In a number of instances, the Mishna provides quotes from Tanakh that differ from the versions of Tanakh that we have today. So, for example, Sotah 6:4 (31b). There, the mishna quotes Deuteronomy 19:15 as saying "על פי שנים עדים", but the Masoretic Text reads "שני" instead of "שנים". Similarly, Sotah 7:5 (32a) quotes Joshua 8:23 as saying "וכל ישראל וזקיניו ושטריו", while the Masoretic Text renders the fourth word as ושוטרים (without the suffix). I have seen other examples of this phenomenon elsewhere and, while they're not significant differences, I wonder why the text of the Mishna was never updated to reflect the precise phraseology of scripture?


[With many thanks to @DoubleAA, if you consult Shabbat 55b you can see where Tosafot also comment upon this phenomenon (s.v. מעבירים כתיב) and, in Gilyon haShas, R' Akiva Eger brings an impressively exhaustive list of other instances in which this phenomenon also occurs: passages in the Bavli, the Yerushalmi, midrashim and mefarshim on Chumash. He also refers to another Tosafot (Niddah 33a, s.v. והנושא) that makes reference to this issue, though without offering an explanation for it.]

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    Check out the Gilyon to Shabbat 55b hebrewbooks.org/shas.aspx?mesechta=2&daf=55b&format=pdf
    – Double AA
    Commented Aug 23, 2013 at 1:52
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    @DoubleAA You (with the help of R. Akiva Eiger) just blew my mind.
    – WAF
    Commented Aug 23, 2013 at 3:10
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    @WAF They don't teach that Gilyon haShas in cheder, let me tell you that.
    – Double AA
    Commented Aug 23, 2013 at 3:35
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    @DoubleAA - Yet one more reason to be completely blown away by R' Akiva Eger :) Interesting that he doesn't mention the two examples that I brought from Sotah! Maybe they weren't different to the masorah in the Shas that he used? Otherwise, it appears to be phenomenally exhaustive. Pity that neither he nor the Tosafot that he brings from Niddah give a reason for this phenomenon, but it's nice to see them commenting upon it.
    – Shimon bM
    Commented Aug 23, 2013 at 4:31
  • highly related judaism.stackexchange.com/q/11290/759
    – Double AA
    Commented Aug 23, 2013 at 4:49

1 Answer 1


I would offer three answers, which I believe may be true simultaneously.


While scribes were extremely careful for pesukim in Tanach, so as not to invalidate the kosher status of the sefer, they were not so careful when quoting pesukim when they occurred within the Gemara.

Add to that that sometimes earlier manuscripts will shorten words or phrases with apostrophes -- e.g., they might write ושוטר or ושוטרי followed by an apostrophe, and a later scribe could expand it into what he believed was the full quote, working from memory because he did not have the quote before him.

In the two cases given in the question, this sort of accidental expansion seems likely. שני could be expanded accidentally into שנים. And in Yehoshua the words are וכל ישראל וזקיניו ושטרים ושפטיו, when shortened and then expanded, would have ושטרים naturally expanded to the יו ending, based on context. Lectio difficilior and all that.


I heard in Rav Schachter's shiur, I forget citing whom, that Chazal deliberately messed up the quotations. After all, one should not be citing a pasuk, from the Written Law, orally. Therefore, they changed the pesukim in ways that would not damage the derasha.


This however does not work for the many instances in which the derasha is made based on a feature of the changed text. For example, Chazal darshen the chaser / malei status of Totafot against what is our current masoretic spelling.

This seems to indicate that, at least in those instances, and possibly in others, they are working from a different, parallel masorah.

(Vetus Testamentum for the two examples in the question, has the same as our own Masoretic text, but cites other Hebrew texts, meaning from Jews rather than Samaritans, that in fact have these variants.)

I have myself investigated many of these instances of changed wording and discovered that Chazal's derasha accords with an ancient text we can actually find, namely in the Samaritan Pentateuch. That means that whoever made the derasha had a different text in his sefer Torah, from which he darshened.

For example, I posted about a Midrash Rabba that assumes the Samaritan text, and causes confusion among the commentators of Midrash Rabba. And in another, I show that rather than following the Gra's emendation of a quote of a pasuk in a gemara, we can see that they are actually darshening the Samaritan text. And in another, I show how the famous question on the Haggadah about how the Chacham can say אתכם and not be wicked is based on our Masoretic text, but in old Haggadahs and in the Mechilta, the Chacham repeats the pasuk but says Otanu, in line with e.g. the Septuagint:

(picture of what appears to be an excerpt of an old haggadah, with "Otanu" instead of "Etchem" in the Chacham's words)

  • +1 Very nice. I knew who wrote this before I got down to your name:)
    – user6591
    Commented Feb 6, 2015 at 12:06
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    I guess if they deliberately misquote it then they should do it every time
    – barlop
    Commented Sep 15, 2016 at 19:35

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