Book Review: Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (3rd Ed.) by Emanuel Tov

Book Details:
  • Author: Emanuel Tov
  • Category: Academic, Biblical Language
  • Publisher: Fortress Press (2012)
  • Format: hardcover
  • Page Count: 512
  • ISBN#: 9780800696641
  • List Price: $90.00
  • Rating: Recommended

Review:
Reading Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible by Emanuel Tov was both a joy and a challenge. I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in the world of the Hebrew Bible. Ancient manuscripts, Dead Sea Scroll finds, ancient versions, textual variants — all of these things stir the Bible-geek in me. At the same time, the state of current scholarship with regard to the Old Testament text can be a bit troubling to an evangelical Christian. While the New Testament stands affirmed by numerous manuscript discoveries to the extent that almost all textual critics can agree on the vast majority of the minute details of the text, the same cannot be said for the Hebrew Old Testament.

Emanuel Tov takes readers of all scholastic levels by the hand as he surveys the field of Old Testament textual criticism. This third edition of his classic textbook, explains things for the novice and scholar alike. Careful footnotes and innumerable bibliographic entries will impress the scholar, while charts, graphs and numerous glossaries keep the would-be scholar feeling like he is getting somewhere. I have no problem admitting that I am one of the would-be scholars, with barely a year of Hebrew under my belt. Yet I was able to work my way through this book, becoming sharper in my Hebrew and awakening to the many facets of the intriguing study of OT textual criticism.

Tov has departed from a more traditional stance in his earlier versions, opting instead to follow the evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls and contemporary studies. He manages to keep away from a fatal skepticism, however, arguing that textual evaluation still has merit. The aim is still to recover the earliest possible text, but the recognition that there are often two or three competing literary editions of the text complicate the matter. An example would be the different editions of Jeremiah, with the Septuagint (LXX) Greek version differing drastically from the Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT). 1 Samuel provides another example with a Dead Sea Scroll offering perhaps a third different competing literary edition. Tov points out the two very different versions of the story of David and Goliath and Hannah’s prayer as he expounds on the problem.

Rather than trying to solve each exegetical or specific textual problem, Tov aims to illustrate the challenges facing the would-be textual critic. He surveys the textual data, and reconstructs the history of the text – giving more attention to the accidents of history, such as the destruction of the Jewish state in A.D. 70, as weighing into the nature of the textual evidence we have. Rather than the Masoretic Text gradually gaining dominance, it was the de facto winner of the “text wars”. The LXX-style Hebrew texts (which the Dead Sea Scrolls and other finds have confirmed existed), were ignored by the Jews as Christianity had owned the LXX as its own. The Samaritans had their version of the Pentateuch, and the existence of a variety of other text forms, such as those found at Qumran (the DSS) were forgotten with the cessation of a normal state of existence for Jewish people. The Masoretic text found itself with little real competition and over the years came to be further refined and stable. I should clarify here, that this is not to downplay the Masoretic text, as it manifestly preserves very ancient readings, and Tov repeatedly affirms the remarkable tenacity of the MT. Instead, Tov is saying that the majority position the MT holds among the textual evidence and in the minds of the Jewish communities in the last 1800 years should not prejudice the scholar to consistently prefer MT readings. Tov in fact claims that text types, such as are commonly discussed in NT textual criticism, are largely irrelevant in dealing with the OT text. Internal considerations are key in textual evaluation. I will let Tov explain further:

Therefore, it is the choice of the most contextually appropriate reading that is the main task of the textual critic…. This procedure is as subjective as can be. Common sense, rather than textual theories, is the main guide, although abstract rules are sometimes also helpful. (pg. 280)

Tov’s textbook goes into glorious detail concerning all the orthographic features that make up paleo-Hebraic script, and the square Hebrew script we are familiar with. His knowledge is encyclopedic, to say the least. The numerous images of manuscripts that are included in the back of the book are invaluable. His discussion on the orthographic details of the text should convince even the most diehard traditionalists, that the vowel points and many of the accents were later additions to the text, inserted by the Masoretes. Some still defend the inspiration of the vowel points, but Tov’s explanation of numerous textual variants that flow from both a lack of vowel points and from the originality of paleo-Hebraic script (and the long development of the language and gradual changes in the alphabet, and etc.) close the door against such stick-in-the-mud thinking.

Tov’s book details the pros and cons of different Hebrew texts, as well as discussing electronic resources and new developments in the study of textual criticism. His work is immensely valuable to anyone interested in learning about textual criticism, and of course is required for any textual scholars seeking to do work in this field.

Tov doesn’t add a theology to his textual manual, however. And this is what is needed to navigate OT textual criticism. After having read Tov, I’m interested in seeing some of the better evangelical treatments of the textual problems of the Hebrew Bible. I believe we have nothing to fear in facing textual problems head on. Seeing different literary editions of the text can fill out our understanding of the underlying theology of the Bible as we have it. Some of the work of John H. Sailhamer illustrates this judicious use of contemporary scholarship concerning the literary strata of the text.

Tov’s book is not law, and he sufficiently qualifies his judgments. He stresses that textual criticism, especially for the Old Testament, is inherently subjective. It is an art. And those who don’t recognize that, are especially prone to error in this field. This book equips the student to exercise this art in the best possible way. Tov walks the reader through evaluating competing textual variants, and his study will furnish the careful reader with all the tools to develop their own approach to the text. Tov’s findings won’t erode the foundations of orthodox theology. I contend that they will strengthen it. As with NT textual criticism, paying attention to the textual details has unlooked-for and happy consequences. It strengthens exegesis, and allows for a greater insight into the meaning of the text. And it can build one’s faith.

Bible-geeks, aspiring scholars, teachers and students alike will benefit from this book. Understanding the current state of OT textual criticism puts many of the NT textual debates into perspective. Christians don’t know their Old Testaments well enough, and studying the text to this level is rare indeed. I encourage you to consider adding this book to your shelf, and making it a priority to think through the challenges surrounding the text of the Hebrew Bible.

Author Info:
Emanuel Tov is J. L. Magnes Professor of Bible at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Editor-in-Chief of the Dead Sea Scrolls Publication Project. Among his many publications is The Greek and Hebrew Bible-Collected Essays on the Septuagint (1999).

Where to Buy:
  • CBD
  • Amazon
  • Barnes & Noble
  • direct from Fortress Press.

Disclaimer:
Disclaimer: This book was provided by Fortress Press. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.

Originally Posted at:
This article was originally posted at my personal blog, Fundamentally Reformed.

“Purified Seven Times”: A Case of Defective Exegesis and Improper Application by Doug Kutilek

The following article is reprinted with permission from “As I See It”, Volume 13, Number 9, September 2010, a free monthly newsletter published by Doug Kutilek. Subscription information is available here at the author’s website: KJVOnly.Org. Note: our posting of this article does not imply our complete endorsement of all particulars contained therein.


 

“Purified Seven Times”: A Case of Defective Exegesis and Improper Application

One of the near-universal but untested assumptions of “King James Only”-ites is that Psalm 12:6, 7 has specific reference to God’s perfect preservation of Scripture in the copying and translating process, and that more specifically this refers to the King James Version, and in truth only to the KJV and no other Bible version in English or any other language on earth. This interpretation is both grossly arbitrary and wholly unsound.

That passage reads (KJV, all spelling, punctuation and italics as in original 1611 edition):

The wordes of the LORD are pure wordes: as siluer tried in a fornace of earth purified seuen times.

Thou shalt keepe them, (O LORD,) thou shalt preserue them, from this generation for euer.

We will here mention only in passing one particular misinterpretation by KJVO zealots of this text, to wit, that the promise of preservation in v. 7 refers back to the “words” of v. 6, when in fact it refers (as the Hebrew and the context show) to the persecuted believers of v. 5 (“For the oppression of the poore, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise (saith the LORD,) I will set him in safetie from him that puffeth at him”; for proof of my analysis, see the commentaries of John Gill or Franz Delitzsch on this Psalm; or, more fully, my article “A Careful Investigation of Psalm 12:6, 7,” The Biblical Evangelist, October 14, 1983. That article does need some modification, expansion and revision–which I hope to undertake shortly–but is essentially correct as written).

By remarkable extrapolation, the faulty foundational interpretation imposed on this text by KJVO partisans is alleged to first refer to the written word of God, then to its perfect transmission to posterity, which culminates most particularly and in fact uniquely in the English translation of the Scriptures known as the King James Version. An arbitrary explanation? Completely so. Nothing in the text nor context speaks of the copying or translating process at all, and certainly nothing about any English Bible version, nor indeed a particular one among them. Even so, it is somehow “found” in the text, resulting in an interpretation as exegetically forced as the Mormons finding the combining of the Book of Mormon with the Bible in the two sticks of Ezekiel 37:16-19.

Our attention here will be directed to the “use” made by KJVOers of the simile in v. 6 “as silver tried in a furnace of earth purified seven times” as though it were a reference to seven stages in God’s providing a “pure Bible” to the English-speaking people (and only to the English-speaking people) in the form of the KJV.

(One must ask–if the Word of God was verbally and plenary inspired, as indeed the Bible teaches, and then verbally and plenarily preserved in the copying and transmission process, as the novel doctrine created by KJVOers in the 1990s claims [see “The Error of ‘Verbal Plenary Preservation’,” As I See It, 12:11], why would there be any need to purify the Bible even once, much less “seven times”?)

As far as I can discover, the first writer to abuse Psalm 12:6–“purified seven times”–as though it were actually a promise / prophecy regarding the process of transmission of the Bible from antiquity to the modern era, was Peter S. Ruckman, Sr. A correspondent (whom we leave anonymous at his request, but who has made a systematic study of Ruckman’s published books) wrote to us:

Peter Ruckman seemed to use a form of the “purified seven times” claim in his commentary on the book of Psalms. Commenting on that phrase from Psalm 12:6, Ruckman indicated that the word “went out in seven installments” that included the Hebrew O. T., the Aramaic, the Greek N. T., the old Syriac translation, the Old Latin translation, the German translation of Martin Luther, and the AV of 1611 (I, pp. 70-71; see also his The Christian’s Handbook of Biblical Scholarship).

We don’t own Ruckman’s commentary on Psalms or otherwise have direct access to it, but do have his The Christian’s Handbook of Biblical Scholarship. Those “seven installments” in which God’s word went out are indeed alleged to be (The Christian’s Handbook of Biblical Scholarship, p. 125 in 1987 edition; p. 129 in 1988 edition):

1. the Hebrew part of the OT
2. the Aramaic part of the OT
3. the Greek NT
4. an “old Syriac” translation of 1.-3.
5. an “old Latin” translation of 1.-3.
6. a German translation of 1.-3. made during the Reformation
7. the KJV, allegedly “from the end of the Reformation”

Several of these are “problematic,” since number 4., the Peshitta Syriac version (no doubt what Ruckman has reference to) differs in literally thousands of places, all told, from the Masoretic Hebrew text, the textus receptus Greek NT, and the KJV. For example, the Peshitta Syriac does not contain I John 5:7, John 7:53-8:11; Acts 8:37; and other passages, and in fact did not include Revelation and several other NT books at all!

And number 5. the Old Latin version, in the OT was not made from the Hebrew text but was made from the Greek Septuagint translation, which version is to Ruckman and the whole of the KJVO herd “anathema.” And in the NT, the Old Latin manuscripts differ in many hundreds of details from the textus receptus Greek edition. Examples: all Old Latin manuscripts read “Isaiah the prophet” rather than “the prophets” at Mark 1:2; all read “men of goodwill” like Greek manuscript Vaticanus and the Vulgate, rather than “goodwill toward men” in Luke 2:14; all lack “after the spirit” in Romans 8:1 and lack “and in your spirit which are God’s” at I Corinthians 6:20; etc. (see my article “The Truth About the Waldensian Bible and the Old Latin Version,” Baptist Biblical Heritage 2:2, Summer, 1991)

Number 6. Luther’s German version, does NOT precisely conform to the Masoretic OT, the textus receptus NT, or the KJV. Among other things, it does not have I John 5:7 (see “Ruckman on Luther and I John 5:7: Dolt or Deceiver?” As I See It, 4:8, August 2001).

And there is no definitive edition of the KJV, with even the two editions issued in 1611 differing between themselves in over 2,000 places. Differences between these two and later KJV editions are many times greater.

One is hard-pressed to see a perfect and pristinely pure text in steps 4.-7. since these do not agree precisely or in all details with each other or with 1.-3. (whatever printed editions one may claim as the “true original” of the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek)

Somewhat surprisingly, the KJVO acolytes of Ruckman seem not to have followed their chosen “Pied Piper” in his abuse of this text (though they have gone in lock-step with him on many others), but have struck out in a different path of text abuse. It is common place among KJVO authors to find the “purified seven times” phrase limited to seven steps in the purification and perfection of the Bible in English, always culminating in the KJV as the crown of perfection. One problem: there is continual disagreement among authors as to the identity of these supposedly Divinely-foretold steps.
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