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

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: 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.

Answering John MacArthur on the Ending of Mark

Recently, Dr. John MacArthur finished preaching through the New Testament (after nearly forty years). His last sermon covered the biggest controversy in the world of textual criticism: the ending of the Gospel of Mark. Dr. MacArthur sided with the majority of careful Christian scholarship and defended the position that Mark ends his Gospel at vs. 8. In the sermon (available to watch on Youtube), he gives a brief survey of textual criticism, the various manuscript types, and the evidence for and against the ending of Mark.

As I listened to MacArthur’s sermon, I winced at his handling of the textual evidence. He painted the picture in rosy kind of way, making the evidence in favor of his position seem insurmountable. In reality, the picture is quite different from the reality, and this question is one that should not be decided so cavalierly. It isn’t black and white and a simple matter of going with the ancient manuscripts on this point. The issue is much more complex than that. At the end of the day, I think MacArthur takes the correct position (I could still be persuaded otherwise, however), but at the very least he should be more transparent with the evidence. I understand wanting to instill faith in the Scripture and wanting to help people have confidence in textual criticism. Bending the truth (at least in the way you present the evidence) doesn’t help, however.

Pastor James Snapp, who is a proponent of equitable eclecticism and has studied long and hard on the issues surrounding textual criticism, has answered John MacArthur in a series of three 13-14 minute YouTube video clips. James is a frequent commenter around here, and doesn’t always agree with every position that I personally have taken. But he is fair minded and tries to go where the evidence takes him. He does a good job marshalling the evidence for the inclusion of Mark 116:9-20 and explains numerous errors that Dr. MacArthur made in his sermon.

Not every error is equally damaging, and not all the evidence that Snapp presents is convincing. I walked away from Snapp’s series with more questions about this matter which I intend to research further, but I am not completely convinced that the majority of Christian scholarship is just completely duped on this point. Snapp doesn’t explain how the various alternate endings of Mark arose, and that is a matter to explore. Why would anyone chop off the ending of Mark and keep the rest of his Gospel? What’s so special about the ending?

Regardless, I wanted to make you aware of Snapp’s rebuttal and post his video clips below. Snapp is very fair and charitable toward Dr. MacArthur, and presents a perfect example of how to engage in a disagreement honorably and respectably.

Has anyone else seen some kind of response or additional elaboration from MacArthur’s church on this question? Or do any of our readers have additional thoughts to share on this matter? Please join the discussion in the comments below.

BibleWorks 9 and a Revolution in Textual Critical Studies

Check out these two videos to see what the new BibleWorks 9 software, available mid-July, can do when it comes to textual critical tools. I saw a demo of this feature back in April at The Gospel Coalition Conference, and was blown away by the potential of this tool for textual studies of all kinds. One can only hope that many more manuscripts will be added, and fresh Majority Text collations and other tools will be incorporated into the CNTTS apparatus which is made so accessible by means of BibleWorks 9. BibleWorks promises that as more manuscripts become available, those updates will be provided free of charge to BibleWorks 9 users.

Watch the videos, and check out BibleWorks 9!

Update on the Center for the Study and Preservation of the Majority Text

Paul Anderson requested I post an announcement regarding the board of directors for the new organization. New resources and materials are being regularly added and descriptions of the various families of Byzantine texts are forthcoming, I’m told. So if you are interested in the Majority Text, bookmark the Center for the Study and Preservation of the Majority Text’s website.

The Most Reverend Archbishop Chrysostomos, Ph.D., Director
Old Calendar Orthodox Church of Greece, Synod in Resistence
Senior Scholar, Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies
Etna, California

Archpriest Victor Potapov, Director
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Church
Russian Orthodox scholar and leading ROCOR hierarch
Washington, D.C.

Wilbur N. Pickering, Ph.D., Director
New Testament Textual Scholar
Valparaiso, Brazil

Kirk DiVietro, Ph.D., Director
Secretary of Dean Burgon Society
Pastor of Grace Baptist Church
Franklin, Massachusetts

David Warren, Ph.D., Director
Professor of New Testament Greek & New Testament Textual Scholar
Amridge University
Montgomery, Alabama

Paul D. Anderson, President
Founder of CSPMT
New Testament Textual Scholar
Rockville, Maryland

13 Things Your Greek Teachers Won’t Tell You

NT Resources blog has an interesting post from David Alan Black, professor of NT and Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (where Dr. Maurice Robinson also teaches). I thought I’d share it here as most of the contributors and many of the readers of this blog, know some Greek. And all of us know a little Greek who has a shop around the corner. (Lame attempt at a joke is over, please read on.)

The latest issue of The Reader’s Digest has an interesting article entitled “13 Things Used Car Salesmen Won’t Tell You.” Here are “13 Things Your Greek Teachers Won’t Tell You”:

1. Greek is not the only tool you need to interpret your New Testament. In fact, it’s only one component in a panoply of a myriad of tools. Get Greek, but don’t stop there. (You’ll need, for example, a Hebrew New Testament as well.)

2. Greek is not the Open Sesame of biblical interpretation. All it does is limit your options. It tells you what’s possible, then the context and other factors kick in to disambiguate the text.

3. Greek is not superior to other languages in the world. Don’t believe it when you are told that Greek is more logical than, say, Hebrew. Not true.

4. Greek had to be the language in which God inscripturated New Testament truth because of its complicated syntax. Truth be told, there’s only one reason why the New Testament was written in Greek and not in another language (say, Latin), and that is a man named Alexander the Great, whose vision was to conquer the inhabited world and then unite it through a process known as Hellenization. To a large degree he succeeded, and therefore the use of Greek as the common lingua franca throughout the Mediterranean world in the first century AD should come as no surprise to us today. I emphasize this point only because there are some today who would seek to resurrect the notion of “Holy Ghost” Greek. Their view is, in my view, a demonstrable cul-de-sac.

5. Greek words do not have one meaning. Yet how many times do we hear in a sermon, “The word in the Greek means…”? Most Greek words are polysemous, that is, they have many possible meanings, only one of which is its semantic contribution to any passage in which it occurs. (In case you were wondering: Reading all of the meanings of a Greek word into any particular passage in which it occurs is called “illegitimate totality transfer” by linguists.)

6. Greek is not difficult to learn. I’ll say it again: Greek is not difficult to learn. I like to tell my students, “Greek is an easy language; it’s us Greek teachers who get in the way.” The point is that anyone can learn Greek, even a poorly-educated surfer from Hawaii. If I can master Greek, anyone can!

7. Greek can be acquired through any number of means, including most beginning textbooks. Yes, I prefer to use my own Learn to Read New Testament Greek in my classes, but mine is not the only good textbook out there. When I was in California I taught in an institution that required all of its Greek teachers to use the same textbook for beginning Greek. I adamantly opposed that policy. I feel very strongly that teachers should have the right to use whichever textbook they prefer. Thankfully, the year I left California to move to North Carolina that policy was reversed, and now teachers can select their own beginning grammars. (By the way, the textbook that had been required was mine!)

8. Greek students think they can get away with falling behind in their studies. Folks, you can’t. I tell my students that it’s almost impossible to catch up if you get behind even one chapter in our textbook. Language study requires discipline and time management skills perhaps more than any other course of study in school.

9. Greek is fun! At least when it’s taught in a fun way.

10. Greek is good for more than word studies. In fact, in the past few years I’ve embarked on a crusade to get my students to move away from word-bound exegesis. When I was in seminary I was taught little more than how to do word studies from the Greek. Hence, I thought I had “used Greek in ministry” if I had consulted my Wuest, Robertson, Kittle, Brown, Vincent, or Vines. Since then I’ve discovered that lexical analysis is the handmaiden and not the queen of New Testament exegesis. Greek enables us to see how a text is structured, how it includes rhetorical devices, how syntactical constructions are often hermeneutical keys, etc.

11. Greek can cause you to lose your faith. It happened to one famous New Testament professor in the US when he discovered that there were textual variants in his Greek New Testament, and it can happen to you. When the text of Scripture becomes nothing more than “another analyzable datum of linguistic interpretation” then it loses its power as the Word of God. That’s why I’m so excited about my Greek students at the seminary, most of whom are eager to place their considerable learning at the feet of Jesus in humble service to His upside-down kingdom.

12. Greek can be learned in an informal setting. The truth is that you do not need to take a formal class in this subject or in any subject for that matter. I know gobs of homeschoolers who are using my grammar in self-study, many of whom are also using my Greek DVDs in the process. If anyone wants to join the club, let me know and I will send you, gratis, a pronunciation CD and a handout called “Additional Exercises.”

13. Greek is not Greek. In other words, Modern Greek and Koine Greek are two quite different languages. So don’t expect to be able to order a burrito in Athens just because you’ve had me for first year Greek. On the other hand, once you have mastered Koine Greek it is fairly easy to work backwards (and learn Classical Greek) and forwards (and learn Modern Greek).

Okay, I’m done. And yes, I’m exaggerating. Many Greek teachers do in fact tell their students these things. May their tribe increase!

Now who wants to tackle “13 Things Your Hebrew Teachers Won’t Tell You”?

[The only way to distinguish blog posts at Dave Black’s blog is by date. This post comes from: 9/30/2010, 12:20 PM.]

Announcing the Opening of The Center for The Study and Preservation of The Majority Text

I was informed by Paul Anderson of the opening of a new website and study center for the Majority Text. Here’s some information from the organization’s website:

The Center for the Study and Preservation of the Majority Text has been formed with the following purpose and mission:

1. To give scholars and researchers a Christian non-profit organization where all extant Majority/Byzantine text manuscripts may be fully studied and compared for proper classification.
2. To increase awareness of the importance in readings and manuscripts within the Majority/Byzantine Text tradition.
3. To provide a one-stop website where all major printed editions of the Majority/Byzantine text may be found.
4. To include an online image gallery where important manuscripts may be seen.
5. To offer online collations and studies to increase understanding of the various groups within the Majority/Byzantine text.
6. To give individuals, churches and interested parties a tax-free organization in which to donate in order further the stated goals and mission above.
7. To provide an international Christian organization which views the Holy, Inspired Word of God as preserved within the Majority/Byzantine Text of the New Testament.

CSPMT officially opened October 1st and promises to be a one stop shop for the study of the Majority Text. The site is amassing links and resources on the various families of the Majority Text, as well as the study of the Textus Receptus and the Greek lectionary tradition. Paul Anderson, one of the founders of this initiative, informed me that Dr. Wilbur Pickering, author of The Identity of the New Testament Text, and Dr. Kirk DiVietro of the Dean Burgon Society (and father of Erik, one of our contributors here) will be two of the board members for this organization. We interviewed Dr. DiVietro on our site, here.

The group’s website should prove to be a valuable resource for students interested in learning more about the Greek Majority Text. You’ll want to bookmark it and see how the site develops. It may prove a blessing to all who are interested in the thousands of Greek manuscripts which have been providentially bequeathed to the Church.

In related news, Dr. Maurice Robinson, who we have also interviewed concerning his own Byzantine priority position, is recovering from a heart attack and scheduled for related surgery in the next month. Please keep him in your prayers.

The King James Translators & The King James Only Debate

The King James Version of the Bible is a wonderful translation.  It is my preferred translation.  It is my favorite translation.  I love it, study from it, enjoy it, preach from it, and believe what it says.  It is God’s Word.  What is said below is by no means intended to denigrate the KJV.  It is intended to show that the King James Version Only arguments are invalidated by the translators of the King James Version.

Though I shall retain the King James Version as my favorite and preferred Bible, I must say that it is not a defensible position to maintain that all other translations are Satanic in nature.  Neither is it defensible to call them “perversions” of the Bible.  There are, no doubt, poor translations available.  The King James is not a poor translation.  It is excellent.  It is not, however, a perfect translation.  The Word of God is perfect.  Scripture is perfect.  We must understand, however, that if the King James Version or any other translation were perfect we would not have to consult dictionaries to understand various words.  We would not have trouble with obscure passages.  Perfection is the nature of Scripture.  The transmission of Scripture in translation is not perfect.  Thus we have to strive hard for clarity of translation and we must strive hard for understanding of God’s Word.

It is to be noted that one website which posts the entire preface ( says the following about the translator’s preface to the reader:

The complete translator’s notes of the Authorized King James scholars are not included in today’s publishings. This is unfortunate because these notes say a lot about these men– they were humble, loved the word of God, loved the King, were berated by the Catholic religion, and they desired a translation for the common man who was kept in darkness. Some of the translators where killed for their faith. This book was forged in blood, sweat, and tears.”

While attempting to use the preface to the reader as a KJVO support, the one who established this website has actually posted something that speaks IN FAVOR of continual effort to improve the translation of the Scriptures into the language of the common man. Thus it is that this preface to the reader from the KJV1611 has been left intact as it was taken from the website of those in favor of the King James Version only stance.

In the Preface to The Reader below my comments are in red. ««Jump to the Preface with comments»». Originally posted at Pastoral Musings.