Monday, July 24, 2017

Introduction to Brill’s Textual History of the Bible

What follows is not a review. It is a teaser and brief orientation to one of the most comprehensive projects on the text of the Hebrew Bible. Brill’s Textual History of the Bible (THB) is a four volume work in process. Volume 1: The Hebrew Bible consists of three massive parts; that is, three separate books: 1A: Overview Articles, 1B: Pentateuch and Prophets, and 1C: the Writings. Volume 2 is in production stages and plans to treat the Deuterocanonical Scriptures. Volume 3: A Companion to Textual Criticism will cover a range of matters related to modern textual criticism. Volume 4 will contain Indices and Manuscript Catalogues. The project does not plan to treat the New Testament at this time. There is already a first volume to a supplement series.

What is the purpose of THB?
The Textual History of the Bible will be the first comprehensive reference work to cover all aspects of the textual history and textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible and its deuterocanonical Scriptures. The aim of THB is not to create a single coherent argument beginning with the earliest Hebrew manuscripts from Qumran addressed in volume 1 and ending with the contemporary history of research described in volume 3. Rather, THB is a reference work that allows for room for scholarly disagreement among its contributors....THB is thus both an encyclopedia and a handbook. It covers the textual transmission of both the Jewish canon and its deuterocanonical Scriptures in their original texts as well as in their translations. In addition, THB includes information about all other issues related to the textual criticism and textual history of these biblical texts (XIII).
 What do the articles of Volume 1 seek to accomplish?
The articles in this volume address the textual history of the Hebrew Bible and its primary and secondary translations until the time of the medieval Masoretic master codices. In many cases, they not only summarize the status of knowledge but also present new research in small or large areas. In several areas, THB 1 even offers the first scholarly research based on manuscripts rather than scholarly editions. THB 1 records the story of the transmission of the biblical text, and it describes the many textual forms of the Bible, evaluates them, and helps the reader to find his or her way in the labyrinth that is called “the text of the Bible.” After all, “the text of the Bible” is not found in a single source, but in all the sources that contain a biblical text (XV).
Whatever one thinks about the claim to textual pluriformity at the end of this statement, THB 1 provides a major update to the state of the question of Hebrew Bible textual research and at times pushes the conversation forward by presenting new evidence from manuscripts.

Volume 1 consists of three types of articles. Volume 1A contains key Introductory Articles on topics such as Canon of the Hebrew Bible, Samaritan Pentateuch, Hexaplaric Translations, Arabic Translations, and similar. Volumes 1B and 1C contain major Overview Articles on the textual history of each of the biblical books as well as Detailed Articles on topics related to individual biblical books such as Hebrew text traditions and the Primary Translations of LXX, pre-Hexaplaric translations, Hexapla, post-Hexaplaric translations, Syriac Peshitta, etc. In addition to these detailed articles, there are articles on the secondary translations such as the Armenian or Georgian versions and much more. The volume ends with articles on the subject of Exegesis in the sources, that is, treating differences between sources that aren’t directly related to the transmission of the text but relate more to its interpretation.

As a contributor (no, I don’t make a royalty) to this work in the area of the pre-Hexaplaric and Hexaplaric translations and as one becoming more familiar with its contents overall, I would say that this work fills a gap in scholarship, namely, it provides the most up to date history of research and most up to date information on any aspect of the history of the text of the Hebrew Bible and its Versions. I look forward to seeing the next volumes in print. Of course, the regrettable fact of its cost will prohibit some from accessing it. Hopefully, libraries will choose to buy these volumes before other, less worthy works to fill their shelves. If you are interested in the text history of the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament, this is a great resource to survey the scholarly landscape and to deepen and widen your perspective of a very challenging field of research.


  1. Thanks for this, John! So, where do we pick up our free review copies? :-)

    1. Ha. If I knew I would have already done so ;-).