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The Septuagint and Textual Criticism: Retroverting the Text

23rd February 2011

[One of my main areas of research is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint. This post talks about how the Greek text can be used to help us understand the Hebrew original. It was originally published 08/2009]

In this post I am laying a foundation for my next installment in my series on Psalm 151 in the Biblical Tradition, by discussing how to retrovert a text from one language into another. This is most commonly done when using the Septuagint in the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. Thus, in order to employ the LXX in textual criticism one must retrovert the Greek text back into Hebrew (for more information on the Septuagint and textual criticism in general see my series of posts on Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible). In many cases retroverting a text is easier said than done.

Here are some tips for retroverting a text:

Focus on the translation technique of the individual book in question. 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 to make up the LXX. 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. Thus one cannot assume that the way one translator rendered a particular Hebrew word or construction will be the same fora translator of a different book. Each individual book of the LXX has its own idiosyncrasies to its translation; thus a careful examination of its translation technique is necessary before one can retrovert the text with any confidence.

Examine the different ways a translator renders a particular word. In order to figure out what Hebrew word may be behind a particular Greek word in a passage, you need to look up every instance of the Greek word in question within the biblical book and note what Hebrew word was being rendered. There are a number of useful resources that will help you with this task. If you have a Bible software package with the original language modules, then you can do a Greek lemma search and see what Hebrew was being translated. Even more ideal is if you have Emauel Tov’s The Parallel Aligned Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Texts of Jewish Scripture module where you can see the equivalent elements of the MT and the LXX (as reconstructed by the editor). For more on the different software programs available for Biblical Studies, see my Bible Software pages. If you do not have a Bible software package, then you can manually look up how a word is with Takamitsu Muraoka’s Hebrew/Aramaic Index to the Septuagint: Keyed to the Hatch-Redpath Concordance (Baker Academic, 1998; Buy from | which also comes included in Edwin Hatch, Henry A. Redpath, A Concordance to the Septuagint: And the other Greek Versions of the Old Testament – Including the Apocryphal Books (Second edition, two volumes in one; Includes Muraoka, “Hebrew/Aramaic Index”; Baker Academic, 1998; Buy from |

Identify a pattern. If a clear pattern emerges, propose a retroversion. When you examine the different ways an individual book tends to translate a word into Greek, and if there is a clear default rendering, then you can be fairly confident in proposing the retroversion. While you can never be 100% certain with any retroversion, some will be more certain than others.  If a clear pattern doesn’t emerge, or if the words in question do not occur frequently enough in the book under study, then you will need to broaden your investigation to see how the word is rendered elsewhere in the LXX. While this will not produce as clear of results as the previous situation, you can still produce a workable retroversion.

With these principles in mind, the Septuagint may be employed quite fruitfully in the textual criticism of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. Of course, retroversion may also be used with texts of other languages, and even in ascertaining the relationship between Hebrew Dead Sea  Scroll texts and the Septuagint (as I will seek to do in my next post on Psalm 151).

Posted in Dead Sea Scrolls, Psalm 151 in the Biblical Tradition, Septuagint, Text Criticism, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible | 2 Comments »

Textual Criticism In Action (TCHB 9)

21st August 2006

In this post I will demonstrate the practice of textual criticism with two examples, Joshua 1:1 and Psalm 73:7, which highlight the practice of external and internal textual criticism, respectively.

This is the ninth 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.

External Criticism: Joshua 1:1

External criticism, as noted in a previous post, involves the evaluation of a variant in relation to the “original edition” of the MT. This means that if a variant reflects an earlier stage in the literary development of a book, rather than a corruption during the course of its textual transmission, it should be disregarded by the text critic. Because these variants typically do not come to bear on text critical decisions, they are difficult to spot in English translations. Therefore, for this example we have to proceed directly to the Hebrew text. Compare the following readings of Josh 1:1 in the MT and LXX:

  • MT: ויהי ×?חרי מות מש×?×” עבד יהוה
    And it was after the death of Moses the servant of Yahweh… (cf. NIV, NRSV, etc.)
  • LXX: Καὶ á¼?γένετο μετὰ τὴν τελευτὴν Μωυσῆ
    And it was after the death of Moses…

In this example the MT refers to Moses as עבד יהוה (‘bd yhwh), “the servant of Yahweh.” This phrase is missing in the LXX. In fact, the MT of Joshua 1 has more than twelve additional words or phrases that are not found in the LXX. Further, the LXX of the book of Joshua is about 4-5 percent shorter than the MT. This leads one to posit that these differences in the LXX version of Joshua probably represent an earlier edition of that book. Therefore, because this variant in the LXX stands apart from the “original edition” behind the MT, there is no need to evaluate it by internal criticism. It should be ignored.

Internal Criticism: Psalm 73:7

The first example demonstrated the procedure involved when a variant is the result of a separate literary tradition. Psalm 73:7, in contrast, will provide an example of a variant that arose in the transmission of the “original edition” of the MT

An examination of a few English versions of Ps 73:7a reveals a significant textual problem. Compare the following translations:

  • NIV: From their callous hearts comes iniquity (cf. NAB).
  • NRSV: Their eyes swell out with fatness (cf. RSV, NEB, KJV).

In this verse there are two apparent divergences between the English translations, though only one of them reflects a textual difference. The NIV’s reading of “callous hearts” reflects an idiomatic translation of “fat” rather than a variant reading. “Fat,” it is assumed, is a figure for stubbornness and the translators took the liberty of interpreting the figure for the reader so that it makes sense, as modern readers do not think iniquity comes out of “fat” (cf. “crassness” in the NAB).

In this passage the textual variant pertains to “eyes” and “iniquity.” This is indicated by the footnote in the NIV, which indicates that they have followed the Syriac reading of the text rather than the MT, which the NRSV followed.

Now that the textual problem has been discovered, the preliminary step is to collect the variants. While this can be partially done by referring to the notes in the English translations, as noted above, exegetes should look to BHS to discover the exact nature of the textual problem. The verse in BHS reads:

  • יָ֭צָ×? מֵחֵ֣לֶב עֵינֵ֑מוֹ (BHS)
    Lit., “Their eyes come out from fat”

There is a superscript “a” after this line which leads to the second level of apparatus which reads: || 7 a l frt עֲוֹנָמוֹ cf G S ||. This “translates” as, lege(ndum) “to read” fortasse “perhaps” עֲוֹנָמוֹ (eonamo), “their iniquity” instead of the reading in the MT, and then asks us to compare with the LXX and the Syriac Peshitta. The LXX (= Ps 72:7) reads: ἡ ἀδικία αá½?τῶν, “their injustice,” while the Peshitta reads similarly.

Now the variant can be evaluated on its transcriptional probability. The word in the MT for “eyes” is עין (‘yn), while the variant suggested by BHS, and adopted by the NIV, is based on the LXX ἀδικία, retroverted to עון (‘vn), “iniquity.” The difference between these Hebrew variants is very slight as in the square script ו and ×™ are easily confused, especially in the DSS. Therefore the variant could be a result of the scribe confusing similar consonants. A major problem with this proposal, however, is that the LXX Psalms never translates עון with ἀδικία, “injustice”; either uses á¼?μαÏ?τία “sin” or ἀνομία “lawlessness” (30+ times). Better retrovert it to ×?ון “wickedness” and see an additional confusion between the aleph and ayin.

In relation to intrinsic probability, the MT makes little sense. The truth is that “their eyes come out with fatness” is incoherent. The NRSV’s “swell out” is an unattested extension of the meaning of the verb יצ×? (yts’) — especially with the preposition “from.” In contrast, the idea of iniquity or wickedness coming out of fatness, understood as a figure of speech for stubbornness, makes sense.

Therefore, in light of internal criticism, “their iniquity” — or better “their wickedness” — appears to be the most plausible. First, the error in the MT can be easily explained away by some common scribal confusions. Second, the MT is unintelligible: How do “eyes come out of fat”?, whereas “wickedness coming out of fat” is understandable once the metonymy of “fat” for “crassness” is understood.

Posted in Bible, Criticism, Joshua, Psalms, Text Criticism, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible | Comments Off

The Practice of Textual Criticism (TCHB 8)

30th July 2006

With some of the theory surrounding textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible behind us, with this post I am going to discuss how to actually go about text criticism.

This is the eighth 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.

More specifically, in this post I will discuss how to identify and evaluate variants for the reconstruction of this Ur-edition. In the practice of textual criticism, critics traditionally distinguish between external criticism (i.e., the evaluation of the textual witnesses), and internal criticism (i.e., the transcriptional and intrinsic probability of the readings). For the former, critics need to know the textual witnesses and their history; for the latter, they need to be aware of the kinds of errors scribes made and have sensitivity to the context and inner clarity of the text itself.

The Preliminary Task: Collect the Variants

Before the variants can be evaluated, they need to be collected. They should be first collected from the textual witnesses and then compared with the MT, more specifically with the Leningrad Codex (L) as found in BHS. Even if you do not know Hebrew, you can identify the most significant variants in the text notes to most modern English translations (e.g., NIV, NRSV) and may even be able to detect others in differences between the English versions. For instance, Psalm 19:4 [19:5 in BHS] in the NIV reads “Their voiceb goes out into all the earth.” The superscript “b” leads the reader to the footnote, which reads: “b4″ Septuagint, Jerome and Syriac; Hebrew line.” By this note the translators are informing the reader that the variant reading of the text, “voice,” (which they used in the translation) is found in the Septuagint, Jerome’s Juxta Hebraica, and the Syriac Peshitta; while the MT variant is “line.”

As far as what English translations to use, the best translations, from the standpoint of OT textual criticism are: NRSV, NIV, TEV, NASB, NEB, and NJB. All of these translations carefully considered the available evidence when making their textual decisions (in addition, the NJPS will provide a good translation of the MT). Exegetes should avoid using paraphrases like the Living Bible, as it is primarily based on other English translations, as well as old translations such as the KJV, which is about four centuries out of date when it comes to text critical matters.

Exegetes using BHS (or BHQ) will find significant variants in its apparatus. Unfortunately, the apparatus is not the easiest to decipher. In this regard you may want to get yourself a copy of one of these two guides to BHS:

  • William R. Scott, A Simplified Guide to BHS: Critical Apparatus, Masora, Accents, Unusual Letters & Other Markings (3rd ed.; Bibal Press, 1995). Buy from | Buy from
  • Reinhard Wonneberger, Understanding BHS: A Manual for the Users of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (2nd. revised ed.; trans. D. R. Daniels; Pontifical Institute, 1990). Buy from | Buy from

Since the apparatus of BHS, however, contains errors of commissions and omissions with respect to the Versions and the DSS, the advanced exegete will appeal to the critical editions of the ancient Versions and to the DSS themselves (see my posts on the Versions and DSS for more information on critical editions).

Another great resource that I will be posting on in the near future is the massive multi-volume Critique textuelle de l’Ancien Testament edited by Dominique Barthélemy. This is a truly massive undertaking that collates, discusses, and evaluates all of the variants in the Hebrew Bible.

External Criticism: The Evaluation of Textual Witnesses

As noted above, external criticism involves an examination of the textual witness themselves. This primarily entails evaluating the variant in relation to the “original edition” of the MT.

1. Evaluate Relationship to “Original Edition”
“True” variants are restricted to those that arose in the transmission of the “original edition” behind the MT. Before selecting any variant for further evaluation, the critic needs first to determine whether or not it is the product of a tendency within one of the primary text types (e.g., MT, LXX, SP, and unaligned). For example, on the one hand, the shorter variants of Jeremiah should be passed over if they belong to the text’s earlier literary development. On the other hand, the longer variants in the Torah of the pre-Samaritan text, such as an interpolation of Deuteronomy into Exodus, should also be passed-by because they represent a later stage of the text than the “original edition.” When the critic has excluded variants that stand apart from that Ur-edition, he or she will then proceed to evaluate the variant by internal criticism. But before turning to internal criticism, we need to rule out the traditional approach to external criticism.

2. Reject Traditional External Criticism
Sometimes text critics evaluate variants on the basis of the textual witness in which it is found. Some critics prefer a variant in the MT over the SP, or a variant in the LXX over the Tgs., because normally the MT and the LXX are superior to the other two. For example, E. Würthwein notes: “The various witnesses to the text should be examined, beginning with MT, and continuing with the rest in roughly the order of their significance for textual criticism, e.g., SP, LXX, Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, Syriac Peshitta, Aramaic Targums, ….” (The Text of the Old Testament, 112). Then too, some think that a variant in an early text has a prior claim over a variant in a later one, or that a variant in the majority of texts should be preferred.

Such external criteria should be ruled out, however, for four reasons. First, the fact that early corruptions obviously affected all our witnesses, requiring conjectural emendations, shows that one bad “gene” early on could have corrupted numbers of MSS. Second, the Qumran scrolls show an intricate web of relationships, so that one cannot predict a corruption in any given MS. Third, scribes tend to commit the same sort of errors, and therefore the same error could have arisen independently in several sources. Finally, the simple fact is that the Qumran scrolls, though a millennium earlier, do not normally contain better variants than the MT because the scribes in the later tradition tried harder to preserve the original than those at Qumran.

In sum, because we do not know the genetic relationship of any MS to the original edition, in principle a variant in the MT and/or in many witnesses has no prior claim as the better variant; and a variant in an otherwise poor witness, or in only a few, cannot be ruled out.

Internal Criticism: Transcriptional and Intrinsic Probability

Having decided that a variant may stem from the original text, the critic should not evaluate it further on the basis of the textual witness but on its own merits. There are two facets to internal criticism: transcription probability and intrinsic probability.

The task of evaluating a reading on its intrinsic and transcriptional probabilities is both an objective science and a subjective art. The basic rule of thumb is: “that reading is preferable which would have been more likely to give rise to the other”; or, turning that around, “the variant that cannot be explained away is more probably the original.” To explain away a variant, however, demands a firm grasp on the manuscripts, scribal practices, and a lot of exegetical knowledge and of common sense (this is why I believe while many aspire to be textual critics, few can gain enough mastery to actually do it well). Unfortunately, there are no simple rules. Some have likened textual criticism to a dog catching flees. As a dog catches flees not by following rules but by treating each flee individually, so also the text critic must address each variant individually, deftly, and reasonably.

1. Intrinsic Probability
Evaluating a textual variant according to its intrinsic probability involves taking the author’s style and the immediate context into consideration. Inasmuch as the inner clarity of the passage itself is the standard for evaluation, this is a subjective enterprise. It is sometimes difficult to determine what the author’s style or particular vocabulary is, as well as what fits the immediate context best. Nevertheless, while difficult, this is one of the major procedures of OT textual criticism.

2. Transcriptional Probability
Here the text critic needs to keep in mind the kinds of errors scribes committed either unintentionally or intentionally during the transmission of the text.

Unintentional Errors. Within the restraints of this post, I am only able to mention the most common types of unintentional scribal errors.

a. Confusion of similar consonants. Sometimes scribes confuse consonants that are similarly formed, depending on the script, or similarly sounded, such as the gutturals. For example, ד (d) and ר (r) are readily confused both in the Hebrew angular and square script. This is apparently what happened with the name of one of Javan’s sons. Sometimes he is called דדני×? (ddnym), “Dodanim” (Gen 10:4, MT), and other times רדני×? (rdnym), “Rodanim” (1 Chr 1:7, MT; Gen 10:4, SP, LXX). Other consonants that often are confused in the square script are: ב / ×›, ב/ מ, ב / × , ×’ / ו, ×’ / ×™, ×” / ×—, ו / ×–, ו / ר, ×› / × , מ / ס, and ×¢ / צ.

b. Haplography (“writing once”). Due to homoioteleuton, words with similar endings, or, homoiarcton, words with similar beginnings, sometimes a letter or group of letters accidentally drops out of the text. Compare the following readings of Gen 47:16:

  • MT: ו×?תנה לכ×? במקניכ×?
    I will give you for your cattle (cf. KJV)
  • SP, LXX: ו×?תנה לכ×? לח×? במקניכ×?
    I will sell you food… for your livestock (cf. NIV, NRSV)

“Food,” לח×? (lhm), comes after the similarly sounding and appearing “you,” לכ×? (lkm). The scribe likely skipped over “food” when copying the text. Another example comes from Judges 20:13 where the MT refers to the tribe of Benjamin as only בנימן  “Benjamin” instead of the expected בני בנימן  “sons of Benjamin.” The LXX reads “sons of Benjamin” and the Masoretes evidently thought that a scribe must have skipped over בני “sons of”, since they included the vowel pointing for בני even though the consonants are lacking.

c. Dittography (“writing twice”). Sometimes scribes accidentally repeated letters, a word or a phrase. For example, Isa 30:30 in the MT, LXX, Tgs., Syr., and Vulg. all read: הש×?מיע יהוה  “The Lord shall make heard,” while 1QIsa reads: הש×?מיע הש×?מיע יהוה  “The Lord shall make heard, shall make heard.” Apparently the scribe inadvertently repeated הש×?מיע “make heard.”

d. Doublets. This is the conflation of two or more readings, either consciously or unconsciously. For example, the LXX and 1QIsaa of Isa 37:9 conflate the accounts of Hezekiah’s consultation of Isaiah in the MT of Isa 37:9 and 2 Kgs 19:9. Compare the following:

  • MT : ויש×?ב ויש×?לח מל×?×›×™×?
    he again sent messengers (2 Kgs 19:9)
  • MT : ויש×?מע ויש×?לח מל×?×›×™×?
    and when he heard it, he sent messengers (Isa 37:9)
  • LXX, 1QIsa: ויש×?מע ויש×?ב ויש×?לח מל×?×›×™×?
    and when he heard it, he again sent messengers (Isa 37:9)

e. Metathesis. This is the accidental exchange or transposition of two adjacent letters within a word. For instance, Deut 31:1 reads:

  • MT : וילך מש×?×” וידבר ×?ת־הדברי×? ×”×?לה
    And Moses went [vylk] and spoke these words (cf. NIV)
  • 4QDeut, LXX : ויכל מש×?×” וידבר ×?ת־הדברי×? ×”×?לה
    And Moses finished [vykl] speaking these words (cf. NRSV).

The scribe evidently miscopied and reversed the order of ל (l) and כ (k) . The NRSV follows the reading in 4QDeut and the LXX, while the NIV opted for the MT.

f. Different concepts of word and verse divisions. Sometimes scribes, for unknown reasons, divided words and verses differently. For example, a scribe evidently divided the words in Hos 6:5 incorrectly:

  • MT : ומש×?פטיך ×?ור יצ×?
    And your judgments, light goes forth (cf. NASB, KJV).
  • LXX : καὶ τὸ κÏ?ίμα μου ὡς φῶς á¼?ξελεÏ?σεται
    = ומש×?פטי ×›×?ור יצ×?
    And my judgment goes forth as light (cf. NIV, NRSV).

The copyist of the MT evidently attached the ×› (k), of ×›×?ור (k’vr), “as light,” to the preceding word. Compare the following variants in Ps 102:[101 LXX]:24-25a involving different vocalization and misdivision of the verses:

  • MT : עִנָּה בדבך כחו קצר ימי ×?מר ×?לי (The Qere reads ×›×—×™ “my strength”)
    He broke my strength on the way, he cut short my days. 25 I said, “My God….”
  • LXX : ἀπεκÏ?ίθη αá½?Ï„á¿· á¼?ν á½?δῷ ἰσχÏ?ος αá½?τοῦ Τὴν ὀλιγότητα τῶν ἡμεÏ?ῶν μου ἀνάγγειλόν μοι
    = עָנָהוּ בדרך כחו ימי ×?מר ×?לי
    He answered him in the way of his strength: The fewness of my days report to me.

The LXX is different from the MT in reading ×¢× ×” (‘nh), as (Qal) “to answer,” rather than (Piel) “to humble”; taking בדרך כחו (bdrk khv), as a construct; and besides other vocalization changes, it also does not divide the verse in the same place.

Intentional Errors. Sometimes the scribes took liberty to change the text deliberately. Four different types of intentional changes can be noted.

a. Linguistic changes. Scribes often modernized archaic features of a verse, primarily in relation to spelling and grammar. For example, the SP replaces the old infinitive absolute construction of the MT with an imperative or finite verb form. In Num 15:35, the MT reads רָגוֹ×? (ragom), but the SP reads רִגמוּ (rigmu).

b. Contextual changes. Sometimes scribes change the text in order to harmonize certain passages. For instance, in Genesis 2:2, according to the MT, the Tgs., and the Vg, God completed his work on the seventh day, but according to the SP, LXX, and Syr (perhaps independently of each other), he completed it on the sixth day. The scribe(s) evidently changed the text to avoid the possible inference that God worked on the Sabbath.

c. Euphemistic changes. Sometimes scribes changed the text for euphemistic reasons. In Gen 50:23 the SP changes the phrase על־ברכי יוסף (‘l-brky yvsp), “upon the knees of Joseph” into על־נימי יוסף (‘l-bymy yvsp), “in the days of Joseph” because it seemed improper that Joseph’s grandchildren should be born upon his knees. In Deut 25:11 בִּמְבֻש×?ָֽיו (bmbshyv), “his private parts” is changed to בִּבְשָׂרוֹ (bbsrv), “his flesh,” because it seemed too obscene to mention that in a fight a woman would grab a man’s genitals. Similarly, in Deut 28:30 ש×?גל (shgl), “rape, have sex (?)” was deemed way too obscene for public use and so it was changed to ש×?כב (shkb), “sleep,” in both the SP and the MT-Qere. (Perhaps the equivalent of the ancient Hebrew f-word!).

d. Theological changes. We noted above how the Samaritans altered the pre-Samaritan text to defend Mount Gerizim as God’s place of worship. Theological changes also occur in the MT. Compare the following renditions of Prov 14:32:

  • MT: וחסד במותו צדיק
    But a righteous man in his death finds a refuge (cf. NIV).
  • LXX: á½? δὲ πεποιθὼς τῇ ἑαυτοῦ á½?σιότητι δίκαιος
    = וחסד בתומו צידק
    But the righteous man in his integrity finds a refuge (cf. NRSV).

The change from בתומו (btvmv), “integrity” in the LXX to במותו (bmvtv), “death” in the MT could be a case of simple transposition of מ (b) and ת (t). But some scholars think the change in the MT was intentional and reflects an anti-Sadducean point of view. Better known are the changes of early names with the theophoric element בעל (b’l), “Baal,” by the derogatory element בש×?ת (bsht), “shame.” For example, Esh-Baal (“man of Baal”), the name of Saul’s fourth son, in 1 Chr 8:33 is changed to Ish-Bosheth (“man of shame”) in 2 Sam 2:8.

On the whole, however, theological changes are rare in the MT. G. R. Driver notes: “Theological glosses [in our terminology, interpolations] are surprisingly few, and most are enshrined in the tiqqune sopherim [scribal changes], which are corrections of the text aimed chiefly at softening anthropomorphisms and eliminating the attribution of any sort of impropriety to God.”


Sometimes none of the transmitted variants satisfy exegetical expectations. In cases where all witnesses seem “hopelessly corrupt” the text critic may find emendation (a conjectured variant based on the known variants) necessary. Qumran scrolls have now validated this procedure in some cases. F. M. Cross comments: “No headier feeling can be experienced by a humanistic scholar, perhaps, than that which comes when an original reading, won by his brilliant emendation, is subsequently confirmed in a newly-found MS.”

Emendations must satisfy the same criteria by which known variants are evaluated. That is, they must be plausible. There are many emendations proposed where it is very difficult to see how the purported error took place. That being said, there are a number of places where emendation appears to be the best alternative. For example, there seems to have been a confusion of consonants in the angular script in Ezek 3:12.

  • All texts; ברוך כבוד־יהוה ממקומו
    May the glory of YHWH be praised in his dwelling place (cf. NIV).
  • Emendation: ברו×? כבוד־יהוה ממקומו
    As the glory of YHWH arose from its place (cf. NRSV).

The NIV’s “be praised” is based on ברוך (brvk), “be praised,” which is attested in all textual witnesses. The clause, however, is unique, awkward and contextless. Scholars salvage the line by emending ברוך (brvk) to ברו×? (brvm), “when [it] arose.” In the angular script ך (k) and ×? (m) are easily confounded. This emendation nicely satisfies exegetical expectations, Hebrew syntax, and the context of the verse (cf. Ezek 10:4, 15-18).

In sum, McCarter wisely counsels that a text critic should keep the image of a scribe clearly in mind, look first for conscious errors, know the personalities of your witnesses, treat each case as if it were unique, and beware of prejudices

Posted in Bible, Dead Sea Scrolls, Septuagint, Series, Syriac Peshitta, Text Criticism, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible | 2 Comments »

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 »

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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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 »

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 »

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).
Buy from | Buy from

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 »

    Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible – An Introduction (TCHB 1)

    19th June 2006

    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.“)

    Posted in Old Testament, Series, Text Criticism, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible | 8 Comments »