The Euphemist

Reflections on Jewish Studies and many other subjects big and little, by a perpetual student who sometimes searches a little too long for just the right word ...

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Christian, truth seeker, husband, son, brother & uncle, Lutheran pastor, musician (cello, etc.), Jewish Studies grad student, intellectual historian, aquarium enthusiast & pet owner, philologist, astronomer, Norwegian-American, Ford pickup driver, buffoon.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Jewish "Protestants?"

Yesterday The Box came - my study materials for my new Spertus course in Medieval Judaism. At first glance it looks like I may find it more interesting than the Jewish Theology course, with more interaction with primary sources, and interesting topics such as Medieval Jewish Bible Commentaries. Regarding the Bible - I'm not sure there'll be much about the Masoretes, the scholars largely responsible for the form of the Hebrew Bible we know today, but there was a bit about them in the opening pages of my very first assigned reading from Great Ages and Ideas of the Jewish People. It seems that Jewish efforts to establish one authentic text of the Bible to circulate amongst the Jews paralleled Muslim efforts in "fixing an authentic Koran, a Textus Receptus, that would disqualify all other versions." (p. 227) The Masoretes "took it upon themselves to ... decide for all time what the text of the Bible was in every detail. All Hebrew Bible produced since the period of the Masoretes represent in the main the text established by them. It is called the Masoretic text, and it is the work of a family of Karaites, the Asher family" (p. 227-228)

So who were the Karaites? My brief impression is that they were (and are - apparently a few are around today) Jewish "Protestants" who differ from most Jews in rejecting the Oral Law (Talmud, etc.) and relying on the Tanakh alone as sole Scripture. Sounds to me like an interesting parallel to the Christian divide between sola scriptura (Protestant) and "Scripture as a part of Tradition" (Catholic/Orthodox - I borrowed that phrase from an Orthodox priest). Interesting that my Orthodox friend David Holford had just made a brief blog entry on that very subject, to which I left a half-baked comment a little too late at night.

So, how good a job did the Masoretes do? I've read pros & cons on the subject. It's something I'm hoping to gain the tools to make my own assessment of, in the process of working on this degree. On the other hand, I've read interesting suggestions that the Septuagint & other early versions (not to mention super-early mss. such as the Dead Sea Scrolls) offer some interesting & valid challenges to the Masoretic Text. On the other hand, the Preface to the English Standard Version of the Bible, which I like, mentions a "currently renewed respect among Old Testament scholars for the Masoretic text." Well, another piece of the Big Puzzle which I'm trying to put together as I putter along through perpetual studenthood.

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