Monday, February 26, 2007

The Masoretic Textual Tradition

In our ongoing series on textual criticism, we now turn our attention to the Masoretic Text. Actually, it would be better said "Masoretic Texts or Textual Family."

What is the Masoretic Text? As the above linked article says "the Masoretic Text (MT) is the Hebrew text of the Tanakh as generally used in Judaism." I found the best (but partial because I don't have a membership) definition from the Encyclopedia Britannica:
traditional Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible, meticulously assembled and codified, and supplied with diacritical marks to enable correct pronunciation. This monumental work was begun around the 6th century AD and completed in the 10th by scholars at Talmudic academies in Babylonia and Palestine...

From what Orthodox Jewish sites I've read on the web, it seems textual critical issues with the Tanakh aren't fully understood. As that article says, "The Torah has nine spelling variants - with absolutely no effect on the meaning of the words."

But as the above Wikipedia article mentions:
Early rabbinic sources, from around 200 CE, mention several passages of Scripture in which the conclusion is inevitable that the ancient reading must have differed from that of the present text. The explanation of this phenomenon is given in the expression ("Scripture has used euphemistic language," i.e. to avoid anthropomorphism and anthropopathism).

Rabbi Simon ben Pazzi (third century) calls these readings "emendations of the Scribes" (tikkune Soferim; Midrash Genesis Rabbah xlix. 7), assuming that the Scribes actually made the changes. This view was adopted by the later Midrash and by the majority of Masoretes. In Masoretic works these changes are ascribed to Ezra; to Ezra and Nehemiah; to Ezra and the Soferim; or to Ezra, Nehemiah, Zechariah, Haggai, and Baruch. All these ascriptions mean one and the same thing: that the changes were assumed to have been made by the Men of the Great Synagogue.

The term tikkun Soferim has been understood by different scholars in various ways. Some regard it as a correction of Biblical language authorized by the Soferim for homiletical purposes. Others take it to mean a mental change made by the original writers or redactors of Scripture; i.e. the latter shrank from putting in writing a thought which some of the readers might expect them to express.

The assumed emendations are of four general types:

* Removal of unseemly expressions used in reference to God; e.g., the substitution of ("to bless") for ("to curse") in certain passages.

* Safeguarding of the Tetragrammaton; e.g. substitution of "Elohim" for "YHVH" in some passages.

* Removal of application of the names of false gods to YHVH; e.g. the change of the name "Ishbaal" to "Ishbosheth."

* Safeguarding the unity of divine worship at Jerusalem.

I am in no way belittling the Masoretic textual tradition. As the ESV (a recent Christian Bible translation) philosophy statement says:
The currently renewed respect among Old Testament scholars for the Masoretic text is reflected in the ESV’s attempt, wherever possible, to translate difficult Hebrew passages as they stand in the Masoretic text rather than resorting to emendations or to finding an alternative reading in the ancient versions.

The goal of textual criticism, at least as many and I see it, is to get as close as possible to the original words of the texts. Other sources complement the Masoretic tradition and help us do this. We'll explain more about this when I introduce other textual sources, like the Septuagint.

More, next time. Please feel free to leave questions in the comments section.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Introduction to Textual Criticism

The Bible, both the Tanakh (Old Testament) and the New Testament, have been carefully given to us from ancient times through scribes. These scribes wrote by hand and errors in the copying process occurred.

Now, the situation is not hopeless. Textual criticism is the fancy name of trying to figure out what the original text was. Wikipedia has a good overview of textual criticism.

The discipline doesn't just apply to the Bible. Shakespeare, Homer, whomever. I knew the head librarian of the Philadelphia Orchestra. He performed textual criticism on the works of classical music. He discovered that there were musical notes being performed that we have become accustomed to that weren't intended by the original composer.

Now, in terms of the Bible we have many things to consider. There are textual families, individual texts, and translations.

I've noticed that in textual discussions of Messianic prophecies that the topic of the Septuagint, an ancient Greek translation of the Tanakh, comes up and is often disparaged. I want to show how it can be used to help us do good textual criticism of the Old Testament and how it sheds light on a controversial Messianic prophecy.

Obviously, a series of blog posts isn't going to give you enough information to do all this. If you want to get smart on this, and I'm no expert, you'll have to do some reading, etc. on your own.

Here is a good mp3 lecture giving an overview of textual criticism. Here's one that concentrates on the transmission of the Old Testament. I can't vouch for the following but here is a lecture series.

I'll try to build up slowly and fill in some gaps as we go along. Again, this is specific in nature to show how and why we would use the Septuagint. Feel free to ask questions in the comments. If I don't know something, I'll tell you.

Update: From the aforementioned lecture series, this mp3 file is a good overview.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Does the Oral Law Exist?

So I'm watching this show called the Naked Archeologist. In one episode, he tries to figure out what fish was used for a particular dye. After some searching on Google I found the link above. (stay with me...)

Believe it or not, the custom of the Tallit stripes are an outgrowth of the Torah command to attach one blue thread to the Tzitzit, and also used for dying priestly garments. (see Exodus 25:4 and Numbers 15:38)

The "Techelet" was a bluish color, obtained from the fluid of a sea creature called the "Chilazon." (Tosefta Menachot 9:6) It is found on the coast of Northern Israel, though here is a disagreement among scholars regarding what the "chilazon" actually is. Some say that it is a snail, while others say it is a squid. There are some who claim that the "chilazon" is actually a mollusk.

Correct me if I'm wrong. There was a particular dye that was used for dying priestly garments. We no longer know what that dye was made of.

If the oral law contained that information, it is gone. That's why we rely on Scripture alone.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Septuagint, Textual Criticism and Psalm 22

I'm rummaging through information to go over textual criticism issues which come up in Messianic Jewish debates. More later.

Don't want to post with haste.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Tovia Singer on Way of the Master Radio

Tovia singer was interviewed in the first half hour of last Monday's Way of the Master Radio. Mp3 file can be found here.

Two interesting things. First Rabbi Singer thinks Gentile Christians are going to hell. Frankly, that doesn't bother me in the slightest. But it is still interesting.

The second interesting thing was how Rabbi Singer tried to deflect the host's appeal to the demands of the Law and the need for sacrificial atonement. I called in the show today, Friday, and you can find the Mp3 file of the show and my call here. I was the first call taken in the day.