The most recent volume of the Catholic Biblical Quarterly has an interesting article by David Bosworth entitled, “Evaluating King David: Old Problems and Recent Scholarship” (CBQ 68  191-210). Bosworth examines a number of recent academic biographies of the biblical figure of David and argues that these recent portrayals say more about the modern authors and their methods than the ancient monarch. The monographs that he engages are:
I think that Bosworth makes a number of valid points. Halpern and McKenzie both present a picture of David as a villain by reading between the lines of the text and favouring a propagandistic interpretation. With this approach David becomes a murderous usurper. Steussy’s approach is a bit more balanced, according to Bosworth. Unlike Halpern and McKenzie, she has no interest in uncovering the “real” David, but instead explores the portraits of David throughout the Scriptures — including the book of Psalms. The edited work by Desrousseaux and Vermeylen includes essays that — like Halpern and McKenzie — take a propagandistic reading, while Dietrich’s sophisticated reading is more akin to that of Steussy.
I personally find elements of a propagandistic reading plausible, but I appreciate Bosworth’s point that leaders are often accused of more crimes than they actually commit! Moreover, Bosworth points out the problems with equating apology with indictment and indictment with history — politics of any age are never so simple!
After evaluating modern critics, Bosworth investigates David among his ancient contemporaries. As it turns out, David’s biblical portrait, while similar to ANE royal account, is more complex. As Bosworth concludes, “the text is not as simple as ‘royal propaganda.’ It shows an awareness of the problems involved in evaluating great figures who succeed in establishing positive institutions at the expense of usurping prior institutions” (p. 209).
All in all, Bosworth’s article is worth taking a gander at — as are the books noted above. Of course, when all is said and done, perhaps the “Biblical David” is the only David we can ever recover.
I fancy myself a wee bit of a textual critic, though through my studies with the likes of Bruce Waltke, E.J. Revel, Stan Walters, Al Pietersma, among others, I perhaps more than anything else recognize the hard work and commitment necessary to do textual criticism properly. Knowing something about how to do textual criticism is one thing, having the mastery in the requisite languages as well as a thorough understanding of the textual witnesses, including their predilections and tendencies, is a daunting task. That being said, I figured I would do a few posts on the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible, including some discussion of method and manuscripts, some examples, and available resources to aid the student in doing some text criticism. These posts will be based on my research, some of my class lectures as well as an article I wrote with Bruce Waltke a number of years back.
Defining Textual Criticism
This first post will highlight the need for textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible. But before I get to that, I should perhaps define “textual criticism.” Textual criticism is the name given to the critical study of ancient manuscripts and versions of texts, usually for the purpose of restoring the original text (or the best/most reliable reading of a text), or as we will discuss later on, restoring the original edition of the ancient text. (I should note that some critics are not very optimistic about being able to restore the “original” texts or editions and are happy to just study the different manuscripts to see how texts changed over time and reflect their socio-linguistic contexts). Its technique involves an investigation of the textual witnesses to the Hebrew Bible, their histories, and evaluating variants in light of known scribal practices.
The Need for Textual Criticism
First and foremost, textual criticism is necessary because there are no error-free manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible. All the textual witnesses to the Hebrew Bible are the results of a long process of transmission. The text has been copied and re-copied by scribes of varying capabilities and ideologies through many centuries. No matter how good a scribe may have been, errors inevitably crept into his or her work. Even critical editions of the Hebrew Bible such as Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS), contain printing errors. While some of these errors reflect errors in the medieval manuscripts on which they are based, others were introduced with printing.
A second reason why textual criticism is necessary is the realization that the further back we go the greater the textual differences we will find between manuscripts. Variants in the medieval Hebrew manuscripts (dated ca. 1000 to 1500 CE) as collated by the likes of Kennicott and de Rossi are small in comparison to those found in the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), which are more than a millennium older. In fact, the further back we go in the textual lineage the greater the textual differences we find between manuscripts.
Finally, in addition to these inevitable accidental errors there are intentional “errors” found in the texts. Scribes occasionally changed the text for linguistic and exegetical reasons, and, rarely, for theological reasons. I will talk about these sorts of “errors” or intentional changes in a future post.
All this means that if we are at all concerned about establishing an “original text” or an “original edition” of a textual tradition or at least concerned about weeding through and identifying some of the more obvious errors in whatever text we want to use (e.g., the Leningrad Codex), then we will need to do some textual criticism (or rely on the textual criticism of others). We will need to identify and sort through the variants and make some decisions on which reading is better. Even if you have no theological or ideological reasons for wanting to identify the “original text,” it is pretty much a practical necessity if you are going to do any translation or exposition as you will have to decide what text you are translating or expounding.
Implications and Conclusions
The simple fact that there are no error-free manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible troubles some people — typically those from more conservative backgrounds who hold a very high view of Scripture. But there is no getting around this reality. We have no pristine, error-free, originals of the Hebrew Bible (or the NT for that matter). That being said, one should not over-emphasize the significance of the differences between the manuscripts we do have.
First, a quick count of the textual variants in BHS shows that on average for every ten words there is a textual note — and many of these can be discounted. That leaves about 90% of the text with no variants. Because of the nature of textual criticism, however, the focus is on the relatively few variants, not on the many uncontested readings, and so it is easy to lose our sense of proportion.
Second, most of the textual variants are relatively insignificant. Most text critical work is boring because the differences are inconsequential (Al Pietersma has a saying about text critical work that reflects the tedious nature of the enterprise: bean by bean). Many variants are easily identified and corrected. A slip in the transcriptional process is normally subject to human correction. In the same way we correct errors in reading any book or manuscript, we can correct biblical texts. Even the great variety of text types attested in the DSS underscore their genetic relationships. Shemaryahu Talmon notes:
The scope of variation within all these textual traditions is relatively restricted. Major divergences which intrinsically affect the sense are extremely rare. A collation of variants extant, based on the synoptic study of the material available, either by a comparison of parallel passages within one Version, or of the major Versions with each other, results in the conclusion that the ancient authors, compilers, tradents and scribes enjoyed what may be termed a controlled freedom of textual variation (“Textual Study of the Bible — A New Outlook,” Qumran and the History of the Biblical Text [Harvard University Press, 1975] 326).
For those Christians who may be troubled by the textual variety surrounding the Hebrew Bible, all I will say is don’t worry! The same kind of variants and plurality we find in the DSS today, were around during the time of Jesus and the apostles — and they did not hesitate to rely on the authority of Scripture. Their citations agree with the varying text types found we find in the DSS. The record of Stephen’s speech before the Sanhedrin in Acts 7 employs a pre-Samaritan text, while the NT often quotes from the Septuagint textual tradition.
While the textual reality of the Hebrew Bible is not a hindrance to maintaining a high view of Scripture, it may have some implications to how we understand and formulate our view of Scripture, but I will leave those discussions for a later time. (In this regard you may want to check out Chris Heard’s post “What’s Wrong with Inerrancy.“)
Wieland Willker on the Text Criticism list has alerted us to a revised edition of RahlfsSeptuagina to be published later this summer by the German Bible Society. The revision was done by Robert Hanhart and includes over a thousand minor corrrections and supplements to Rahlfs’ edition.
Here is the information from the German Bible Society:
Septuaginta (Das Alte Testament Griechisch)
Edited by Alfred Rahlfs
Editio altera (= 2., durchgesehene und verbesserte Auflage),
Edited by Robert Hanhart
12 x 18.4 cm
LXXIV + 2127 pages
In an article published by Robert Hanhart last year (“Rechenschaftsbericht zur editio altera der Handausgabe der Septuaginta von Alfred Rahlfs” Vetus Testamentum 55  450-60), it was made clear that this would only be a minor revision that will leave Rahlfs’ base text substantially intact.
This new “Rahlfs-Hanhart” edition will be out in July 2006.
There has been an interesting blog discussion surrounding the qualifications of an interpreter of the Bible. Jim West started the ball rolling with his post in response to this “news” story about “bible scholars” predicting a nuclear attack. Jim’s basic point is that nutballs shouldn’t be allowed to interpret the biblical text. I don’t really disagree with Jim on this point, though you can’t really prevent anyone from reading the Bible. And someone who is a careful reader can get the point of much of the Bible — even without formal theological education or a degree.
Then Peter over at Adverseria posted on “Dilettantes and the Bible” and takes to task those who interpret outside the community of faith. Once again, I get the gist of his point and I agree with it to a certain degree, though he picks on “most scholars” as “dilettantes” since they interpret outside the community of faith. Here I disagree on a number of points. First, and perhaps I am being picky, but no biblical scholar — even those who never darken the doors of a church — would qualify as a “dilettante” (here I am assuming a biblical scholar is someone who has serious academic qualifications and devotes his or her time to studying the Bible). According to Dictionary.com, a dilettante is “an amateur or dabbler; especially, one who follows an art or a branch of knowledge sporadically, superficially.” That one may not be a member of a community of faith does not qualify one as a dilettante, IMHO. Second, I would daresay that “most” biblical scholars are part of a community of faith; perhaps they are not part of your community or perhaps they are using a method of interpretation that is not directly relevant to your community of faith, but that doesn’t mean they do not belong. Third, I am not sure that Christian history would support Peter’s claim that the church is the best context for interpretation. Finally, I totally disagree with him when he asserts that “we [=those faithful interpreters] should not even enter into debate with them [= scholars outside the community of faith] on questions of interpretation.” This sort of exclusivism does no good. We should humbly listen to all interpreters and sift the good from the bad.
Jim West picked up the ball again with his “Further Observations on Dilettantism and Biblical Interpretation” where he lists his qualifications for the “ideal” interpreter (college degree in reigion/Bible/theology, Jewish or Christian, and community of faith). I guess if we are talking “ideals” I can’t disagree too much, though what is totally lacking in Jim’s qualifications are some things that I would think are essential: humility, grace, perserverance, sensitivity, etc. I am also not convinced that formal training is necessary, though if we are talking “ideals” then I am willing to let it stand.
Finally, James Crossley over at Earliest Christian History put in his two cents with his post, “Who is best at biblical interpretation?” I tend to think James is spot-on in his comments. The Bible is a public document and everyone has the right to read and interpret it. In terms of who is the best interpreter, I would daresay no one is! We all have our faults, our blindspots, our weaknesses. We need each other — whether within or outside of the community of faith — to keep our interpretations honest and plausible. I’m not saying that all interpretations are valid or even that all are fruitful; only that all (OK, to be honest, “most”) interpretations are worth considering.
Anyhow, I didn’t mean to ramble on…
UPDATE: Chris Heard has some excellent thoughts at Higgaion on this debate.
When I was in Toronto for CSBS, I went to the annual Pietersma picnic and caught up with the likes of Claude Cox, Tony Michael, Cameron Boyd-Taylor, Paul McLean, Wade White, and, of course, Al Pietersma. We talked briefly about a recent volume on the Septuagint in which Pietersma, Boyd-Taylor, and White contributed:
Septuagint Research: Issues And Challenges in the Study of the Greek Jewish Scriptures, Wolfgang Kraus and R. Glenn Wooden, eds. (Septuagint and Cognate Studies Series 53; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2006; Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com).
Here is the table of contents for the volume. As you can see, it covers a fair range of topics.
“Concerning the LXX as Translation and/or Interpretation Contemporary ‘Septuagint’ Research: Issues and Challenges in the Study of the Greek Jewish Scriptures” by Wolfgang Kraus and R. Glenn Wooden
“In a Mirror, Dimly- Reading the Septuagint as a Document of Its Times” by Cameron Boyd-Taylor
“Exegesis in the Septuagint: Possibilities and Limits (The Psalter as a Case in Point)” by Albert Pietersma
“Translation as Scripture: The Septuagint in Aristeas and Philo” by Benjamin G. Wright III
“Contemporary Translations of the Septuagint: Problems and Perspectives ” by Wolfgang Kraus
Issues Concerning Individual LXX Books
“The Hermeneutics of Translation in the Septuagint of Genesis” by Robert J. V. Hiebert
“Reconstructing the OG of Joshua” by Kristin de Troyer
“Interlinearity in 2 Esdras: A Test Case” by R. Glenn Wooden
“A Devil in the Making: Isomorphism and Exegesis in OG Job 1:8b” by Wade Albert White
“The Jewish and the Christian Greek Versions of Amos” by Aaron Schart
“LXX/OG Zechariah 1-6 and the Portrayal of Joshua Centuries after the Restoration of the Temple” by Patricia Ahearne-Kroll
Comprehensive Issues and Problems Concerning Several LXX Books
“Messianism in the Septuagint” by Heinz-Josef Fabry
“Idol Worship in Bel and the Dragon and Other Jewish Literature from the Second Temple Period” by Claudia Bergmann
“From ‘Old Greek’ to the Recensions: Who and What Caused the Change of the Hebrew Reference Text of the Septuagint?” by Siegfried Kreuzer
“Towards a Theology of the Septuagint” by Martin Roesel
Reception History of the LXX in Early Judaism and Christianity
“The Letters of Paul as Witnesses to and for the Septuagint Text” by Florian Wilk
“Flourishing Bones — The Minor Prophets in the New Testament” by Helmut Utzschneider
“Abandonment and Suffering” by Stephen Ahearne-Kroll
“The Septuagint Textual Tradition in 1 Peter” by Karen H. Jobes
“The Epistle to the Hebrews and the Septuagint” by Martin Karrer
“Observations on the Wirkungsgeschichte of the Septuagint Psalms in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity” by Ralph Brucker
“Textual Variants as a Result of Enculturation: The Banishment of the Demon in Tobit” by Beate Ego
UPDATE: I just noticed the Evangelical Text Criticism blog has a notice of this work as well (without the table of contents, but with a blurb).
Kevin Wilson over at Karamat has a good review of David Carr‘s book, Reading the Fractures of Genesis: Historical and Literary Approaches (Westminster John Knox Press, 1996; Buy from Amazon.ca or Buy from Amazon.com).
While it has been a few years since I read Carr, I can say that this is an excellent work on contemporary source criticism of the book of Genesis. Carr takes an approach that tries to balance traditional source criticism and synchronic approaches (or at least take them into consideration). At any rate, if you are interested in source criticism of the book of Genesis, take a look at Kevin’s review and then take a look at Carr for your self.
Michael V. Fox has a thought provoking essay at the most recent SBL Forum entitled, “Bible Scholarship and Faith-Based Study: My View.” While I have the utmost respect for Fox as a scholar (his various works on the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible are absolutely second to none), I am not sure I agree with his bold statement “faith-based study has no place in academic scholarship” (see Danny Zacharias’s reflections at Deinde, as well as James Crossley’s posts here and here).
On the one hand, I’m not sure I like the implication that “faith-based scholarship” (or Wissenschaft) is an oxymoron. While I would agree that any scholarship that presumes its conclusions is methodologically problematic (and borders on disingenuous), faith-based scholarship does not necessarily have to fall in this category (though some certainly does). Furthermore, I would think that secular Wissenschaft could learn a lot from a lot of faith-based scholarship as well as other ideological approaches. As Peter Donovan has recently noted, “the scientific study of religion can ill afford to insulate itself from the thinking of others interested in the same subject-matter, merely because they may hold very different views about theory and method” (“Neutrality in Religious Studies,” in The Insider/Outsider Problem in the Study of Religion: A Reader [ed. Russell T. McCutcheon; New York: Cassell, 1999], 245). What is perhaps most important for any approach to biblical studies is that the approach is academically sound, methodologically rigorous, and up front about any and all presuppositions.
On the other hand, Fox’s point has some validity in that he is not dismissing the “scholarship of persons who hold a personal faith.” In fact, he notes that “there are many religious individuals whose scholarship is secular and who introduce their faith only in distinctly religious forums.” Basically what I understand Fox as saying is that “Wissenschaft” employs a “secular, academic, religiously-neutral hermeneutic” and any scholars who want to engage in biblical Wissenschaft needs to play by the agreed upon rules. Thus, Wissenschaft becomes a “middle discourse” by which people of different faiths and/or no faith can engage in scholarly discourse.
This debate within biblical studies is paralleled by a larger debate within the discipline of religious studies. Since the end of the nineteenth century, the discipline of religious studies has typically been understood to be the “value-neutral” and “objective” study of religions, while theology is the confessional or particularistic study of one religion (see, for example, Donald Wiebe, “The Politics of Religious Studies,” CSSR Bulletin 27/4 [November 1998] 95-98). This distinction played an important part in the establishment of religious studies departments in a number of universities in Europe and North America — and especially Canadian public universities (interestingly, not all educational institutions thought that the distinction was necessary). This traditional demarcation has been challenged on some fronts in light of the postmodern recognition that there is no real objective, value-neutral study of religion (or any other subject for that matter), and thus the only differences between the disciplines are the rules agreed upon by those working within them — the rules of the game, so to speak.
(For an interesting discussion of postmodern theories of religious studies, see the interaction between Garrett Green, “Challenging the Religious Studies Canon: Karl Barthâ€™s Theory of Religion,” Journal of Religion 75  473-86; Russell T. McCutcheon, “My Theory of the Brontosaurus: Postmodernism and ‘Theory’ of Religion,” Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 26/1  3-23, and William E. Arnal, “What if I Donâ€™t Want to Play Tennis?: A Rejoinder to Russell McCutcheon on Postmodernism and Theory of Religion,” Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 27/1  61-68; see also McCutcheonâ€™s response, “Returning the Volley to William E. Arnal” on pp. 67-68 of the same issue).
In practice, religious studies (and biblical studies) in the Canadian public university context tends to be the scientific study of religion which does not privilege one religious discourse above another. Theology, on the other hand, is typically defined as the study of one religion from a confessional standpoint. So in this sense, I agree with Fox that there is a valid difference between faith-based scholarship and secular scholarship. But the question remains “what rules are we going to play by?” While I appreciate Fox’s point, I am skeptical about whether there is any scholarship that is truly “objective” and “value-neutral.” And any scholar who suggests that their work is “objective” and “value-neutral” would perhaps be more at home in the 19th century! I for one live in both worlds and produce scholarship for a variety of contexts. Some of my research is for the broader academy and employs methods appropriate for such work, while some of my study is for the community of faith to which I belong and employs a slightly different approach. I hope, however, that all of my research may stand up under the scrutiny of scholars who take different approaches and have different presuppositions than I.
Let me end with the final exchange between David and his Rebbe from Chaim Potok’s masterful book In the Beginning (Ballantine, 1997; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com).
Rebbe: “… Are you telling me you will not be an observer of the commandments?”
David: “I am not telling the Rebbe that.”
Rebbe: “What are you telling me?”
David: “I will go wherever the truth leads me. It is secular scholarship, Rebbe; it is not the scholarship of tradition. In secular scholarship there are no boundaries and no permanently fixed views.”
Rebbe: “Lurie, if the Torah cannont go out into your world of scholarship and return stronger, then we are all fools and charlatans. I have faith in the Torah. I am not afraid of truth.”
Beginning next week, the Biblical Studies discussion list will be hosting an online colloquium entitled “Proverbs — Recent Trends in Interpretation and Exegesis.” The guest scholar for the colloquium is Knut Martin Heim, Tutor in Biblical Studies at the Queen’s Foundation in Birmingham, England.
Knut has recently published Like Grapes of Gold Set in Silver: An Interpretation of Proverbial Clusters in Proverbs 10:1-22:16 (Walter de Gruyter, 2001; Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com; see RBL review here). Knut’s volume is one of a growing number of works exploring the compilation, redaction, and structure of the book of Proverbs. This exciting avenue of research bucks the traditional view that ignores a contextual reading of individual proverbs or contends that once a proverb is included in a written collection it is effectively “dead.” In contract, Knut, and others mentioned below, contend that the redactors of the book of Proverbs purposefully arranged individual sayings into pairs and larger groups based on common themes, wordplay, catchwords, paronomasia, etc., creating a new literary context for interpretation and performance.
In addition to Knut’s book, there are a number of other significant works in this area, including the volumes by Snell, Van Leeuwen, and Whybray. In addition, some other important studies are noted below.
According to Van Leeuwen, one of the most crucial problems in the interpretation of literary texts is the determination and use of context in establishing meaning. While form criticism helps define the context of individual pericopes, it doesn’t help with larger contexts. Form criticism was founded on the assumption that smaller oral or literary units had a Sitz im Leben out of which they arose and whose life concerns they served. However, the search for a Sitz im Leben and a concrete referents are particularly acute in certain biblical texts (Psalms, wisdom, legal texts, etc.) where the givens for reconstructing the life situation or historical referent of a text are few or lacking. This problem is acute with Prov 10-22:16; 25-29, as in these chapters we have self-sufficient literary units that are extremely terse and without any historical “hooks.” The concern of this work is the literary context of the proverbs, their Sitz im Buch. This involves two types of contexts: (i) immediate: the juxtaposition of letters, words, sentences, and pericopes, more of less in contiguity; and (ii) distant context: meaningful literary similarities or contrasts that are created and discerned in texts that are not contiguous. Van Leeuwen focuses on the question of contiguous context in the interpretation of Prov 25-27 and argues chapters 25 and 26 are independent literary units, while chapter 27 is a “proverb miscellany” of sorts.
This study important study by Whybray investigates the process by which the disparate material in Proverbs was brought together to form a single book, and also to seek to understand the structure and character of the book in its final form. Whybray assumes that the proverbs were originally independent and were then assembled into collections employing two criteria for discerning deliberately organized groups of proverbs: (1) identity of sense; and (2) identity of sound (alliteration, assonance, rhyme, verbal repetition). He concludes the book of Proverbs is composed of a number of originally distinct sections of which the majority had complicated pre-histories. Despite the disparate origins, these different sections exhibit some common themes, like the importance of the acquisition of wisdom and the contrast between the righteous and the wicked, etc. There is, however, no evidence of a systematic editing of the whole work for dogmatic or theological reasons. In contrast, the book of Proverbs was compiled as a compendium of traditional educational or instructional material in order to gather on to a single scroll all writings of this kind which the final editor thought should be preserved.
Some other noteworthy works include the following:
Theodore A. Hildebrandt, “Proverbial Pairs: Compositional Units in Proverbs 10-29,â€? JBL 107 (1988) 207-224. Hildebrandt discusses the formation of “proverbial pairs,” but doesn’t touch on the issue of larger groups of proverbs in Prov 10-29.
A. Meinhold, Die SprÃ¼che. I. SprÃ¼che Kapital 1-15 (ZÃ¼rcher Kommentare AT, 16.1. ZÃ¼rich: Theologischer Verlag, 1991). Meinhold includes some attempts to discover the process of composition of the book of Proverbs. For 10:1-22:16 and chaps. 25-29 he postulates a series of stages of composition from the formation of pairs and triads to that of larger groups that have further developed into chapters and sub-collections (10-15; 16:1-22:16; 25-27; 28-29) and then finally into main collections (10:1-22:16; 25-29).
Otto PlÃ¶ger, SprÃ¼che Salomos (Proverbia) (BKAT 17; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1984; Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com). PlÃ¶ger conceives Proverbs to have assumed its present shape in the early postexilic period, the result of the gathering together of three collections: (1) that of chaps. 1-9 could have had a seperate existence; (2) that of 10:1-22:16, with two independent appendices in 22:17-24:22 and 24:23-34; and (3) that of chaps. 25-29 with individual appendices in chaps. 30 and 31, each of which is in two parts. In general, the material of the second collection can be assigned to the middle period of the monarchy and that of the third to the latter period. The introductory first collection, while it may contain some preexilic material, in substance represents that final stage of the book’s composition.
Patrick W. Skehan, Studies in Israelite Poetry and Wisdom (CBQMS 1: Washington, D.C.: Catholic Biblical Association, 1971; Buy from Amazon.ca | Buy from Amazon.com). This collection contains Skehan’s classic essays on the structure of Proverbs, complete with scintillating — and compelling — numerical patterns.
If this post has whetted your appetite for this sort of research into the book of Proverbs, I encourage you to participate in the online colloquium with Professor Knut Heim on the Biblical Studies discussion list.
One of the toughest jobs for textual critics is knowing the tendenz or proclivities of the manuscripts or versions they are using for textual reconstruction. This step requires an enormous amount of work that entails an intensive study of a manuscript. Often, I fear, this work is not done and variants are studies in isolation without a sufficient knowledge of the manuscripts themselves. One of the reasons it is not done is that it is a daunting task that few can accomplish. So when someone does this work, it is a great service to the scholarly community (We should thank God for the Kittels, Wevers, Alands, Metzgers of the world!).
This sort of painstaking text critical work has now been done on the Qumran Psalms Scroll (11QPsa). As I mentioned in a previous post, I am working through Ulrich Dahmen’s Psalmen- und Psalter-Rezeption im Fruehjudentum: Rekonstrucktion, Textbestand, Sturktur und Pragmatik der Psalmen Rolle 11QPsa aus Qumran (Brill, 2003; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com).
In this third chapter, Dahmen works through all of the variants between 11QPsa and the Masoretic Book of Psalms. From this analysis he draws a number of conclusions. First, he concludes that 11QPsa is clearly dependent on and secondary to the proto-Masoretic Psalter (Something which I have been arguing for many years). That is, almost all of the places where 11QPsa has an alternative reading compared to the MT Psalter, the reading in 11QPsa is later. What is more, Dahmen argues that when all of the variants are considered together (and this is the crucial step of gaining the big picture) some patterns begin to appear. While I will not bore you with the details (and Dahmen notes many details), the most important characteristic are the number of features which connect the scroll with the other texts and themes common to the Qumran community. This is one of the things that is meant when taking about a manuscript’s tendenz.
Knowing the tendenz of 11QPsa provides some critical purchase when making text-criticical decisions. What Dahmen’s research means in practical terms is that 11QPsa is of limited use for textual criticism of the MT book of Psalms. That doesn’t mean it is of no value. Dahmen highlights a couple places where 11QPsa preserves a better reading than the MT. The best example is with the missing nun verse in the acrostic Psalm 145 (an acrostic is a poem that is organized according to the alphabet). In the MT tradition the psalm is clearly missing a verse because its acrostic skips from mem to samech (between vv. 13-14). Well, before 11QPsa was discovered scholars knew something was up and often used the LXX to reconstruct the missing verse. When the Psalms Scroll was discovered, lo and behold, the nun verse was recovered. As it turns out, the two texts (LXX and 11QPsa) preserved similar readings:
πιστὸς κύριος ἐν τοῖς λόγοις αὐτοῦ καὶ ὅσιος ἐν πᾶσι τοῖς ἔργοις αὐτοῦ
The Lord is faithful in all his words, and devout in all his deeds
You’ll notice a slight difference between the LXX use of “Lord” while 11QPsa employs “God.” A number of factors suggest that the LXX preserves the better reading. First, when looking at the rest of Psalm, it almost exclusively employs Yahweh. Second, one of the things that Dahmen uncovered in his analysis is that 11QPsa tends to substitute other terms for Yahweh. What evidently happened is that some time in the transmission of the Masoretic text of the book of Psalms, this verse dropped out. The LXX and 11QPsa both preserved the original line, though the LXX preserved the better text in regards to the name used for God.
The moral of this story is that before you can evaluate a textual variant, you need to know the tendenz of the text. Otherwise you’ll miss the forest for the trees.
BBC News has an article on the digitizing of Codex Sinaiticus (the image to the right is the beginning of Matthew in the codex). This isn’t ground-breaking news (see below), though I have been watching for any stories on Sinaiticus since I am writing a dictionary entry on the codex for The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible.The BBC article has a number of errors. For instance, the tag line indicates that Sinaiticus is “the oldest known Biblical New Testament in the world” which it isn’t. Further down in the article they are correct when they say “it has the oldest complete copy of the New Testament.” Here’s another error: “It is named after the place it was written, the monastery of Saint Catherine in Sinai, Egypt.” More properly it should say that it was named after the place it was discovered. It may have been copied there, but it more likely was produced in Rome, Caesarea, or Alexandria.
I am surprised that BBC picked up the story when it did. Reuters published a similar story by Tim Perry early in July (it is still available here).