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ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 60, 2012

EMANUEL TOV, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (3rd edition, revised and expanded; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012). Pp. lviii + 481. Hardback. $US90.00.

The first edition of Emanuel Tov’s handbook on textual criticism (1992) was already accepted as the standard work on the topic. The appearance of the third edition of Tov’s work, therefore, is a landmark event, not only for textual critics, but for all scholars of the Hebrew Bible. This is especially the case since the second edition (2001) was somewhat disappointing in that Tov was constrained to only make changes that could fit within the parameters of the existing pages. This edition therefore represents the first comprehensive updating of Tov’s master work for twenty years. Those who had followed Tov’s research over the meantime realised that his views on numerous issues had changed, sometimes drastically, and now finally we are able to see these views in their comprehensive expression.

The scope and depth of Tov’s work has always been staggering. After a relatively brief first chapter, “Introduction,” including discussion of the need for textual criticism (1–22), we come to the massive Chapter 2, “Textual Witnesses” (23–154), which is a detailed and comprehensive discussion of the Masoretic Text (MT), Samaritan Pentateuch, Qumran biblical texts, as well as translations in Greek, Aramaic, Latin and Arabic, and much more besides. Every relevant aspect of these texts is dealt with in an authoritative manner, down to peculiarities of the MT, such as the inverted nunim and the extraordinary points. Chapter 3, “History of the Biblical Text” (155–90), includes discussion of the “Relation between the Texts,” a crucial statement on the “Shape of the Biblical Text in Early Periods,” and discusses the emergence of the MT as the sole text of Judaism. Chapter 4, “Copying and Transmitting the Biblical Text” (191–262), discusses such matters as writing practices and spelling and the way textual differences were created during the scribal transmission of the text. Chapter 5, “Theory and Praxis of Textual Criticism” (263–68), and Chapter 6, “Evaluation of Readings” (269–82), discuss issues such as the subjective nature of the evaluation of “preferable readings.” Chapter 7, “Textual and Literary Criticism” (283–326), surveys the astonishing amount of evidence for different literary editions of the books of the Hebrew Bible preserved in our witnesses. Chapter 8, “Conjectural Emendation” (327–40), discusses emending the text in the circumstance of the absence of an attested variant reading. Chapter 9, “Scholarly and Non-Scholarly Editions” (341–76), discusses the Biblica Hebraica and other editions. Finally, Chapter 10 is “Computer-Assisted Tools for Textual Criticism” (377–82). The volume closes with 32 plates, mostly of Bible manuscripts or editions (383–415), a very useful “Glossary” (417–23) and indexes of Ancient Sources, Authors and Subjects (425–81).

Almost every area of the book has been rewritten for the new edition. Tov gives a summary of the major changes (xvii–xviii), but for anyone who is familiar with the earlier editions, and with the development of Tov’s thought in the meantime, the differences are noticeable at almost every step of the way. As one example, the section on different literary editions of Jeremiah was already detailed in edition one. However, even in this pre-existing section, in which Tov has not seriously changed his views, there is at every point evidence of significant interaction with recent scholarship in this issue (286–94), exemplified by the more than doubling of the length of the bibliography at the head of the section (286; compare second edition, 319–20). Then there are the many places where Tov has changed his views over the years, for example his acceptance of the scriptural status of the text he originally published as “4QReworked Pentateuch” (323).

What is the view of the biblical text outlined in this presentation of the state of the art in textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible? “[T]he textual evidence does not point to a single ‘original’ text, but a series of subsequent authoritative texts produced by the same or different authors … the original texts(s) remain(s) an evasive entry that cannot be reconstructed … Some biblical books, such as Jeremiah, reached a final state more than once … the original text is far removed and can never be reconstructed … the Judean Desert scrolls [our earliest biblical manuscripts] reflect a relatively late stage of the textual development" (167–69). In other words, the pluriformity of the textual evidence indicates the likelihood that all biblical texts in our possession are the products of previous and currently undocumented stages of literary growth. Yet, as presented especially in Tov’s Chapter 7, the variations in the texts we do have provide abundant evidence of at least some of the later stages of this textual development. Everyone who wishes to understand the nature of the literature of the Hebrew Bible will need to think seriously about the implications for their own research of the discipline summed up in Tov’s work. Certainly it is long past the time when we should be treating the MT as the sole text of the Bible, or even worse, the original text that left the author’s pen.

Review by
Department of Hebrew,
Biblical and Jewish Studies,
University of Sydney