Eclecticism and the Hebrew Bible: A Critical Edition (HBCE) project, Part 4

The final installment to the first, second, and third posts on this topic.


Part 4: Specific Objections, Part Two (and a Conclusion)
Unfortunately, Fox’s HBCE commentary leaves unaddressed at least two significant questions that arise about how the decision to emend was reached. First, the poetic judgment against repetition is not justified (by either Fox or Hendel). Two poetic lines in Proverbs often have overlapping or even identical items; for instance, verbs identical in root if not also inflection, are used in enough cases to establish it as acceptable poetic style (see, for example, see Prov 8:5 [הָבִינוּ//הָבינוּ‎], 11:7 [תֹּאבַד//אָבְדָה‎]‎, 11:16 [תִּתְמֹךְ//יִתְמְכוּ]‎, 18:20 [תִּשְׂבַּע//יִשְׂבָּע)]). If we added examples of other parts of speech as well as the other poetic corpora, it would become clear that ancient Hebrew poets were not so averse to what modern scholars may consider to be “pointless” or “banal” repetition between poetic line pairs (on the essentially “repetitive” syntax and semantics of poetic line relations, see Holmstedt f.c).

The second question raised by Fox’s choice to emend is whether an error of dittography is really suggested by the Septuagint’s κάθῃ. A brief survey of the Greek evidence in Proverbs will illustrate the issue. Throughout the Septuagint, the Hebrew שׁכב is overwhelmingly rendered by Greek κοιμάομαι (middle of κοιμάω) ‘to fall asleep, go or lie abed’. But this Greek verb is used only once in Proverbs, in 4:16, where the MT does not have שׁכב but כשׁל.FN1 Thus, there is already a departure by the Greek Proverbs translator from patterns established outside Proverbs. Moreover, of the eight times that שׁכב is used in Proverbs, the Septuagint translates with an interesting variety of terms: κάθῃ (> κάθημαι ‘to sit, sit down, sit quiet, lie’) in 3:24a for תִּשְׁכַּ֥ב; καθεύδῃς (> καθεύδω ‘to lie down to sleep’) in 3:24b for וְשָׁכַבְתָּ֗; κατάκεισαι (> κατάκειμαι ‘to lie down’) in 6:9 for תִּשְׁכָּ֑ב; καθεύδῃς (> καθεύδω ‘to lie down to sleep’) in 6:22 for the infinitive in ‏בְּֽשָׁכְבְּךָ; κατακείσῃ (> κατάκειμαι ‘to lie down’) in 23:34a for שֹׁכֵ֣ב; and for the forms of שׁכב in 6:10, 23:34b, and 24:33, the Septuagint offers no gloss and appears to render the text quite differently.2 Concerning the proposed change to ישׁב, the Greek translator is more consistent: in all but one of its occurrences κάθημαι renders ישׁב (with the sole exception outside Proverbs: the use of a form of κάθημαι to translate the participle רֹכֵ֨ב in Isa 19:1).

To what end does this brief study bring us? Fox himself characterizes the translation technique of the Greek Proverbs translator as “flexible” and he favorably quotes Peter Gentry’s assessment that “The problem of the relationship between LXX and MT Proverbs is notorious and vexing” (2015: 36). Fox is certain that the Septuagint Proverbs reflects a different edition of Proverbs than the Masoretic edition and avers that, “[s]ometimes [the Septuagint translator] maps his source closely, sometimes paraphrases, sometimes expands the quantitative representation of Hebrew words, sometimes reduces it, and sometimes just guesses at meaning” (40). He goes on to say that the lack of an isomorphic translation at one place simply illustrates “the kinds of things the translator can do.” In light of both the general character of the Septuagint Provers, as described by Fox, and the variety of glosses given to Hebrew שׁכב in Proverbs, it becomes clear that the case of תשׁכב in 3:24 is not nearly as simple as Fox (and Hendel) suggest. On the one hand, the poetically acceptable use of repetition of verbal roots in associated poetic lines and, and other hand, the reasonable possibility that the Greek translator paraphrased the תשׁכב (perhaps due to the same impulse that motivated Fox’s emendation, to see a sequence of actions) or the translator used a Hebrew text that had תשׁב (which also may have reflected an inner Hebrew change from תשׁכב for the impulse already mention) together suggest that that the Septuagintal evidence does not strongly support emendation.

The point of these two examples is that decisions to emend must reflect a deep sophistication that is often beyond the time and abilities of a single scholar (as I have admitted for myself in handling the Septuagint). For 5:22, any statement about the “syntactic integration” (or lack thereof) must be grounded in both a thorough knowledge of Hebrew grammar and an awareness of how the Versions, especially the non-Semitic Septuagint, deals with acceptable but uncommon Hebrew syntax. Fox’s own argument for the similar syntax of Prov 13:4 and the omission by the Greek of נפשׁו provides a reasonable argument for keeping the את הרשׁע of MT 5:22a. For Prov 3:24, we have seen that the Greek does not present a rigid profile for rendering the Hebrew שׁכב and the juxtaposition of poetic lines with the same root or form is not uncommon in Hebrew poetic style. Thus, two other options are linguistically just as likely as Fox’s choice to emend: the Greek translator may have rendered תִּשְׁכַּ֥ב with a minority but semantically acceptable choice, or a copyist wrote תשׁב for תשׁכב by accidentally skipping the כ (haplography).

This discussion is in no way meant to detract from the scholarship of Michael Fox, who was one of my mentors. Rather, the problems I have noted in the first volume of HBCE, produced by a scholar of high repute, who has spent an entire career working on Proverbs, suggest that if such a text-critical project is even feasible the volumes cannot be accomplished by individuals. In the absence of the kind of extraordinary skill set rarely found among scholars in our age of compartmentalization, a highly reconstructive project requires a text-critical and linguistic partnership for each volume, with both kinds of scholars in continuous conversation as they reconstruct the philological text and linguistic text.

Scholarly partnerships aside, in light of a reconstructed text’s (lack of) linguistic value, a text critical project like the HBCE should always and only be considered a commentary series, never a text edition. Such an eclectic text (or better, in Fox’s words, a “construct”) should never be used as a classroom text or for exegetical scholarship. It has no historical reality and, as such, has no direct value for historical or linguistic research. Unfortunately, since Fox’s Proverbs text is printed a second time at the back of the volume—apart from the commentary— it appears that eventually creating a separate, stand-alone volume of the reconstructed texts is precisely what is intended. But hiving off the text part of the commentary for an eclectic text edition would undermine Hendel’s statement that the “decisions and analyses will then be available for discussion, refinement, and refutation—the normal process of scholarship” (2016:16). Divorcing the final product apart from the commentary would not only gut the reconstructed text of any pedagogical value, it would cast a darkly elitist shadow over Hendel’s argument that the HBCE project will protecting those “who may be innocent of the discipline of textual criticism,” that is, “those least qualified, ” from making “important text-critical judgments” (ibid).

1. Fox (2015:111) suggests that either “a copyist duplicated ישׁנו from 4:16a” which the Septuagint translator rendered differently in 16b for the sake of variety (16a renders ישׁנו by ὑπνώσωσιν]), or a scribe accidentally flipped the שׁכ to כשׁ (metathesis), which the Greek translator then, presumably, read as שׁכב (how the ל of כשׁל was read as a ב in שׁכב is not explained).

2. Strangely, Fox does not discuss the Septuagint’s omission of לִשְׁכָּֽב in 6:10 (130-131) or 24:33 (330-31). And he describes the lack of a gloss for כְשֹׁכֵ֗ב in 23:34b as “semantically superfluous” (319).


Works Cited

Brooke, George J.
2013 The Qumran Scrolls and the Demise of the Distinction between Higher and Lower Criticism. Pp. 1-17 in Reading the Dead Sea Scrolls: Essays in Method, EJL 39; Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature.

Brotzman, Ellis R. and Eric J. Tully
2016 Old Testament Textual Criticism: A Practical Introduction. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Fox, Michael V.
2000 Proverbs 1-9: A New Translations with Introduction and Commentary. AB 18A. New York: Doubleday.
2009 Proverbs 10-31: A New Translations with Introduction and Commentary. AB 18B. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
2015 Proverbs: An Eclectic Edition with Introduction and Textual Commentary. HBCE 1. Atlanta, GA: SBL Press.

Friedman, Matti
2012 The Aleppo Codex: A True Story of Obsession, Faith, and the Pursuit of an Ancient Bible. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books.

Goshen-Gottstein, Moshe H.
1979 The Aleppo Codex and the Rise of the Massoretic Bible Text. BA 42 (3): 145–63.

Hendel, Ronald S.
1998 The Text of Genesis 1-11: Textual Studies and Critical Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
2008 The Oxford Hebrew Bible: Prologue to a New Critical Edition. VT 58: 324-351.
2016 Steps to a New Edition of the Hebrew Bible. Text Critical Studies 10. Atlanta, GA: SBL Press.

Holmstedt, Robert D.
2013 The Nexus between Text Criticism and Linguistics: A Case Study from Leviticus. JBL 132 (3): 473-94.
f.c. Biblical Hebrew: and the Appositive Style: ‘Parallelism’, requiescat in pace. To appear in Vetus Testamentum

Holmstedt, Robert D. and Andrew R. Jones
2017 Apposition in Biblical Hebrew—Its Structure and Function.” KUSATU 22: 21-51

Tov, Emanuel
2000 The Textual Basis of Modern Translations of the Hebrew Bible: The Argument against Eclecticism. Textus 20: 193 – 211. (Revised version, Pp. 92-106 in E. Tov, Hebrew Bible, Greek Bible, and Qumran: Collected Essays; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008)
2006 Hebrew Scripture Editions: Philosophy and Praxis. Pp. 281-312 in From 4QMMT to Resurrection: Mélanges qumraniens en hommage à Émile Puech; ed. F. García Martínez et al.; STDJ 61; Leiden: Brill. (Revised version, Pp. 247-70 E. Tov, Hebrew Bible, Greek Bible, and Qumran: Collected Essays; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008)
2011 Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible. 3rd ed., revised and expanded. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress.
2014 New Editions of the Hebrew Scriptures: A Response. HeBAI 3: 375 – 383.

Williamson, Hugh G.M.
2009 Do We Need A New Bible? Reflections on the Proposed Oxford Hebrew Bible. Biblica 90: 153-175.

2 Responses to “Eclecticism and the Hebrew Bible: A Critical Edition (HBCE) project, Part 4”

  1. bobmacdonald Says:

    You mention above someone using the term isomorphic in relationship to a translation. This mathematical term indicates for me a correspondence between two sets that is both 1:1 and onto. I.e. there are the same number of terms in each set and they have exact non-overlapping mappings to each other. When it comes to languages, especially human languages, isomorphic is too strong a word. I have found (I am now 85% through the Hebrew Bible reading visually in Hebrew and writing in English), that a small portion of the Hebrew stems can be mapped 1:1. Many must be 1:n, and several must be m:n. I have tried to avoid using many English stems for 1 Hebrew stem. It is impossible for language elements like prepositions and conjunctions. And for many common human actions, like come, go, walk, bring and so on, insisting on 1:1 is so stilted as to be useless. I have not measured my data yet, but I know all the exceptions I have used (within the limits of my English parsing algorithms).

    Thank you for your clear introduction to the search for an Eclectic text.

    • robertholmstedt Says:

      You’re most welcome. It’s always interesting when my linguistic work takes me in strange directions.
      In strict terms, I completely agree with you. But terms are used variously, and “isomorphic” is a term that at least some use in translation studies; Fox uses “mimetic”. Both are born out of a desire to avoid using the widely misused and inaccurate label “literal” for translation.

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