The Edited Bible: The Curious History of the "Editor" in Biblical Criticism

By Klem, John F. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, March 2008 | Go to article overview

The Edited Bible: The Curious History of the "Editor" in Biblical Criticism


Klem, John F., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


The Edited Bible: The Curious History of the "Editor" in Biblical Criticism. By John Van Seters. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2006, 428 pp., $39.50.

The Edited Bible makes a significant contribution to the introductory questions of authorship, text production, preservation, and distribution. In this work, John Van Seters sets out to "challenge all those who seriously engage in biblical criticism, higher and lower, to justify their use of an edited Bible and their assumption of ancient editors or redactors as agents in the formation of the biblical text to the authorized editions and versions of modern times" (p. xv). Van Seters states his thesis, saying that "notions about editors or redactors as those responsible for the final compositional form or the standardization of the text of the Hebrew Bible, or its parts, books, and divisions, at the very least, are problematic and in my view entirely erroneous" (p. 22).

Van Seters develops his thesis by means of a step-by-step consideration of all the relevant aspects of the discussion. Specifically, he pursues an understanding of the editor's role in classical (Hellenistic and Roman periods) and biblical scholarship. Van Seters does this by examining the role of the editor in biblical scholarship from Richard Simon to contemporary redaction criticism and the parallel development of the editor's role in Homeric Studies. He unfolds his argument by means of ten chapters that cover the composition, reproduction of authoritative manuscripts, the question of authorship, and the development of editors in connection with the creation of standard editions for wider distribution (pp. 2, 113). Van Seters is passionate about his task and spares no detail in developing a case that he says does not rest on his own particular theory of literary history of the Pentateuch but on evidence presented against the notion of an edited Bible (pp. xv, 2).

The key elements of Van Seters's argument are five-fold. First, Van Seters attempts to demonstrate that there is no ancient equivalent for the prevailing view of an editor in biblical scholarship. He concludes that editors are an invention of the Renaissance, wherein they perform certain kinds of work associated with the production of books (p. 13). He documents that the first usages of an editor in biblical scholarship appeared in the seventeenth century. Van Seters challenges the common understanding of an editor or redactor as a combiner of independent sources who adds to and changes his sources at will. Rather, he attempts to define the editor or redactor as one completely faithful to his source or author, preserving and transmitting the ancient text and adding nothing of his own (p. 391). He concludes, "There is no equivalent in antiquity to the indispensable modern editor or redactor. The use of the term redactor in the discussion of the creation or production of new literary works in antiquity is an anachronism" (p. 21).

Second, Van Seters relies on the classics, especially the literary works associated with Homer, to clarify how the role of the editor developed and influenced biblical scholarship. Van Seters concludes that since classical scholarship has given up on the idea of Homer being edited by Alexandrian scholars, biblical scholarship should apply a similar conclusion to biblical texts.

Third, Van Seters defines the fundamental error of redaction history or redaction criticism from the seventeenth century to the present as the misunderstanding of ancient historiography and the displacement of the author/historian by the notion of an editor or redactor (p.

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