Sunday, April 26, 2009

When Literary Criticism Meets Textual Criticism

Literary criticism and textual criticism are not clearly distinguished in the study of manuscripts. People may sometimes be too quick to postulate two or more editions of OT books or different literary strata represented by different manuscripts.
A famous example comes from the book of Judges. In studying 4QJudga, Trebolle Barrera concludes that this fragment which lacks 6:7-10 is pre-Deuteronomistic, since the verses 8-10 tended to be attributed to a late Deuteronomistic redaction. The MT, on the other hand, as well as the Greek version reflects this later literary development. In search of more witnesses preserving traces of a shorter text, Barrera turns to the Antiochene text and the Old Latin, which he believes transmit the Old Greek, and finds three cases where the reading of 4QJudga agrees with the Antiochene text and/or the Old Latin.
Richard Hess has shown that in all cases (of 4QJosha and 4QJudga) where such anomalies occur, they are always found at points divided by the Masoretic parashiyoth which could simply show a certain scribal rearrangement of the text for specific purposes (e.g., liturgical). He emphasizes caution against using small fragments to warrant far reaching theories concerning the textual history of a book, especially in the absence of any evidence of a pre-Deuteronomistic text.
Is the Antiochene text of Judges a witness to a shorter form of the text? Natalio Fernández Marcos agrees that the ancient layer of the Antiochene text is the most reliable guide to the Old Greek in this case, especially where it agrees with the Old Latin, but he disagrees on the nature of the Antiochene text. He argues that the Antiochene or Lucianic text of Judges is an expansive rather than a short text, full of small additions of stylistic clarifications and corrections.
As is well known in LXX TC, the harder “wooden” reading is more likely to be secondary reflecting a revision towards the MT (the opposite of NT TC). Similarly, while the Antiochene text, in many places, is primary among the Greek witnesses, it is secondary to the Hebrew since it fails to explain how certain pluses were omitted in the rest of the witnesses had they been present in the Hebrew. (For the full treatment of the topic on which I base this discussion see, Natalio Fernández Marcos, “The Hebrew and Greek Texts of Judges” in The Earliest Text of the Hebrew Bible [ed. Adrian Schenker; LXXSCS 52; Atlanta, GA: SBL, 2003], 1-16).
The conversation continues, but cases like this make one wonder about scholars’ starting points and, sometimes opposing, frameworks when approaching the study of manuscripts. A literary critic views the history of the text as gradually expanding with one stratum upon another. A LXX textual critic views the history of a Greek text as gradually “shrinking”, i.e. revised towards a stricter adherence to the Hebrew text. Is there a way to distinguish the disciplines? Is the OT or NT scribe an author, a redactor, an exegete, a reviser/corrector, a copyist? Similar questions are asked of the translators as well. Do we favour one framework over another? Are we too quick to read data in the light of unique cases (i.e. the composition of the book of Jeremiah)? Just some thoughts.
Guest post: Μυρτώ Θεοχάρους


  1. MT: "A literary critic views the history of the text as gradually expanding ... LXX textual critic views the history of a Greek text as gradually 'shrinking', ... Is there a way to distinguish the disciplines?"

    This is basically asking whose discipline is the serf and whose is the feudal lord. I will bring up a similar issue in the Christianity in Egypt section at SBL in New Orleans. I am looking at a Coptic fragment of GJohn which lacks the last chapter. Textual criticism, of course, is the suzerain in the empire of theology. : )

  2. It is certainly sometimes convenient to separate disciplines (as in the old lower/higher criticism). But there are times when this seems rather problematic (as in Jeremiah say; or even Acts; or the synoptic gospels) and we need to be able to consider both literary and textual criticism together. (IMO)

  3. Eldon Epp's dictum that "exegesis is the final arbiter of text criticism" comes to mind as well.

  4. I agree that it is problematic to distinguish the disciplines sometimes. We should exercise scrutiny and let the individual manuscripts tell us which discipline to adopt, i.e. let the “symptoms” suggest the “treatment”.
    Emanuel Tov proposes the following: “It is assumed that large-scale differences displaying a certain coherence were created at the level of the literary growth of the books by persons who considered themselves actively involved in the literary process of composition.” This is certainly logical but it has its limitations, since it assumes too much about the scribes. It doesn’t tell us, for example, whether the scribe systematically “omitted” things in order to arrive at his final product rather than “added” in a systematic way. The shorter text cannot be regarded a priori to be an earlier developmental stage. Also, Tov’s definition does not distinguish between literary “growth” of a text for specific communities (e.g. the Samaritan Pentateuch’s systematic changes) and the development in a book’s “composition”. Any better definitions out there?

  5. CA: "Textual criticism, of course, is the suzerain in the empire of theology. : )"

    Well at least the theologians, us surfers, ahem ... serfs, remain humble with all the criticism that gets slung at us.

    It seems that the crucial activity to be separated is that both literary critics and textual critics are really theologian critics.

    And theologians have their heads so far in the clouds they wouldn't know it ...

  6. Myrto, your citation from Emanuel Tov is probably not refering to "scribes" as you seem to be inclined to interprete it, but to revisors. That's a completely different story.

    What is your view about Emanuel Tov's analysis of the LXX of the book of Jeremiah? There he argues that the extant textual LXX tradition of said book consists of a blend of two different translations, (broadly speaking) one extant in the first half of Jeremiah and the other one in the second half.

    Ulrich Schmid

  7. Ulrich, thank you for your comment.
    I was using “scribes” in a generic sense before the role of revisor or editor is attributed to their work. The difficulty in terminology is there, and also in the immediate context of Tov’s citation: “It is probably a mere semantic issue to find an appropriate term for the persons involved in this process. They were the last of the editors of the biblical books, but at the same time they also formed a transitional group to the next stage, that of the textual transmission, and hence they may also be named authors-scribes.” You are right that Tov elsewhere reserves the title “scribe” only for the post-composition stage.
    Correct me if I am wrong, but it is not my understanding that Tov argues for two different translations in Jeremiah. That is closer to Thackeray’s view which he opposes and, instead, proposes that chs. 29-52 represent a revision of the OG, which is only preserved in the original form of chs. 1-28 and sometimes recognized in the sub-stratum of the latter part. I would prefer his theory to Thackeray’s. What is your view on this?

  8. Myrto,You are correct about Tov's view. And, presently I have no independent view on that, since I've only recently started to immerse myself into LXX studies. Though I must say that LXX textual history seems to be much more complicated than NT textual history.

    With regard to your main topic literary versus textual criticism I think the two are inseparable. Though I look at it not so much from our "traditionally modern" developments of literary and textual criticisms as seperate scholarly endeavors. The more I think and study about it, the more obvious it is to me that what we perceive as two different and categorically separated stages in fact is part of a continuum of literary activity in antiquity.

    This is not to say that we should not distinguish between different activities, e.g. preparing/editing a work for publication/translation (today filed under literary criticism) and copying a literay work (today filed under textual criticism). Preparing/editing a work for publication/translation involved for purely practical reasons some basic form of emendation (healing of the text), simply because hardly anybody in antiquity suspected the copy in front of him or herself to be the only copy to contain no scribal blunders. Hence an act (as perceived through modern eyes) of textual criticism is at the very heart of ancient literary criticism.

    Ulrich Schmid