Friday, October 13, 2006

Old Testament verse numbers

If I asked who introduced the NT verse numbers, when he did so, where he was and what he was doing at the time I expect that I would get plenty of accurate information. Would I get the same if I asked when the OT verse numbers date from and who first introduced them?


  1. Well, what about at least narrowing the time frame?

  2. Assuming Scrivener (Plain Introduction, 4th ed [1894]) to be correct, he suggests the following (1:70):

    "Robert Stephens ... undertook to form a system of verse-divisions [for the NT], taking for his model the short verses into which the Hebrew Bible had already been divided, as it would seem by Rabbi Nathan, in the preceding [15th] century."

  3. About whom see here. However, as Scrivener must have known the 'division' into verses, of course, went back at least to the earliest Hebrew manuscripts available in his day. The article mentions the earliest Latin Psalter with verse numbers as being the 1509 edn of Henry Stephens. I wonder whether Robert Stephens might not have found the verse division of his dad (Henry) a more immediate model.

  4. I recommend reading Chapter VI of Ginsburg's Introduction for detailed information on this. (actually reading all other chapters is a good idea too, if you want to learn all that is currently known about the Hebrew Bible).

    In short, the answer to your question is that the verse division is quite ancient, i.e. of massoretic origin. E.g. the Massorah has concepts like "middle verse of the Psalms", "middle verse of the Torah" etc. And Talmud refers to these as well (Kiddushin 30a).

    If you don't have this book I can email you this chapter in PDF format, if you want.

    I intend to produce
    a reprint of the original 1897 edition (in both hardcover and PDF formats) soon, btw.


  5. For NT do you know WHY verse numbers were introduced?

  6. I think there might be confusion between verse divisions and verse numbers. Of course the divisions are much older. I think the addition of numbers was of Christian, not Jewish origin. But I can't recall specifics.

  7. There is a brief discussion of the matter in Emanuel Tov's "Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible," with references to earlier accounts.

    In Rabbinic tradition, verses originally were counted by the whole book, and numbers were not routinely (if ever) indicated. Books of Torah were sub-divided into weekly readings, as 54 (or 53) parashot (Babylonian annual cycle) or 154 or 167 sedarim (Palestinian triennial cycle), usually significantly longer or shorter than the current chapters.

    Systematic division of Biblical books into chapters, with the chapters then broken down into sequentially numbered verses, seems to have been a Christian innovation in the mid-thirteenth-century. It was developed to allow precise references to the Vulgate, and following its grammatical structure.

    It was later adopted by Jewish scholars, with the necessary adaptations to the Hebrew text (instead of the Latin), and this version of the system was included in some manuscripts, and routinely in printed editions.

    The current system is that attributed to Stephen Langton (c. 1150-1228; Archbishop of Canterbury from 1207). There was also an early rival system, proposed in the 1240s by Cardinal Hugo de Sancto Caro.