The Art and Science of Textual Criticism

Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (Third Edition, Revised and Expanded)

Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible

By Emanuel Tov

(Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011),
481 pp., 32 plates, $90
Reviewed by James A. Sanders

This is the third edition of Emanuel Tov’s enlightening treatise on textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible that first appeared in 1992. It was clear from its appearance 20 years ago that this handbook, so badly needed since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the middle of the 20th century, was at long last at hand. A second edition appeared in 2002 updating the first edition to a limited but helpful extent, but it was not actually a revision due to the constraints under which Tov was working at the time. Now, however, in this third edition, major amplifications, discussions and additions have been made. The result is essentially a new book and mandatory to any serious student of the Hebrew Bible text. It is considerably expanded and includes consideration of a plethora of new developments since the first edition. The neophyte or casual reader in the field, the majority of BAR readers, is considerably better served by several features of this third edition, while the seasoned reader and expert will do well to keep the present volume at hand for continual reference.

Tov, professor of Bible at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was general editor of the prime publications of most of the Dead Sea Scrolls from 1991 until all 40 volumes were published (in the Oxford University Press’s series Discoveries in the Judaean Desert), nearly all of them within a decade of Tov’s succession of Harvard’s John Strugnell in that position. Only seven volumes had appeared prior to Tov’s taking charge. Tov’s achievement would itself have been overwhelming for a lesser scholar, yet during that time he also created these three editions of the book reviewed here.

In this third edition, Tov has kept in mind the various levels of readers, from the expert to the beginner, who will be using the book. He has included “a brief didactic guide” to aid the neophyte in navigating the riches of its contents. But he has included as well consideration of the latest developments of the various factors that go into establishing the critically most responsible Hebrew text available today of the TaNaKh,* or Old Testament in Christian terminology.

The seasoned scholar will note Tov’s evaluations of numerous publications about the scrolls and their impact on textual criticism that have appeared since the discovery of the scrolls. His work in this regard is excellent, although I do not agree with Tov regarding the history of the formation of the canon of the Hebrew Bible, nor the hermeneutics guiding the work of most European and Israeli scholars presently working in the field. Tov leaves the impression that the aim of the text critic is to approximate the “original” text that lies behind the various textual and versional witnesses now available, instead of attempting to locate the point in time in Early Judaism at which each discrete bloc of text ceased literary development in the hands of its redactors and became a group or community text (canonically functional), thus allowing there to have been more than one “original” text to account for the differences lying behind the variations.

These two distinct “aims” or points in the early history of a text may perchance be the same but also they may not be at all the same. Those who disagree with Tov on this crucial point of “aim,” however, can use what Tov has done and make the necessary adjustments. Tov has offered us otherwise the best available today.

Tov’s book is thus the necessary handbook for the understanding and practice of the art and science of textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible today.



*Hebrew acronym for Torah, Neviim (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings) that comprise the Hebrew Bible.

James A. Sanders is professor emeritus of the Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University and president emeritus of the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center.

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