The Masoretic Text (MT) is the Hebrew text of the Scriptures approved for general use in Judaism. It is also widely used in translations of the Old Testament of Christian Bibles. It was primarily compiled, edited and distributed by a group of Jews known as the Masoretes between the seventh and tenth centuries AD, though the consonants differ little from the text generally accepted in the early second century. It has numerous differences when compared to other early sources such as the Septuagint, of both little and great significance.
The Hebrew word mesorah refers to the transmission of a tradition. In fact, in a very broad sense it can refer to the entire chain of Jewish tradition. But in terms of the masoretic text the word mesorah has a very specific meaning: it refers to concise marginal notes in manuscripts (and later printings) of the Hebrew Scriptures which note textual details, usually about the precise spelling of words.
The oldest manuscripts containing substantial parts of the Masoretic Text date from approximately the ninth century, and the Aleppo Codex (possibly the first ever complete copy of the Masoretic Text in one manuscript) dates from the tenth century, but there are many earlier fragments that appear to belong in the same textual family. For example, among the Dead Sea Scrolls and fragments found at other places in the Judean desert, there are some which differ from the Masoretic Text in only about 1 letter of each 1000 letters. Of course, there are also fragments showing more significant differences.
There have been many published editions of the Masoretic text. Most noteworthy for Christians are the Biblia Hebraica, which are critical editions of the Masoretic text used in translating modern english versions of the Old Testament such as the NASB, NIV, and ESV.
- Biblia Hebraica, first two editions, 1906, 1912
- Biblia Hebraica, third edition based on the Leningrad Codex, 1937
- Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS), a revision of Biblia Hebraica (third edition), 1977