The Qumran biblical MSS show that at least six books (or possibly ten) of the twenty-four in the Masoretic canon circulated in variant literary editions in the closing centuries of the Second Temple period: Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges(?), Samuel(?), Jeremiah, the Twelve Prophets(?), Psalms, Song, and Lamentations(?). When the study is widened to include the witness of the LXX and SP, seven (or eight) more can be added or become clear: Genesis (chapters 5 and 11), Samuel (at least 1 Samuel 16-17), Kings, Ezekiel, the Twelve Prophets, Job(?), Proverbs, and Daniel. Thus, we have MS evidence that Judaism during the last two and a half centuries while the Second Temple stood knew variant literary editions for half or more of the books that would become Tanakh: thirteen (or up to sixteen) of the traditional twenty-four books. ("Two Perspectives," p. 460).This is all well-known. There would certainly be disagreement among scholars as to how much variation, or which types of variation, render a copy a "variant literary edition," and some would want to dispute whether certain biblical books are actually attested in multiple editions--and Ulrich's question marks show that he himself is not sure about some of these--but the fact that variant editions of some books did circulate in antiquity I will take as a matter beyond serious doubt.
But, what did ancient people think about these multiple editions? I think that is a question to be pondered (as I have done before). I am led to think about this issue again by another of Ulrich's essays, which contains this paragraph:
It is possible, although undocumented, that some individuals may have been conscious of differences between variant editions of particular books and may have chosen one deliberately instead of another. But scrolls not in use were usually rolled up; and if there was more than one scroll of a book, it seems more in line with the evidence that a reader would have picked up one of the available rolled-up scrolls marked "במדבר" without knowing, and apparently from the Qumran evidence, without caring which text form of Numbers was inscribed inside. If there were an awareness of different editions and a conscious choice between them, the articulation of the choice is less likely to have been in terms of "pre-Samaritan versus proto-MT" and more likely "the newer, fuller edition versus the earlier, shorter edition. ("Determining Scriptural Status," p. 156).I assume Ulrich had a wry smile on his face as he typed that last sentence. I too doubt that an ancient person would have thought about the textual diversity (if he thought about it at all) in terms of proto-MT and pre-Samaritan. Point well-taken. These are anachronistic names for the textual forms of antiquity, and if we want to get inside the heads of the ancients, we might want to think about how they labeled these variant editions (if they thought about the issue).
But did ancient persons think about the issue? Ulrich wonders whether people were even "conscious of differences between variant editions of particular books."
Surely some people were conscious of the differences. First of all, someone had to have created the "newer, fuller edition," so he must have known about it. I don't guess we can say confidently much more about this scribe, but we might speculate that he would have a desire to disseminate his "newer, fuller edition" and so would have wanted to tell others about it. But how that would have happened, and how it would have been received, we can only guess.
Second, the Samaritans apparently made a conscious choice as to their text form. I think Carr more-or-less represents the consensus when he dates this to no later than the mid- to late-second century BCE (Formation, p. 177), so right during the time of the textual plurality attested at Qumran. For their Pentateuch, the Samaritans chose basically the same type of text for each book (except for Leviticus, which only existed in one form; Ulrich, "Two Perspectives," p. 459). They chose expanded texts, but not the most expanded texts (Kartveit, Origin, 285-88; Eshel and Eshel, "Dating," 237). According to Kartveit: "This makes the SP a deliberately chosen text" (Origin, p. 299).
Those who studied scripture intensively, which of course includes Essenes and Pharisees in particular, knew the material inside out and could evoke a whole world of textual reference with a word or phrase. The rabbis continued this tradition. (Wright, Paul, 176-77)This sounds about right to me, that is, Wright's description of ancient Jews knowing the text "inside out." At least the Rabbis surely had a lot of scripture memorized. I don't guess we really know this for the earlier period, but Carr has presented a thesis (developed in Writing and Formation) in which memorization was an important part of textual transmission. If that is the case--if some literate ancients can be assumed to have had a good amount of scripture stuck in their heads--then the chances increase that they would notice when they are reading a different edition of a biblical book. That is not to say that they would have cared about the textual variation, though I suspect that at least some ancients would have noticed and cared. Despite Ulrich's assertion (quoted above), it is not at all apparent from the Qumran evidence that the ancients would have picked up a scroll of Numbers "without caring" about the textual form. It is possible that they did not care, but it is also possible that they did care. (See again this earlier post.) The evidence of the Samaritan Pentateuch suggests that the Samaritans did care.
But if someone in antiquity did care about the textual form of Numbers, still, how could he have determined which text form he was picking up? The physical scrolls do not seem to have been distinguished in any way (at least not in a way that is still apparent to us). So I don't know how he could tell. But I do know that when someone at church asks me about a new translation of the Bible, which I've never before seen or heard of, there are certain verses I'll read to see how the new translation rendered them, usually some familiar verses (John 3:16, etc.), but also some that I know some translations have messed up in the past (e.g. Gen 2:8; Isa. 7:14; etc.). Okay, I know, if someone handed me a biblical scroll in Hebrew with no vowels or chapter divisions, it would be somewhat more difficult to look up these verses. But I'm just using this modern analogy to say that there are ways of figuring out what kind of Bible you're looking at, even when you can't tell from the cover.