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Nehemiah 7:68, is missing from most Hebrew manuscripts. This fact suggests it was not in the autograph (original). Nevertheless, it is included in most English translations:

67 besides their male and female servants, of whom there were 7,337. And they had 245 singers, male and female. 68 Their horses were 736, their mules 245,[a] (Nehemiah 7:67-68)
a. Nehemiah 7:68 Compare Ezra 2:66 and the margins of some Hebrew manuscripts; Hebrew lacks Their horses… 245

The ESV notes, similar text is found in Ezra 2:66 and in the margins of some manuscripts. The correctness of the text is not in question. Its presence as authentic to Nehemiah is in doubt.

For reference, here are the same verses in Ezra:

65 besides their male and female servants, of whom there were 7,337, and they had 200 male and female singers. 66 Their horses were 736, their mules were 245, (Ezra 2:65-66)

The missing Nehemiah verse is likely due to a scribal error of a type known as parablepsis which is caused when "a scribe miscopies text due to inadvertently looking to the side while copying, or accidentally skips over some of it..." A specific type of parablepsis involves two lines of verse which end with words having the same ending and is known as homeoteleuton:

In the field of palaeography and textual criticism, homeoteleuton has also come to mean a form of copyist error present in ancient texts. A scribe would be writing out a new copy of a frequently reproduced book, such as the Bible. As the scribe was reading the original text, his eyes would skip from one word to the same word on a later line, leaving out a line or two in the transcription. When transcripts were made of the scribe's flawed copy (and not the original) errors are passed on into posterity

It is easy to use homeoteleuton when making a copy of Nehemiah to explain the missing verse:

enter image description here The scribe inadvertently skipped over verse 68 which has the same word ending as verse 67 and produced a copy which lacked the verse, an error which was continued in future copies.

In addition to homeoteleuton when making a copy, it is also possible to use parablepsis and place this error in the making of the autograph of Nehemiah: enter image description here

In his answer to a question over a mathematical contradiction, Dɑvïd asserts parablepsis occurred in the making of Nehemiah. The scribe was copying from Ezra and skipped from the end of 2:65 to near the end of 2:66 and the autograph of Nehemiah lacked the verse.

Obviously making an original (or copy of) Nehemiah using Ezra would be atypical; yet parablepsis from Ezra would account for the absence of 7:67 from most manuscripts. On the other hand, making a copy of Nehemiah would be common and placing a homeoteleuton mistake when copying from the original Nehemiah (or an early copy) which had the verse would also explain why it is missing from most manuscripts.

What factors other than the scribal errors of homeoteleuton or parablepsis attest to the authenticity, or lack thereof, to Nehemiah 7:68?

  • how many other verses in Ezra and Nehemia are identical? – רבות מחשבות Jul 16 '18 at 2:26
  • @רבותמחשבות Nehemiah 7:67 is not identical. 7:68, if present would be. But I'm not sure I understand your point. – Revelation Lad Jul 17 '18 at 15:42
  • a counter argument that could be made by Dɑvïd is that in fact, the scribe was using a early copy of Nehemia, and the same exact homeoteleuton occured. Therefore: If large sections of Ezra and Nehemia are identical, it would indicate that Dɑvïd's theory is correct, and a scribe copying from Ezra (or an identical version of Nehemia) would have omitted these words. On the other hand, if Ezra and Nehemia share next to nothinng, it would make it unlikley that a scribe would be copying from Ezra, and also not likely that the same origonal would be present in Ezra. – רבות מחשבות Jul 17 '18 at 16:13
  • @רבותמחשבות If a scribe had a copy of Nehemiah why would they be copying from Ezra? – Revelation Lad Jul 17 '18 at 16:17
  • @רבותמחשבות Moreover, if the Ezra reference is creditable shouldn't all of the differences between the two lists be taken into consideration? – Revelation Lad Jul 17 '18 at 16:20
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+100

As noted in the comments, based on the other discrepancies in the countings and listings of these respective sections of Ezra and Nehemia, it is highly unlikely that a scribe would be using Ezra to fill in sections of Nehemia.

This being the case, the scribe must have used a Nehemia scroll to fill in Nehemia. This leads to three possibilities:

  1. The earlier version of Nehemia used by the scribe was identical to our Ezra scrolls (and included some version of 7:68)
  2. The version of Nehemia included verse 7:68
  3. The version of Nehemia did not include 7:68

Possibility #1 is unlikely. This is because many of the details of this chapter of Nehemia do not match those of Ezra, leading us to believe that there was a different text for these verses as well. This can be supported by noting that while in Ezra, the wording used in describing the camels in the very next verse is גמליהם, "their camels", while in Nehemia it uses גמלים, camels.

Deciding between possibilities #2 and #3 is very hard. Homeoteleuton can easily explain the possibility of a skip of Nehemia 7:68, as explained above. On the other hand, it would be very likely that had this verse been missing in the original text, it would have been added in by those comparing it with Nehemia.

Minhat Shai, in determining the correct Masoretic text here, decides in favor of omitting it. This is based on a tradition of the midpoint of the book of Ezra/Nehemia falling out at Nehemia 3:32, which would be inaccurate if verse 68 would have been counted, as the midpoint should have then been one verse later. Obviously, however, this tradition is fairly late.

In terms of early witnesses, Clarke's Commentary notes:

Their horses, etc. - The whole of this verse is wanting in fifty of Kennicott's MSS., and in twenty-nine of those of De Rossi, in the edition of Rab. Chayim, 1525, in the Roman Edit. of the Septuagint; also in the Syriac and in the Arabic. It should however be observed, that the Arabic omits the whole list, having nothing of the chapter but the first five verses.

Others note that it is present in the Alexandrian Septuagint and the Vulgate, as well as other Hebrew MSS. For example, the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges states:

This verse does not appear in some of the oldest Hebrew MSS., and is not reckoned in the computation of 685 verses assigned to these books in the Massoretic note at its close. The omission, however, is not supported by the parallel passages in Ezra and 1 Esdr., nor by the LXX. and Vulg. If therefore it be an interpolation from Ezra 2:66, it must have been inserted at a very early date. The alternative is most probable that the omission is the result of an oversight on the part of a copyist, whose eye passed from the ‘five’ at the end of Nehemiah 7:67 to that at the end of Nehemiah 7:68.

The above evidence, although closely weighted, seems to tilt on the side of the original text omitting this verse. The reason for this would be in the spirit of the rules of textual criticism (lectio brevior, lectio difficilior potior), that this is an error that we would expect scribes to fill in. Even though these do not really apply when dealing with a case with a clear mechanism of omission, in this case, it is preferred since there is even more of a reason to expect that scribes would have filled in this passage, namely, a (nearly) identical passage in a nearby book. Had this verse originally been in the text, we would expect almost all manuscripts and versions to contain it, some of those authentically transmitting the original, and others by harmonizing with Ezra. (In other words, while homeoteleuton might have occurred once, it would not likely account for all of those manuscripts/traditions missing this verse.)

Additionally, we would expect that an original follow the grammar within, but as we noted above:

...in Ezra, the wording used in describing the camels in the very next verse is גמליהם, "their camels", while in Nehemia it uses גמלים, camels.

The version of the verse inserted here seems to follow the grammar of Ezra, further supporting the likelihood that it was added as a harmonization.


Edit: In the comments, @RevelationLad pointed to the (versions of the) LXX here, which contain the verse in question, but seem to properly reflect the grammar of Nehemia, reading "horses" as opposed to "their horses", as we would expect. This would imply that the verse was original to Nehemia, not copied from Ezra, and possibly original.

I would disagree, and note that the two versions of this verse (the Masoretic version, which reads "their horses", and the Septuagint version, which reads "horses") indicate that harmonization occurred. Had there been an original text that was lost in some traditions, we would expect all of those witnesses that contained this verse to agree on a common grammar. (Note that harmonization can occur with changes to grammar; in fact, harmonization generally involves adapting another verse and changing the verse in question to be similar, but not necessarily exactly the same.)

A similar argument is made here, noting that despite agreement from several early witnesses, slight changes indicate multiple scribal expansions, as opposed to one deletion and many slight changes.

  • I think the strongest argument comes from the LXX which reflects differences between both verses of Ezra 2:66-67 and Nehemiah 7:68-69. Nehemiah 7:68 - ἵπποι ἑπτακόσιοι τριάκοντα ἕξ ἡμίονοι διακόσιοι τεσσαράκοντα πέντε Ezra 2:66 - ἵπποι αὐτῶν ἑπτακόσιοι τριάκοντα ἕξ ἡμίονοι αὐτῶν διακόσιοι τεσσαράκοντα πέντε and Nehemiah 7:69 - κάμηλοι τετρακόσιοι τριάκοντα πέντε ὄνοι ἑξακισχίλιοι ἑπτακόσιοι εἴκοσι Ezra 2:67 - κάμηλοι αὐτῶν τετρακόσιοι τριάκοντα πέντε ὄνοι αὐτῶν ἑξακισχίλιοι ἑπτακόσιοι εἴκοσι – Revelation Lad Jul 18 '18 at 14:24
  • This shows not only were both verses were present 100-200 BCE; it also shows there were differences between Nehemiah 7:68 and Ezra 2:66 and Nehemiah 7:69 and Ezra 2:67. – Revelation Lad Jul 18 '18 at 14:27
  • I felt that was expressed just as well in the Hebrew, but if you feel it worth noting that it appears in the LXX the same way, feel free to edit it in. @revelationlad – רבות מחשבות Jul 18 '18 at 15:57
  • It is in the Hebrew as you have shown. Finding it in the LXX supports the fact it was original and present before the Masorites since both were different at the time of translation from Hebrew to Greek...IOW Nehemiah was not corrected by adding what was missing (which likely happened in later MSS). Rather, the LXX likely understood the omission and worked from a scroll known to be correct - they did not make a correction by referencing Ezra. – Revelation Lad Jul 18 '18 at 16:10
  • @RevelationLad updated with an additional argument. – רבות מחשבות Jul 19 '18 at 3:11
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It seems that because the time frames of the totals given in Ezra 2:64-67 and Nehemiah 7:66-69 are the same, that is, since their census totals are exactly the same(Ezr 2:64/Neh 7:66), it follows that despite Nehemiah 7:68 not being in the text(e.g. Damascus Keter 1260, Maimon 1280[pg. 610 puts mark between], Bodmer 21), that they are inexorably linked, whether they were tallied at the first(Neh. 7:5), that is, seemingly in the second year of Cyrus, or at the second, that is, seven months later according to that generally described in Ezra 2(cf. Neh 7:5/73), for otherwise those totals of people should have at least been different according to the varying numbers of people given in Ezra 2:1-60 and Nehemiah 7:6-62, though admittedly they do not represent the total numbers of people tallied(29818[Ezra]/31089[Nehemiah] out of 42360[Ezr 2:64/Neh 7:66]). On this reasoning therefore follows its implicit inclusion, though the precise reason for its absence in Nehemiah remains more or less unclear; where some might argue scribal error I could argue willful act on the part of Nehemiah, he leaving out mention of horses deliberately according to the notion that it should suggest something inappropriate about the status of Israel at that time, that is, as a nation without a Tirshatha as it were before the captivity. It should be speculation no doubt on my part as to the reason for its absence, but that there were that many horses and mules at the time to which Nehemiah referred(Neh 7:66-69), it seems evident, that is, according to its corresponding similarity with the time frame of Ezra 2:64-67. Placing the event however whether at the first, or seven months later is a different question altogether; I should say it seems that Nehemiah spoke of that which occurred at the first[v.6-62], digressed into something that happened seven months later[v.66-69], and then back to that which happened at the first[v.70-73], given also that Nehemiah was speaking from a standpoint of over four decades later, for otherwise Ezra should have backtracked seven months for seemingly no reason[v.64-68], though to which possibility I should say by implication should affirmatively include the record of horses and mules to Nehemiah.

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