A Wandering Bible: The Aleppo Codex
---From Scroll to Codex
Comparison of the biblical scrolls discovered at Qumran has shown that several versions of the biblical text were in use among the Jews, but that one of them, known to scholars as the “pre-Rabbinic” or “pre-Masoretic” text, was held in particular regard (accounting for some 40% of the scrolls). Toward the end of the Second Temple period, this version came to be seen as authoritative by mainstream Judaism, as indicated by the fragments of later biblical scrolls discovered at Masada, Wadi Murabba‘at, Nahal Hever, and Nahal Ze’elim, all of which follow that text. From the time of these scrolls until the 8th century CE, the period to which the earliest biblical manuscripts from the Cairo Genizah have been ascribed, no Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible have been preserved (some of the biblical fragments from the Cairo Genizah were written according to the authoritative version mentioned above). Evidence of the biblical text from the 4th to 8th century CE has been preserved only by Christians – in Greek, Latin, and other translations.
Translations of the Bible were circulated in the form of “codices” (sing. codex), such as the 4th-century CE Codex Sinaiticus, which were written on leaves of parchment folded and sewn together in a binding. This technological innovation made it possible to utilize both sides of the page for writing and to leaf through the manuscript easily. It was only in the 8th century CE, however, that Jews began to adopt this method, and even then, only for the purposes of study and interpretation. Books read as part of the obligatory synagogue service (such as the Pentateuch and the Book of Esther) were still written, as required by tradition, on scrolls; the text appearing on the scrolls consisted only of consonants, without vocalization or punctuation. The shift from scroll to codex made it possible, for the first time, to record in writing all the instructions for copying and pronunciation – the Masorah – which had until then been transmitted orally from one generation to the next.