Textual criticism, according to one famous definition, is ‘the science of discovering error in texts and the art of removing it.’ The procedure here consists of two steps, the first of which is qualified as a science, the second as art: identifying errors in a transmitted text is deemed a more dependable, more ‘scientific’, practice than that of correcting the reading, which will always retain some ‘artistic’ quality. The definition seems eminently logical and certainly reflects a very broad and long experience in the editing of texts.
In textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible, however, we do not usually start out by scanning the received text for errors only thereafter to reflect upon possible solutions. Our first operation is to compare the received Hebrew text with other witnesses: Qumran fragments, the Septuagint, other versions, and in the Pentateuch also the Samaritan text. This means that, as textual critics, we usually come to the ‘error’ in the text after having already encountered possible ‘ways to remove it’.
One could object that the comparative approach is just a matter of expediency. The collation of the witnesses is a heuristic device. Once a divergence has been identified as being textually based, we do search for error. Where, for instance, the Septuagint Vorlage is deemed to diverge from the MT, a decision in favor of one of the witnesses must be based inter alia on a demonstration of what went wrong in the other one. All this is true enough, as is the fact that textual corruption will usually create turbulence among the witnesses even when they preserve nothing of the original reading. Still, it would be fair to say our methods are geared toward identifying variant readings, not – as Housman has it – errors. We are thus in danger of developing a ‘blind spot’. If a corrupt reading should be attested in all our witnesses, we might never ‘discover’ it. We may still find such reading in the secondary literature. Indeed, in times bygone text-critical method was practiced in a way that more closely resembled the approach envisaged by Housman. An example will illustrate some of these dynamics.
* Jan Joosten,
“Is There a Place for Conjectures in a Critical Edition of the Hebrew Bible? Reflections in Preparation of a Critical Text of 1 Kings”
[«Υπάρχει χώρος για Εικασίες στην Κριτική Έκδοση της Εβραϊκής Βίβλου; Σκέψεις πάνω στην Προετοιμασία του Κριτικού Κειμένου του 1 Βασιλέων»],
in De Troyer, Law & Liljesstrom (eds.),
In the footsteps of Sherlock Holmes: Studies in the Biblical Text in Honour of Anneli Aegmelaus,