Holy Scriptures Study: Ancient Manuscripts

The Study of the Holy Scriptures: Ancient Manuscripts

Gregorio Billikopf

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בְּרֶגַע קָטֹן עֲזַבְתִּיךְ
וּבְרַחֲמִים גְּדֹלִים אֲקַבְּצֵךְ׃
בְּשֶׁצֶף קֶצֶף הִסְתַּרְתִּי פָנַי רֶגַע מִמֵּךְ
וּבְחֶסֶד עֹולָם רִחַמְתִּיךְ
אָמַר גֹּאֲלֵךְ יְהוָה׃

ישעיהו נד: ז־ח   

We do not have the original Holy Scripture manuscripts, and so sometimes we can gain important insights into the meaning of the scriptures by looking at various other sources. Without a doubt, the best source for the study of the Old Testament or Holy Scriptures is the Biblia Hebraica (Hebrew). Here we mention a number of other resources, including the Dead Sea Scrolls (Hebrew), Targum (Aramaic or Chaldee), Septuagint or LXX, Vulgate, Peshitta, Arabic, Ethiopian, and others. There are interesting conversations and discussions regarding each of these, but here our objective is to provide references (and links when possible) to the student of the Holy Scriptures. Prayer and the guidance of the Spirit, however, are the most important tools we have for the understanding of the Scriptures. I have also found many of these resources in PDFs and new publications, as well as electronic ones. Send me a note if you are interested in any particular resources.

1.  Biblia Hebraica

The Hebrew Bible, we said, is overall the most accurate rendition of the Old Testament. There are many possibilities in terms of obtaining copies, including the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS) and formerly, the Biblia Hebraica Kittel (BHK), with their extensive critical apparatus, marginal notes, and Masora. The text of the Biblia Hebraica is available on-line as well as through downloading a number of free or low cost software, but these do not include the critical apparatus. One can generally purchase used copies of the BHS (more complete and updated) or BHK (beautiful Hebrew fonts) generally for about $20 to $40.

Hebrew-English Lexicons. Numerous lexicons are available in order to see how a particular word is used in Hebrew, and the variety of shades and purposes for its use. The reader must be aware that many of the brilliant Hebraists may have theological positions quite opposite than his. A study of these words, then, must be carried out by the aid of the Spirit. It is useful to examine a number of different lexicons and see how words are used in their various contexts. There are a number of lexicons on-line but these are not as thorough as getting a book in hard copy. Here are some lexicons of interest:

A. William Gesenius, Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon of the Old Testament (1847), translated from the Lexicon Manuale Hebraicum et Chaldaicum in Veteris Testamenti Libros. Gesenius was a master linguist, but even so, apt to his own opinions. So it is that it is nice to have the notes in brackets. So it is, for instance, that for the Hebrew word ALMA, or virgin, (Strong 5959)we see, [Note: The object in view in seeking to undermine the opinion which would assign the signification of virgin to this word, is clearly to raise a discrepancy between Isa. 7:14 and Matt. 1:23 &c.] The Gesenius tradition had been kept by Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, and Charles Briggs, in their The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1996). An earlier lexicon by these same authors (1978) included the words, "Based on the Lexicon of William Gesenius" in its title. Some of these lexicons include references coded to other references, such as Strong's concordance. Easy to find these either used or new. I have an extensive list of other Lexicons I can talk to you about, including HALOT and others, if you are interested.

B. Benjamin Davidson. The Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon (1850), is unique in that it contains every word in the Old Testament, so if you cannot find the root of a word, this tool will help you find it, so that you can then look up the word in this or another Hebrew lexicon. Includes Christian perspective on words. Easy to find either used or new.

C. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, and Bruce K. Waltke , Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (1980). Spends considerable room on words and meanings of the roots. Easy to find either used or new.

Davar is an excellent program where one can study the Masoretic or pointed Hebrew text. Here we can see the Biblia Hebrea Stuttgartensia (BHS) and the functioning of the simplified but useful lexicon. The next three screenshots show a few of the excellent tools found in this software: the BHS text, the Lexicon looking for words that begin with a Hebrew letter, and the Lexicon looking for Hebrew words depending on English words with a specific letter (I downloaded the Spanish version but you can do the same with English words and definitions). The program may be downloaded at Davar where one call also find other modules, including these in Spanish.

Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia

Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia Hebrew word search

Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia word search

2.  Targum

There are a number of Targums which are Aramaic (sometimes called Chaldee) paraphrases of the Biblia Hebraica. In some instances, the Targums are simply a translation into Aramaic, while in others, they are a more expanded explanatory translation or interpretation. These ancient manuscripts are very useful in the study of the Scriptures. Unfortunately, these are rare and often offered only as an English translation, so it is not easy to check the translation. On the other hand, there are tools such as the Palm Bible Plus software (see home page) that provide the text of the Targum in Aramaic at no cost. Some copies of the Holy Scriptures include a reference to the Targum translations. For the moment I will list one of my favorite Targum publications (to the Book of Isaiah) and a lexicon to the Targums. A very complete bibliography on the Targumim literature can be found at the Website for Biblical, Classical, and Ancient Near Eastern Studies.

A. J.F. Stenning (editor and translator), The Targum of Isaiah (1949), Oxford, Clarendon Press. This book is invaluable in that provides a very interesting introduction to the Targums, and their translation. For instance, Stenning shows how anthropomorphic language applied to God was replaced by other language. The Aramaic characters are in Hebrew script (much as Spanish and English use most of the same characters), and the materials are provided in English on one side of the page and in Aramaic on the other. If you can find it, it will probably cost between $60 and $100.

B. Targumic and Cognate Studies. Available as on-line Webpage, are various Targumic text translations for the Pentautech, Song of Songs, Ruth, and Lamentations. Download Targum including Targum Pseudo-Jonathan and Onkelos (to the Pentateuch, translated by J.W. Etheridge, 1862), Targumim to the Mergilloth (Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, translated by Jay C. Treat, Samson H. Levey, and Christian M. M. Brady, respectively), and Targum to the Psalms (translated by Edward Cook).

C. Targumic and Cognate Studies. Available as freeware to dowload Targum to use with the Palm Bible+ freeware. See home page, including Targumim for the Pentateuch in Arameic, translations into English of the Pentateuch Targumim, and the Targum for the Holy Scriptures, including NEVI'IM: Isaiah Targum and Jeremiah Targum, as well as Targumim for Lamentations, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi; as well as TORAH (Pentateuch) AND KETHUVIM (Writings). to the Torah and Minor Prophets, and others, called TrgBible (I have been really looking for that!) in Aramaic. These are made available by David Everson.

D. Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon Project edited by Dr. Stephen A. Kaufman, Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. This software (under $30) contains the Targum Johanthan to the Prophets, Targumic Toseftot to the Prophets, Targum Onqelos to the Pentateuch, Targum Neofiti to the Pentateuch, Targum Pseudo-Jonathan to the Pentateuch, and much more including dozens of fragments, and even Targums associated with the Dead Sea Scrolls. Click on a word, and it will tell you if it is the name of a person (such as Ishayahu) or place (Yerushaliam). You need to know enough Hebrew or Aramaic to be able to read those names and geographical locations. Other words, however, and the lexicon shows the basic meaning of the word. The software is put together by Logos Bible Software and you can read more about it or purchase this at Libronix Digital Library System edition of the Targumim.

Targum Jonathan to the Prophets

Targum lexicons.

A. Marcus Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, The Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature (1971, 1996). This is a two-volume in one or a two volume dictionary of words found in the Targumim, Babylonian or Jerusalem Talmud, and Midrashic literature, as the title indicates. It includes how words are used in these writings. The 1996 version is a replica and is not as clear as I would like, but nevertheless it makes this book much more easily available.

3.  Dead Sea Scrolls Scriptures

A. Martin G. Abegg and Peter Flint (Translators, 1999), The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, includes footnotes with the differences between the Biblia Hebraica or Masoretic Text, and those found in one or another of the Isaiah Scrolls found in the Qumran. This is the text as it was around the time of Jesus, or possibly earlier. The one negative of this otherwise excellent resource is that it is strongly based on the tradition of the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). The Hebrew script in the Dead Sea Scrolls is more ancient than what we have in our more modern block Hebrew. My dream wish would be to have one page in English and the other in block Hebrew and a translation that is closer to the Authorized Version (AV or KJV) or even the ASV. You can buy this book new for under $40.

B. Fred P. Miller's notations on the Isaiah Scrolls. If you can read the ancient Hebrew characters, then this Website will be a treat for you, with actual photographs of the Isaiah Scroll Manuscript.

4.  Septuagint (LXX)

A. Sir Lancelot Charles Lee Brenton (translator, 1851), originally published by Samuel Bagster & Sons, London, available for viewing or downloading. Website maintained and courtesy of Christian Classics Ethereal Library at Calvin College. The Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek before Christ was born. Some books are better translated than others. This LXX translation is also provided by Devoted to Truth, and can also be found in a number of software packaged for the study of the Holy Scriptures, such as the Palm Bible Plus (described in the home page). You can also view the Greek text at The Greek Old Testament. It is not always clear who sponsors some of these Websites. Here is yet another source, which is very nice, with the name of each KNIGA (book in Russian) is given in both Greek and Russian. But the text in each page is given in Greek only, and is provided by Duke University and Universität zu Köln.

B. Biblical and Historical Research Software. The English Translation of the Septuagint Bible, including a LXX Text and Concordance Search Engine.

5.  Peshitta or Syriac

A. George M. Lamsa (translator, 1961), Holy Bible: From the Ancient Eastern Text. Includes the Old and New Testaments. For those interested in New Testament only there is the James Murdock translation, besides the Lamsa one. Available new for under $40 and used for about $20.

6.  Vulgate

The Latin Vulgate (405 AD) can be consulted in Latin (e.g., Biblia Sacra, Vulgata Editionis, 1857) or in its English translation, the Douay Version (first published in 1609). The 1861 version of the Biblia Sacra can also be found on-line with photos of every page, at Biblia Sacra. Two see both the Latin and the Douay side-by-side in clear form you can go to LatinVulgate.com.

Very Excellent
Clementine Project VulSearch This is an outstanding piece of software and well worth the 10-15 minutes to install. It includes a Latin lexicon and search engine. I recommend that you download it from the Clementine site, as the author provides updates and corrections from time to time. This side-by-side searchable version of the Vulgate and Douay may be downloaded from the Clementine Vulgate Project VulSearch (NOTE: you may need to also download Microsoft Framework (no cost). I suggest downloading the latter first, otherwise you will have to re-execute the program. Some may prefer to use the program on-line to both search and view the Vulgate.

Holy Scriptures Vulgate software

7.  Other Recommendations (available from Gregorio Billikopf).

For conversation or questions contact Gregorio at bielikov@yahoo.com.

Ó 2005-2010 Gregorio Billikopf

Last Revised
18 May 2010