Panel Discussion of Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible

SBL 1992 Annual Meeting
Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible Section

Emanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1992).

I am grateful for the privilege of getting to read advance copies of Professor Tov's book and for the opportunity to present a few thoughts on it in this seminar. Let me begin by noting that my own background in textual criticism is probably different from that of almost everyone else here. After starting with the study of New Testament textual criticism under James Brooks at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, I later was able to study Old Testament textual criticism with Johann Cook at the University of Stellenbosch. I hope I am able to bring a somewhat different perspective and to raise some issues which may not have caught the attention of others.

Let me begin with a few technical matters. My Ph.D. dissertation, which I completed earlier this year, has a horrendous and somewhat misleading title: "A Methodology for Determining the Textual Variants Which Are Relevant for Reconstructing the Original Text of the Old Testament: A Case Study of 1 Samuel 3." I would like to discuss the issue of the "original text" later, but first I want to talk about methodology and the use of versional evidence in textual criticism. Tov says, "Some ancient translations, especially G, will always remain highly significant .... Individual important readings are also reflected in the other translations." In my dissertation and in my subsequent M.A. thesis, I have attempted to develop a methodology for determining which readings in the LXX and in the other versions are really significant for textual criticism. In doing so, I have relied heavily on an earlier work of Prof. Tov, The Text-Critical Use of the Septuagint in Biblical Research, and to a large extent my work has been a test of Tov's suggested methodology with several different versions on a particular passage. Tov suggests four ways of analyzing the literalness of a translation unit: (1) consistency, (2) the representation of the constituents of compound words in the source language by individual elements in the target language, (3) word order, and (4) quantitative representation. (He adds that a fifth criterion, linguistic adequacy of lexical choices, cannot be described statistically and is highly subjective, so it cannot be used profitably in the analysis of translation units.) Based on these criteria, Tov says, one can determine the relative literalness or freedom with which the translators went about their work. I would like to focus primarily on the first of these criteria, the issue of consistency.

As I was studying the four secondary witnesses to the text of 1 Samuel 3 (i.e., LXX, P, T, and V), I attempted to refine the concept of consistency by dividing it into different areas, such as the rendering of lexical choices and the rendering of grammatical structures. Tov suggests in Text-Critical Use that only "content words" (nouns, verbs, adjectives) may be retroverted into Hebrew reliably, since "grammatical words" (prepositions, conjunctions, etc.) and grammatical categories are not rendered consistently. Again in the present book, he says,

The analysis of the translation technique and the translator's exegesis does not provide sufficient information in order to determine whether deviations in certain grammatical categories were caused by the translator or derived from his Hebrew Vorlage. Thus, generally speaking, one often gropes in the dark when encountering differences in number (singular/plural), the tenses of the verb, pronominal suffixes, prepositions, the article, etc.
While my research confirmed that content words are rendered more consistently than grammatical words in general, in specific cases certain types of grammatical words and grammatical categories are rendered as consistently or even more consistently than content words. For example, conjunctions were rendered with absolute consistency in both LXX and T (but not V!), and the consistency in the rendering in LXX of Hebrew verbal inflection, person, and number was comparable to that of the content words. I am interested to know if Prof. Tov has had any second thoughts on his earlier positions, and I would like to know if he feels it is worthwhile (from the point of view of textual criticism) to study versions other than LXX. Also, I wonder if I am correct in sensing that this latest book allows for a greater possibility of reliable retroversion than his earlier one.

Another somewhat technical point involves the identification of pseudo-variants in the versional witnesses. In Text-Critical Use, Tov defines pseudo-variants as those in which a different Hebrew text existed only in the translator's mind. The impression I get from reading his discussion of the phenomenon in his new book (although I don't remember the word "pseudo-variant" being used) is that he may now be saying that pseudo-variants are often impossible to distinguish from real variants. Is this a slight change in perspective from his earlier book? There is no doubt that the phenomenon that he is describing actually occurred, but is there any methodologically sound way of distinguishing authentic variants from pseudo-variants? I was not able to do so in my own research, and I finally came to the conclusion that, from a methodological standpoint, it was better to treat all apparent variants as real variants, believing that most or all of the pseudo-variants would be weeded out later in the evaluation process as inferior.

Up to this point I have discussed some fairly fine points which may seem esoteric, so I would like to shift now to a more philosophical issue. On p. 172 Tov makes the following statement: "Textual criticism mainly takes into consideration the one composition which is reflected in all the known textual sources and which has been accepted as authoritative within Judaism." Again, he says later, "In our view it is the task of the textual (and literary) critic to aim at that literary composition which has been accepted as binding (authoritative) by Jewish tradition, since these disciplines are concerned with the literary compositions contained in the traditional Hebrew Bible." Would a textual critic coming from the Christian tradition agree with this assessment of the goal of the textual critic (as Luther might have), or would he/she prefer those versions of biblical books (e.g., Daniel, Esther, Jeremiah) first accepted by large portions of the early church (so Augustine)? I think this question is related to the terminology we use to describe our discipline. "Textual criticism of the Old Testament" (the title of other introductions to the subject) has a distinctly Christian sound, since Old Testament, of course, is a Christian term. Since those outside the Christian tradition (especially within Judaism) are interested in the same topic, this terminology is not the best. Both Prof. Tov's book and the title of this seminar speak of textual criticism of the "Hebrew Bible." I understand that the term is intended to connote a particular set of biblical books, but I see two problems with this terminology as well. First, it seems to exclude deuterocanonical books from consideration, especially those not originally composed in Hebrew. Second, I am afraid the term "Hebrew Bible" might bias some people in favor of the MT and against the testimony of the ancient versions, even on those occasions in which the versions have preferable readings. "Textual criticism of the Tanakh" would avoid this latter problem, but it faces the same difficulties as "Old Testament textual criticism" does. I wonder if we should not borrow the term I have heard James Sanders often use and speak of textual criticism of the First Testament?

I mentioned earlier that the title of my dissertation, much to my chagrin, included the phrase "original text of the Old Testament" in it. In fact, I spend some time arguing that the term is ambiguous and fraught with difficulty. Tov discusses the matter of the Urtext, and he rejects the possibility that several pristine texts once existed. He prefers to speak of the "original shape" of the text rather than the original text itself. This whole discussion is tied in with the overlap between textual criticism and literary criticism. In thinking about these issues, I think it is important to distinguish the text-critical task from that of the commentator or cleric, though one person may wear many hats. Some may choose to concentrate their efforts on a particular existing form of the text (e.g., MT or V), others may want to examine many existing texts to see how they functioned in their respective communities, and still others may search for the presumed original text in the belief that it is in some way more authoritative that texts now extant. It seems to me that, though the textual critic may hold one of these positions, the text-critical task itself by definition involves attempting to reconstruct earlier forms of the text, none of which will ever be identical with any original text. I wonder if textual critics should speak more of earlier forms of the text (or of the earliest recoverable form) and avoid the term "original text" altogether?

Perhaps Tov's most important achievement in the present book is his incorporation of new knowledge about the biblical text derived from the scrolls from the Judean Desert . The evidence from these scrolls, Tov says, forces scholars to speak of a multitude of "texts" rather than three text-types (so Albright and Cross). The scrolls also illustrate various scribal practices current in the Second Temple period. One question that arises from his grouping of the scrolls into five categories (proto-Masoretic, pre-Samaritan, texts close to the presumed Hebrew source of the Septuagint, texts written in the Qumran practice, and non-aligned texts) is whether the group written in the Qumran practice, in regard to the text (as opposed to orthography or morphology), has a great enough internal consistency, and enough variation from the other groups, to constitute a distinct group.

I would like to conclude my remarks by pointing out one of the most valuable aspects of this book, namely, that it shows the possibility of integrating textual criticism with other scholarly endeavors. In particular, Tov identifies exegesis, the history of the Hebrew language, and the history of ideas as area which textual criticism can inform. He also gives a number of examples of integrating textual and literary criticism. Let me close by reading the last paragraph of my review of this book in the Southwestern Journal of Theology [although purportedly accepted for publication in the latter journal, the review never appeared in it; it was ultimately published in Critical Review of Books in Religion (1995), and is now online]:

This book will undoubtedly become the standard introduction to the textual criticism of the Old Testament. Its lucid style and numerous examples make it enjoyable reading. While it does not answer every question the student of textual criticism might raise, its 400+ pages should address the majority of them. Perhaps more importantly, the book itself raises issues that even experienced textual critics will not have answered satisfactorily. It will give all who read it new questions to ponder.
James R. Adair, Jr.
University of Stellenbosch