Saturday, July 08, 2006

Text and Canon, or, Do we really want an eclectic Hebrew Bible?

Shalom Hevre, χαιρειν
שלום חברה
This is a first post to the ETC and hopefully will appear in full if I don't push the wrong buttons along the way.

There is a theoretical textual question that might be nice to discuss with this group. It is visible with the Hebrew Bible. Most Bible translations and many a commentary assume an unpublished, eclectic Hebrew text (whether they realize it or not) when translating/explaining the Hebrew Bible.

Do we want a new, 21st century eclectic text for the Hebrew Bible?

As a Bible translator I had assumed that a translator's job included establishing a Hebrew text. It's what everyone does and what most training directs and presupposes. It is the practice of every published Bible if there are footnotes along the lines of "according to LXX, Hebrew unclear", or "according to different vocalization, Hebrew reads 'xxxxx'".

Some time ago [OK, 15 years already :-) ] I came to the conclusion that we don't have enough background to produce a definitive pre-massoretic text of the Hebrew Bible. This is not a counsel of despair, but a recognition that the MT is in many respects a very conservative eclectic text with roots to the first century CE. If we accept it as a canon, we can translate it, and footnote our speculations and comparisons with other traditions. (Or, conversely, someone might use an LXX as their canon, and footnote MT differences and speculations outside the text.) Again, without realizing it, this is scholarly practice, where Leningrad is published in the BHS and everything else is footnoted.

Why don't we acknowledge this and produce translations accordingly? It would mean defining the canon as the MT (or perhaps an LXX for some groups) and relegating all textual questions to "extra-canonical" footnotes.

I'll give an example in another post on Is53 5 uvaHavurato ובחברתו.

blessings
Randall

15 comments:

  1. This is exactly what the JPS 1985 translation (and most Jewish translations) claims to do.

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  2. First, it's great to see that Dr. Buth has joined ETC. Though I didn't have a class with him, I remember him from my time at Jerusalem University College in 1999.

    Regarding this post:

    The use of the term "canon" here is flexing the definition beyond its proper technical usage. "Canon" refers to the delimitation of certain books, not to the delimitations of textual variants within those books. I think it could pertain to the latter if we had two extant editions of a given book whose textual histories were kept separate, one edition being the canonical one and the other not. But such a scenario could only apply to a given book of the Bible after it has been established that those prerequisites obtain, and not to the Old Testament as a whole.

    Also, though I think I agree that we are not presently able to construct a definitive pre-Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible, this doesn't exclude the possibility of identifying pre-Masoretic readings at various points where there may be greater internal and external evidence available than others. It is this possibility that allows the eccelctic Hebrew texts you mention. The situation that obtains most often, it seems, is that the MT is given a pride of place as the textual starting point whose readings are accepted as right until proven wrong by a preponderance of evidence, the weight of which evidence is determined by the translator. From your post I don't see why this approach is unacceptable.

    Finally, this may be another semantic distinction. But I really don't think that the task of believers when it comes to canon is that of defining one. Can you or I as an individual Christian really define the canon for ourselves according to what we deem practical? This seems like a case of protestant individualism gone awry.

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  3. to anonymous,
    yes, that is the fun part, finding places where translations like JPS don't follow their principles. At Is 53.5 JPS has "bruises", against the MT. Careful reading will also find places here and there where JPS differs with the te`amim.
    Sometimes one finds the influence of BHS where the formatting of the editor contradicts the te`amim and JPS goes with BHS
    Randall

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  4. to eric,
    thank you for the long interaction.

    briefly, i include 'definitive edition' as part of canon. MT Jeremiah is different from LXX jeremiah. Also SHmuel and Kings should be called different editions. Ditto for torah with MT and Samaritan.

    And I'm very glad to hear the individualistic principle raised. That comes round full circle to bite the eclecticist (individual or committee) who translates a "new" Hebrew text. You may be interested to know that the Bible societies and Rome have a document on ecumenical translations (1987?) that specifies that joint translation projects and committees should translate a scientific critic text--BHS for the Hebrew Bible. I was amused when I first read that because the formulators were thinking according to NT text criticism, not realizing that the BHS was not a Nestle-aland type of reconstruction but approximately Leningrad. In fact, it was reading that document in 1991 that helped me crystalize for myself that Hebrew Bible translators should translate the MT and place reconstructions in the footnotes, not in the text. They don't usually do that.
    Finally, following the MT gives an objective text. A "pre-Masoretic reading" from one week may be judged to be "post-Masoretic" in a following week, by the same scholar. The conservatism in the 5 vol BS OT text committee volumes is also interesting to view. A gut survey might say that about 90% of non-MT translations were rejected by the committee as unsubstantiated speculation and not an improvement on the MT. so do I want to speculate? Of course! But for translations, I would rather agree that the MT represents the best definition of canon.
    Randall

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  5. "i include 'definitive edition' as part of canon. MT Jeremiah is different from LXX jeremiah. Also SHmuel and Kings should be called different editions. Ditto for torah with MT and Samaritan."

    I can accept this aspect of canon so long as it is restricted to those cases where a deonstrable choice between two definitive editions is involved. But this isn't always the case. Your Isa 53:5 is a place where you are applying this principle to the selection of a reading within a book, not a definitive edition of a book. Nor do the numerous variants between MT-Isaiah and LXX-Isaiah automatically make them two 'definitive editions' of Isaiah, as the variants could have accrued piecemeal within what was at one time a very diverse pool of Isaiah mss (the 1QIsaA may support this).

    Furthermore, a demonstrable definitive edition can be supported by more than one of our important textual witniesses, as the LXX Torah supports the MT against the Samaritan. In such a case, the canonical edition need not exclude the LXX.

    "Finally, following the MT gives an objective text."

    This is true. And a translation of this objective text can be of value. But being an objective text doesn't automatically make it verbally plenarily inspired. And if at any point I as a Christian become convinced in my own conscience that the words of Isaiah, for example, are at some point more accurately transmitted in the LXX than in the MT, shouldn't I value the LXX reading more highly at that point?

    Finally, a question. Is your approach to NT TC similarly driven by a commitment to a canonical edition of the NT or any particular book therein? If so, what? And if not, why the double standard? Is it only because "we don't have enough background to produce a definitive pre-massoretic text of the Hebrew Bible"?

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  6. rb
    >>"Finally, following the MT gives an objective text.">>

    er
    >This is true. And a translation of this objective text can be of value. But being an objective text doesn't automatically make it verbally plenarily inspired. And if at any point I as a Christian become convinced in my own conscience that the words of Isaiah, for example, are at some point more accurately transmitted in the LXX than in the MT, shouldn't I value the LXX reading more highly at that point?>

    rb
    I distinguish original text from canonical text. the canonical text is a standard, 'given', not to be set aside. the original text for me is grey with a fluid, changing boundary. It can join the canonical text but I would not replace the canonical text. The canonical HEbrew Bible can be defined if accepted from the synogogue. I do.
    How to justify this? Practically, as mentioned, it is the best overall tradition, remarkably conservative, preserving material against the grain. Scripturally, perhaps one could mix 'scripture cannot be broken' and extrapolate from 'the scribes and prushim have seated themselves in the seat of Moses so do and keep whatever they say'.

    er
    > Finally, a question. Is your approach to NT TC similarly driven by a commitment to a canonical edition of the NT or any particular book therein? If so, what? And if not, why the double standard? Is it only because "we don't have enough background to produce a definitive pre-massoretic text of the Hebrew Bible"?>

    rb
    a perceptive comment/question. I have a wonderful doublestandard here. Mainly because we don't have a definitive Greek NT in the same way as a Masoretic Hebrew Bible. OT and NT are two different textcritical worlds. the NT is much better off with wide support where we can basically assume that somewhere we have the original text lurking. Not necessarily so with the OT.
    Of course, I do view NA27 as a marshmallow text, something like a holographic image. Reasoned eclecticism is a good approach, with a soft spot for occasional Caesarian and Byzantine readings with Judeaan roots. Swanson's B text as base is also the right starting point. No surprise there, from me.
    And I am not a fan of Bezae, even though I love tracing its fickleness, sometimes preserving good, historical, non-original-text material (and thus non-canonical), while at other times bringing in horrible stuff (e.g. Lu 6:5, also, fortunately, non-canonical).
    there, that should sufficiently establish a double standard.

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  7. Two translations which I use often and which use Lennigrad for the text while listing varriants in the notes are:

    NET Bible
    E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible

    So, for instance, Bullinger mentions in Genesis 2:2 that the Samaritan Pent differs from the MT in saying God finished creation on the sixth day (not the seventh). And the NET bible makes frequent reference to all manner of variant readings in other manuscripts like the Dead Sea Scrolls or LXX.

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  8. I am unfamiliar with Bullinger's Bible. But the NET Bible does NOT always include the MT in the main text. Nor does it claim to do so. Its preface merely asserts that it uses BHS (based on L) as a starting point for translation, but makes no claim that the main text always follows L leaving other readings completely in the footnotes. See Isa 21:8 for an example of the MT reading being in the footnote and the DSS reading in the main text. I'm sure there are others.

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  9. RB:
    "The canonical Hebrew Bible can be defined if accepted from the synogogue. I do.
    How to justify this? Practically, as mentioned, it is the best overall tradition, remarkably conservative, preserving material against the grain. Scripturally, perhaps one could mix 'scripture cannot be broken' and extrapolate from 'the scribes and prushim have seated themselves in the seat of Moses so do and keep whatever they say'."

    First off, thank you for clearly presenting the theological concepts that undergird your approach to TC. If only all biblical scholars would be so honest and forthright about the inseparability of their religious beliefs and their practices of higher and lower criticism.

    One risk, of course, of doing this is that it opens up your approach to criticism on similarly theological grounds. Jesus' affirmation of the God-given authority held by the Pharisees within Israel prior to the institution of the Church is one thing. Extrapolating from that the idea that the Masoretes of the middle ages have a God-given authority over the Church as to what readings we must accept at every point in the Old Testament could be reading too much into the verse. These Masoretes belonged to a later form of rabbinic Judaism within which rejection of the messianic claims of Jesus was an institutionalized dogma. If they have authority to dictate textual and canonical matters to us, it would seem that we must also follow them in rejection of the NT and acceptance of the oral Torah, including those claims of oral Torah that pertain to Jesus.

    It seems theologically preferable to afford the Masoretes authority on a practical level as scribes who were quite faithful purveyors of the Hebrew text they inherited. We can, thereby, plunder their work inasmuch as we recognize that it accurately represents the Hebrew Bible endorsed by our Lord without granting them a priori authority over the texts of our Bible.

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  10. And, actually, looking back... The Companion Bible uses Ben Chayim's Masoretic at the main text, not Lennigrad. So I loose.

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  11. maurice a robinson5:24 pm, July 10, 2006

    Buth: “the Bible societies and Rome have a document on ecumenical translations (1987?) that specifies that joint translation projects and committees should translate a scientific critic text--BHS for the Hebrew Bible. I was amused when I first read that because the formulators were thinking according to NT text criticism”

    Rowe: “Is your approach to NT TC similarly driven by a commitment to a canonical edition of the NT”

    Buth: “I have a wonderful doublestandard here. Mainly because we don't have a definitive Greek NT”

    The sequence of discussion is interesting, particularly in light of Dr Buth’s original subtitle: “Do we really want an eclectic Hebrew Bible?”

    My question is whether, in view of similar considerations, we really should want an eclectic Greek NT text. In his original post, Dr Buth wrote:

    “I came to the conclusion that we don't have enough background to produce a definitive pre-massoretic text of the Hebrew Bible. This is not a counsel of despair, but a recognition that the MT is in many respects a very conservative eclectic text with roots to the first century CE.”

    To offer a parallel for consideration: the extant evidence (pre-4th century papyri and scattered minority-type uncials and minuscules) in reality is equally insufficient for producing a definitive pre-Koine (i.e. pre-Byzantine) form of text for the Greek NT.

    Looking at it from a standpoint similar to that of Buth, I would suggest in parallel with the “late” Massoretic form of the Hebrew OT that the existing post-4th century Byzantine text itself also represents a “very conservative” form of text (I deliberately omit the term “eclectic”) that likely has its roots in the first century. This position would seem to parallel Buth and also agree to a great extent with Childs.

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  12. Interestingly enough, a misconception persists that the Masoretic and Byzantine texts each are monolithic across
    their respective corpus of MSS, each one a'cookie-cutter copy' of the other. In fact, both the
    OT 'Hebrew MT' and NT 'Byzantine MT' can be further subdivided into
    distinct families of associated MSS. This is especially noticeable when one limits the comparisons to Hebrew and Greek MSS of the 9th-12th centuries.

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  13. MR:
    >
    To offer a parallel for consideration: the extant evidence (pre-4th century papyri and scattered minority-type uncials and minuscules) in reality is equally insufficient for producing a definitive pre-Koine (i.e. pre-Byzantine) form of text for the Greek NT.

    Looking at it from a standpoint similar to that of Buth, I would suggest in parallel with the “late” Massoretic form of the Hebrew OT that the existing post-4th century Byzantine text itself also represents a “very conservative” form of text (I deliberately omit the term “eclectic”) that likely has its roots in the first century. This position would seem to parallel Buth and also agree to a great extent with Childs.>

    Some points of clarification need to be added here. The Byzantine (Koine/antioch) text does not exist as a text type before the 4 th century. It is not a bad text as texts go in antiquity, but it is certainly not a first or second century phenomenon. Individual readings exist, of course, but not collectively as a type.
    On the otherhand, Vaticanus, anchored by p75 is a remarkable, conservative, second century texttype. I think NT textcritics sit in a rather comfortable chair in comparison to OT textcritics. While always looking forward to new evidence, NT folk have a wealth of evidence for constructing an eclectic text in comparison to OT folk.

    PS to Daniel Buck,
    Yes, the MT and Byz traditions themselves have internal distinctions. Though less so with the MT and comparisons like Leningrad with Aleppo.

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  14. Eric wrote
    >
    One risk, of course, of doing this is that it opens up your approach to criticism on similarly theological grounds. Jesus' affirmation of the God-given authority held by the Pharisees within Israel prior to the institution of the Church is one thing. Extrapolating from that the idea that the Masoretes of the middle ages have a God-given authority over the Church as to what readings we must accept at every point in the Old Testament could be reading too much into the verse. These Masoretes belonged to a later form of rabbinic Judaism within which rejection of the messianic claims of Jesus was an institutionalized dogma. If they have authority to dictate textual and canonical matters to us, it would seem that we must also follow them in rejection of the NT and acceptance of the oral Torah, including those claims of oral Torah that pertain to Jesus.

    It seems theologically preferable to afford the Masoretes authority on a practical level as scribes who were quite faithful purveyors of the Hebrew text they inherited. We can, thereby, plunder their work inasmuch as we recognize that it accurately represents the Hebrew Bible endorsed by our Lord without granting them a priori authority over the texts of our Bible.>

    rb responding:
    Well, this theological counterargument would sound better if the church had preserved a Hebrew Bible. I haven't found one, though Origen recognized the problem. the MT is/was the only Hebrew Bible on the market, practically speaking. It really does go back to first century roots. And I don't find the text being altered to fight Yeshu`ian messianism. while this list is text oriented, the canon question comes into play at one end of the spectrum and it is also curious that the evangelical and protestant traditions accept the synagogue biblical canon 100%. [[I mean, if anyone had a claim to Maccabees, the Christians would. (John 10:22; LXX precedents). But protestants reject Macdabees, me too (thus, dropping pil "elephant" out of biblical Hebrew!)]] If the synagogue preserved the canon, why not the text? One could certainly argue God's providence. We accept the canon from the synagogue then we accept the language. By default, we let the synagogue preserve the Hebrew text. There was no other Hebrew Bible.

    On the otherhand, I can appreciate someone arguing that a textual discussion should be outside of a theological discussion. True. But the "Hebrew Bible" is a theological construct by virtue of serving as a canon to a believing community, or communities. In that case it should be legitimate to discuss possible wordings of various editions of melaxim מלכים, on the one hand, and posit the MT as a canon on the otherhand. Risky? Perhaps. (Not very risky, practically speaking.) And we can always elevate an outside reading to some kind of parallel canonical status. (thus, I would claim that footnotes are a legimate way of having one's cake and eating it, too.)

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  15. Wow... quite a discussion going here -- which I don't have time to enter into.

    But I do have some simple questions: (1) What happens when Leningrad has a mistake or is unintelliagble? (2) And why elevate Leningrad? It is just one example of a Masoretic text. Do you allow proto-Masoretic texts from Qumran to enter into the equation. (3) In regards to canon, the canonical debates never indicated what versions of certain books are canonical, they just said Jeremiah, not LXX Jeremiah or MT Jeremiah.

    Anyhow, you raise a number of interesting questions. Finally, at least modern translations alert you via footnotes that they are following a different text.

    You may be interested in the series on Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible I am doing at my blog.

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