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.

In Honor of the 400th Anniversary of the King James Bible: A Video Review of A Visual History of the KJB

Today is the 400th Anniversary of the printing of the King James Bible. In honor of that, I tried my hand at my first video book review. Below, you’ll find a video review of A Visual History of the King James Bible by Donald L. Brake. While there are a few audio glitches, the stunning visual beauty of Brake’s book is put on full display. I hope you’ll consider picking up a copy of this book as a way of celebrating this momentous occasion.


A Visual History of the King James Bible — A Video Review from Bob Hayton on Vimeo.

The book can be purchased from these retailers: Christianbook.com, Amazon.com or direct from Baker Books. Also, be sure to check out Dr. Brake’s other book: A Visual History of the English Bible (Baker Books, 2008).

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

~cross-posted from my personal blog, FundamentallyReformed.com.

Dr. Donald Brake Interviewed on the 400th Anniversary of the King James Bible

At Haven Today, a nationally syndicated Christian radio show and podcast, Dr. Donald Brake was recently interviewed on the 400th Anniversary of the King James Bible. Dr. Brake is the author of A Visual History of the English Bible (Baker Books, 2008) and the recently released A Visual History of the King James Bible (Baker Books, 2011).

I just completed reading through this fascinating book and will be putting my review up soon. The 400th anniversary of the King James Bible is next week, May 2nd. Dr. Brake’s interview will be very informative. Here are the links to the interview: Part 1 (April 25, 2011), Part 2 (April 26, 2011). More information is available on the interview at HavenToday.org. These interviews are only about 15 to 20 minutes long minus the commercial breaks (which is just music on the web-player), but they’ll whet your appetite for this book.

To see an excerpt of Dr. Brake’s A Visual History of the King James Bible, click here. You can order the book through Amazon.com, Christianbook.com, or direct from Baker Books.

~cross-posted from my personal blog, Fundamentally Reformed.

The New Testament 1526 Edition, Translated by William Tyndale

In the realm of English Bible translation, one name stands supreme. William Tyndale is the man most responsible for the English Bibles we use today. The King James Version owes a great debt to William Tyndale, very often borrowing Tyndale’s expressions, phrasing and insight into how to use short, concise English words to convey the meaning of the original Greek New Testament. Some say upwards of 85 percent of the words in the King James Bible originate from Tyndale’s work. Later English Bibles owe an indirect debt to Tyndale through their continued dependence on the King James Version’s phrasing, often borrowed from Tyndale.

In England perhaps more than any other area in Europe, the Reformation was birthed from the presence of the vernacular Bible. John Wycliffe’s Bible, various translations from the Latin under his name, had a wide impact on England. But a mere ten years after Erasmus offered the first printed Greek New Testament, William Tyndale gave his English New Testament to the English people. While Tyndale himself was strangled and burned in 1536, only 4 years later his prayer for England was answered. Tyndale’s last words are reported to have been: “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” In 1538, Thomas Cromwell under the authority of the King called for a publicly available translation and by 1539 the first authorized English Bible, the Great Bible, was made available to Tyndale’s beloved England.

Of Tyndale’s original 1526 New Testament, only three copies survive today. One of those three is in beautiful condition and was purchased by the British Library for more than one million pounds in 1994. Hendrickson Publishers has a beautiful hardback edition with a full color fascimile reproduction of this 1526 Tyndale treasure. The original size of the Tyndale edition was a small octavo size made for the pocket and the Hendrickson reprint is 6.6 x 4.9 x 1.6 inches and matches that smaller feel. The copied pages are very clear, the colorful first letters of chapters and paragraph breaks come through as brilliant as the original with gold lettering and all. Several full color pictures of the various NT authors appear at the beginning of the various books in the New testament, and these miniature portraits are vivid and clear. What’s striking is how high the quality is of this 16th Century printing. The lack of verses is also interesting to a modern eye, as they didn’t exist until 1550.

The book includes a helpful introduction by David Daniell, author of William Tyndale: A Biography (Yale University Press, 2001). Daniell illustrates Tyndale’s masterful command of English and contrasts his work with the Wycliffe Bibles that we still possess today. After the ten page introduction, which helpfully offers a few pointers in making sense of the block, Black Letter print type and out-dated orthography, the fascimile reproduction is given. There are no long treatises explaining Scripture nor any marginal explanations. A small intro of a few lines exists on the only surviving title page of the 1526 edition. And a brief two page “To the Reader” colophon concludes the text.

Tyndale is reported to have once remarked to a “learned man”, “I defy the Pope and all his laws… if God spare my life ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plough, shall know more of scripture than thou dost.” God saw fit to bless Tyndale’s desire and bring it to pass. Today we are incredibly blessed in large part due to his sacrifice. This edition of Tyndale’s work brings this wonderful history closer to home and allows one to examine the very first English New Testament translated from the original Greek language. I will close this review with the concluding paragraph from Tyndale’s “To the Reader,” but I am cheating and using someone else’s interpretation of Tyndale’s English. I took the following from this source.

Them that are learned Christianly, I beseech: forasmuch as I am sure, and my conscience beareth me record, that of a pure intent, singly and faithfully I have interpreted it, as far forth as God gave me the gift of knowledge and understanding that the rudeness of the work now at the first time offend them not, but that they consider how that I had no man to counterfeit, neither was helped {holp} with English of any that had interpreted the same or such like things in the Scripture beforetime. Moreover, even very necessity and cumbrance (God is record) above strength which I will not rehearse, lest we should seem to boast ourselves, caused that many things are lacking which necessarily are required. Count it as a thing not having his full shape, but as it were born before his time, even as a thing begun rather than finished. In time to come (if God have appointed us thereunto) we will give it his full shape, and put out if ought be added superfluously, and add to if ought be overseen thorow negligence, and will enforce to bring to compendiousness that which is now translated at the length, and to give light where it is required, and to seek in certain places more proper English, and with a table to expound the words which are not commonly used and shew how the Scripture useth many words which are wother wise understood of the common people, and to help with a declaration where one tongue taketh not another; and will endeavor ourselves, as it were, to seeth [[meaning, boil or cook]] it better, and to make it more apt for the weak stomachs; desiring them that are learned and able, to remember their duty, and to help thereunto, and to bestow unto the edifying of Christ’s body (which is the congregation of them that believe) those gifts which they have received of God for the same purpose. The grace that cometh of Christ be with them that love him.

Disclaimer: This book was provided by Hendrickson Publishers for review. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.

You can pick up a copy of this book at Amazon.com or through Hendrickson, direct.

Free Book Giveaway

 

Jason hasn’t mentioned this over here, but he is giving away a free book on his personal blog: Pastoral Musings.  The book may interest some of our readers here.  It is Crossway’s Understanding English Bible Translation: The Case for an Essentially Literal Approach by Leland Ryken (Crossway).  I’m guessing in time, Jason will have a review of that book up on this site.  Be sure to go over and enter his contest!

 

Recommended: New Testament Text and Translation Commentary by Philip Comfort

Philip Comfort’s New Testament Text and Translation Commentary is a valuable resource for studying the textual variants in any given NT passage.  The book lays all the evidence out in a helpful format for which Greek manuscripts or early translations support which reading in almost every place where the text of today’s English Bibles differ with one another.

He not only shows which Greek manuscripts and text use which reading, he also shows which major English Bible versions use which reading (whether in the margin, footnote or text of the Bible).

After listing the evidence, Comfort will then walk you through it helpfully.  He explains what factors such as a particular scribe’s tendencies or the nature of a specific manuscript influence him to favor the reading he supports.  Having Comfort as a guide is valuable, especially since he is intimately familiar with the all the NT papyrii and many other points of textual criticism.

Comfort is no disbelieving scholar, either.  He is very evangelical and at times shows evidence of being conservative.  Above all, Comfort has provided an invaluable reference tool for use by those intrigued by the differences between English Bibles, and especially for those who aim to think through the KJV Only issue in depth.  What’s great is that he does all this with the average English speaker in view, he always translates the Greek he cites and the entire tool is usable by those with no Greek knowledge at all.

The book includes an overview of both textual criticism and its history, as well as the current state of the manuscript witnesses we have for each section of the New Testament.  Even the most well-versed student of these matters has much to learn from this work.  For instance, Comfort offers all the evidence surrounding the story of the woman caught in adultery that is missing from many key Greek manuscripts (John 7:53-8:11).  He shows why it is likely the reading was first introduced into the Greek manuscript witness in the 5th or 6th century.   Yet he offers proof for the reading’s antiquity as well, theorizing that it may have been a legitimate story of Christ handed down that eventually was added to a collection of the Gospels by a well-meaning scribe.

There is much more that could be said of this work, in fact I did say more about it when I reviewed it on my main blog.  I wish it highlighted the readings of the printed Majority texts of Robinson-Pierpont or Hodges-Farstad when examining the evidence, but it doesn’t.  Still, a more helpful resource for researching out the King James Only issue could hardly be found.  When one comes face to face with the reality of the textual facts, the story of the King James Only position is seen for the wishful thinking it really is.