James Sanders on the Legacy of Dominique Barthélemy

Eisenbrauns recently published an English translation of Dominique Barthélemy’s introductions to the first three volumes of Critique textuelle de l’Ancien Testament, the final report of the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project (HOTTP). James Sanders wrote the introduction to the new English translations, in which he provides a brief history of the HOTTP. If you have ever referenced the committee’s preliminary or final report, you have no doubt been impressed by extensive treatment of each text-critical problem. Sanders recounts how Barthélemy uniquely impacted the committee’s work.

Barthélemy, especially, helped us realize that many problems in the text had been neutralized or sterilized, so to speak, by the text being too quickly declared unintelligible or corrupt and hastily supplied with a solution from later versions (which also had had to solve the same problem), or by conjecture… (xviii)

What can be said about the impetus for Barthélemy’s unique contribution?

Barthélemy immersed himself in the Judaeo-Arabic commentaries of Yefet ben Ely, Daniel al-Qumisi, Saadya Gaon, David Z. Lichaa, and Salmon ben Yeruham… Probing such rarely used sources, the team was able to address the full history of the text where problems occur and in doing so found that many texts that had been thought unintelligible or corrupt were actually examples of the intricacies of Hebrew grammar and syntax long since forgotten… It was Barthelemy’s findings in the pre-critical literature that were basically new to modern textual criticism. Barthélemy had gathered in his study at Fribourg microfilms of published and unpublished treatises on the whole of the Tanak from the medieval period up to the eighteenth century. (xviii-xix, xxiv)

Sanders speaks as one who was a part of the committee from the beginning, working alongside Barthélemy.

I often marveled when I visited him in Fribourg at the sheer vastness and thoroughness of the collection… It became clear that the medieval exegetes’ knowledge of Hebrew grammar and syntax derived from their thorough acquaintance with Arabic grammar and syntax and was superior to modern grammars of Hebrew, which are largely based on the structure of classical languages. (xxiv)

He brings the essay to an end with these words of praise,

This volume is the legacy of the rare genius and exceptional humanity of one of the greatest scholars of the text of the Hebrew Bible who ever existed, Jean-Dominique Barthélemy, who himself died, after thirty-four years at Fribourg, February 10, 2002. (xxvii)

Many thanks to Eisenbrauns and the translators who have made Barthélemy’s work more widely accessible.