Introduction to Textual Criticism
Gary E. Schnittjer
Deciding the goal of textual criticism is both essential and
difficult because of the nature of the case. It is easy enough to speak of
reliable text upon which to ground exegesis (Würthwein/Fischer), but in the absence of original autographs and
in the presence of available evidence there remains significant philosophical judgments.
Deciding the goal of textual criticism should be taken up in the classroom,
with vigorous discussion of attendant issues and implications. Here are
competing potential goals (Waltke 1989):
→ original text (author) (older
→ final text (redactor)
(eclectic text) (BHK apparatus, BHS apparatus, HBCE text,
modern English committee translations, e.g., NRSV, ESV, NIV)
→ canonical text
(proto-Masoretic c. 1st cent CE) (Childs 1979, 96-99)
→ earliest attested (excluded
conjectures of non-extant Ur-text) (UBS Text Project, BHQ apparatus, HUB
→ pluriformity (proto-MT,
Qumran, LXX, Samaritan Pentateuch) (Tov 2008; Biblia Qumranica
[multi-column, DSS, MT, LXX])
Several issues complicate this decision, including: the
apparent shift from ancient scribes (sopherim) who viewed “improvements”
as part of their work to scribes as human-photocopy machines of an
authoritative canonical text; continuing debate concerning ancient formal
acknowledgement of canonical status of text versus emerging
canon-consciousness; distinguishing between scribal edits which are part of the
authoritative canonical text versus scribal edits which corrupt the canonical
text. While no difference in scribal care can be discerned between scriptural
and non-scriptural texts at Qumran, the proto-Masoretic witnesses demonstrate
greater scribal care in the late second temple period (see Tov 2004, 24-26,
250-254, and see table 27  and appendix 8 [332-335]).
Overview Textual Criticism of Hebrew Bible
Introducing Biblia Hebraica apparatus:
Evaluating External Evidence
Begin with apparatus of
critical Hebrew Bible
Analyze important witnesses to scribal variants for oneself.
Evaluating Internal Evidence
Investigating internal evidence means thinking with ancient
scribes. Begin by reverse engineering variants based on close attention to scriptural details themselves. Detailed
consideration of scriptural context naturally improves exegetical
There are no rules for making responsible text critical
decisions. A couple of general guidelines are often useful.
Shorter reading is often preferred
More difficult text is often preferred
“Which is more likely to have given rise to the other?” (McCarter 1986, 72)
In addition to sources cited above, I am esp. indebted to
Tov 2012, Würthwein/Fischer 2014.
Basic provisional timeline of scriptural versions in the second temple context.
For further reading
Armerding, Carl. The Old Testament and Criticism
Dominique. Studies in the Text of the Old
Testament: An Introduction to the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project
(Textual Criticism and the Translator 3; trans. Stephen Pisano et al;
Biblia Hebraica, ed. Rudolf Kittel, 7th
ed. (Stuttgart: Württ. Bibelanstalt, 1937, 1951).
Biblia Hebraica Quinta: Genesis, ed.
Abraham Tal (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft,
2015); Biblia Hebraica Quinta: Deuteronomy,
ed. Carmel McCarthy (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2007); Biblia Hebraica Quinta: Judges, ed. Natalio Fernández Marcos (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012); Biblia Hebraica Quinta: Minor Prophets, ed. Anthony Gelston (Deutsche
Bibelgesellschaft, 2010); Biblia Hebraica
Quinta: Proverbs (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2008); Biblia Hebraica Quinta: General Introduction and Megilloth, ed. J.
de Waard, et al (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2004); Biblia Hebraica Quinta: Ezra and Nehemiah, ed. David Marcus
(Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2006).
Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, 5th ed.
(Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1997).
R. Old Testament Textual Criticism: A
Practical Introduction, 2d ed. (Baker, 2016).
S. Introduction to the Old Testament as
Scripture (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979), 96-99.
Bible: A Critical Edition. Michael V. Fox, ed. Proverbs: An Eclectic
Edition with Introduction and Textual Commentary (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2015)
(formerly known as Oxford Hebrew Bible).
University Bible, The Book of Isaiah, ed. M. H. Goshen-Gottstein
(Jerusalem: Magnes, 1995); The Hebrew University Bible, The Book of Jeremiah,
eds. C. Rabin, S. Talmon, E. Tov (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1995).
Marcus, David and
James A. Sanders, “What’s Critical about a Critical Edition of the Bible?” Biblical
Archaeology Review 39.6 (Nov/Dec 2013): 60-65.
Martin, Gary D. Multiple
Originals: New Approaches to Hebrew Bible Text Criticism. Atlanta: Society
of Biblical Literature, 2010.
Kyle. Textual Criticism: Recovering the
Text of the Hebrew Bible (Fortress, 1986).
and Interim Report on the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, eds.
Dominique Barthélemy, et al, 5 vols. (New York: United Bible Societies,
1977-1980). Vol. 1, Pentateuch (1979); vol. 2, Historical Books (1979); vol. 3,
Poetical Books (1977), vol. 4, Prophetical Books I, Isaiah, Jeremiah,
Lamentations (1979), vol. 5, Prophetical Books II, Ezekiel, Daniel, Twelve Minor
“Hebrew Scripture Editions: Philosophy and Praxis,” in Hebrew Bible, Greek
Bible, and Qumran (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008),
__________. Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible,
3d ed. (Fortress, 1992, 2001, 2012).
Waltke, Bruce K.
“Aims of OT Textual Criticism,” Westminster Theological Journal 51.1
Wegner, Paul D. A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of
the Bible: Its History, Methods, and Results (IVP Academic, 2006).
The Text of the Old Testament: An
Introduction to the Biblia Hebraica. 3d
ed. Rev. by Alexanderr Achilles Fischer. Trans. Erroll F. Rhodes
additional resources see textual criticism titles in Biblical Hebrew Bibliography.
Copyright © 2016
Gary E. Schnittjer