Tag Archives: Textual Criticism

The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Developmental Composition of the Bible

They don’t have a cover image up yet, but Brill is advertising a new book by Eugene Ulrich entitled The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Developmental Composition of the Bible. Here’s the blurb:

Eugene Ulrich presents in The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Developmental Composition of the Bible the comprehensive and synthesized picture he has gained as editor of many biblical scrolls. His earlier volume, The Biblical Qumran Scrolls, presented the evidence — the transcriptions and textual variants of all the biblical scrolls — and this volume explores the implications and significance of that evidence.

The Bible has not changed, but modern knowledge of it certainly has changed. The ancient Scrolls have opened a window and shed light on a period in the history of the text’s formation that had languished in darkness for two thousand years. They offer a parade of surprises that greatly enhance knowledge of how the scriptural texts developed through history.

Certainly looks like it’ll be a great book.


New Testament Textual Commentary Website

Brian Fulthorp recently highlighted on Facebook a new website in the beta testing phase called “New Testament Textual Commentary” that aims to present significant New Testament textual variants and relevant commentary for every verse of the NT. It only has Philippians active right now, but it looks very simple and very helpful. Below is a screenshot. Check out the website.

Phil 2.3

SBL Paper Proposals

I just submitted two proposals for the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. Here they are:

מלאך יהוה: The Textual Origins of God’s Divine Agent

Two theories are current regarding the earliest appearances of the mâlaḵ YHWH, in which his identity is not clearly distinguished from that of God. The more prominent theory is that the messenger is an aspect of God, a hypostasis, or some other extension of his identity. Alternatively, some scholars view the word mâlaḵ as a textual interpolation meant to obscure theologically problematic passages. There are later appearances of the mâlaḵ YHWH that are demonstrably original to their literary context, however, and even if the interpolation theory is correct, these appearances reflect the theological accommodation of the messenger as in some way identifiable with the God of Israel.

The present study will examine text-critical considerations that demonstrate the priority of the interpolation theory. It will then go on to examine the later biblical conceptualization of the relationship of the messenger to YHWH, emphasizing the concept of divine agency over and against that of divine identity. Textual, linguistic, and literary evidence will contribute to the conclusion that the messenger of YHWH was a secondary divine agent authorized to represent God and speak on his behalf in virtue of the indwelling of his name. The implications of this notion of communicable divine agency extend into Greco-Roman period Judaism and early Christianity.


YHWH and El: The Conceptual Blending of Their Divine Profiles

The point of departure for this paper is the theory that the patriarchal and exodus traditions represent originally independent traditions of Israel’s ethnogenesis. The most explicit—and perhaps original—attempt to link the two traditions and their concepts of God (Exod 6:3) acknowledges distinct divine names associated with the two traditions, namely YHWH and El Shaddai. Quite different theological profiles emerge from the disentangling of the traditions most closely connected with those names, but by the time of the composition of Exod 6:3, those profiles were fusing. Within the resulting composite view of Israel’s God, certain concepts associated with the earlier profiles were emphasized while others were marginalized. New concepts also developed out of the process and the socio-religious exigencies of the authors and editors. The complex and tensile conceptualization of YHWH found in the Hebrew Bible’s final form represents several centuries of conceptual blending and innovation against the backdrop of Israel’s scriptural heritage.

Scholars of early Israelite religion have dedicated a great deal of attention to the socio-religious impetuses for and results of the conflation of YHWH and El, but there is little that examines the cognitive processes that may have attended and influenced that conflation. This study seeks to fill that need. It will first isolate and schematize each tradition’s conceptualizations of its central deity, paying close attention to the centrality of the imagery to that deity’s representation. It will then evaluate the conceptual blending of the two schemas, highlighting the analogous and complementary concepts that facilitated that blending, as well as the conditions that contributed to the development of new divine conceptualizations. The fundamental goal is insight into why God was represented in the texts the way he was.

The Angel of Yahweh in Early Hebrew Bible Narrative

There are two general approaches to explaining the angel of Yahweh in the early biblical narratives where his identity seems to be conflated or confused with the identity of God himself. The most prevalent view is that the angel, as a divine messenger, represents his patron so completely that he may be referred to and even described as the patron. The other view is that the word “angel” is simply an interpolation where it was originally Yahweh himself interacting with humanity. As I have been compiling research I have come across the former position more and more in recent research (two examples are Erik Eynikel, “The Angel in Samson’s Birth Narrative: Judg 13,” in Angels: The Concept of Celestial Beings—Origins, Development and Reception [Friedrich V. Reiterer, et al., eds.; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2007], 109–23; Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009]). In this post I’d like to explain why I find the latter view to be far more convincing.

I count 36 occurrences of מלאך יהוה in Gen-Judg, with an additional six occurrences of מלאך אלהים. The first of all occurrences (canonically) is in the story of Hagar’s fleeing from Sarah. The confusion of identity here occurs in v. 13, where the narrative explains that Hagar “called upon the name of Yahweh who spoke to her.” Hagar’s next comment in the Hebrew is unclear, but we should probably read after the NRSV (based on the name given to the well), “Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?” This would echo sentiments found in our other angel of Yahweh pericopes (Gen 32:30; Exod 3:6; Jdg 6:2223; 13:22). Exod 33:20, which states that no human will see God and live, is alluded to in each example. This particular story makes more sense with the word “angel” removed from vv. 7, 9, 10, and 11, and with Hagar speaking directly with Yahweh.

The next occurrence of the angel of Yahweh is in the Akedah from Genesis 22. The angel of Yahweh is said to stop Abraham immediately before he sacrifices Isaac. The narrative again makes perfect sense with the word “angel” removed from vv. 11 and 15. In v. 16 we have Yahweh speaking, but the phrase “says Yahweh” appears. This does not necessarily indicate reported speech, though, and is unlikely to be original. It appears nowhere else in Genesis and it never appears anywhere else associated with any angel of Yahweh. In v. 14, the explanation of the name of the mountain could be “On the mountain of Yahweh it shall be provided,” or “On the mountain of Yahweh he will be seen.” In both these stories the notion of seeing God appears to have been obscured to hide God’s own presence.

Exodus 3 is our next pericope. In that story, Moses speaks with the angel of Yahweh. The angel is only mentioned in v. 2, and afterward God himself is the interlocutor. In v. 6 God even states, “I am the God of your father . . .” Moses even lowers his gaze because he is afraid to look upon God. Of considerable importance here is that v. 2’s statement “and the angel of Yahweh appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush” does not fit the narrative. It preempts Moses’ noticing the bush (which follows “and he looked, and behold!”) and his moving close enough to it for the entity to speak out of it. The most likely reason is that that statement is a late interpolation meant to contextualize the comments that followed. Without the statement, it is God himself speaking to Moses.

Next we move to two narratives from Judges, namely Gideon’s call and Samson’s birth narrative. In the first (Judg 6:11–24), the angel comes to Gideon, who appears not to recognize him, and states that Yahweh is with him. He then announces Gideon’s call to lead the Israelites. In vv. 11, 12, 21, and 22 the text has “angel of Yahweh,” but in vv. 14 and 16 Gideon is represented as speaking directly to Yahweh. In v.  17, Gideon actually asks for proof that he is speaking specifically to Yahweh. In v. 20 it is “angel of God.” This is peculiar, and the only other uses of “angel of God” in Gen-Judg also appear in places where the identity of God is mixed up with that of an angel (Gen 21:17; 31:11; Exod 14:19; Judg 13:6, 9). As with other stories, Gideon’s angel speaks as God in the first person with no messenger formula to indicate it is a mediated message. Again we have the allusion to Exod 33:20, but here Gideon laments, “Help me, O Yahweh God, for I have seen the angel of Yahweh face to face!” Exod 33:20 does not place a restriction on seeing the angel of Yahweh, however, it explicitly states that no human can see God himself (and specifically his face, given the context). Gideon’s lament is completely unique, and the story fits perfectly with the other reconstructed narratives if we simply remove each instance of “angel.”

In Samson’s birth narrative (Judg 13:3–23) the interlocutor is described as an angel of Yahweh throughout, but when Manoah realizes to whom he has been speaking he laments, like the others, “we shall surely die, for we have seen God.” Now, the comment could be translated “for we have seen a deity,” in reference to an angel, but, again, this is not what Exod 33:20 says, and the allusion is clearly to that text. V. 19 also provides an interesting problem. It states that, on the angel’s orders, Manoah offered a meat offering on a rock “to Yahweh. And [?] did wonders/wondrously.” There is no subject attached to the participle מפלא, “to be wonderful.” Many translations assume the angel is understood, since he is overseeing the sacrifice (thus, “the angel did wondrously”), while others believe the statement refers to Yahweh, and want it to act as a relative clause (thus, “to Yahweh, to him who works wonders”). The most straightforward reading would probably be, “to Yahweh, and he did wondrously.” This would identify the one who commanded the sacrifice as Yahweh.

This is further supported by the actual command in v. 16, where the text states, “The angel of Yahweh said to Manoah, ‘If you detain me I will not eat your food, but if you want to prepare a burnt offering, offer it to Yahweh.’ (For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of Yahweh).” There is only one scenario in which I can see the narrator providing the explanation if the angel is not actually Yahweh himself, and that’s if the angel is promoting sacrifices to a specific deity to which Manoah otherwise wouldn’t have offered his sacrifice (“‘Oh, and make sure you offer it to Yahweh specifically’ [and Manoah didn’t know that the guy actually worked for Yahweh]”). To me it makes much more sense that the narrator is explaining that Manoah didn’t know he was speaking to Yahweh himself, since it would sound weird for Yahweh to say “offer a sacrifice to Yahweh” if he knew he was speaking to Yahweh.

Three more considerations support the interpolation theory. First, as Samuel Meier has pointed out, there is textual instability among the versions in these narratives. For instance, in Gideon’s narrative, the Septuagint has “angel of Yahweh” throughout. The Septuagint also has additional occurrences of “messenger” all by itself in Samson’s birth narrative and in Hagar’s story, and an additional “messenger of the Lord” at Gen 16:8. Josephus only presents God interacting with Abraham in Genesis 22. The Vulgate makes no mention of an angel in Exod 3:2, mentioning only God appearing. Second, in none of these instances is any self-identification or messenger formula present. Some have claimed that the messenger was so fully identified with his patron that it was not necessary, but there is simply no evidence for this notion. The closest we get is the anomalous “says Yahweh” in Gen 22:16. Third, later versions frequently interpolate the word “angel” where they want to avoid God’s presence, visibility, or participation in something of questionable morality. For instance, in Exod 4:24 both the Septuagint and the targums interpolate the angel to avoid the notion that Yahweh would have come down to kill Moses. In Num 22:20 and 23:4 the Samaritan Pentateuch changes “and God met Balaam” to “and the angel of God met Balaam.” He does not change Num 22:9 or another phrase in Num 23:4, however. In the Palestinian Targum God tells Moses that his angels will pass by him, not that he himself will pass by, as in Exodus 33. Numerous other examples could be brought up, but this should do.

In conclusion, the notion that  the angel is a hypostasis of God or so closely represents him that their identities merge without comment or explanation is simply a rationalization that is subordinate to the necessity of a synchronic or univocal reading of the text. Without such a demand the only logical conclusion is that the angel of Yahweh in these early biblical narratives is a late interpolation, probably from some late- or post-Deuteronomistic writer.

On the Samaritan Pentateuch

Many people recognize that the Samaritan Pentateuch contains quite a bit of harmonization and revision, but in some places it gets it right where MT does not. Here are a few examples. The picture above is of one of the Dead Sea Scroll fragments recently acquired by Azusa Pacific University. It contains a portion of Deuteronomy 27, specifically Deut 27:3–6. In line with the Samaritan Pentateuch, this particular fragment designates Mount Gerizim, rather than the MT’s Mount Ebal, as the place where the altar was to be set up by Joshua and the Israelites. The Samaritan Pentateuch may actually preserve the earlier reading.

The New Testament also occasionally supports SP against MT. In Acts 7:4, where Stephen describes a brief history of Israel, he states that Abraham left Haran and entered Canaan after his father died. Gen 11:32 says Terah lived to be 205, but Abraham was born when Terah was 70 (Gen 11:26) and moved to Canaan when he was 75 (Gen 12:4), giving Terah another 60 years before his death. The Samaritan Pentateuch says Terah died at 145 years, though, which would put Abraham’s entry into Canaan in the same year as his father’s death.

More interesting is Heb 9:4, which states that the altar of incense stood inside the Holy of Holies with the ark of the covenant, rather than in the Holy Place. This may reflect a reading found in SP and in 4QpaleoExod(m) where the description of the incense altar is given immediately following the description of the Holy of Holies (between Exod 26:35 and 36) rather than four chapters later in Exod 30:1–10, where it appears in MT. Leviticus 16 describes the incense altar as being “inside the curtain” (12–13) just as the ark of the covenant (15). The smoke from the incense altar is also intended to “cover the mercy seat,” which it cannot do from outside the Holy of Holies. The Samaritan Pentateuch has long been maligned as derivative, ideological, and late, but in some cases it seems to present better readings.

Reverencing the Text of the Bible

In Septuagint studies a common caution against appealing to wildly speculative translator exegesis to account for divergences between MT and LXX is the recognition that the translators were working with a text they recognized as authoritative and unique, and so would have been reluctant to deviate much from the Vorlage. This been confirmed to some degree in a few LXX books where research (particularly of the Finnish school) confirms a high degree of fidelity to the Vorlage combined with dynamic equivalency. In these books, many seeming divergences actually fall within the semantic scope of the Hebrew, if they’re not mistakes or derived from a distinct Vorlage.[1] I think caution is in order, though, and I’ll explain why.

E. Y. Kutcher points to an interesting observation regarding texts found at Masada and their relationship to the standardized manuscripts:

It is interesting to realize that the text of Ben Sira underwent many changes resulting from the “corrections” of medieval (and earlier) scribes. . . . But Psalms fared differently. Except for a few cases of defective spellings, that are also common in our mss of the Bible, there is practically no difference between the text discovered as Masada and out Masoretic text. How are we to account for this difference between the transmission of Psalms and of Ben Sira? The answer is simply that Psalms represented a sacred text and therefore the scribes made every effort to copy it faithfully, while Ben Sira was not canonized, and so it was treated less carefully. This is a clear proof of how particular the scribes were not to change anything when copying a Biblical text.[2]

The texts from Masada clearly come from a later date than the translation of the Septuagint, though (the majority of it, anyway), and the Dead Sea Scrolls show a greater degree of variety in the earliest texts. It seems that an ideology developed between the translation of the Septuagint and the standardization of the MT that saw the text itself as intimately associated with the authority of the message it conveyed. That is, while early translators used dynamic equivalents to convey the sense of the Hebrew without necessarily conveying the original word order, syntax, or lexical qualities, as time went on, the word order, syntax, and lexical qualities became equally as important. What the text was saying was not all that had meaning. How the text said it began to have meaning as well.

This belief became increasingly important over the next few centuries. The second century CE Aquila adhered slavishly to the word order and syntax of the Hebrew in his translation into Greek. His text may be thought of as the original interlinear Bible. Later Jewish scholars would institute strict standards of transcription in order to ensure no part of the text was corrupted, such as counting the numbers of letters in a book. Glaring errors were left in the books with annotations in the margins. The text then took on an entirely new persona. Today it is even viewed as inerrant by many.

I would suggest that retrojecting modern concepts of canonicity and inerrancy into our investigations of the translation of the Septuagint is a bit presentistic. Those concepts have their roots in that time period, but in its infancy I think the idea of reverencing the text of the Bible was quite distinct.

[1] Anneli Aejmelaeus and Bénédicte Lemmelijn have also argued, convincingly in my opinion, that harmonizations are more likely the work of scribes rather than translators, given the far more broad scope of focus in transcription compared to translation.

[2] E. Y. Kutscher, A History of the Hebrew Language (Leiden: Brill, 1982), 92.

Charlesworth on a Fragment from the Dead Sea Scrolls

Via Jim West. James Charlesworth has the following to say regarding a fragment of Deuteronomy 27:

We finally found the original text of Deuteronomy. This is sensationally important.

This comes from Azusa Pacific’s new acquisition of 5 DSS fragments (article here):

The university released a photograph of one fragment that already has been studied by an outside researcher. The brownish-colored section with frayed edges shows part of the 27th chapter of Deuteronomy. In it, Moses delivers a discourse from God, telling the Jewish people to build an altar of stone once they cross the River Jordan into the land of Israel.  The fragment lists the location for the altar as Mount Gerizim. Modern Bibles mentioned another site, Mount Ebal.  James H. Charlesworth, a New Testament professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, said the difference suggests that the fragment may be an original copy of Deuteronomy that was altered at some point by warring factions of Jews.

Of course, the fragment is still several centuries removed from the original composition, but it evidently points to Gerizim as the location of the altar to be built by the Israelites, not Ebal. This supports the Samaritan Pentateuch against the Masoretic texts on the location of that altar, but Qumran has a number of texts that are very closely aligned with SP (as well as many that are not). I don’t think it is as black and white as now having the original text, but it definitely adds another piece to the puzzle.