Review of Old Testament Textual Criticism: A Practical Introduction

Ellis R. Brotzman and Eric J. Tully. Old Testament Textual Criticism: A Practical Introduction. 2d. ed. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2016. xvi + 256. Pb. $24.99.

old-testament-textual-criticismFrom the time it was first published in 1994, Ellis Brotzman’s Old Testament Textual Criticism: A Practical Introduction, has maintained its place of primacy when it comes to introducing young biblical scholars in the field of Old Testament textual criticism (TC). However, the author and publisher were right to recognize the need for an updated edition. This need is the result of new developments in Old Testament TC, chief among these being the inauguration of two major critical editions of the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament, namely the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft’s Biblia Hebraica Quinta (BHQ) and the Society of Biblical Literature’s The Hebrew Bible: A Critical Edition (HBCE, formerly the Oxford Hebrew Bible). Additionally, in 2000 N. Ben-Zvi published an eclectic text based on the Aleppo Codex called the Jerusalem Crown: The Bible of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

These developments are quite substantial, and thus it became clear that there was a growing need for an updated edition of the old classic. Indeed, although much has remained the same, even a brief comparison of the two volumes reveals a host of improvements and expansions from the previous edition. In the first place, language of “scribal errors” has been replaced by “scribal changes.” This term recognizes the fact that some scribal alterations were deliberate. Indeed, the recent focus in textual criticism on scribal habits has shown that scribes made alterations for many different reasons.

A second substantial addition is the detailed explanation of BHQ. With the publication of the BHQ, the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft has initiated several alterations to the layout and content. Brotzman and Tully do an admirable job of explaining the key alterations and how to use the BHQ to its full potential.

A third noteworthy addition to the updated volume is an appendix entitled “What text(s) are we attempting to reconstruct?” where the authors discuss the various goals of textual criticism whether that is to restore the original composition (Waltke, Harrison, et. al.), to restore the final form (Deist and Winckler), or the restoration of the final forms (Tov, Würthwein, et. al.). In the end, the authors take the stance of Waltke. They too believe that the aim of textual criticism should be the text that most closely resembles that of the original composition.

The volume also retains the best elements of the first edition including a table with the most common sigla in the BHS with the addition in this volume of a column for the BHQ. Additionally, this volume retains a sufficient, though shortened, introduction to the Dead Sea Scrolls.

As great as this volume is, it is not without its weaknesses. One particularly discouraging omission is the wide-ranging criticism that the HBCE has received from such renowned scholars as Emanuel Tov, Hugh Williamson, and Adrian Schenker. Indeed, there is no doubt that younger scholars would benefit from a discussion of TC philosophy and technique that draws on this recent debate around the HBCE.

In the final assessment, there is little doubt that this book is both necessary and helpful. TC is an essential aspect of biblical studies, and a knowledge of basic principles of TC is foundational to an understanding of the scholarly texts with which we work. This need seems to be especially acute in Old Testament TC because of the diplomatic nature of the texts. In the end, this text is a welcome addition to the field of biblical studies and will prove to be a useful resource for many teachers just as the first edition was.

— Stephen Campbell, Durham University

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