Monday, March 21, 2011

Successful Conjectural Emendation on a Modern Printed Edition
I've been reading through the book of Ezekiel in my copy of Zondervan's A Reader's Hebrew and Greek Bible, and as I was reading Ezekiel 26 today, I encountered a fun test case for conjectural emendation! In this edition, Ezekiel 26:7 reads כי כה אמר אדני יהוה הנני מביא אל־צר נבוכדראצר מלך־בבל מצפון מלך־מלכים בס וברכב ובפרשים וקהל ועם־רב "For thus says the Lord GOD, 'Behold, I will bring against Tyre Nebuchadrezzar, the king of Babylon, from the north, king of kings, with ... and with chariots and with horsemen and an assembly and a large people." The ellipsis in the English translation is because the Hebrew בס is nonsensical, and indeed even unpronounceable! The keen Hebrew reader should, thus, immediately recognize it as an impossible reading and seek to reconstruct the correct text from his or her understanding of the language and context. So I took up the challenge!

I first noticed that the unpronounceable form made it appear that בס is the beginning of a word of which the final letters were dropped out. This made it likely that the ב was not part of the root, but was instead the preposition "in/with," a conclusion which seemed to be confirmed by the following parallel terms וברכב ובפרשים "and with chariots and with horsemen," which are each prefixed with the same preposition. I then began to search for a Hebrew word beginning with ס that would be a component of an ancient army parallel to chariots and horsemen, and the word סוס "horse" was clearly the best choice. Thus, Nebuchadrezzar would come against Tyre בסוס "with horses" as well as with chariots and horsemen. A quick check of BHS and BHL confirmed that my emendation was correct. Further check of the Westminster Leningrad Codex in BibleWorks, the text which was used in the Zondervan edition, showed that the error was indeed the fault of the editors or publishers, who somehow corrupted their electronic base text.

This test case of conjectural emendation on a modern printed edition was objectively verifiable, and thus it was an interesting diagnostic example for how to approach the complicated question of conjectural emendations of corrupt texts without verifiable originals. It was also a good reminder that even readers of modern editions of the Hebrew Bible should be alert in their reading of the text for printing errors, as even the copy-paste electronic textual editions are open to error.

As a side note, some might consider me a sell-out for reading Zondervan's reader's edition, because it does not include any text-critical information and gives glosses for uncommon Hebrew words. On the contrary, there is no better way to read extensive quantities of Hebrew text quickly, and I have found that regular quick reading of the Hebrew text is often the best way to learn the language and literature well. Broad exposure to the literature of the Hebrew Bible in the original languages provides perspective and is essential for mature and judicious critical study of the Scriptures. I highly recommend readers' editions and tagged electronic editions towards this end.

1 comment:

  1. Neat stuff! Man, to think even our high-tech computers can mess things up...