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Archive for July, 2006

Ugarit Cola — It’s the Real (Old) Thing!

19th July 2006

As a former Coke aficionado and addict (Diet Coke to be specific) and Hebrew Bible specialist, I found this to be somewhat humorous:


I wonder if this type of cola was popular during marzeahs at Ugarit? (spiked, of course!)

Via Biblische Ausbildung (from one of his student’s during a trip to Syria)

Posted in Humour | 2 Comments »

Ben Zvi in Latest RBL (18 July 2006)

19th July 2006

BenZvi_Hosea.jpgI have not been posting the weekly Review of Biblical Literature publications lately, but I did want to note a rather thorough and positive review of a recent book by one of my colleagues from the University of Alberta in the 18 July edition:

Ehud Ben Zvi, Hosea (FOTL; Eerdmans, 2006).
Read the review by Laurie Braaten.
Buy from | Buy from

Here is an excerpt from the review:

Over the centuries, the task of making sense of the book of Hosea has not only been difficult but has also has sparked much controversy in the interpretive communities. Ben Zvi has made an enormous contribution to Hosea studies and the understanding of this enigmatic prophetic book. His readings of Hosea are arguably cutting edge and deserve the careful attention of those who wish to keep current in Hosea studies and recent methods of interpretation. I found here much to employ in my future work. Likewise, as the methods Ben Zvi advocates are further refined by the academy, his work will undoubtedly be viewed as an enduring contribution to this endeavor.

Posted in Hosea, Old Testament, RBL, Reviews & Notices | Comments Off

60,000 Visitors and Counting!

19th July 2006

Codex60Served.jpgI just noticed that by blog counter hit the 60,000 mark. I just want to say, “Thank you for visiting!” I added the counter on July 7th last year, so it has been just over one year. I am a bit humbled that 60,000 people have visited my blog (and that says nothing about my companion Codex website).

What is even more amazing is the number of visitors I get from all around the world. Case in point: the 60,000th visitor was from Minsk, Belarus. Privet Belarus! I sure hope it was worth the trip!

My average visits sit at about 230 per day, which means in the next year I may have 84,000 visitors. Gee, I guess I better start writing about more than ancient toilets and tattoos!

Thank you for visiting and making blogging an enjoyable and meaningful experience.

Posted in Blog News, Milestones & Visitor Recognition | Comments Off

Codex Sinaiticus: A Profile (TCHB 5)

17th July 2006

Codex Sinaiticus (designated by the sigla א or S) was discovered in the nineteenth century by Constantine von Tischendorf at the Monastery of St. Catherine in the Sinai peninsula (hence its name). It is one of the oldest copies of the Christian Bible in Greek. In fact, it is the oldest complete uncial manuscript of the NT.

This is a special fifth 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.

Tischendorf.jpgThe story of the discovery of the codex is full of intrigue and scandal — OK, so it isn’t Indiana Jones, but for biblical studies it is pretty exciting! In search for ancient manuscripts of the Bible, Tischendorf first visited the monastery of St. Catherine in 1844. While visiting with one of the monks there he noticed a large basket of parchments being used to kindle the fire. Recognizing the parchments as parts of the OT in Greek, he persuaded the monks of their value and they stopped using them as a heat source. After some negotiations he was allowed to remove 43 leaves (which he figured was about one third of what was in the basket). Tischendorf eventually presented these manuscrpts to Frederick Augustus II, King of Saxony, who was his patron at that time. The 43 leaves were deposited in the university library at Leipzip and published under the name of Codex Friderico-Augustanus (MS gr. 1) in 1846.

Tichendorf returned to Sinai in 1853 to secure the reast of the codex, but left empty handed — except for a scrap with a few verses from the book of Genesis. In 1859 he visited yet again and was successful (on his last scheduled day at the monastery) in viewing a large manuscript. After some more negotiations, he was allowed to take the manuscript to Cairo, where he copied it by hand in a period of two months. Then, taking advantage of some internal politics in the monastery and the Orthodox Church, in 1859 Tischendorf received permission to take the codex to St. Petersburg (presumably on loan) and presented it as a gift to the Czar Alexander II of Russia, the protecter and patron of the Greek Church, purportedly in return for influence in the election of a new Archbishop. Tischendorf published a facsimile edition in 1862; the original was deposited in the Imperial Library in St. Petersburg as Codex Sinaiticus Petropolitanus in 1867. The codex was sold by a cash-strapped Russian government to the British Museum in 1933 for a sum of £100,000, half of which was raised by public support. The codex now resides in the British Museum as Additional MS 43725.

Sinaiticus0102.jpgThe codex is made of fine vellum (sheepskin and goatskin) with pages measuring ca. 15 by 13.5 inches (the original size is unknown due to binding). It has four columns per page (two columns in the OT poetic and wisdom books) with 48 lines per column. As with uncial manuscripts, there are no spaces between words, accents, or breathing marks.

Based on scholarly reconstructions, the original manuscript is thought to have consisted of ca. 730 leaves and more than likely contained the entire Christian Bible (with Apocrypha), as well as The Epistle of Barnabus and the Shepherd of Hermas.

Today there are ca. 405 leaves extant in four locations:

  1. The British Museum has 347 leaves, 199 leaves containing 1 Chronicles 9:27-11:22, Tobit 2:2-14:15 (end), Judith 1:1-11:13, 13:9-16:25 (end), 1 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees, Isaiah, Jeremiah 1:1-10:25, Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechiriah, Malachi, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Job; and 148 leaves with the complete NT as well as Barnabus and Hermas (to Mandates 4.2.3).
  2. The Universitats-Bibliothek at Leipzig has 43 leaves containing 1 Chronicles 11:22-19:17, 2 Esdras 9:9-23:31 [end], Esther, Tobit 1:1-2:2; Jeremiah 10:25-52:34 [end], and Lamentations 1:1-2:20. These leaves were published by Tischendorf with full-size litho-graphic facsimiles in 1844 as Codex Friderico-Augustanus (Leipzig, 1846).
  3. St. Catherine’s Monastery has 12 leaves and 14 fragments containing undisclosed portions of the Pentateuch. These were reportedly discovered in 1975 during renovations precipitated by a fire.
  4. Fragments of three leaves containing verses from Genesis 23-24 and Numbers 5-7 (MS. gr. 259 and MS. gr. 2), Judith 11:13-13:9 (Collection of the Society of Ancient Literature MS. O. 156), and Hermas Mandates 2.7-3.2 and 4.3.4-6 (MS. gr. 843) remain at the National Library of Russia in St. Petersburg.

The script is written in a reddish-brown to black iron compound ink with an unornamented uncial hand. While originally thought to be the product of four scribes by Tischendorf and Lake (A, B, C, and D), recent scholarship has isolated only three hands, eliminating scribe C. Up to nine correctors have also been identified, two of whom were also original scribes.

Sinaiticus_Psalms.jpgIts date and provenance of the codex are uncertain. Based on the Eusebian apparatus, a clear terminus post quem can be set for around 300-340 CE. While a terminus ante quem is more difficult to ascertain, paleographically it has been set by a majority of scholars to the mid-fourth century CE based on a comparison with other uncial manuscripts, among other things (one scholar argues for a fifth century date, though with little support). The first two correctors are typically dated contemporaneous with the codex, while the other correctors are typically dated somewhere between the fifth and seventh centuries, and the last two to medieval times. While three different locations have been posited for its origin (Rome, Alexandria, and Caesarea); most scholars seem to prefer Alexandria or Caesarea.

The character of the text, with its many corrections, is uneven. The extant portions of the OT tend to agree with Codex Vaticanus, and are judged to contain superior readings in some books (e.g., 1 Chronicles, 2 Esdras, Isaiah). Similarly, the NT is of a high quality (with the exception of the book of Revelation) and tends to agree with Vaticanus (especially the Gospels and Acts). Canonically, some have considered the inclusion of Barnabus and the Shepherd of Hermas to be significant, though this is far from certain.

In 2006 the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing at the University of Birmingham, in cooperation with the British Library and the three other holding libraries, began a digitization project to produce a new facsimile of the entire codex, as well as an online edition and other tools.

Internet Resources


Posted in Septuagint, Series, Sinaiticus, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible | 1 Comment »

Early Versions of the Hebrew Bible (TCHB 4)

15th July 2006

This post continues surveying the witnesses to the text of the Old Testament. This post focuses on the early translation of the Hebrew Bible.

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

All posts in this series may be viewed here.

Early Versions of the Hebrew Bible

Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), the ancient Versions — early translations of the Hebrew text into different languages — were the primary sources for alternative readings when evaluating the Hebrew Masoretic text. In the light of the DSS, however, aside from the Greek translation, most of the Versions are now of lesser importance. Text critics, nevertheless, still compare variants in at least three early versions in addition to the Greek Septuagint: the Aramaic Targums, the Syriac Peshitta, and the Latin Vulgate. These three normally agree with the MT, though their few differences can be important. Tov notes: “Although there are thousands of differences between MT and the translations, only a fraction of them was created by a divergence between MT and the Vorlage of the translation. Most of the differences were created by other factors that are not related to the Hebrew Vorlage” (Tov, Textual Criticism, 123).

1. The Greek Septuagint

Lev_septuagint.jpgThe Septuagint (LXX) is the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. While its true origins are cloaked with mystery, the pseudepigraphal Letter of Aristeas states that 72 Palestinian Jews translated the Pentateuch in 72 days in Alexandria, Egypt, around 285 BCE. As the story of the origin of the LXX was retold in the Church it became yet more exaggerated. According to Justin Martyr, the tradition included the whole OT. Later in the second century Irenaeus reports that the translators worked in isolation but came up with identical results. Finally, Epiphanius of Salamis pushed the isolation idea to the limit. He had the translators do everything in pairs. When the thirty-six translations were read before the king they were found to be completely identical! The name “Septuagint” (“seventy”) derives from this legend, though it appears the number 72 was rounded to 70.

Despite its legendary character, Aristeas is nonetheless accurate insofar as it places the translation of the Pentateuch in the first half of the third century BCE; it associates the version with the Jewish community in Alexandria; and it states that the Pentateuch was translated first. In regards to its Egyptian origins, I should note that there are some minority views that argue for a Palestinian origin of some books of the LXX.

For a thorough treatment of the Letter of Aristeas, see The Legend of the Septuagint: From Classical Antiquity to Today, Abraham Wasserstein and David J. Wasserstein (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006; Buy from | Buy from

The LXX is not a uniform translation. Various translators at different times, with varying philosophies of translation and different language capability, translated different portions of the Hebrew Bible. For example, the translation of the Torah is a good formal translation, the translation of the Psalter is very formal, while the translations of Proverbs and Isaiah are less so. Nevertheless, outside of the MT, the LXX is the most important tool for textual criticism because of its antiquity, its independence from the MT, and its completeness. As I noted in a previous post, some Qumran manuscripts attest to this text type.

The name Septuaginta today includes all textual witnesses to the Greek text, including the later revisions of the original Greek translation. For this reason, scholars distinguish between the Old Greek (OG; i.e., the original translation) and the Septuagint (as represented in the extant Greek manuscripts).

Manuscripts of the LXX. Septuagint manuscripts are customarily classified into three groups: papyri, uncial codices, and miniscules/cursives. There are nearly 700 papyri dating to the seventh century and earlier, the most important of which include the Chester Beatty Papyri, which date from the second to fourth centuries CE. Uncials (i.e., manuscripts written in all capital letters) come from the fourth to the tenth centuries, the most important of which include the fourth century Codex Vaticanus (B), the fourth century Codex Sinaiticus (×?), and the fifth century Alexandrinus (A). There are over 1500 miniscules (i.e., manuscripts written in lowercase) which date from the ninth century and later; they are nevertheless important as they often represent copies of very old manuscripts. For example, while the manuscripts referred to with the sigla “boc2e2″ come from the tenth to fourteenth centuries CE, they are our only witnesses to the fourth century Lucianic recension for Samuel and Kings. (Until the eighth century, only uncials were produced, in the ninth and tenth centuries uncials and miniscules were used side by side, and from the eleventh century only miniscules were produced; it is also important to note that until the eighth century, texts were written with their letters in continuous sequence, without word division, accents, breathings, or punctuation.)

During the 500 years or more that separate the hypothetical OG text from these manuscripts, the LXX was corrected to the proto-MT, modified by other texts, influenced by scribal idiosyncrasies, and even underwent several revisions. Therefore, before the Septuagint can be a useful tool in textual criticism, the OG text must first be reconstructed.

The Development of the LXX. There is some debate as to how the Septuagint developed. Paul de Lagarde proposed that there was one original text from which other recensions (a deliberately produced family of manuscripts exhibiting a distinct text type) and that to restore the OG the critic must first classify the variants into several recensions. Basing himself on Jerome, he proposed essentially the following model:


According to this model, by classifying the variants according to their recensions, one can reconstruct for the OG an eclectic text. While much of Lagarde’s orginal theory has been discarded (e.g., the Hesychian recension can’t be recovered), the vast majority of Septuagint scholars continue to hold to his basic notion of an original “Ur-text.” The Göttingen Septuagint series, named Septuaginta, Vetus Testamentum Graecum Auctoritate Societatis Litterarum Gottingensis editum, essentially follows this model and method. An abridged version of this eclectic reconstruction was published by A. Rahlfs, Septuagint, id est Vetus Testamentum graece iuxta LXX interpretes (Stuttgart, 1935; Buy from | Buy from

Paul Kahle, in contrast, took his cues from the witness of the Targums and theorized that there never was an “original” OG text. According to him, the Christians in the second century CE standardized numerous earlier, “vulgar” (i.e., texts to facilitate reading) translations, originally independent of each other. According to this view, one ought not attempt to reconstruct the OG, for such a text never existed. His model may be represented as:


The diplomatic edition of A. E. Brooke, N. McLean, and H.St.J. Thackeray, The Old Testament in Greek According to the Text of Codex Vaticanus (Cambridge 1906-1940) essentially follows this model in that it doesn’t attempt to construct the OG. They chose Codex Vaticanus (B) as their base text, and where it is lacking, they supplement it from Codex Sinaiticus (×?) and Codex Alexandrinus (A).

For a full listing of texts and translations of the LXX, including a complete listing of critical and popular editions, see my Annotated Guide to the Septuagint Pages.

The Character of the LXX. As noted above, each individual book of the LXX has its own idiosyncrasies to its translation and thus a careful examination of its translation technique is necessary before one can retrovert the text with any confidence. In addition, in some portions of the OT, the LXX is significantly different from the MT. For example, in Jeremiah it exhibits a different sequence of chapters and is one-sixth shorter than the MT. Consider this example from Jeremiah 28 (= Jeremiah 35 in the LXX). The additions in the MT are noted with italics, while additions in the LXX are marked bold.

And it came to pass in that year, in the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the fourth year, in the fifth month, Hananiah son of Azzur the false prophet, who was from Gibeon, said to me…: “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, said to me: ‘… Within two years I will bring back to this place all the articles of the house of the LORD that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon removed from this place and took to Babylon, and Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim king of Judah and all the exiles from Judah who went to Babylon I am going to bring back to this place, ‘declares the LORD ‘” (Jer 28:1-4a; LXX 35:1-4a).

Throughout Jeremiah the MT consistently presents a more expanded version than the LXX. Aside from the Pentateuch, the same is true of other passages such as 1 Samuel 18-21 and Ezekiel. The LXX, in addition to other large-scale differences, also presents an entirely different text in the books of Daniel and Esther. These differences raise serious questions about the nature of the original text and the goal of textual criticism, to which I will return in a future post.

Revisions of the LXX. Some scribes deliberately revised the OG to agree more with the developing proto-MT. Prior to Origen (200 CE), who brought this process to completion in his famous Hexapla, revisers well-known to history were Aquila (125 CE), Symmachus (170 CE), and Theodotion (180 CE). To these Dominique Barthélemy recently posited a fourth from a Greek scroll of the Minor Prophets (middle of the first century BCE). Barthelemy named it Kaige because of its distinctive translation of Hebrew ×’Ö·×? (gam). Later research showed that the translational units in the Septuagint which are ascribed to Theodotion probably belong to this revision, and so many scholars now refer to it as Kaige-Theodotion. This recension became the text of the LXX in certain sections of the historical books and Daniel.

Lucian (312 CE) revised the text once again, this time in agreement with reading of some texts known from Qumran. Some scholars think that this is the OG itself, while others think it is close to it. Needless to say, it is an important witness to the OG.

The LXX is one of the most significant witnesses to the early text of the Hebrew Bible. If used judiciously, it can be one of the earliest witness that we have available to us. In addition, since every translation is also an interpretation, the LXX also provides a window to view the interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Hellenistic Judaism.

For more information about the LXX, including introductions and tools, see my Septuagint Pages.

2. The Aramaic Targums

Targum_Onqelos.jpg“Targum” (Tg.) refers to an early Jewish translation of the Bible into Aramaic. In Second Temple Judaism Hebrew ceased to be spoken as the common language and was replaced by Aramaic, the official written language of the western Persian empire. As the knowledge of Hebrew decreased among the Jewish people, Targums were originally created orally, presumably to preserve its distinction from the truly sacred text which was in Hebrew. Only later were they committed to writing.

The targum fragments found at Qumran show that both free and literal Targums were made. Later these became standardized according to the proto-MT. The various targums include the Palestinian Targum, which does not have a single authoritative form, and those which were revised in Babylon. The best known Targum of the Torah is Targum Onqelos (see image). While scholars are divided about its date (first, third, or fifth century CE) and place of origin (Babylon or Palestine), its influence is unmatched among the Targums; it became official in the fifth century CE after a long history of development (It is also one of the more formal Targum translations). There are also Palestinian Targums of the Torah. The most important Targum to the prophets is the Targum Jonathan. Like the LXX, the Targums are not the work of single individuals.

In general the Targums are probably of more value for the history of exegesis and for the background of the NT than they are for text critical study.

The targums are being translated into English in the series, The Aramaic Bible: The Targums, with Martin McNamara serving as the project director (Liturgical Press, 1987-). An older translation is available from A. Sperber, The Bible In Aramaic: Based on Old Manuscripts and Printed Texts (Brill, reprint 2004; Buy from | Buy from

3. The Syriac Peshitta

The term “Peshitta” means “the simple [translation],” and refers to the Syriac Bible (Syr.). Its Hebrew source is close to the MT, though it shows agreement and disagreement with the above versions, depending in part upon the book. It is not clear whether it was translated by Christians or Jews, though it may be the case that it had Jewish origins and then was later adopted and transformed by Christians.

For a modern translation, though not precise, see George Mamishisho Lamsa, The Holy Bible from Ancient Eastern Manuscripts: Containing the Old and New Testaments Translated from the Peshitta, The Authorized Bible of the Church of the East (HarperCollins, 1990; Buy from | Buy from A critical edition is being prepared by the Peshitta Institute of the University of Leiden called The Old Testament in Syriac according to the Peshitta Version (Leiden, 1966-).

4. The Latin Vulgate.

Jerome.jpgRecognizing the need for a uniform and reliable Latin Bible, Pope Damascus commissioned Jerome (Hieronymous) to produce such a work (345-420 CE). Jerome’s original translation of the Psalms (Psalterium Romanum) was a revision of the Vetus Latina, old Latin texts based largely on the LXX. Jerome’s second translation of the Psalms was based on the Hexapla (Psalterium Gallicanum). Dissatisfied with using other translations, Jerome prepared a fresh translation form the “original truth of the Hebrew text” with the help of Jewish scholars. The Vulgate, “the common one” (Vg), translation essentially agrees with the proto-MT. Editions of the Vulgate, however, include, besides the Gallican Psalter, other books based on the Hexapla: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs.

There are two critical editions of the Vulgate available: Biblia Sacra iuxta latinam Vulgatam versionem (Rome, 1926-) and the editio minor of R. Weber, Biblia Sacra Vulgata (4th ed.; Stuttgart, 1990; Buy from | Buy from

Employing the Versions in Textual Criticsm

Employing the Versions in textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible is a daunting task. Not only do you need to retrovert the translated text, you also need to deal with major uncertainties regarding the origin and development of the Versions themselves — especially considering that many of them are not available in critical editions. In my mind the LXX is the most useful to the text critic, while the other versions are more important for their insight into the interpretation of the biblical text.

Posted in Septuagint, Text Criticism, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible | 3 Comments »

Going Potty in Ancient Hippos (GPAT 3)

14th July 2006

I have been holding this post on ancient toilets for quite a while :-) , so I thought I go ahead and post it! (For what it’s worth, as the son of a plumber and a third year apprentice [I never finished], I come by my interest in ancient toilets honestly.)

This is the third in a series of semi-serious posts on “Going Potty in the Ancient World.” My other posts include:

All posts in this series may be viewed here.

The pictures of the ancient potty below were sent to my by Bill Fritsche. Bill was volunteering at the Sussita/Hippos Excavations last summer and uncovered what sure looks like an ancient toilet. See for yourself and let me know what you think (the individual in the second picture is Bill):


The church is tentatively thought to be a 6th century CE Byzantine structure and we know that the city was destroyed by earthquake in 748 or 749 CE; that would mean the potty would probably date to around the same period.

The dig is sponsored by the Zinman Institute of Archaeology of the University of Haifa and is directed by Prof. Arthur Segal. The Concordia University (St. Paul) team, led by Prof. Mark Schuler, is continuing a multi-year project to unearth the Northeast church. Located a short distance from the dramatic north cliff of the city, the Northeast church stands between the cathedral with its tri-apsidal baptistery and the Northwest church that is currently being excavated by a Polish team. The website for the Concordia dig may be found here.

Sussita, known as Hippos in antiquity, was a Decapolis city located 2 km east of the Sea of Galilee on the top of a flat diamond-shaped mountain that rises 350 m above the sea. It is likely the “city set on a hill that cannot be hid” (Matt 5:14). During Roman times, Hippos was a center of Greek culture. In the Byzantine era it became a significant Christian center.

Posted in Ancient Potties, Archaeology, Series | 4 Comments »

Some Septuagint Updates

12th July 2006

I have made a few updates to my Annotated Guide to the LXX. Among the updates, you may find the full listing of all the critical editions of the Septuagint useful. It includes all of the Göttingen Septuagint volumes as well as the “Larger Cambridge Septuagint” volumes.

Posted in Codex Updates, Septuagint | 3 Comments »

Hebrew Witnesses to the Text of the Old Testament (TCHB 3)

11th July 2006

One of the first tasks of the textual critic is to collect the variants among the different witnesses to the text of the Hebrew Bible. This post will introduce some of the Hebrew witnesses to this text.

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

All posts in this series may be viewed here.

Witnesses to the Text of the Hebrew Bible

Extant Hebrew manuscripts and the Hebrew Vorlage that can be retroverted from the extant manuscripts of the ancient versions bear witness to the abstract “text of the Old Testament.” (By “text” I am referring to an abstract concept derived from extant data; by “textual witnesses,” I mean the tangibly different forms of the text; and by “manuscripts, scrolls, and/or codices,” I am referring to the uninterpreted, extant exhibitions of the text.)

The Hebrew Witnesses

It perhaps goes without saying that Hebrew manuscripts are the most important witnesses to the text of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible for they bear direct witness to it, whereas a retroverted Vorlage, i.e., the text “lying before” a scribe or translator, is always a matter of some conjecture.

There are four Hebrew witnesses to the OT text: the Masoretic text, sometimes called the “received text,” the Samaritan Pentateuch, the scrolls from the Judean desert, and a few, minor additional witnesses.

1. The Masoretic Text

Leningrad CodexThe most important witness to the OT text is the Masoretic text (MT). The Masoretes were a group of Jewish scholars who between 600 and 1000 CE developed a system of notes and signs to preserve the Hebrew text and its reading. The oldest complete manuscript (1008 CE) is the Leningrad Codex B19a (L), which served as the base of BHS and the third edition of BHK (The first two editions of BHK were based on Jacob ben Chayyim’s edition of 1524/25).

The standard critical edition of the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible is Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS). It is available in a variety of formats. I would recommend a hardbound copy if you will be making much use of your Hebrew Bible, though the softbound edition is less expensive and easier to carry around.

  • Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia – Desktop Version (ed. K. Elliger and W. Rudolph; Deutsche Bibelstiftung, 1967, 1990). This is the large hardbound version. While it has a larger typeface, it is quite bulky. Buy from | Buy from
  • Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia – Small Hardcover (ed. K. Elliger and W. Rudolph; Deutsche Bibelstiftung, 1967, 1990). This is a 5″ x 7.5″ hardbound version. It has the benefit of being hardbound, while being a bit smaller than the desk version. Buy from | Buy from
  • BHSBiblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia – Paperback (ed. K. Elliger and W. Rudolph; 5th edition; American Bible Society, 1997). This is a paperback version. It is small and less expensive than the hardbound editions. Buy from | Buy from
  • Biblia Hebraica Leningradensia (ed. Aron Dotan; Hendrickson Publishers, 2001). This is a thoroughly revised, reset, and redesigned — and the most accurate — edition of the Leningrad Codex in print. Buy from | Buy from
  • Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia with Greek New Testament (American Bible Society, 1996). Ideal for those who want a complete Christian Bible with both the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament. Buy from | Buy from
  • Hebrew-English Tanakh (Student edition; Jewish Publication Society of America, 2000). While this is not an edition of BHS (and therefore has no critical apparatus), I note it because it may be useful for beginning students. It has the Hebrew text on one side of the page and the Jewish Publication Society’s English translation on the other. Buy from | Buy from
  • BHSDavid Noel Freedman, Astrid B. Beck, James A. Sanders (Eds.), Leningrad Codex: A Facsimile Edition (Eerdmans , 1998). If you want to impress your professor (or students), then this is the Hebrew Bible for you! This is a facsimile version of the Leningrad Codex, the oldest complete copy of the Hebrew Bible (the name is due to the fact that it was in a museum in Leningrad, when it was Leningrad). This photo-plate edition of the entire text (black-and-white high resolution plates, with additional full-colour plates of carpet pages and sample text pages) is beautifully produced and bound. Buy from | Buy from

Another significant witness to the Masoretic text is the Aleppo Codex, which is thought to date earlier than the Leningrad Codex. The codex was written by Shelomo ben Baya’a, but according to its colophon it was pointed by none other than Moses ben Asher (930 CE). It was reported to be destroyed in a fire in 1948; but as it turned out, only the Torah portion was lost while the other books were saved (thus while it is the earliest extant copy of the Masoretic text, it is incomplete). The codex has now been photographed and is the basis for the Hebrew University Bible Project (HUBP), of which the books of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah have been published:

  • H. Goshen-Gottstein, ed., The Book of Isaiah: The Hebrew University Bible [Hebrew University Bible Project; Brill, 1997] Buy from | Buy from
  • C. Rabin, S. Talmon, and E. Tov eds., The Book of Jeremiah: The Hebrew University Bible [Hebrew University Bible Project; Magnes Press: The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1997] Buy from | Buy from
  • Moshe H. Goshen-Gottstein and Shemaryahu Talmon, eds., The Book of Ezekiel: The Hebrew University Bible [Hebrew University Bible Project; Magnes Press: The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 2004 ] Buy from | Buy from

The term “Masoretic text” is an abstract term for the distinctive kind of text these scholars produced. As a rule the term is restricted to the final form of that text, a manuscript produced in the tenth century by Aaron ben Asher, the primary base for the hundreds of medieval manuscripts. It is now known that some of the oldest DSS reflect the essentially same text inherited by the Masoretes, and so called the proto-Masoretic text (proto-MT).

The sequence of books in the MT differs from that of the Septuagint codices on which the order of our English Bibles is based. The former’s tripartite division is: The Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings; while the fourfold division of the latter is: the Law, historical books, poetic and wisdom books, and prophetic books.

The activity of the Masoretes was fourfold. First, the Masoretes “hedged in” the consonantal text they inherited with a Masorah, their scribal notes in the margins around it. Earlier scribes had settled upon that text type by the end of the first century CE. Scribal precision in transmitting the consonants before the activities of the Masoretes is reflected in the Talmud. R. Ishmael said: “My son, be careful, because your work is the work of heaven; should you omit (even) one letter or add (even) one letter, the whole world would be destroyed” (b. Sota 20a). Generations of Masoretes contributed an apparatus of instructions written in the margins around the text. By so hedging the text the Masoretes hoped to assure its precise transmission even to its smallest details.

Second, above and below the inherited consonants the Masoretes added vocalization — vowel points to preserve its accompanying oral tradition. Prior to the Masoretes, scribes more or less sparingly represented important vowels by four Hebrew consonants: ×™ (y), ו (v), ×” (h), and ×? (’) called matres lectiones (“mothers of reading”). Vowels, of course, can be decisive in meaning. Contrast the difference vowels make with the consonants, “fr”: “far,” “fir,” “fire,” “for,” “fore,” and “fur.” A story told in the Talmud illustrates that the scribes recognized the importance of an accurate oral tradition. In the story we are told David reprimanded Joab when he killed only the men of Amalek and not the “remembrance” (zeker) of Amalek. Joab, however, defended himself, noting his teacher taught him to read “to kill all their ‘males’” (zakar). Later, however, Joab drew his sword against his poor teacher who taught him incorrectly (b. B. Bathra 21a-b).

Third, the Masoretes added a system of accentuation to the text. These diacritical accents that signify the melodious chant serve to beautify and to add dignity to the reading of the text, to denote the stress of the word, which can be as meaningful as the difference between the English “pres´-ent” and “pre-sent´”, and to denote the syntactical relation between words as either conjunctive or disjunctive. For instance, it makes some difference where one places the accents in Isaiah 40:3:

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare… (KJV).
A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare…” (NIV, cf. the footnote).

Fourth, the Masoretes also preserved various para-textual elements — the verse and paragraph divisions of the text found in the oldest manuscripts and ancient textual corrections. The numbering of the verses and division of the books into chapters, however, was done in the Latin Vulgate, not in Jewish sources. In addition, the Masoretes either preserved and/or added corrections to the received text by marks within the text and within the margin. In the MT one finds inverted nuns (see before and after Num 10:35-36 and Ps 107:23-18), looking something like half-brackets, and extraordinary points, among others signals, to call attention to the received consonants in need of correction. For instance, the Sebirin (סביר) which in about 350 instances introduces a marginal note to an unusual word and proceeds to give the usual form of the expected expression.

The most important corrections are the Ketiv-Qere (K-Q) variants. Ketiv (= “written”) refers to the consonants in the text, for which the reader must guess the vowels, and the Qere (= “read”) to consonants in the margin to which the reader must add the vowels found in the text. In more than 1300 instances there are two readings (one written, the Ketiv; and one read via the vowel points, the Qere) given as at times the text was felt to be unsatisfactory on grammatical, esthetic, doctrinal, or textual grounds. At first the Qere readings were optional corrections of the consonantal text, but by the time of the Masoretes they had become obligatory. Some other interesting changes include the tiqqune sopherim (scribal corrections) and the itture sopherim, scribal omissions. The former include unseemly references to God; the latter include various grammatical omissions (see Gen 18:22 or 1Sam 3:13).

For those interested in learning the basics of the Masorah of BHS (i.e., the Masoretic scribal notes in the margins of the Hebrew Bible), the following works are quite helpful:

  • Page H. Kelley, Daniel S. Mynatt, and Timothy G. Crawford, The Masorah of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: Introduction and Annotated Glossary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998). Buy from | Buy from

2. The Samaritan Pentateuch

sp.jpgThe second major witness to the Hebrew text of the OT is the Samaritan Pentateuch (SP). The Samaritans, once a very large sect, are a now small group still centered at modern Nablus, biblical Shechem/Sychar. Most Christians know this sect from Jesus’ famous conversation with the Samaritan woman (John 4). As that story shows, the Samaritans distinguished themselves from Judaism by their worship on Mount Gerizim, not Jerusalem. They restricted their Bible to the Torah because Moses, its traditional author, only called for a central sanctuary without designating a specific location. In the Prophets, however, David selected Jerusalem as the central sanctuary, and the Hagiographa celebrates that city.

The SP began its own history in the last quarter of the second century BCE, though the sect itself may be centuries older. The SP differs from the MT in some 6000 instances. While it is true that a great number of these variants are merely orthographic and trivial, it is significant that in about 1600 instances the SP agrees with the LXX against the MT. To be sure, some of these variants are tendentious, such as modifications to the ten commandments noted below. Others, however, demonstrate a tendency toward expansion. Basing himself on Gesenius, the first to classify the variants between the SP and the MT in a thorough and convincing way, Waltke demonstrated from recent philological and textual research that the SP, which is written in a special version of the “early” Hebrew script, presents a secondarily modernized, smoothed over, and expanded text (B. K. Waltke, “The Samaritan Pentateuch and the Text of the Old Testament,” in New Perspectives on the Old Testament [ed. J. B. Payne; Waco, TX: Word, 1970] 212-239; Buy from | Buy from

It is now known from the DSS that the Samaritans adapted a pre-Samaritan, Jewish text to their idiosyncratic theology. For example, they were able to make the worship on Mount Gerizim the tenth commandment by combining the first two commandments into one and by adding texts from Deut 11:29a, 27:2b-3a, 28:4-7, and 11:30 after Exod 20:17, numbering the material from Deut 28:4-7; 11:30 as the tenth commandment. (In these roughly added interpolations from Deuteronomy into Exodus, it is instructive to note, the change in divine names, doublets, change of style, and change of vocabulary, are akin to the criteria by which literary critics historically identified sources in the Pentateuch.)

In the light of Qumran, the SP has become a very important witness to a form of the Hebrew text that once enjoyed use, as shown by its agreements with the Qumran texts, the LXX, the NT, and other Hebrew texts. Indeed, because of the sectarian character of the Samaritans, the SP gives us a Hebrew witness independent of the changes that developed in mainline Jewish transmission, at least after about 100 BCE.

3. The Dead Sea Scrolls

Leviticus FragmentThe DSS are copied in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. By the techniques of palaeography, numismatics and archaeology, they are dated from mid-third century BCE to 135 CE. Most manuscripts were found in the eleven caves in the mountains just west of Khirbet Qumran (15 km south of Jericho near the Dead Sea), which ceased to exist after 68 CE. These caves yielded some 800 scrolls of all the books of the Bible, except Esther. The other principal sites, Nahal Hever and Wadi Muraba’at, yielded texts that are somewhat later, all of which belong to the proto-MT. The scrolls found at Masada, which fell to the Romans in 70 CE, are also proto-MT. While there are dangers of reading post-70 CE realities back into these biblical texts, the best classification of these scrolls is that offered by Tov, who divides them into four different text types:

  1. First, there are what is called the Proto-Masoretic texts. As noted, the Masoretes finalized the proto-MT. The great number of Qumran scrolls belonging to this text type, about 47% of them, may reflect their authoritative status.
  2. Second, there are Pre-Samaritan texts (ca. 2.5%). As mentioned above, the Samaritans adopted and adapted an earlier Jewish text type attested at Qumran. These scrolls have the characteristic features of the SP, aside from the thin layer of ideological and phonological changes the Samaritans added. Because of this difference, however, Tov is right in calling this text pre-Samaritan, rather than proto-Samaritan as has been the custom. This text type is at least as old as Chronicles, for where Chronicles (ca. 400 BCE?) is synoptic with Genesis, it displays a text type like these texts, not like the MT. Since this text type was modernized by at least 400 BCE, the archaic proto-MT of the Pentateuch, and so the Pentateuch itself, must be much older.
  3. Third, there are Septuagintal texts among the DSS. The original Greek translations of certain books of the OT were based on a distinctive text type. Some Qumran Hebrew scrolls, most notably 4QJerb, d, bear a strong resemblance to the Septuagint’s Vorlage. The Septuagintal text type comprises about 3.5% of the Qumran biblical texts.
  4. Fourth, a large number of Qumran scrolls (ca. 47%) are not exclusively close to any one of the types mentioned above and therefore classified as non-aligned. Tov explains: “they agree, sometimes significantly, with MT against the other texts, or with SP and/or LXX against the other texts, but the non-aligned texts also disagree with the other texts to the same extent. They furthermore contain readings not known from one of the other texts” (Tov, Textual Criticism, 116).

In addition to these text types, Tov also identifies a group of texts that reflect a distinctive orthography (i.e. spelling, similar to English “favor” versus “favour”), morphology, and free approach to the biblical text visible in content adaptations, in frequent errors, in numerous corrections, and sometimes, also, in negligent script. Tov thinks that only these scrolls were produced in or around Qumran, and therefore describes them as written in the “Qumran Practice.”

For more information on the Dead Sea Scrolls, including a full listing of the Critical Editions of the Dead Sea Scrolls, see my Dead Sea Scrolls Resources page.

Ketef_Hinnom.jpg4. Additional Hebrew Witnesses

The oldest evidence to the Hebrew Bible are two minute silver rolls about the size of cigarette butts that could be worn around the neck found at Ketef Hinnom in Jerusalem. They contain the priestly blessing (Num 6:24-26) in a slightly different formulation than MT and are dated to the seventh or sixth century BCE. Some other witnesses include the so-called Nash Papyrus (second century BCE), containing a liturgical text of the Decalogue (Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5) and the Shema (Deut 6:4-5). There are also many fragments of biblical texts contained in mezuzot, head-tefillin, and arm-tefillin from the second and fist centuries BCE until the first and second centuries CE. These often differ from the MT, possibly because they were written from memory as implied in the Talmud.

Posted in Dead Sea Scrolls, Text Criticism, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible | 5 Comments »

Left Behind? Facts and Fiction

7th July 2006

LeftBehindFacts.jpgWhile the Left Behind books conceived by Tim F. LaHaye and written by Jerry B. Jenkins are “just” novels (kind of like the DaVinci Code is “just” a novel), the influence they have on forming people’s views of the end times is enormous. My own eschatological views aside, my interest was piqued when I saw this book dealing with the “Left Behind” phenomenon:

Leann Snow Flesher, Left Behind? The Facts Behind the Fiction (Judson, 2006).
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The work gets a pretty good endorsement from Walter Brueggemann: “The ‘Battle for the Bible’ continues, largely in a context where fear feeds ignorance. Flesher presents a careful, well-informed comment on dispensationalism in general and “left behind� eschatology in particular. Flesher shows the way in which Scripture is distorted to serve a political ideology that is grounded in fear. Her book is an accessible invitation to find out what the real scoop on the matter is. There is much to unlearn, and Flesher contributes to that task.�

Obviously the work does not share the premillenial dispensational outlook of the Left Behind series, but seeks to provide alternative understandings of end-times events from a biblical-theological perspective.

The book looks interesting and I think it is worth a gander — especially those who are “into” the Left Behind series, if only to let you become more informed about some other eschatological views.

Posted in Left Behind, Theology | 5 Comments »

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 | Buy from 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 | Buy from 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 | Buy from 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 | Buy from 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 | Buy from 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.

    Posted in Text Criticism, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible | 3 Comments »