Wednesday, May 31, 2006

When Psalm titles were longer ...

It might be tempting to suppose that, because MT ascribes 73 psalms to David and the LXX 84, there was a tendency to add ascriptions to David to the psalms.

I would like to speculate about a contrary tendency to remove authorship ascriptions. The particular piece of evidence I would adduce for this comes from the ‘Psalms of Ascents’.

In MT these psalms share the title שיר המעלות 'song of the ascents', except Ps. 121, which reads שיר למעלות 'song to/for the ascents', by the simple change of one letter. Further ascriptions of authorship to David (122, 124, 131, 133) have been arranged more or less symmetrically either side of the central psalm 127, which is ascribed to Solomon. On either side of Ps. 127 the tetragrammaton occurs 24 times (I think this observation goes back to Hengstenberg).

However, this careful arrangement may have been produced by removing ascriptions to authors. The unusual structure שיר למעלות in Ps. 121 is the clue. In the Qumran text 11Qpsa we have a lacuna just at the beginning of Ps. 123 followed by דויד למעלות 'David to/for the ascents'. The lacuna is most naturally filled by the word שיר 'song'. Thus the whole title would read שיר דויד למעלות 'song of David for the ascents'. The use of the preposition lamedh 'to/for' is clearly necessitated by the fact that the construct-genitive relationship cannot be used here: 'song of David of the ascents' is not possible.

Thus it seems that MT's 'song for the ascents' in the title of Ps. 121 is a structure that can best be explained by the existence of an earlier authorship ascription. Of course, it is not possible to know what name may have been there previously. As often, MT suggests a previous history, but does not allow us to identify what that history is.

This, alongside the obscurity of information within the titles, would be another argument for some antiquity to traditions of information that formed the titles.

TC volume going mega-cheaply


D. G. K. Taylor, ed. Studies in the Early Text of the Gospels and Acts. Texts and Studies, third series, vol. 1. Birmingham, U.K.: University of Birmingham Press, 1999. Pp. xiii + 283. Normally: GBP £18.99/ US $55.00. ISBN: 1-902459-03-2.

For those interested this volume is now on sale from Continuum for only £5.

A review of the book can be found here.

To order:
Web - Continuum
Phone - (UK) 01202 665432

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Septuagint lectionaries

Does anyone know of any good sources of information about lectionary texts of the Septuagint?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Tomas Bokedal, ThD thesis at Lund

[I am grateful to the author for receipt of the following abstract of a doctorate in systematic theology with considerable interaction with text-critical issues. It is good to see that the material aspects of manuscripts are beginning to be noticed by systematicians.]

Bokedal, Tomas, The Scriptures and the Lord: Formation and Significance of the Christian Biblical Canon. A Study in Text, Ritual and Interpretation, 374 pp. (ISBN: 91-628-6607-9). Thesis for the degree of Doctor of Theology, ThD, Lund University, 2005.

This study explores the emergence of the Christian biblical canon and its significance for the early as well as for the contemporary church. Some major challenges to previous research on the biblical canon are presented.

The apostolic formula "the Scriptures and the Lord" is defended as a good summary of the Christian canon, its formation and significance. It is argued that the canon was formed in a process with its own particular intention, history and direction. Seeking to bridge the early canon with its future orientation and reception, history and theology, past and present are considered alongside each other. The ongoing preservation and actualization of the canon is crucial also for today's church.

As part of the investigation, a set of signifiers for the different dimensions of the concept of canon is elaborated. Furthermore, the trinitarian textual markers of the so called nomina sacra are treated. The nomina sacra were consistently used in the Bible manuscripts until modern times, and their reintroduction in contemporary Bibles is proposed. Particularly highlighted are also the codex format, oral and written text, the textuality of the canon, canonical shape, the Liturgy of the Word, the Rule of Faith and the logic of the Christian canon.

The results of this investigation suggest that three recent views on the canon formation should be revised: 1) The significance of canonizing as an act of cataloguing of a definite list of Scriptures, commonly ascribed to the late fourth century. 2) The insignificance often associated with the first and second century concepts of a Christian biblical canon. And 3) The idea that the act of canonizing Scripture is just past history, while numerous examples of the act of preserving, actualizing and restructuring the Scriptures as canon may be enlisted in the midst of ongoing canon debates.In order to grasp the complex phenomenon of the Christian canon, applying a semiotic approach, the study is divided in four major parts, each signifying different aspects of the canonical structuring of the Christian Scriptures. These are: 1) linguistic and effective-historical, 2) material and textual, 3) performative, and 4) ideational aspects. The hermeneutics of tradition developed by Hans-Georg Gadamer is central to the study.

The case against reduction of large numbers

Here I am going to present some arguments to the effect that the large numbers of Israelites in current texts (MT, LXX, etc.) of the exodus narrative, especially in the book of Numbers, should not be reduced.


  1. Large numbers as a biblical theme
  2. Two internal objections
  3. How an evangelical can shoot themselves in the foot
  4. External objections

1. Large numbers as a biblical theme
Numbers of humans are a significant element of the biblical narrative right from Genesis 1:28 when the humans are told to ‘be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth’. Such language is echoed in Genesis 6:1, but human sin provokes the Flood, whereafter God reissues his multiplication command in Genesis 9:1. After his election Abra(ha)m is given specific promises of a large number of offspring and it is said that they will in fact be unable to be counted (Gen. 15:5).

We then follow the Genesis narrative carefully as, despite multiple barrenness, the patriarchs begin to multiply. A key point is Genesis 46 when Jacob and family are about to enter Egypt. Here the narrative goes into slow motion as it carefully counts the small number of those who enter Egypt. Jacob has already emphasised the smallness of his family (34:30), saying literally that he consists of ‘men of number’ (i.e. not an uncountable group).

Exodus picks up where Genesis left off. It begins by listing Jacob’s sons and mentioning that, as in Genesis 46, there were only 70 (LXX 75). We then read Exodus 1:7:

‘Now the children of Israel were fruitful, and swarmed, and multiplied, and became very, very strong, and the land was filled with them.’

But let us not forget that ‘land’ and ‘earth’ are the same word in Hebrew. Thus the large number of Israelites is linked back to the command first given to humanity (Gen. 1:28) and the promises to Abraham. It is in fact a central theme in the narrative.

Pharaoh gets seriously worried. He proclaims, rightly or wrongly, that the Israelites are in fact a stronger nation than his own, or possibly ‘too strong’ for him (Exod. 1:9), but even after this point the narrative reports tw0 further expansions of the Israelites (Exodus 1:12, 20).

The large number of Israelites is mentioned in Exodus 38:26 to be 603,550 men, and this number is confirmed by the quantity of tax in the context.

This number is, moreover, given at great length over the course of Numbers 1-2, and confirmed by multiple totalling. A similar census appears later in Numbers 26. The length of text devoted to this subject in Numbers suggests that the census is extremely important. One source of importance could be the narrative’s stress on the fact that only two men of the exodus generation made it to the promised land. However, it is also naturally linked with the theme of the patriarchal promises of multiple offspring and the emphasis on multiplication among the Israelites. Abraham had been promised so many children that they could not be counted. In these passages we have the many, but they can still be counted.

Numbers also shows us that, broadly speaking, multiplication is suspended during the wilderness period.

In case we had any doubt that the number of Israelites was really huge we have the narrative in Numbers 11, where their numbers are emphasised: ‘all this people’ (11:13, 15). God says that he will provide meat for the people for a whole month (11:20), which Moses views as impossible because there are 600,000 men on foot (11:21-22)—Moses’ objection does not work so well with a smaller number. Moses’ disbelief in God’s ability to provide meat is answered by God’s provision of quail for one day’s journey either side of the camp (let’s say conservatively that this means quail for 15 miles in each direction) and 3 feet deep (11:31). This provision suits the large size of camp.

The next point which emphasises the large number of Israelites is the Balaam narrative (Numbers 22-24). Balak takes Balaam to various points from which he can catch a view of some, but not all, of the Israelite camp (22:41). He emphasises their number (23:10).

The large number of Israelites is again confirmed by the counting of spoil in Numbers 31.

The number of Israelites is thus confirmed by four different means of reckoning (Exodus 38, Numbers, 1, 2, 31) and by the narrative structure of Genesis-Numbers. It is not only the most carefully given number in the Bible, but probably the most carefully given number in antiquity.

If the numbers have been changed then this has occurred in a number of passages in at least two books of the Bible.

2. Two internal objections
Two objections to a literal understanding of the text might be:

a) the number of the bekor, traditionally rendered ‘first born’, is too low (Num. 3:43)
b) the number of people in the land is even greater than the number of Israelites (Deut. 9:1)

a) rests on assumptions about the meaning of the term bekor, which is a term about which we do not know enough. In particular we are not sure of the extent to which this was a fixed status. There is some biblical evidence that it was not (Gen. 25:33; 1 Chron. 5:1). Was one still called bekor after one came to majority, when one had received one’s inheritance or after one’s father had died? Was there a bekor in families where the oldest child was female, or was is only males who ‘opened the womb’ (peter rehem)? Is there anything in the idea that the bekor was at first the first born of the mother and that the term was then applied to the first born of the father? Was there flexibility? Was there an exact parallel between the term when used of animals and when used of humans? What is the relationship between those who were bekor and the age range 20-50? If Pharaoh was ‘first born’ in our sense, why was he not killed in the 10th plague? This requires some sort of study. But quite aside from these questions those who want to use the number of firstborn as an objection to the figure of 600,000 men need to disprove Keil and Delitzsch’s detailed argument that the number refers specifically to the firstborn since the exodus (opening section of their commentary on Numbers).

b) requires us to find out whether it is when the nations are taken singly or together that they are greater than Israel, and whether their ‘greatness’ is entirely numerical.

Thus, objections to taking the large numbers literally are not yet sustained.

3. How an evangelical can shoot themselves in the foot
Here I wish to point out to evangelicals interested in the subject why it would be unwise to try to scale down the numbers at the exodus.

a) When evangelicals assert that, despite multiple totalling, thematic links and textual agreement across all the versions, the text of the Bible is corrupt in regard to the number of Israelites, they make it rather attractive not to be evangelical. After all, the vast majority of scholars from other groups are quite happy for the text to stand as it is. The most significant thing in attracting evangelicals to abandon classic evangelical views of scripture is when they become convinced that other views show a greater loyalty to the scriptures.

b) The external (mss) evidence for the text is overwhelming. Those who posit that the text is corrupt are positing that large swathes of the biblical text have been systematically corrupted. However, the quantity of text and quality of its thematic coherence on the subject of large numbers easily surpasses the quantity and quality of text needed to establish a whole number of core evangelical beliefs, both doctrinal and ethical. The scribe(s) who systematically changed all the numbers has/have about as much evidence for their existence as scribes who inserted trinitarian verses into the NT, or put anti-homosexual practice texts in the Bible. If you’re going to say that the large number of Israelites is textually corrupt, it would surely be easier to argue that John 3:16 is an interpolation.

c) Corruptions common to MT and LXX as well as other versions would have to have taken place considerably prior to the time of the NT. Those who argue that the text is corrupt are likely to have to conclude that the truth about the exodus had been lost before the time of the NT.

4. External objections
There are, of course, massive objections to a narrative with 600,000 Israelite men, but these are entirely historical in nature. Strictly speaking the text-critical decision about the textual integrity of the narrative can be made without regard to the question of whether the narrative is historical and whether it was composed in the fifteenth or the third century BC. It is therefore unnecessary to answer historical objections to the narrative in order to be able to establish that the large numbers should stand.

However, it is necessary for someone who accepts the large numbers and espouses an evangelical position on scripture that says that the narrative is true to explain how that belief could be rational. This is really a topic for another forum and for someone with different expertise from myself. My conclusion from textual criticism is that evangelicals do indeed have a problem, but that this problem is to be solved by historical research (on topics like ancient population estimates, and the archaeology of the exodus and conquest) not by text-critical conjecture.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Septuagint Research

Wolfgang Kraus and R. Glenn Wooden, eds, Septuagint Research: Issues and Challenges in the Study of the Greek Jewish Scriptures (Septuagint and Cognate Studies 53; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2006), pp. xvi + 414. ISBN 1589832043. $49.95.

Publication blurb:
The past few decades have witnessed a renewed scholarly interest in the Septuagint, especially with regard to its importance for the fields of theology, Jewish studies, classics, philosophy, history of religions, linguistics, and history of literature. To provide students and scholars alike with ready access to the most recent developments, this collection of essays presents a comprehensive and representative picture of septuagintal research today. Specifically, this volume surveys methodological issues, provides thematic and book-centered studies focused on the Old Greek-Septuagint translations, explores the use of these translations in the New Testament, and issues a call for the exploration of the theologies of the Septuagint as a bridge between the theologies of the Hebrew Bible and those of the New Testament. It brings together a variety of perspectives, from emerging voices to seasoned scholars, both English-speaking scholars working on the New English Translation of the Septuagint project and German-speaking scholars working on the Septuaginta Deutsch project.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Balla on Nomina Sacra

I'm probably a little slow, since I really should have known about a work produced back in 1997, but I was delighted while in Hungary earlier this week to make the acquaintance of Peter Balla, author of Challenges to New Testament Theology (WUNT 2.95; Mohr Siebeck, 1997). In one of those interesting crossovers between the more theological and historical disciplines, Balla built upon Trobisch to argue that the Nomina Sacra could be related to the question of canon. He did this to justify the existence of a canon and therefore of New Testament Theology not merely as a confessional discipline but also as one that can be justified in a secular setting within a history of religions framework. He was responding to Heikki Räisänen's denial that the NT canon could function as a justifiable boundary for an academic discipline called New Testament Theology.

Balla's work has been reprinted by Hendricksen at a good price, and he has also written a response to the second edition of Räisänen's Beyond New Testament Theology in T.C. Penner and C. Vander Stichele Moving Beyond New Testament Theology? I'll post more about the interaction between textual criticism and New Testament Theology shortly.

Aleppo Codex online

There are a number of messages (e.g. this one) on Wieland Willker's list explaining how to obtain images of the Aleppo Codex are online. For an example click here.

The Americanisation of the Bible?

Two interesting images for you. Firstly a new version of the Bible for the American military (the NIV Liberty bible - NB it is the New International Version! See Dan Kirk's comments on sibboleth. For a link to the ABS advertisement click here.)

This prompted my recollection of the following image from the invasion of Iraq. Bringing the New Testament to the muslim world? (I saw this photograph in the Times about a year ago; for further information and bigger photos see this from the evangelicaloutpost or this here - doesn't seem like it is a fake)

Does this sort of thing happen in other cultures and nations? Or is it a uniquely American phenomenon?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Mark 15.28: Is rehabilitation possible?

Missing verses are always interesting, and Mark has its fair share (7.16; 9.44, 46; 11.26; 15.28; 16.9-20). These are passages that were printed, with verse numbers assigned, in Stephanus 1551 but are no longer generally regarded as part of the original text of Mark and not printed as such in recent critical editions.

But what about Mark 15.28? Is rehabilitation possible? Or is this verse destined for life in the margins?

Evidence in support of this reading includes Eusebius (certainly was included in Eusebius' canon lists noting the parallel in Luke 277—this could reflect an earlier tradition). Other early evidence is in the Old Latin. So it was clearly in existence well before the fourth century (the date of our earliest manuscripts which lack the verse). It is also obviously no simple harmonisation to Luke 22.37 (since the introductory formula is quite different). It is clearly congruent with Markan style and forms a striking inclusio with the initial citation of Isaiah in Mark 1.2-3.

So against it is only a good selection of the best early manuscripts of Mark, the earliest witnesses in Syriac and Coptic, and the small transcriptional matter that its inclusion is far more easily explained than its omission.

A New Fragment of 2491

I have recently identified a new, previously uncatalogued, minuscule fragment currently held by the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University, New York, (shelfmark Med/Ren Frag. 49).

The fragment (1 folio on parchment) is probably another part of 2491 and it has now been catalogued as such by the INTF. The MS is scattered among different repositories (see the Liste for further details about the other parts):

Mt 3-4 (New York); 19-22 (Berlin); Mt 22,31-23,10 (Durham); Mc 1,14-5,33; 9,14-15,44 (Bern); Mc 15,44-L 11,46 (Berlin).

According to the library notes on the MS, the assigned date is XIII/XIV (but in the Liste XII). The thing that made me (and subsequently Dr. Welte at the INTF) hesitate about the identification is the dimensions of the MS. The current fragment is damaged and measures 230 x 196 cm. But the other catalogued parts of 2491 measure 263 x 204 according to the Liste. The main problem is the discrepancy between the width 196 and 204, respectively, whereas the difference of height is explicable because of the evident damage at the bottom of the MS. Nevertheless, the fragment has probably been cut out, and is, with a high degree of probability, another folio of 2491.

Another piece of confirmatory evidence is found in a library note from 1936, which states that "other leaves of this codex are now at Prussian State Library, Berlin" (cf. the other part of Greg.-Aland 2491 in Berlin, with folios of Matthew, Mark and Luke – the MS has possibly been taken apart in Berlin).

Further notes tell us that "the MS belonged to Dr. Chickering, Jamaica High School, 1938. Finally, it was given to the university [Columbia University] in memory of Otto Walter Fuhrmann by his wife, 1967."

I have checked those names for some background, and Edward Chickering was the first teacher in charge of the Jamaica High School (New York) from 1922. Otto Walter Fuhrmann was on the staff of Columbia University Libraries (New York). He later became director of Graphic Arts at New York University. He was deceased in 1966.

More to come ...

Friday, May 19, 2006

G. Norton on the Old Testament Text

G. Norton, “Ancient Versions and Textual Transmission of the Old Testament,” in The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies, eds. J. W. Rogerson and Judith M. Lieu (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 211-236.

Before I provide this summation of Gérard Norton’s article, allow me a personal word about this friend and colleague. I had only known Norton through email correspondences until this past April. He had always been a cordial and gracious—not to mention thoughtful and analytical—respondent to my occasional questions, some of which I am sure were not a little bothersome. When I met was able to spend some time with him last month during the 2006 Grinfield Lectures on the Septuagint (which I am soon to report on), I was very happy to learn that these affable gestures were more than an electronic façade. During his time here, myself and one other colleague sensed a genuine respect for the biblical text. He spent several summers in Fribourg working closely with Dominique Barthélemy, whose impact in this field has been so great that nothing need be said here. (In fact, many of my own photocopied articles have come from Barthélemy’s library, via Norton via Salvesen!) Consequently, he has more than earned his right to be heard when it comes to textual studies. His “Cautionary Reflections” has been a touchstone article in guiding the new Hexapla Project of which I am a part. Norton’s most significant assignments at present include not only the edition for the Hexapla Project of the Psalter, but also the editorial responsibility for the Psalter of BHQ, a project he also serves as one of the general editors. With that said, let us turn now to his latest article (NB: What follows is NOT a review. I am only summarising his article, mentioning salient points that might encourage discussion).

Norton’s essay is a summary of the history of the Hebrew Bible, and the translation and transmission of the Old Testament in the ancient versions. He begins by tracing the history of the text through four distinct phases. First, the ‘original texts’ of the individual books “were composed in different generations, and in different historical circumstances” (212). In particular, books like Isaiah may have been transmitted orally for a long period of time before being committed to writing. Further, there is the possibility that books such as Isaiah, even after they were omitted to writing, “circulated in several varying forms for centuries before our earliest witnesses to that text” (212). Thus, the “history of the text of the Hebrew Bible in a pre-canonical stage must be considered book by book and development by development.” The second stage of transmission involves the earliest text(s) to which we have access, directly or indirectly (212). Third, the proto-Masoretic form is chosen as the definitive version within Jewish circles. Though Norton does not conjecture a reason for this selection, he believes it most likely that the text was already favoured, especially by groups like the Pharisees. The elements added to this text in the following centuries were intended to conserve the pronunciation, reading, and writing details of the proto-Masoretic form. The fourth and final stage is the completed text of the Masoretes based on the manuscripts of the ben Asher family in Tiberias (9th-10th centuries), equipped with the additional layers of vocalisation and cantillation marks. This was the end of ‘textual development’ within the Hebrew Old Testament, and efforts from this point on attempt only to preserve this text form.

Norton next discusses the approaches to modern editions, both diplomatic and eclectic. Indeed, since Norton is the editor of the Psalter for BHQ, he is especially interested in the principles of preparing modern editions. His concluding critique of previous editions is their use of the ancient versions in the apparatuses, leading to an “undervaluation of the role of these texts in the history of the communities for which they were made” (217). One immediately thinks of the superb work of the French school of LXX studies, and the project La Bible d’Alexandrie. This commentary series on the Septuagint text attempts to view the Septuagint not as a tool for the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible, but as a text that should be valued in its own right as a window into the socio-religious world of Hellenistic Judaism.This issue is raised again in Norton’s discussion of the Syriac Peshitta. For example,
In the Peshitta the earliest form of the translations seems to have been the closest to the Hebrew text. This was successively revised to provide a more stylistically polished Syriac text that sometimes, however, presents pseudo-variants if retroverted to Hebrew. Interpretation of this feature has been a problem in editions of the Hebrew Bible (228).

This seems to be similar to the protests of P. J. Williams regarding the use of the Syriac NT in the textual criticism of the NT.

Finally, Norton addresses the evidence from Qumran. Though he does not make any firm conclusions (given that this is a survey article!), he does affirm that many of the Hebrew texts found at Qumran “are clearly the ancestors of our Masoretic Bible” (230). This seems to be a forgotten (or avoided???) point in modern scholarship. It appears that there has been such excitement over the prospect of proof of textual fluidity, few have taken into consideration the remarkable ‘proof’ of stability also provided by Qumran. As a ‘word of caution’ to this issue, Norton writes:
Even though many texts have been found at Qumran, we still do not have all of the texts that were extant (even at Qumran) at the time when the translations were being made. Neither do we know how representative these texts are of the kinds of texts that would have been conserved in other Jewish communities, or even in Jerusalem (231).

Presumably, Norton intends to inject some prudence in the debate, warning us not to jump to swiftly to conclusions on the basis of the little evidence we now have available from the Judean Desert.

With everything just mentioned, Norton’s article is well worth reading, whether as an introduction to the Old Testament text or a précis of the issues currently occupying the minds of textual scholars. What have been offered here are points that hopefully will lead to some profitable discussion about the nature of the Hebrew text.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Codex, Roll, and Libraries in Oxyrhynchus


This is the title of another article in the current edition of the Tyndale Bulletin by Don C. Barker (Macquarie University, Sydney). Barker reconstructs the contents of This is basically a comparison between the remnants of the first of two secular library collections found at Oxyrhynchus in 1906 (a basket full of nine classical works from the second and third centuries). Barker runs a multi-level comparison between these texts and early Christian texts from the same period and location, focusing especially (but not exclusively) on format issues.

Here is the abstract:

  • The fragmented discards of a library from the ancient city of Oxyrhynchus in middle Egypt provide us with an excellent ‘sample’ to conduct a comparative analysis with the contemporary Christian books from the same city. Both the secular and the Christian books in general share common features except for their construction: the library books are rolls whereas the Christian books are in the codex format. What led the Christians to choose this ‘new technology’? Could it be that the driving reason was the protection of the contents against tampering?

New Article on the Ending of Mark

In the current issue of the Tyndale Bulletin Nicholas Denyer (Trinity College, Cambridge), has a brief and important article on 'Mark 16:8 and Plato, Protagoras 328d'.
Denyer has found not only a speech which ends with a two word sentence ending in gar, but also comments on the reaction of hearers to that ending. As the abstract notes: "Plato, Protagoras 328d provides further confirmation that EFOBOUNTO GAR (‘for they were afraid’) is an astonishingly abrupt end. But it also provides proof that so astonishingly abrupt an end could well be deliberate."

Reinventing Jesus III

First review here. Let me know of any more.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Jim Snapp on Census Numbers

I've received the following essay from Jim Snapp on the subject of the large numbers of Israelites recorded especially in the book of Numbers. He proposes a reduction in the numbers of MT. Although this is a thesis with which I strongly disagree, I'm sure it will provoke discussion on what is one of my favourite topics ...

What follows is from Snapp.

The Quest for the Historical Census
by James Snapp, Jr.

I usually don’t engage in Old Testament textual criticism—partly because I am spectacularly incompetent at Hebrew. And I usually avoid situations in which the slightest possibility of having to do anything mathematical exists. But some time ago, I attempted to resolve the problem of the large numbers of the Hebrew population of the exodus, by way of conjectural emendation. This essay explains my solutions.
The census numbers of the exodus have been approached mainly in four ways:
(1) Deny all or almost all historicity of the censuses—implying that the text is fictitious.
(2) Accept the extant text as it stands—implying that the early Hebrew nation consisted of over 600,000 men and their families.
(3) Maintain that the census-figures have a historical core at some point in the history of Israel, but the text has been drastically misplaced by redactors.
(4) Regard the census-numbers as a problem which textual analysis can solve—implying that the extant text is not the original text.
All four views have their weaknesses. My intention here is to demonstrate the cogency of the fourth position and show how textual analysis can resolve the problem.
"What problem?" you ask. Well, the numbers are just too big! The birthrate which would be required for c. 75 Hebrews to become a nation of 600,000 men and their families in 430 years (depending on which text-base one follows) would be not just remarkable; it would be astronomically greater than the birthrate of any civilization in antiquity. Also, a population of 600,000 men would tend to leave behind more evidence of a sojourn in Transjordan than has been archaeologically confirmed. Plus, some problems appear when one attempts to interlock this large amount with other factors in the Bible (such as the Hebrews’ difficulty in conquering the Amalekites).
George Mendenhall—if I understand his theory—has proposed that the Hebrew word for "thousands" in the census-lists actually means "recruiting district" or "squad." Thus Numbers 1:21’s description of the militia from the tribe of Judah—"forty-six thousand and five hundred" —ought to be understood to describe 46 squads of men, whose total number was 500. Applied to the entire first census, this yields a total of 598 squads, numbering a total of 5,550 men in the militia.
There are some difficulties with Mendenhall’s idea.
First, it seems strange that anyone should make an exact count of squads and an inexact count of troops.
Second, a population of about 22,000 would no longer exist after the plagues described in Numbers 16:49 (in which 14,700 died—and the militia is not in view) and Numbers 25:9 (in which 24,000 people died—and which Paul affirms as "23,000 in one day" in 1 Corinthians 10:8).
Third, Numbers 3:42-43 lists the number of "firstborn sons" as 22,373; unamended, this cannot be reconciled with a total militia of about the same number.
Fourth, passages such as Exodus 18:25, Numbers 22:3-5, and Numbers 23:10 indicate that the Hebrew nation’s size was indeed considerable.
Fifth, such a hypothesis posits squads of varying size: an average size of 11 for Dan, 7.5 for Naphthali, and 5 for Simeon. Such a census seems pointless, as if someone would count their arrows and quivers but not be concerned about the number of arrows in any given quiver. It is difficult to see the point of a "squad" statistic which does not represent a certain number of men.
For further examination of Mendenhall’s proposal see pages 129-134 of Gleason Archer’s Encyclopedia of Biblical Difficulties, in which Archer supports the extant text.
John Wenham has made a similar proposal, in which the Hebrew term is understood to refer to a full-time soldier. A fine summary of his view is contained in Eerdman’s Concise Bible Handbook in his article "The Large Numbers of the Old Testament," pp. 79-81. He points out (as other have) that Gen. 36:15 and Ex. 15:15 use a similar term to refer to "chieftains" of Edom, and theorizes that in paleo-Hebrew consonantal script the terms were not readily distinguishable. Wenham thinks that the extant text is the result of a conflation of a once-separated listing of chieftains and thousands.

In the extant text, Simeon has 59,300 men. Wenham suggests that this originally described 57 armed men and 23 hundreds, which was written down as "57 ’lp; 2 ’lp 3 ‘hundreds.’" The two ’lp-units were then combined by a later copyist, yielding the reading 59 ’lp 300 in the extant text. Wenham concludes that "The total fighting force is some 18,000, which would probably mean a figure of about 72,000 for the whole migration." He also proposes that the figures for the Levites have been corrupted by being multiplied by a factor of ten (thus the tribe of Levi totalled 2,200 men, not 22,000).

I agree that the census-lists of Numbers originally contained a delineation of full-time officers along with the number of militia-members. Wenham is on the right track. (Also, the chiastic structure of Exodus 15:15 favors the idea that in the Pentateuch, ’lph never refers to "recruiting districts," although such a usage of the word is feasible in passages such as Judges 6:15 and Micah 5:2.)

However, Wenham’s numbers still seem small—for some of the same reasons why Mendenhall’s reconstruction seems small, but also because it is difficult to see how a "total fighting force" of 18,000 apparently includes, in Joshua 4:13, 40,000. It is also difficult to see how Exodus 12:37 could describe a population of about 72,000 as "about six hundred thousand on foot that were men, besides children," and how Moses could assert the same thing in Numbers 11:21 ("The people, among whom I am, are six hundred thousand footmen").
Borrowing Wenham’s idea and re-applying it, and combining it with some ideas of my own, let us re-examine the census-numbers and some related texts.
The first texts under consideration are Exodus 12:37 and Numbers 11:21, where the extant text yields "600,000." I propose that this reading is a corruption by copyists. The original reading is "60,000" in both cases. Since the case for this smaller number as the original text depends somewhat on material in other parts of the hypothesis, I will present those other parts first, and then argue for this reading and explain how it may have originated. For now, I only note that the shift from "60,000" to "600,000" would be a very simple shift to make in paleo-Hebrew script.
The second text is Numbers 1:20-46 (more precisely, the numerals within that passage. I propose that this passage was based on a source which originally tallied the number of men in the Hebrew militia 13 months after the exodus. The original source, though, did not consist of merely "thousands" and "hundreds" (plus the occasional tens-unit). The original census-list consisted of a list of officers (or "chiefs"), and thousands, and hundreds. However, the written word for "chief" was indistinguishable from the word for "thousand." So one might imagine something like the following scenario:
Imagine a list that is written to keep track of the size of a small army composed of three divisions, led by three generals named Moe, Larry, and Curly. In the language of Moe, Larry, and Curly, the word "elf" can mean "officers" and it can also mean "thousand." (It can even mean "oxen" sometimes.) The three generals want their list to keep track of how many officers they have, and how many non-officers they have. So their original list looks like this:
Elf (Officers)………Elf (1000’s) 100’s
14………………1…………5……………..Moe: 14 Elf, 1 Elf, 5 Hundred
15………………2…………1……………..Larry: 15 Elf, 2 Elf, 1 Hundred
8………………..3…………4……………..Curly: 8 Elf, 3 Elf, 4 Hundred
Total: 37 Elf (Officers) + 6 Elf (1000’s) + 10 Hundreds (that is, 7,037 men)

But then along comes a copyist who does not discern that one group of Elf is officers and the other group of Elf is thousands. He thinks they’re both thousands-units, and—out of a sense of tidiness—combines them. The result looks like this:
15……………5……………………. Moe: 15 Elf, 5 Hundred
17……………1……………………. Larry: 17 Elf, 1 Hundred
11……………4……………………. Curly: 11 Elf, 4 Hundred
Total: 43 Elf + 10 Hundred (that is, 44,000 men)
Thus the statistics change from an original total of 7,037 to 44,000.
I submit, following Wenham, that the census-numbers went through the same sort of conflation. I favor a different calculation, however. Here is a comparison of the extant text to a hypothetical reconstruction of the original numbers in the census in Numbers 1:20-26. The extant text is in normal print; the conjectural emendation is underlined. The "alph." stands for chiefs and the "elph" stands for thousands.

REUBEN: …………46,500………………40 alph 6 elph 5 m.
SIMEON: …………59,300………………54 alph 5 elph 3 m.
GAD: ………………45,650………………42 alph 3 elph 6 m. +50
JUDAH: ……………74,600……………66 alph 8 elph 6 m.
ISSACHAR: ………54,400……………50 alph 4 elph 4 m.
ZEBULUN: …………57,400………………52 alph 5 elph 4 m.
EPHRAIM: …………40,500………………36 alph 4 elph 5 m.
MANASSEH: ………32,200………………29 alph 3 elph 2 m.
BENJAMIN: ………35,400………………33 alph 2 elph 4 m.
DAN: ………….…….62,700………………60 alph 2 elph 7 m.
ASHER:…………….41,500………………38 alph 3 elph 5 m.
NAPHTHALI:………53,400………………50 alph 3 elph 4 m.
TOTAL:…………….603,550……………550 alph 53 elph 5 m. +50
Actual Total: 54,100 soldiers

The third text is Numbers 2:3-32 (more precisely, the numerals in that passage), in which the militia-population of the individual tribes are given in the encampment-array. The exact same numbers are given here that were given in the census in chapter one, because they were affected by the same mis-combination. Originally the listings here consisted of officers + thousands + hundreds (plus 50 for Gad).

So in Numbers 2:9, the extant sub-total of 186,400 was originally "168 officers, with 18,400 non-officers." 2:16, 2:24, and 2:31 may be reduced to their original numbers along the same lines.

The fourth text is Numbers 3:11-50 (more precisely, the numerals in that passage), in which a census is taken of the Levites clan-by-clan (with three clans: Gershonites, Kohathites, and Merarites). I propose that the census-numbers here were also corrupted, but in a more ordinary way than the numbers of the military censuses. The numbers were multiplied by ten.
Here is a comparison of the extant text with the conjectural emendation:

EXTANT: ………………………………ORIGINAL:
Gershonites: 7,500……………………G: 750
Kohathites: 8,600 (8,300)…………K: 860 (830)
Merarites: 6,200………………………M: 620
TOTAL: 22,000………………………TOTAL: 2,200

This implies that the 22,273 firstborn non-Levite Hebrew males described in Numbers 3:43 were exchanged for 2,200 Levites. One Levite was considered exchangeable for 10 non-Levites (the tithe-ratio). Thus the text originally stated that 2,200 Levites were exchanged for 22,000 non-Levites. This left 273 firstborn sons unexchanged, and this is why they needed to pay 5 shekels each in Numbers 3:45-51 (totaling 1,365 shekels in Numbers 3:50).

The variant in 3:28 requires special attention: was it originally 860 or 830? (And, in the corrupted copies, was it 8,600 or 8,300?) The total is supposed to be 2,200 (or, in the extant text, 22,000). But 750 + 860 + 620 = 2,230, not 2,300 (and, in the extant text, 7,500 + 8,600 + 6,200 = 22,300, not 22,000). The reading "8,600" is the more difficult reading, and it is also the standard Hebrew reading (though some Septuagint manuscripts read "8,300"). But it makes the total add up to 2,230 (or, 22,300). How does one explain this?

One way is to propose that it was simply miscopied, and subsequent Hebrew copyists mechanically copied the erroneous number. Another explanation is a fairly ancient tradition-story (which assumes the authenticity of the extant text): the extra 300 were first-born sons themselves, and therefore could not redeem the non-Hebrew firstborn.

I suspect that "8,600" is a copyist’s error (in addition to the error of multiplying the Levite-clans’ population by ten) and that the tradition-story was created to explain it. But either reading can be adopted with no effect on the conjectural emendations (though, as with the extant text, to propose that the extra 300 or extra 30 is original leaves one with the question of why such a thing was not explicitly explained somewhere in the text).

The fifth text is Numbers 4:34-49, where the Levites age 30-50 are counted clan by clan. Again, I propose that a copyist mistakenly multiplied the numbers by ten. Here is a comparison of the extant text and the conjectural emendation:

G: 2,630……ORIGINAL: G: 263
K: 2,750………………………K: 275
M: 3,200………………………M: 320
TOTAL: 8,580………………TOTAL: 858

Adding to the plausibility of this theory is a point of practicality: the reconstructed text implied that there were fewer men ministering at the tabernacle. It is difficult to see how, with the higher amounts, every adult Levite had something to do.

Now let’s return to the "60,000" at Exodus 12:37 and Numbers 11:21. The reconstructed total of the first military census = 54,100 soldiers.

The reconstructed total of the census of Levites age 30-50 = 858. Considering that there were 2,200 Levite males in all, we can fairly propose that about 300 of them were between age 20-30. We can also fairly propose that approximately 200 of them were over age 50. Now consider the total number of adult Hebrew males that this generates:

54,100 + 858 + 300 + 200 = 55,458.

55,458 is close to 60,000. Thus the re-structured census-figures harmonize with the reconstructed "60,000" in Exodus 12:37 and Numbers 11:21.

The sixth text is Numbers 26:1-51 (more precisely, the numerals within that passage), the second Hebrew military census. Here is the reconstruction:

REUBEN: 43,730…………40 alph 3 elph 7 m. + 30
SIMEON: 22,200…………20 alph 2 elph 2 m.
GAD: 40,500………………37 alph 3 elph 5 m.
JUDAH: 76,500……………71 alph 5 elph 5 m.
ISSACHAR: 64,300………61 alph 3 elph 3 m.
ZEBULUN: 60,500………57 alph 3 elph 5 m.
MANASSEH: 52,700……48 alph 4 elph 7 m.
EPHRAIM: 32,500………30 alph 2 elph 5 m.
BENJAMIN: 45,600………43 alph 2 elph 6 m.
DAN: 64,400………………61 alph 3 elph 4 m.
ASHER: 53,400……………50 alph 3 elph 4 m.
NAPHTHALI: 45,400……42 alph 3 elph 4 m.
TOTAL: 601,730…………560 alph + 41 elph + 7 m. + 30
Actual total of soldiers: 42,290

The seventh text is Numbers 26:62. I propose that this amount has been multiplied by ten: "23,000" in the extant text represents an original 2,300 Levites. If 1,000 Levites (out of a total of 2,300] were over age 20, then the total adult male Hebrew population at the second census was about 43,290 men.

A note about the implications of these reconstructed numbers: the Hebrews would leave Egypt numbering 55,458 men and enter the Promised Land with about 43,290 men – a net loss of about 12,168 men (I am using precise numbers here, but treat them as estimates). Give each man a wife and two kids, and this means that about 221,832 Hebrews left Egypt, and about 173,160 entered the Promised Land – a net loss of 48,672.

The eighth text is Exodus 38:21-30, especially verses 25-28. This passage as a whole may be considered part of "Ithamar’s Ledger," an independent piece of source-material which tallied the offerings given in chapter 35 and noted how they were used. Verses 25-28 seems question-raising: the tabernacle was finished and inaugurated on the first day of the first month of the second year after the exodus (Exodus 40:17), and the census did not take place until the first day of the second month of the second year after the exodus (Numbers 1:1-2). How was it possible for the silver bekahs that were collected in the census to be among the items used to make the tabernacle?

This can be accounted for in the following speculative way: originally, Ithamar’s Ledger included a list of the gold, silver, and bronze that had been collected in chapter 35, with no mention of the silver bekahs collected in the census. However, Ithamar’s Ledger was damaged and the information about the silver offering was lost. A copyist/redactor filled in the gap by supplying material from another source (possibly a different part of Ithamar’s Ledger) that noted the total amount of money given in the census. Originally this supplement went,

"The silver obtained from those of the community who were counted in the census, one bekah per person, was 275 shekels from officers and 26,775 shekels from everyone who had crossed over to those counted, 20 years or more ~ a total of 550 officers, 53 thousand and five hundred and 50 men."

The "275 from officers," however, was misunderstood to mean "275 thousands," and this was combined with the 26,775, yielding a combined total of 301,775 shekels. The closing tally of officers and thousands was also misunderstood and was combined into one unit of thousands only (with the resultant reading, "603 thousands and five hundred and fifty men"). Possibly, having "550" at both the beginning and end of the number contributed to a copyist’s misunderstanding.

A later copyist, noting that this implied that just over 100 talents had been collected (reckoning that 1 talent = 3,000 shekels), and also noting that the tabernacle had 100 bases, entered a speculation that the (apparently existing) 100 talents of silver were used to make 100 bases, and that the leftover 1,775 silver shekels were used for other purposes. In other words, verse 27 is a late interpolation.

The text was also supplemented by a note that the shekel being used was the "sanctuary shekel." And thus the text reached its extant form. It should be emphasized that the text as it stands merely reports the contents of Ithamar’s Ledger, without necessarily endorsing its contents.

The ninth text is Numbers 31:32-47, a description of the spoils of the Hebrews’ military campaign against the Midianites. According to the extant text, the Hebrews were phenomenally successful: 12,000 men (a thousand from each tribe, as 31:5 says) brought back the following plunder:

675,000 sheep – 56.25 @ soldier
72,000 cattle – 6 @ soldier
61,000 donkeys – approx. 5 @ soldier
32,000 virgins – approx. 2 2/3 @ soldier

These numbers, though large, are not altogether impossible. However, these numbers probably represent an original text in which the numbers were smaller by a factor of twenty. (If the extant text of Numbers 31:32-47 is not corrupted, and the extant text of the censuses is corrupted (as theorized), then prior to entering the Promised Land, the Hebrew population (173,160) absorbed a population of Midianite virgins (32,000) with the result that about 1 in 6 individuals in the encampment was a Midianite woman. That doesn't sound right to me.)
If a copyist erroneously multiplied the numerals here by 20, then the original text had the following amounts in 31:36-40:

Sheep: 33,750. Half = 16,875.
Cattle: 3,600. Half = 1,800.
Donkeys: 3,050. Half = 1,525.
Virgins: 1,600. Half = 800.

And the original over-all distribution-proportion to the Levites was not 1 part out of 500, but 1 part out of 25. (The extant text's record of the Levites' share is thus correct.)

The numbers for the sheep, cattle, donkeys, and virgins were erroneously multiplied by 20 by an early copyist, who also wrote the paleo-Hebrew equivalent of "500" instead of "25" in 31:28 (i.e., he multiplied the number 25 by 20, also). Even though there's no manuscript-evidence to support the idea that the numbers for sheep, cattle, donkeys, and virgins were multiplied by 20 by an early copyist, and that at some point the original "1-in-25" was replaced by "1-in-500," (which is also a multiplication by 20), I think this hypothesis makes a lot of sense. When all the numbers in this passage are reduced by a factor of 20, the resultant numbers look pretty plausible.

The tenth text to consider is Joshua 4:13. The extant reading of this verse is correct. But the usual interpretation of this verse is incorrect. Usually it is understood to mean that about 40,000 men from the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh crossed over the Jordan River.
That is somewhat problematic for the extant text, since the total number of men from the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh in the extant text of the second census is 136,930—more than three times 40,000. At first glance, it may also seem problematic for the reconstructed text, in which the total population of these three tribes in the second census is only 11,056.

This is resolved when one realizes that the 40,000 in Joshua 4:13 is not describing the Transjordan tribes; it is describing the total number of soldiers who crossed the Jordan. In other words, Joshua 4:13 is part of the closing parentheses of the account of the crossing, not a detail about the number of troops from the Transjordan tribes (who were supposed to go across "all of you," "every man," according to Numbers 32:20ff.).

When "about 40,000" is seen as the total number of individuals in the Hebrew militia, a remarkable harmony with the reconstructed original text of the second military census may be seen: the total number of soldiers in the reconstructed text of Numbers 26:1-51 is 42,290. This could readily be described as "about 40,000," especially if some men remained to guard the women and children in the Transjordan territory (which seems to be suggested in Joshua 22:8).
Notice the harmony between the (unmultiplied) 60,000 of Exodus 12:37 and the (unmiscombined) 55,458 of the first censuses (militia + adult Levite males). Also notice the harmony between the (unmiscombined) 42,290 of the second military census and the (extant, uncorrupted) 40,000 of Joshua 4:13. The harmony of these numbers suggests that these hypotheses, or something fairly close to them, reflect the original text and its transmission-history.

In addition to these ten passages, one may consider the various instances elsewhere in which a difficulty is readily explained by positing a misunderstanding of the Hebrew term for "officer." John Wenham has noted some of these points previously.

Judges 12:6 refers to 42 officers, not 42,000 soldiers. Judges 20:2 describes 400 officers, not 400,000 soldiers. Similarly in Judges 20 the scenario is remarkably clarified when one realizes that the Benjamite force consisted of 26 sword-wielding officers (not 26,000 soldiers) with 700 sling-wielding volunteers, and that they kill, in subsequent days of battle, 22 officers, and then 18 officers, and then about 30 men (in Judges 20:21, 20:25, and 20:31. Notice that the third amount is seen to indicate to the Benjamites that they are defeating their opponents as they were on the previous days, in 20:32. 20:35 and 20:46 originally meant that 25 Benjamite officers and 100 slingers were killed, leaving 600, not 1,600, whose escape is described in 20:47.
And in First Samuel 6:19, God did not strike down 50,070 men at Beth-shemesh; a much more likely reading of the text is "70 men and 50 cattle of a man" as noted in the footnote here in the NKJV—"’eleph" being rarely used to refer to cattle. Other passages (such as First Samuel 13:5 and First Kings 4:26 ~ compare this to Second Chronicles 9:25) indicate that copyists sometimes multiplied numbers by 10. I bring up these passages to show that the misunderstanding of ’lph and the multiplication of some numbers by ten were not limited to the censuses. This may augment the plausibility of the hypothesis.

I wish to mention one further text, or rather, two parallel-texts, in Ezra and Nehemiah. In regard to these texts, the interesting feature is not so much a text-critical point as a point of interpretation (which may stand or fall separate from all the rest of this) suggested by the conjecture thus far.

Notice that the reconstructed total of the Second Census is 42,290. While that reflects the militia-size, two other groups are also counted: the Levites, and the 70 elders (referred to in Exodus 24:1 and Numbers 11:16-30). If one ignores the Levites, and adds together the militia and the elders, one arrives at a total of 42,360. In Ezra 2:64 and Nehemiah 7:66, this same number, 42,360, happens to be the total number of Israelite males returning to Judah after the Exile. In Ezra and Nehemiah, this number is at the end of a detailed listing of returning Israelites. In Ezra, if one adds up the actual total of the list, the sum is 29,818. In Nehemiah, the sum is 31,089.

In Nehemiah, the list begins with a list of 12 leaders of those who returned. This roughly parallels the twelvefold arrangement of the censuses in Numbers. Also, the list is accompanied by a list of offerings of gold, silver, and clothing—another rough parallel to Numbers.
If the reconstruction is correct, and if a text containing it was known to the author of the lists which were the basis for Ezra 2:2-70 and Nehemiah 7:5-73, that author may have intended to show that the community of God’s people who re-entered the Promised Land after the Exile, in the days of the high priest Joshua son of Azaniah, were fulfilling the role of the Israelites who had originally entered the Promised Land in the days of Joshua son of Nun.

The lists in Ezra and Nehemiah may have been deliberately structured, via statistical selection, to yield a total congruent to the number of Hebrew militia-members and elders who originally entered the Promised Land. Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, book 11, ch. 3, para. 10) states that the populace returning from the Exile was counted "above the age of 12 years." Josephus is not very reliable in this particular section (see Addendum). But if in fact the population was counted from age 12 and up, it could be because the list-composer realized that by doing so, the total population-numbers of his list would be somewhat synchronous with the population-numbers of the original Hebrew entrants into the Promised Land as it appeared in his copy of Numbers.

Such a history-repeating point would be at home in Ezra-Nehemiah, since in Nehemiah 9-10, Ezra’s generation is called upon to re-affirm the covenant of Moses, as was done by the first generation of Hebrews who had entered the Promised Land. Nehemiah 10:32 contains another example of a post-Exile action based on the pattern of the censuses in Numbers (the sanctuary-tax).

So, I think a reconstruction of the numbers in the text along the lines I have proposed is a good working hypothesis. It may contribute to a more accurate perception of the size of the Hebrew population in the days of Moses and Joshua. It may suggest steps in the transmission of the text. And perhaps it may indicate some sort of thematic relationship between the original text of the Second Census and the 42,360 in Ezra-Nehemiah.

Now that I have mentioned the reference in Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, book 11, ch. 3, para. 10), I suppose it might be worthwhile to comment on a little tangent therein. Josephus states that the total number of people returning from the Exile was "four hundred and sixty-two myriads and eight thousand." Since a "myriad" = 10,000, Josephus’ number = 4,628,000. That is obviously not right. But Josephus goes on to list some numbers that are in agreement with the Biblical text:

Josephus: the Levites were 74.
Ezra 2:40: the Levites: the sons of Jeshua and Kadmiel, 74.
Nehemiah 7:43: the Levites: the sons of Jeshua and Kadmiel, and of the sons of Hodevah, 74.
Josephus: singers of the Levites, 128.
Ezra 2:41: the singers: the sons of Asaph, 128.
Nehemiah 7:44: the singers: the sons of Asaph, 148.
Josephus: … and of the sacred ministers 392.
Ezra 2:58: All the Nethinim and the children of Solomon’s servants were 392.
Neh. 7:60: All the Nethinim and the sons of Solomon’s servants were 392.
(Note: since Nehemiah only says, describing his list, words to the effect that "This is the list that I found," and does not vouch for its accuracy, I see no apologetic impetus to seek to harmonize his list with Ezra’s.)

Josephus also states that "The number of women and children mixed together was 40,742," which would interlock feasibly with a male population over 12 years of age equaling 42,360—but it does not interlock with a male population over 12 years of age equaling 4,628,000! Josephus, it seems, was either working with a corrupted text, or was terribly misunderstanding a text. But what sort of textual corruption or misunderstanding could produce 4,628,000 from a text which originally read 42,360?

I conjecture that Josephus was working with a poorly-copied text of Ezra-Nehemiah which included the Nethinim-listing twice—once as "Nethinim," and once as "officers" — perhaps as the result of the insertion of a marginal note that Nethinim were officers—not military officers, but officiators at the temple. And the word used for "officers" was ’lph.

This was (densely) understood to mean that there were 392 Nethinim, and 392,000 temple-officers. Since it was obvious (even to the dense copyist) that the temple-officers could not outnumber the rest of the population, the copyist fixed that discrepancy by increasing the population-total by a multiple of 100, thus changing the original "42,360" to "4,236,000." Thus, by adding 4,236,000 to 392,000, the copyist came up with a fresh total of 4,628,000—which is exactly what we read in Josephus.

Reinventing Jesus II

Leslie Paladino of Kregel informs me that Reinventing Jesus has now actually appeared.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Schick and Welte on Da Vinci

Note from Martin Heide of a new book:

Alexander Schick, Michael Welte, Das wahre Sakrileg, Die verborgenen Hintergründe des Da-Vinci-Codes, München (Knaur), ISBN 3426779552, 176 Seiten, 7,95 Euro.

Schick has previously written on the Dead Sea Scrolls. Welte works at the INTF in Münster. Book details here.

Martin writes:

This is 'written by Alexander Schick, co-authored by Michael Welte from Muenster, plus interviews withProf. Rainer Riesner, Prof. Frank Zöllner, Prof. Alan Millard, Claire Pfann and myself.'

It sounds like the book contains some material on biblical manuscripts.

Brock on Hebrews 2:9

Following on from earlier discussion of Hebrews 2:9, Chris Richardson, a postgraduate at Aberdeen, brought to my attention the following article:

S.P. Brock, 'Hebrews 2:9b in Syriac Tradition', Novum Testamentum 27 (1983) 236-44.

As would be expected from this author, we have a thorough review of the Syriac evidence for χωρις θεου vs χαριτι θεου. He considers 31 Peshitta mss from the fifth through to the thirteenth centuries. The data defy brief summary, since there were clearly a number of 'corrections' within mss, though broadly speaking the reading 'apart from God' found favour in the Church of the East ('Nestorians'), while readings with the word 'grace' found favour in the West (Syrian Orthodox and Maronite). Brock argues that 'grace' was the earliest reading of the Peshitta, though his conclusion is not indisputable.

The other thing that he does is to show how the different readings in Hebrews 2:9 were used in Christological controversy during the fifth and sixth centuries.

It occurred to me that Brock has provided evidence against Ehrman's 'Orthodox Corruption' reading of Hebrews 2:9. For Ehrman, patristic evidence of theological debate combined with variant readings supporting different sides of a debate can be taken to point to the fact that the debate led to the creation of a variant. In this case, however, it is clear that the Greek sources of the different Syriac readings were around long before the particular controversies of the fifth and sixth centuries. The different Syriac readings do not therefore require the controversy to explain them. The seeming connection between variants and a particular controversy is in this case coincidental.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Response from Michael Fox on SBL Forum

Response from Michael V. Fox here.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Web notes

Notes from a surf:

Comments on variant spellings in NT mss on Pantodapos. Note the similar likely spelling ημειν in P52.

Ron Smith cites Chrysostom on Junia (remember Epp's Junia: The First Woman Apostle).

JPS has now read Wegner's Student's Guide to Textual Criticism. Not enthused. He also tells us (here) that Van Seter's Edited Bible has a section on Alexandrian Homeric scribes.

Just noticed Jim Aitken's excellent Septuagint and Greek lexicography links.

Can any one make sense of Jim West's mystery cursive text?

Riblah or Diblah, Ezekiel 6:14

Should we read 'Riblah' (ESV) or 'Diblah' (NIV) in Ezekiel 6:14? Of course the Hebrew letters daleth and resh look similar in both palaeo-Hebrew and in Aramaic square script. The Leningrad Codex and most strands of MT read Diblah, and the 'd' is also attested by the ancient versions. I suppose that modern authors often reject the 'd' on the grounds that the do not know of a place called 'Diblah' (though otherwise it is not an impossible place name; cf. Jer. 48:22). 'Riblah' is read (according to BHS) by a St Petersburg ms of the year 916. There are a couple of issues. First, it occurs to me that variants within existing mediaeval Hebrew mss could constitute a good argument against the view that all mediaeval mss basically stem from one codex. I suspect that the ms base of MT is broader. Secondly, I am wondering about the exegetical sense of reading 'Riblah'. God is pronouncing judgement on Judah. Why should part of that judgement involve making desolate all the way north to Riblah, if the northern part is not inhabited by Judaeans? Am I missing something? I suppose that with either reading we need to establish the geographical bounds of the judgement. What makes more sense?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies

The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies, edited by J.W. Rogerson and J.M. Lieu, appeared on 16 March (see here). It contains 45 essays on various aspects of biblical studies including: Gerard Norton: Ancient versions and textual transmission of the Old Testament; Neville Birdsall: Versions and textual transmission of the New Testament; Arie van de Kooij: Textual criticism.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Georgian mss piccies

There are beginning to be photos of Georgian biblical mss on the web. There is a great page here, which includes images of various biblical manuscripts including some images of the Adishi (Adysh) Gospels (AD 897). There are also a few images here. The sites seem to focus more on the art work than on the text.

I'd be interested to learn of any more images.

Novum Testamentum 48.2

Novum Testamentum 48.2 has appeared. It includes a review by Joël Delobel of C.-B. Amphoux and J.K. Elliott, The New Testament Text in Early Christianity. Proceedings of the Lille Colloquium July 2000—Le Texte du Nouveau Testament au début du Christianisme. Actes du colloque de Lille, juillet 2000 (Lausanne: Éditions du Zébre, 2003) and also a review by David Parker of Charles Horton (ed.), The Earliest Gospels. The Origins and Transmission of the Earliest Christian Gospels—The Contribution of the Chester Beatty Gospel P45 (London:T & T Clark International, 2004). I had previously serialised a review of Horton on this blog (1, 2, 3, 4). Parker's review is less positive than mine:

'Overall, though, the volume is disappointing. It falls between a specialist and a general presentation, in which some papers assume a higher level of knowledge than others. The same applies to the two halves of the title. P45 plays a very small part in the first, and only really comes into its own in the second. Moreover, there are serious lacunae in the coverage of P45. There is no discussion of it codicologically or palaeographically, an omission which should
surely be regarded as extraordinary.' (p. 199)

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Reinventing Jesus

Reinventing Jesus by J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace is now available for pre-order here. It is scheduled to appear next month.

Among the various claims in the publicity is this one:

'Contains more up-to-date data on classical and New Testament manuscripts than any single book available today'.

No small claim, but it would only have to be half true to merit purchase.

The most interesting section for readers of this blog will surely be chapters 4-8 of 18. This is how they are entitled:

Part 2: Politically Corrupt? The Tainting of Ancient New Testament Texts

4. Can We Trust the New Testament?
The Quantity and Quality of Textual Variants

5. Myths about Manuscripts

6. An Embarrassment of Riches:
Recovering the Wording of the Original New Testament Text, Part 1

7. The Methods of Textual Criticism:
Recovering the Wording of the Original New Testament Text, Part 2

8. Is What We Have Now What They Wrote Then?

I hope that several people will be able to purchase a copy early and give us an evaluation. It is certainly good to have some sane authors writing to counterbalance the conspiracy theorists.

The evidence in Hebrews 2:9

I've just been combing through Daniel Wallace's excellent review of Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus. One thing that struck me was the question of the evidence for χωρις θεου in Hebrews 2:9. In Wallace's footnote 36 he says:

'Ehrman says the reading “occurs in only two documents of the tenth century” (Misquoting Jesus, 145), by which he means only two Greek documents, 0243 (0121b) and 1739txt. These manuscripts are closely related and probably represent a common archetype. It is also found in 424cvid (thus, apparently a later correction in an eleventh century minuscule) as well as vgms syrpmss Origengr (vr), lat MSSaccording to Origen Theodore Nestorians according to Ps-Oecumenius Theodoret 1/2; lem Ambrose MSSaccording to Jerome Vigilius Fulgentius. Ehrman does note some of the patristic evidence, underscoring an important argument, viz., “Origen tells us that this was the reading of the majority of manuscripts in his own day” (ibid.)'

It is also claimed in Ehrman's Orthodox Corruption (p. 146) and in Metzger's Textual Commentary (2nd edn; p. 594) that Peshitta manuscripts support this reading. I'm wondering why Wallace, Ehrman and Metzger agree that this is the Peshitta's reading. In Barbara Aland and Andreas Juckel, Das Neue Testament in syrischer Überlieferung, II. Die Paulinischen Briefe, Teil 3: 1./2. Thessalonicherbrief, 1./2. Timotheusbrief, Titusbrief, Philemonbrief und Hebräerbrief (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2002, pp. 262-264) there is no record of any Peshitta ms with this reading.

There are, however, readings of Severus of Antioch, Theodore of Mopsuestia and Babai the Great that appear to support 'without God'.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Ehrman, Studies in the TC of the NT

Thanks to the author of an anonymous comment, who pointed out that Brill is advertising a new book by Bart Ehman entitled Studies in the Textual Criticism of the New Testament. See here. Before we all go out and purchase a copy (at just 139 USD or 105 Euros) it might be worth calculating how much of it we each individually possess.

I paste below the Brill advertising with a comment by Eldon Jay Epp. Thereto I append my own comments.

'For the first time in one volume this book presents contributions to the textual criticism of the New Testament made over the past twenty years by Bart Ehrman, one of the premier textual scholars in North America. The collection includes fifteen previously published articles and six lectures (delivered at Duke University and Yale University) on a range of topics of central importance to the field. Following a general essay that gives an introduction to the field for beginners are several essays dealing with text-critical method, especially pertaining to the classification of the Greek manuscript witnesses. There then follow two articles on the history of the text, several articles on important specific textual problems, and three articles on the importance and use of patristic evidence for establishing the text and writing the history of its transmission. The volume concludes with six lectures designed to show the importance not only of reconstructing an allegedly “original” text but also of recognizing how that text was changed by scribes of the early Christian centuries.This book will be of vital interest to any scholar or advanced student of the New Testament and early Christianity. It will make an ideal companion volume for Bart Ehrman’s ground-breaking study, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effects of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (Oxford, 1993) and the volume he co-edited with Michael Holmes, The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the [sic; lege Status Quaestionis] (Eerdmans, 1995).'

'Bart Ehrman, in merely two decades, has emerged as one of a handful of New Testament textual critics worldwide who work at the cutting edge. Most of the fascinating and meticulous articles in this volume formed the basis of or carry forward his influential work on The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (1993), which displayed for us the socio-historical and theological contexts of textual variants, demonstrating effectively their dynamic, creative role in early Christianity. The essays are interestingly informative, remarkably insightful, and–in the best sense–genuinely provocative. Overall, the volume, which includes detailed methodological studies and treatments of individual texts, as well as the Kenneth Clark Lectures at Duke University (1997) and the Shaffer Lectures at Yale (2004), will be a stimulating challenge to biblical and patristic scholars and to early church historians.'
Eldon Jay Epp

From the Brill blurb and Epp's comments it is not at all clear whether there is any substantial new material in this volume. Moreover, according to the Brill website Ehrman and Metzger are still the series editors for the series New Testament Tools and Studies. Ehrman may therefore have used his editor's prerogative to commission some of his own essays for republishing. The Schaffer Lectures would cost $32 (here) but the Kenneth W. Clark lectures are freely available: Lecture 1; Lecture 2. What we need is a contents page so that we can identify the 15 previously published essays.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A Hebrew Vorlage of Matthew

Eusebius refers via Papias twice to an original Hebrew autograph for St. Matthew's Gospel (Adv.Haer. 3.1.1; Hist.Eccl. 3.39). Is there any evidence for (or against) this in the sphere of textual-criticism?

The Schøyen Collection boasts that it has a Middle Egyptian copy of Matthew (MS 2560) which differs from the NA27 text and can be attributed to an alternate Greek Vorlage of Matthew. If you scroll down the page, you can find a picture here.

Misquoting Jesus update

Given the continuing interest in it, it is time to renew the list of critical reviews of Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus. Peter Rodger's should have a review out in Christian Century soon.

Craig Blomberg, Michael Kruger, Mark D. Roberts, Jim Snapp, Daniel Wallace (earlier), Daniel Wallace (later and longer), P.J. Williams

Darrell Bock (just on issue of variants to do with women)

Ivo Tamm's Master's thesis (in German; on subject of theological motivation for variants, interacting with Ehrman's Orthodox Corruption of Scripture)

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Daniel 7:13 OG

Daniel 7:13 in the Old Greek reads ως παλαιος ημερων παρην usually rendered 'like an ancient of days was present', which seems an unusual rendering of the Aramaic עד עתיק יומיא מטה 'unto the ancient of days arrived'. I reflected today that the Greek could be explained as a literal rendering of the Aramaic (with some misunderstanding) if it were allowed that the translator understood the word עד as meaning 'while', a sense that ως can easily bear. עד can mean 'while' in Syriac and CAL also mentions 'Palestinian Aramaic'. Learned colleagues, please inform me whether this proposal is likely.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

JTS 57 (2006) reviews

There are a number of reviews of text-critical interest in the latest volume of the Journal of Theological Studies.

Here are the main ones:

pp. 177-179
Alison G. Salvesen reviews Joshua: Jesus Son of Naue in Codex Vaticanus. By A. GRAEME AULD. Pp. xxix + 236. (Septuagint Commentary Series.) Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2005.

The first vol. of the Septuagint Commentary Series to appear. It appears that Auld has adopted a usefully literal translation technique.

pp. 203-208
Jennifer Dines reviews The Open Book and the Sealed Book: Jeremiah 32 in its Hebrew and Greek Recensions. By ANDREW G. SHEAD. Pp. 316. (Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series, 347; The Hebrew Bible and its Versions, 3.) London: Sheffield Academic Press (a Continuum imprint), 2002.

Thoroughly worthwhile summary and evaluation.

pp. 217-219
J. K. Elliott reviews Reading and Writing in the Time of Jesus. By ALAN MILLARD. Pp. 288. London: T & T Clark (A Continuum Imprint), 2004.

The new paperback edition is essentially unchanged from the edition of 2000.

pp. 235-246
J. Neville Birdsall reviews The Textual Tradition of the Gospels: Family 1 in Matthew. By AMY S. ANDERSON. Pp. x + 219. (New Testament Tools and Studies, 32.) Leiden: Brill, 2004.

‘I have little but applause for what it presents’ says the late Neville Birdsall. I wonder if this was one of the last things he wrote.

pp. 287-291
J. Lionel North reviews Biblical Greek Language and Lexicography: Essays in Honor of Frederick W. Danker. Edited by BERNARD A. TAYLOR, JOHN A. L. LEE, PETER R. BURTON, and RICHARD E. WHITAKER. Pp. xxii + 266. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2004.

In this volume the rather polemic second attack by the Assyriologist Rykle Borger on the UBS GNT and NA26 makes an interesting read.