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New Book on Textual Criticism of Biblical Texts

February 26, 2013

I’ve just finished reviewing (for Journal of Semitic Studies) a recent multi-author volume that deserves attention from anyone interested in textual criticism of any of the bodies of biblical texts:  Editing the Bible:  Assessing the Task Past and Present, eds. John S. Kloppenborg & Judith H. Newman (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2011).  In the main, the contributions to the volume arose from a conference held in Toronto in 2007 on editing ancient and modern texts.

The unusual feature of this particular volume is that it brings together scholars and studies dealing with textual criticism of the “Hebrew Bible”, the “Septuagint”, and the Greek New Testament.  More typically, scholars in these various bodies of texts have passed like ships in the night, using different approaches, sometimes using the same terms with different meanings, and hardly ever profiting from learning from one another.  Moreover, it has taken extra effort for anyone working in one body of texts to acquire an acquaintance with the work done on any of the other bodies of texts. 

This volume isn’t comprehensive by any means, especially slim on textual criticism of the Greek OT/Septuagint (only two of the ten chapters. and both focused on only a couple of specific texts).  But, for obtaining a good update on key developments in textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible texts and the Greek NT, this book is recommended.

Contributors include John Van Seters (“The Genealogy of the Biblical Editor”), Eugene Ulrich (“The Evolutionary Composition of the Hebrew Bible”), Eibert Tigchelaar (“Editing the Hebrew Bible:  An Overview of Some Problems”), Sarianna Metso (“Evidence from the Qumran Scrolls for the Scribal Transmission of Leviticus”), Kristin De Troyer (“Greek Papyri and the Texts of the Hebrew Bible”), Michael W. Holmes (“What Text is Being Edited?  The Editing of the New Testament”), Klaus Wachtel (“The Coherence-Based Genealogical Method:  A New Way to Reconstruct the Text of the Grek New Tesatment”), Holger Strutworlf (“Scribal Practices and the Transmission of Biblical Texts:  New Insights from the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method”), David Trobisch (“The New Testament in the Light of Book Publishing in Antiquity”), and Ryan Wettlaufer (“Unseen Variants:  Conjectural Emendation and the New Testament”).

To single out some contributions, the essays by Ulrich and Tigchelaar are particularly noteworthy for assessments of the projects currently under way toward producing critical editions of the Hebrew Bible.  Holmes’s wide-ranging essay gives thoughtful analysis of some current issues in NT textual criticism.  The essays by Wachtel and Strutwolf will given introductions to the new approach called the “Coherence-Based Genealogical Method” developed in the Muenster Institute for New Testament Text-Critical Research and adopted hereafter for their Editio Critica Maior project and for future editions of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece.

As I’ve indicated before, interested parties should also know about the journal TC:  A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, the only journal devoted to textual criticism of all the biblical texts.  This online journal is accessible here.

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  1. J Murdoch permalink

    Rather than try to develop new text criticism approach on their own, bible scholars should consult evolutionary biologists to see if any of their methods can be applied to creating family trees of texts. Or they should investigate statistical methods for comparing texts, rather than relying on hand waving explanations. This is an area of so-called scholarship that lacks rigorous objective standards.

    • Murdoch: Well, NT textual critics pioneered the whole process of textual criticism way back in the 18th and 19 century, and others have learned from us! NT scholars have attempted to learn from biologists too, but with only limited success. The nature of the data is different. The problem if “mixture” in NT manuscripts is a particular difficulty that makes anything like traditional stammatics not relevant. An additional problem is the sheer number of manuscripts.
      NT textual criticism isn’t “so-called” scholarship; it’s one of the most developed and demanding scholarly tasks in play. YOur flippant expressions suggests strongly that you don’t know the field that you’re so quick to bad-mouth. Pay your dues in studying the field, and get back to me.

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