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Archive for July, 2006

Star Trek 2008

24th July 2006


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Latest in the Dead Sea Discoveries

24th July 2006

Jim Davila over at PaleoJudaica has the table of contents from the latest Dead Sea Discoveries. Among other things, there is an article on the Qumran Psalms Scroll that looks interesting:

  • Vered Noam, “The Origin of the List of David’s Songs in “David’s Compositions” (pp. 134-149)

Posted in Dead Sea Scrolls, DSD, Psalms Scrolls, Reviews & Notices | Comments Off

Latest in the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures

24th July 2006

There is a new article uploaded to the most recent Journal of Hebrew Scriptures:

  • Aron Pinker, “Nahum and the Greek Tradition on Nineveh’s Fall,” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 6 (2006) Article 8.
    Abstract: Greek tradition does not provide consistent and reliable evidence that an unusual inundation contributed to the fall of Nineveh. The Babylonian chronicles do not mention such an extraordinary event nor have archaeological excavations at Nineveh produced any evidence in support of such notion. Nineveh’s topography precludes the possibility of significant flooding by the Khosr canal. The various verses in Nahum that have been construed as supporting flooding in Nineveh find a reasonable figurative interpretation within a contextual scheme that does not involve flooding. The notion that Nineveh was captured through flooding should be discarded.

There are also a number of new book reviews uploaded:

If interested, I would especially encourage you to take a look at the reviews of Waltke and Rendtorff.

Posted in JHS, Reviews & Notices | Comments Off

The Goal(s) of Textual Criticism (TCHB 7)

24th July 2006

In recent years there has been significant debate surrounding the ultimate goal of textual criticism. Traditionally the goal was simply to reconstruct the original text of the Old Testament. With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, it has become apparent that this goal is not as simple as it used to be. This post will explore the goal — or perhaps the goals – of textual criticism.

This is the seventh post in a series on the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. Other posts include:

All posts in this series may be viewed here.

The concept of an Urtext, the putative original text, depends partially on how we understand the origins of the five text types found at Qumran and their relationships to it (see my previous post on the Hebrew Witnesses here). There have been three primary models proposed to answer these questions. In spite of the importance attached to this issue, no conclusive answer is possible because of a lack of solid evidence from the time of their origins.

Lagarde’s Model: An Archetypical Urtext

Paul de Lagarde‘s model, historically embraced by the majority of text critics, presupposes one original text of a biblical book and that all textual witnesses derived from it. In practice, the majority of critics first collect the texts into text types, the MT, the LXX, and the SP, and from them reconstruct the eclectic Urtext.

F. M. Cross refined this process by his widely influential theory of “local texts.” In his view the texts developed in geographical isolation: Babylon for the proto-MT of the Torah, Egypt for the Septuagintal texts, and Palestine for the pre-Samaritan Torah and for the proto-MT in the Prophets and Hagiographa (see Frank Moore Cross and Shemaryahu Talmon, eds., Qumran and the History of the Biblical Text [Harvard University Press, 1975] 37; Buy from | Buy from Furthermore, in his view, while the proto-MT preserved the Torah in a superb, pristine state, elsewhere it conserved the expansionistic Palestinian text type (Ibid, 307-308).


Cross’s local text theory, however, does not adequately account for the network of agreements and disagreements among the texts and for the “non-aligned texts,” and no compelling evidence exists for the proposed provinces of the developing text types. For example, the paleo-Hebrew script, which Cross thought secured the pre-Samaritan text in Palestine, was later found in other text types. For example, 11QpaleoLev is written in paleo-Hebrew and sometimes aligns itself with all three text types and other times stands apart (see K. Mathews, “The Leviticus Scrolls (11QpaleoLev) and the Text of the Hebrew Bible,” CBQ 48 [1986] 171-207). Talmon modified Cross’s local text theory by pointing to three socio-political groups: Judaism and the proto-MT, the Samaritans and the SP, and the Christians and the LXX (Shemaryahu Talmon, “Aspects of the Textual Transmission of the Bible in Light of Qumran Manuscripts,” in The World of the Qumran from Within [Magnes, 1989] 71-116; Buy from | Buy from

Kahle’s Model: From Plurality into Unity

In contrast to Lagarde’s Urtext theory, Paul Kahle argued for a multiplicity of texts from which a standard text emerged (See his Cairo Geniza [Clarendon, 1951]). Basing himself on an analogy with the Aramaic Targums, he presupposed the same development from independent, vulgar texts to the final forms of the MT, the LXX of Ezekiel, the SP, and to certain extent of the biblical text as a whole.


Other scholars also hold to a number of pristine originals for certain biblical books. For instance, S. Talmon, makes his case for multiple “original” texts on the basis of synonymous pairs of parallel readings (“The OT Text,” The Cambridge History of the Bible I [ed. R. P. Ackroyd & C. F. Evans; Cambridge University Press, 1970] 1-41; Buy from | Buy from Similarly, M. Greenberg, makes his arguments for equally valid MT and LXX from an exegetical viewpoint (“The Use of Ancient Versions for Interpreting the Hebrew Text,” Congress Volume: Göttingen 1977 [VTSup 29; Brill, 1978] 131-148); while Peter Walters bases his arguments on parallel stories in 1 Samuel (The Text of the Septuagint: Its Corruptions and their Emendation (Cambridge University Press, 1973; Buy from | Buy from Eugene Ulrich, in a number of publications, has perhaps been the most recent scholar to champion this perspective.

According to this view, the varying text types of certain books, such as Samuel, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Esther, call into question the notion of an original text and suggests instead a multiplicity of original, pristine texts. Text critics, so the argument runs, should aim to recreate these original texts, not one eclectic, archetypical text that may have never existed. This view may find support in the parallel synoptic texts in the Bible itself.

Tov, however, criticises this theory since it is so vague about the origin and relationship of these independent texts (Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, 184-185; Buy from | Buy from It also underestimates the capability of detecting secondary readings within the textual witnesses. Moreover, because the text critic cannot decide the priority of one reading over another, it does not necessarily follow that both are original; one may still be secondary. In addition, Waltke has noted that when the theory of independent texts of equal textual status is extended to the view that they also enjoy equal canonical status, it is not satisfying from both a historian’s and theologian’s point of view. Most theologians will want to know whether the tenth commandment prescribes worship on Mount Gerizim and most historians would want to know whether the biblical historian recorded in Exod 12:40 that Israel spent 430 years before the exodus in just Egypt (MT) or in Egypt and Canaan (LXX, SP). Finally, the evidence of synoptic texts does not prove the existence of parallel texts. The differences between these texts may be due to a linear development within the texts where they are now embedded.

Tov’s Model: Original Editions

Tov more plausibly supposes that certain biblical books such as Jeremiah and Ezekiel experienced more than one stage in their literary development, at least one early short edition and a later expanded final edition. Before the later, final form was produced, the earlier forms were considered the original and copied. According to this argument some of the Qumran scrolls and the versions preserve these earlier literary stages as well as the final edition behind the proto-MT. Other biblical material, such as the different edition of the LXX versus the MT, the Targums, the Syriac Peshitta, the Vulgate of Proverbs and of Exodus 35-40 reflect different parallel editions. The date of the final stages differs from book to book and remains undetermined because it antedates the DSS. Tov explains his view: “Large-scale differences between the textual witnesses show that a few books and parts of books were once circulated in different formulations representing different literary stages, as a rule one after the other, but possibly also parallel to each other” (Textual Criticism). 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.”In Tov’s view the text critic ought not necessarily to reconstruct the earlier stages, such as the shorter Septuagintal text in the Prophets — that is the task of literary criticism — but the final edition, such as the fully developed proto-MT in Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Tov further explains: “This formulation thus gives a certain twist to the assumption of one original text as described in the scholarly literature. We do not refer to the original text in the usual sense of the word, since the copy with which our definition is concerned was actually preceded by written stages. Reconstructing elements of this copy (or tradition) is one of the aims of textual scholars, and usually they do not attempt to go beyond this stage” (Textual Criticism, 171).

All in all, Tov’s theory best fits the data. The final edited text is the end of the literary process and, at the same time, the starting point of the transmission of the text. Tov has put a new twist on the meaning of the “original” text. It now means “original edition,” a view that mediates between Lagarde and Kahle. This fits with evidence from the ancient Near East where texts developed by supplementing earlier sources with later material (see J. H. Tigay, ed., Empirical Models for Biblical Criticism [Fortress, 1985]). Scribes in the pre-Samaritan tradition added material from Deuteronomy into Exodus. While this is a much larger topic than I can cover here, it seems most plausible to me that the Pentateuch developed in a supplemental fashion, with earlier sources being expanded and edited over time. Likewise, in the exile the so-called Deuteronomist re-worked earlier books of the Former Prophets by supplementing them with a distinctive theology. This process of literary development can still be observed in the Qumran scrolls and in the ancient versions of certain biblical texts.

Tov wisely stops the process with the proto-MT for socio-religious and historical reasons. That text, he argues, became the authoritative text within Judaism. For that reason, he excludes the later midrashic literary compilations such as the Hebrew behind several sections in the LXX, namely, sections in 1-2 Kings, Esther and Daniel. In short, text critics should aim to recover the original edition behind the MT.

The church as well as the synagogue both accepted the edition behind the MT as authoritative. Both Origen and Jerome conformed the Septuagint and the Vulgate (respectively) to the proto-MT, so that the MT essentially became the standard text of the OT within the Church. Our modern English versions are based on the MT. That history should not be underestimated in deciding the question of “what is the original text?” The MT inherently commended itself to both the Synagogue and the Church as “the best text.” As the canon of the OT emerged in the historical process, so also the MT surfaced as “the best text” of that canon.


It should be noted however that when the canon was discussed, there were not discussions of which version of a biblical book should be considered canonical. This realization leads to one caveat. While I agree that from my community of faith (Protestant evangelical Christianity) the goal of textual criticism is best conceived of as recovering the original edition behind the MT, I still see immense value in exploring the different texts and versions of the Old Testament. This is especially the case for the Septuagint considering the historical and theological significance it has had for the Christian church. Thus, while I agree with Tov in regards to the goal of textual criticism, I think it is also valuable to balance his views with those of Eugene Ulrich who argues for multiple texts as the goal. He argues, “the goal of ‘textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible’ is not a single text. The purpose of function of textual criticism is to reconstruct the history of the texts that eventually become the biblical collection in both its literary growth and its scribal transmission; it is not just to judge individual variants in order to determine which were ‘superior’ or ‘original’”(“Multiple Literary Editions: Reflections Towards a Theory of the History of the Biblical Text,” in Current Research and Technological Developments on the Dead Sea Scrolls: Conference on the Texts from the Judean Desert, Jerusalem, 30 April 1995 [Donald W. Parry and Stephen D. Ricks, eds.; Brill, 1996] 98-99; Buy from | Buy from While Ulrich clearly takes his observations too far, he does remind us of the richness in the textual witnesses to the text of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.

Posted in Bible, Criticism, Series, Text Criticism, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible | 2 Comments »

Biblical Studies Carnival VIII Reminder

22nd July 2006

Just a quick reminder that Biblical Studies Carnival VIII will be hosted by Kevin Edgecomb at Biblicalia in the first week of August, 2006. His call for submissions may be found here.

As you are reading posts around the blogosphere, make sure to nominate at least one post for the next Carnival!

About the Biblical Studies Carnival

The goal of the Biblical Studies Carnival is to showcase the best of weblog posts in the area of academic biblical studies. By “academic biblical studies� we mean:

  • Academic: Posts must represent an academic approach to the discipline of biblical studies rather than, for instance, a devotional approach. This does not mean that posts have to be written by an academic, PhD, or professor — amateurs are more than welcome! Nor does it mean that posts must take a historical critical approach — methodological variety is also encouraged.
  • Biblical Studies: Broadly focused on discipline of biblical studies and cognate disciplines, including Ancient Near East, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Christian Origins/New Testament, Intertestamental/Second Temple literature (e.g., LXX, Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Josephus, etc.), Patristics, Biblical Criticisms and Hermeneutics, Biblical Studies and popular culture, among other things.

The Biblical Studies Carnival also serves to highlight a variety of blogs — from well known to lesser known. All blogs are welcome to submit relevant posts to the Carnival. In this way a Carnival is an excellent way to let others know about a blog you frequent or gain new readership to your own blog.

To submit a blog post for inclusion to the Biblical Studies Carnival you may do one of the following:

  1. Send the following information to the following email address: biblical_studies_carnival AT If you’re not sure whether a post qualifies, send it anyway and the host will decide whether to include it.
    • The title and permalink URL of the blog post you wish to nominate and the author’s name or pseudonym.
    • A short (two or three sentence) summary of the blog post.
    • The title and URL of the blog on which it appears (please note if it is a group blog).
    • Include “Biblical Studies Carnival [number]â€? in the subject line of your email
    • Your own name and email address.
  1. Use the submission form provided by Blog Carnival. (This is probably the easier option if you only have one nomination.) Just select “biblical studies carnival� and fill in the rest of the information noted above.

For more information, consult the Biblical Studies Carnival Homepage.

Posted in Biblical Studies Carnival | 1 Comment »

More Hebrew Tattoos You Don’t Want!

22nd July 2006

Since first posting on Hebrew tattoos, I have been innudated with requests for advice for proper spellings, etc. I don’t really mind that much; but I find it quite surprising how many people are thinking of getting Hebrew tattoos. In addition, every once and a while I follow the searches for Hebrew tattoos that brought people to my site to see if I can find more incorrect ones. I did this just the other day and found quite a number of tattoos which had a number of errors. So without further ado, here is another installment of…

Hebrew Tattoos You Don’t Want


This tattoo is supposed to say “faithful” (from bottom to top), though the vowel pointing is incorrect (there is a segol — the three dots — between the alef and the mem, but no vowel between the mem and final nun). I imagine the word that the poor individual was trying to write was something like ×?ֹמֶן, though I am not certain. I personally don’t think it looks very good vertically, and if I was going to put it vertically I would write it top to bottom (as my example). I would put it horizontally as indicated by my “Better” example (I would also lean towards the word ×?מת if I wanted to indicate faithful).


This tattoo is supposed to say, “Beloved.” The word that the woman was trying to have inscribed on her wrist (I believe) was the Qal passive participle of the biblical Hebrew word for love, ×?הב. The problem is that it was written backwards (remember, Hebrew is written from right to left!). I am also not sure that this is the best word to use if you want to say “beloved,” but that’s neither here nor there.

Now it seems as if “beloved” is a fairly popular Hebrew tattoo. If you are looking for the Hebrew spelling, you have to beware of who you ask. I found this image posted on the Christian Tattoo Association web board as alternatives for someone wanting the Hebrew for “beloved”:


The problem with this advice is that it is riddled with errors:


As it turned out, the fellow who posted this advice recognized his error, but he never did repost a correct version (and you had to read through a lot of posts before you saw his comment about the Hebrew being backwards).

I have been asked a number of times for the correct spelling of “beloved” — with most people wanting the beloved that comes from the Song of Songs (e.g., Song 1:13, 14, 16, 2:3, 8, 9, 10, 16, etc.). In English the term “beloved” is a unisex term of endearment. The word in Hebrew, however, is not. The Hebrew word for beloved, דוד, is appropriate only if you are referring to a male (the word also means uncle). You shouldn’t really use it if you are referring to a female (which was David Beckham’s mistake). For a female term of endearment roughly equivalent to “beloved” I would probably suggest ×?הובה, which is based on the Hebrew root for love. I find that many Christians want to tattoo “beloved” in the sense of “beloved of God,” i.e., loved by God. For this sense I would probably suggest the passive form of the verb for love in Hebrew: ×?הוב. This is what I would suggest:


The same fellow that gave advice on the Hebrew for beloved, also gave some incorrect advice on the spelling of “child” in Hebrew on the same web board:


This guy’s track record isn’t that great! I sure hope he isn’t a tattoo artist!

All this goes to show that you should be very careful before you decide to permanently inscribe something on your body in a language that you don’t know. Perhaps the Mishnah is correct in prohibiting tattoos due to their lasting and permanent nature (see m Makkot 3.6).

Posted in Hebrew, Humour, Tattoos | 19 Comments »

Comment Spam Protection — Please Test

21st July 2006

Since switching to WordPress a number of months ago, I have been getting quite a bit of spam in the form of comments on posts. Most of the comments have been innocuous enough, but some are rather x-rated. It hasn’t been too difficult to delete them, since I get a notice of all comments emailed to me. That being said, I have been thinking of adding some extra spam protection to my blog for a while. (Note that my spam filter — Akismet — has also caught 5,425 spam since switching over to WordPress! These are comments that I don’t even see).

I have decided to add a plugin called “Peter’s Custom Anti-Spam Image Plugin for WordPress.” This plugin makes users identify a random word displayed as an image in order to block spambots that cannot read the image. This means that there is an extra step for you to leave a comment on my blog, but I think it is worth the effort! What I liked about this plugin is that I get to choose the words that you have to identify! So I decided to add a bunch of words that relate to the content of my blog (and no, I did not include “useless trash” as one of the words!).

Feel free to test out the comment feature on this post and PLEASE let me know if it didn’t work for you! Thanks in advance to any testers!

Speaking of spam… check this out.

Posted in Blog Maintenance, Blog News | 7 Comments »

Stylus’ Top 100 Music Videos – A Bit Off the Mark

21st July 2006

I woud like to thank AKMA’s Random Thoughts for distracting me from my work today by pointing out Stylus Magazines Top 100 Music Videos of All Time article. Now, as a teen in the eighties, I grew up on the (then new) entertainment medium of music video. I remember staying up late every Friday night to watch the latest and greatest videos on “Friday Night Videos” — this was before channels like MTV becames popular or others like VH1, or MuchMusic even existed (and when MTV actually played music videos!).

Looking through Stylus’s list I thought it was pretty good, though as AKMA noted it seem to have favoured more recent fare. I was happy to see Talking Heads Once in a Lifetime” at number 20 as well as their “Wild Wild Lifeâ€? at 55 (featuring a slim John Goodman before he was well known), R.E.M.‘s “Losing My Religionâ€? at 17 (facinating to realize what exactly “losing my religion” is referring to), Chris Isaak – “Wicked Gameâ€? at 56, Nirvana – “Smells Like Teen Spiritâ€? at 77, Robert Palmer’s classic “Addicted to Loveâ€? at 96 (hmm… shouldn’t this be higher? and then there’s Shania Twain’s parody, “Man, I Feel Like a Woman” or even better yet, Bowling for Soup’s partial parody in “1985“), and even OutKast’s clever video of “Hey Yaâ€? at 77. I was pleasantly surprised to see Johnny Cash hold the number two spot with his video of the Nine Inch Nails’s song “Hurt.â€? I use this video along with the original Nine Inch Nails video in my advanced hermeneutics class. There were many videos I hadn’t seen — and a few that I watched. I quite liked seeing Christopher Walken dance in Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choiceâ€? (but where was Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You” in the list?); I didn’t understand why the number one video was number one.

PGabriel_Play.jpgI think that Peter Gabriel‘s “Sledgehammer” should have been number 1, instead of 15. And I would have perhaps put some of his other videos in the list rather than “Shock the Monkeyâ€? (number 83). In fact, perhaps the biggest surpirse was the fact that only two of Peter Gabriel’s music videos were on the list! I can’t think of any other artist who treats his music videos as art. He is experimental, creative, and sometimes shocking in his videos. I would have included his “Steam” (which won a Grammy as best short music video in 1993), “Digging in the Dirt” (Grammy as best short music video in 1992), as well as “Blood of Eden.” One of my favourite DVD video compilations of all time is Gabriel’s 2004 Play: The Videos (Buy from | Buy from

There were a number of other videos that I was surprised not to see somewhere on the list. For instance, I was surprized to not see Dire Straits, “Money for Nothing“; this video was one of the first to experiment with computer graphics. Or even their “Brothers In Arms“, which won a Grammy in 1986. By no strech of the imagination am I a Michael Jackson fan; that being said, his “Thriller” video must be considered one of the best of all time — at least top ten (I have to laugh at the beginning of the video when Jackson says “I’m not like other guys; I’m different”! Nobody knew then just how different he was!). I was also disappointed not to see any U2 in the list. Finally, I think “Weird Al” Yankovic should have been honourable mention for all of this excellent video parodies!

OK, back to work… of course I guess I could consider this research for my Religion & Popular Culture class!

Posted in Media, Music Videos, Popular Culture | Comments Off

Now for Something Completely Different…

21st July 2006

For your Friday enjoyment, now I bring you something completely different (than textual criticism!):

Peter Chattaway has highlighted a couple hilarious video clips. The first is a collection of Darth Vader clips with audio dubbed in from James Earl Jones’s other movies, and the second is a collection of Star Trek clips edited to fit a famous Monty Python song.

Posted in Film, Humour | Comments Off

The History of the Biblical Text (TCHB 6)

21st July 2006

The last few posts in this series discussed some of the major witnesses to the text of the Old Testament; this post will bring them together and describe a bit of the history of the transmission of the Hebrew Bible.

This is the sixth post in a series on the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. Other posts include:

All posts in this series may be viewed here.

The history of the text of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible can be divided into five periods on the basis of the kinds evidence available:

  1. from the time of composition to mid-third century BCE, for which no extant texts are available;
  2. from mid-third century BCE to end of first century CE, when the variety of types of texts found at Qumran are attested;
  3. from the end of the first century CE to the end of the tenth century, that is, from the survival of proto-MT alone to the work of Aaron Ben Asher;
  4. from the end of the tenth century to the sixteenth century, attested by the hundreds of medieval Masoretic manuscripts; and
  5. from sixteenth century to the present, the time of printed Hebrew editions of the Bible.

Arguably, the discovery of the DSS has so revolutionized our understanding of the text, that it ought to be marked off as a new era. Harold Scanlin, United Bible Society translation advisor, pretty much argued as much when he said: “These changes [in our understanding of the history of the text] are at least as significant as the nineteenth century revolution in New Testament textual criticism, culminating in the work of Westcott and Hort” (Harold P. Scanlin, “The Presuppositions of HOTTP and the Translator,” BT 43 [1992] 102).

For the purposes of these posts, I have treated the last three periods sufficiently in my discussion of the MT, therefore I will focus here exclusively on the first two periods.

From Composition to Mid-Third Century BCE

Discussion of this early period is necessarily conjectural since there are not extant manuscripts from this era. While a few scholars posit a very late date for the writing of many biblical books, based on a number of lines of evidence it is plausible that the majority of biblical books were composed by the mid- to late-third century BCE. (Some of the evidence includes early versions like the Septuagint, while other evidence is based more on the signs of development apparent — at least to me! — in the biblical text, as well as the intertextuality between many biblical books.) While perhaps this warrants a future post, suffice it to say that I am assuming most — but not necessarily all — biblical books were composed during this period.

During this period, it can be inferred both from extra-biblical and biblical sources a tendency both to preserve and to revise the text.

1. The Tendency to Preserve the Text.
There are three factors which demonstrate the early scribal tendency to preserve the text. First, the very fact that the biblical books persistently survived the most deleterious conditions throughout a more or less long history until the extant manuscripts demonstrates that indefatigable scribes insisted on its preservation. The books were written on highly perishable papyrus and animal skins in the relatively damp, hostile climate of Palestine. The prospects for their survival were most uncertain in a land that served as a bridge for armies in unceasing contention between the continents of Asia and Africa — a land whose people were the object of plunderers in their early history and of captors in their later history. That no other purported Israelite writings, such as the Book of Yashar (e.g., 2 Sam 1:18) or the Annals of the Kings (e.g., 2 Chron 16:11), survive from this period indirectly suggests the determination of the scribes to preserve the biblical books. Of course, I am assuming that there may be something behind many of these references to other writings, instead of seeing them as rhetorical devices only serving to give some verisimilitude to the writings.

Second, the OT itself (cf. Deut 4:2; 12:32; Josh 1:7; 24:25, 26; 1 Sam 10:25; Ps 18:30; Prov 30:6-7; Eccl 12:12) and relevant literature of the ancient Near East show that at the time of the OT’s composition a mindset favouring canonicity existed. For example, the famous Code of Hammurabi (ca. 1750 BCE) and the Hittite treaties of the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1400-1200 BCE), closely resembling Deuteronomy, call down imprecations on anyone who tampers with one word in them. This mindset must have fostered a concern for care and accuracy in transmitting the sacred writings.

2. The Tendency to Revise the Text.
On the other hand, both biblical and extra-biblical data show a tendency to revise the text during this period. This can be demonstrated by four strands of evidence. First, the post-exilic book, Ezra-Nehemiah, states that as Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God, he made it clear and gave the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read (Neh 8:8), implying he modernized and explained the earlier text.

Second, the many differences between synoptic portions of the Hebrew Bible strongly suggest that those entrusted with the responsibility of teaching the Bible felt free to revise the texts (Compare, for instance, 2 Sam 22 = Ps 18; 2 Kgs 18:13-20:19 = Isa 36-39; 2 Kgs 24:18-25:30 = Jer 52; Isa 2:2-4 = Mic 4:1-3; Ps 14 = 53; 40:14-18 = 70; 57:8-12 = 108:2-6; 60:7-14 = 107:14; Ps 96 = 1 Chr 16:23-33; Ps 106:1, 47-48). The differences between synoptic portions resemble the same sort of variations found in the Qumran scrolls, suggesting that scribes, before the extant texts, felt free to revise the text within the similar restraints attested in the Qumran scrolls as noted by scholars.

Third, this effort to clarify and update the text was entirely in keeping with textual practices in the ancient Near East. Albright said: “A principle which must never be lost sight of in dealing with documents of the ancient Near East is that instead of leaving obvious archaisms in spelling and grammar, the scribes generally revised ancient literary and other documents periodically.”

Finally, the book of Chronicles in its synoptic parallels with the pre-Samaritan Torah and with the MT’s Former Prophets exhibits the same kinds of revisions as found in the Qumran scrolls, reflecting the early revision of texts. In short, some biblical texts were being conserved and revised at the same time others were being composed.

3. Kinds of Revisions.
From ancient inscriptions and comparative Semitic grammar we can plausibly trace the development of the biblical text’s script and grammar. From epigraphic evidence it appears that in its earliest stage, the text was written in the Proto-Canaanite alphabet, a pictographic alphabet (see my post on Serabit el-Khadem for more about the origins of the alphabet). This script later developed into an angular, pre-exilic Hebrew script, sometimes called Phoenician. At about 1100 BCE short vowels, indicating case and tense, were dropped (See Waltke & O’Connor, Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax [Eisenbrauns, 1990] § 8.1c, 29.4j). During the same period matres lectiones (“mothers of reading”, i.e., vowel letters) were gradually added to the text.

From Mid-Third Century BCE to Late First Century CE

From ca. 400 BCE until the destruction of Second Temple in 70 CE, there also was a tendency to preserve and revise the text, as attested by the DSS and by other Jewish literature from this period.

1. The Tendency to Preserve the Text.
Talmudic notices, calling for a careful preservation of the Hebrew Scriptures, are backed up by the discoveries in the Judean desert. The preservation of the proto-MT reflects its antiquity and preservation. In addition, the para-textual scribal elements attested in the MT about the uncertainty of a few readings, such as inverted nuns (thought to mark verses thought to have been transposed) and other extraordinary points, probably go back to this period and so show an early concern for the text’s preservation.

2. Tendency to Revise the Text.
On the other hand, the variant text types attested among the Qumran scrolls unambiguously show that the proto-MT, the pre-Samaritan, and the Septuagintal texts continued to be copied during this period and that those of the “Qumran practice,” and possibly of the non-aligned texts, arose at this time. These variants also find agreement in Jewish literature originating during the time in question, such as the Book of Jubilees (either late or early post-exilic) and the NT (ca. 50-90 CE).

As I have argued, at the end of this period the rabbis stabilized the text by preserving only the dominant proto-Masoretic text type. The fall of the Second Temple, the Jews debate with Christians, and Hillel’s rules of hermeneutics, all called for a stabilized text. And socio-political realities led to dominance of the early rabbis and their proto-Masoretic text.

3. Kinds of Revisions.
Sometime after the Exile the Jews switched from the pre-exilic, angular script to the post-exilic, Aramaic script, also called square script because most of the letters are written within an imaginary square frame (It should be noted, however, that some DSS of varying text types were still written in the angular paleo-Hebrew script). With the new script came five final letter forms, which helped the division of words. Here is a chart from GKC with the various semitic alphabets and scripts (click to enlarge):


In addition, matres lectiones continued to be added to the text and spellings were updated (orthography). These changes are seen (in varying degrees) in the variety of different texts types extant in the DSS. The pre-Samaritan text, for example, exhibits linguistic modernization, expansions, interpolations, and exegetical smoothing, as does the proto-MT.

Another significant revision from this period is the safeguarding of the tetragrammaton (YHWH) by occasionally substituting forms in the consonantal text (this is also seen in the translation of YHWH by “Lord” in the LXX).


As a result of this transmission history (only briefly sketched here), by the end of the first century CE, the biblical text had undergone a series of intentional and unintentional changes and a number of varying text types emerged. The relationship between these text types is rarely simple to discern, and some books appeared to have more than one final form (or at least they circulated in more than one version).

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