old Testament of the King James Bible. The word "masoretic" comes from the Hebrew word "mesor" meaning traditional. The Masoretes were the scribes that were given the responsibility of guarding and keeping the text of the Old Testament, and keep it well they surely did, as we shall soon see.
God's appointed guardians of the Old Testament Text were the Jews. "What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there in circumcision? Much in every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God." (Romans 3:1-2). The methods used by the Jews in fulfilling their responsibilities as the guardians of these sacred texts is an interesting study. There were eight rules that the Jewish copyists used in the copying of the texts:
- The parchment must be made from the skin of a clean animal (clean meaning ceremonially clean according to the Old Testament sanitary laws); must be prepared by a Jew only, and the skins must be fastened together by strings taken from clean animals.
- Each column must have no less than forty-eight, nor more than sixty lines. The entire copy must be first lined.
- The ink must be of no other color than black, and it must be prepared according to a special recipe.
- No word nor letter could be written from memory; the scribe must have an authentic copy before him, and he must read and pronounce aloud each word before writing it.
- He must reverently wipe his pen each time before writing the word for "God" (Elohim), and he must wash his whole body before writing the name "Jehovah" (LORD in our King James Bibles), lest the Holy Name be contaminated.
- Strict rules were given concerning forms of the letters, spaces between letters, words and sections, the use of the pen, the color of the parchment, etc.
- The revision (to correct any errors) of a roll must be made within thirty days after the work was finished; otherwise it was worthless. One mistake on a sheet condemned the entire sheet. If three mistakes were found on any page, the entire manuscript was condemned.
- Every word and every letter was counted, and if a letter was omitted, or if an extra letter was inserted, or if two letters touched one another, the manuscript was condemned and destroyed at once.
H. S. Miller, writing in his book "General Biblical Introduction", says: "Some of these rules may appear extreme and absurd, yet they show how sacred the Holy Word of the Old Testament was to its custodians, the Jews, and they give us strong encouragement to believe that we have the real Old Testament, the same one that our Lord had and which was given by inspiration of God."
So then, our only choice is between the traditional Hebrew Masoretic Text that has been the standard text of the Old Testament for well over two thousand years, and is represented by the vast majority of the existing Old Testament manuscripts, or the new, modern text that has only a little minor manuscript support, and introduces errors into the text. The choice is obvious, only the Traditional (Ben Chayyim) Text can lay claim to uninterrupted use for all the generations from the time of David (Psalm 12) until now.