Monday, October 16, 2006

Teststellen for the MT

There are thousands of manuscripts of the Hebrew OT. We have reasonably precise numbers for the manuscripts of the Greek NT, but does anyone know about manuscripts of the Hebrew OT? Does anyone even care?

There are a few reasons why so little has been done with the vast number of medieval Hebrew manuscripts. The OT is longer than the NT and 'collation' for a Masoretic manuscript involves not only collating letters, but also vowels, accents and of course the masoroth.

A further reason why no one seems bothered about collating the medieval mss is that people are convinced that they will not find much. That's why if we want information about variations in medieval manuscripts we have to go to Kennicott and De Rossi at the end of the eighteenth century. But how about the strophe beginning with nun in the alphabetical Psalm 145 (Hebrew numbering just after v. 13)? Does an agreement here between a Hebrew ms and the Greek Psalter not suggest that the Hebrew ms in question deserves more investigation?

Given the mass of Hebrew material I think that the only way to begin to make sense of it is to start devising a set of Teststellen—places where we dip in to the manuscript tradition to try to get a sense of what is worth further exploration.


  1. Actually, in regards to Psalm 145, the Qumran manuscript 11QPs-a includes the nun verse (of course that doesn't mean it is original).

    I've worked through Kennicott and de Rossi for the Psalms and while there are a huge number of variations, few I would daresay have much text critical value.

    The LXX Psalter, on the other hand, does preserve a number of good readings.

  2. Thanks, Tyler.

    I suppose that the first question I'd want answering is the extent to which medieval mss contain variants from the Second Temple Period. If they are capable of preserving a verse (as in Ps. 145) then regardless of whether that verse is original or made up to fill the gap they deserve investigation.

    From your investigation of the Psalms do you have any others that you think might form part of a system of Teststellen?

  3. The problem would be to find manuscripts that are independent of the MT tradition and not simply corruptions within the MT tradition. It is this stemma situation that places OT text criticism in a different areana than NT. Cross and Talmon (?) had an interesting collection of articles that touched on this question. (It's been too long since I've read it.)

    On Ps 145 here is the net Bible note:
    "Several ancient witnesses, including one medieval Hebrew manuscript, the Qumran scroll from cave 11, the LXX, and the Syriac, supply the missing nun verse, which reads as follows: “The Lord is reliable in all his words, and faithful in all his deeds.” ...Scholars are divided as to the originality of this verse. ... there is no apparent explanation for why, if original, it would have been accidentally omitted. The psalm may be a partial acrostic, as in Pss 25 and 34 ... The glaring omission of the nun line would have invited a later redactor to add such a line."

    The Hebrew ms mentioned in the note is usually dismissed as an MT corruption, which of course it is.

    However, I suppose what Pete is looking for is a kind of f1 and f13 phenomenon where texts within a tradition (viz Byz) reflect contact with a tradition from outside.
    It is important is to recognize that any "f1-f13-esque" Hebrew phenomena would not help establish the MT but would be external. It is always a worthy question though in that sense his blogpost might be re-titled "Teststellen for the non-MT".

  4. I suppose one of the problems would be defining MT, given that the consonantal pattern of our printed texts is clearly not restricted to the Masoretes.

    It would be interesting to have a sense of all of the readings that have been passed down in Hebrew tradition since the Second Temple Period.

    Obviously there are mechanical explanations for how a verse could drop out and clear motives for someone to create a verse beginning with nun (which must have been done reasonably early). What this example may do is indicate a certain breadth to the tradition of Hebrew texts that has been transmitted to us.

    Now can this broader tradition all be called MT? It rather stretches the M. Therefore we need another term. We might talk of 'Medieval non-Masoretic' manuscripts, but we could not define such until we had drawn up a list of 'non-Masoretic' readings (i.e. Teststellen). These should be readings that clearly existed in the Second Temple Period and appear to have had a continuous transmission in Hebrew into the Middle Ages.

    The difficult part of the definition would be the boundary between 'Masoretic' and 'non-Masoretic'. How do we define the boundaries of 'Masoretic'? Do we go by sources known to Masoretes? And how do we define their boundaries? Manuscripts don't always come with labels.

    So perhaps we should forget the boundary between non-Masoretic and Masoretic and simply draw up a list of Teststellen based on interest, plausible antiquity and the likelihood that they will enable us to arrive at greater clarity in the classification of all medieval Hebrew manuscripts.

  5. "It would be interesting to have a sense of all of the readings that have been passed down in Hebrew tradition since the Second Temple Period."

    That is something that the Hebrew University Bible Project is supposed to provide. They are VERY expensive and even slower to appear. I only own Isaiah and its in Jerusalem while I run around a couple more months.

    One thing for sure, the HU Bible Project would be grateful for any help and contributions. Do I hear budding OT text volunteers? Foundation interest? [=grants?]

  6. The HU Bible Project is probably one of a great number of projects that were conceived around the idea of a fascicle and a human lifetime or more to complete the project. Similar projects include the Göttingen Septuagint, Leiden Peshitta, and Beuron Vetus Latina editions. Some such projects, such as the Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary, have managed to reinvent themselves for the age of databases and most projects now have some sort of database behind them. However, we have to ask ourselves how these projects would be designed from scratch if one were to start now.

    The great thing about Kurt Aland's concept of the Teststellen for the NT is that it is not really based around the fascicle. I think that it is only this sort of project that can even begin to answer the question of what is out there by way of interest in the medieval Hebrew mss.