Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel

By Michael Fishbane | Go to book overview

1 Introduction. The Role of Scribes in the Transmission of Biblical Literature

Inquiry into the diverse exegetical dynamics of traditum and traditio in the Hebrew Bible most properly begins with an analysis of scribal comments and corrections. There are two fundamental reasons for this. First, scribal practice provides the most concrete context for the transmission of a traditum. For while traditions and teachings were undoubtedly transmitted orally throughout the biblical period — and, of course, long afterwards, as the non-Scriptural oral traditions of early Judaism abundantly testify — it is only as these materials achieve a literary form that a historical inquiry can examine their continuities and developments. The basic role of scribes as custodians and tradents of this traditum (in its various forms) is thus self-evident. Scribes received the texts of tradition, studied and copied them, puzzled about their contents, and preserved their meanings for new generations. Whatever the origins and history of our biblical materials, then, they became manuscripts in the hands of scribes, and it is as such that we have received them.

The pivotal position of scribes as tradents of traditions also put them in a primary position with respect to their meanings. And this leads to the second reason for beginning an inquiry into inner-biblical exegesis with an examination of scribal comments and corrections. Scribes not only copied what came to hand but also responded in diverse ways to the formulations which they found written in earlier manuscripts. A fascinating record of these responses has left its traces in the Massoretic Text (MT), as we shall see, as well as in the other principal textual versions (like the Septuagint, Samaritan, and Peshitta texts). 1 Moreover — and this is central for present purposes — since these scribal comments are formally limited in scope but exhibit striking exegetical diversity,

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