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.


  1. This is great, Drew! I'm going to follow this blog. And I'll have to read your thesis too.
    I can tell you've got a passion for this!
    (By the way, I think this blog will gain fame, and consider it an honor to be the first to comment.)

  2. Good work Drew. Please help me, Drew or anyone else.

    1. How many different methodologies of OT TC exist?

    2. What are their names?

    Thanks, Philip Engmann

  3. Those are very good questions, Philip. :) Unfortunately, there are as many different methodologies as there are textual critics, so that is a very difficult question to answer. It also depends on what aspect of textual criticism you are talking about. In my thesis above, I am specifically talking about publishing methodologies debating what is the best format in which to publish critical editions of the text. I divided some of the main divisions as follows: diplomatic editions, purely eclectic editions, copy-text eclectic editions, multicolumn editions, and textual commentaries. You can find further explanation of the terms in the thesis. Within each of these major categories, however, there can be many different subdivisions that would be almost impossible to describe completely.

    On the other hand, if you are looking at methodologies on how to evaluate variants, you might break it up something like this: traditional text, eclectic based purely on external evidence, eclectic with a preference for external evidence, eclectic with a preference for internal evidence, and eclectic based purely on internal evidence. Most scholars would fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, but they would all differ to some degree as well.

    So you can see that categorizing methodologies is difficult because there is so much individual variation and because there are multiple different methodological questions that each have to be considered separately.

    Did you have a specific aspect of OTTC methodology in mind?