Monday, August 20, 2012

New Bible Planned

There’s a whole new Bible in the works.

Israeli Judaic scholar Menachem Cohen has been working on what he calls a definitive version of the 39 books that comprise the Jewish Bible.  After 30 years of painstaking work, he’s ready to publish a text that contains about 1,500 corrections.  

Most are small notations that worked their way into the texts through multiple transmissions, such as markers used to denote vowels in Hebrew or mistakes in notations used for the text's ritual chants.  Here and there, a few letters have been incorrectly inserted into words.  No one will even recognize the differences except those scholars versed in Hebrew.

It’s also not the final version, despite Cohen’s three decades of work.  Someone else will have to correct his version because there is no definitive version.  There never can be, despite assertions by devout literalists that the Bible is the exact word of God.   

Aleppo Codex
Cohen tried.  He worked with a text that was handwritten around 1000 C.E.  The Aleppo Codex is considered the most accurate copy of the Bible.  It was kept a synagogue of Aleppo, Syria until 1947 and then smuggled into Israel.

However, 200 pages of the Codex have been lost – about a third of the manuscript.  So, Cohen also drew on the 11th-century Leningrad Codex, considered the second-most authoritative version of the Jewish Bible, and other sources.

However, historians have long identified parts of the Bible that go back as far as 3,200 years while much of the material was written down from around 200 to 700 BCE.  As a result, Cohen actually was using sources that were at least 1,200 years removed from the originals.

What happened during those long centuries? The documents were read repeatedly until they were worn out and replaced by newer versions.  The old ones, written on dried animal skin, were discarded.

The copies contained errors that linger today, including gaps in the texts, illogical statements (“Saul was 1 year old when he began to rule,” for example) and other obvious errors.  However, no one is going to correct them, not in the face of public opposition to any deviation from the supposed text.  Even the much-beloved King James’ Version took years to achieve acceptance.

Cohen could have looked at the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were discovered in 1947 and are at least 1,000 years older than the Aleppo Codex.  He didn’t because those books, which were later included in the Bible, revealed a basic flaw in the idea that the sacred text accurately contains God’s precise words.

Book of Isaiah in the Dead Sea Scrolls
The various clay containers discovered near the Dead Sea contained every book now in the Bible, except for Esther, which was not deemed sacred until much later.  More importantly, there are multiple versions of the various books.  That means that Cohen would have had to pick one version and stick to it as accurate while ignoring the others.

That’s what happened when the Bible was codified in the 4th century.  Multiple texts were discarded; others were edited.  The result was the Bible, the very human version of books written by other humans, but labeled holy.  The desire to maintain exact continuity is so strong that if person copying the sacred text makes one single mistake with his quill, everything written to that point is destroyed.

Yet, none of the book is accurate.

It can’t be, not with so much copying, editing and revising that has taken place over the years, what historian Paul Johnson called “pious editing.”  Maybe that’s why no one has tried to amend the Hebrew Bible since 1525, when Jacob Ben-Hayim published the Mikraot Gedolot, or Great Scriptures, in Venice.

Cohen figured it was time to try again.

Criticism has already started.  The Hebrew University Bible Project in Jerusalem has been working on a scientific edition of the Hebrew Bible. Rafael Zer, the project's editorial coordinator, called Cohen's work "quasi-scientific" and said it "comes at the expense of absolute accuracy and an absolute scientific edition."

Absolute accuracy? With the Bible, there’s no such thing.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at

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