Making Text-Critical Decisions

Having thought about the basics, the manuscripts and the possible errors, the final step in the text-critical process is making a decision as to which variant you think is most likely to be original. There are a number of factors and processes that experts use to guide their thinking here.

The evidence for making TC decisions is usually classed as internal or external.

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This is not strictly a Textual Criticism issue – but it’s a related topic and it is linked to Leviticus, where I’m doing a bit of work at the moment.

If you have ever read much about Hebrew OT, or read technical OT commentaries, or tried to decipher a page of BHS, then you have probably come accorss the terms qere and kethiv (or kethib). This is what they are:

BHS is a copy of the Leningrad Codex (a complete Hebrew Bible dated to 1008/9AD. It is the oldest complete copy of the OT that we have. This codex was written by a group of Jewish scribes who saw it as their role to preserve the Hebrew OT. So these guys worked like horses to do everything in their power to ensure that the text of the OT was never lost. To do this, not only did they memorise and write out the text, but they also developed ways to write down the vowels and accents for the text. (They developed ingenious ways of doing this so that they didn’t have to alter the consonantal text, which was sacred to them. That’s why in BHS and other Hebrew bibles, the vowels and accents are written above and below the consonants, but rarely ever between them.)

Because the Masoretes held the consonantal text as sacred, they never changed it – but they did spot some mistakes, or varient readings. And so they developed another ingenious way of showing this without having to change the letters: they made a distinction between qere (“what is said”) and kethiv (“what is written”).

An example to explain can be found in Leviticus 9:22.

What is written (kethiv) in the text is ידו (yod-dalet-waw) but what is read (qere) is ידיו (yod-dalet-yod-waw). If you look carefully, you will see a small circle over the word in the main text which is the Masoretes way of referring you to the outer margin where you will find a ק (the symbol for qere) with some other consonants written over it.

What the Masoretes did was to maintain the original consonants (ידו) but to write the correct vowels underneath those consonants, while keepiing the ‘correct’ consonants in the margin. So what is written is ידו but what is read is יָדָיו. The kethiv is the singular noun ‘hand’ with a 3ms suffix (“his hand”) whereas the qere is the plural noun + 3ms suffix (“his hands”).

The Wikipedia article has some good info on different types of qere-kethiv.

Introduction to Textual Criticism

Primarily for my own benefit and revision, there’ll be some posts over the next few weeks covering the basics of textual criticism (TC). This is the first one.

Paul Wegner defines textual criticism as:

the science and art that seeks to determine the most reliable wording of a text (p24 of “A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible”)

Continue reading “Introduction to Textual Criticism”

Perfect or Participle

I was reading Leviticus 9 this morning in preparation for a teaching series starting at my church soon. The NET pointed out an interesting query in the text at v4.

Is the Hebrew נראה a perfect verb or a participle? The MT pointing has it has a perfect verb (with a qamets under the aleph). However, the BHS footnote and the NET comments point out that the LXX translate it as if it were a participle (ὀφθήσεται which is a 3s future passive indicative). So the LXX doesn’t translate the form into a participle, but does encode into its morphology a future aspect which must be based on a reading of the MT as a participle.

The only difference between the two forms would be a seghol under the aleph (for the participle, נִרְאֶה) instead of a qamets (for the perfect, נִרְאָה).

The root of the verb is ראה. Niphal forms of III-He verbs can be found in BBH §25.4 (or in Van Pelts “Compact Guide” at p121).

The NET footnote is helpful in that it describes specifically the way in which each of those two forms would be functioning. A perfect would be taken as a prophetic perfect (as in IBHS §30.5.1e) and the participle would be a futurum instans (IBHS §37.6f).

Finally, the NET concludes that:

In either case, the point is that Moses was anticipating that the Lord would indeed appear to them on this day.

So the meaning and interpretation of the text is not really disputed, but it is a reminder that pointing is very significant and that the MT pointing is not necessarily inspired and needs to be examined carefully.