Saturday, March 31, 2012

Updating, Emendation, and Linguistic Studies

In my recent studies of the Hebrew verb ויהי, I came across a familiar tension between textual and linguistic studies. In a number of places (1 Sam 10:5; 2 Sam 5:24; 1 Kgs 14:5; 1 Chr 14:15; Rut 3:4), the MT uses the imperfect verb וִיהִי when we would expect the weqatal verb וְהָיָה, which normally precedes fronted temporal clauses in non-past contexts. Textual critics commonly emend these forms to their more common forms, whereas linguists commonly insist on explaining them as the only surviving evidence. In this methodological gridlock, who is right?

First, it is important to note that our corpus and understanding of Biblical Hebrew is comparatively limited, so we must remain open to challenging received wisdom with new linguistic insight. It is all too easy to emend away difficult evidence which, properly understood, might shed light on the language and text. We must remain open to exceptions to our grammatical rules and to new insights from modern linguistic studies. We must not simply create the evidence for our linguistic studies with premature emendations.

That said, we must understand the biblical text in its historic context as a text manually transmitted over a vast period of time by scribes of varying characteristics. Some scribes were careful to preserve the text exactly as it lay before them, whereas others felt free to update the text with contemporary spellings and linguistic conventions. We can see this dynamic even in the examples mentioned above, now that we have the Qumran evidence. 4QSam(a), for instance, apparently reads the expected והיה for the MT ויהי in 1 Samuel 10:5. 1QIsa(a), on the other hand, occasionally changes the older form והיה to the updated form ויהי, as in 29:15 and 56:12. Such changes as proposed above, therefore, did in fact occur in the transmission of the text. Examples like these show that linguists are wrong simply to assume the MT text in their analyses, as many of the unique and exceptional forms may have arisen in the course of transmission. Linguists who do so run the risk of proposing explanations that unrealistically merge different temporal stages of Hebrew into a single incoherent mush.

So in the end, I would say neither approach will be consistently right, but rather that they should mutually inform one another. At times, linguistic research will clarify difficult textual problems. At other times, examination of ancient manuscripts, the transmission of the text, and the historical development of the language will provide linguistic studies with a more solid evidentiary basis. The two should always remain in a cooperative tension.

Inconsistent Spelling in the Great Isaiah Scroll

It is important to realize that spelling was not standardized or consistent in many ancient manuscripts. I came across a good example recently from 1QIsaiah(a)--The Great Isaiah Scroll. The Hebrew adverb for "very" is spelled three different ways in the manuscript: מואד in 16:6; 56:12; מאדה in 31:1; and מואדה in 47:6, 9; 52:13; 64:8, 11. These were all apparently written by the same scribe (though there is some debate) within a relatively short period of time. There also do not appear to be any obvious patterns, since the different spellings are scattered about the manuscript, so this example does not support the assertion that the spelling drastically changes in the second part of the manuscript. There are many such cases, even some with more variants (Kutscher Language and Background of the Isaiah Scroll 166-7, lists, for instance, ראש-רואש-ראוש-רוש and זות-זואת-זאות-זאת, among others). We should not necessarily expect to find, therefore, consistent orthography in biblical manuscripts.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Demons, Tribulation, Commands, or Incomprehensible Utterances?

Despite the somewhat provocative title, this is not a post about modern Pentecostal practices! :) Rather, it is about a certain orthographic variation I noticed in reading Isaiah 28:10, 13 in the Great Isaiah Scroll. In these verses, the MT has a very difficult series of repetitive expressions. The first is written ץו tsav, and many associate it with the root meaning "command." But the Isaiah Scroll reads ץי tsi, which may mean either "demon" or "ship." The LXX has θλιψιν "tribulation," apparently reading ץר tsar. All of these readings look remarkably similar, as seen in the letter combinations taken from the Isaiah Scroll below:

What does all this mean? The MT reading is likely to have given rise to the other two, but this just goes to show that semantic confusion can often be reflected in textual confusion. There can be little doubt that in the Second Temple period this phrase was just as incomprehensible as it is to us today!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Revelation and the LXX

I just read a good article by Juan Hernández on the text of the LXX in allusions in Revelation,  "Recensional Activity and the Transmission of the Septuagint in John's Apocalypse: Codex Sinaiticus and Other Witnesses", in Die Johannesoffenbarung: Ihr Text und ihre Auslegung (eds. Michael Labahn and Martin Karrer; Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2012). Juan argues that (with a few minor exceptions), the allusions in Revelation do not appear to have been made to conform to the Old Greek. Instead, the initial text of the Apocalypse is at times good evidence for the existence of precursor texts to the later Greek revisions of the LXX (Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotion). The most interesting example? Revelation 15:3 may provide the earliest evidence for a longer Greek text (parallel to the MT) including Jeremiah 10:7 (not in the Old Greek).

Friday, March 23, 2012

Upgrade Chapter Submitted!

I finally submitted the upgrade chapter for my Ph.D. progress review! Hopefully the reader will be gentle and have some helpful feedback. I will have a progress review panel in May, and then I'm home free! Except for the dissertation... :)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Online Book on Arabic Codicology

I recently found an interesting book on Arabic codicology online here. Adam Gacek, Arabic Manuscripts: a Vademecum for Readers (Handbook of Oriental Studies, Section 1, The Near and Middle East, volume 98). It looks quite helpful for those interested in Arabic manuscripts.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The 2nd St. Andrews Graduate Conference for Biblical and Early Christian Studies

St. Andrews will be hosting a graduate biblical studies conference on 8-9 June 2012 on the theme "Manuscripts and their texts: perspectives on textual criticism." They are accepting paper proposals now. It promises to be an interesting conference! See you there!