Brian W. Davidson

teacher @highlandslatin,

PhD candidate @sbts,

research expert @sbtslibrary

Overview of the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project

This post is some reading notes on the introductory essay in Dominique Barthélemy, Studies in the Text of the Old Testament: An Introduction to the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, trans. Stephen Pisano et al., Textual Criticism and the Translator 3 (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2012). The volume opens with an essay from James Sanders introducing Dominique Barthélemy and the work of the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project (HOTTP). Sanders highlights how Barthélemy’s Devanciers paved the way for a new understanding of the history of the Hebrew Bible (Les devanciers d’Aquila: première publication intégrale du texte des fragments du Dodécaprophéton trouvés dans le désert de Juda [Leiden: Brill, 1963]). According to Barthélemy the text developed in four stages:

  1. The early literary forms of various blocks of texts in the hands of editors and schools before they became community texts; oral or written literary products as close as possible to those originally produced
  2. The rather fluid pre-Masoretic texts evidenced in the Qumran biblical scrolls and in the LXX; the earliest form or forms of text which can be determined by the application of techniuques of textual analysis to existing textual evidence
  3. The proto-Masoretic text evidenced in the Hebrew texts from Murabbaʿat, Masada and elsewhere (than Qumran) and in the second-century Greek translations (Aquila and Theodotion; cf. Symmachus and the Vulgate); the consonantal text as authorized by Jewish scholars shortly after AD 70
  4. The Masoretic Text (MT) of the tenth and eleventh centuries (the classical, Tiberian codices). (xvi, 87)

Eugene Nida, of the United Bible Society (UBS), formed the HOTTP to provide translators with “the most critically responsible text” (xxiii). Sanders explains that in the mid-twentieth century the most recent Western translations varied widely in how they handled text-critical problems. These translations were often consulted by UBS translators in the field; the variations in the Western translations were, therefore, unsystematically influencing the translations sponsored by the Bible society. Furthermore, the field had yet to thoroughly and systematically assess the text critical impact of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Sanders explains that the committee often debated the period into which a certain reading should be assigned. For the purposes of determining the “most critically responsible text,” however, “the crucial point was that we needed to find the juncture at which literary activity had basically ceased, indeed the point at which the history of the formation of a text ceased and the history of transmission of that text began. The two overlapped in some cases, as we have noted, but the distinction was important” (xxiii).

John A. Thompson, of the American Bible Society, provided a list of the passages most difficult for UBS translators. Eugene Nida invited six scholars to work on the project:

  • Hans-Peter Rüger (Tübingen) provided the committee with the readings of the ancient witnesses for each textual problem
  • James Sanders provided all of the readings from the Judaean Desert Scrolls
  • Norbert Lohfink (Frankfort) would research and report on modern critical studies for each passage
  • Barthélemy researched the history of interpretation up to the modern critical period
  • A. R. Hulst (Ultrecht) and W. D. McHardy (Oxford) “brought their long experience in the work of translation to the discussions” (xxiv).

The committee met annually and considered, in total, almost 6,000 of the most difficult Old Testament text critical problems. Sanders writes, “It was Barthélemy’s findings in the pre-critical literature that were basically new to modern textual criticism … 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). During the course of their study, the committee “came to realize that ancient tridents, both scribes and translators, were less prone to ‘scribal errors’ than the field had thought, precisely because in the early history of transmission of the text there was more freedom than scholarship had realized to alter the text slightly to make it understandable to the communities the ancient tridents served. These then were not ‘errors’ in the usual sense but purposeful changes done in service to the communities that accepted the text as ‘canonical’ or authoritative” (xxv).

The Early History of OT Textual Criticism

Discourse Commentaries by Steve Runge