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!

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Text-Critical Analysis of Deuteronomy 32:35-37

Why is it that in Deuteronomy 32:35, the ESV reads "Vengeance is mine, and recompense (i.e., the noun form for repayment of vengeance)...," while the NIV reads "It is mine to avenge; I will repay..."? The difference in the second part is not due to translation style, but to a complicated set of textual variants in the beginning of this verse. The Massoretic Text (MT) for this passage reads לי נקם ושלם "Vengeance is mine, and recompense." The Samaritan Pentateuch (SP) reads instead ליום נקם ושלם "On the day of vengeance and recompense." The Septuagint (G) reads εν ημερα εκδικησεως ανταποδωσω for ליום נקם אשלם "On the day of vengeance, I will repay." Romans 12:19 and Hebrews 10:30, on the other hand, read εμοι εκδικησις εγω ανταποδωσω for לי נקם אשלם "Vengeance is mine, I will repay." There is one Qumran fragment 4QPaleoDeut(r) frg. 41, which contains on line 2 the top tips of the letters לי, and even though the text is not extant at the point in question, the editor (Skehan) claims that the traces below line 1 best fit the word ליום "On the day."

4QPaleoDeut(r) frg. 41 from DJD

Thus, all four possible combinations of readings for these two phrases are attested in ancient witnesses, a perfect example of how there were numerous textual differences even in early times. How do we resolve the differences, since there is ancient support for each combination of readings? The key is to recognize that these phrases together form a parallelism with the following לעת טמות רגלם "In due time their foot will slip" and that the variants must be evaluated together.

SP's ליום נקם ושלם "On the day of vengeance and recompense" is grammatically strained, as it lacks a main verb, and also has no verbal parallel with the following clause, so it is intrinsically unlikely. The NT's εμοι εκδικησις εγω ανταποδωσω for לי נקם אשלם "Vengeance is mine, I will repay"  is parallel within itself, and thus cannot function as a proper parallel in the context of Deuteronomy, where it would have to function as an awkward parallel within a parallel.

This leaves MT and G as possible candidates. לי נקם ושלם "Vengeance is mine, and recompense" is a complete sentence and grammatically tenable in combination with the following clause, but the parallelism is formally poor, even though one could argue for some sort of synthetic parallelism. Fortunately, one need not resort to this explanation, as G proves itself to be intrinsically the superior reading with its εν ημερα εκδικησεως ανταποδωσω for ליום נקם אשלם "On the day of vengeance, I will repay," which makes for tight formal, synonymous parallelism with the temporal adjunct and main verb of the following clause.

The reading ליום נקם אשלם "On the day of vengeance, I will repay" easily explains all the other variants with simple text-critical explanations, so there is no reason to doubt the originality of the G reading. The ום of  ליום נקם was accidently dropped off the end of the word when the scribe confused it with the final ם of נקם. The א of אשלם was replaced by ו by simple scribal error and/or as a secondary correction to better correspond to the variant לי נקם.

Thus, Deuteronomy 32:35 probably originally read with the Septuagint ליום נקם אשלם "On the day of vengeance, I will repay...," rather than the לי נקם ושלם "Vengeance is mine, and recompense" of the ESV or the לי נקם אשלם "It is mine to avenge; I will repay..." of the NIV. This is a fine examlpe of how formal parallelism can be used to solve text-critical problems and restore the text to a more pristine, original form.

For a more detailed analysis of the evidence and critique of contrary possibilities, as well as further discussion on the remaining simpler problems in the text of Deuteronomy 32:35-37, see my paper "A Text-Critical Analysis of Deuteronomy 32:35-37."

Sunday, March 6, 2011

On the Feasiblity of Eclectic Editions of the Hebrew Old Testament

As a first OTTC post, I thought it would be appropriate to raise the age-old question of whether or not to publish eclectic critical editions of the Hebrew Bible. This issue is one about which I am very passionate, as I wrote my Master's thesis arguing for them and still feel very strongly about the need for a critically established text of the Hebrew Old Testament. The field of OT studies is severely impoverished by the lack of even a single critical edition of the OT featuring a text base that adequately reflects the results modern text-critical analysis based on all the evidence now available. It is the textual critic's job to provide general readers and students of the literature with the most reliable text possible, and we have utterly failed to do so to date. All this to say, there is a lot of work to be done in OTTC, but it promises to be an exhilerating ride!

I have attached a link to my Master's thesis for those who might be interested in further investigating the issue of eclectic critical editions of the Hebrew Old Testament, followed by the abstract of the thesis:

Author: Drew G. Longacre
Degree: Master of Divinity
Date: April 2010
Adviser: William D. Barrick

The exegesis of a text can of necessity only be as good as the text that underlies it. This thesis seeks to evaluate the feasibility of the application of an eclectic text-critical methodology to create eclectic critical editions of the Hebrew Old Testament with a view to reconstructing a more pristine text.

It begins by surveying the various publishing methodologies that have been proposed in the history of OT critical editions and the critical editions which implement them. Possible methodologies examined and critiqued are the publication of diplomatic editions, purely eclectic editions, copy-text eclectic editions, multicolumn editions, and textual commentaries.

The survey of the history of critical editions includes extensive critique of the three main critical editions of the Hebrew Bible currently in process: Biblia Hebraica Quinta, the Hebrew University Bible, and the Oxford Hebrew Bible.

A critique of the method of publishing a diplomatic text then shows both the theoretical weaknesses and the practical inadequacies of the potential manuscripts for a diplomatic text. After detailed analysis of the Leningrad and Aleppo Codices, a listing of other significant manuscripts, illustrations of corruption in the Masoretic tradition, and discussing the danger of imposing doubtful vocalizations upon the text, it becomes clear that no existing manuscript or tradition can adequately serve as the base text for a reliable edition of the text of the OT.

A substantial chapter is then devoted to listing and explaining all of the special problems of implementing an eclectic methodology in OT textual criticism, such as the problems of the nature of the evidence, conjectural emendation, comparative philology, publication of accidentals, the nature of the original text, dogmatic considerations, divided evidence, and the scope of the edition.

And finally, it is argued that, despite the difficulties inherent in the endeavor, it is preferable and feasible to publish eclectic critical editions of the Hebrew OT in both multi-volume major editions and in single-volume manual editions. Given the increased maturity of the discipline of textual criticism of the OT, the time has come for a new era where the results of decades of text-critical studies are incorporated into eclectic critical editions of the Hebrew Bible to present for general usage. A perfect text is forever an unattainable ideal, but a text which reflects the best possible understanding of the vidence available presents an important step in the right direction. Current efforts to produce eclectic critical editions of the text of the Hebrew OT should be embraced and further studies encouraged for the furtherance of the discipline and purity of the text.

Welcome to OTTC

Welcome to OTTC, your blog for all text-critical issues related to the Old Testament!

It's about time I enter the world of the blogosphere, so I decided to snatch the cool domain name while it was still available and to grab a corner on the market (i.e., the ten other people in the world who also think OTTC is worth writing about). I will occasionally be posting research, comments, questions, events, and anything else related to OTTC. If anyone would like to post a guest post on an OTTC issue, e-mail me at, and I would be happy to consider it. Hopefully this blog will be a profitable venue for progress on the text of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible.


Drew Longacre