Eclecticism: a final thought

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 find 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?


Eclecticism: an additional thought

I knew my position on eclecticism (and the way I articulated it) was provocative. But I had received some excellent feedback during the process from trusted readers (at least one of whom is writing a HBCE volume — by the way, why is the list of contributors not freely available?), so besides being confident that I was representing the HBCE project and presenting the problems with eclectic texts fairly, I was hoping that the essay (which will take various forms in more than one publication) would engender thoughtful reflection.

But the negative assessment of this post surprised me (even after it was edited to remove some of the more egregious language). Initially I considered responding to the points seriatim, but I waited and slept on it (some wisdom does come with age) and concluded that it wasn’t a wise use of my time, since the post reflects a knee-jerk reaction, not a substantive engagement with my ideas. (And only later, with a little searching, did I discover that the author had written an MA thesis on the feasibility of eclectic editions of the Hebrew Bible, so in hindsight his reaction is not surprising.) I would ask other readers to step outside their well worn paths of thought and engage with the principles of my essay.

I do, however, want to point out one element in the critical blog post that is worth considering: the attitude of superiority that I’ve seen among some text critics, that the text critic is a “special sort of person.” It is presumptuous and arrogant to imply that “advanced competence in 5-10 ancient languages” makes such a scholar any more philologically rigorous or sophisticated than one who has achieved expertise in 1, 2, or 4 languages. It is also dangerously false to assume that learning numerous languages entails methodological and theoretical sophistication. Finally, “linguistically competent” is such a fuzzy phrase, it should be avoided. The blogger’s use can only refer to being able to “access” ancient languages (at some varying level of competence). He cannot (accurately, at least) be referring to the education it requires to engage the field of linguistics and carry out informed linguistic analysis.

Given that my essay began life as one section in an article about James Barr’s legacy, I think it fitting to conclude with a few a propos thoughts from his Comparative Philology [note that I have inserted “biblical” for “Semitic” in every case below]:

Our arguments here have some effect on priorities in education for biblical scholarship. The strong influence of comparative philological method may have produced an unfortunate overemphasis on comparative study in the training of students. The prestige and fashionableness of the philological approach often cause students to study a larger number of [biblical] languages than they can master. These languages are not mastered properly and all the effort does not lead to a thorough knowledge of the texts. … To observe this, unfortunately, is not enough to put a stop to the tendency. The intellectual prestige of the philological approach is reinforced by the apparent social prestige of linguistic polymathy. It continues to be widely supposed that study of a large number of [biblical] languages is the gateway to competence in biblical studies.

… In spite of our debt to comparative philology, Hebrew does remain a teachable subject in its own right; and, while the student must now always be aware of the contributions of cognate languages, he will, unless he is ready to study these languages thoroughly, be best employed not in gaining a smattering of them but in learning how to evaluate, in relation to his Hebrew knowledge, the suggestions made on the basis of them. This means that eventually adequate modes of communication and co-operation have to be built up between two kinds of scholar: (a) those who really know the cognate languages or some of them (can any now really know them all?) and ( b) those who only assimilate this knowledge within their own grasp of Hebrew. But we can at least do something to depreciate the false prestige which has attached to the polyglot ideal, and rebuild the picture of the Hebraist. The polyglot ideal, we may remind ourselves, by no means obtains in the Indo-European field; no one supposes that to appreciate Greek literature one must study all the Indo-European languages. (1968: 295-296, 298, emphases added)

Barr is here typically acerbic. And while his point was aimed at what he saw as the undue emphasis on comparative Semitic education in Hebrew studies, I obviously think the principles apply to all language study associated with biblical studies. Knowing one thing well is preferable to knowing many things moderately. And even knowing many things well does not mark a particular scholar as someone better or “more special” than those who have chosen to focus their time and skills elsewhere, such as in the equally complex task of reconstructing ancient Israelite history, or the bewildering complex world of archaeology, with its ever increasing technological sophistication. Regardless the number of languages or non-language research tools learnt, the point should always be the methodological rigor, the theoretical sophistication, and the consistent application of logic.

Note that I do not think that this criticism applies to those whose works (and persons) I have personally encountered, such as Michael Fox, whose Proverbs HBCE volume I have unfortunately criticized (I wish other volumes had been released!). It has not been my experience that Michael, for instance, ever considered himself superior to scholars working along different intellectual paths, such as historians of ancient Israel,  BH linguists, or literary critics. He simply set out do perform the highest level of scholarship with the tools he already had or those he committed himself to add to his arsenal. May Michael’s sense of humour and humility, combined with a commitment to the best possible scholarship, be an example to us all.

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.

Eclecticism and the Hebrew Bible: A Critical Edition (HBCE) project, Part 3

A continuation of the first and second posts.

Part 3: Specific Objections, Part A
Beyond the principled objection to it given above, a more practical objection against the project is the lack of any theoretically-oriented linguists involved. The enterprise of fully reconstructing a text (beyond “simple” scribal errors, however we define these) certainly requires a deep knowledge of the available artifactual evidence and the plausible histories of transmission. Yet it is also a fundamentally linguistic endeavor and therefore requires a high sensitivity to the likely linguistic changes that may lie behind textual changes that are more than merely slips of the pen.1 Two brief examples out of Fox’s HBCE volume will suffice to illustrate the linguist’s concerns about decisions made by non-linguists.

The first example is one that Fox highlights in the introduction to his HBCE volume: the status of את הרשׁע in the MT of Prov 5:22, provided in (1).

(1) Prov 5:22: עַֽווֹנוֹתָ֗יו יִלְכְּדֻנ֥וֹ אֶת־הָרָשָׁ֑ע וּבְחַבְלֵ֥י חַ֝טָּאת֗וֹ יִתָּמֵֽךְ׃

Fox notes that the phrase את הרשׁע in the first half of 5:22 is not represented in the Septuagint (G) or Peshitta (S) and is “not integrated into the Hebrew syntax” (5). He considers the phrase therefore to be “an epexegetical gloss clarifying the object of ילכדנו” and as such “is not really necessary” (123; see also Fox 2009: 204-5). In response, the linguist would note that, strictly speaking, many types of modification in language are “not really necessary.” But the desire for perspicuity in the use of language for the communication of ideas leads to a great deal of “unnecessary” clarification. The goal of clarification lies behind the use of any nonrestrictive relative clause or appositive, both of which are abundantly attested in the Bible. Indeed, apposition is the syntax behind the “synonymous parallelism” that lies at the heart of Hebrew poetic style: taking the idea of one line and reformulating in a second line in order to clarify the desired proposition or image (see Holmstedt f.c.).

Therefore, while Fox is accurate in identifying את הרשׁע as a phrase used to clarify the object attached to the verb in ילכדנו, to say that it is not syntactically integrated is simply mistaken. What occurs in Prov 5:22a is what is called in traditional grammatical descriptions “prolepsis” of the object (see, e.g., Rendsburg 1990: 125-32; Joüon and Muraoka 2006: §146e) and what would be analyzed in linguistic terms as either as apposition with a pronominal anchor or right-dislocation (see Holmstedt 2014 on right-dislocation; see Holmstedt and Jones 2017 on apposition).2 To bypass the technical linguistic details, the basic communicative result for either analysis is to clarify and/or highlight the precise referent (הרשׁע) of the anchor (the 3ms pronoun attached to the verb in ילכדנו). Interestingly, Fox notes this very syntax, though with the pronoun attached to a noun, in Prov 13:4a:

(2) מִתְאַוָּ֣ה וָ֭אַיִן נַפְשׁ֣וֹ עָצֵ֑ל
‘craving (but nothing!) is his appetite, the sluggard’ (Prov. 13:4a)

In his Anchor Bible commentary on Proverbs 10-31, Fox notes the syntax of the “anticipatory suffix” as support against emending נפשׁו to נפשׁ, i.e., omitting the pronoun (2009: 562). The obvious question, apart from any Septuagint evidence is, Why is the syntax acceptable in 13:4a and not in 5:22a? And perhaps the lack of את הרשׁע in 5:22 of the Septuagint should receive a similar explanation as Fox gives for the lack of נפשׁו in 13:4 in the Septuagint, Vulgate, Peshitta, and Symmachus: “Since there is no good explanation for the loss of this word, it was probably present in their source texts (contrary to BHQ) but considered as adequately implied by the notion of desiring. The difficulty of the syntax may have motivated this approach” (207).
The second example I will discuss concerns Prov 3:24, given in (3):

(3) Prov 3:24
MT (L): אִם־תִּשְׁכַּ֥ב לֹֽא־תִפְחָ֑ד וְ֝שָׁכַבְתָּ֗ וְֽעָרְבָ֥ה שְׁנָתֶֽךָ׃
LXX (G): ἐὰν γὰρ κάθῃ, ἄφοβος ἔσῃ, ἐὰν δὲ καθεύδῃς, ἡδέως ὑπνώσεις·

The issue seems straightforward: Fox emends תִּשְׁכַּ֥ב to תֵּשֵׁ֥ב, based on the Septuagint’s κάθῃ and the Syro-Hexapla’s ܬܬܒ. Fox argues that the MT’s תשׁכב resulted from the scribal error of “near dittog[raphy] ב → ‎כב‎” (103; also Fox 2000: 162-63). To support this change, he argues that the use of ישׁב in the first half “fits into a sequence of actions that represent the totality of a day’s activities: walking (3:23), sitting down (3:24a), going to sleep (3:24b).” Fox also asserts that the MT’s use of שׁכב “in both stichoi is pointlessly repetitious.” This example is highlighted by Hendel, who suggests that the supposed dittography is “motivated by the scribe’s anticipation of the verb in the second half of the verse” (2016: 156); Hendel also suggests that the result in the MT yields a “banal parallelism.”

In the fourth and final post, I will wrap up my criticism of eclecticism.

1. Holmstedt 2013 for an illustration of this with regard to a הוּא‎ and הִיא‎ variation in the witnesses to Lev 1:17 and 25:33
2. Prov 5:22 is listed among the examples of the “anticipatory pronominal suffix” in Rendsburg 1990: 125-32.

Posted in Ancient Hebrew, Hebrew Bible, Linguistics (theory or typology), Text Criticism. Tags: , , . Comments Off on Eclecticism and the Hebrew Bible: A Critical Edition (HBCE) project, Part 3

Eclecticism and the Hebrew Bible: A Critical Edition (HBCE) project, part 2

A continuation of the first post.

Part 2: General Objections to Eclecticism

If Hendel effectively counters the objections to an eclectic Hebrew text, why would (or should) anyone continue to oppose it? The Hebrew linguist must dwell on two nagging problems. First, a reconstructed text is not a historical artifact.1 Fox is admirably candid about this:

I wish to be clear that the text I have produced, however successful, never had physical existence. It is a construct. It can be defined as the proto-M as it should have been, the text the authors and editors wanted us to read. (2015: 5, italics in original)

And yet, Fox’s clear expertise in Hebrew and the book of Proverbs notwithstanding, his Book of Proverbs “construct” does not constitute a primary historical or linguistic source. It is a modern text with a modern author, Michael Fox. But evidence localized in a historical artifact—primary source data—is precisely what a linguist depends on. The judgment of certain linguistic items in the historical artifacts to be ill-formed, due to some vagary of the scribal process, should certainly indicated in critical editions of texts; but for the linguist studying the language data, whether for synchronic or diachronic purposes, reconstructed items are unusable. Furthermore, reconstructions placed in the text actually obscure the historical data and, due to the need to identify and set them aside, become time-consuming obstacles to linguistic analysis.2

In the third post, I will continue with specific objections.


1. Tov 2014: 378, n. 13; also note Brooke 2013: 13 in reference to eclectic editions of the New Testament.

2. It is also worth noting that, Hendel’s many comments notwithstanding, in textual criticism outside biblical studies, the pendulum is swinging (or has swung) away from producing eclectic critical editions. Indeed, in the recent words of one of my non-biblical studies colleagues, the notion of producing an eclectic text is “barbaric.”

Posted in Ancient Hebrew, Hebrew Bible, Linguistics (theory or typology), Text Criticism. Tags: , , . Comments Off on Eclecticism and the Hebrew Bible: A Critical Edition (HBCE) project, part 2

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

I recently finished an essay for a volume celebrating the legacy of James Barr. In my essay I decided to address two issues that felt directly related to some of Barr’s better known published work: 1) the troubled relationship between linguistics and philology in Biblical Hebrew studies (see here for a background to the “trouble”) and 2) the rise of an eclectic text edition for the Hebrew Bible.

I suspect that most readers will consider the former topic to make some sense for me to address, while the latter topic makes very little. I have never claimed to be a text critic. And yet, I do continue to teach and carry out research on the Hebrew Bible, so it has been an issue bouncing around the hollows of my head for some time. Moreover, I have had to face the issues of diplomatic-vs-eclectic text more directly with my research into Ge’ez and the Abba Garima Gospels. So it was a good opportunity to sort my thoughts out conquering the Hebrew Bible: A Critical Edition (HBCE) project.

In this and 3 subsequent posts (2, 3, 4), I will present my case against eclecticism from the perspective of a linguist.

Part 1: Background

In contrast to almost all other subfields in biblical studies—whether concerning the New Testament, the Septuagint, the Peshitta, or even the Ethiopic Bible—the modern study of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament has begun with scholarly editions that are diplomatic in nature. That is, the text presented is that of a single historical witness with any variants or critical notes placed in marginal apparatuses. Previous to 1937 and the publication of the third edition of Rudolf Kittel’s Biblica Hebraica (BH3), printed editions of the Hebrew Bible used the second Rabbinic Bible, which had been the textus receptus almost since Daniel Bomberg printed it between 1524 and 1525 (Tov 2011: 70-73, 341-46; Brotzman and Tully 2016: 129-47). In the third edition (BH3), fourth edition (BH4, 1983), also known as Biblica Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS), and the most recent edition, Biblica Hebraica Quinta (BHQ, 2004-), which is still in-progress, the text presented was that of the Leningrad Codex (AD 1008). The Hebrew University Bible Project (HUBP, 1955-) is the other major text edition and has been in progress since 1955, with only three volumes so far published (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel); the HUBP uses the once complete but now damaged Aleppo Codex (AD 925) as its base text.1
Though such an endeavor is standard in many other biblical studies subfields, an eclectic text of the Hebrew Bible—an edition in which the text is a reconstruction aimed at presenting some earlier historical stage of the text—is a concept that has never gained serious traction. As Williamson summarizes,

In these cases [of the Greek New Testament, Septuagint, etc.] it has long been standard practice for the editor to gather all the evidence available to him or her, such as different manuscripts, citations in other works and so on, and then to produce what he or she regards as the probable original form of the text—a process which may well also include some conjectural emendation of passages which are deemed to be corrupt but for which no reading has survived that seems to give a satisfactory solution. The apparatus in such an edition documents the evidence from all the available sources while the printed text does not represent any one of those sources in its entirety. What is more, in the case of classical texts, it is far from unknown for the editor to incorporate decisions about later editorial activity and so to omit sections which are deemed not to derive from the original author. The result is known as an eclectic text, whereas in the case of the standard Hebrew Bible editions it is known as a diplomatic text. (2009: 157)

Though there have been previous experiments with an eclectic Hebrew text (Tov 2006: 291), the seeds of the latest push for an eclectic Hebrew text were sown in Hendel 1998, which presents a reconstructed text for Genesis 1-11 and seems to have been an early proof of concept for the Oxford Hebrew Bible (Hendel 2008), later renamed the Hebrew Bible: A Critical Edition (HBCE). In this new eclectic edition, the first volume, on Proverbs, has been published (Fox 2015) as has a thorough description and apology for the project (Hendel 2016). Hendel’s apologia is particularly necessary in the face of incisive criticisms the project has faced (see, e.g., Tov 2000, 2006, 2011, 2014, Williamson 2009, Brooke 2013). Hendel summarizes the raison d’être of an eclectic edition succinctly: “if an eclectic edition is done well, it approximates a particular manuscript, the archetype, though it also reaches behind the archetype when it detects and corrects its scribal errors. An eclectic edition aims at the earliest inferable textual state of a book, which is an empirical and justifiable goal” (2016: 50).

There are numerous principles or details of practice concerning the actual HBCE project, and they are critiqued ably by Tov, Williamson, Brooke, among others. Examples of these run from large questions about what the aimed-at “archetype” actually is and about whether any set of analytical criteria can raise such a project above the charges of subjectivity to arguably smaller (and more easily adjusted) questions about the project’s use of the Leningrad Codex as its base text and the employment of features specific to the Masoretic tradition, such as vowel pointing and cantillation accents, when the goal of the “earliest inferable textual state” of any biblical book presumably predates the Masoretic features by centuries (Williamson 2009: 164). In his prolix apologia,2 Hendel (2016) directly addresses each objection and anticipates others, effectively clearing the way for an eclectic text project. Moreover, the two strongest points in favor of Hendel’s position have, in my opinion, largely avoided challenge. First, as Hendel rightly notes, “from a historical perspective it is more correct to regard the manuscripts as eclectic and the critical text as an attempt to reverse the eclectic agglomeration of primary and secondary readings” (Hendel 1998: 115). This certainly seems to be the case for the Leningrad Codex, which Goshen-Gottstein calls “a none-too-successful effort to adapt a manuscript of a different Tiberian subgroup to a Ben Asher Codex” (1979: 150).

The second point in favor of an eclectic edition is that in practice eclecticism already dominates the field. Almost all modern critical commentaries reconstruct some text behind the Leningrad Codex and present a translation based on that reconstruction (cf. Williamson 2009: 158, n. 10); similarly, as Tov (2000) notes, most modern translations reflect an eclectic approach to the Hebrew text. Thus, eclecticism, whether recognized or not, is the widespread modus operandi in Old Testament studies (Hendel 2016: 20).

In the next post, I will turn to my deep concerns about the project.

1. According to most accounts, the Aleppo Codex was damaged in a fire due to anti-Jewish riots over the creation of the State of Israel in 1947. However, Friedman has recently questioned the fire story, asserting that the evidence supports a mostly complete codex leaving Aleppo (Friedman 2012). Regardless when and how the current form of the codex was established, the result was the loss of most of the beginning and ending of the codex, including the Pentateuch, small portions of 2 Kings, Jeremiah, Minor Prophets, Chronicles, and Psalms, and most of Song of Songs, Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah (Goshen-Gottstein 1979: 149).

2. I confess to seeing little relevance in Hendel devoting an entire chapter (chapter 10) to Frank Moore Cross or to the mostly pretentious essay (chapter 12) on the “untimeliness” of philology.

Biblical Hebrew Diachrony (continued)

Both Ian Young and Robert Rezetko, the two primary authors ofLinguistic Dating of Biblical Texts (Equinox, 2008), have taken time to respond to our post on Biblical Hebrew diachrony. Because Rezekto’s comment (here), in particular, is so long, it became obvious that a response within the comment section was inadvisable. Thus, we decided to summarize Rezetko’s comment here and respond seriatim.

Perhaps we should explain why we summarized his comment and did not simply reproduce it in toto. First, a practical issue is the length, especially when our responses were inserted. Second, we thought the activity of identifying the salient points (fairly, of course, even if at times with a certain snarkiness) would benefit both us and you, the readers. We (the 4 participants in this discussion) are all academics, and it seems inherent to academic training that concision sometimes gives way to wordiness with the purpose of bombarding one’s conversation partner into submission. Indeed, we are not exempt from this temptation. The danger, of course, is that so much is said, with so much nuance, that the propositional content is decreased to a disturbing point. This is wonderfully illustrated by everyone’s favourite science-fiction writer, Isaac Asimov, in the first book of his Foundation series:

“When Holk, after two days of steady work, succeeded, in eliminating meaningless statements, vague gibberish, useless qualifications—in short, all the goo and dribble—he found he had nothing left. Everything canceled out. Lord Dorwin, gentlemen, in five days of discussion didn’t say one damned thing, and he said it so you never noticed.” (Foundation, p. 71)

So, we hope our summaries below are both fair (to the content) and clear. If not, I’m sure we’ll hear about it in the comment section!

Now, be aware that Robert, Ian, we two (JAC and RDH) get along personally and have discussed these issues in person without coming to blows, name-calling, or the hurtling of large, pointed projectiles. However, we pull few punches in our assessment of each others’ arguments because we consider these issues important. And while we are perfectly willing to have our arguments criticized, dismantled, cut in into pieces, and thrown into someone’s circular file, and we agree with Robert’s call to avoid name-calling and contumely, we are disturbed to find certain of his remarks out of keeping with his urging, such as asserting that we have “misread,” “misreported” and even “mislead” others to “erroneous thoughts” about his and Ian’s ideas. If a scholar’s ideas do not stand up to scrutiny or are widely misunderstood, to shift the blame and assert that others have misunderstood is simply to avoid taking scholarly responsibility to construct clear and convincing arguments.

In the end, whatever the next generation of Hebraists decides about the outcome of the current debates about BH diachrony, we hope that our papers and perhaps even this blog exchange help to clarify the issues, methodological necessities, and analysis of data, and so move the discussion profitably forward.

Read the rest of this entry »