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ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 67, 2019

JAMES A. SANDERS, Scripture in Its Historical Contexts, Volume I: Text, Canon, and Qumran (ed. Craig A. Evans; FAT 118; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006). Pp. xix + 548. Hardback. €134.00.

This volume is the first of two collections of James A. Sanders’ seminal and influential essays on the Dead Sea Scrolls and the study of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. The second volume, Exegesis, Hermeneutics, and Theology, was published in July 2019. Volume I is arranged in two parts. The first, longer part (Chapters 1–20) addresses issues of textual and canonical criticism, ranging from antiquity, through the Reformation, to postmodernity, while the second part (Chapters 21–30) addresses the influence of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) on the field of biblical studies. In addition, an appendix (511–28) contains a brief history of the Claremont School of Theology’s Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center (1976–2003), which Sanders founded.

The collection could not have come at a more important time. The first fruits of the three major critical editions of the Hebrew Bible are beginning to appear: The Hebrew University Bible Project (HUBP), the Biblia Hebraica Quinta (BHQ) and the Hebrew Bible: A Critical Edition (HBCE, formerly the Oxford Hebrew Bible). The three projects reflect fundamentally different philosophies about what a critical edition should be (22–26). Two, the HUBP and BHQ (with which Sanders is associated) are diplomatic editions, following the Aleppo and Leningrad codices, respectively, while the third, the HBCE, is an eclectic edition, which aims to reconstruct the earliest inferable text. It is little surprise, then, that the emergence of these projects has sparked renewed interest in the theory and methods of textual criticism. Indeed, the volume is all the more timely due to the recent publication of a bold and multifaceted defence of the eclectic approach of the HBCE in Ronald Hendel, Steps to a New Edition of the Hebrew Bible (Text Critical Studies 10; Atlanta: SBL, 2016). The present collection of Sanders’ essays offers a welcome counterpoint to Hendel’s stance, emphasising, instead, the plurality and integrity of scriptural traditions throughout their history. Indeed, the two collections cover a similar range of topics, e.g. Sanders: “What’s Critical about a Critical Edition of the Bible?” (Chapter 2) and “Hermeneutics of Text Criticism” (Chapter 3); and Hendel: “The Idea of a Critical Edition of the Hebrew Bible: A Genealogy” (Chapter 3) and “The Epistemology of Textual Criticism” (Chapter 5). It is perhaps worth noting, however, that Sanders’ collection is not intended as a reply to Hendel, whose name only appears twice in the index. Rather, the value of the Sanders’ volume lies in the space it creates for dialogue between two radically different paradigms. Scripture in Its Historical Contexts is also of considerable historical interest, reflecting the perspective of a self-proclaimed “(late) first generation student of the Dead Sea Scrolls” (vii), and offered in the hope that it will help to illuminate how the DSS have affected (1) the art and practice of textual criticism, and (2) the study of the rise and development of canons of scripture (vii).

One issue posed by a collection spanning nearly five and a half decades, is the inevitability of terminological change. This is especially noticeable in references to long-duration projects such as the BHQ or HBCE, which have passed through several phases. The potential for ambiguity is compounded by the decision to arrange the essays thematically, rather than chronologically. Thus, for example, in Chapter 3, Sanders refers to the HUBP and United Bible Societies’ Hebrew Old Testament Text Project (HOTTP, the precursor to the BHQ), whereas in Chapter 2, he and David Marcus refer to the UBS project as the BHQ. This is not likely to be a problem for anyone familiar with the development of the respective projects, and the relationships between the projects is addressed in passing at several points (e.g. ix and 55 n.11). Nevertheless, it could be a hindrance for anyone unfamiliar with the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible, or those who intend to engage in a more piecemeal way with individual chapters. Such readers might have been helped with the inclusion of a brief appendix or explanatory notes charting the genealogical relationships of the projects.

While many of the essays tend to be highly technical, the volume also contains works of a more introductory nature (e.g. Chapter 2, originally published in Biblical Archaeology Review in 2013). At a number of points Sanders’ prose also adopts a pleasantly amiable and almost anecdotal character, as he reflects on his experiences as part of the DSS publication team and the HOTTP (e.g. Chapter 25). In sum, the volume is invaluable reading for anyone interested in the textual and canonical criticisms of the Hebrew Bible or attitudes which determined the shape of biblical studies from the reformation to present.

Review by
Australian Catholic University, Sydney