The Committee’s Goal & Guiding Principles

This post provides some reading notes on chapter 2 of Dominique Barthélemy’s 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). Earlier posts provide notes on the Introduction and part 1, chapter 1.

Chapter 2 of part 1 overviews the committee’s understanding of the goal of textual criticism and the guiding principles with which they worked. Finally, Barthélemy surveys the committee’s understanding of how the Old Testament canon developed.

J. D. Michaelis had planned to gather a committee of scholars to assess all the textual difficulties in the Bible, but this plan was never brought to fruition. The Seven Years’ War intervened. In 1935 Paul Volz, who had recently done work on the text of Jeremiah, expressed the desire to carry Michaelis’ vision forward. World War II intervened. The need for a thorough study of textual variants in the Old Testament became even more pressing after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In 1969 the United Bible Societies successfully gathered a world-renown committee, and they began to meet annually for four week sessions.

The goal of textual criticism

In recent years, the goal of textual criticism has been a hot topic of debate. There is plenty of talk in print and at the annual meetings about theories of textual criticism so this comment from Barthélemy is especially interesting: “Rather than debating theoretical positions, they [the committee] deemed it more worthwhile to focus on the critical task itself, and only thereafter to analyze the methodological implications of their common work” (84).

The committee sought to reconstruct the earliest attested text, a text that might be dated to roughly 300 BC. They worked with the presupposition that they could “on the basis of extant textual witnesses recover that text type which lay behind all the ancient variations,” and according to Barthélemy, this belief rested “in part on the hypothesis that the various textual traditions had not begun to diverge until after their content had come to be recognized as sacred, or — to use a convenient phrase, albeit ambiguous — until after they had become canonical” (87). The earliest attested text is that phase in the literary development of a biblical book that marked “the end of its literary development and the beginning of its textual history” (88).

Exceptions to the rule

The committee recognized in the course of its work that Proverbs, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel were exceptions to the rule. In these cases, they decided to follow MT, wherever it differed from the OG at a literary level. They committee regarded textual emendation outside the bounds of textual criticism primarily because their goal was to recover “the earliest attested text” — the second phase of the text’s development. Contextual emendation aims at recovering a pristine original (1st phase) reading.

Guiding principles

Barthélemy summarizes 15 factors the committee turned to as causes of textual corruption. He also discusses the way in which the committee handled inner biblical reworkings of earlier material, euphemisms, tiqqune sopherim, kethiv-qere readings, and the weight given by the committee to other scribal marks. These principles guided the committee’s evaluation of over 5,000 variants:

  1. Narrow basis for a variant form of the text: If a variant occurs in only one textual tradition, this should be a red flag, but one must weigh the witnesses, not just count them.
  2. Deceptively broad basis fora variant form of the text tradition: One can have several witnesses to a reading, but all of them could be dependent on an early interpretation of an obscure textual difficulty.
  3. Dependence of a variety of text forms upon one earlier form: Sometimes several variant readings can be explained as various scribal responses to an obscure textual problem.
  4. Simplification of the text (easier reading): The tendency of scribes is to simply the text, not make it more difficult.
  5. Assimilation to parallel passages: Some variants arose because scribes or translators made the passage more clear or detailed based on similar biblical passages. In these cases, the unassimilated form is, presumably, earlier.
  6. Translational adjustments to the text: Some variants arise based on the linguistic requirements of languages into which the text was translated. This factor is important in assessing whether or not a variant is based on different Hebrew Vorlage.
  7. Interpretive modifications: Variants can be due to theological interpretation on the part of a translator.
  8. Misunderstanding of linguistic data: Variants can arise do to a scribe’s or translator’s misunderstanding of biblical grammar and lexicography.
  9. Misunderstanding of historical data: Knowledge of a text’s historical and cultural setting disappeared, and therefore a scribe adjusted the text to make it more clear.
  10. Accidental omission of similar letters, words, or sentences: For example, ד or י can be confused with ר or ו.
  11. Accidental repetition of identical sequences: Sometimes a word or phrase or letter is accidentally written twice.
  12. Other scribal errors: This is the catch-all-the-rest category.
  13. Conflated readings or doublets: Short explanatory notes — written in the margin or above or below the line — were sometimes incorporated into the text itself.
  14. Conjectural emendation doesn’t fit with the committee’s understanding of the goal of textual criticism.
  15. Later, corrupt readings are better than a conjectured forms.

The developing “canon”

Finally, Barthélemy lays out the perspective on the process of OT canonization with which the committee worked. A few key quotes:

As we will see, the direction and extent of dispersion of textual forms varies from book to book. It is remarkable that at Qumran, as in the Christian church before Origen, this pluralism within which the sacred books were read seems to have been accepted without difficulty (128).

We have had to conclude from this that the stable point which we had believed (with Kittel) could be fixed around 300 B.C. continues to elude our grasp. In that era, certain portions of the Joshua-Judges-Samuel-Kings corpus were already transmitted in several distinct textual forms, and these continued to undergo literary innovations of limited extent throughout their transmission in Hebrew … In fact, the mirage of a text that was stable and unified (because of its canonical function) before the intervention of the Greek translators vanished before the committee’s eyes (132).

It seems, finally, that the only fixed point in the history of the Hebrew text which can serve as a base of reference is represented by the standard edition of the consonantal text that was produced by the rabbis at the end of the first century A.D. … We can then regard the Tiberian MT — at least for the books it contains — as an essentially faithful witness to the Bible that Paul read at the feet of Gamaliel. Even if this Bible does not constitute the only form of the Christian Old Testament, it does at least represent a particularly venerable form of it (137).

That is why this report devotes so much space to the history of interpretation. Because recent commentaries and dictionaries too often show little interest in those difficult texts that they eliminate through correction, it was essential to take a fairly large inventory of the syntactic analyses and interpretations that the most conscientious early Jewish and Christian interpreters offered for these texts. We hope that a given syntactic comparison or an original Judeo-Arab interpretation (even though 1,000 years old) will occasionally be able to remind us that the situation of some of these texts is not as desperate as a lazy critic may claim in order to justify the proliferation or the mediocrity of his conjectures (138).

The Early History of OT Textual Criticism

This post provides some reading notes on chapter 1 of on Dominique Barthélemy’s 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).

An earlier post provides notes on the Introduction.

Chapter 1 surveys the history of OT textual criticism from its origin in the Early Middle Ages to J. D. Michaelis. Barthélemy states that most scholars know hardly anything about textual criticism prior to the advent of modern critical studies. The chapter is intended to fill this information gap.

The status of the vowel points in the 16th–17th centuries

Barthélemy begins by surveying the debates among sixteenth and seventeenth century scholars concerning the antiquity of the vowel points. Two works were at the center of the debate: Louis Cappel’s Arcanum and Critica Sacra, both of which argued against to J. Buxtorf’s Tiberias. Buxtorf argued that the accents preceded the Masoretes. In Aracanum Cappel argued that the Masorah was a highly composite work compiled over the centuries and the vowel points were a relatively recent addition. Concerning the validity of Cappel’s arguments, Barthélemy states, “They reveal a well-informed and quasi-prophetic understanding for his time of the progressive development of vocalization” (16). According to Cappel, the vowel points were not necessary to maintain a stable text.

Though Buxtorf read Cappel’s work, neither he nor anyone else responded to Cappel for nearly 20 years. After Buxtorf died, his son wrote a response to Cappel, but at this point Cappel’s arguments had won the day. Cappel further developed his approach to the text of the Old Testament, when in 1650 he published his Critica Sacra. Barthélemy writes, “This work definitively established the legitimacy and necessity of submitting the Hebrew test of the Old Testament to a criticism analogous to that used for any ancient secular literature.”

At the end of the seventeenth century critics were in agreement on two things:

1. The available Hebrew witnesses to the text of the Old Testament were remarkably unified.

2. If the autographs of the biblical books were accessible, these would have been considered normative (29).

Kennicott and de Rossi

The first conviction was tested and proven true by work of Benjamin Kennicott and Giovanni Bernardo de Rossi. Kennicott raised funds and organized a team of 315 people throughout Great Britain to collate hundreds of medieval Hebrew manuscripts. The project even gained financial support from King George III. The second and last volume was published in 1780. The methodology and execution of the work was criticized by J. D. Michaelis and many others, but all were, nonetheless, supportive of Kennicott’s massive endeavor.

De Rossi was a wealthy priest who was able to greatly enhance Kennicott’s collations, and unlike Kennicott, de Rossi did all of his additional collations himself. The final verdict on the work of Kennicott and de Rossi was less then sensational: The medieval manuscripts contain variants attributable almost exclusively to scribal error. The status of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament was not further developed until the work of Paul Kahle in the middle of the twentieth century.

… With regard to [MT] manuscripts, it is often stated that there are this many Kennicott manuscripts and that many de Rossi manuscripts, even though serious confusion exists regarding the identification of these manuscripts. What, in fact, was Kennicott’s work and what was de Rossi’s? It seems that much is obscure when one attempts to look back before the end of the eighteenth century outside of Germany (2).

Spinoza

The second conviction of seventeenth century critics was taken to task by the work of Spinoza. The stage was set by Thomas Hobbes and Isaac de La Peyrère. These authors demonstrated that portions of the Pentateuch showed signs of editorial activity that could not be attributed to Moses. Spinoza’s Tractatus developed this stream of thought into a systematic approach to biblical criticism. In order to properly interpret Scripture, one must first understand the Hebrew language and have a proper understanding of the situation in which each biblical book was originally written. Neither of these these are completely attainable therefore, according to Spinoza, the “author’s intention” concerning every detail is beyond our grasp. Spinoza believed that the big ideas concerning morality and salvation are plain enough in the text itself; the deficiency in our knowledge of Hebrew and the history of the biblical books only called into question “matters beyond normal comprehension, which can merely be imagined.”[1]

Spinoza was excommunicated and his views denounced, but his ideas were carried forward by Richard Simon. Simon took Spinoza’s questions seriously and attempted to write the literary history of the Old Testament Spinoza required. In 1678 Simon published Histoire Critique du Vieux Testament. Barthélemy Argues persuasively that Richard Simon was dependent on Spinoza in the first nine chapters of his Histoire Critique, the portion that proved to be foundational for the development of higher criticism. Simon deliberately concealed his dependence on Spinoza because  he wanted to avoid being criticized simply for his work’s association with Spinoza (60–62).

Spinoza’s argument that the Old Testament as we have it is not equal to the autographs made a lasting impact.  Simon argued that Jesus’ and the apostles’ interpretation of the Old Testament was in line with Jewish hermeneutics. Barthélemy notes that Simon “had no idea that pesharim of Qumran would one day provide us with re-readings in an eschatological vein which clearly predated our own era” (74).

Simon considered a prophet “any person appointed by the leaders of the ‘Hebrew Republic’ who carries out a redactional role with regard to the sacred books and who, because of that, possesses an inspired authority which enables him to fulfill it…” (75). He called them “public scribes.” Because these public scribes were inspired, it is a waste of time to search for the “authors” of each book. Regarding the Pentateuch, Simon considered Moses the author, but he recognized that changes and additions had been made to the book after the time of Moses. The historical books are summaries and compilations of ancient memoirs. The people who compiled these memoirs sometimes left in their composite products discrepancies found in their sources. They left these discrepancies because they were insignificant — for example discrepancies in the lists found in Nehemiah 7 and Ezra 2 (78). This perspective opens the door for Jean Astruc and the development of source and redaction criticism.

The “final form”

The only valid response to Spinoza’s sharp criticism is the one which Simon’s hermeneutic contributes to orienting prophecy … Spinoza, in fact, made the possibility or impossibility of interpreting prophecy authentically entirely dependent upon our capacity or incapacity to reconstitute the contents of the prophet’s thought, and to identify the circumstances and hearers  of his word. For Simon, none of that was of any importance … The most important thing is to be able to arrive at the second meaning principally intended by the prophetic Spirit, beyond the historical meaning which criticism helps to determine … Thus the contemporaries of the fulfillment as opposed to those of the prophet, find themselves in a privileged position for interpreting the prophecies. It is clear that this revolution had important consequences for the textual criticism of the Old Testament. The textual form which must serve as a point of reference is not the one constituted by ‘the autographs of Moses and the Prophets,’ but is constituted rather by the state of divinely guided maturation in which the books of Scripture are found at the time of the fulfillment, that is, at the time when the Messiah reveals himself in order to renew all things (80–81).

  1. 57, taken from Barthélemy’s quotation of Spinoza’s Tractatus in his Complete Works pp. 465–467.  

Overview of the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project

This post is some reading notes on the introductory essay in Dominique Barthélemy’s 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).

‘Warning’ or ‘Turning’ in Isaiah 8.11

This text-critical problem has been my hobby horse for a while now. I’ve posted on the problem before, but since then I have changed my mind and completely reworked my paper as a critique of the solution offered by the Comité pour l’analyse textuelle de l’Ancien Testament hébru. I presented this last semester in the Isaiah seminar at SBTS, and I am posting it here for feedback. Though I have revised and rewritten the paper several times, it is still technically under construction. So whether you agree or disagree, your comments are welcome.
You can access the paper here. Below, I’ve included a portion of my introduction and conclusion without the footnotes:

In 1969 the United Bible Society launched the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project (HOTTP). As an aid to their translators, six scholars were commissioned to analyze roughly 5,000 of the most significant text critical problems in the Hebrew Bible. Dominique Barthélemy drafted the committee’s “final report” in his magisterial four-volume Critique textuelle de l’Ancien Testament. This paper is a critique of the committee’s report on וְיִסְּרֵנִי in Isaiah 8:11. The Masoretic Text reads as follows:

כִּי כֹה אָמַר יְהוָה אֵלַי כְּחֶזְקַת הַיָּד וְיִסְּרֵנִי מִלֶּכֶת בְּדֶרֶךְ הָעָם־הַזֶּה לֵאמֹר

The HOTTP committee proposed repointing the form as a hiphil wayyiqtol from סור (“and he turned me”). Barthélemy concludes as follows: “The reading וַיְסִירֵנִי, read here by Symmachus, appeared preferable to the committee, as holding an intermediate position between that of MT and those of 1Q-a and G…”

I propose, against Barthélemy, that MT’s וְיִסְּרֵנִי is the more original reading—a qalwəyiqtol 3ms of יסר, “to warn, instruct”… Reading ויסרני as a form of יסר allows one to better explain how the alternative readings might have arisen, and the form וְיִסְּרֵנִי, a qal wəyiqtol, can be translated in the context of Isaiah 8:11 in a way that fits with the conventions of Classical Hebrew syntax.

J. D. Michaelis on Kennicott’s Work

This is from J.D. Michaelis’s review of Benjamin Kennicott’s second dissertation:

Contrary to the custom of the English, he even informed himself on the writings of the Germans. And what is more astounding, he even quotes German works fairly often.

Lord, help us lowly English speakers.

This quote is taken from Barthélemy’s Studies in the Text of the Old Testament (pg. 40), a must read. But if any of you around Louisville recall this book from the library at SBTS, I will be very angry.

Related Post: James Sanders on the Legacy of Dominique Barthélemy

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.