Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Registration Now Open


I’m happy to report that registration for our 2024 TCI Colloquium at Yarnton Manor is now open. The fee is $100/person and includes lunch both days. I hope to see some of our readers there. You can register at textandcanon.org/events/text-types/

Friday, February 09, 2024

Scribal Habits in Near Eastern Manuscript Tradition and the Dead Sea Scrolls

I recently read and reviewed Scribal Habits in Near Eastern Manuscript Traditions for the journal, Presbyterion, published by Covenant Theological Seminary. I thought an overview of the book and some of my takeaways as an OT textual critic studying the Dead Sea Scrolls might be helpful here. To purchase the book with a 40% off coupon, use this code generously provided by the publishers: SH40%



Overview: The paratextual elements of Near Eastern manuscripts are the focus of Scribal Habits in Near Eastern Manuscript Traditions. These elements, such as annotations, colophons, illustrations, diacritical signs, and commentaries are often overlooked by those interested in biblical studies because of an emphasis on a manuscript’s main literary text. This tendency is understandable given evangelicals' commitment to the text of Scripture but neglecting these paratextual elements ultimately obscures a fuller and more complete understanding of these manuscripts and the texts they transmit. This book, Scribal Habits, highlights these features to provide readers with the ability to ‘“virtually look over the scribes’ shoulder” (xiii; a slight rephrase of the words of J. R. Royse).

Here is a sampling of the book’s content. Elizabeth Buchanan concluded in her chapter that the use of the diaeresis in Byzantine Egypt evinces patterns. One of these patterns is that the “more accomplished writers” used the sign most consistently (23). Binyamin Katzoff studied the chapter divisions in the Tosefta and concluded that the divisions in the E tradition corresponded with the divisions of the Mishna. This study provides insight into how one tradition could be influenced by another literary work: in this case, the Mishna (102). Katzoff’s second chapter of the book investigated how a text could be systematically corrected to a text of an alternative textual tradition (112). This summary suffices to show the importance of these features, especially for evangelicals when studying biblical texts. Our assessment of the biblical text has to consider these features. 

Application to OT Textual Criticism: As a biblical scholar, in particular, a textual critic primarily concerned with the Dead Sea Scrolls, two topics of this book intrigued me. First, I was interested to learn about the significance of the paratextual elements in Near Eastern manuscripts since several of these elements are also present in the Dead Sea Scrolls. For example, diacritical signs are used in some manuscripts such as the margins of 1QIsaa and 4QCantb, 1QIsaa may preserve a marginal gloss, and a drastic shift in paleography occurs in 4QJosha. Moreover, there is a shift from poetry to prose in 11QPsa. Given the use of these features in the Dead Sea Scrolls, I was interested in how these paratextual elements functioned in other texts of this region.

Second, I hoped that this book would help me ask different questions about the Dead Sea Scrolls and open new avenues of study for me. This task is comparative. That is, I hoped to compare these mostly later more extant manuscripts and their signs and features to the earlier less extant Dead Sea Scrolls.

Before I engage in this comparative task, it is helpful to mention a few difficulties with this process. Perhaps the most profound difficulty in comparing these later Near Eastern manuscripts to the Dead Sea Scrolls is that the Dead Sea Scrolls exist in a highly fragmentary state. Anyone familiar with this discipline understands this reality, and it can easily be illustrated by turning to the back of a DJD volume and observing the PAM plates. One can also see this reality by exploring “The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library” accessed here https://www.deadseascrolls.org.il/home. Many Dead Sea fragments are unidentified, and some are only probably identified (see the debate around 4Q118, for example). This reality complicates an investigation into the paratextual elements of the Dead Sea Scrolls since many upper, lower, and intercolumnar margins have decayed. Handle sheets, title pages, and the endings of most manuscripts have deteriorated into dust. What precious information that these columns of parchment once contained is now lost, regrettably so, so that scholars can only dream of what a now lost colophon might have contributed to our understanding of these manuscripts.

Another difficulty with this process is the chronological and cultural gap between the Scrolls and the texts analyzed in Scribal Habits. For example, the Dead Sea Scrolls are usually earlier than the manuscripts discussed here although there is at least one exception to this (see Szilvia Sövegjártó’s chapter on the Sumerian texts from the Old Babylonian era). Scribal habits, and the paratextual elements that they utilized, may not have remained static. The same can be said of the cultural differences between ancient Jews and the cultures of the scribes who preserved the manuscripts discussed in Scribal Habits. These realities, likewise, might complicate the comparative task.

Despite these difficulties, I did enjoy comparing these texts to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Here are some thoughts regarding one of the chapters. T. C. Schmidt discussed the reception history of the Book of Revelation in Eastern churches, and in particular, the scribal strategies that might indicate a scribe's general assessment of the book. For example, the material used for writing, the books to which Revelation was bound, and the writing style of the scribe were all strategies that might demonstrate the scribe's attitude about the book’s status.

These insights provided me with interesting questions to ask of the Dead Sea Scrolls such as Does the quality of the script have any effect on a book’s status? Is there any connection between expertly copied texts and the status of the texts preserved in these manuscripts? Here I am thinking of what Tov labels de luxe edition manuscripts (see Scribal Approaches, 125-129). What does the phenomenon of stitching biblical and nonbiblical texts together signify about these texts’ status? This question continues to be an important issue regarding 11QPsa. Although most of the Dead Sea Scrolls are copied on parchment, what does the use of papyrus signify if anything during the Second Temple period? This distinction was significant in rabbinic literature. Is there a correspondence between the orthographic profile of a manuscript and the manuscript’s paleographic style? This one chapter demonstrates the importance of Scribal Habits for those interested in the history of ancient manuscripts including manuscripts that preserve the biblical text.

Overall, Scribal Habits was an enjoyable and insightful read, and it rightly stressed the importance of these paratextual features. Going forward let's open our eyes to the margins of the manuscripts, and let's get excited about what we might see. 

Thursday, February 08, 2024

Book Notice and Giveaway: Going Deeper with Biblical Hebrew


I don't post here too often these days, but when I do, I announce a wonderful, new book and a giveaway! We're giving away two copies of Going Deeper with Biblical Hebrew: An Intermediate Study of the Grammar and Syntax of the Old Testament by H.H. Hardy II and Matthew McAfee.

Lest one thinks this book is only an intermediate Hebrew Grammar (as if that wouldn't be sufficient), it also includes a chapter on Old Testament textual criticism along with a guided lesson for students to learn to do it for themselves.

To enter the giveaway, share the link of this post on Facebook or X (@ETCtomwas) and tag the ETC Blog in it or simply Share or Repost the original social posts. I'll announce the winners of the giveaway on Friday afternoon!

More from the publisher:

Learning any language is no small task, not least one that sounds as unusual as Hebrew does to most English speakers’ ears. Going Deeper with Biblical Hebrew primarily aims to equip second-year grammar students of biblical Hebrew to read the Hebrew Scriptures. Using a variety of linguistic approaches, H. H. Hardy II and Matthew McAffee offer a comprehensive and up-to-date textbook for professors and students.

From an endorser:

Both practically accessible and linguistically rigorous, Hardy and McAffee’s valuable resource meets the needs of students and professors. Though not shying away from the technical details, the authors carefully balance the technical semantic information with the important pragmatic implications. Using famously complex passages (such as the Nephilim) as examples both draws students in and illustrates the importance of the issues. Overall, the authors make the technical relatable and, most of all, practical to second-year Hebrew students. –JoAnna M. Hoyt
Table of Contents

Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Vesuvius Challenge Finds a Winner


You’ve probably already seen the news that the Vesuvius Challenge just announced a winner for their contest to read CT scans of carbonized scrolls from Herculaneum. The contest focused on about 5% of one scroll that turns out to be an Epicurean text. This is a big breakthrough that builds on the work done back in 2015 to digitally unroll the En Gedi scroll (blogged about here) and opens the possibility of reading more of the 800 or so carbonized scrolls recovered from the library of Herculaneum that was destroyed in AD 79. Naturally for ETC readers, the question arises whether there might be some biblical manuscripts among these 800.

You can read more about the prize and the prize winning team at scrollprize.org.

A section of scroll read for the first time since AD 79

Tuesday, February 06, 2024

Dormandy: Jesus and the Victory of Manuscripts? A Wrightian Analogy Unpacked

The following is a guest post from Dr. Michael Dormandy who is a Senior Scientist at the Institute for Biblical Studies and Historical Theology, University of Innsbruck, Austria and was mentioned on the blog recently for his forthcoming dissertation on pandects. —Ed.

I recently came across the following striking passage in one of N. T. Wright’s more recent academic books:
Just as the massive nineteenth-century advances in discovering and collating early manuscripts led to major revisions of the text of the New Testament (resisted in some quarters, partly on the grounds that if God had wanted us to have this new text he would have given it to us a lot sooner), so the major twentieth-century advances in our knowledge of the ancient Jewish world, of which the discovery of the Qumran scrolls is just one example, have opened up new possibilities and insights which systematic theology has barely noticed but cannot afford, in my view, to resist or discount. (History and Eschatology, p. 119)
The analogy comes in the context of an argument for the theological relevance of empirical historical research into Jesus and the New Testament. If we really believe that God has entered our world as the human being Jesus, a Jewish carpenter-turned-Rabbi, then we should be able to learn a lot about God by studying in detail the historical evidence for the first-century world(s) in which he lived. Similarly, if we really believe God has spoken through the letters of another human being, the first-century Jewish man, Paul, then the same conclusion follows. If we don’t believe we can understand Jesus and Paul better by studying their cultural and historical context, we have in effect stopped believing they were normal human beings. This methodology has fueled Wright’s ground-breaking work for decades.

A similar conviction drives confessional Protestant textual-critics. If we really believe that God has particularly spoken through human literary works, written in the first-century but without surviving autographs, we should be able to learn a lot about God through studying our earliest and best evidence for the text of those works. It is no secret however that Wright’s work has been controversial, not least in those evangelical circles which have enthusiastically accepted the results of modern textual criticism. Wright appears in the passage quoted to hint that there is an inconsistency here. If modern manuscript discoveries can be allowed to alter the traditional text, they should also be allowed to alter its traditional interpretation.

We must not, of course, assume too great an analogy. Just because the last 150 years have seen us discover both many interesting manuscript sources for late second-temple Judaism and many early and important NT manuscripts, this does not mean that new readings and ideas built on these discoveries are equally persuasive. It is a striking historical coincidence that hordes of manuscripts were discovered both at Oxyrhynchus and at Qumran within a century of each other, but that does not mean both hordes are equally significant. However, for those who reject Wright’s theological conclusions, while still treasuring their modern critical editions of the NT, his challenge has bite. We are willing to allow new manuscript discoveries to influence the text of the Bibles we read. If we are consistent, we should be open to the possibility that new discoveries about the context of the NT could give new insights into what those Bibles mean.