Masora or Massorah (məsōˈrə) [key] [Heb., = tradition], collection of critical annotations made by Hebrew scholars, called the Masoretes, to establish the text of the Old Testament. A principal problem was to fix the vowels, as the Hebrew alphabet has only consonants. Through assiduous study the Masoretes formulated rules for an accurate reading of each verse, evolving a system of vowels and punctuation for the purpose of pronunciation and intonation. Two systems of vowels were evolved: the Tiberian (now in use), consisting of curves, dots, and dashes, which can be traced to the 7th cent.; and the Babylonian, of earlier origin, a more complicated superlinear system. The language of the Masora is mostly Aramaic, although some of the notes are written in Hebrew. The Masoretic compilation that consists of notes in the margins is called the Small, or Marginal, Masora; the one that consists of notes written at the top or the bottom of the text is known as the Great, or Final, Masora. Masoretic work was begun at an unknown time; the first traces of it appear in some halakic works on the Pentateuch. Innumerable scholars contributed to this work, which ceased c.1425.

See R. Gordis, Biblical Text in the Making (1937, repr. 1971); C. D. Ginsburg, Introduction to the Masoretico-Critical Edition of the Hebrew Bible (rev. ed. 1966).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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