KERI AND KETHIBH: Words (in the form of Aramaic participles) employed by the Masoretes (see MASORAH) to distinguish the pointed or voweled from the unpointed text of the Old Testament. Kethibh, "written" or "what is written," designates the original form of the text of the Old Testament in which the words were represented by their consonants alone; keri, "read" or "what is to be read," refers to the completely vocalized text. Of the kethibh it is necessary to say only that it was intended to represent the form in which all the Hebrew Scriptures were written (without vowels) by their authors, and that after it was adopted as the authorized text, no alteration in the words or letters was ever permitted. The keri serves two main purposes. It makes the exact reading or pronunciation of the words perfectly clear by inserting their vowels; and it is used to correct the possible errors which, perhaps from the very beginning, were observed in the kethibh or traditional text. Since the second purpose could not be attained by introducing notes into the body of the text, the divergences of the keri from the kethibh were pointed out in the margin by characteristic methods and devices which may be observed in any current copy of the Hebrew Bible. As a help to the understanding of them, several modern editions contain a useful Masoretic clavis.
Some common and natural misconceptions may be alluded to. The keri, when cited in the margin, is not always intended as a substitute for the kethibh or official reading. It often merely records a traditional variant reading. Nor, on the other hand, was the kethibh made an unchangeable text because it was thought to be infallible. The official text (authorized not long after the destruction of Jerusalem, 70 A.D.), was chosen not because it was perfect but because it was thought to be the most correct, and because a single archetype was (perhaps wisely) deemed necessary. This is proved by the fact that even the accidental peculiarities of the copy thus chosen were retained and still remain. Again, the Masoretes or Jewish editors did not establish or even seek to influence the keri or the traditional readings as marked by the vowel signs. The received form of words goes back to times several centuries before the Masoretes began their work. It was perpetuated chiefly by the synagogal services (see SYNAGOGUE); and, of course, without the pronunciation of the words the kethibh itself could not have been preserved.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: C. D. Ginsburg, Introduction to the Masoretico-Critical Edition of the Hebrew Bible, London, 1897; F. G. Kenyon, Our Bible and the Ancient MSS., ib. 1896; T. H. Weir, A Short Hist. of the Hebrew Text of the O. T., ib.1899. Much of the literature in the bibliography under BIBLE TEXT, I., contains information on the subject.
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