Friday, January 23, 2015

An Author's Text in an Editor's Hands

Update: Just so everyone is aware, the editorial team at Logos has expressed apologies for the mishap and is currently revising the published text discussed below to account for changes I suggested. This is one of the many great advantages of electronic resources! I consider myself a satisfied Logos user and would gladly publish with them again. I cite this only as an interesting example of something that temporarily slipped through the cracks in the complicated modern publication process.

I recently had the opportunity to write a series of short dictionary entries for the Logos e-publication The Lexham Bible Dictionary, including "Ancient Libraries," "Masorah," and "Masoretes." Overall it was a fairly pleasant experience. On reading the final versions in the Logos resource, however, I immediately noticed differences between my submitted version and the published version. There were clear stylistic differences from my own work and a whole host of other problems that clearly betrayed to me an editor's hands. Sometimes the editor improved the text by making it more concise or simpler for a lay audience, which was not particularly objectionable. But at other times, the editor altered the text in significant (and to my mind detrimental) ways. I would like to explore briefly the interaction between author and editor in this publication process. To do this, I will list some of the more interesting/disturbing examples of the published version (in italic font) and the submitted version (in bold italics).

Perhaps of interest for all my Qumran friends, with the omission of a single word, it seems I am now committed in (electronic) print to the Essene hypothesis (!).
  • Khirbet Qumran, a communal residence associated with the Jewish Essene sect.
  • Khirbet Qumran, a community residence in the Judean Desert near the Dead Sea commonly associated with the Jewish sect called the Essenes

Some changes rendered the text garbled nonsense.
  • Many scholars suggest the term comes for the root often considered to mean “to transmit,” thus concluding that the Masorah tradition is transmitted from generation to generation preserve the text
  • Most scholars relate the word to the root מסר, whose precise nuance is contested. Many suppose the common root meaning “to transmit,” thus concluding that the Masorah is the body of traditions transmitted from generation to generation for preserving the text.

One particularly egregious structural rearrangement makes the Masorah magna a subset of the Masorah parva.
  • Many Masorah parva notes indicate the number of times a particular word or group of words occurs in a certain form within a portion of Scripture, sometimes listing alternative forms found elsewhere. These notes are designed as an external control to ensure its precise preservation. Many types of Masorah parva notes exist, but the two most frequent include:
    • 1.   Kethiv/Qere. [only section headings listed]
    • 2.   Masorah Magna.
  • There are many types of Masorah parva notes, of which two of the most frequent and important are discussed here.
    • 1. Usage Statistics -- Many Masorah parva notes indicate the number of times a particular word or group of words occurs in a certain form within a portion of Scripture, sometimes listing alternative forms from elsewhere. These notes are designed as an external control on the copying of the text to ensure its precise preservation.
    • 2. Kethiv versus Qere
  • Masorah Magna [i.e., new section header]

There were also a number of problematic transliterations.
  • Other scholars derive it from the root ‘sr [i.e., ayin for aleph], “to bind”
  • Other scholars derive it from the root אסר “to bind”
  • ben Asher reads יִשָּׂשכָר (yissoshkhar)
  • ben Asher reads יִשָּׂשכָר

All this just goes to show the complexity of the entire concept of an "authorial text," no less in the present age than in antiquity. Once I emailed the file to submit it to Logos, the text was truly out of my hands and at the mercy of others. There are probably some devious literary critics smiling right now...


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Greek Exodus Fragments at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

My family and I have been travelling throughout Europe for the past few weeks on a grand Christmas market tour, and I decided to stop by some major European libraries and museums along the way. On the 23rd of December I was able to visit the Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin to examine several Greek Exodus fragments held in the collection. Marius Gerhardt was kind enough to welcome me and assist me in the study room, even during the holiday season.

I was able examine parts of three manuscripts:
  • Ra 835 (P. 11766 + 14046) - The large fragment of this manuscript was on display in the museum (and so unavailable for detailed examination), but I was able to examine a fragment containing parts of Exodus 5.
  • Ra 960 (P. 13994) - This fragment, once thought to be missing, has thankfully been found again, and I was able to examine its contents including parts of Exodus 23 and 31.
  • Ra 978 (P. 16990) - This fragment contains parts of Exodus 34.
  • Unfortunately, Ra 836 (P. 14039) was being restored, so I was not able to examine it.
These fragments have all been published, but a few notes are in order from my visit. One of the most interesting things for me was that these fragments were all parchment fragments, rather than papyri. Before looking into them more closely, I had assumed they were papyri. They were included in Wever's "Papyri and Fragments" category and housed in the papyrus collection in Berlin. But as it turns out, they were not. In fact, many of the surviving Greek Exodus fragments were written on parchment, and references to these manuscripts are frequently unclear or inaccurate with regard to the material medium. This is a good example of the need to double check original materials, rather than simply relying on secondary literature.

Perhaps most importantly, Marius also pointed me in the direction of online digital images of each of these manuscripts. The museum has been very good about digitizing their collection in Berlin, and many high-quality digital images are available online. During our time in the study room in fact, Marius uploaded several new fragments from the collection! He noted that they have had problems with scholars publishing the images and stressed to me that they were for research purposes, not for publication. The downloadable images have a resolution of 600 dpi on a white background, which is sufficient for most purposes. I was able to access digital images of three out of the four manuscripts I was looking for in the collection:
Textually, the most interesting phenomenon I looked into was the transition from Exodus 23:13 to 31:12 in Ra 960. On the verso side, 23:13 ends near the end of a line in the middle of the column and is followed by a vacat of 1-3 letter spaces left of the right margin. 31:12 then begins at the left margin of the following line without any obvious indications preserved of the massive jump in the text. Looking at this fragment was very helpful for me to understand the nature of this intriguing manuscript.

All in all, it was a very fruitful and enjoyable experience at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, and I would like to thank Marius and the rest of the team again for allowing me the opportunity. There really is nothing like first-hand familiarity with the manuscripts you are working on, and I recommend all textual scholars to get to know their sources well.