Tag Archives: Hebrew Bible

Scribal Transpositions in the Biblical Text May Indicate Changes in Theology

By Ville Mäkipelto, Timo Tekoniemi, and Miika Tucker

Many texts in the Bible have been preserved in manuscripts that hold different sequences for the same texts. These differences are due to the ancient scribal practice of transposing textual units during the copying of texts. Our collaborative article concludes that these transpositions were often motivated by changes in the ideology and theology of the scribes and their communities. 

Our article presents a text-critical study of three documented cases of large-scale transpositions in the textual witnesses to the Hebrew Bible. The method used by scribes to transpose textual units was either by swapping two adjacent units with each other or by relocating a single unit into an entirely different location in the text. Transpositions would often create textual discrepancies at the seams of the intrusion. Sometimes these were left to be, but sometimes they occasioned a series of compensatory revisions to smoothen out the rough edges left in the text. The transpositions vary in their length and nature, but all are in some way related to theological reasons.  

The book of Joshua preserves a tradition which claims that, after the conquest of the city of Ai, Joshua built an altar at Mt. Ebal and undertook a ritual reading of the law with the Israelites (Josh 8:30–35). The position of this tradition after the destruction of Ai is due to secondary swapping of the text with the following verses (Josh 9:1–2). It can be shown from textual details that, in the last centuries BCE, theologically motivated rewriting took place behind the Hebrew textual tradition that is now usually held as the authoritative Hebrew Bible (Masoretic text = MT). The swapping was likely related to this rewriting motivated by the growing importance attributed to Gilgal as the central camp of Joshua and the wish to present the capture of Ai as a more divinely led campaign. The earlier sequence is preserved by the Septuagint (LXX). Moreover, in one Qumran scroll parts of the text are transposed earlier in the narrative of Joshua in order to fulfill commandments found in the book of Deuteronomy. 

In 1 Kings, the relocating transposition of the regnal narrative of Judah’s pious king Jehoshaphat (22:41-51 MT/16:28a-h LXX) has incited debate for over a century. While many have noted that the transposition is linked to chronological changes between the two versions, less attention has been given to the theological changes this relocation reflects. In 2 Kgs 3:14 there is a remarkable difference between the LXX and MT editions concerning the name of the Judahite king, whom the prophet Elisha is said to “hold in high regard.” In MT this king of Judah is the unproblematic Jehoshaphat, but in the original LXX this king is the evil Ahazyah, grandson of Ahab (2 Kgs 8:18). It is likely that this theologically awkward LXX reading was noticed by a reviser behind MT, who saw it as inapproppriate for a revered prophet and pupil of Elijah, the greatest prophet of all time, to respect an evil king. However, since in the more original LXX chronology Jehoshaphat dies already before the story told in 2 Kgs 3, the later reviser was forced to also move Jehoshaphat’s reign closer to this story.  

The relocating transposition of the oracles against the nations (OAN) in Jeremiah from the middle of the book (LXX) to the end (MT) reflects a shift in the text towards a more favorable outlook for the exiled community of Judean refugees in Babylon. The sequence of texts in the LXX ends dismally for the Judean refugees: Jerusalem is destroyed and its people exiled; The remaining refugees flee to Egypt against the will of YHWH, who subsequently condemns them; And finally the book ends with another retelling of the destruction of Jerusalem. By transposing the OAN to the end of the book, the MT shifts the focus away from the condemnation of the Judeans towards the condemnation of the other nations. The oracle against Babylon assumes a climactic role in the text that hightens expectations for the salvation of Israel and the demise of its conqueror. The relocation of the oracles from the middle of the book to its end has brought about a series of compensatory revisions. The most obvious of these is Jer 25:14 in the MT, which stands as a “patch” in the place where the OAN used to be located. Other such revisions are found both in Jer 25 and within the OAN themselves. 

“Transposition was one of the key editorial techniques in the repertoire of the creative ancient Jewish scribes.”

As shown by the article, scribal interventions have left their traces in the variant manuscript traditions witnessing to the many books of the Hebrew Bible. By studying these traces carefully, we can gain a better understanding of changes that took place in the history of the Bible. Transposition was one of the key editorial techniques in the repertoire of the creative ancient Jewish scribes. When one analyzes the traces of transpositions, together with other scribal changes, it is possible to formulate plausible hypotheses on the early history and changes in Jewish and Christian thought and traditions. 

The articleLarge-Scale Transposition as an Editorial Technique in the Textual History of the Hebrew Biblewas published in the newest volume of the peer-reviewed journal TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism. The article is open access and can be read here: http://rosetta.reltech.org/TC/v22/TC-2017-M%C3%A4kipelto-Tekoniemi-Tucker.pdf. 

Ancient Prophecy: Near Eastern, Greek, and Biblical Perspectives (Oxford University Press, 2017)

By Martti Nissinen.

Martti Nissinen, the director of CSTT, has just published his newest book on prophecy, which has been the main topic of his research for three decades.

Ancient Prophecy is a comprehensive treatment of the ancient prophetic phenomenon as it comes to us through biblical, Near Eastern, and Greek sources. Once a distinctly biblical concept, prophecy is today acknowledged as yet another form of divination and a phenomenon that can be found all over the ancient Eastern Mediterranean. Even Greek oracle, traditionally discussed separately from biblical and Mesopotamian prophecy, is essentially part of the same picture.

The book argues for a common category of ancient Eastern Mediterranean prophecy, even though the fragmentary and secondary nature of the sources allows only a restricted view to it. The ways prophetic divination manifests itself in ancient sources depend not only on the socio-religious position of the prophets, but also on the genre and purpose of the sources. Nissinen shows that, even though the view of the ancient prophetic landscape is restricted by the fragmentary and secondary nature of the sources, it is possible to reconstruct essential features of prophetic divination

The first part lays the theoretical foundation of the book, defining prophecy as a non-technical, or inspired, form of divination, in which the prophet acts as an intermediary of divine knowledge. It is argued that that prophecy as much a scholarly construct as a historical phenomenon documented in Near Eastern, biblical, as well as Greek textual sources. The knowledge of the historical phenomenon depends essentially on the genre and purpose of the source material which, however, is very fragmentary and, due to its secondary nature, does not yield a full and balanced picture of ancient prophecy. This chapter also discusses the purpose of comparative studies, arguing that they are necessary, not primarily to reveal the influence of one source on the other, but to identify a common category of ancient Eastern Mediterranean prophecy.

Part Two constitutes a comprehensive and up-to-date overview of the available sources of the prophetic phenomenon in the ancient Eastern Mediterranean. The Near Eastern texts are presented according to textual genres: lexical lists and omen texts, legal and administrative texts, ritual texts, letters, written oracles, and literary prophecy. Most of these texts are written in Akkadian, but they also include some West Semitic, one Luwian and one Egyptian text. The Greek sources are discussed in two parts: first, the epigraphic sources such as the lead tablets from Dodona and the inscriptions from Didyma and Claros, and second, the literary sources containing narratives on consultations of the oracles at Delphi, Didyma, and Claros. Prophecy in the Hebrew Bible is presented as literature which is rooted in the prophetic phenomenon but which no longer directly documents the activity of prophets in ancient Israel and Judah.

The third part of the book consists of four comparative essays on central topics and a concluding essay. The first essay concerns prophecy and ecstasy, arguing that an altered state of consciousness was seen as a prerequisite of the prophetic performance. The second essay collects evidence of temples as venues of the prophetic performance, prophets among the temple personnel and as advocates (sometimes even critics) of temple worship. The third essay highlights the significance of prophecy for political decision-making from the point of view of royal ideology and communication between prophets and tulers, not forgetting the critical potential of prophecy. The fourth essay demonsrates that prophecy was a gendered phenomenon, but the prophetic role was not generally gender-specific, which is remarkable in the patriarchal cultures within which prophecy functioned. The concluding essay draws together the views to be seen through the “keyholes” provided by the sources, identifying the common category of prophecy in the ancient Eastern Mediterranean cultural sphere.

You can find more information about the book from the publisher’s website.

Young Scholars from Northern European Universities Gathered in Helsinki for OTSEM

The annual meeting of the OTSEM network was hosted by the University of Helsinki last weekend (8.-10.9.2017). The meeting was held at Park Hotel Käpylä and it was co-sponsored by the Finnish Academy’s Centre of Excellence “Changes in Sacred Texts and Traditions”  and the Finnish Institute in the Middle East. Around 60 young scholars from 13 different institutions and 7 different countries took part in the successful scholarly discussions. Continue reading Young Scholars from Northern European Universities Gathered in Helsinki for OTSEM

New book “Insights into Editing in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East” (Peeters, 2017)

Reinhard Müller and Juha Pakkala, eds (2017) Insights into Editing in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East. What Does the Documented Evidence Tell Us about the Transmission of Authoritative Texts? Contributions to Biblical Exegesis & Theology 84. Leuven: Peeters.

Documented evidence has shown that the Hebrew Bible was edited by successive scribes for centuries, and the impact of editing on the resulting text has proven to be crucial. A better understanding of any issue in the Hebrew Bible and ancient Israel requires a deep understanding of the editorial processes. As a consequence, the editorial processes of the Hebrew Bible have come to the fore in the most recent scholarly debates.

Nevertheless, editorial processes in the Hebrew Bible are still poorly understood and a methodological overview is lacking. It is apparent that collaboration between scholars of different fields is needed, and a methodological discussion that takes into account all the editorial techniques witnessed by documented evidence in the Hebrew scriptures and the rest of the ancient Near East is required. This book is a step in this direction. Contributions in this volume by leading scholars approach the issue from various perspectives, including methodology, textual criticism, redaction criticism, Dead Sea Scrolls, Assyriology, and Egyptology.

For more information and to order the book, please visit Peeters Publishers.

New Book “Denying Her Voice: The Figure of Miriam in Ancient Jewish Literature” (V&R, 2016)

Hann9783525551059a Tervanotko (2016) Denying Her Voice: The Figure of Miriam in Ancient Jewish Literature. Journal of Ancient Judaism Supplements 23. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.  Continue reading New Book “Denying Her Voice: The Figure of Miriam in Ancient Jewish Literature” (V&R, 2016)

New Book “Being a Man: Negotiating Ancient Constructs of Masculinity” (Routledge, 2016)

Being a Man: Negotiating Ancient Constructs of Masculinity (London: Routledge, 2016) is the first-ever collection of essays on masculinity in the ancient Near Eastern textual and iconographical sources. It is a formative work which reveals the myriad and complex negotiations for constructionsBeing a Man_cover 1 of masculine identities in the greater ancient Near East and beyond. Through a juxtaposition of studies into Neo-Assyrian artistic representations and omens, biblical hymns and narrative, Hittite, Akkadian, and Indian epic, as well as detailed linguistic studies on gender and sex in the Sumerian and Hebrew languages, the book challenges traditional understandings and assumed homogeneity for what it meant “to be a man” in antiquity. Being a Man is an indispensable resource for students of the ancient Near East, and a fascinating study for anyone with an interest in gender and sexuality throughout history. Continue reading New Book “Being a Man: Negotiating Ancient Constructs of Masculinity” (Routledge, 2016)

“Patterns of Change in Literary Development: a Workshop on the Documented Editing of the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament”

The event will take place Monday and Tuesday, May 23rd-24th, in the Faculty Hall (Tiedekuntasali), Faculty of Theology, University of Helsinki. Continue reading “Patterns of Change in Literary Development: a Workshop on the Documented Editing of the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament”

Helsinki Lectures on Intersubjectivity: “Social sciences meet biblical studies”

CSTT-member Jutta Jokiranta, team leader of CSTT team 4, will give one of the Helsinki Lectures on Intersubjectivity tomorrow (Fri March 11), which are organised by the Finnish Centre of Excellence in Intersubjectivity in Interaction. Her lecture is entitled:

Social sciences meet biblical studies: Conversations with social identity and magical agency Continue reading Helsinki Lectures on Intersubjectivity: “Social sciences meet biblical studies”