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...