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We are quoting extensively from the Old Testament textual scholars Ellis R. Brotzman and Eric J. Tully in their OLD TESTAMENT TEXTUAL CRITICISM: A Practical Introduction from Baker Publishing Group. However, there are a number of paragraphs that were written by Edward D. Andrews. Christian Publishing House will be beginning a free online Old Testament Textual Commentary. In order to better understand, the reader should be able to have an evaluation of the usefulness of the sources that enable the textual scholar to ascertain the original words of the original text.
QT: Qumran Texts (Dead Sea Scrolls)
The Qumran documents have influenced the study of the OT canon, the study of the development of Hebrew and Aramaic dialects, and textual criticism. The significance of the Qumran documents for textual criticism can be summarized in three propositions. First and foremost, the Dead Sea Scrolls take the textual scholar back around one thousand years earlier than previously known Hebrew manuscript evidence. Prior to the Qumran discoveries, the earliest complete copies of OT books dated from about the early tenth century CE. The earliest complete copy of the entire OT dated from the early eleventh century CE. The Qumran manuscripts thus give much earlier evidence for the text of the OT than anything that was previously known. Ronald Hendel writes, “The biblical texts from Qumran are our oldest manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible, dating from the mid-third century BCE through the first century CE, with the terminus the destruction of Qumran in 68 CE . . . with the discovery of these manuscripts, our understanding of the history of the biblical text has been utterly transformed.”
A related issue concerns the overall relationship between the relatively late Masoretic manuscripts and the texts discovered at Qumran. While there are many small differences between the MT and the various Qumran documents, the overall agreement between them is striking. Burrows wrote the following in regard to the complete Isaiah scroll:
The conspicuous differences in spelling and grammatical forms between the St. Mark’s manuscript and the Masoretic text makes their substantial agreement in the words of the text all the more remarkable. . . . It is a matter for wonder that through something like a thousand years the text underwent so little alteration. As I said in my first article on the scroll, “Herein lies its chief importance, supporting the fidelity of the Masoretic tradition.”
Thus, the Qumran scrolls, while being much earlier than the MT, generally support the accuracy with which the MT was copied.
At the same time, the scrolls have provided us with previously unknown readings and given us a greater understanding of the variant readings which we already had in other texts and versions. By giving us a “snapshot” of the condition of the biblical text at the turn of the era, we are in a better position to explain the relationship between the various witnesses. Tov writes that the scrolls have “taught us no longer to posit [the MT] at the center of our textual thinking.” Before the finds in the Judean Desert, text critics could only work with the state of the text indirectly, that is, by suggesting an alternate form of the Hebrew text that was used by the translators of the versions. The finds at Qumran have provided actual manuscripts with which the text critic can work. It is fair to say that the Qumran finds have revolutionized the field of textual criticism.
SP: Samaritan Pentateuch
The value of the SP has been the subject of some debate since it was first studied as a textual witness. In 1631 John Morinus judged the SP to be much better than the MT. In 1815, Wilhelm Gesenius published his classic study of the SP. Based on both the history and character of the text, he concluded that the SP had no value for recovering the original text of the OT. His views carried the day for the rest of the nineteenth century. The variants were thought to be secondary and intentional, rather than reflective of the ancient text of the Pentateuch. Later, in 1915 Paul Kahle argued for a more positive evaluation of the SP and accepted more of its readings as genuine than had Gesenius. His conclusions were based in part on the witness to the Samaritan text that is found in certain apocryphal books, the Septuagint, and the NT.
With the discovery of the Qumran scrolls, the place and value of the SP has now been established. When considered in light of the fragmentary pre-Samaritan texts of the Pentateuch found at Qumran, it is clear that the ideological additions to the SP need not cast doubt on its text-critical value. That thin layer of Samaritan adjustments is limited and late, while the other textual features are earlier and witness to ancient variant readings that existed in the last centuries BCE. Therefore, the SP may preserve some older readings that are independent of the MT, and it makes an important contribution to the discussion of the relationship between the major textual traditions of the OT. Robert Anderson and Terry Giles write that “today the SP is assuming a central role in the critical examination of the textual history of the Bible. We now know that the SP and its predecessors played a vibrant part in the stream of textual witnesses to the Pentateuch prior to the turn of the eras.”
MT: The Masoretic Text
The MT is our most important text tradition of the OT. First, because it is Hebrew it has not undergone the additional layer of changes that come with translation. Second, it is distinct from the Samaritan Pentateuch or texts from the Judean Desert. Third, it has been carefully preserved. The MT is the basis of almost all of our English translations of the OT, and it is, rightly, the primary object of OT exegesis. This stature and significance means that the MT is not merely “useful” but central to our knowledge of the text of the OT.
However, we must now clarify the word “central.” “Central” means that the MT is our most important text of the OT, especially since it is a Hebrew text tradition. But it does not mean that it is the default text. We should not assume that the MT is inherently better in every instance, thereby placing a greater burden of proof on all other textual witnesses. The MT is an accurately transmitted and preserved expression of the proto-MT, which existed alongside several other texts in the Second Temple period. None of those texts has a fundamental right to primacy. We must evaluate each reading on a case-by-case basis.
It is right that we should read and study and base our English translations on the MT. But we should remember that it is one version among several, each of which may witness to the original text of the OT in a given instance.
Toward the end of the 18th century, critical study of the Hebrew text got underway. Benjamin Kennicott (1718-1783) was an English churchman and Hebrew scholar, who published at Oxford (in 1776-1780) the readings of over 600 Masoretic Hebrew manuscripts. Giovanni Bernardo De Rossi (1742-1831) was an Italian scholar of Hebrew published at Parma comparisons of 731 manuscripts in 1784 to 1798. In 1906 the first edition of the critical text Biblia Hebraica (The Hebrew Bible) was also produced by the Hebrew Masoretic scholar of Germany, Seligman Baer. In 1894, with a final revision in 1926, Christian David Ginsburg, a Polish-born British Bible scholar and a student of the Masoretic text devoted many years to produce a critical text of the Hebrew Bible. – Edward D. Andrews
Rudolf Kittel was a German Old Testament scholar. “He is remembered as the originator of the Biblia Hebraica, a work which presents the Masoretic Text of the Bible along with the variants of the versions and other manuscripts; it has become a classic textbook used in seminaries and universities. First and second editions of the Biblia Hebraica (1905–06 and 1912) provide the textus receptus of Jacob ben Ḥayyim ibn Adonijah’s edition of 1525–26 in the Second Rabbinical Bible. The third edition of Biblia Hebraica, published posthumously in 1937 and edited together with P. Kahle, is based upon the older and more reliable Ben Asher codex of Leningrad. This was followed by the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (1967–77). The Biblia Hebraica Quinta has begun to appear under the auspices of the Deutsche Bibelgesellschat (2004ff).” – “Kittel, Rudolf°.” Encyclopaedia Judaica. Encyclopedia.com. 16 May. 2019.
Snaith: Norman Snaith published an edition of the Hebrew OT in 1960 based on manuscripts from the British Museum (B.M. Or. 2375, 2626, 2628). 100 This manuscript is in the Ben Asher tradition. Snaith’s edition is not a critical edition (it does not have a Masorah or a critical apparatus). (Brotzman & Tully, 2016, p. 61)
Biblia Hebraica Quinta (BHQ): The fifth and most recent edition in the Biblia Hebraica series currently in preparation is Biblia Hebraica Quinta. It is based on the Leningrad Codex and represents a major revision of and improvement over BHS. Whereas BHS presents the Masorah Magna as a numbered key that requires investigation in separate volumes, BHQ presents the full Masorah Magna below the text. In the critical apparatus, BHQ uses English abbreviations rather than Latin, does not attempt to retrovert ancient translations into Hebrew, provides brief explanations of variants, and is much more consistent and comprehensive in presenting evidence. Presently, the following books in BHQ have appeared as either stand-alone volumes or in small groups: the five Megilloth (2004), 108 Ezra-Nehemiah (2006), Deuteronomy (2007), Proverbs (2009), the Twelve Minor Prophets (2010), and Judges (2012). Each volume contains textual commentary on the critical apparatus and commentary on the Masorah Magna in separate appendixes. For further introduction, see chapter 5. (Brotzman & Tully, 2016, pp. 62-63)
The Hebrew Bible A Critical Edition (HBCE): With the exception of Jerusalem Crown (out of necessity), all of the recent editions of the Hebrew OT are diplomatic editions based on one manuscript. This is actually unusual in textual criticism, but it has developed in the case of the Hebrew Bible in order to maintain, as much as possible, consistency between text and Masorah. The potential problem with diplomatic editions is that they leave all of the decisions to the reader, who must look in the apparatus to see if there is a better reading. The HBCE is a new edition that is an eclectic text, meaning that the editor of each volume incorporates better variant readings directly into the text and then puts the original reading of the base manuscript in the apparatus. To say it another way, in a diplomatic edition variant readings are found only in the apparatus, but in an eclectic edition variant readings that are judged to be better than the base text are put into the text itself. Due to its nature and philosophy, the HBCE presents the edited text along with extensive text-critical introduction and commentary. Only one volume in this series has appeared thus far. (Brotzman & Tully, 2016, pp. 63-64)
Codex Leningrad B 19A is the earliest complete manuscript of the Hebrew Scriptures (c. 1008 C.E.), which serves as a primary source for the recovery of details in the missing parts of the Aleppo Codex. The Aleppo Codex is an important Hebrew Masoretic manuscript from about 930 C.E. Codex Leningrad and the Aleppo Codex are the two most important Hebrew Old Testament manuscripts. These two Hebrew texts are the most significant manuscripts of the Old Testament to be discovered so far and as far as usefulness and significance. – Edward D. Andrews
The primary weight of external evidence generally goes to the original language manuscripts. The Codex Leningrad B 19A and the Aleppo Codex are almost always preferred. A represented reading from more than one version may be preferred to even a Codex Leningrad B 19A and the Aleppo Codex reading. The reason is that the odds are increased greatly against a reading being changed from the original in such a wide number of versions, especially if the Septuagint is in that number. The Septuagint continues to be very much important today and is used by textual scholars to help uncover copyists’ errors that might have crept into Hebrew manuscripts either intentionally or unintentionally. The account at Genesis 4:8 reads: “Cain said to Abel his brother. [‘Let us go out into the field.’] And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.” Edward D. Andrews
The clause “let us go over into the field” is not found in the Codex Leningrad B 19A and the Aleppo Codex, nor is it found in the QT Qumran Texts (Dead Sea Scrolls; Scroll 4Q2). However, the reading is included in older Septuagint manuscripts and in SP, SYR, and VG. What could have happened? On this question, the NET Bible offers a textual note that covers the two possibilities. “The MT has simply “and Cain said to Abel his brother,” omitting Cain’s words to Abel. It is possible that the elliptical text is original. Perhaps the author uses the technique of aposiopesis, “a sudden silence” to create tension. In the midst of the story the narrator suddenly rushes ahead to what happened in the field. It is more likely that the ancient versions (Smr, LXX, Vulgate, and Syriac), which include Cain’s words, “Let’s go out to the field,” preserve the original reading here. After writing אָחִיו (ʾakhiyv, “his brother”), a scribe’s eye may have jumped to the end of the form בַּשָׂדֶה (bassadeh, “to the field”) and accidentally omitted the quotation. This would be an error of virtual homoioteleuton. In older phases of the Hebrew script the sequence יו (yod-vav) on אָחִיו is graphically similar to the final ה (he) on בַּשָׂדֶה.” Edward D. Andrews
LXX: The Greek Septuagint
The Septuagint is the most important of the ancient versions because it is the earliest known translation of the OT and because it reflects more significant deviations from the MT than all other textual witnesses combined. 1 The name refers sometimes to the original translation of the OT into Greek and sometimes to the entire collection of later Greek translations and revisions that compose a distinct canonical shape. It is abbreviated LXX (for the seventy scholars who supposedly made the original translation of the Pentateuch) or G (for Greek). “At present, there are some 7,109 manuscripts of the Greek Septuagint.” (Andrews)
The Septuagint is one of our most important witnesses to the text of the OT for several reasons. First, unlike the Qumran scrolls, it is complete and contains the text of the entire OT. 34
Second, because the original Old Greek translation was made so early, it witnesses to a Hebrew source text before the standardization of the Hebrew tradition. Until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran, we could not be sure that the differences between the Septuagint and the MT really indicated variant readings rather than changes that arose in the transmission and translation of the Septuagint. We now know that many of the differences in the Septuagint were present in Hebrew texts of the Second Temple period. Tov writes, “When turning to the background of this situation, the assumption is unavoidable that the Hebrew scrolls used for the Greek translation were valuable, authoritative, and sometimes more ancient than [( proto-) MT].” 35 Therefore, the Septuagint is one of our most important witnesses to the text of the OT. It has a greater number of textual variants than all other translations put together. 36
Natalio Fernández Marcos argues that the Septuagint is so important that we dare not privilege the MT. He writes, “the Greek Bible contains genuine, textual and literary variants from the Hebrew to the extent that we have to respect both traditions [i.e., the Septuagint and the MT], without trying to reduce or adjust one to the other.” 37
Codex Vaticanus (B)
Codex Vaticanus is our most important witness to the text of the Greek Septuagint before the revisions. It is from the fourth century CE and contains the complete text of the OT.
Codex Sinaiticus (א)
Also, from the fourth century, Sinaiticus was discovered at St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. It contains parts of Genesis, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, 1 Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah, Esther, and most of the Prophets and Poetic books.
Codex Alexandrinus (A) This fifth-century codex is almost complete; it lacks some of 1 Samuel and the Psalms. It was originally from the library in Alexandria, from which it gets its name. Because it is a mixed text— some of it close to Vaticanus and some Hexaplaric— Ernst Würthwein urges caution when using it for textual criticism.
The best critical edition of the Septuagint is the Göttingen edition. This is an eclectic text that attempts to reconstruct the earliest form of the Septuagint translation. It also provides readings of the revisions and other edited forms in the Greek tradition. There are two apparatuses: the first contains readings from Greek texts such as uncials, papyri, and minuscules; the second apparatus contains other Greek versions such as the revisions, including the Hexapla. So far, twenty-three volumes of the series have appeared.
Knowing that the Göttingen edition would not be complete for the entire Bible for many years, Alfred Rahlfs had the foresight to publish an editio minor. This is a smaller edition which covers the entire text of the OT, but with a less complete critical apparatus. It is an eclectic text based on Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, and Alexandrinus, but it rarely departs from Vaticanus. Würthwein evaluates the text as reliable due to Rahlfs’s careful scholarship and good intuition, but the critical apparatus is inadequate, especially since it was published before the discovery of the Qumran scrolls. This edition was revised and improved by Robert Hanhart in 2006.
AT: Aramaic Targum(s)
The use of the targums for textual criticism is complex because of their paraphrastic and interpretive character. Although the basic translation might be quite literal, the many expansions and harmonizations make it difficult to reconstruct the Hebrew source text. In order to do this, we must evaluate the translation character of each targum and learn to distinguish between readings that are present in the underlying Hebrew and those that have been inserted by the translator in the service of his interpretive and theological agenda.
However, Tov argues that all of the targums reflect the medieval form of the MT anyway. As we mentioned above, by this time the MT was highly standardized. This means that even aside from the challenges of their expansive nature, the targums typically do not contain significant variant readings distinct from the MT.
SYR: Syriac Peshitta
Although the Peshitta is fairly literal in character, it is not as significant as the Septuagint for textual criticism because its Hebrew source text is quite similar to the MT. Because it was created in the first centuries of the Common Era, the Hebrew text was already becoming quite standardized at that time. Therefore, Tov groups the MT, Targums, Syriac Peshitta, and Vulgate in what he calls the “MT +” group.
However, the Peshitta does reflect more textual variants than the targums or the Vulgate. In addition, the Peshitta, like the Septuagint, frequently reflects a different vocalization tradition than the MT. It also frequently agrees with the Septuagint and targums against the MT. Sometimes these agreements are simply “polygenesis,” which means that the three versions were translated in the same way by coincidence, but in other cases agreements against the MT may be evidence that the versions are witnessing to an actual textual variant.
VG: Latin Vulgate
The Vulgate is important as a witness to the Hebrew text, but its importance is lessened by interference from the Old Latin throughout long periods and from the Septuagint. Even more significantly, because the Hebrew text was highly standardized by the fourth century, Jerome’s Hebrew source text was very similar to what would be the MT. This means that the Vulgate does not contain many important textual variants. It is important for the history of exegesis, especially when compared with Jerome’s commentaries on the Bible, but it is of limited value for textual criticism.
Other Ancient Versions The scope of this book precludes any detailed discussion of other ancient versions of the OT. Information about these versions— Coptic, Ethiopic, and Armenian— can be found in various sources. These are all “daughter” translations made from the Septuagint, and therefore they are only of indirect usefulness for establishing the text of the Hebrew Bible. The Arabic translation of Saadia Gaon (882– 942 CE) was based on the Hebrew text. It is the last of the ancient translations and the first medieval translation.
Translation and Textual Criticism
In the introduction to this chapter, we mentioned that the ancient translations of the Bible are significant because they witness to the state of the Hebrew text long before the Masoretes wrote their codices in the Middle Ages. As we have surveyed these different translations, we have noted that they each have their own textual history and character. In some cases, there were multiple translators for each version, each with their own idiosyncrasies and different approaches, working in different parts of the canon. We must understand the implications of these distinctives for textual criticism and think about how to overcome them if we are to avoid errors in identifying and weighing textual variants. – Brotzman, Ellis R.; Tully, Eric J. Old Testament Textual Criticism: A Practical Introduction. Baker Publishing Group.