One more issue has been bouncing around in my head, though I didn’t work it into my essay. Though I’ve been in academic biblical studies for nearly 30 years, I have long wondered about the real purpose of eclectic texts.
First, from a religious perspective, the only reason for reconstructing some previous version of the text is if a community’s doctrine of Scripture places the authority in the “autographs”. But for those communities that consider tradition authoritative, there is really no religious motivation for finding an earlier layer, since it would deny the authority of the development. So does all this effort derive from serving the conservative Protestant community?
Second, from an academic historical perspective, producing an eclectic text boils down to an interesting intellectual exercise. But what more? Only the most arrogant would present their reconstructions are sure (and these I would run from the fastest). For the rest of us, eclectic texts present few research uses. I’ve already made the linguist’s argument. And the historian’s argument would differ only in a few particulars. And even then, the thought of a responsible historian using an eclectic text is a horror.
I think of a student’s accepted JBL article on the use of בית ישׂראל in Ezekiel. He notes that the 11 occurrences of the slightly different phrase בני ישׂראל in Ezekiel are typically understood to be the product of later redaction. Now, if this is accurate, it helps the historian reconstruct the development of ideas in the reception and transmission of the Book of Ezekiel. But if, in the pursuit of some earlier stage of the text of Ezekiel, a text critic were to deem these insertions late enough to not be part of the “the earliest inferable textual state of a book” (Hendel 2016: 50) and so omit them in the reconstructed text, because they are, in fact, later “convolutions” to the text (and especially if an eclectic text were removed from the extensive commentary), then the historian using said reconstructed text is at risk of missing important historical information.
And to anticipate the refrain that all reconstructions will be clearly marked, if text critics cannot trust the non-specialist to avoid naivete with regard to the historical sources, then they certainly can’t be trusted to note the in-text markings of reconstructions and look down or around for the critical notes. Consider the horrible ways that BHK and BHS have been used by students and scholars alike! If the users are dumb, they’re dumb regardless of the tool. We should simply have higher expectations for scholarly work. I deplore dumbing things down. I, for one, refuse to have any text critic treat me like a dumb user.
So, to bring it back around: aside from being an interesting intellectual exercise (such things can indeed be justified), what other point does a reconstructed “text edition” serve?