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.

A Critique of Thomas Holland’s View of the Last Six Verses in Revelation

I recently noticed that the Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism chose to address the writings of an influential King James Only proponent: Thomas Holland. Holland represents the best kind of King James Onlyism, from what I have heard of him. He is honest and deals with the evidence at hand – or at least tries to. At the end of the day, he sticks with his guiding principles and faith in the perfect preservation of all of God’s words, no matter what the evidence. But his writing style is more helpful than many of the KJV proponents I have read.

The journal article focuses on Holland’s explanation of the last six verses of Revelation and his valiant attempt to explain away the consensus that Erasmus translated these verses from the Latin into Greek (for his N.T. edition), since he had no Greek manuscripts that covered that portion of Revelation.

Jan Krans, whose written a book on how Erasmus and Beza handled their translation work, takes Holland to task for what amounts, ultimately, to poor scholarship. Here is the abstract for his paper:

With Thomas Holland’s lengthy discussion of a reading in Rev 22:19 as an example, this article shows how Holland’s way of doing New Testament textual criticism falls short on all academic standards. With respect to the main issue, Erasmus’ retranslation of the final verses of Revelation, Holland fails to properly find, address and evaluate both primary and secondary sources.

I was impressed by how carefully and fairly Krans treated Holland, even as he systematically dismantles his every argument. At the end of the day it is quite apparent that Erasmus did translate from the Latin into Greek resulting in several unique Greek readings in these few short verses.

Equally apprent is the fact that Holland engages in special pleading and circular reasoning in trying to explain away the obvious. He casts doubt upon this historical reality (and definite problem for the TR – since most of the errors remain in all copies of it) in any way he can. He throws suspicion on whether Erasmus really said he translated it from the Latin, then he says the translation job was really good, then he says actually Hoskier thinks that another manuscript was used by Erasmus. In each case, Holland is misreading his sources and misses the mark of the truth.

Like it or not, Erasmus translated from Latin into Greek. The only Greek copies which support his mistranslations were copied after the presence of his Greek NT, and were influenced by it. This fact is admitted by Hoskier and is the consensus of careful scholars. Anyone who claims the Textus Receptus is perfect, has to grapple with this fact. I would argue that we can’t just believe what we want to believe and turn a blind eye to history and textual evidence. We have to face them head on. Reading thisarticle will help in that process. And I’d recommend William Combs’ articles on this matter as well.

Here’s some more info on Krans:

Jan Krans, Ph.D. (2004) in Theology, is Lecturer of New Testament at VU University, Amsterdam. He is currently working on a comprehensive overview and evaluation of important conjectures on the Greek New Testament. He is the author of Beyond What Is Written: Erasmus and Beza as Conjectural Critics of the New Testament (Brill, 2006) and also contributes to the the Amsterdam NT Weblog. His book is available online through archive.org.

More Info on the Discovery of the 1st Century MSS Fragment of Mark

Recently, Dr. Dan Wallace made news about the discovery of what is possibly the earliest NT MSS fragment ever found. I gave details on the find here. [And we reported on that here at this blog, too.]

Well, Dr. Wallace was recently interviewed by Hugh Hewitt on his radio show about the discovery and gave additional details. We now know the MSS contains part of one papyrus leaf, written on both sides. From the sound of it, it is most of one leaf so several verses but not much more. It was also found in Egypt — all seven of these MSS finds were found there. Dr. Wallace will also be on of the authors of the book that will publish all seven papyri fragments in early 2013.

Wallace continues to consider this a truly monumental manuscript find, as the following snippet from the full interview makes clear:

HH: Wow. Now in terms of, for the lay audience, Professor Daniel Wallace, the significance of this work when it appears, how would you grade it, with an A being a Dead Sea Scroll sort of significance, and you know, flunking, it just doesn’t matter?

DW: I would grade it at least an A, maybe an A+.

HH: And will the rest of the scholarly world agree with you on that assessment, do you think?

DW: I think that when they understand the ramifications of the entire nature of this manuscript that I’m not at liberty to mention, yes. They’re going to understand. At least those that will accept that date. Since the manuscript doesn’t have a date stamp on it, it says it was done this year, there are always going to be dissenters. But to do the work of paleography takes thousands and thousands of hours of research to do one.

I’m not sure the discovery will prove to be the equal of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but I’m cautiously optimistic that it will prove to be very consequential.

I also got an update from Matthew Hamilton who I quoted in my earlier post on this. From his information and that of Wallace from this interview, the following looks to be the list of the 7 manuscripts. Many of these would be the earliest textual witness we have of that Biblical book, if the dates hold true.

  1. 2nd century homily (sermon) on Hebrews 11
  2. 2nd century frg. with I Corinthians 8-10
  3. 2nd century frg. with Matthew
  4. 2nd century frg. with Romans 9-10
  5. 2nd century frg. from Hebrews, one side contains 9:19-22
  6. 2nd century frg. with Luke
  7. 1st century frg. [part of one leaf] with Mark

For more details read the entire transcript of the Hewitt – Wallace interview, and keep an eye on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog.

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

St. Catherine’s Monastery: An Ark in the Wilderness

John Chitty, known in the blogosphere as Captain Headknowledge, recently had the opportunity to attend a symposium on the St. Catherine’s monastery library and the significance of the Sinai manuscripts, held at the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM).

Chitty has shared the text of Father Justin’s lecture: “St. Catherine’s Monastery: An Ark in the Wilderness”. I encourage you to take a look as the lecture covers the well known and the not so well known about St. Catherine’s Monastery. I’m not sure I had heard that they made some new manuscript discoveries there as late as 1975.

Here is an excerpt from the lecture notes, but I encourage you to go read the whole thing:

The monastery has never been destroyed or abandoned in all its centuries of existence. The climate at Sinai is surprisingly dry and stable, the humidity averaging from twenty to thirty percent. All of this, and the diligent care of the monks, account for the preservation of many manuscripts. The Sinai library is today a remarkable treasure for the antiquity and the significance of its volumes.

The library contains 3304 manuscripts, written in eleven languages. These are predominantly Greek, Arabic, Syriac, Georgian, and Slavonic. The manuscripts range in content from copies of the Scriptures, services, and music manuscripts, to sermons, writings of the Fathers, lives of the Saints, and books of inherited spiritual wisdom. The library also includes medical treatises, historical chronicles, and texts in classical Greek, which is the pinnacle of the Greek language.

A few of the manuscripts are splendid works of art, with gilded letters and brilliant illuminations, created in Constantinople in the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth centuries, when the City was at its height as the centre of culture and devotion. But no less significant are the humble manuscripts written at Sinai, often on reused parchment, bound between rough boards, the pages stained from long use, a witness to the deprivations and austerity of Sinai, to the generations of monks who have maintained the life of devotion and the cycle of daily services at this holy place.

But perhaps we would come to a greater appreciation of the Sinai library if I could describe four manuscripts in particular, all of which have been recently studied by scholars.

Saint Catherine’s Monastery is a treasury filled with things new and old. Scholars still have much to learn from its library, its numerous icons, vestments, ecclesiastical vessels, its architecture. In all of this, it is a veritable ark in the wilderness.

See also a few related posts from John Chitty on the Sinai manuscripts:

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!

Jack Moorman on Revelation 16:5

In the recent James White — Jack Moorman debate on King James Onlyism, White brought up Rev. 16:5 as containing a phrase in the King James Version with no manuscipt support at all. It was added on the basis of conjectural emendation, he claimed. Several times in the debate he went back to that point, and Moorman kept saying he dealt with it already in one of his books.

Well, here’s the only section in Jack Moorman’s books that I know of which deals with Rev. 16:5. This is from When the KJV Departs from the So-Called “Majority’ Text: with Manuscipt Digest by Jack A. Moorman (published by The Bible for Today, Collingswood, NJ 1988). This is from pg. 102. I’ve tried to reproduce the format as shown in his book (my copy is the second edition).

Revelation 16:5
AV        which art, and wast, and shalt be
HF CR                                    … the Holy One

                                                                     Beza.

The KJV reading is in harmony with the four other places in Revelation where this phrase is found.
1:4 “him which is, and which was, and which is to come”
1:8 “the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty”
4:8 “Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come”
11:17 “Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come”
Indeed Christ is the Holy One, but in the Scriptures of the Apostle John the title is found only once (1 John 2:20), and there, a totally different Greek word is used. The Preface to the Authorised Version reads:

“with the former translations diligently compared and revised”

The translators must have felt there was good reason to insert these words though it ran counter to much external evidence. They obviously did not believe the charge made today that Beza inserted it on the basis of “conjectural emendation”. They knew that they were translating the Word of God, and so do we. The logic of faith should lead us to see God’s guiding providence in a passage such as this.

[AV = Authorized Version/King James Bible, HF = Hodges/Farstad Majority Text, CR = Critical Text (specifically the NA26/UBS3)]

When I first encountered this reasoning for maintaining the King James reading, I was troubled. He lists no witnesses except for Beza’s text. At the time, I was still of the KJV only persuasion, the TR Only variety. I wondered why Moorman disagreed with E.F. Hills a learned King James Version defender who admitted that Rev. 16:5 was a conjectural emendation. Later I learned that Beza actually tells us in his textual notes that this is a conjectural emendation inserted based on his presumption that John would be consistent with other similar phrases (which Moorman quotes above).

Well, since that time, I’ve come to see this as one of the clearest errors in the King James Bible and the Textus Receptus. Neither accepted version of the Textus Receptus contains this error. The 1550 Stephanus edition, prized in England as “the standard”, and the Elzevir’s text of 1633 preferred on the continent (of Europe), both do not contain this reading. Update: Actually the 1550 Stephanus, the standard in Europe, does not have Beza’s reading. The 1633 Elzevir’s text does, but the earlier 1624 Elzevir’s and all later Elzevir’s editions (1641-1678) go back to the Stephanus reading. I am unclear as to how much more preference was given to the 1633 text over the 1624, edition. H.C. Hoskier says the 1624 text is better, see Appendix C of his A Full Account and Collation of the Greek Cursive Codex Evangelium here). None of the previous English versions that the KJV translators referred to had this reading. The Latin didn’t have it either. In another post I have detailed the only possible, barest shred of evidence, a citation in one Latin commentary which may contain this reading. Beza is ignorant of that commentary however.

My point in bringing this up here is to show that I’m not so certain that Moorman has really dealt with this text. This is circular reasoning at its worst. This mentality belies the motivation behind many KJV Onlyists, which I believe White correctly pinpointed in the debate. It is the desire for a standard text. That’s a commendable desire, but it doesn’t excuse sloppy handling of evidence. By the way, this doesn’t mean that the TR isn’t a great text (most TRs don’t have this error). It also doesn’t impugn the Majority Text, as it obviously doesn’t have this reading.

Now I’m ready to stand corrected if in later copies of this book, Moorman actually added more evidence or took out his circular arguments. But at least in this version of the book, his arguments were quite poor indeed.