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.


Workshop on Biblical Hebrew Linguistics and Philology

If you’re in Jerusalem at the end of June, you’re welcome to register and attend.


Below is the poster. What a line-up of presentations!

Biblical Languages at the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies, eh?

For those interested in biblical languages, visiting Regina in late May ‒ or both ‒ this is for you!

At the 2018 CSBS/SCÉB Annual Meeting, to be held May 26-28, 2018, at the University of Regina, Regina, SK (that’s Saskatchewan, not South Kentucky, for those of you who’ve forgotten your northern geography), there will be a special session devoted to biblical languages. Depending on the number of accepted proposals, this may result in one or two meeting slots. If you love Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, Latin, Armenian, Ge’ez, or any other primary language critical to biblical studies, consider submitting a proposal. The papers should be focused on language, but need not be formally linguistic (i.e., theoretical) in nature. The call for proposals is below:

Biblical Languages and Linguistics

A special session devoted to biblical languages and linguistics has been approved for the 2018 and 2019 annual meetings of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies. Proposals concerning any ancient language relating to the biblical texts and/or ancient Versions, from Hebrew and Greek to Syriac and Ge‘ez, are welcomed. Preference is for papers that focus on some feature of grammar as it relates to the interpretation of biblical texts. Comparison of specific features of language traditions (e.g., some Syriac grammatical phenomenon in the Peshitta compared to the Hebrew or Greek of the Vorlage) is also encouraged. Please submit 250-word abstracts by January 8, 2018 to Robert Holmstedt

The Lord’s Prayer kerfuffle, from a Hebraist’s perspective

Pope Francis has a gift for generating news, even over the nuttiest things. I’m not a big fan (even though I’m Catholic), but I do recognize the genius of his media strategy (assuming it’s a strategy).

His latest news-making comment was an offhand remark about translating the Lord’s Prayer / Our Father, specifically the line “Lead us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13). He apparently suggested that, since a father doesn’t lead his children into temptation, nor would God; rather, this is what Satan does. (See here and follow the youtube link for the interview with Pope Francis).

Now, apart from the theological fireworks this engendered (see here or here for basically intelligent discussions, or here for a less intelligent conversation, or google it and read until you drop), it has also raised questions about translation. One might think that this is interesting, but in fact the lack of grammatical thinking about the issues has made it a largely misguided discussion.

But not to fear, a grammarian is here!

The Greek in question is this: μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν, in which the verb εἰσφέρω “to bring in” is inflected as a 2nd person singular aorist active subjunctive. But let’s forget this Indo-European language and consider what the Hebrew or Aramaic prayer would have looked like and what that could have meant.

Though I think it entirely plausible that Jesus and disciples spoke Hebrew or perhaps Aramaic, rather than starting with a reconstruction, it’s easier and philologically more defensible to begin with an attested text, in this case the Syriac Peshitta. The relevant text is below:

ܘܠܳܐ ܬ݁ܰܥܠܰܢ ܠܢܶܣܝܽܘܢܳܐ

In the Syriac, the verb used is ܥܠܠ or in square script, עלל, which is functionally equivalent to Hebrew בוא. The form of the verb is a 2ms imperfect in the Aphel, with a 1cp attached pronoun as the object (like Hebrew Hiphil jussive אַל תְּבִיאֵנוּ or in the imperfect לֹא תְּבִיאֶנּוּ), hence “do not cause us to enter” or “do not bring us in” and the following PP is “to trial” or “to testing” (or even, if you really prefer, “to temptation”). So this seems pretty straightforward, no?

No. In Syriac, as in Hebrew, the causative formation can have a modal nuance that indicates permission or toleration; thus, the connotation could also be “do not allow us to enter” or “do not permit us to enter”. And I strongly suspect the Greek can tolerate the same range of nuances (pun intended).

And so Pope Francis’ wild and hairy suggestion may have some real (Semitic) traction. Whether or not Jesus intended this permissive nuance or the more straightforward nuance is almost beside the point (as it often is, really); the absence of any grammatical nuance in the plethora comments about Pope Francis’ suggestion is the real point — why doesn’t anyone study grammar deeply anymore? This whole non-issue has been painful to read about.

As a final thought, concerning the theology of God inducing temptation, what about putting that damnable tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden and then proscribing its juicy fruit? Seems kind of temptation-inducing, doesn’t it? But oops, that’s just the text getting in the way of theology again.


Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew sessions at SBL 2017

For those of you looking for sessions to attend, the Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew unit has plenty going on this weekend, including joint sessions with National Association of Professors of Hebrew, Qumran, and Philology in Hebrew Studies.

S19-127 Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew; National Association of Professors of Hebrew
Joint Session With: Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew, National Association of Professors of Hebrew
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: 304 (Third Level) – Hynes Convention Center (HCC)
Theme: Historical Linguistics of Biblical Hebrew
Papers will be read and discussed. Everyone is welcome.
Cynthia Miller-Naude, University of the Free State, Presiding
Eric S. Fredrickson, Harvard University
Starting Assumptions in Diachronic Method (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Nili Samet, Bar-Ilan University
The Linguistic and Textual History of the Biblical Root hbq (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Jun Sato, Toronto School of Theology, University of Toronto
Grammaticalization of the Qatil Verbs in Biblical Hebrew (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Kevin Grasso, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Yiqtol as an Irrealis-Imperfective Form (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Jarod Jacobs, Warner Pacific College
Adding Up the Numbers: A Statistical Visualization of the Linguistic Relationship Between Biblical Hebrew and Qumran Hebrew (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)

S19-230 Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Grand Ballroom EF (Fourth Level) – Marriott Copley Place
Theme: Theoretical Approaches to Anaphors and Pronouns in Biblical Hebrew
All papers will be read and discussed. Everyone is welcome.
Jacobus A. Naude, University of the Free State, Presiding
Vincent DeCaen, University of Toronto
Generalizing Asymmetric Coordination with Anaphoric Pronoun (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Matthew Anstey, Charles Sturt University
A Construction Grammar Account of Anaphora in Biblical Hebrew (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Lénart de Regt, United Bible Societies
Anaphoric Accessibility in Biblical Hebrew Narrative: Global and Local Participant Tracking Across Clause Boundaries (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Tshokolo Johannes Makutoane, University of the Free State
The Contribution of Linguistic Typology for the Study of Biblical Hebrew in Africa: The Case of Pronouns in Sesotho (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Mary L. Conway, McMaster Divinity College
Narrative Appraisal as a Linguistic Approach to Evaluation in Text: The Case of Pronouns (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Elitzur Bar-Asher Siegal, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Interrogatives as indefinite pronouns in Biblical Hebrew (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)

S19-328 – Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: 304 (Third Level) – Hynes Convention Center (HCC)
Papers will be read and discussed. Everyone is welcome.
John Cook, Asbury Theological Seminary, Presiding
Adina Moshavi, Bar-Ilan University
Biblical Dialogue in the Light of Conversation Analysis: An Analysis of Responses to Yes-No Questions (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Yoo-ki Kim, Seoul Women’s University
Responses to polar questions in Biblical Hebrew (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Phillip S. Marshall, Houston Baptist University
Pardon the Interruption: Interruptive Quotative Frames in Biblical Hebrew (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Richard W. Medina, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
On the Usage of YHDW, YHD, and BYHD in Biblical Hebrew and Qumran Hebrew (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Femke Siebesma-Mannens, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
HLK with Prepositional Phrases in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Tanakh (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Ellen van Wolde, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen
Niphal anew (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)

S20-337 – Philology in Hebrew Studies; Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew
Joint Session With: Philology in Hebrew Studies, Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: 103 (Plaza Level) – Hynes Convention Center (HCC)
Theme: The Relationship between Linguistics and Philology for the Analysis of Biblical Hebrew
Tania Notarius, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Presiding
Jacobus A. Naude, University of the Free State and Cynthia Miller-Naude, University of the Free State
Linguistics and Philology – Separate, Overlapping or Subordinate/Superordinate Disciplines? (25 min)
Jacqueline Vayntrub, Brandeis University
The Relationship between Linguistics and Philology: A Response to Jacobus Naude and Cynthia Miller-Naude (10 min)
Jeremy Hutton, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Philology as Exchange Floor (25 min)
John A. Cook, Asbury Theological Seminary
The Relationship between Linguistics and Philology: A Response to Jeremy Hutton (10 min)
Discussion (5 min)
H. H. Hardy II, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
The Archaeology and Genealogy of Grammar: liqra’t as a Test Case (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Martin Ehrensvärd, University of Copenhagen
Counting AND Weighing: On the Role of Intuition in Philology and Linguistics (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Benjamin Kantor, Cambridge University
Quality over Quantity: Modern Linguistic Studies on Cross Language Speech Perception/Production and the Greek Transcriptions of the Second Column (Secunda) of Origen’s Hexapla (20 min)
Discussion (5 min)

S21-130 Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew; Qumran
Joint Session With: Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew, Qumran
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: 311 (Third Level) – Hynes Convention Center (HCC)
Theme: Biblical Hebrew Linguistics and Qumran Hebrew
All papers will be read and discussed.
Adina Moshavi, Bar-Ilan University, Presiding
Ken M. Penner, Saint Francis Xavier University
The Distinctiveness of Qumran Hebrew (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Eric Reymond, Yale Divinity School
Different Dialects in the Dead Sea Scrolls? (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Noam Mizrahi, Tel Aviv University
Qumran Hebrew in the Light of Historical Syntax (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Johan de Joode, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven and Pierre Van Hecke, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
Is Orthography Style? The Classification Problem of the Dead Sea Scrolls from a Computational Stylistic Perspective (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)
Aaron D. Hornkohl, University of Cambridge
The Book of the Twelve in Masoretic, Judean Desert, and Other Sources: A Case Study on Linguistic Stability and Change (25 min)
Discussion (5 min)

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RBL and hiding its reviews behind its paywall — not good

Readers who are not SBL members should note that I was asked in short order to remove the link to the PDF of Frank Polak’s review of my book in my previous post. I have done so, and have edited the post by quoting from the review. Since I am interacting with and criticizing the review, but only a small part of it (one paragraph out of twelve on one page out of five, and the one paragraph I quote is out of four critical paragraphs), and this work interacts with my own work, my use certainly falls under the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law.

But to the larger point: why are RBL reviews now hidden behind a paywall?!

When this happened (last year?), I briefly noted to myself that it was a bad move, but I did not stop to consider the ramifications at length. Of course, now I’ve been encouraged to think through it, and I’m not pleased at all. In my opinion, reviews of SBL members’ books or reviews written by SBL members should be made freely available to the public. Certainly some part of the ever-rising dues of SBL should support this as an outreach dimension of the society.

These reviews are NOT published by a journal from a publisher without a membership — SBL’s membership is significant and our dues are not trivial. Moreover, are the reviewers not volunteer? Is the editorial board not also volunteer? Are the books not provided free of charge to RBL for the purposes of the reviews? Quite different than monographs and even peer-reviewed articles, reviews are nothing if not a service to the discipline and its public image and as such should be as widely available as possible.

Take a look at SBL’s mission statement: It seems to me that hiding RBL reviews behind a paywall runs counter to the 3rd and 4th goals.

This move, and the clearly aggressive monitoring of the subscription-only material, does nothing to serve the advancement of biblical studies in the general public. Quite the opposite, it takes the useful summaries (of well-written reviews, like Frank Polak’s, that is) as well as the sometimes very interesting exchange of ideas and hides them from view, so that all those academics and non-academics who don’t pay the significant SBL membership dues cannot watch what we in this discipline do within the context of our largest professional organization.

Who else finds this deplorable?

(Wow, my sabbatical is starting off with a bang, eh?)

–typos fixed–

On the Syntax of BH Poetry

Saturday morning I presented a paper at the annual Canadian Society for Biblical Studies. In the paper, I addressed some issues of poetic syntax. Why am I studying poetry? I’m not really that poetic or creative or literarily sensitive. (I will confess that much of what passes for poetry mystifies me, but then I’d probably have rebuked E.E. Cummings and told him to take a course in punctuation.)

Why I’m studying poetry is simply that this is the road some recent linguistics research led me down. I wouldn’t be on this road otherwise. Regardless, I’m interested in getting feedback on my notions. To that end, my paper is posted below.

Holmstedt_Syntax of Hebrew Poetry_CSBS2017

In a small nutshell, I’m attempting to reduce the syntactic options that an ancient Hebrew poetic faced when concluding a poetic line. My argument is that it can be described as a binary choice, between apposition and non-apposition, rather than the six tropes that Michael O’Connor described in his magisterial Hebrew Verse Structure. I see all uses of language through a grammatical lens. My first question when I encounter some conventional use of language is always, “How does that work syntactically?” I take the position that no matter the convention (of prose, poetry, epistolary, etc.), they are always bound by grammar.

So, let me know if I’ve convinced you, even in part.