Aron Dotan, ed. Biblia Hebraica Leningradensia: Prepared According to the Vocalization, Accents, and Masora of Aaron ben Moses ben Asher in the Leningrad Codex. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2001. Pp. xxv + 1264. ISBN 1565630890. US $49.95.

1. Although the Leningrad codex is a beautiful manuscript, even a short, intensive study of it will leave the reader grateful for printed editions with lovely spacing between lines and words as well as clear vowels and accents! Aron Dotan and his assistants are to be thanked for their devotion to this often grueling task.1 Dotan's qualifications for this project are certainly extraordinary. His published work, in multiple languages, on various Masoretic texts and subjects dates back to the 1960s.

2. For this review, I will first make some preliminary observations about the work. I will then speak to the volume's value as a text for beginning and intermediate students of Classical Hebrew.

Preliminary Observations

3. This Bible will be welcomed by students because of its portable size and as an affordable alternative to other publications based on Leningradensis (L). The cost of this Bible is significantly less than the current cost of BHS (Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia). When BHQ (Biblia Hebraica Quinta) arrives, the price difference will be even more dramatic.

4. This edition contains not only the text of the Bible but also several helpful extras at the end, including: "The Decalogue with Upper Cantillation" (both versions);2 Appendix A: "Manuscript Variants"; Appendix B: "Petuchot and Setumot in the Manuscript";3 Appendix C: "Shape of the Songs in the Manuscript"; Appendix D: "Deviation in Gemination in the Tiberian Vocalization"; and Appendix E: "Scripture Readings."

5. The text contains three kinds of marginal notes: (1) ketiv/qere, (2) coded references to Appendix A that include various alternate readings as well as corrections made by the editors, and (3) designations for Jewish ritual purposes.

6. BHL gives astonishingly close attention to the cantillation of the text of L. There are roughly five thousand differences between the accents of BHL and BHS which reflect the editor's desire to bring the text of BHL closer to L. The same can be said for the pointing, even to the extent of writing qames as a line with a dot under it, like L, instead of as a small capital "T." BHK (that is, R. Kittel's earlier edition) also did this, but in BHL the dot's proximity to the line makes it easier to adjust to this usage. Noteworthy is the editor's conclusion that many of the presumed mistakes of the vocalizer of the text were in reality obedience to a sort of subset of rules. The deviations from the standard have a regularity of their own, perhaps a remnant of earlier pronunciation habits (xiii-xiv). The Foreword develops this idea with regard to the presence or absence of dagesh (xiv), and the article on Gemination, Appendix D, takes up the issue in detail.4

7. When the body of the text does not agree with the Masoretic notes, the Masoretic variant is adopted only rarely. These instances are included in Appendix A, "Manuscript Variants." This appendix can be a very useful tool for various types of research on the text of L, providing a quick way to resolve situations where the Masorah and the text of L do not agree. Dotan's opinion on the state of the text is invaluable. For this reason, it is unfortunate that the volume has been unavailable for so long.

8. Appendix C further demonstrates the attention paid to L. It treats the shape of certain songs in the manuscript whose presentation according to L is not possible due to the limitations of the printed page.

9. Among the main goals of this edition is that it be "suitable for Jewish ritual use." The volume includes marginal prompts for readings and the relevant appendix (E). In this connection it is interesting to note that the headers contain not only the book title and the verse range for the page, but also the key word of the relevant section; thus Gen 1:1-6:8 is marked by <heb>br)$yt</heb>, Gen 6:9-11:32 is marked by <heb>nx</heb>, Gen 12:1-17:27 is marked by <heb>lk lk</heb>, and so forth.

"Ideal" for the Classroom?

10. As to the volume's usefulness for "scholar[s], teachers, and students," the following should be noted. In his Foreword, Dotan writes:

We have produced here an edition of one of the oldest masoretic witnesses of the complete Hebrew Bible, in a format ideal for the scholar, teacher, and student. It is our special aim, however, to produce an accurate Bible suitable for Jewish ritual use as well. Therefore, though keeping exactly to the text of the Leningrad manuscript, we are occasionally obliged to deviate from it for the sake of customs and conventions that have become rooted in our nation since the time the manuscript was written. [x-xi]
Given the standardizations that have been made to the text, one might wonder whether it is more valuable for students to have a version of L that reflects more recent traditional Jewish reading practices (xix) or an exact representation of L, a "diplomatic version"? The answer to the question depends on two things: (1) who the students are, and (2) how the teacher wishes to approach the biblical text.

11. By making corrections to the text on account of "mistakes of the scribe and slips of the pen"--not simply reconstructing instances of "defacement, spots, lacunae, and fading"5--BHL presents an edition of L rather than simply a presentation of L.

12. Other than the references to Appendix A, the volume has no text-critical apparatus. Some alternative readings are given in Appendix A. Reference to these is made in the margin of the text with a verse number followed by the letter "A," such as in Gen 2:18, where "18A" occurs in the margin beside the first line of the verse. (These notes all seem to deal with the absence of vowels, vowel placement, absence of dagesh forte, or accentuation issues.) There are some cases in which a single verse contains two such corrected words (e.g., Gen 32:18; an alternative for each is given in Appendix A). Unfortunately, there is only one marginal note. The reader cannot know that there is a second word with an alternative reading without going to the list. It would be helpful to have the designation beside the actual line to which the alternative reading belongs and to have a marker on the word to which the alternative reading pertains. It would also be helpful to have these variants on the same page as the text instead of in an appendix.

13. BHL differs from L in three ways in the presentation of ketiv/qere: (1) BHL does not put a marker over ketivs in the text, although L usually indicates them by a circle over the word6 (BHK and BHS do so as well); (2) there is no <heb>q</heb> in the margin under the qeres; and (3) in BHL the ketiv has neither vowels nor accents: these are found on the qere in the margin, while in L the ketiv carries the vowels and accents to be read with the consonants of the qere in the margin (this is also the practice in BHS). While this alternative presentation is easy enough to understand, it is a departure from Leningradensis. BHL also differs from L in some other minor but obvious ways, such as printing final kaf with the sheva or qames below the line instead of up in the letter.

14. Though BHL strives for faithfulness to L, it also seeks to improve on the manuscript at points by standardizing some irregular features. Quoting from the Foreword:

Despite the importance and authority of the Leningrad Codex on which we base ourselves, we must not follow it slavishly and blindly nor copy obvious mistakes even if they were clearly produced by the scribe himself. The thin dividing line between errors that the editor must correct and the variant readings that he must reproduce exactly as they stand constitutes the burden whose weight can be fully appreciated only by those who have themselves experienced it. [xi]
These standardizations made in BHL include, for example:
  1. Proper names are vocalized according to the majority of occurrences; for example:
    1. the Tetragrammaton is always printed without holem;
    2. <heb>yi&.f#kfr</heb> is always printed with dagesh in the sin;
    3. <heb>(uz.iy.fhU</heb> is always printed with dagesh in the zayin (xiv-xv).
  2. The presence or absence of maqqef is kept as it is in L, except that it has been "restored" where it was considered "essential"; these restorations are noted in Appendix A, and the criteria for restoration are explained in the Foreword (xv).
  3. Occasionally L lacks the pair of dots or single dot that indicates the end of the verse. These have been restored.
  4. Meteg is always printed to the left of the full vowel and in the midst of hatef patah and hatef segol wherever it appears in L, although L is irregular in positioning it.
  5. The position of silluq has been standardized where present and inserted where missing in L.

15. Scribal "erase symbols," though acknowledged as important for a "study of the history of the text," are "ignored" because for the editor's "purpose" he was "obliged" to go with the final, corrected form of the text (xiv). The volume also does not include the Masorah Parva or Masorah Magna, which are found in L and will be printed in full in the forthcoming BHQ. It does include Masorah Finalis. An increasing number of students of the Hebrew Bible are finding these lists of interest.7

16. It may be that including Jewish ritual usage as a major focus of this edition determines why the amount of extra-textual material on the page is so limited as well as why the volume is not more of a diplomatic presentation of L (xi).8 The title page of the page proof did indicate that the edition was prepared "with adaptions [sic] to Halakhic requirements." (Note: The title page of the published edition does not contain this wording.) And the Foreword says: "Other signs given inconsistently in the manuscript whose omission makes no difference are not reproduced here, especially when they are no longer customary or even known in our time" (xiv, for examples see xiv ff). While instructors would likely desire to see a critical apparatus which treated, among other things, variant readings based on reconstructions of blemished portions of the text, perhaps the inclusion of such materials would have made the Bible unacceptable for Jewish ritual purposes. The importance of this is emphasized in the Foreward, which notes that each new recruit of the Israel Defense Force will receive a copy of this edition (xix-xx, xxii).


17. The volume's usefulness for students and teachers will depend on the goals of the teacher. If the goal of the teacher is to provide a clear, readable, portable, affordable edition of L, then BHL will indeed fill the bill. There will be problems, however, if the instructor regularly refers to the critical apparatus accompanying the text of BHS to compare other Hebrew manuscripts or to compare the ancient versions, among other things. Some instructors enjoy pointing students to the Masorah Parva, not only for ketiv/qere, but also to observe--and, frankly, marvel at--the Masoretes' labors, which can open a window on historic interpretations of how the text should be read and also on the transmission traditions that show such veneration and care for the text. These things cannot be done using BHL. Professors who want their students to see the text presented with its inconsistencies, variants, possible reconstructions, and corrections noted on the same page will have to wait for BHQ. However, BHL can still be useful because its affordability will allow more students to have their own copy of the Hebrew Bible and thus, one hopes, to spend more time in its pages. This edition is also a valuable testimony to the Hebrew Bible as a living text of a living religious tradition.

© TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 2001.


1This review is a revision of a review paper delivered at the International Organization of Masoretic Studies meeting as part of the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature in Nashville, TN, November 18, 2000. The revision is based on comments Professor Dotan made to the group and to me in private conversation after the presentation.

2In contrast, BHS prints both sets of accents together. The Lower Cantillation divides up the chapter by verses, while the Upper Cantillation divides it up by Commandment.

3Petuchot = open and Setumot = closed.

4At some points Dotan restores L readings not found in the BH tradition because the BH reading was based on the Second Rabbinic Bible rather than L.

5"In order to produce the exact text of one manuscript, the editor undertakes to present the scribe's intention even in those instances where the manuscript is insufficiently clear on account of defacement, spots, lacunae, and fading that have affected it in the course of time, as a result of much handling, or on account of mistakes of the scribe and slips of the pen" (xi).

6Compare Gen 49:10 and 11 (in L) where <heb>$iyloh</heb> and <heb>sUtoh</heb> are marked with the circle but <heb>(iyroh</heb> between them is not.

7Professor Dotan commented to me that he has done a full study of the Mp and Mm (164 files), but he cannot find a publisher willing to undertake the task.

8However, Dotan expresses the wish that a future edition might include "scientific apparatus" and "Masora[h]" (xiv).

Timothy G. Crawford
Chair, Division of Christian Studies
Professor of Bible & Hebrew
Bluefield College