Posts Tagged ‘Textual Criticism’

Ellis Brotzman’s short introduction to Old Testament Textual Criticism lives up to its title. The book provides a glimpse into different areas which the textual critic would be concerned with while providing the intermediate student the tools and the “how-to” of the field. His thesis is:

This book is written with those bewildered students in mind. It aims to help them understand the textual transmission of the Hebrew text and, even more, to actually involve them in the critical study of the Old Testament text.

The book is broken up into eight chapters an introduction and a conclusion. Chapters 1-4 introduce the reader to the writing, history, and texts of the Old Testament. Chapters 5-8 show the reader how to use the methods of textual criticism to discover the “best” text. Each chapter except for 8 is about the same length.


Chapter 1 deals with the type of writing used in the ancient Near East tracing the development of writing from the non-Semitic language of Sumerian to the Phoenician alphabet which ancient Hebrew used. Chapter 2 talks about the transmission of the Old Testament from its close at the end of Micah through the period of the printing press. In this chapter he discusses important issues like continuous writing (which he says the scribes did not practice), the consonantal text and the addition of vowels, the tendencies and traditions of the Masoretic scribes, and the main extant Hebrew texts of the Old Testament (not including the DSS). Chapter 3 is an excellent introduction to the different versions, how they developed, and their value to the textual critical enterprise. He discusses the different Targums, the Septuagint and Old Latin, the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Vulgate. Chapter 4 contains Brotzman’s discussion on the Dead Sea Scrolls. He notes the different types of scrolls (biblical and non-biblical) and their value to textual criticism.

The remaining chapters focus on the task of textual criticism. In other words, where should we start and how should we do it? Chapter 5 is a brief introduction to BHS. He simplifies the complex notations and presentation of information in BHS by through the use of a nice two-page graphic – a copy of two pages from the BHS text with a diagram overlaid on top of it. He describes the purposes of the different margins, explains how BHS presents textual critical information, and gives some of the meanings of the major abbreviations found in BHS. Chapter 6 describes scribal textual errors in three categories: material defects, unintentional, and intentional changes noting that the second category is the culprit for the most number of errors. Chapter 7 lays out the theory behind the practice of textual criticism.  The three principles he provides are: determining which reading best explains the rise of the others, identifying the more difficult reading, and identifying the shortest reading. Chapter 8 is the longest of the book. He steps through all the textual notes in the BHS on Ruth briefly describing the type of error and which reading is the best one. Have your BHS handy for this chapter. Finally, he concludes with a short summary and steps forward for the intermediate and advanced students.

This book is a fine introduction for one who is not familiar with some or any of the areas his book discusses with maybe an exception to his chapter on ancient writing. I think that he could have strengthen the chapter by providing a little more information to explain the development of the ancient Near Eastern languages and how that directly affects textual criticism of the Old Testament. The chapter seemed like a defense of a position (Moses was in fact literate) rather than contributing to the overall thesis. I was a little confused how that chapter fit in with the rest of the book.

His chapters on the texts and versions are excellent, and his guidelines and classification of errors are extremely helpful. I thought his chapter on the versions was his best. Personally, the chapter helped me chart the development of the different ancient translations of the Old Testament. The chapter on the layout of the BHS filled gaps in my knowledge of the masorah parva the masorah magna. His chapter on Ruth introduces the reader to the complexity of some of the textual errors that the reader will encounter in the Old Testament and very appropriate given his overall purpose in providing a practical introduction to Old Testament textual criticism.

I’m glad he wrote a separate chapter on the DSS. His conclusion in that chapter is worthy of a quote:

The finds at Qumran have provided actual manuscripts with which the text critic can work. The great majority support the Masoretic Text, but there are also manuscripts that support the readings of the Septuagint and Samaritan Pentateuch, as well as others that are not aligned with any previously known text type. It is fair to say that the Qumran finds have revolutionized the field of textual criticism. (96)

The chapter rightly draws attention to the significance of the Qumran texts especially as it relates to the field of textual criticism although it could have been a little more in depth. I know that the Qumran texts largely confirm the antiquity of the MT, but how does the presence of other non-MT aligned manuscripts impact textual criticism? I would like to know more concretely how the Qumran finds “revolutionized” the field of textual criticism as well.

I also think he could have explained better the concept of what the “original” or “acceptable” or “best” text of the Old Testament is. He only really dealt with the subject on a page in the introduction. Given the scope the work, I understand why he did not go into a full discussion on the topic, but I am still confused as to what his definition of “original” is.

I love that he goes through each textual note in Ruth. I think his brief commentary is one of the most helpful parts of the book. One can see how everything comes together in the practical application of everything Brotzman had been saying in the previous chapters.

Ultimately, I do recommend this book as an introduction. I think it provides the reader a grammar to enter into some of the difficult discussions of texts and translations and lays the foundation for the student to do textual critical work on his or her own. The book purports itself as a practical introduction, and it does not fail to be less than that.


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After struggling with my own conscience the last few days  over whether or not the Biblia Hebraica Quinta (BHQ) module was worth a $112 investment, I was finally able to convince myself to buy the module for Accordance (my wife will not confirm this story). BHQ contains a more robust listing of the textual critical notes than its predecessor BHS.  For those of you whose eyes just glazed over, just know that in antiquity, many different texts witness to the “original” Old Testament. BHQ compiles many of the known witnesses and lists the differences in the margin and provides a commentary on why the editors prefer one witness over another.

I needed to find a good variant to test. I flipped over to Deuteronomy 32:8 where in the Masoretic Text, it reads:

When the Most High causes the nations to inherit
When he separated the sons of Adam (or Man)
He caused the borders of the people to stand
According to the number of the sons of Israel

In other texts, the same verse reads:

When the Most High causes the nations to inherit
When he separated the sons of Adam (or Man)
He caused the borders of the people to stand
According to the number of the sons of God (also angels of God, sons of the gods, heavenly court)

The former reading is attested in the Masortetic Text and the latter reading is attested in the Old Greek (Septuagint) and Dead Sea Scrolls. Some English translations chose the latter reading (ESV, NRSV, NET, and commentators such as Alter and McConville). Many of the English translations that I read (JPS, KJV, NIV, HCSB, NASB) opted for “sons of Israel.” Which is it?

BHQ prefers the “Sons of God” reading. They explain:

That v. 8 represents a deliberate emendation for theological motives is reasonably certain (McCarthy, Tiqqune Sopherim, 211–14). Even more interesting is the series of subsequent corrections to which [the Masoretic Text] was subjected as a consequence of an emended v. 8, showing that the phenomenon of theological corrections was not something that happened in a half-hearted way. It required more than the convictions of an isolated scribe to have effected five further interrelated changes (Gen 46:20, 21, 22, 27; Exod 1:5).

They are, of course, hinting that the scribe(s) who changed the text from Sons of God(s) to Sons of Israel did so because they were strict monotheists. The correlation of the “Sons of Israel” to the nations in this passage is that both groups are 70 in number. In Genesis 10, 70 nations are listed. In Gen 46:2-27 and Exodus 1:5, 70 “sons of Israel” are listed.

I also think we can list one more theological motivation for the change. Angels are not the only beings referred to as “sons of God;” Israel is as well: “You are the sons of the Lord your God” (Deut 14:1). The scribe may have read “sons of God”  as “sons of Israel” and decided to change the text to reflect that interpretation (thus insulating the text from a polytheistic reading as well). The editor of the NET Bible explains:

“Sons of God” is undoubtedly the original reading; the [Masoretic Text] and [Septuagint] have each interpreted it differently. The [Masoretic Text] assumes that the expression “sons of God” refers to Israel (cf. Hos 1:10), while [the Septuagint] has assumed the phrase refers to the angelic heavenly assembly (Pss 29:1, 89:6, cf. as well Ps 82).

I agree with the NET. Sons of God was probably the “original” reading and best explains both the Old Greek and Masoretic variants. How, then, should we understand “sons of God?”  Alter points to an earlier stage in the development of Israel’s monotheism where YHWH is “surrounded by a celestial entourage of divine beings or lesser deities.” I doubt that the Deuteromistic author would consciously advocate such a view (see Deut 32:17-29). On the other hand, McConville and Tigay both understand “sons of God” to refer to angelic divine council. This concept has great evidence for it as attested to by Pss 29:1, 89:6, 82, and Job 1. The text is, therefore, pointing out God’s specific love for Israel over the other nations. He assigned angels to other nations while YHWH himself is over Israel.

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