The Nexus between Text Criticism and Linguistics: The Case of Leviticus 1:17

At the end of May I will deliver a paper on this topic at the annual meeting of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies. The paper is finished, although I have it out to a couple trusted readers. When I feel it is complete, I will post it on the blog and note it here.

Below is my summary of the paper.  I welcome your thoughts, especially those of you more text-critically inclined, since I do not claim to be a text critic as such.


1. Introduction

There is an uncomfortable truth that linguists of ancient languages admit only rarely and even then with some reticence (and usually in a dark, empty room): we are, plain and simple, dependent on the paleographer, the epigrapher, and … (dare I admit it?), the text critic. For without those scholars who concern themselves with the decipherment of scripts, the first reading of texts, and the reconstruction of textual histories, the linguist would have nothing to analyze.

The difficulty of facing this truth is manifested in the modus operandi of ancient Hebrew linguists: rarely do scholars of biblical Hebrew question the wholesale acceptance of using the Masoretic text, dating to 1008 C.E., as representative of the linguistic system(s) of ancient Hebrew from 1500 years prior. They use the text of the standard printed critical edition, the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia – or its electronic form from some computer program, without qualification, without reckoning with complex textual history represented by the data.

Ancient Hebrew linguists do not always seem to have learned the lessons taught by the Qumran texts, that while some scribes were quite passive transmitters, other scribes expanded, rearranged, and clarified the materials they were transmitting. It is thus clear that ancient language linguists rely on those scholars who investigate the features of an ancient text’s scribal history (using scribal here to refer to author and/or copyist). It is equally clear that, while we need not become experts in textual criticism ourselves, we must understand the issues involved.

Conversely, everything I have said indicates that if the linguist must be aware of text, the text critic must be aware of the linguistic systems. For if the scribe updates a text based on his native grammar and that grammar differs, in large or small ways, from the grammar of the text being copied, the text critic must also be aware of the diachronic changes in linguistic systems in order to understand properly the diachronic changes in the text. It is from this perspective, what a text critic may learn from a linguist, that I shall consider the case of a pronoun variant in Lev 1:17.

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