Session Theme: Texts and their Transmission (1O April 1987)



by Robert A. Kraft, Religious Studies, University of Pennsylvania


The Situation with reference to the textual transmission of Jewish biblical writings in Greek has sometimes been described with words and images such as "labyrinth" or "many-headed hydra," This is due to a number of complex factors that pertain to few other "texts" of which I am aware in any language.  Indeed, a major problem concerns the extent to which the materials under consideration may legitimately be treated as "a text" in the first place.


1. Identifying the "Text"


"Septuagint," "Old Greek," "the Three," "Sister Versions," "Daughter Versions," "Hebrew/Aramaic Vorlage(n)": Translations, Adjustments, Recensions, and Derivitives.-- We are dealing here with a conglomerate of various texts, from different dates and probably different places of origin, representing different approaches to translation and often different histories of transmission, variously collected and connected.


These issues are tied intimately to the macro problem of the history and development of the biblical "canon" in various sectors of ancient Judaism and Christianity, as well as to the development of technology that permits the creation and textual transmission of extensive anthologies under "one cover," and thus presumably with textual integrity appropriate to a homogeneous "text.”


At the micro level, the textual data for the study of Old Greek Jewish scriptures encompasses an extraordinary number of manuscripts, versions and secondary witnesses to sift in search of oldest recoverable text forms or in search of particular textual stages along the way,


2. Normal Problems: treating 0G materials as Creek documents


"First and foremost," we are dealing with Greek materials subject to the same sorts of vicissitudes as any ancient Greek text that was copied and recopied numerous times under various conditions by persons of varying abilities.


Conscious and unconscious changes arise, sensible and nonsensical errors of eye

and ear are introduced, seemingly rough places smoothed, marginal and interlinear notes added and absorbed, spellings adapted to the custom of the day.


Because of the time frame covered by the transmission, there are added complications such as the shift in bookmaking practices from roll to simple codex to more complex and comprehensive codices. Results include composite texts that produce textual inconsistency within an existing MS -- normally not a major problem, but combined with the special problems mentioned below, it can lead to serious complications.  The long time frame also provides a wider range in which development of language & orthography (Atticism, spelling, etc.) may be encountered, which also is magnified by the special problems.  And the "recensional" and related activities encountered as expected in the transmission history (development of MS families, revisions, spinoffs) are further complicated by these added special factors.


3. Special Problems: Derivation from and Attraction to "the Original"


For the most part, OG Jewish scriptures are translation literature, based on Hebrew (or occasionally Aramaic) originals that differed to some extent from the Hebrew biblical texts that have survived to our own times.  Clearly. the Hebrew texts themselves were not stagnant, but each had a developing textual life alongside of its intended Greek counterpart.  Adjustments were sometimes consciously made to keep the Hebrew and Greek texts suitably aligned -- the work of Origen in the first half of the third century CE is the most notorious example, but other similar efforts clearly are attested both before and after Origen.  Thus textual criticism of Old Greek Jewish scriptures cannot be carried out satisfactorily without careful attention to textual developments of the Hebrew, not simply with reference to the point of origin ("original translation") but also to the continuing contacts between the respectively developing textual streams.


In addition, the pre-OG life of a Hebrew text might sometimes affect the later Greek developments -- e.g. familiar uses of biblical terms in Greek prior to the emergence of a full translation (that may use different terms!).


Similarly, multiple (sometimes independent) translations of some texts appeared

in antiquity, often resulting in extensive textual cross-fertilization,


Sometimes, when such OG materials of diverse origins and approaches were gathered into standardized larger collection (rolls to book), sections of different pedigree were juxtaposed within the same book or section, and exerted reciprocal influence on each other. which considerably compounds the difficulty of the textcritical task.


4. Towards More Satisfactory Solutions


Special rules for special problems: the textcritic of OG Jewish scriptures cannot simply apply predetermined "rules" such as that a variant reflecting a "free" translation is likely to be original, while a more "literal" is likely to be secondary.  One needs to assess the nature of the basic translation unit, and the stability of the Hebrew text it reflects, among other things.  Nor can "obvious" issues of haplography, dittography, doublets, glossation, etc., be dismissed without considering the possibility that the problem was already present in the Hebrew textual tradition rather than being produced in the OG.


Computer Assisted Textual Research: Many of these issues can be assessed more accurately and completely by computerizing the data and examining it by means of this powerful new tool.


[Now, in 2008, see the data available from the CATSS project, especially for the textual variants: ]