Review of The Israelite Samaritan Version of the Torah

Benyamim Tsedaka and Sharon Sullivan, eds. The Israelite Samaritan Version of the Torah: First English Translation Compared with the Masoretic Version. Trans. by Benyamim Tsedaka. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013. xxxvi + 558 pp. Hb. $100.

israelite-samaritan-version-of-the-torahVery little is known about the history and nature of the Samaritan version of the Pentateuch (SP). However, what is becoming increasingly clear is the importance of this textual tradition to the study and textual criticism of the Pentateuch. Previously, there has been much speculation about the value of the SP, however, this former assumption is slowly giving way in biblical studies. Indeed, this review, despite coming nearly four years after the publication of Tsedaka’s volume, is intentionally timed in conjunction with the greatly needed and much anticipated inaugural volume (Leviticus) of the critical edition of the SP, which is to be published by DeGruyter in August 2017. The more this textual tradition is studied, the more it is being valued. The need for further study is all too evident.

Interestingly, not until 2013 was an English translation available for a wide audience to enjoy and appreciate the importance of this text. But thanks to the pioneering work of Benyamim Tsedaka scholars in various fields and interested individuals around the globe can both study and enjoy the SP.

However, this volume is important for more than the translation alone, for it contains a forward by Emanuel Tov, a short essay by James Charlesworth, and an additional introductory essay by Tsedaka. Tov discusses the nature of the SP generally by comparing it to the Masoretic Text, with which the SP often disagrees, and with the LXX and Qumran texts, with which the SP often agrees. Tov concludes that the SP is indeed valuable as it generally witnesses to a very ancient text tradition. Charlesworth, in his brief essay, address the basic question, What is the Samaritan Pentateuch. He contrasts older and more recent scholarly attitudes surrounding the SP.

In his own introduction, Tsedaka first offers an introductory overview of previous scholarship on the SP. To readers who are new to the SP this survey will prove invaluable. Students and scholars will find the footnotes in this introduction to be a great resource as well. Tsedaka next surveys scholarship on the Samaritan people with an eye for how this informs our understanding of this text they produced. Third, Tsedaka catalogues previous editions of the SP. Finally, he orients the reader to the many features of the present volume. These features, the reader should understand, add a great deal to this volume and make this much more than a simple translation of the SP.

One of the many features of this text that makes this text such a valuable resource is that is it appears in two columns per page. One column contains Tsedaka’s English translation of the SP while the other contains the JPS (1917) English translation of the Masoretic Text (MT). Tsedaka’s translation is based on the following four manuscripts: two from Mount Gerizim Synagogue (copied in 1199 and 1210 C.E.), the third from the National Library, Jerusalem (copied in 1215 C.E.), and the fourth, no. 751, at the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin (copied in 1225 C.E.).

Helpfully, the editors have incorporated verse and chapter numbers (according to the JPS version) to aid comparison between the versions. Another helpful feature is the inclusion of the MT and SP’s section titles (MT Parashah; SP Aalaak). The interesting aspect of this feature is that these sections are often quite different from each other. The inclusion of these section titles, therefore, allows readers to observe how the scribes if the different traditions understood the boundaries of various passages.

The text also features marginal notations from the Samaritan sages. These notes contain comments on the main beliefs of the Samaritans as well as observations of differences between the SP and MT. This, of course is an immensely helpful feature as it gives English readers an insight into the sages understanding of their text’s differences with another tradition. Additionally, within the body of text itself, the editors provide imminently helpful notation of where the two texts diverge. Bold font is used to highlight where word choice differs and ellipses are used to signify where one text has fewer words than the other. In all there are over 6,000 variants. And although most of these are inconsequential, only the briefest of perusals will identify interesting, and often significant variant readings.

Additionally, Tsedaka includes two highly important appendices. In the first, he catalogues six pages of instances where the SP agrees with the Septuagint (LXX) against the MT. In the second appendix he catalogues seven pages of instances where the SP agrees with the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), and through the use of bold font where these two disagree with the MT; he also notes where the LXX agrees with both the DSS and SP. These two appendices are a treasure for modern readers, because it collects in one place all of the most significant and interesting variants in one place.

In the final assessment, this text is invaluable. Indeed, any Old Testament library is incomplete without it. This is true, not only because the SP is appearing more and more in recent scholarship, but because of the value of this text in its own right. It deserves to be read, and it deserves to be incorporated into serious study of the Pentateuch.

— Stephen Campbell, Durham University

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