Science may reveal the original Torah

Bar-Ilan experts believe science can now determine the precise language handed down at Mount Sinai.

Torah 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Torah 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
According to the post-Talmudic tractate Sofrim, there were three Torah scrolls in the Temple court, each slightly different than the others. Since there was no way to determine which was the original, the words that appeared in two out of the three scrolls was accepted as the standard text.
Over the centuries, generations of scribes copied the Torah scrolls, and scribal errors inevitably crept in. To safeguard the holy text, the mesora, the oral tradition that noted the correct spellings of words, paragraph inclinations and cantillation notes, was also passed on within various families.
In the first half of the 10th century, a prominent member of a mesoratic family in Tiberias, Aharon Ben-Asher, created a written book version of the biblical text, a codex that, unlike the Torah scrolls, could also contain the accompanying mesora notes Ben-Asher inscribed. As it was a “crowning glory” of biblical texts, it became known as a Keter (crown), and later ended up in Syria as the Aleppo Codex.
The biblical text was based on a cross-reference of the contemporary versions available to Ben-Asher, probably including his own memorized version, to create the most accurate corpus possible. The Keter received a stamp of approval from Maimonides, who in the 12th century declared it to be the codex he trusted above all others.
Based on the principle of cycles in nature, Rabbi Shabtai Rappaport, head of the Beit Midrash at Bar-Ilan’s Ludwig and Erica Jesselson Institute for Advanced Torah Studies and the organizer of the Nitzozot series, asked the internationally renowned computer science professor and dean of the College of Exact Sciences at Bar-Ilan, Amihood Amir, an expert on reconstructing data, whether the scientific principle of correcting cycles might be applied to the biblical text. The text may contain scribal errors created during the cycles of copying and recopying.
Amir’s lecture at Nitzozot last month presented the ways to reconstruct an original which could be applicable when  mistakes in the data used to reconstruct the cycle fell under certain conditions, such as in the case of Bible copying.
As the biblical text comes with a codex, Prof. Yosef Ofer of Bar-Ilan’sBible department, whose expertise also covers the mesora, spoke of theparallels between digital algorithms created to prevent textualmistakes and those used by the mesora-holders to ensure the ongoingaccuracy of the Torah.
In his address at the conference, Rappaport dwelled on the significancethat the Torah text’s originality bears. The version we use today, hesaid, is the best available version.
However, Rappaport stressed that the halachic principle of ruling bythe majority was not a solution based on statistical probabilities, butrather one applied only when there was no other way to resolve aspecific quandary.
A definitive version of the Torah, scientifically reconstructed back tothe text the People of Israel received at Mount Sinai, may providegroundbreaking insights and shed new light on the most sanctified andwidely disseminated and interpreted text in history.
“This is a fascinating and important project waiting to be undertaken,”Rappaport told The Jerusalem Post. “Now that thetheoretical infrastructure to attempt to reconstruct the original textexists, the ways to apply it will be examined.”