Scirbal Scribal Errors

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There are about 1,500 scribal errors in the Hebrew Scriptures. The letters vav and yod, for instance, were often confused by ancient copyists of the Bible. The two letters are so similar that they are easily confused. In fact, writing by mistake a vav instead of a yod, or vice versa, is the most common scribal error.

Revised: 5-Nov-2012

There are about 1,500 scribal errors in the Hebrew Scriptures. The letters ו (vav) and י (yod), for instance, were often confused by ancient copyists of the Bible. The two letters are so similar that they are easily confused. In fact, writing by mistake a vav instead of a yod, or vice versa, is the most common scribal error in the Bible.

Artists depiction of the clay jars with lids that contained the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered at Qumran.
Artists depiction of the clay jars with lids that contained the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered at Qumran.

The only difference between the Hebrew personal pronouns for “he” and “she” is the middle letter yod or vav. Confusion of vav and yod often resulted in a copying mistake, the writing of הוא (hu, he) instead of היא (hi, she), and vice versa. If, for instance, an earlier scribe happened to make the letter י (yod) of היא (hi, she) a little too long, then the scribe who next copied that text might mistakenly read the היא as הוא (hu, he) (e.g., 1 Kgs. 17:15; Job 31:11; Isa. 30:33). Or, conversely, if a scribe made the ו (vav) of הוא a little too short, then the next copyist might read the הוא as היא (e.g., 1 Kgs. 17:15; 1 Chron. 29:16; Job 31:11; Ps. 73:16; Eccl. 5:8).

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Modern Scribe with quill making repairs to a Torah scroll. (Courtesy of the Israel Government Press Office)
Modern Scribe with quill making repairs to a Torah scroll. (Courtesy of the Israel Government Press Office)
This article originally appeared in issue 36 of the Jerusalem Perspective magazine. Click on the image above to view a PDF of the original magazine article.

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  • David N. Bivin

    David N. Bivin
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    David N. Bivin is founder and editor of Jerusalem Perspective. A native of Cleveland, Oklahoma, U.S.A., Bivin has lived in Israel since 1963, when he came to Jerusalem on a Rotary Foundation Fellowship to do postgraduate work at the Hebrew University. He studied at the Hebrew…
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