The following history of early printed editions of the Hebrew Old Testament is excerpted from the article by A. J. Maas, "Editions of the Bible," The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume V (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909).


Roughly speaking, there are three classes of editions of the Hebrew text:

The reader will see that this division has an historical as well as a logical basis.


Technically speaking, the Incunabula are the editions issued before the year 1500. From our present critical standpoint, they are very defective; but since they represent manuscripts now lost, they are important even for critical purposes. The following publications constitute the main body of the Incunabula:


By these we understand editions of the Bible reproduced either from manuscripts or previous printed editions without the aid of critical apparatus and the application of critical principles. While the editions of the Hebrew text thus far enumerated owed their publication to Jewish enterprise, those that follow were, at least in part, due to Christian scholarship. For practical purposes we may divide the common editions into two classes: (1) those not depending on other printed editions (independent editions); (2) those depending, at least partly, on a previously printed text (dependent, or mixed, editions).

(1) Independent editions

This class of editions comprises two principal ones: (a) the "Biblia Polyglotta Complutensia"; (b) the "Biblia Rabbinica Bombergiana", second edition. Here we can give only a summary of their principal features.

(a) "Biblia Polyglotta Complutensia"

In the year 1502, Cardinal Ximenes engaged several learned scholars to prepare the edition of a polyglot Bible called variously after the name of its ecclesiastical patron and the place of its publication (Alcalá, in Lat. Complutum). The editors of the Hebrew text were Jewish converts. Ancient manuscripts, estimated at the value of 4000 florins, and probably also the best extant printed copies of the Hebrew text, were placed at their disposal. Thus the cardinal's scholars produced a text quite different from the other printed texts of his time. They marked the vowels, but not the accents. The Polyglot was finished in 1517, but was published only in 1520 or 1522, according to Gregory (Canon and Text of the New Testament, New York, 1907). The pure form of its text was only once reprinted in the so-called "Biblia Polyglotta Vatabli", or "Polyglotta Sanctandreana'', or again, "Bertram's Polyglot" (Heidelberg, 1586, 1599, 1616).

(b) "Biblia Rabbinica Bombergiana," second edition

Daniel Bomberg, of Antwerp, who had established a printing-office for Hebrew and rabbinic literature in Venice, published, in 1518, two important editions of the Hebrew text: (a) an edition for Christian readers, in quarto, which was reprinted in 1521, 1525-28, 1533, 1544; (b) an edition for Jewish readers, edited by the Jewish convert Felix Pratensis. It contained the Targumim, the Massorah, and many Jewish commentaries, but did not satisfy the Jews. Hence Bomberg found it advisable to publish another edition under the editorship of R. Jacob ben Chayim, the most celebrated Jewish scholar of his time. He brought the text into closer agreement with the Massorah, and added several more Jewish commentaries. The work appeared in Venice, in four folio volumes, 1525-26, and was justly regarded as the first Massoretic Bible. It won the approbation of both Jewish and Christian scholars, so that it had to be republished in 1547-49, and 1568; the- last edition was brought out under the direction of John de Gara. In spite of the great merits of the work, it is not wholly free from defects; Ben Chayim paid too much attention to the Massorah and too little to reliable old manuscripts. The principal codex he followed fell afterwards into the hands of de Rossi, who testifies that it is quite defective and has not been carefully edited. Chayim printed it without correcting its most glaring mistakes.

The subsequent editions were influenced principally by Ben Chayim's text, and only secondarily by the Complutensian Polyglot. Thus the former text was repeated by Bragadin (Venice, 1617), and, in a slightly modified form, by Justiniani (Venice, 1551, 1552, 1563, 1573), the editors of Geneva (1618), John de Gara (Venice, 1566, 1568, 1582), Plantin (Antwerp, 1566), Hartmann (Frankfort, 1595, 1598), the editors of Wittenberg (1586, 1587), and Tores (Amsterdam, 1705). Long before the last publication appeared, John Buxtorf edited first the Hebrew text in manual form (Basle, 1611), then Chayim's rabbinic Bible in four folio volumes (Basle, 1618, 1619). Though he corrected some of Ben Chayim's mistakes, he allowed others to remain and even introduced some new ones. He ought not to have regulated the vocalization of the Targumim according to the vowels in the Chaldee fragments of the Bible, and it was at least inconsistent to change the Massorah according to the Hebrew text, seeing that Ben Chayim, whose text he professed to follow, had modified the Hebrew text according to the Massorah.

(2) Dependent, or mixed, editions

In the editions thus far mentioned the text of one or the other of the two principal forms of the Hebrew Bible was reproduced without any notable change. We have now to consider the attempts made to correct the text either according to the reading of other editions or according to that of ancient manuscripts.

(a) Texts Corrected according to Printed Texts

The first mixed text of the Hebrew Bible appeared in the Antwerp Polyglot (1569-72); the same text was repeated in the Paris Polyglot (1629-45), in the London Polyglot (1657), in that of Reineccius (Leipzig, 1750-51), the smaller Plantin editions (Antwerp, 1580, 1582; Burgos, 1581; Leyden, 1613), the manual edition of Reineccius (Leipzig, 1725, 1739, 1756), and in the Vienna Bible (1743). The beautifully printed Bible of Hutter (Hamburg, 1588) presents a peculiarly mixed text. Here may be added the names of a few editors who published a Hebrew text without vowels and without pretence to critical accuracy: Plantin (Antwerp, 1573, 8vo and 12mo; Leyden, 1595, 16mo; 1610, 12mo; Hanau, 1610, 24mo); Menasse ben Israel (Amsterdam, 1630, 1639, 8vo); Leusden (1694, 8vo); Maresius (1701, 8vo); Jablonsky (Berlin, 1711, 24mo); Forster (Oxford, 1750, 4to).

(b) Texts Corrected according to Codices and Printed Texts

The mixture of Chayim's text with the Complutensian could not give permanent satisfaction. Every comparison of the mixed text with that of any good manuscript brought to light many discrepancies and suggested the idea that a better Hebrew text might be obtained by the help of good codices. The first attempt to publish a Hebrew text thus corrected was made by John Leusden with the cooperation of the printer Jos. Athias (Amsterdam, 1661, 1667). The editor revised Chayim's text according to the readings of two codices, one of which was said to be about 900 years old. This edition, printed by Athias, was revised by George Nissel according to the readings of Hutter's Bible (Leyden, 1662). Nissel makes no pretence of having collated any codices, so that his work is noted for its scarcity rather than its critical value. Clodius, too, endeavoured to correct Athias's text according to earlier editions, but was not always successful (Frankfort, 1677, 1692, 1716). Jablonsky corrected the second edition of Athias according to the readings of several codices and of the better previous editions, paying special attention to the vowels and accents (Berlin, 1699, 1712); his first edition is commonly regarded as being one of the best. Van der Hooght corrected the second edition of Athias according to the Massorah and the previously printed editions (Amsterdam and Utrecht, 1705); his attention to the smallest details and the printer's care account for the general favour with which the edition was received. A still more perfect reprint of the edition was published by Props (Amsterdam, 1724). Simonis, too, published correct and cheap reprints of Van der Hooght's Bible. Opitz corrected the edition of Athias according to the readings of seventeen of the best previous editions and of several manuscripts (Kiel, 1709; Züllichau, 1741). He supervised the proof in person, and even the type was remarkable for its size and clearness, so that the edition was considered the most accurate extant. J. H. Michaelis edited the first Hebrew text with variants (Halle, 1720). He based it on the text of Jablonsky which he compared with twenty-four earlier editions and with five manuscripts preserved in Erfurt. The more important variants he added at the bottom of the page. It has been found that the comparison was made rather superficially as far as the printed editions were concerned, and there is no good reason for supposing that more care was taken in the comparison of the manuscript text. Still, the edition remains valuable, because it is the first of its kind, and some of its variants deserve attention even to-day. The Oratorian Father Houbigant tried to produce a text far superior to the commonly received one. Taking Van der Hooght's text for his basis, he added his own corrections and conjectures in critical notes. His apparatus consisted of a number of manuscripts, the ancient versions, and the Hebrew context. The precipitancy of his inferences and the rashness of his conjectures did much to create a prejudice against his method, though the merit of his work has been duly appreciated by scholars. His "Notĉ Criticĉ" were printed in separate form in Frankfort (1777), after the full edition had appeared in Paris (1753).

Here may be mentioned the work of the Italian Jew, Salomo Norzi. He began in the early years of the seventeenth century to compare Bomberg's text with the best of the printed editions, with a number of good manuscripts of both Bible and Massorah, with the Biblical citations found in the Talmud, the Midrashim, and in other rabbinic writings, and with the critical annotations of the more notable Jewish commentators; the results of his long study he summarized in a Massoretico-critical commentary intended to accompany the text of the Hebrew Bible, which had been rather scantily corrected. The title of the work was to be "Repairer of the Breach" (Is., lviii, 12), but the author died before he could publish his book. Nearly a century later, a Jewish physician named Raphael Chayim Italia had Norzi's work printed at his own expense under the title "Offering of the Gift" (Mantua, 1742-44). Among Christian scholars it appears to have remained unnoticed until Bruns and Dresde drew attention to it. In spite of his best intentions, Norzi at times rather corrupts than corrects the Hebrew text, because he prefers the readings of the Massorah to those of the manuscripts.


The editions thus far enumerated can hardly be called critical, since their editors either lacked the necessary apparatus or did not consider it prudent to correct the received Hebrew text according to the full light of their textual information. Later on, two classes of scholars published really critical editions of the Hebrew text; some endeavoured to restore critically the most correct Massoretic text obtainable; others tried to find the most accurate pre-Massoretic text.

(1) Critical Editions of the Massoretic Text

In order to restore the correct Massoretic text it was necessary first to collect the apparatus. About the middle of the eighteenth century this need was felt very keenly by Benjamin Kennicott, a canon of Christ Church, Oxford, who determined to remedy the evil. Beginning in 1759, he collated either in person or through others as many as 615 Hebrew manuscripts, 52 printed editions, and the Talmud, continuing this preparation until the year 1773. Then he began the printing of the work (Vetus Testam. Hebr. cum var. lectionibus, 2 volumes, Oxford, 1776-80) based on Van der Hooght's Hebrew text as edited by Simonis. The variants, with their respective sources, were indicated below the text. In the introductory dissertation of the second volume the author gives the history of his enterprise and justifies its methods. He found this necessary because, after the appearance of the first volume, his critics had charged him with lack of care and discernment in the choice of the manuscripts used, of the variants noticed, and in the treatment of the Massorah.

Bernardo de Rossi, professor at Parma, tried to construct an apparatus that should not be open to the exceptions taken against Kennicott's work. The material on which de Rossi worked exceeded that of Kennicott by 731 manuscripts, 300 printed editions, and several ancient versions. In his work (Variĉ lectiones Vet. Testam., 4 volumes, Parma, 1784-88) and its subsequent supplement (Supplementa ad varias s. text. lectiones, 1798) he noted the more important variants, gave a brief appreciation of their respective sources and their values, and paid due attention to the Massorah. He follows Van der Hooght's text as his basis, but considers it known, and so does not print it. All of de Rossi's critics are at one in admiring the laboriousness of his work, but they deny that its importance bears any proportion to the labour it implies. Perhaps the author himself, in his "Dissertatio prĉliminaris" to vol. IV, gives a fairer opinion of his work than his critics do. It can hardly be denied that de Rossi at least showed what can be done by a study of the manuscripts and of the old editions for the correction of the received Hebrew text.

The apparatus of the textual, or lower, criticism of the Old Testament text is not limited to the works of Kennicott and de Rossi; it comprises also the above-mentioned work of Salomo Norzi, re-edited in Vienna, 1813; the writings of Wolf ben Simson Heidenhaim; Frensdorff's "Ochla W' Ochlah" (1864), and "Massora Magna" (Hanover, 1876); the prophetic "Codex of St. Petersburg", dating back to 916, phototyped by Strack in 1876; all the recently discovered or recently studied codices and fragments, together with the works of the ancient Jewish grammarians and lexicographers.

But even with these means at their command, the editors of the Hebrew text did not at once produce an edition that could be called satisfactory from a critical point of view. The editions of Döderlein-Meisner (Leipzig, 1793) and Jahn (Vienna, 1807) only popularized the variants of Kennicott and de Rossi without utilizing them properly. The edition published under the name of Hahn and prefaced by Rosenmüller (Leipzig, 1834) is anything but critical. The stereotype editions of Hahn (Leipzig, 1839) and Theile (Leipzig, 1849) remained for many years the best manual texts extant. More recently the apparatus has been used to better advantage in the edition of Ginsburg (The New Massoretico-Critical Text of the Hebrew Bible, 1894) and in that of Baer and Delitzsch. The last-named appeared in single books, beginning with the year 1861. The Books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are still wanting; both editors are dead, so that their work will have to be completed by other hands.

(2) Critical Editions of the Pre-Massoretic Text

The editors whose work we have thus far noticed endeavoured to restore as far as possible the text of the Massorah. However valuable such an edition may be in itself, it cannot pretend to be the last word which textual criticism has to say concerning the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. After all, the Massoretic text attained to its fixed form in the early centuries of the Christian Era; before that period there were found many text-forms which differed considerably from the Massoretic, and which nevertheless may represent the original text with fair accuracy. The most ancient and reliable witness for the pre-Massoretic text-form of the Hebrew Bible is found in the Septuagint. But it is practically certain that, even at the time of the Septuagint, the original text had suffered considerable corruptions; these can be corrected only by comparing parallel passages of the context, or again by conjectural criticism; a critical edition of this kind presupposes, therefore, a critical edition of the Septuagint text.

Various attempts have been made to restore the pre-Massoretic text of single books of the Old Testament: thus Olshausen worked at the reconstruction of the Book of Genesis (Beiträge zur Kritik des überlieferten Textes im Buche Genesis, 1870); Wellhausen (Text der Bücher Samuelis, 1871), Driver (Notes on the Hebrew Text of the Books of Samuel, 1890), and Klostermann (Die Bücher Samuelis und der Könige, 1887) at the correction of the Books of Samuel; Cornill at the correction of the Book of Ezechiel (Das Buch des Propheten Ezechiel, 1886). To these might be added various other publications; e. g., several recent commentaries, some of the works published by Bickell, etc. But all these works concern only part of the Old Testament text. "The Sacred Books of the Old Testament", edited by Paul Haupt, is a series intended to embrace the whole Hebrew text, though the value of its criticism is in many instances questionable; Kittel's "Biblia Hebraica" (Leipzig, 1905), too, deserves a mention among the critical editions which attempt to restore the pre-Massoretic Hebrew text.