Published on November 21, 2016 by Joshua R Monroe

Baker, 2016 | 272 pages

A Review and a Response


Reviewed by John D. Meade

Ellis Brotzman’s first edition of Old Testament Textual Criticism was published in 1994 as a practical entree into the field of textual criticism of the Old Testament. The book is now in its second edition and Eric Tully of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School is now coauthor of the work.

The book consists of eight chapters containing material on writing in the Ancient Near East, an overview of the transmission of the Old Testament text, Hebrew manuscripts, ancient translations, critical editions of the Old Testament, scribal changes, principles and practice of Old Testament textual criticism, and finally a textual commentary on the book of Ruth. Readers will be thankful for the explanatory notes throughout this book. For example, if the reader does not know the notation system of the Dead Sea Scrolls (e.g. 1QIsaa), the authors stop and explain it on page 37 in footnote 3. The work is replete with these types of notes for the beginner.

In chapter 1, the authors provide an able survey of the history of writing, noting the Sumerian, Akkadian, and Egyptian writing systems in order to place alphabetic writing in its context. The authors show that writing systems and scribal activity are linked. Scribal activity is foreign to modern text critics and therefore knowledge and reconstruction of their practices will aid the text critic in reconstructing the original text of the Old Testament.

Chapter 2 provides an overview of the transmission of the Old Testament Text. The chapter develops a history of the transmission of the text according to three major periods: the text before 300 BCE, the text from 300 BCE to 135 CE, and the text from 135 CE to 1000 CE (the authors continue the history from 1000 to 1450 and 1450 to the present but we will focus on the first three phases here). The authors note that there is very little direct evidence of the text before 300 BCE. In fact there is no direct evidence of the text from this period, since, as the authors note, the silver scrolls from Ketef Hinnom (Numbers 6:24–26) were not intended as biblical texts but as amulets to be worn (p. 22n2). Rather, the knowledge we have of the Old Testament text during this period is of an indirect nature consisting of the history of the development of the language (the introduction of vowel letters known as matres lectionis or ‘the mothers of reading’, grammatical updating, and changes to the script) and also what we can learn about scribal activity from Mesopotamia and Egypt.

For the period of 300 BCE to 135 CE, Brotzman-Tully comment on the manuscript discoveries at Qumran, situated on the north-west corner of the Dead Sea. “Pride of place for the manuscript evidence of this phase” belongs to Qumran. Manuscripts from Qumran reveal (1) a direct knowledge of the textual transmission at this time and (2) a real “textual variety in this period” so that the proto-MT (the basis of the later Masoretic Text) is now seen to be only one of many (p. 27). What explains such a textual pluriform situation? The authors marshal Frank M. Cross’s theory of “local texts” and Emanuel Tov’s theory of “multiplicity of texts” for the two main explanations.

Here it is appropriate to register criticism of this work. Although Tov may have held this multiplicity of texts view in 1982 (the article cited by the authors), his most up-to-date view is that text standardization or stabilization is a myth (E. Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible 3rd ed., 2012: 174–80, esp. 175 and 179–80). In fact, Tov has shifted towards a view that Jews conservatively copied the text and made popular versions of the text throughout the period in question. That is, because the conservatively copied text is the dominant text form at Qumran and the only text form found at the other sites around the Dead Sea (e.g. Masada), it appears that the temple in Jerusalem (before 70 CE) was promoting and promulgating a specific text that scholars call the proto-MT, the text which eventually formed the base of the Masoretic Text of the medieval period (Tov, “The Biblical Texts from the Judean Desert – An Overview and Analysis.” In Hebrew Bible, Greek Bible and Qumran: Collected Essays by Emanuel Tov. Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2008, 179). The view that the text of the Old Testament was repeated (i.e., conservatively copied) and resignified (i.e., other editions produced for ideological or religious reasons) simultaneously during this period is best described by Peter Gentry (Gentry, “The Text of the Old Testament.” JETS 2009: 19–45). On this view, before the destruction of the temple or shortly thereafter the Jews both transmitted the text of the Old Testament through repetition and resignification. But after 70 CE or shortly later, the Jews ceased resignifying the text in Hebrew and only repeated it. This phenomenon only gives the impression that the text became standardized at this time and not before. The best explanation is that the dominant text before and after 70 CE continued to be the conservatively copied text while the Jews continued the tradition of popular texts through the Aramaic Targumim, texts which include expansions and interpretive glosses. Brotzman-Tully cite Cross’s theory from 1998 and Tov’s from 1982 as dominant. In footnotes, they do mention the work of Eugene Ulrich. But they omit discussion of newer theories to the transmission of the Old Testament text and therefore the reader will need to go elsewhere to learn them.

The period of 135–1000 reflects developments as outlined in the Table on page 34. The Jews added paragraph divisions, the vowel system and cantillation marks, and other paratextual features for the reading and study of the text.

In chapter 3, Brotzman-Tully provide a helpful overview of Hebrew manuscripts, noting the editions in which they are found and also an evaluation of the usefulness of each witness in chapter 3. They treat the Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran, the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the Masoretic Text with a breakdown of MSS before 1100 and MSS after 1100, concluding the chapter with an overview of the various editions of the Hebrew Bible.

There is a noticeable gap in the manuscript evidence of the Hebrew Bible from the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Masoretic Text. However, there are five or six Hebrew manuscripts from the third to the seventh centuries which shed light on the state of the Hebrew text at this time (e.g. Ashkar-Gilson Hebrew Manuscript #2 at Duke University which contains the identical text of Exodus 14–15 as the later MT MSS would have). Brotzman-Tully, following Emanuel Tov, omit discussion of these few but important texts and move straight to the MSS found in ninth century and later (p. 56), but in so doing, the reader is led to believe there is no evidence of the text until that time. However, the few MSS we do possess show vital links between the proto-MT texts from the earlier period (300 BCE–135 CE) and the period of the Masoretes themselves.

In chapter 4 the authors set out to describe the following ancient translations or versions and provide an evaluation of their usefulness: Septuagint, kaige, Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotion, Origen’s Hexapla, Lucian, Aramaic Targumim, Syriac Peshitta, and the Latin Vulgate. The chapter closes with a helpful, practical method for how to use an ancient translation in textual criticism.

The Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek from 280 BCE to around 100 BCE in a version popularly known as the Septuagint (abbreviated LXX) though that title was not applied to a monolithic version in antiquity (the Seventy Translators became responsible for the entire translation of the Greek Old Testament as early as Justin Martyr; d. 165 CE). Before all the books were translated into Greek, Jews began to revise older translations to bring them into greater alignment with the conservatively copied text (see discussion above) and still produce new ones also in line with this same Hebrew text, employing the same literal translation philosophy (cf., e.g., LXX-Song of Songs). This later phenomenon is known as the kaige tradition. This tradition probably included Theodotion (first half of first century CE; though some patristic testimony mistakenly date Theodotion to ca. 180 CE) and its apex may be observed in the work of Aquila (ca. 130 CE). The late second century Jewish reviser, Symmachus, represents a reaction to the hyper-literal translations of Theodotion and Aquila and provides a more functional equivalent version in Greek.

Unfortunately, Brotzman-Tully put forth older views of Theodotion and are not aware of the advances in scholarship on this figure or his version (cf. now Peter Gentry, “Pre-Hexaplaric Translations, Hexapla, post-Hexaplaric Translations,” pages 211–35 in Textual History of the Bible. Volume 1A. Edited by Armin Lange and Emanuel Tov. Leiden: Brill, 2016 and the many articles on the hexaplaric versions in this work by A. McClurg, J. Meade, and J. Parry). This lacuna occurred because the authors are dependent on other introductions to the Hebrew text such as E. Wurthwein’s The Text of the Old Testament 3rd ed. published in 2014 (pp. 108–9) that put forth only one (dated) view of Theodotion and do not cite specialized studies such as Gentry’s earlier work on Theodotion Job (1995). The older view that Theodotion must be dated to ca. 180 CE has fallen on hard times and should be abandoned (pace the conclusion of the authors on p. 69). Rather he should be viewed as a member of the kaige tradition and we should situate him in the early part of the first century CE.

Brotzman-Tully then introduce Origen’s Hexapla, the six-columned bible containing the following texts from left to right: (1) Hebrew text in Hebrew letters, (2) Hebrew text in Greek letters, i.e., a transliterated Hebrew text, (3) Aquila, (4) Symmachus, (5) LXX, and (6) Theodotion.

The authors should have mentioned that we only know the versions of “the Three” via the fragments of this Hexapla, for the versions of the Three have been lost. That is, there are no extant copies of the full versions of Theodotion, Aquila, and Symmachus for us to read. The full history of Origen’s Hexapla need not detain us here, but scholars are now more persuaded that Origen probably did not use the obelus (the symbol that marked text absent from the Hebrew but present in the LXX) or the asterisk (the symbol that marked text present in the Hebrew but absent in the LXX) in the fifth column of the Hexapla, since he and other readers would be able to rely on the synopsis itself for that information (pace the authors’ conclusion on p. 70). Rather, Origen himself may have undertaken a revision of his own work called the Tetrapla (i.e. a four-fold version) that would have contained the LXX text with certain parts under the asterisk and obelus and additional marginal readings from Theodotion, Aquila, and Symmachus where the versions disagreed with the LXX text. Probably, Pamphilus and Eusebius of Caesarea promulgated this version that had circulated widely by the end of the fourth century according to the testimony of Jerome.

Chapter 5 contains a good and sufficient overview of the editions of the Hebrew Bible. The overview of how to read and understand BHS and BHQ is helpful to the reader.

In case there is another edition of the present work, I note a couple of typos. On p. 103 Table 5.1, ὁ εβρ′ or εβρρ′ does not normally, if ever, refer to Origen’s Hebrew text in the Hexapla. These readings circulated with hexaplaric material and the abbreviation probably refers in most cases to an ad hoc Greek translation of the Hebrew (probably supplied by Antiochene exegetes) that was not directly incorporated into the Hexapla. Possibly, it may infrequently refer to the first or second column of the Hexapla. Also on p. 103 Table 5.1, ε′ does not stand for “Origen’s Greek revision/Quinta (the fifth column of the Hexapla).” The fifth column of the Hexapla was the LXX (see discussion above). This symbol does stand for Quinta but only after the Hebrew columns of the Hexapla are removed does it become the fifth Greek version following, Aquila, Symmachus, LXX, and Theodotion.

Chapter 6 is a good summary of the kinds of scribal changes that appear in the Old Testament text. Larger differences between textual witnesses such as the issues appearing in Jeremiah or Joshua, for example, are not included in this chapter. The authors mention those issues in passing at other places (p. 27; p. 222), but they do not provide a systematic explanation for them.

Chapter 7 provides a good, practical method for textual criticism. The authors describe the science of gathering all of the variant readings and the art of evaluating them for the purpose of arriving at the more original reading. They describe the goal of text criticism as the final form of the text though they discuss another view of reconstructing all final forms of the text in Appendix B.

Chapter 8 contains a full textual commentary on the text of Ruth. From a methodological point of view, the choice of Ruth is curious. There is hardly any Dead Sea Scroll evidence for the book, and the Septuagint text is quite conservative towards the proto-MT. Therefore, the student is not really exposed to the many types of variants that occur in the Hebrew Bible. However, this challenge is mitigated in part since the authors do use examples from elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible in chapter 6 where they treat the different scribal changes.

As an introduction to textual criticism, this volume has heuristic value in that it orients the reader to the discourse and practice of textual criticism. As an introduction to textual criticism, the volume is not as helpful as it could have been. The discussion on the text history of the Old Testament is not current. The information on the Greek versions was incomplete and mistaken in places. The volume appeared to follow other chief works in the field such as Tov’s and as a result it lacked fresh analysis and presentation of the immensely important subject matter. The field of textual criticism is already challenging enough to the novice, but when there are mistakes and discussions are presented in an incomplete and stale manner, the authors make it harder for the student to learn this skill than necessary.

John D. Meade is Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Phoenix Seminary.


Response from Eric Tully

I would like to express my thanks to Dr. John Meade for reviewing the second edition of Old Testament Textual Criticism: A Practical Introduction. His passion for the field of textual criticism is evident in his review, and I appreciate his time in interacting with the book. Overall, his assessment of the book is quite negative. Even his conclusion that the book “has heuristic value” is damning with faint praise.  However, Dr. Meade’s review contains several systemic problems, so I am grateful to Books at a Glance for the opportunity to write a response.  I remind readers that I am a co-author of the book under review; the statements in this response are my own and not necessarily those of Ellis Brotzman.

In my view, Dr. Meade’s evaluation of the book arises from three errors: his own misunderstanding, a disproportionate emphasis on his own academic specialty, and a misreading of the book’s genre and purpose.


A Misunderstanding of Tov

Dr. Mead’s first criticism of our work is that we focus on the theories of Cross (Local Texts) and Tov (Multiplicity of Texts) as representative views on the historical relationship between the various versions of the OT text. These are two dominant, influential views which are foundational in the field. Cross’ view, in particular, is no longer followed by many scholars, but it is still frequently referenced.

Dr. Meade claims that Tov’s view of “multiplicity of texts” is an old view from 1982 which he no longer holds. Quite the contrary, Tov argues for this view in the latest edition of his Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (Tov 2012:157-160). Second, Meade mistakenly conflates this discussion of the relationship between texts with Tov’s view on the centrality of the MT (Tov 2012:174-180). Dr. Meade makes it sound as though we have described an older view of Tov rather than his newer view, when in fact it is Dr. Meade who is confusing two different views about two different issues. He also states that Cross’ view is from 1998 (a work we cite) when, in fact, it first appeared in an article in 1953.

Dr. Meade states that our book should discuss “newer theories,” and he directs our attention to the work of his own doctoral advisor. However, an introduction must often look to the past in order to help students see where things stand in the present. Students must understand older theories before they can understand newer ones. For example, in their Survey of the Old Testament (Zondervan, 2009), Walton and Hill discuss the composition of the Pentateuch in an appendix. In this discussion, they focus on the classic theory of source criticism promoted by Wellhausen (complete with a literary source “E” and the traditional dating of the supposed sources). This theory has fallen on extremely hard times among even critical scholars. Yet, this is exactly what beginning students need to understand at the beginning of their exploration of diachronic source theories. In the same way, we elected to discuss two influential views which, even if Dr. Meade does not agree with them, represent important foundations in the field.


A Disproportionate Emphasis

Dr. Meade spends fully 1/4 of his review (25%, by word count) critiquing three pages of our discussion of the recensions/versions of the LXX and the Hexapla (0.1% of the book). Actually, the majority of his criticisms of our entire book are related to our discussion of the Hexapla which comprises only a few paragraphs. Since this is the subject of Dr. Meade’s doctoral dissertation (see http://www.hexapla.org), it is understandable that he would pay special attention at this point; no doubt there is much that we could learn from him on this topic.

His first critique here is that we put forth older views of Theodotian. While that may be true, we do note that there is uncertainty and confusion about this issue (p. 69). Our task here is twofold: to let students know there is a Theodotian, and to help them realize that the situation is complex (see the chart from Jobes/Silva 2015 on p. 71). In this section, he refers to the work of his doctoral advisor two more times and to his own work once. One wonders if these repeated citations are little more than the attempted protection of academic or intellectual turf. Is his criticism leveled at our work because we have not followed his views?

He states that we should have mentioned that we only know “the three” via fragments of the Hexapla, for the versions have been lost. He evidently missed our comment in which we state, “In spite of the importance of Origen’s work, today we have only fragments of partial copies” (70).

Finally, in his discussion of chapter five he mentions two typos: our identification of two abbreviations in the BHS apparatus related to the Hexapla. But note his own equivocation on the meaning when he states, “the abbreviation probably refers in most cases…was probably supplied by…possibly, it may infrequently refer…”  His own uncertainty indicates the complexity and lack of definitive identification in some of these matters.


A Misreading of the Book’s Genre and Purpose

The field of Old Testament textual criticism is extremely complex, and the book under review is a practical introduction which seeks to provide students with enough of the basic concepts and tools so that they can begin to evaluate readings and work in the text for themselves. The implied readers of the book are first-year Hebrew students. Introductions, by their nature, focus on foundational issues in the field and do not get involved in scholarly debates.

Dr. Meade’s failure to read the book as an introduction is evident throughout his review. For example, he states that from a “methodological point of view” it is curious that we chose Ruth for the textual commentary in chapter 8. It is true that Ruth does not have the same interesting textual variants and features of other books of the Old Testament. However, we did not choose Ruth for methodological reasons, but for pedagogical reasons, as Ruth is often the book translated by first-year Hebrew students. Furthermore, the purpose of the commentary is not ground-breaking textual analysis, but to introduce students to the BHS apparatus, its problems, and the practical decision-making that textual criticism entails.



If we do not include his erroneous criticism in chapter 2, Dr. Meade makes a positive assessment of seven of the eight chapters of the book. Why then does he conclude overall that the book is “not as helpful as it could have been,” “incomplete,” “mistaken,” “lacked fresh analysis,” “stale,” and that we “make it harder for the student to learn”? The answer is that he disagrees with some of the details and conclusions regarding one component (Hexapla) of one ancient version (LXX) of the Old Testament text. These minor details can and should be debated by scholars, but the appropriate place for such an argument is a technical work, not an introduction for first-year students. I want to express my thanks, again, to Dr. Meade for interacting with our book.

Eric J. Tully is Assistant Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL, and Review Editor for Old Testament here at Books At a Glance.

Buy the books

Old Testament Criticism: A Practical Introduction, Second Edition

Baker, 2016 | 272 pages