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Tendenz and Translation: The Importance of Knowing the Character of a Manuscript for Textual Criticism

20th August 2005

One of the toughest jobs for textual critics is knowing the tendenz or proclivities of the manuscripts or versions they are using for textual reconstruction. This step requires an enormous amount of work that entails an intensive study of a manuscript. Often, I fear, this work is not done and variants are studies in isolation without a sufficient knowledge of the manuscripts themselves. One of the reasons it is not done is that it is a daunting task that few can accomplish. So when someone does this work, it is a great service to the scholarly community (We should thank God for the Kittels, Wevers, Alands, Metzgers of the world!).

This sort of painstaking text critical work has now been done on the Qumran Psalms Scroll (11QPsa). As I mentioned in a previous post, I am working through Ulrich Dahmen’s Psalmen- und Psalter-Rezeption im Fruehjudentum: Rekonstrucktion, Textbestand, Sturktur und Pragmatik der Psalmen Rolle 11QPsa aus Qumran (Brill, 2003; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com).

In this third chapter, Dahmen works through all of the variants between 11QPsa and the Masoretic Book of Psalms. From this analysis he draws a number of conclusions. First, he concludes that 11QPsa is clearly dependent on and secondary to the proto-Masoretic Psalter (Something which I have been arguing for many years). That is, almost all of the places where 11QPsa has an alternative reading compared to the MT Psalter, the reading in 11QPsa is later. What is more, Dahmen argues that when all of the variants are considered together (and this is the crucial step of gaining the big picture) some patterns begin to appear. While I will not bore you with the details (and Dahmen notes many details), the most important characteristic are the number of features which connect the scroll with the other texts and themes common to the Qumran community. This is one of the things that is meant when taking about a manuscript’s tendenz.

Knowing the tendenz of 11QPsa provides some critical purchase when making text-criticical decisions. What Dahmen’s research means in practical terms is that 11QPsa is of limited use for textual criticism of the MT book of Psalms. That doesn’t mean it is of no value. Dahmen highlights a couple places where 11QPsa preserves a better reading than the MT. The best example is with the missing nun verse in the acrostic Psalm 145 (an acrostic is a poem that is organized according to the alphabet). In the MT tradition the psalm is clearly missing a verse because its acrostic skips from mem to samech (between vv. 13-14). Well, before 11QPsa was discovered scholars knew something was up and often used the LXX to reconstruct the missing verse. When the Psalms Scroll was discovered, lo and behold, the nun verse was recovered. As it turns out, the two texts (LXX and 11QPsa) preserved similar readings:
πιστὸς κύριος ἐν τοῖς λόγοις αὐτοῦ καὶ ὅσιος ἐν πᾶσι τοῖς ἔργοις αὐτοῦ
The Lord is faithful in all his words, and devout in all his deeds

× ×?מן ×?לוהי×? בדבריו וחסיד בכול מעשיו
God is faithful in his words, and gracious in all his deeds

You’ll notice a slight difference between the LXX use of “Lord” while 11QPsa employs “God.” A number of factors suggest that the LXX preserves the better reading. First, when looking at the rest of Psalm, it almost exclusively employs Yahweh. Second, one of the things that Dahmen uncovered in his analysis is that 11QPsa tends to substitute other terms for Yahweh. What evidently happened is that some time in the transmission of the Masoretic text of the book of Psalms, this verse dropped out. The LXX and 11QPsa both preserved the original line, though the LXX preserved the better text in regards to the name used for God.

The moral of this story is that before you can evaluate a textual variant, you need to know the tendenz of the text. Otherwise you’ll miss the forest for the trees.

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