Non-Roman fonts used: SPTiberian

This article is also available in transliteration and text-only formats.

David Noel Freedman, general editor; Astrid B. Beck, managing editor; Bruce E. Zuckerman and Marilyn J. Lundberg, associate editors; James A. Sanders, publication editor; Bruce E. Zuckerman, Kenneth A. Zuckerman, Marilyn J. Lundberg, and Garth I. Moller, photographers. The Leningrad Codex: A Facsimile Edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998; Leiden: Brill, 1998. ISBN: 0-8028-3786-7 (Eerdmans); 90-04-10854-8 (Brill). Pp. li+1016. US $255.00.

1. The plethora of editors and photographers employed to produce the facsimile edition of the Leningrad Codex attests both the importance of the codex and the scale of the project. The Leningrad Codex (L) is the oldest complete Hebrew Bible manuscript extant, and as such it can fairly claim to be the most valuable witness to the text available. It is the culmination of textual traditions that date back to the sixth century C.E. (Masoretic), the first century C.E. (proto-Masoretic), and even to the first two centuries B.C.E. (pre-Masoretic). In addition to its value as a textual witness, L is also important as a witness to the scribal tradition of the Masoretes, specifically the Ben Asher branch of the tradition. Even beyond its significance as a witness to the text and to Masoretic tradition, L is a beautiful example of medieval Jewish bookmaking, as much a work of art as a reservoir of tradition. The facsimile edition is faithful to this tradition, offering stunningly clear photographs, glossy pages, and an attractive, sturdy binding.

2. The present work includes five articles introducing the codex and describing the work of producing the facsimile edition. Astrid Beck offers a general introduction to the codex itself, describing L as "the single most important manuscript of the Bible, for it established the text of most modern critical editions of the Hebrew Bible" (x). Similarly, the Masoretic notes in L "are invaluable today, for they represent the medieval technical apparatus needed to reconstruct the history of textual transmission" (x-xi).

3. Victor V. Lebedev, former curator of Eastern Manuscripts in the Russian National Library (Saltykov-Shchedrin) in St. Petersburg (formerly the Saltykov-Shchedrin State Public Library in Leningrad), describes the physical characteristics of the manuscript and relates its history. Copied in Cairo between 1008 and 1010, it was sold or donated various times, until finally Abraham Firkovich discovered it in a Karaite geniza in the Crimea in the 1840s and brought it first to Odessa and then to St. Petersburg. L contains about 60,000 Masoretic notes alongside the text (presumably this figure refers both to Masorah parva [Mp] notes in the margins to the left and right of each column and to Masorah magna [Mm] notes in the top and bottom margins), plus 4271 Mm notes at the end of the codex. Unlike early printed Bibles, whose Masoretic notes were mixtures of Ben Asher and Ben Naphtali traditions, L is a pure Ben Asher manuscript, based on the work of Aharon ben-Moshe ben-Asher. In addition to the biblical text and the Masorah, L contains most of an early Hebrew Masoretic-grammatical work, a list of differences between Eastern and Western readings of the Prophets and Writings, and two Hebrew medieval poems. The carpet pages at the end are characteristic of Jewish medieval art, and L is one of the oldest illustrated Hebrew manuscripts.

4. In his article "The Leningrad Codex as a Representative of the Masoretic Text," E. J. Revell explores the relationship between L and other Masoretic manuscripts (especially the Aleppo Codex [A]) in greater detail. He begins by noting that of the eight differences in the consonantal text between the Ben Asher and Ben Naphtali traditions, L follows the Ben Asher line six times, Ben Naphtali twice. Revell finds that A is, in general, somewhat more carefully written than L; at times the text present in L conflicts with its own Masorah. A comparison of the Masorah found in these two important manuscripts illustrates the development of the Masoretic tradition over time. He makes an observation that should be of interest both to textual critics and to exegetes alike:

For many, the standard by which a biblical text is evaluated must be the Masoretic Text. . . . It can be argued that decisions made by scholars, however learned, cannot be relevant for texts written before they were born. If this view is taken, the best standard for the evaluation of manuscripts is the extent of their conformity to the tradition of Aharon ben-Asher, the most renowned of the Masoretes (xlii).
It is certainly true that many people do proclaim the MT to be the biblical text par excellence, but scholars should note that this is a confessional rather than a scientific position. Textual criticism as a discipline does not privilege one text over another. Moreover, as Revell suggests, although "many" see the MT as the standard text, other faith communities may prefer another textual tradition (or no specific tradition at all), opening the doors for exegetes to perform their work on Masoretic and non-Masoretic witnesses alike.

5. In his "Publisher's Preface for Publication of Leningradensis," James Sanders discusses previous photoreproductions of L and the need for a new one. He notes that microfilm copies of L have been available for more than sixty years, and Makor Press published a facsimile edition in 1970. Nevertheless, advances in technology in recent years made taking a completely new set of photographs desirable, and political changes in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s--and especially since 1989--offered opportunites to pursue the project.

6. The final introductory article, written by three of the four photographers, describes in some detail the procedure undertaken to photograph and produce images of L. The entire codex was photographed between 17 May and 1 June 1990 in the special document room of the library in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). Both black and white and color images of every page were shot. The facsimile edition uses the black and white images for the pages of text and color for the carpet pages at the end. Both black and white and color images, as well as black and white microfilm, are available from the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center in Claremont, and the photographers express the hope (surely seconded by many of the readers of this review) that digital images will soon be available as well.

7. Although the introductory articles offer no startling new observations about the codex, they do provide helpful overviews of topics that will undoubtedly interest readers of the facsimile edition. The real impact of the volume, however, is provided by the photographic reproductions themselves. The pages in the manuscript itself are 30 x 27 cm; the facsimile edition reproduces these pages at between 80 and 85 percent of actual size. Because of the incredible clarity of the photographs, the reduced size of the text is usually not a problem when reading the text itself, but readers may want to keep a magnifying glass handy for reading the Masoretic notes--it is also sometimes useful for reading unclear places in the text (the Conservation Notes list some of the anomalies of each page of the codex, noting such items as foxing [discoloration], tears, smudges, erasures, stains, and flecking).

8. When looking in detail at the photographic reproduction of L, one is immediately reminded that BHS is an edited, scholarly edition, not the MT proper. BHS differs from L in several ways: the editorial arrangement of the text on the pages of BHS, more legible spacing, absence of the rafe, absence of marginal art, absence of spacing characters, absence of catchwords at the bottom of every tenth folio, abbreviated Mm notes, and substantially revised Mp notes. It is particularly interesting to compare the often sparse marginal notes in L with the fuller notes in BHS. For example, the midpoint of each book in BHS is marked with the note Myqwspb rpsh ycx; in L one usually finds the abbreviated pOsh ycx, surrounded by a marginal flourish (cf. 109v). Paul Kahle, the creator of the BHS Masorah, had to try to make sense of the sometimes cryptic notes in L, and his judgments were not always correct (cf. Mynatt 1996 on Num 2:14). It is helpful for those who are not experts in the Masorah to read L with Yeivin (1980); Kelley, Mynatt, and Crawford (1998); and BHS close at hand. One somewhat amusing difference between BHS and L is related to the order of the Writings: L follows the order prevalent in Israel, beginning with Chronicles and ending with Ezra, whereas BHS follows the Babylonian order (followed by most early printed Hebrew Bibles), starting with Psalms and ending with Chronicles. In spite of this significant difference in the order of the books, BHS still includes at Ps 130:2 L's Masoretic note Mybwtkh ycx (the middle of the Writings), even though the note is far from accurate when the Writings appear in the Babylonian order!

9. One striking feature of the text of L is the large number of corrections made by the scribe. Parablepsis seems to have been a frequent problem, as evidenced by the numerous places in which crowded text is written over an apparent erasure. On folio 22v, a little more than three lines are written over a discolored portion of the page at a rate of about 25 characters per line (as compared with the more usual 15 to 18 characters per line), probably as a result of scribal homoioteleuton during the copying of the Edomite king list in Gen 36:33-35 (approximately 30 to 35 extra characters appear; did the scribe's eye skip from one Klmyw to another in the list?). Additional examples of corrected parablepsis occur on folios 45v, 72v, 87v, 92v, 99r, and many other places. Corrected dittography (or other accidental additions to the text) is not as evident, but it does occur. The scribe sometimes erased words and wrote dots to indicate that a correction had occurred (e.g., 88r, 106r, 125v); elsewhere he simply erased the bottom part of the letters (e.g., 33v, 50r, 295r, 299r, 319v). A superfluous Tetragrammaton required a different kind of correction: rather than erasing it, the scribe surrounded it with circules (194v).

10. At times the scribe must have found the enormity of his task mind-numbing, but he was able to avoid monotony for himself and his readers through a number of clever devices seemingly designed purely for the sake of variety. The ornamentation surrounding the parashiyyot varies from location to location, tending to become somewhat more elaborate as one progresses through a book. The layout of those Mm notes that appear in the upper and lower margins alongside the text corresponds to the three columns of text on each page, but in every possible combination. On some pages, the Mm notes span all three columns; on others, they span two columns, with a separate block of Mm notes over the remaining column; on still others, there is a separate column of Mm notes for each column of text. Furthermore, the upper and lower Mm notes rarely follow the same pattern on a single page, again exhibiting the variety of arrangements used by the scribe. The scribe even betrays the influence of his Egyptian Muslim surroundings when he uses geometric patterns to embellish the Mm at the top of the page that contains the conclusion of the Song of the Sea (40v).

11. Anyone who uses The Leningrad Codex will agree with Revell concerning the utility of a facsimile edition alongside studies and scholarly editions: "The ability to check these studies and these editions, to see the words in their original physical context, and to see what changes scholars and editors have felt compelled to make, or have made unwittingly, is a great advantage" (xliv). More importantly, though, this edition opens up to the modern reader the world of the medieval scribe. The corrections and erasures evidence the tedium of the scribal task, but the marginal decorations and playful variety of ornamentation, and especially the glorious carpet pages, reflect the joy associated with producing a tool for study, an object of beauty, and a vehicle for worship. Those who use this volume will share the rapture of the scribe every time they open it.

© TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 1998.


Kelley, Page H.; Mynatt, Daniel S.; and Crawford, Timothy G. 1998. The Masorah of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: Introduction and Annotated Glossary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Mynatt, Daniel S. 1996. "A Misunderstood Masorah Parva Note In L for l)'w%(r: in Numbers 2:14." TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism 1. [URL:]

Yeivin, Israel 1980. Introduction to the Tiberian Masorah. Translated and edited by E. J. Revell. Masoretic Studies, no. 5. Chico, CA: Scholars Press, for the Society of Biblical Literature and the International Organization for Masoretic Studies.

James R. Adair, Jr.
Scholars Press