Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible

By Brotzman, Ellis R. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, December 2001 | Go to article overview

Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible


Brotzman, Ellis R., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible. By Emanuel Tov. Revised, second ed. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001, xl + 456 pp., $50.00.

The initial publication of this work in 1992 marked a major step forward in the modern study of OT textual criticism (reviewed in JETS 39 [1996]: 337-39). It provided readers unable to read modern Hebrew with access to Tov's views regarding the need for textual criticism of the OT and how such work should be carried out. In this new work, the author explains that a revised edition was needed because of the release of "new publications of biblical texts from the Judean Desert" and because in some areas his own thinking had changed (p. xxxix). The overall plan of the book is the same, and revisions made were subject to the constraints of "the boundaries of the individual camera-ready pages which were submitted to the publisher" (p. xxxix). This means in practice that some pages are new, but many (e.g. pp. 118-28) are unchanged.

Since the overall plan of the book is the same as the first edition, the summary of its contents will emphasize changes. Chapter 1 presents Tov's introduction to textual criticism. He makes a good case for the need for textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible when he states that all "textual witnesses differ from each other to a greater or lesser extent" (p. 2). In a second section Tov discusses the practice of textual criticism after the discovery of the Hebrew texts in the Judean Desert in 1947. He views most ancient versions as less important for textual criticism than the common view of previous generations. For Tov, most of a text critic's attention should be given to a careful study of the Masoretic family of texts, the Qumran texts, the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the Septuagint (p. 15). The introductory chapter also includes a brief survey of the historical beginnings of text criticism, as well as a helpful list of definitions of various terms and concepts that are basic to textual criticism.

Chapter 2, "Textual Witnesses of the Bible," is by far the longest chapter in the book, a total of 134 pages. It is divided into two major parts. The first, "Hebrew Witnesses," includes in the main the Masoretic family of texts, the Samaritan family of texts, and the biblical texts found at Qumran. There are few substantive changes from the first edition in reference to the Masoretic and the Samaritan families of texts. With regard to the biblical texts found at Qumran, however, there are major changes. These are motivated by the advances in the publication of the biblical manuscripts from the Judean Desert. The most conspicuous change in this regard has to do with the percentages of biblical manuscripts in each of the five major text groups found at Qumran. In the first edition (pp. 114-17) the percentages were: (1) Qumran practice, 20%; (2) proto-Masoretic, 60%; (3) and (4) pre-Samaritan and those texts close to the presumed Vorlage of the LXX, 5%; (5) non-aligned, 15%. The second edition (same pages) offers the following percentages: (1) Qumran practice, 20%; (2) proto-Masoretic, 35%; (3) pre-Samaritan (in second edition also called "harmonizing texts"), 5%; (4) texts close to LXX, 5%; (5) nonaligned, 35%. The main change is a decrease of proto-Masoretic and a growth of non-aligned texts. It would have been helpful had Tov explained in more detail how and why these new percentages had been calculated. In addition a statement on p. 115 is quite confusing: "This group [i.e. pre-Samaritan] comprises no more than 5 percent of the Qumran biblical texts of the Torah (for all of the Bible this group would have comprised some 15 percent)."

The second part of chap. 2, "The Ancient Translations," includes a very helpful section on using the ancient translations in text criticism, as well as discussions of the Septuagint, the Targumim, the Peshitta, the Vulgate, and the Arabic translation of Saadia.

Chapter 3, "The History of the Biblical Text," begins by discussing in more detail the impact of the discovery of the Qumran scrolls on the practice of textual criticism of the OT. …

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