Why did the Rabbis tamper with the Hebrew and Greek Texts?

Due to a question on our Facebook group regarding the ‘sons of God’ in Deuteronomy 32 we decided to write a new sub-series to answer the question and explore why the Jewish scribes needed to change the text to read ‘Sons of Israel’. In Part one – The Septuagint vs the Masoretic Text, we looked briefly at the history of the Alexandrian Septuagint (LXX), how the Jewish High priest and Sanhedrin approved it and how its creation was celebrated every year with a special festival.

Firstly it is important to remember that the LXX translation of the Old Testament was explicitly Jewish. It was not a Christian collection of writings however, it was used by both the Greek-speaking Jews and the early Church.

  • Did you know that when Yeshua, Paul, and others in the New Testament quoted the Old Testament, those quotes match the ancient Septuagint almost exactly? However, if you follow those quotes in our modern bibles you will often find they do not match and at times are completely different.

That’s because the majority of Old Testament translations in English that we have today are based on the Masoretic Text (MT). That text was written by the Jewish Sopherim after 70AD under the influence of Rabbi Akiva.

 

  • Who are the Sopherim?

The Sopherim scribes date back to ancient Israel and they believed that they were the guardians of the Mosaic Law. They refined scripture, ‘maintained its accuracy’ and provided the correct interpretation of its meaning, as the majority of the population were illiterate. Well, that’s what they led people to believe!  But history reveals a different story and you can read more about them here: The Rise of the False Prophet.

 

  • Who was Rabbi Akiva?

Rabbi Akiva ben Joseph is referred to in the Talmud as the “Chief of the Sages”. He was the founding father of Talmudic Judaism and one of the most beloved heroes in Jewish history. He wasn’t even a Jew by birth but descended from converts to Judaism. He was a Kabbalist and he hated the early Church. [1]

  • So how did he influence the Old Testament text that most of our English Bible translations are based on today?

 


The Early History of the Masoretic Text

Toward the end of the first century A.D. there appeared on the scene a man named Bar Kokhba, who was determined to overthrow their Roman overlords by force. His personal charisma and abilities were such that he gathered a significant following, even to the extent that many Jews thought he was the long-awaited Messiah, who would conquer the world and rule from Jerusalem (as also prophesied in the Scriptures). At the same time, another man was coming to power, a rabbi named Akiva. He also desired power, and in a series of meetings referred to in later years as the Council of Jamnia, found a way to obtain it…

He had a passionate hatred of Jesus and he admired Bar Kokhba. Rabbi Akiva ended up supporting Bar Kokhba as the Messiah. Akiva came with a purpose in mind: to give rabbinical Judaism complete control over every aspect of Jewish life. This process did not happen overnight. However, over a period of time, this was achieved by Akiva and the Council of Jamnia.

Akiva’s opposition to the Christians led him to sponsor a new rabbinical Greek Bible and a rabbinical, colloquial Targum [commentary]. It also led him to alter Pharasaic tradition. In his efforts to bring Jewish life under rabbinic authority, Akiva was consistent and relentless. Sometimes Akiva intentionally held to certain doctrines just to contradict the beliefs of the Christians, as he had done in his struggle against Gamaliel.[2]

 


How Rabbinical Talmudic Judaism Was Birthed

All we know is that the original paleo-Hebrew scriptures that the Septuagint and Dead Sea scrolls were translated and copied from, were destroyed at some point in Jewish history. We are unsure about what scrolls were taken to Babylon during the exile but are aware of historical references that Ezra was tasked with restoring the old Hebrew manuscripts.[3]

Post 70 AD

Around 100 AD Rabbi Akiva started to write his own manuscript, NOT in the ancient paleo-Hebrew alphabet but as ‘square’ modern Hebrew characters but without the dots (vowel pointing) on particular letters.

With the vowel pointings removed the Jewish people would have to depend on their rabbis to orally explain the Torah to them, as only a rabbi ‘knew’ where the vowels were placed and how to use them. As a result, Rabbinical Judaism was birthed, which is totally different from Biblical Judaism of the Old Testament. With Jews cut off from their scriptures the rabbis had complete control over its teaching. 

…The Rabbis are the source of their own authority to annul the Torah.

… The Rabbis could establish conditions and practices that contradicted and even nullified the Torah. According to the Rabbis, God Himself would obey whatever they decided.

… The Rabbis claimed the sanction of the Torah for whatever they decreed, even if it was the uprooting of Torah.

… This was more than the assertion of a different ‘religious’ system. The Torah governs every aspect of the life of Israel. By governing the Torah, the Rabbis would govern Israel.

…The objective was to bring Israel under the rule of the Rabbis. If the Scriptures stood in the way, the Scriptures had to be uprooted.

… There was a radical and irreconcilable conflict between the Torah and the Rabbis as to the basis and structure of authority, as well as its source and administration. That is why the Rabbis gave themselves the right to alter, revise, trespass and uproot the original commandments.

… R. Akiva sought to fence the people off from the Torah and from all other influences that would have challenged rabbinic authority. In the system he erected, no one else had the right to interpret Torah. Not the am ha’aretz, nor the priests, nor the prophets, nor the Sadducees, the Qumran Covenanters, the Talmedei Yeshua, nor anyone else. Not even God.” [4]

 

Rabbi Akiva had the authority and power to order the removal of older biblical manuscripts (MSS) and institute the use of new ones, and he could deem Hebrew texts in the Temple Court to be unfit for public reading. [5]

 

Rabbinic sources indicate that the rabbis also had the authority to dispose of entire biblical books if they deemed them unfit or inferior, and in fact, they did so on numerous occasions. [6]

 


The Sopherim Try To Destroy The Credibility Of The New Testament

Rabbi Akiva believed he was doing a good thing by altering the text, right down to adjusting the chronology dates in Genesis and changing the order of chapters in Jeremiah and Daniel. In his eyes, if he could discredit the Septuagint, then there would be no undeniable links pointing to Yeshua, between the Old and New Testament.

Akiva then sponsored his students Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, all converts to Judaism to write their own Greek translations based on his own unified Hebrew translation. These 3 versions would become the new Tanakhs used across the whole empire for Jews of the Diaspora. But the men had to make sure that their new Greek translations would NOT point to Yeshua, unlike the Alexandria Septuagint (LXX).

They wanted to distinguish the Jewish tradition from the emerging tradition of Christianity. They had to destroy the credibility of the New Testament as Christians were showing other Jews how Yeshua was revealed through their approved Old Testament Septuagint.

The time came when one rabbi compared the accursed day when the 70 elders wrote the Law in Greek for the King, to the day on which Israel made the golden calf. [7]

 

So Aquila, after he had been strongly stirred in mind, believed in Christianity, and after a while, when he asked, he received the seal in Christ. But according to his former habit, while yet thinking the things of the heathen, he had been thoroughly trained in vain astronomy, so that also after he became a Christian he never departed from this fault of his, but every day he made calculations on the horoscope of his birth. He was reproved by the teachers, and they rebuked him for this every day but did not accomplish anything. But instead of standing rebuked, he became bold in disputation and tried to establish things that have no existence, tales about fate. Hence, as one who proved useless and could not be saved, he was expelled from the church. But as one who had become embittered in mind over how he had suffered dishonor, he was puffed up with vain jealousy, and having cursed Christianity and renounced his life he became a proselyte and was circumcised as a Jew. And, being painfully ambitious, he dedicated himself to learning the language of the Hebrews and their writings. After he had first been thoroughly trained for it, he made his translation. He was moved not by the right motive, but (by the desire) so to distort certain of the words occurring in the translation of the seventy-two that he might proclaim the things testified to about Christ in the divine Scriptures to be fulfilled in some other way, on account of a certain shame that he felt (to proffer) a senseless excuse for himself. [8]

Refining the text wasn’t a new thing, as Yeshua had frequently warned the people to Beware of the scribes” for their adding or taking away from the Word of God … “You invalidate the word of God for the sake of your tradition.” and Jeremiah referred to the lying pens of the scribes”.


Even the Church Fathers spoke out about the corruption and you can read about it in detail here and here.

Judaism was facing a crisis of biblical proportions (literally) during the second century of the Christian era. The gospel of Messiah Jesus was spreading like wildfire across the Roman world, the Temple had been razed to the ground, and the holy city of God had been burned. The rest of Israel had been ravaged by Roman aggression in the events of AD 66-73 and AD 132 -136. The small core of Judaism that rose from the ashes had complete and autonomous control over the Hebrew manuscripts that survived the Roman devastation, providing ample opportunity for wholesale chronological changes that would go undetectable in later copies. Most of the world around them would have been unable to read the Hebrew texts, greatly minimising their usefulness and dissemination outside Palestinian Judaism.

Numerous church fathers testify to the lengths to which orthodox Judaism went to discredit Jesus’ Messianic office … Justin Martyr says that the Rabbis deliberately expunged or altered Messianic verses from their Scriptures in their project of discrediting Lord Jesus as Messiah (e.g., see Dial. 71). [9]

 

However, the rabbis eventually gave up attacking the Alexandrian Septuagint once the new versions of the Greek Septuagint were in circulation across the Diaspora. Christianity was still using the Alexandrian translation to show the Jews how Yeshua fulfilled the OT prophecies as their Jewish Messiah. Those manuscripts had to be destroyed and any remaining copies held in the synagogues across the Roman Empire were burnt.

One burns the whole thing, because it was not written in holiness. ~ Rabbi Akiva [10]

 

We have it on tradition that a scroll of the Law which has been written by a Christian should be burnt. ~The great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov

 


The Masoretes

Later on, another group of Jewish rabbinical scholars known as the Masoretes, between the 7th and 10th centuries AD (The Middle Ages) decided to make Akiva’s unified modern Hebrew text more understandable to the Jewish people.

The Masoretes added supplements to the text and added vowel pointings based upon the Masora — their own biased Talmudic Mishnah tradition.

The Talmudic rabbis then began presenting themselves as the diligent preservers of the sacred Hebrew texts. They held that this text was the inspired version of the scriptures as they believed that Hebrew was the ‘divine language’ rather than Aramaic or Greek.

They announced that they held in their possession the supposedly ‘only authentic Hebrew manuscripts’ and were being YHVH’s faithful servants in preserving them.


How The Masoretic Text Discredited Yeshua as Messiah

Here is one example in detail …

The writer of Hebrews quotes the Alexandrian Septuagint version in Psalm 40 when illustrating that God never intended animal sacrifices to atone for sin, as this would be the role of the Messiah who had a body ‘prepared for him.

Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, “Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, But a body You have prepared for Me; In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have taken no pleasure. “Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come (In the scroll of the book it is written of Me) To do Your will, O God.’” ~ Hebrews 10~ 5-7 NASB

 

Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not; but a body hast thou prepared me: whole-burnt-offering and [sacrifice] for sin thou didst not require. ~ Psalm 40:6 Septuagint

 

But look at the difference between what is quoted in Hebrews vs the Masoretic text.

Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired; My ears You have opened; Burnt offering and sin offering You have not required. Then I said, “Behold, I come; In the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart.” ~ Psalm 40:6-8 NASB

 

The Masoretic text omits these words in Psalm 40 “But a body You have prepared for Me”. They have been replaced with “my ears you have opened…” The early church used the Alexandrian Septuagint to show Yeshua and His incarnation, so the Sopherim had to change the OT text. You can compare the LXX with the King James version of the Psalm here side by side.

 

 

  • How did we end up with this corrupt version in our bible?

In our next blog post, we will see how we ended up with the Masoretic Text of the Old Testament in our Bibles instead of the Alexandrian Septuagint.

Please note that we are not being antisemitic in this blog series. We want to bring to light the corruption of the rabbinical Jewish leadership from centuries ago, whose legacy to this day still holds the Jewish people in bondage.


If you want to delve deeper into this topic here’s a good video. At the 11 min mark, it demonstrates the ‘pointing system’ and the difference between the modern square alphabet and paleo-Hebrew alphabet.


Resources:

New English Translation of the Septuagint

The Rise of the False Prophet Series: In Deuteronomy 4:2 Yahweh warns the Israelite’s not to add or take away from His Law. What we are about to learn is how they ignored this commandment and where it eventually led the Nation of Israel and beyond.


Footnotes:

[1] https://www.jewishhistory.org/rabbi-akiva/

[2] http://setterfield.org/Septuagint_History.html

[3] Clement of Alexander, Misc. 1.22.148–150, 175 AD

[4] Daniel Gruber, Rabbi Akiva’s Messiah: The Origins of Rabbinic Authority, pp.82-85, Elijah Publishing, 1999

[5] Étienne Nodet, “Josephus and the Pentateuch,” JSJ 28 (May 1997): 193–94

[6] From Qumran to Aleppo: A Discussion with Emanuel Tov about the Textual History of Jewish Scriptures in Honor of His 65th Birthday, ed. József Zsengellér, Armin Lange, and Matthias Weigold (Gӧttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2009), 74–77; Nodet, “Josephus and the Pentateuch,” 193, n. 55

[7] Tractate Sopherim 1

[8] https://www.ccel.org/ccel/pearse/morefathers/files/epiphanius_weights_03_text.htm

[9] Daniel Gruber, Rabbi Akiva’s Messiah: The Origins of Rabbinic Authority

[10] Ibid. p. 157

 

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