Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Hebrew Bible: A Critical Edition (HBCE)

The Society of Biblical Literature announced today their intent to publish a new critical edition of the Hebrew Bible. This new edition will be called The Hebrew Bible: A Critical Edition (HBCE). It is the same project as the Oxford Hebrew Bible project, still edited by Ron Hendel, but will now be published by SBL instead of Oxford. The first volume on Proverbs is due to be out by the end of the year. Here is the SBL announcement:

The Society of Biblical Literature is pleased to announce its publishing commitment to a major text-critical project: The Hebrew Bible: A Critical Edition (HBCE), under the general editorship of Ronald Hendel.

The HBCE will be an eclectic edition of the Hebrew Bible, featuring a critical text with extensive text-critical introductions and commentaries. The project anticipates twenty-one volumes, with an international team of volume authors.

The first volume—Michael V. Fox, Proverbs: An Eclectic Edition with Introduction and Textual Commentary—will publish in the second half of 2014.

The most distinctive feature of the HBCE project is its method of producing critical texts. HBCE constructs an eclectic text, drawing together readings from many manuscripts and, where warranted, conjectural readings. In other cases, such as Jeremiah, entirely variant texts of books are set side by side. While a common approach for critical editions of other ancient books, such as the New Testament and the Greek and Latin classics, this is not the norm for textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible.

In this respect, the approach and scope of this project is a first of its kind for the Hebrew Bible, since our other modern text-critical editions are diplomatic, representing a primary manuscript, in each case, the Masoretic tradition.

The project is bold and innovative. It will stimulate vigorous conversation and critique. It will enliven the guild’s attention to text-critical methods, history of transmission, and translation. It is an exercise that will broaden discussion and open up new insights into the history of the Hebrew Bible.

SBL is delighted to publish the HBCE, to work with Ron and the team of outstanding scholars, and to foster biblical scholarship through discovery and debate.


  1. I recently read your thesis on the Feasibility of an Eclectic Hebrew OT, and I was greatly helped. I'm a seminary student, so I certainly don't have nearly the learning you do, but I have wondered for some time now why an eclectic text isn't presented, and your thesis was a great introduction on the subject.

    Do you think it would be better to start out with a reader-level eclectic OT (think something like Zondervan's A Reader's Hebrew Bible, just with an eclectic text rather than L), or something more scholarly like THB?

    I feel like a reader level text would scratch the itch for most people concerned with the issue (your typical OL-studied pastor, as few left as there are). I suspect that might go over better among the scholarly community, even if it is considered novel at first. What think you?

  2. Matt,

    I'm glad the thesis was a helpful introduction! The editorial issues are certainly complex, so there is no easy answer. I personally would be very cautious of an eclectic reader's Hebrew Bible as a first step, simply because a reader's Bible doesn't allow for documentation of the decisions and the evidence for the decisions. Eclectic editions are controversial enough even with transparency, but to produce an edition that lacks transparency would invite a lot of criticism. The Greek NT editions have a long history of publication, explication, and discussion, so they can get away with just publishing a known text without apparatus more easily. But as a first step, I think you should probably do it properly at first in a critical edition. Otherwise people simply won't understand or trust the text. Hope that helps.

    1. Drew,
      Very interesting, thank you for that. I know I would appreciate an eclectic text with or without the apparatus (at first), but I understand why others might be more suspicious.

  3. Are you sure you are considering all textual witnesses? The Samaritans have copies of Scripture in addition to the Pentateuch. Your project is valuable to me because you consider all witnesses to the text. The Samaritans have texts they don't hold canonical but are still much the same as Hebrew books in the canon. Are you also using those?

    1. While this is not actually my project, I am actually quite sure they are not considering all witnesses. There are simply too many, most of which are not of particularly great importance. What they do instead is prioritize the most important evidence.

      If I understand correctly, the Samaritans do have some historical books parallel to the historical books in the Jewish scriptures, but they are normally considered to be quite late. Thus, to the best of my knowledge--though they have been studied to some degree--they have not really featured in critical editions of the Hebrew Bible.