L425 Biblical Textual Criticism: The Old Testament

ASSIGNMENT: Read Wurthwein in its entirety.

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew (and some small portion in Aramaic).

As it was copied and recopied over the decades and centuries it was inevitable that differences between the various copies would arise. The goal of textual criticism is to remove these errors and restore the original reading. The following examples will demonstrate the kinds of errors that have arisen. In all of the following examples the student will need to have their Hebrew Bible with them in order to look at the textual notes at the bottom of the page on which the passage is found.

1. Errors of sight

a. confusion of similar letters; Is 28:20; Is 9:8; Is 30:33; Isa 42:25; Is 5:29; 2 Kings 20:4; Is 33:1.

b. transposition of letters; Is 9:18; Is 32:19.

c. haplography (leaving out a letter or word); Is 5:8; Is 8:11; Is 26:3f;

Is 38:11.

d. dittography (repeating a letter or word); Is 30:30; Is 38:20.

e. Omission by homoioteleuton (leaving off words which have similar endings);

Is 4:5f; Is 16:8f.

f. errors of joining and dividing words; Amos 6:12; Is 2:20.

Besides these errors of sight there are also intentional errors. These deliberate alterations were made for grammatical as well as theological reasons. Some of the most famous of these deliberate alterations are the "Tiqqune Sopherim", the alterations of the scribes. These changes were made for purely theological reasons, and some of them are:

Gen 18:22, Num 11:15, 12:12, I Sam 3:13, 2 Sam 16:12, 20:1, I Kings 12:16, 2 Chr 10:16, Jer 2:11, Ezek 8:17, Hos 4:7, Hab 1:12, Zech 2:12, Mal 1:13, Ps 106:20, Job 7:20, 32:3, and Lam 3:20.

So what steps are necessary in order to reconstruct the original reading?

1. The Hebrew (Masoretic) Text must be read.

2. The versions must be consulted.

3. The evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls must be examined, and given preference unless the reading is simply impossible.

4. The manuscripts must be weighed, not counted.

If the versions must be consulted in a study of the Old Testament text, then we must know what these versions are:

1. The Samaritan Pentateuch. This is a version of the Old Testament

Pentateuch which must be used cautiously. It tends to be periphrastic and thus is not necessarily a help in determining the original text.

2. The Septuagint. This is a translation of the Old Testament in Greek and is worthy of special consideration. It represents a text type which is centuries older than the Masoretic text. Yet at certain places it also tends to be expansionistic. That is, it tends to add to the text portions which it hopes will be explanatory (as it does in Esther and Daniel, as well as in Jeremiah).

3. The Aramaic Targums. This version of the Old Testament is interesting to consult, but not a reliable guide to the original text, as it is simply an expansionistic paraphrase of the Hebrew text.

4. The Syriac Version. Very similar to the Aramaic targum.

5. The Old Latin. This version is good and very helpful in reconstructing the text.

6. The Vulgate. Jerome's translation of the Old Testament; it is also very useful in reconstructing the text as it existed in the 4th century A.D.

7. The Dead Sea Scrolls. Though these texts are clearly not translations of the Old Testament (as they are also in Hebrew and Aramaic), these texts represent a type 1000 years older than the Masoretic text.

Using all of these tools the student examines them together and using his or her best judgment decides which text best represents the original reading. Though this may sound quite hazardous, those trained in textual criticism are quite capable of making these judgments. (The present student must recall that this course is simply an introduction to text criticism and not a course on Text criticism in all its glory).