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Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible Resources (TCHB 2)

6th July 2006

There are a number of great resources for those interested in learning more about textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible. Perhaps the first place to start is with some introductions to textual criticism. While there are not as many introductions to textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible as there are of the New Testament, there are a handful of excellent resources available.

This is the second in a series of posts on the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible. The other posts may be viewed here.

Tov’s Introduction

Pride of place must go to Emanuel Tov’s truly magisterial introduction:

Tov-TextCrit1.jpgEmanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (Second Revised Edition; Augsburg Fortress, 2001).
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With this second revised edition, Emanuel Tov, J. L. Magnes Professor of Bible at the Hebrew University and Editor-in-Chief of the recently completed Dead Sea Scrolls project for Oxford University Press, has provided students and scholars with a masterful treatment of the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible. Tov argues that in light of the discovery of the scrolls from the Judean desert the old framework of a threefold textual tradition in the Torah (Masoretic Text [MT], Samaritan, and Septuagint [LXX]), and a twofold tradition in the Prophets and Hagiographa (MT and LXX), needs to be set aside and a radically new approach to textual criticism is required. Such a new approach, according to Tov, is not reflected in introductions to textual criticism published since the discovery of the scrolls. The desire to put the data from Qumran centre stage is the driving force behind this introduction. In fact, there is hardly a page in which the impact of the scrolls is not felt. In accordance with his desire to reflect the current textual situation, in his discussion of the textual witnesses of the Hebrew Bible, Tov concentrates on the witnesses whose importance for textual criticism have stood the test of time, i.e., the MT, Sam, DSS, and LXX. Other texts, primarily ancient translations (Targums, Peshitta, Vulgate, etc.) do not receive much attention. The latter discussion is prefaced with a discussion of the problems associated with the use of ancient translations in textual criticism, including issues relating to translation technique and retroverting the Hebrew Vorlage of the LXX.

As is pretty much standard now, Tov divides the history of the biblical text into three periods. The first period (pre third century BCE) is reflected by relative textual unity. While there is no manuscript evidence for this period, based on signs of genetic relationships between textual traditions, he assumes a fair amount of unity. In contrast, the second period (third century BCE to first century CE) is characterized by textual multiplicity, which is reflected in the variety of manuscripts found among the DSS. The final period (beginning near the end of the first century CE) is reflected by uniformity and stability based on socio-religious and political realities. That is, during this period different social groups favoured different literary traditions: Christians favoured the the LXX, the Samaritan community used the Samaritan tradition, and post-70 CE Judaism employed the MT. While Tov basically agrees with de Lagarde’s thesis that all texts ultimately go back to an original text, he nevertheless believes that it is “almost impossible to reconstruct the original form.â€? Thus, the aim of textual criticism, according to Tov, is not to reconstruct the “originalâ€? text, but to reconstruct the finished literary product as reflected in MT (or LXX or Sam if that is your desire). With the fifth and sixth chapters Tov turns to aspects of the practice of textual criticism. Chapter five deals with the aim and procedures of textual criticism, while chapter six outlines the method of evaluating the readings. One of the most groundbreaking chapters is seven where Tov explores the relationship between literary criticism and textual criticism. In a number of cases where there are two literary strata of an individual biblical book, such as Jeremiah, Joshua, and Proverbs, the division between textual criticism and literary criticism becomes attenuated. It is in such cases that Tov understands the goal is no longer recovering the “original” text, but the original form of the literary tradition.

If you are interested in textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Tov’s introduction is required reading. That being said, not everyone will agree with all of Tov’s conclusions. Not all will agree with Tov’s conclusions regarding the aims of text criticism, his understanding of the history of the biblical text, or his clear preference for the MT (The same amount of space is used in discussing the Masoretic tradition as is used for all the other ancient versions). What perhaps is clear is that it is more and more difficult to make any sweeping generalizations about the early history of the biblical text and that we need to focus more on the history of individual biblical books.

While the text is quite technical at places, Tov has done a good job at making this subject accessible to the average reader with copious examples (in which the Hebrew or Greek is always translated), useful definitions, and over 40 tables and illustrations. The volume is nicely completed with 30 plates of a variety of scrolls and printed editions of the Hebrew Bible, and three indexes (ancient sources, authors, and subjects). Tov’s work has already become the standard introduction in the field and will remain so for years to come.

Other Introductions

There are a number of other helpful introductions to the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible.

Paul D. Wegner, A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible: Its History, Methods and Results (InterVarsity, 2006; Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com). Wegner’s is the most recent introduction to textual criticism published. It is unique in that it covers both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. On the whole, Wegner does a good job covering the basics of OT textual criticism. He is perhaps a bit optimistic in his understanding of the goal of textual criticism and doesn’t deal with the realities of the textual evidence. For example, he states that the “goal of the Old Testament text critic is to determine the final, authoritative form, which was then maintained by the scribes and was later recorded in the canon” (p. 37). In my mind this view doesn’t recognize that authoritative (or canonical) texts are always tied to communities. In my mind, “authoritative for whom?” is the key question. In addition, Wegner seems to ignore some of the gray areas between the composition and transmission of some biblical books. I also wish there were more worked out examples — something which I think is necessary for a “student’s guide.” That being said, the book is well written and includes numerous tables as well as a useful glossary. I would especially recommend this book to students interested in learning a bit about textual criticism of both the Old and New Testaments.

Ellis R. Brotzman, Old Testament Textual Criticism: A Practical Introduction (Baker Academic, 1994; Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com). This is a good student-friendly introduction to textual criticism that covers all of the basics, including a brief survey of the development of writing in the ANE, the transmission of the Hebrew Bible and its Versions, the principles and practice of text criticism. In addition, Brotzman also provides a useful introduction to Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia and a textual commentary on the book of Ruth. The latter would be make it useful for an introductory or intermediate Hebrew class if they are translating the book of Ruth.

Ernst Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament: An Introduction to the Biblia Hebraica (Second Revised & Enlarged edition; Eerdmans, 1995; Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com). This book is really more of an introduction to Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, but it also provides a good introduction to the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible. A long-time standard for all the basics.

P. Kyle McCarter, Textual Criticism: Recovering the Text of the Hebrew Bible (Guides to Biblical Scholarship, Old Testament Series; Augsburg Fortress, 1986; Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com). This slim volume is a good introduction to the “art and science” of textual criticism, the causes of textual corruption, and the procedures of text criticism. Well organized and concise.

Ralph W. Klein, Textual Criticism of the Old Testament: The Septuagint after Qumran (Guides to Biblical Scholarship, Old Testament Series; Fortress, 1974; Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com). While this work is currently out of print, it is still worth purchasing used. Klein does a good job discussing the significance of the LXX and the DSS to textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible.

These works will help orient you to the field of textual criticism, though the best way to learn more about textual criticism is to become familiar with the various textual traditions and the Versions of the Hebrew Bible, as well as working through actual examples.


3 Responses to “Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible Resources (TCHB 2)”

  1. Awilum.com » Textual Criticism Introductions Says:

    [...] Tyler Williams has a great, and fairly detailed, look at the various books that give an introduction to textual criticism of the Old Testament.  He rightly states that Tov’s work is the most authoritative (although it is not the one that is written in the most engaging style–it gets the information across, but not in the most elegant manner).  If you are interested in textual criticism, before you start buying books, check out Tyler’s post. [...]

  2. Codex: Biblical Studies Blogspot » Blog Archive » Hebrew Witnesses to the Text of the Old Testament (TCHB 3) Says:

    [...] Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible Resources (TCHB 2) [...]

  3. biblicalia » Blog Archive » Biblical Studies Carnival VIII Says:

    [...] Studies Carnival, Tyler Williams at Codex. The individual posts are: Part One: An Introduction Part Two: Resources Part Three: Hebrew Witnesses to the Text of the Old Testament Part Four: Early Versions of the [...]