Friday, December 30, 2011

Linguistics and Textual Criticism

Lately I have been engaged in a linguistic study of the verb וַיְהִי "and it came to pass..." and its role in understanding macrostructure and narrative strategy in Biblical Hebrew narrative. I have noticed a few tensions between linguistics and textual criticism that need to be addressed. It seems that often the two are pulling in opposite directions. Textual critics are given to emending unique or problematic texts to alleviate difficulties, whereas linguists tend to latch on to exactly these unusual texts as some of the most significant.

As an example, Christo van der Merwe has argued that וַיְהִי can sometimes be used to mark climatic elements in a story. I came independently to a similar conclusion in a paper in 2007 based on the pattern-breaking וַיְהִי of Genesis 5:23. Later I noticed that Ron Hendel rejects this reading in favor of the normal form וַיִּהְיוּ with the support of the Samaritan Pentateuch and Septuagint. Robert Longacre also lamented how often grammarians emended וְהָיָה forms to וַיְהִי.

Obviously, in any given situation, only one of these solutions can be correct. But this example shows the need for a cooperative dialogue between linguistics and textual criticism. Biblical scholars cannot afford to be ignorant of either linguistics or textual criticism. The one-method scholar is likely to be led astray at some point.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Selected Emendations to Targum Neofiti

OT textual critics over the past few generations have become much more conservative in their treatment of conjectural emendations to the biblical text (a welcome trend, given my last post). Nevertheless, we must never forget that textual work is dependent upon manuscripts which may at points be faulty. While we may be rightly suspicious of attempts to emend the biblical text without good warrant, in order to treat textual witnesses with due nuance, we must be sensitive to the need for correction of readings in given manuscripts or traditions. One such manuscript has been on my mind as a possible blog post for a while, and it will serve as a good example.

In collating the text of MS Neofiti 1 for the Genesis Flood narrative, a number of textual problems came about that need to be addressed in order to use the Aramaic Targum Neofiti as a textual witness. The text of Neofiti 1 appears to be in error and requires emendation for adequate evaluation of the tradition.

6:5 - Corresponding to the Hebrew רק "only" (i.e., their thoughts were only on evil all the day), Neofiti 1 has לחזי "vision?". This reading should be emended to לחד "only" as in all the other Targum traditions, which means that Neofiti does not preserve an alternative textual tradition.

8:3 - Corresponding to the Hebrew infinitives absolute הלוך ושוב lit. "going and returning" (i.e., the waters were continually receding), Neofiti 1 has אזלין וחסקין "going and ?ing". Grossfeld notes three possible emendations for the corrupt וחסקין of Neofiti 1. Shiffman emends to וחסכין "and lacking?", which is phonetically very close to Neofiti 1, but this destroys the cognate infinitive construction of the MT and does not fit the context as well. Grossfeld emends to וחסרין "and lacking" in light of the parallel in v. 5, but the MT has different roots for vv. 3 and 5. Díez Macho emends to וחזרין "and returning" on the basis of the same root at the beginning of the verse. Despite its violence to Neofiti 1, וחזרין is probably correct, because it retains the cognate root structure as in the MT and is confirmed by a Cairo Geniza Targum fragment.

8:7 - Corresponding to the Hebrew infinitives absolute יצוא ושוב lit. "exiting and returning" (i.e., the raven was going back and forth), Neofiti 1 has נפק וחזר נפק וחזר "exiting and returning, exiting and returning". Grossfeld says that Neofiti 1’s נפק וחזר נפק וחזר may be dittography, because other Palestinian Targum texts omit the second repetition. The Cairo Geniza Targum MS B, however, also attests to the double translation with a different root, probably implying an intentional double translation for iterative effect.Wevers NGTG: ?that the raven does not return to the ark () Thus Thus ddafsd Thus           Thus, Grossfeld's emendation is unnecessary in this case, and Neofiti is apparently an intentional double translation.

8:12 - Corresponding to the Hebrew אחרים "other" (i.e., Noah waited seven more days), Neofiti 1 has חרינין "controversies?". This should probably be emended to אוחרנין "other" as in the other Targums.

These discussions are a good reminder that in dealing with manuscripts, we have to be sensitive to the errors in the text to utilize it properly in establishing the text.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Conjectural Emendations in the Older Commentaries

In OTTC there has been a notable shift towards conservatism with regard to conjectural emendation within the past few generations. Most scholars now generally avoid proposing emendations and may even reject them outright as a matter of principle. This means that if you want to find possible emendations for a difficult text you are forced to look at the older commentaries, because recent commentaries offer very few, if any. This recent trend in OTTC is certainly not unjustified, even if it is a bit reactionary. In conjunction with my research on the text of the Genesis Flood narrative, I have been reading some older commentaries and noticing a number of patterns. Anyone who wants to look at the older critical commentaries must use them with caution and discernment, recognizing their many abuses and uncritical (ironic...) treatment of the text. A few categories of such abuses I have noticed might be instructive.

1) Many scholars (Ball comes to mind) are in the habit of emending the text of Genesis to conform it to other Ancient Near Eastern Flood accounts. While ANE parallels may provide helpful context, scholars must never forget that the Genesis Flood narrative is a fundamentally unique literary creation. Genesis has its own narrative structure and rhetorical purposes, which are only obfuscated by faulty emendations. The Genesis account should not be arbitrarily forced to conform to other ANE accounts, because despite their similarities, they are literarily independent of one another. Such flawed methodology treats the Genesis text as if it were simply a textual witness to the ANE accounts rather than a text-critical goal in its own right. Thus, e.g., the sending of the raven should not be moved to after the sending of the dove in Genesis simply because that is the order given in an ANE parallel.

2) Many scholars (Gunkel comes to mind) are in the habit of emending the text of Genesis in support of source-critical theories. Reading their commentaries, I am hit with a constant refrain to the effect that "this word/phrase/clause/verse should be omitted as a gloss, because it is in the style of another source." There are two main problems with this. First, these statements betray a misguided goal for their critical texts, also evidenced by the very layouts of their commentaries. These scholars are not interested in establishing the text of Genesis as a completed literary whole, but rather are only interested in Genesis for its supposed testimony to earlier sources. They freely omit within sections assigned to one source any phrases that fit the style of another source, because they do not reflect the "original text" of the source. These emendations are inappropriate for the textual critic of Genesis, however, because there is normally no way to distinguish between secondary glosses conforming the styles of different sources and the work of a final redactor/author and his finished product, the ultimate goal of OTTC. Second, these emendations betray a fundamental weakness of the traditional source-critical approaches. Despite popular misconceptions (and scholarly assertions), the text of the Genesis Flood narrative does not easily lend itself to reliable separation into prior source material. The reality is that "J" sections are so pervasively "glossed" with "P" style and vice versa that the reliability of the source critics' stylistic criteria may be justly criticized as not being obviated by the extant text. Source critics, starting with source divisions of sections determined first and foremost by the usage of the divine names (notably according to the MT only, though that is a whole other discussion), freely omit inconvenient textual evidence that does not fit into their preconceived theories. Textual critics interested in the text of Genesis should be most weary of these biased emendations, forced upon the text as they are to support theories, rather than proposed with due text-critical warrant.

3) Many scholars are in the habit of emending the text of Genesis based on uncritical reconstructions of the ancient versions. Ball, for instance, prefers the text ויצא יצוא ולא שב "And he went out and did not return" in Genesis 8:7 based on the LXX and Syriac readings which could be literally so reconstructed, thinking that it would be most reasonable for the raven not to return to the ark. And yet the chances that the LXX and Syriac actually preserve a true textual variant are slim to none. The chances that this variant is actually original are absolutely nil. It is clear that the LXX and Syriac are exegetical translations of the somewhat ambiguous MT text ויצא יצוא ושוב "And he went out going to and fro(?)" This is especially obvious when one realizes that the Samaritan Pentateuch and a Qumran manuscript understand the MT phrase differently and alter it to mean that the dove did return! The same is true of many difficult words, which the versions seem to struggle to understand and translate. Older scholars tried to reconstruct (and sometimes even adopted into their critical texts) readings based on literalistic, uncritical treatments of the versions that clearly do not reflect true variants. Textual critics should be cautious of many of the preferred emendations in the older commentaries which misuse versional evidence, because in reality they are simply baseless conjectures.

4) Many scholars are in the habit of proposing unnecessary emendations without good reason. Older commentators, operating from a pre-Qumran perspective where the oldest Hebrew witnesses were medieval manuscripts, apparently felt a great deal of freedom with the text. Uncertainty about the history and antiquity of the text and doubts about its reliability led commonly to flippant altering of the text to conform to scholars' preferred exegesis, rather than that exegesis being based on the actual textual evidence. Where there is no apparent textual problem, one should be cautious about proposing alternative texts.

5) Many scholars are in the habit of proposing extreme emendations. One scholar proposed adding a polytheistic reference into the Flood narrative, a truly bizarre emendation. Many others tend to offer long and extremely complex emendations, which do not easily account for the origin of the extant texts, even when much easier explanations are readily available.

6) Many scholars are in the habit of emending texts they do not understand. Many difficult texts have been explained by further discoveries or more nuanced studies, showing that the text is preferable as it stands. It seems like the older critical scholars were often quite overconfident in their abilities and failed to see the limits of their understanding.

These are only a few categories of uncritical treatment of the text in older conjectures. I'm sure there are many others which could be enumerated. Even modern scholars, to be sure, are not immune from making such missteps. I am not convinced that these excesses mean that conjectural emendation should be rejected out of hand today, but it does show that these commentaries should be used with due caution and an understanding of their tendencies and characteristics.

What then is a viable situation for proposing conjectural emendations? Conjectural emendations are appropriate when there are reasonable indications that the extant witnesses do not preserve the archetypal text or that the archetypal text does not preserve the text of the finished literary work, which serves as the textual-critic's end goal. These emendations must be able to explain the origin of all the extant texts, must be contextually suitable, must illuminate the passage, must be philologically sound, and usually should explain an apparent textual difficulty in the extant texts. This is easier said than done, I know...

Monday, September 26, 2011

Dead Sea Scrolls Online!

Google and the Israel Museum have finally put the first five Dead Sea Scrolls online here for viewing with very high definition photographs. The Great Isaiah Scroll, the Community Rule Scroll, the Commentary on Habakkuk Scroll, the Temple Scroll, and the War Scroll are the first to be published, and we eagerly look forward to seeing more manuscripts.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

New Coptic MS of Jeremiah Identified

Alin Suciu has identified a new Coptic fragment of Jeremiah 21:14-22:20 (LXX) in the British Museum here. He suspects a 7th or 8th century date here. This is a significant new find, as it fills a gap in an ancient version that is only extant for a little over 50% of the book of Jeremiah. The images below are available on the website of the British Museum.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Isaiah 61:1: Captives or blind?

On a Septuagint e-mail distribution list, someone recently argued that the Septuagint plays on the letter ס in Isa 61:1, reading it עו instead, and changing the meaning from לאסורים "to the captives" to לעורים "to the blind". One alternate possibility struck me, however. It appears, at face value, we may have an instance of simple scribal error. עו in the Qumran scrolls is often written together so as to be almost indistinguishable from the letter ש. It is probably not a coincidence then, that the letter ש is a common alternative spelling for אשורים  = אסורים "captives". The extra א is a little more difficult to account for. If the MT is original, perhaps the א was omitted by quiescence לעורים < לאעורים. If the LXX is original, perhaps the MT text added the א as a secondary correction after misreading the עו as ש. Where this variant gets interesting is that the MT פקח-קוח is often understood as meaning "opening of the eyes." If this is the case, then עורים "blind" is clearly more contextually suitable than the vague metaphor of MT. On the other hand, if the meaning is not necessarily this specific but could apply to an opening of prisons, then MT's אסורים is probably original, as it more easily explains the LXX text. So in the end, the conclusion to this text-critical problem probably hangs on the choice of translation for the difficult פקח-קוח.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

3rd Edition of Emanuel Tov's "Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible"

Fortress Press announced here that the third revised and expanded edition of Emanuel Tov's classic Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible will be released on November 1, 2011. This work has become the standard reference work in the field, and the new edition apparently will be incorporating some of the developments in Tov's thinking over the last decade, as well as an extensive section on the relationship between textual criticism and exegesis, which promises to be interesting.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Big Valley Christian School

Today I had a great opportunity to discuss textual criticism and the reliability of the text of the Bible with the junior high students at Big Valley Christian School in Modesto, CA for their first chapel service of the year. I explained the basic premises of textual criticism, some of the more significant examples of the manuscript evidence available for the Bible, and also a few examples of text-critical problems. It was a very simple presentation, but I think they enjoyed it and hopefully learned something. The main conclusions to be drawn?

1) The Bibles has been preserved essentially through the ages with a very high degree of accuracy.

2) In some cases, textual criticism can help restore the original text more precisely.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Hebrew University Bible Project

The Hebrew University Bible Project got a little sensationalistic attention from an AP reporter recently here. In truth the scholars of the Bible project should be commended for their extraordinary efforts in exhaustively collating the textual evidence, but there is nothing revolutionary about it. Ironically, the policy of the HUBP is not even to give evaluation of variants... :) The end result of the project will be the fullest listing of the evidence to date, but most of the significant problems have already been discovered and discussed. Nevertheless, we can look forward to the completion of the project as a great help for OT textual criticism... hopefully sooner than 2211! For anyone who wants more information on the Hebrew University Bible, fuller explanation can be found on pages 19-20 of my master's thesis here.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Papyri, Technology, and Armchair Archaeologists

The University of Oxford recently announced that it is calling on the general public for help with the Oxyrhynchus papyri here. Anyone with internet access can now help in cataloguing the many papyrus manuscripts by transcribing and measuring them with a simple user interface on I've been transcribing a few manuscripts myself and have been surprised at just how user-friendly the interface is. This collaborative effort between "Oxford University papyrologists, the Egypt Exploration Society, and a team in Oxford University’s Department of Physics" promises to be a great technological aid in analyzing the mass of manuscripts, and I for one am excited about the possibilities. Though undoubtedly there is no substitute for hands-on interaction with original manuscripts, the internet is opening a window of opportunity with ease of access and technological capabilities. If you haven't worked on any papyrus manuscripts yet, here is your chance!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Dead Sea Scrolls-Septuagint Alignments against the Masoretic Text

R. Grant Jones has a helpful website here including lists of alignments between DSS manuscripts and the LXX against the MT, disagreements between the LXX and MT in Genesis, and the textual affinities of NT citations of the OT.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Did Rehoboam Marry David's Grandson?

2 Chronicles 11:18, according to the Masoretic Text, says that Rehoboam took as wife Mahalath, the son of Jerimoth, the son of David. What we have here is an obvious textual error, where the original בת "daughter" was accidentally changed to בן "son" by a thoughtless scribe under the influence of the far more numerous genealogical statements regarding men in the OT. The Masoretes recognized this error in the written text of their manuscripts and corrected it with the proper "daughter" in the margins as a Qere reading. There are only a few medieval MT manuscripts which have "daughter" in the text itself. This gives me the opportunity to make a few points:

1) Sometimes common sense is the biggest help in evaluating the textual tradition. Here it is clear that Rehoboam's wife was not David's grandson. There is no need to defend the factually incorrect consonantal text of MT with some sort of awkward gender-neutral use of "son" contrary to convention (see even the end of the same verse which uses "daughter"). Textual corruption is far more likely.

2) The more difficult reading is not always to be preferred. If it is corrupt, it should be rejected.

3) The Qere (marginal notes to be read) often provides textual variants superior to the Kethib (the consonantal text written by the scribes).

4) The fact that the medieval manuscripts so strongly support the obviously corrupt reading may indicate that they all stem from a very restricted pool of parent manuscripts. This error is unlikely to have be made so broadly across the manuscript tradition unless it traced back to a very small pool of erroneous texts.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Comparison of Modern Versions and their Utilization of Textual Criticism

For those who are curious about how much modern textual criticism has made its way into their translations, I decided to do a little comparison between some of the major modern versions with regard to their treatment of significant indicative textual examples. It is very brief, but I think the results give a good indication. The table can be found below:

0 - MT retained with no footnote (according to BibleWorks text)
1 - MT retained with footnote (according to BibleWorks text)
2 - MT emended

Thus, NRSV, NIV, and NLT usually incorporate preferred variant readings into their text. NET Bible, ESV, RSV, and NASU only occassionally do so, and they mention variant readings only about half of the time. KJV and NKJV fall at the bottom of the list, hardly ever incorporating or even mentioning variant readings.

Not to get into the Bible versions debate here, but it is important to know the textual character of the translations you are using. I personally prefer those that pay serious attention to the textual issues of the text they are translating.

Is the Vowel Pointing of BHS the Correct Pronunciation of Biblical Hebrew?

I recently came across an old blog on ETC about the importance of the vowel pointings in the Hebrew Bible for reading Hebrew. The nature of the vowel pointings has been much debated in scholarly literature, but this question is also one which I am commonly asked by non-specialists who are beginning their study of the Hebrew Bible. Since the 16th-17th century debate over the inspiration of the vowels, a consensus has been reached that the vowels of the Masoretic Text (MT) were added to the consonantal base text centuries after Christ. There is still much discussion, however, on the philological value of the MT vocalization for the pronunciation of ancient Hebrew. Most now view the vocalization of MT as reflecting an old Jewish oral reading tradition of varying exegetical and philological reliability. So here I propose to answer the commong question, "Is the vowel pointing of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia the correct pronunciation of Biblical Hebrew?" The numerous examples to follow have largely been taken from Tov's Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible.

By way of background, we need first to understand the historical situation of the BHS pointing. BHS is a diplomatic edition of the Leningrad Codex (L), the oldest manuscript of the comlpete Hebrew Bible from A.D. 1008 or 1009, which reproduces the text of the codex exactly without alteration, even for obvious scribal errors. L, in turn, is only one Masoretic manuscript that differs at points from the other manuscripts in its own tradition. A difference I recently encountered was how L reads an active vocalization וַיִּמַח "and he destroyed" in Gen 7:23, whereas the Second Rabbinic Bible (which was considered the standard edition of the Hebrew Bible before L was used as a base text for critical editions) reads a passive vocalization וַיִּמַּח "and it was destroyed" for the same consonantal text. L also has numerous differences in vocalization from the Aleppo Codex, which is considered to be the best manuscript of the Ben Asher family vocalization tradition of which L is a part. Thus L offers one (often inferior) vocalization of the Ben Asher tradition.

The Ben Asher tradition itself is one of numerous Tiberian vocalization systems, albeit the most popular. An alternative system is that of the Ben Naftali family, which is closely related but different. For instance, the Ben Asher tradition vocalizes the text "in Israel" consistently as בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל beyisrael, whereas the Ben Naftali tradition vocalizes it consistently as בִּישְׂרָאֵל biysrael. Thus the Ben Asher tradition is one of numerous Tiberian Masoretic vocalization systems.

Yet the Tiberian Masoretic systems are not alone in the Masoretic traditions. The Tiberian vocalizations developed from the prior Palestinian vocalizations, which at times differed from it. The Masoretes in Babylon also developed alternative vocalizations. For instance, in the Babylonian-Yemenite MS Bodl. 2333, has השֶׁמשׁ hashemesh for השָׁמשׁ hashamesh of L. Thus, the Tiberian Masoretic vocalizations are one of a number of alternative, geographically situated Masoretic vocalization traditions.

Nor are Jewish vocalizations the only systems laying claim to the pronunciation of Biblical Hebrew. The Samaritans also developed a reading tradition and vocalization system that differed at points from their Jewish counterparts.

What's more, each of these Masoretic vocalizations are attested only late, centuries after numerous other alternative vocalizations are attested. For instance, Jerome's transliterations of Hebrew words into Latin clearly show that he learned a pronunciation of Hebrew that differed at points from that of the Masoretes. דֹדְךָ dodecha in Jer 32:7 is transliterated dodach, and קָרָאתָ caratha in Jer 3:12 is transliterated carath. Origen learned the same vocalizations for 2ms pronominal and verbal suffixes even earlier, as he transliterates them the same way in the second column of the Hexapla. For אָזְנְךָ oznecha in Ps 31:3 he reads οζναχ oznach, and for זָנַחְתָּ zanahta he reads ζαναθ zanath. Thus even in the early centuries after Christ there were current, variant pronunciations of Hebrew.

In the Qumran manuscripts there is also evidence for differing pronunciations of colloquial Hebrew. Tov lists a number of differences:
1) lengthened independent pronouns (e.g., 3ms הואה < הוא)
2) lengthened pronominal suffixes for the second and third persons (e.g., 3mp במה < בם)
3) pausal forms in MT are non-pausal  (e.g., 6QpaleoGen for Gen 6:19 אתכה < אתך)
4) lengthened future forms (e.g., אקטלה)
5) verbal forms with pronominal suffixes as יקוטלנו
6) the perfect form קטלתמה for 2mp
7) the adverb מאד "much" with an adverbial ending מאדה.
8) long forms of the 2ms pronominal suffix (e.g., מלככה < מלכך)

Even earlier, during biblical times, there is evidence for differing pronunciations of Hebrew. The classic example of "Shibboleth" from Judges 12:6 does not deal with vocalization, but it is indicative of dialectical differences even as early as the times of the judges. A number of scholars, primarily by evaluating orthographic differences in ancient Hebrew inscriptions, have also noted differences between Northern Hebrew and Southern Hebrew.

Now most of these different pronunciations of Hebrew are very similar and historically related, so one can run into trouble by overemphasizing the differences without recognizing the core unity. But the fact remains, that there never was (even from earliest times) one official, authoritative, or "correct" pronunciation of Biblical Hebrew. Rather, what we see is that there were multiple spoken dialects of Hebrew with different systems of pronunciation surviving from early on and continuing even until later periods. The vocalization in BHS is that of the Leningrad Codex of the Ben Asher tradition of the Tiberian Masoretes of the early medieval era, one branch of the larger tree of possible pronunciations. So is the vocalization system in BHS correct? Yes, in that it reflects one system for pronouncing biblical Hebrew with deep historical roots. But if this system lays claim to being the correct system, the answer must be no. It is merely one of a number of ways that Hebrew has been pronounced by linguistic communities of Hebrew speakers over the many millennia. Learn it for the help it gives in teaching non-native speakers to read Hebrew, but also recognize its proper place among the various dialects of Hebrew.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Is Text-Critical Work Actually Significant?

Often, when dealing with the minutiae of text-critical research, my pragmatic friends ask me if it really matters. Normally, I would delve into a list of significant passages where textual criticism has solved difficult problems. But today I would like to approach it from another angle. Based on my research on the text of the Genesis Flood narrative, the differing dates in the ancient witnesses demand explanation, and the results of this text-critical work will have significant ramifications in a number of areas:

1) They will help us understand the series of events of the Flood better with regard to the dates on which events occurred and the extents of time they lasted.

2) They will help us understand the theology of the narrative better. Most scholars see symbolic significance (or at least analogical connections) in the dates of the narrative, such as events occurring on significant days of the week, seasons, and/or later festival dates. Firm dates will help confirm or deny these allegations.

3) They will either support or contradict the various theories on Pentateuchal origins, as the coherence or lack thereof of the Flood chronology has been a central battleground in the history of biblical criticism. The significance of the debates over the composition of the Pentateuch is obvious to anyone familiar with the issue.

4) They will help us better understand the use of calendars in the Hebrew Bible. One particularly unexpected point of contact was brought to my attention by a friend of mine. He mentioned that the interpretation of Daniel's 70th week, upon which Dispensationalism largely rests, is heavily dependent upon the type of calendar used by Daniel. Most dispensational writers, in turn, point to the Flood narrative to confirm their calendar. But, rather ironically, the calendar of the Flood is one of the most hotly contested calendrical issues in the OT! It might be too much to say that dispensationalism hangs in the balance of the text-critical results of the Flood narrative, but I thought it was an interesting connection that shows how often the significance of text-critical results can go far beyond what we might naturally expect.

Thus, textual criticism is indeed a significant work.

Studies at the University of Birmingham, UK

I just received word that I was awarded the Doctoral Researcher Elite Scholarship for studies at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom. The scholarship covers tuition and research and living expenses for a full three-year Ph.D. program. Starting in October, God willing, I will spend the next three years researching the history of transmission of the text of the Hebrew Old Testament in light of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Charlotte Hempel, with a specialty in Qumranic and Second Temple Jewish studies, will be supervising my dissertation. I also hope that New Testament textual critic David Parker will be a valuable resource for interdisciplinary dialogue on issues of manuscripts and methodology. My family and I are very excited about these future studies and the adventure they are sure to bring as we move to a foreign country and culture. Your prayers would be greatly appreciated as we try to figure out the logistics.

A Synoptic Problem in Genesis 10 and 1 Chronicles 1

The concept of biblical authors using sources (particularly other biblical sources) is disconcerting to some people. This is not an altogether irrational fear, given the way liberals have often misused the idea to set biblical authors against each other, fragment the text to death, and ignore the final literary products of the various books of the Bible. That said, biblical authors did at times use other biblical works as sources, and careful analysis of apparently synoptic passages can be of great text-critical value.

My recent reading in 1 Chronicles 1 brought this consideration to the forefront of my mind, as I consistently found very precise correspondence between the genealogies of 1 Chronicles 1 and Genesis 10, not just in the names used, but even in very specific examples of precise correspondence of wording and syntax in narrative comments that seem to demand literary dependence. A few indicative examples will suffice to show that the Chronicler was using the text of Genesis as his source:

1) וְכ֖וּשׁ יָלַ֣ד אֶת־נִמְר֑וֹד ה֣וּא הֵחֵ֔ל לִהְי֥וֹת גִּבּ֖וֹר בָּאָֽרֶץ׃ "And Cush became the father of Nimrod; he began to be a mighty one in the earth." (1 Chr 1:10 = Gen 10:8)
2) וּכְנַ֗עַן יָלַ֛ד אֶת־צִיד֥וֹן בְּכֹר֖וֹ וְאֶת־חֵֽת׃ "And Canaan begat Zidon his firstborn, and Heth," (1 Chr 1:13 = Gen 10:15)
3) וּלְעֵ֥בֶר יֻלַּ֖ד שְׁנֵ֣י בָנִ֑ים שֵׁ֣ם הָאֶחָ֞ד פֶּ֗לֶג כִּ֤י בְיָמָיו֙ נִפְלְגָ֣ה הָאָ֔רֶץ וְשֵׁ֥ם אָחִ֖יו יָקְטָֽן׃ "To Eber were born two sons: the name of the one was Peleg (for in his days the earth was divided), and his brother's name was Joktan." (1 Chr 1:19 = Gen 10:25).

If the Chronicler was indeed using Genesis as his source, this means that 1 Chronicles 1 can be used as a textual witness to the text of Genesis 10 at points where the latter reproduces the former (while, of course, taking into account the possibility that the Chronicler could have adapted the material to fit the context of his own work). Thus, to the traditional witnesses to Genesis (MT, SP, G, Targums, Vulgate, Syriac, etc.) must be added 1 Chronicles. Admittedly, the text of Chronicles itself has undergone over two millennia of transmission and so must likewise be critiqued before being useful for reconstructing the text of Genesis, but an ancient witness it still is.

This brings us to one example textual problem in 1 Chronicles 1:7 || Genesis 10:4, where one of Yavan's sons (or tribe of descendants) is named variously Dodanim דֹדָנִֽים and Rodanim רוֹדָנִים, where the variants obviously arose from graphic confusion of the very similar first letter ד/ר. And given the literary dependence and content parallels, both obviously refer to the same person, so only one of them can be correct. The textual evidence among the major sources looks as follows:

Dodanim = דֹדָנִֽים MT(Gen 10:4)

Rodanim = רוֹדָנִים MT(1 Chr 1:7) SP (Gen 10:4) G (Ρόδιοι, Gen 10:4 and 1 Chr 1:7)

The majority Masoretic witness is divided in the two places. It is unlikely that the Samaritan Pentateuch and Septuagint would have assimilated the Genesis text to fit the 1 Chronicles reference. Thus many have concluded that the text of Genesis 10:4 originally said Rodanim רֹדָנִים instead of Dodanim דֹדָנִֽים and have emended the text accordingly (e.g., NRSV, NIV, NLT, and also I suspect is correct). Others have chosen Dodanim as the proper name in both cases (e.g., KJV). But many translators have chosen to represent the discordant majority MT readings in both cases, saying in Gen 10:4 that his name is Dodanim and in 1 Chr 1:7 Rodanim (e.g., RSV, NAS, NKJV, ESV, NET Bible). In my view, this latter option is entirely irresponsible and shirks the translators' responsibility to present a critically sound and coherent text. The man's name (or tribe's name) is either Dodanim or Rodanim, and not both, and the Bible translators who maintain the majority MT reading in both cases do a disservice to their readers out of a misguided faithfulness to the (in this case) textually corrupt MT. The church is better served with an accurate text than with a traditional text, and textual criticism, taking into account synoptic passages, can help us get there.

Merib-Baal or Meri-Baal in 1 Chronicles 9:40

My wife and I read an interesting note about the tiqqune sopherim ("emendations of the scribes") in my wife's archaeological study Bible today, and they mentioned that often scribes changed the names of individuals to remove the name of a pagan deity (for instance Ish-Baal "man of Baal" becomes Ish-Boshet "man of shame," and likewise Merib-Baal becomes Mephi-Boshet). Irony of ironies, in my personal reading tonight I was in 1 Chronicles 9 and came across exactly this genealogy of Saul. I noted a textual problem beyond the question of what the article in the study Bible mentioned, however, in the name of Merib-Baal.

1 Chronicles 9:40 gives the name of Jonathan's son Meri(b)-Baal twice:

"And the son of Jonathan was Merib-Baal (מריב בעל), and Meri-Baal (מרי בעל) begot Michah."

In 1 Chronicles 8:34, an identical verse, both instances are spelled Merib-Baal מריב בעל, strongly arguing that this is the correct spelling. It is interesting though, that the LXX (according to Rahlfs) has in all cases Μεριβααλ without two betas, which may mean that מרי בעל was read. HALOT mentions that an ostracon was found with the name מרבעל. Holladay actually argues that מריב בעל "antagonist of Baal" may even have been "reconceived" from מרי בעל.  In the end, it is clear that one of these two spellings put side by side is textually corrupt, either by haplography or dittography of the additional ב beth.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Vocalization of Proverbs 31:21 and the Rule "Lectio Difficilior Potior"

My wife and I have a family tradition of reading Proverbs 31 at dinner on Friday nights. Today I read from the New English Bible for the first time and was alerted to an exegetical issue in Proverbs 31:21 that I had not seen before. This issue is a question of vocalization from a like consonantal text, so it is not properly text-critical in my view, but a note in the NET Bible seemed to me to make it so.

MT vocalizes Proverbs 31:21 as:

לֹא־תִירָ֣א לְבֵיתָ֣הּ מִשָּׁ֑לֶג כִּ֥י כָל־בֵּ֜יתָ֗הּ לָבֻ֥שׁ שָׁנִֽים׃
"She is not afraid of snow for her house, because all of her house is clothed in scarlet."
"Scarlet" here is שָׁנִים shanim.

But the LXX and Vulgate understand the same consonants differently.

The LXX reads it as the number "two" שְׁנַיִם shnayim and attaches it to the "coverings" at the beginning of the next verse: δισσὰς χλαίνας ἐποίησεν "she makes two coverings."

The Vulgate also reads it as the number "two" שְׁנַיִם shnayim, but it includes it at the end of verse 21: omnes enim domestici eius vestiti duplicibus "for her whole house is doubly clothed." The NEB and NLT agree with the Vulgate in reading "two garments" or "warm clothes."

The difference between the readings is one of interpretation of the same consonantal text, but the reason I bring it up is that the note in the NET Bible that tries to use a text-critical principle to resolve an exegetical problem. The NET Bible note says that the reading of the numeral "two" is the "easier reading and therefore suspect." The note is alluding to the often-abused text-critical canon of lectio difficilior potior, or "the more difficult reading is superior." While there is nothing wrong with the principle in general, wrongly applied it can lead scholars in the wrong direction. In particular, the NET Bible is using the principle to determine the correct vocalization of an ambiguous consonantal text. But the question of vocalization is not properly a text-critical decision, and it is questionable whether the text-critical principle preferring the more difficult reading can be made to apply in these situations.
The vocalization of the Hebrew text was not indicated in the original texts of Scripture (with the possible exception of original vowel letters). This means that many passages of Scripture, even when the consonantal text is agreed upon, are ambiguous and allow for multiple readings. The readings one chooses, then, are actually exegetical decisions rather than textual ones. In exegesis, I question whether the lectio difficilior canon is applicable. What it is essentially saying is that the most difficult interpretation is likely correct. Thus, the numeral "two" cannot be correct, because it fits too neatly into the context and practically begs to be read. But in exegesis, contextual suitability is the primary canon. What exegete in his right mind would look for the most unlikely, hard-to-understand, stretched, contextually unsuitable interpretation? Vocalizations should be chosen based on which reading best fits in the context, not based on which one makes the least sense! This kind of thinking only makes sense if the vocalization of MT is assumed to be original and authoritative and alternative readings are seen as secondary corruptions of the MT. This is a methodologically flawed approach. In reality, the consonantal text is vocalically ambiguous and requires independent interpretive disambiguation by the reader.

So when determining which reading to read for שנים, we need to look at which fits the context best. In favor of the reading "two," we have the immediate context of the verse and common sense, which says doubling up garments is more fitting for keeping warm in snow than putting on extravagant scarlet garments. In favor of the reading "scarlet," we have in the next verse a reference to the extravagance of the woman's fine linen and purple clothes and the possibility of a somewhat stretched metaphor of scarlet clothing = richness and abundance of clothing = warmth. At first glance, it seems to me like the numeral "two" may actually be the better interpretation, but either way, the point is that the exegetical question must be resolved by appeal to the best fit in context, not the worst fit.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Benjamin Kennicott

I just found an old series of blog posts that are quite interesting about Benjamin Kennicott and his collation of Hebrew variants here. There were also a number of links to digitized works that I included in my collection of online Hebrew editions here, including the collations of Kennicott and De Rossi.

Messiah: Stripe or Stripes?

I was recently helping a friend of mine translate Isaiah 53:5, and came across the phrase וּבַחֲבֻרָתוֹ נִרְפָּא־לָנוּ "and by his stripe we are healed." He mentioned that another friend of his had made a significant theological point on the MT reading of חֲבֻרָתוֹ "his stripe" being singular. I pointed out, however, that the consonants could also be easily emended to the plural חֲבֻרֹתָיו "his stripes."

Though in most cases (as far as I can tell, all cases) the plural would have an extra י as in חברתיו, the two forms could easily have interchanged in the tradition. Ironically, in my reading in Ezekiel immediately thereafter, exactly such an interchange presented itself repeatedly. In Ezekiel 43:11, MT twice reads the singular phrase צורתו "its plan" as the Kethiv and the plural צורתיו "its plans" as the Qere. Furthermore, in both Ezekiel 43:11 and 44:5 MT has תורתו "its law" as the Kethiv and תורתיו "its laws" as the Qere. The same phenomenon can be found in Exod 28:28; 37:8; 39:4; Deut 5:10; 7:9; 8:2; 27:10; Josh 16:3; Ruth 3:14; 1 Sam 10:21; 26:7, 11, 16; 2 Sam 12:20; 1 Kings 16:19; Ezek 31:5; 33:13, 16; 40:6, 22, 26; 47:11; Amos 9:6. It is interesting that only once that I found, in 1 Kings 16:26, is the situation reversed with the plural in the Kethiv and singular in the Qere, showing a definite trend towards the plural in the Qere. This may show an understanding that haplography in such examples was more common than dittography. Perhaps noteworthy, however, is that this phenomenon apparently never occurs in the book of Isaiah.

After examining these other occurrences of the interchange between the תו and תיו endings, I was even more suspicious of the theological point based off of the singular חֲבֻרָתוֹ in Isaiah 53:5. Brief consideration of the LXX showed the singular reading τῷ μώλωπι αὐτοῦ "by his bruise," which slightly alleviated my fears. I decided to check the Great Isaiah Scroll 1QIsa(a) for curiosity's sake, and much to my surprise, it reads the plural חבורתיו! My suspicions (viz., my diagnostic conjectural emendation) were correct! The plural was indeed an ancient Hebrew variant that did not make its way into the Masorah of MT. 1QIsa(b), normally much closer to MT, had the singular חברתו.
All this to say, the singular "stripe" in Isa 53:5 may not be as significant as we make it out to be, or it may not even have been original. Perhaps we were healed by Messiah's "stripes" after all? One would be hard pressed to overthrow the singular reading with the single Qumran scroll, but I think this example proves that my cautious skepticism about basing significant theological points on textually dubitable minutiae is indeed warranted. It is the nature of language and exegesis that often important information must be drawn from the most precise of details, but this just goes to show that the exegete cannot naively assume the Leningrad Codex as his text without critically evaluating its readings for the given passage. Criticism of the text must precede exegesis of its theology, and any given theological induction from a text is at least as dubitable as its text.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Online Biblical Manuscripts and Editions

NB (update 27 April 2016): For the most updated form of this list, see:

The following is a collection most of the Hebrew biblical manuscripts I have found that are available online in digitized form. Following that are a number of Bible editions available online. I have also included some sites with information on how to obtain microfilms of manuscripts as well as a number of sites worthy of further consideration for occasional publication of biblical manuscripts. This catalogue should be viewed as a work in progress, and I will likely continue to update it when I find new manuscripts and editions. I have not been able to exhaust even the websites that I have found to date, but hopefully this list will be of service for those who want to do original research on primary sources online. Please post any additional sources you may be aware of in the comments, and I will probably incorporate them into the main catalogue.

Last updated 7 November 2013.

Hebrew Biblical Manuscripts

Aleppo Codex: The oldest complete manuscript of the entire Hebrew Bible, now with most of the Pentateuch and some other passages missing.
Leningrad Codex (1008 or 1009):
Berlin Codex:
Cairo Codex:
Eretz Israel Pentateuch (10th century):
Lisbon Bible (1482):
Prague Bible:
 Spanish Bible  or "Damascus Keter" (1260)::
Spanish Bible (1341):
Xanten Bible (1294):
Cambridge Add.652 (14th-15th cent.)
Samaritan Pentateuch Cambridge Add.1846

 Dead Sea Scrolls

Cairo Geniza Fragments:
Targum Pseudo-Jonathan

Nash Papyrus

The British Library is digitizing their collection of Hebrew manuscripts

The University of Madrid has a digitized Book of Joshua.

Greek Manuscripts

Codex M
Chester Beatty LXX papyri (Rahlfs 961-968, 2149, 2150)
Codex Sinaiticus
Codex Vaticanus


Rabbinic Bible:

Biblia Hebraica:
Ginsburg Hebrew Bible:
Early Critical Editions
Mechon Mamre:
Samaritan Pentateuch


Microfilmed Manuscripts
(this section has not been organized, but hopefully contains some helpful links and citations)

Department of Manuscripts & The Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts at the Jewish National and University Library:

MIcrofiche Manuscript Collections:
Collective catalogue of Hebrew manuscripts - bibliographic records of all Hebrew MSS held in public and private collections around the world. Asian & African Studies Reading Room OIC 011.31
The Dead Sea Scrolls on microfiche. Leiden, 1993. ORB 40/260
The Allegro Qumran Collection - supplement to the above. OR Fiche 458
The Guenzburg manuscript collections - full text of 1,913 MSS from the Russian State Library, Moscow. OR.Mic.14119
  • Described in the List of the Guenzburg Manuscript Collection. Printout of the ALEPH catalogue records supplied by the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts, JNUL. Jerusalem, 2000. 4 vols.
JTS manuscript collections - full text of manuscripts and rare books held at the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York - Or.Mic.11693 (Adler collection); Or.Mic.13922 (Mishneh Torah); Or.Mic.11692 (Rare books); Or.Mic.11669 (Incunabula); Or. 13923 (Hebrew and Judeo-Arabic MSS), etc.
  • Described in JTS Hebrew manuscripts - brief descriptions of fourteen microfilm collections arranged in two volumes.
Sassoon manuscripts collection - full text of 1,281 manuscripts. Or.Mic. 2738-2893
  • Described in Sassoon, D. S. & Ohel David. Descriptive catalogue of the Hebrew and Samaritan manuscripts in the Sassoon Library. Oxford, 1932, 2 vols.
Microfilm of manuscripts:
List of manuscript collections to further consider:

Other Potential Sources of Information
(some of these sources have additional manuscripts or other significant information, but I have not had time to exhaust and organize them all)

Consider St. Petersburg/Moscow/Firkowitch collection as well

Sharon Horowitz of the Library of Congress noted the following:
"Other digitized Hebrew Bibles include the Lisbon Bible (1700), Aleppo Codex, Prague Bible, Leningrad Codex, Spanish Bible 1260, Spanish Bible (1341), Xanten Bible.
The University of Madrid has a digitized Book of Joshua.
"You might also research Hebrew Bible fragments in the Cairo Geniza, much of which is being digitized in Cambridge, England.
(See the article:"Hebrew Bible Manuscripts in the Cairo Geniza"
Journal of Semitic Studies, 2005. (50:2))"
(Lisbon Bible)
(Prague Bible)
(Center for Online Judaic Studies; helpful links)

Madrid University Library:*spi?/tBiblia.+A.T.+Hebreo/tbiblia+a+t+hebreo/-3%2C-1%2C0%2CB/exact&FF=tbiblia+a+t+hebreo&1%2C27%2C
        Seforim Online reports:
"I have contacted the library and they informed that they have high-resolution images of all of their manuscripts and they will mail them on CD to anyone who requests them for a particular manuscript, as far as I understood, for free. However they are not putting them on the web. The contacts for this at the library are:
Pilar Moreno:
Tel. 34 91 394 6642
Fax. 34 91 394 6599
Marta Torres – Library Director:

French National Library in Paris:
Laurent HERICHER, Conservateur, Chef du service des manuscrits orientaux, said,"The BNF is in the process of digitizing its collections of manuscripts. As for Hebrew manuscripts, 65 have been digitized from microfilms. It is the very begining. The whole collection will be digitized mainly from the microfilms. Some manuscript will be digitized from the original. As for now, only 4 or five have been digitized from the original and can be consulted online. Precious,rare and important manuscript will be digitized from the original. That should not exceed thirty to fourty items.
"You can consult these manuscripts on Gallica BNF's Virtual library :
Select "manuscrits" in the research options and type the shelf mark : Hébreu 1333 (here is the permanent link to the document :
Manuscripts bearing the shelf mark Hebreu 1 to 65 plus Hébreu 1333, Hébreu 1388, Hébreu 113, Hébreu 1137, can be consulted so far on Gallica"

Search of blog posts on online manuscripts:

Munich Digitization Center (MDZ)

PDFs of Hebrew MSS, most not biblical:

List of MSS databases:

Austrian Library:

Historical Archive of Girona:

Catalogue of Hebrew manuscripts in the Vatican Library:

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Tendentious Paleographical Exegesis?

I have been reading Emanuel Tov's classic The Text-Critical Use of the Septuagint in Biblical Research (1981) and came across an interesting discussion he has on proposed tendentious paleographical exegesis in the Septuagint. The theory is that at times translators made paleographical decisions on how to read graphically similar letters based on exegetical concerns. Tov is rightly skeptical of such proposals. Two examples he uses will serve to illustrate the phenomenon:

Ps. 9:6
MT: אבדת רשע "you destroyed the wicked"
LXX: απωλετο ο ασεβης = אבד הרשע "the wicked perished"
Explanation: It has been proposed that the translator of the LXX of Psalms chose to read the text in this way because he wanted to avoid making God himself actively destroy the wicked. The graphic similarity of the letters ת/ה gave the freedom for the translator to divide the words differently and read the letter of his preferred reading. But elsewhere the LXX of Psalms has no problem with the idea of God personally destroying the wicked (Ps 5:6-7; 143[142]:12), so Tov rightly concludes that it is much more likely that this variant was extant in the Hebrew Vorlage of the LXX, or at least was an honest misreading by the translator, rather than an intentional rereading of the text for theological reasons.

Gen. 8:21 (and 3:17)
MT: בעבור האדם "because of man"
LXX: δια τα εργα των ανθρωπων = בעבוד(ת) האדם "because of the works of man"
Explanation: According to Tov, G. Bertram in TDNT argues that "the negative attitude of Hellen. Judaism to work decisively affects the text" in that the LXX deliberately read a ד instead of a ר to add an anti-work polemic into the text. Thus, the translator's background and exegesis influenced his choice on a difficult paleographical question to depart from his Vorlage. Tov again rightly rejects this proposal, insisting that it is far more likely to be an error in a Hebrew manuscript, or at worst an accidental misreading by the translator, possibly influenced by the context of the tilling of the ground and man's evil works before the Flood (both of which share the same root as the LXX here).

I would agree with Tov on both accounts. While I cannot completely rule out the possibility that the LXX translators would engage in some sort of intentional midrashic rereading of the text, I will remain skeptical of such proposals unless supported with strong circumstantial evidence. My experience with the LXX of Genesis has left me suspicious of suggestions that the LXX would engage in such an uncharacteristic method, especially when simpler explanations are readily available. More consistent patterns would have to be established to substantiate such theories, and though perhaps these can be discerned in other books, I find little evidence of it in Genesis. At this point, I would be inclined to say that theories of tendentious paleographical exegesis are the least likely of the three possibilities. Slightly more probable is the possibility that the translators may have accidentally misread their texts, though the meticulous care apparent in the versions and the likely necessity of double-checking one's translation still leaves this unlikely. I am inclined rather in the main to attribute variants easily explained on the basis of Hebrew paleography to variant Hebrew manuscripts.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Leviticus 1:17 and the Intersection between Textual Criticism and Linguistics

Robert Holmstedt has an interesting discussion on the blog Ancient Hebrew Grammar on the intersection between textual criticism and linguistics here. In particular, he argues that linguistic study of the use of demonstrative pronouns as non-verbal copulas in Hebrew may explain a textual variant in Leviticus 1:17.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Free Latin Morphology and Translation Tool

For those who want to be able to work with Latin texts, but whose Latin is elementary at best, I have been using the free program "Words" by William Whitaker in my recent work on the Vulgate. I have found it to be extremely helpful, accurate, and comprehensive. It provides all the possible parsings/declensions for inflected words and a large list of glosses. It is DOS-based and somewhat primitive, but it works wonders. I highly recommend it!

It can be accessed online here.

Or you can download it for free here.

The Apparatus for the Hexapla Institute

John Meade, a Ph.D. candidate at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary writing a critical edition of the Hexaplaric fragments of Job 22-42 for the Hexapla Institute, recently posted an explanation of the apparatus in use by the Hexapla Institute on ETC. See the post here.

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.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Don't Hate the Scribes

For many moderns, their first introduction to the types of textual variants found in the manuscripts can be quite a shock. Failing to meet moderns' expectations for perfect transmission of the text, many Christians instinctively react to the textual change with horror and indignation. "How could a faithful scribe possibly change/alter/corrupt/distort the text in such ways?" "How dare they add to or subtract from God's word!" If you've ever read any KJV-only authors, you have probably seen this quite often, as they commonly attribute almost every non-Majority Text variant to heretical scribes altering the text. But even to Christians with less extreme views, the motives of the ancient scribes can be bewildering and unsettling.

But if we stop for a moment and walk a mile in their shoes (or perhaps write a manuscript in their stead), I think we will gain much appreciation for both their faithful work and motives. The problem is largely that we approach the question from a modern point of view. Most of us have never copied out a book by hand, nor for that matter even read a book copied by hand. At best, we have seen hand-written manuscripts in a museum, but we have no time or ability to read them. When we read a printed book, we have every reason to believe that our copy (as well as the one on our neighbor's shelf) is an exact representation of what the author wrote (barring editorial or printer errors). When we copy-paste text in a Word document, we expect it to appear instantly and as a perfect representation of the original. In short, we have next to no experience with manuscripts and the complications they carry with them. So to gain a better appreciation of the work and motives of the ancient scribes, let's look at some of the many factors that help us understand the changes they made to the text.

1. First, it cannot be overemphasized that the vast majority of scribal changes are totally unintentional and innocuous. They do not in any way reflect poorly on the motives of the scribes, because they are accidental copying errors that anyone would have made. While admittedly some scribes were more careful than others, every scribe, regardless of creed, was subject to simple errors. If you have ever tried to copy a substantial text by hand, you are undoubtedly familiar with the reality that you make mistakes. And try making a copy from dictation as someone reads the text to you... Then consider that a scribe could be doing this tedious work for hours at a time. Even the best scribes, with the best intentions, working from the best manuscripts, can and did make accidental errors. No manuscript of any substance is free of errors.

2. The ancient scribes had another problem that we rarely think of. We expect the copy of a book we are reading to be an exact representation of what the author wrote. Even if there are typos, they can usually be attributed to the author, unless the publisher messed up. But those familiar with reading manuscripts approach the text they are copying with a different perspective. Ancient scribes knew that no manuscript was free of errors, and they would of necessity have to approach the text with a more critical eye, expecting to find copying errors in the manuscripts before their eyes. It would not be at all unusual for the copyist to correct obvious transmission errors, spelling, syntax, etc., nor would it have been viewed as an evil, heretical "changing the text of the Bible." Rather, it would be little more significant than you or I going back and editing out errors in a paper we have written. Sometimes the scribes were right in their corrections, and other times it turns out they were wrong, but in most cases they were not ill-motivated. Hindsight is 20/20, but for the scribe copying the text, scribal errors, illegible readings, material damage, and the like in the source manuscript presented a dilemma that often made them the unwitting agents of textual change.

3. At other times, scribes would have access to multiple conflicting manuscripts. In this case, which is the scribe to copy? One? The other? Both? Either way, if he makes the wrong choice, he is going to be condemned by 21st century Christians. Even with all of our detailed modern text-critical work, the right choice is not always obvious, and no scribe could bear the full burden of correctly adjudicating every variant reading.

4. Ancient scribes, by and large, lacked the complex editorial conventions we use to mark out direct quotations, extra-textual comments, etc. When scribes made mistakes, often they would write corrections between the lines or in the margins. When we realize that often similar conventions were followed by scribes making additional comments or annotations on passages of Scripture, we can see how easily a marginal note could be mistaken for a textual correction and find its way into the new copy of the text. Conversely, a marginal correction could be mistaken for an annotation, and hence omitted from the new copy. In either case, it is not the ill will or theology of the scribe that caused the addition to or subtraction from the text, but rather a reasonable confusion of the manuscript evidence.

5. Another mitigating factor is that few of us understand what it is like to live in an age without standardized/official spelling rules. While, more and more, spelling rules are readily flaunted through daily communication and electronic media, Microsoft Word still obstinately underlines in red our "misspelled" words. Before I post this bog, I will use a spell check tool. But in an age when no spelling can be considered "the right one," such was not the case. In many instances, textual errors merely represent different spelling conventions that in no way affect the meaning.

6. The situation is further complicated by the fact that the scribes' primary language was often that of the original text. One would think this would be of great advantage to them, and it certainly was, but it also complicates things in retrospect. As English speakers, we have a long history of Bible revisions. Some reflect modernizing of outdated language. Few today could read the first English translations without a great deal of effort, and surely we do not expect the average layperson to. Others reflect different translation styles with different purposes and audiences in view. Some preachers prefer woodenly literal texts for their preaching; some readers prefer a text in more natural modern English for ease of comprehension. These revisions present no problem, because the original text is not affected by the numerous changes in translation. But what happens if your primary language is that of the original text? To update the language leaves you vulnerable to charges by 21st century Christians of changing the text, but rigidly to retain it in all its particulars leaves you without a text comprehensible to you and your contemporaries! Thus, the ancient scribes are caught in a catch-22, where they are damned if they do, damned if they don't. A rigidly preserved text leaves the scribe's community without the modern aids we demand for ourselves, but a scribe who alters the text to conform to contemporary language has changed the original text. As much as we moderns would love to have the original text preserved in its original form without later alterations, who can condemn the motives of the scribes who chose contemporary relevance over rigid preservation of outdated language?

7. Similar is the question of harmonization. Many a textual critic has been frustrated by the sheer amount of harmonization that has taken place in the transmission of synoptic passages or texts with repetitive speech. Much of this textual change was likely done unintentionally by scribes who accidentally read what they remembered from another passage or verse, thereby bringing the one text closer into line with the other text. Who can blame the scribes for remembering their Bible a little too well? Alternatively, even intentional harmonizations were often done not with the intent of corrupting the text but with clarifying the text.

8. Occasionally scribes were even known to make substantial rearrangements of material. But who of us has never been tempted to rearrange the text for our purposes? In our modern Christian bookstores we have synoptic harmonies, topical Bibles, chronological Bibles, daily Bibles, and a whole host of other alternative arrangements that serve the purposes of modern readers.

I do not claim that every scribe had perfectly pure motives in approaching the text, nor do I claim that every textual alteration is justifiable, but I do believe that understanding these changes against the complicated background of the difficult work the scribes had to do should lead us to grant them a little more grace in areas where we would have preferred they act differently. Most of the scribes had a reverent attitude towards the text of Scripture and had no desire to see it corrupted, even if their actions in the end did just that. The textual critic must attempt to reverse that corruption, but we should also be gracious to the ancient scribes whose diligent and faithful efforts have left us the text of Scripture in the relatively pristine state we have it today. In the words of my colleague Brian Kortcamp, "Don't be a hater."

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Earth Corrupted by the Sons of God?

I bet you thought you would get a deep theological and exegetical argument for the godly line of Seth view on Genesis 6:1-4 or something, didn't you? :) Wrong, but I can do you one better! According to the 18th century collations of medieval Hebrew manuscripts by Benjamin Kennicott, one scribe apparently made a fun scribal mistake in Genesis 6:11 that adds an extra occurrence of the phrase בני האלהים "the sons of God" to the Bible! Instead of the לפני האלהים lifney ha'elohim "before God" of all the other manuscripts and versions, MS 600 reads לבני האלהים livney ha'elohim "by the sons of God," making the verse read "And the earth was corrupted by the sons of God, and the earth was filled with violence." Since there is only one letter difference פ/ב "f/v" and their sounds can be easily confused, I think the scribe probably made an accidental mistake as he read the text to himself and then wrote what he thought he had said, probably under the influence of the preceding occurrences at the beginning of the chapter and the influence of the somewhat unusual articular occurrence of האלהים lit. "the God," which occurs in the other occurrences of the "sons of God" in Genesis 6. But whether it was an accidental or intentional change, it is an interesting variant that artificially creates an intertextual allusion back a few verses earlier to the sons of God of Genesis 6:1-4. It doesn't solve the sons of God debate, but it does make for a fun variant!