The 1524 Second Rabbinic Bible (Mikraot Gedolot)

The Mikraot Gedolot (or, in English, the [Second] Rabbinic Bible) was produced by Jacob ben Haim (also known as Yaakov ben Hayyim ibn Adonijah). The Mikraot Gedolot was published by Daniel Bomberg in Venice in 1524-1525, and is a classic printing of the Hebrew Bible, the Hebrew Masoretic text. The Mikraot Gedolot of ben Hayyim is believed to have been used by the translators of the King James Version of the Bible in 1611, as the source text (Textus Receptus) of the Hebrew Old Testament.

The Mikraot Gedolot or Second Rabbinic Bible was produced and edited by Jacob ben Haim. He was a Jewish Masoretic scholar who converted (possibly out of necessity) to Christianity. He compiled all the elements of the Mikraot Gedolot, including the following individual elements:

  • The Hebrew and Aramaic text of the Tanakh (Old Testament) according to the Massorah - including the Hebrew letters, vocalization, and teamim (cantillation marks).
  • The Hebrew Massorah, the Masoretic notes on the Biblical text.
  • The Aramaic Targums.
  • In addition to Targum Onkelos and Rashi's commentary (the standard Jewish commentaries on the Hebrew Bible), there are other Biblical commentaries, the most common and prominent being medieval commentaries in the peshat tradition.

The Mikraot Gedolot or Second Rabbinic Bible was a monumental achievement of typesetting for its day, given that the printing press was new and all the Hebrew letters, vowels and accents had to be meticulously and individually assembled into place.

Ben Hayyim used the best Hebrew manuscripts that were available to him. Although some have argued that he did not always have access to the best manuscripts, the famous massoretic scholar Ginsburg has argued that it was a good representation of the Ben Asher text. In fact, Ginsburg's own superb editions of the Hebrew Bible, printed by the British and Foreign Bible Society, were based on ben Hayyim's Second Rabbinic Bible or Mikraot Gedolot.

The Second Rabbinic Bible, or Mikraot Gedolot, was published in four volumes:

  1. The first volume contains the five books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
  2. The second volume contains the books of Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, and 1 & 2 Kings.
  3. The third volume contains all of the former and latter prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.
  4. The fourth volume contains the books of Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1 & 2 Chronicles.

The Mikraot Gedolot or Second Rabbinic Bible of Ben Hayyim served as the standard text of the Hebrew Bible for nearly all later editions until modern times. It is widely recognised as an extraordinary achievement. Despite this, objections have been raised by Jewish readers, due to the fact that the first printing of the Mikraot Gedolot (the First Rabbinic Bible) was edited by Felix Pratensis, a Jew converted to Christianity. The publisher of the Second Rabbinic Bible was Daniel Bomberg, also a Christian convert from Judaism, and he had requested an imprimatur from the Pope. Thus, Jewish criticism of the Second Rabbinic Bible is largely because it was not entirely the work of Jews, and Christian converts were involved. However, the history of the times must also be understood. All religious published books in the 1500s required explicit authority from the Pope, and the publishing of books was impossible without the Pope's agreement. These conditions also applied, for example, to the Complutensian Polyglot Bible and Erasmus' editions of the Greek New Testament.

The Mikraot Gedolot or Second Rabbinic Bible of Ben Hayyim is widely accepted as a well produced, superior, and textually accurate edition of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. It was made from the best manuscripts that were available to Ben Hayyim, and great care was taken into its typesetting and production. It has stood the test of time, and was used by all subsequent translations of the Old Testament right up until modern times, when the Leningrad Codex is generally used.

The Mikraot Gedolot or Second Rabbinic Bible can be used to compare the text of the Hebrew Bible in printed Bibles today, with Medieval texts, with the Leningrad Codex and the Aleppo Codex, and with the Dead Sea Scrolls. These comparisons show that the text of the Hebrew Bible has been preserved faithfully down through the centuries. Any differences are very minor, generally affecting the teamim (cantillation marks) rather than the Hebrew letters themselves.

Further, very detailed and accurate, information on the manuscript traditions of the Hebrew Bible is contained in the classic reference work of C.D. Ginsburg, Introduction to the Massoretico-critical edition of the Hebrew Bible, in two volumes.

Be sure to watch the video about the Mikraot Gedolot or Second Rabbinic Bible, to gain further insights into this historically important witness of the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh.