What was the oldest manuscript we had before the Dead Sea Scrolls?  Was it the Aleppo Codex or Leningrad codex?  If  it is the Leningrad Codex, why do we compare the Aleppo codex with the Dead sea scrolls?   Can you please give me the dates of these manuscripts?   On the internet every site has a  different date.


The Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex are Hebrew manuscripts from nearly the same time period.  One can also add the Cairo Codex to this list.

The Aleppo Codex, so-called because it was in Aleppo in Syria (the city with such tragedy the past few years) for over 600 years.  The scribe who made this manuscript dated his work, which was done AD 920.  Parts of the manuscript were lost in modern times. It is now missing the Torah and parts or all of several other books.  Despite this, it is a significant witness to the Hebrew text in the early 10th century.

The Leningrad Codex is not quite as old.  It was made in AD 1008 or possibly 1009.  Unlike the Aleppo Codex, it contains the entire Hebrew Old Testament.

The Cairo Codex is older than either of these.  It was made in AD 895.  This is the oldest Hebrew manuscript we had before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  One could argue that this codex is even more important that the other two.

All three of these important codices are of the Masoretic text type.  This text of the Hebrew Bible was made by Jewish scribes, knows as the Masoretes, in the 7th through 9th centuries AD. They painstakingly put together an authoritative Hebrew text based on the available manuscripts at the time.  This was a great and important effort at the time, but the problem for us is that most prior Hebrew texts, with their many variants, were destroyed. So, we have a very good Hebrew text from roughly the eighth century, but much variant evidence was lost.  The Jews had a rule that when old scrolls became unusable, they were to be burned.  This partially explains why we have very few really ancient Hebrew texts of the Bible.  Nearly all Hebrew manuscripts in ancient times were destroyed on purpose by the Jews in order to maintain the purity of the text.

Whether we compare the Aleppo or the Cairo or the Leningrad Codices to the Dead Sea Scrolls is not a major issue because these three manuscripts are nearly identical in their Hebrew text.  They all go back to the work of the Masoretes. Comparing the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) to the Cairo or other Codex is very helpful.  This is because, before the DSS, the oldest Hebrew manuscripts we had were from nearly 1500 years after the originals.  One could argue that a LOT of change could have come into the text over this great time span, with copies having been made of copies of copies…  It would leave a lot of room for doubt as to the accuracy of the Hebrew text.  The DSS moved the earliest Hebrew manuscripts back more than one thousand years.  More than two thirds of the gap between the originals and the previous oldest manuscripts was covered by the find of the manuscripts left in these caves above the Dead Sea.  The similarity of the DSS to the Masoretic texts is remarkable.  Some of the DSS show stronger affinity for the Masoretic Text and others are more in line with the Greek Septuagint Translation, which was made in about 200 BC.  All of this adds great evidence to support our confidence in the reliability of our Hebrew Old Testament text.

John Oakes

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