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The Oxford Illustrated History of the Bible A richly illustrated account of the story of the Bible written by leading scholars.

Marking of Paragraphs

The second component of the Tiberian Masoretic tradition is the division of the text into paragraphs according to content. The paragraphs (known as pisqa'ot or parashiyyot) are of two types: the parasha petuḥa (‘open paragraph’), which marked major divisions in content, and the parasha setuma (‘closed paragraph’), which was a sub-division of the petuḥa. These differ in the way in they are marked. At the beginning of a petuḥa paragraph, the first word was written at the beginning of a new line. If the preceding line ended near the left margin, a whole line was left blank. A setuma was marked by leaving a space of nine letters after the preceding text on the same line. If there was not enough room left on the same line the following line was indented. In late medieval manuscripts and in many printed editions the letter pe is added in the space to mark a petuḥa, or the letter samekh to mark a setuma.

The places where each of these two types of paragraph were marked was a fixed component of the Tiberian Masoretic tradition. Some medieval Bible manuscripts contain lists of the petuḥa and setuma paragraphs. Similar lists were sometimes written in separate manuscripts. Some variation in paragraph division is found among the medieval manuscripts, though there is general uniformity. Maimonides includes in his Mishneh Torah a list of the paragraph divisions in the Pentateuch according to a manuscript of Aharon ben Asher, and by this means sanctioned the Ben Asher stream of Masoretic tradition not only in the marking of paragraphs but in its entirety. As remarked earlier, this led to the adoption of the Ben Asher tradition in Judaism.

The Tiberian Masoretes incorporated the practice of paragraph division from an earlier tradition. It is mentioned in rabbinic texts from about the third century CE. The same system of marking divisions starting new lines and leaving spaces is found in the manuscripts from Qumran, both biblical and non-biblical. There is a large degree of agreement between the paragraphing of the Qumran biblical scrolls and that of the medieval manuscripts, which indicates that the tradition can be traced back to the Second Temple period. This division into units and sub-units of content is an expression of the exegesis of the text that was applied to it at a certain stage in its transmission.

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