Saturday, March 24, 2012

Will OHB Become Scripture?

It's been a year-and-a-half since I made note of Ron Hendel's response to H.G.M. Williamson's published critique of the Oxford Hebrew Bible project, which Hendel is directing. At the time that Williamson's article came out in Biblica (simultaneously published in print and on-line), it was widely noted on the blogs. I haven't seen similar references to Hendel's response, but that could be because Hendel has still not published it in a journal, apparently. At least, on the website it is still listed as 'forthcoming'. Moreover, the version available on the web seems to be not the final draft, as there are some typos and other errors that I expect would be eliminated in a published form. (One example is 'periscope' for 'pericope' on p. 7, a problem with Word's spell check to which Mark Goodacre has drawn attention before.)

Anyway, I just now read Hendel's response. (Why did it take me so long? I don't know.) I found it to be a pretty well-reasoned answer to Williamson's objections, and pretty persuasive as to the feasibility and desirability of producing such an eclectic edition of the Hebrew Bible. According to Hendel, the disagreement essentially boils down to the alternative that whereas Williamson would prefer the type of information to be contained in OHB to be presented in a scholarly commentary instead, Hendel and his associates regard an eclectic edition to be an appropriate format.

However, what do you think about this statement from Hendel, near the end of his article (p. 15)?
The OHB, as a critical edition of the Hebrew Bible, will present critical texts that never previously existed precisely in this form. It will depart from the textus receptus of synagogue and church, and it will not become scriptural for any religious community.
I wonder if Hendel's belief that the OHB "will not become scriptural for any religious community" is correct. How do texts become scriptural for religious communities?

Is the NRSV scriptural for any religious communities? I would imagine that some Christians, anyway, if not perhaps some entire congregations, or even entire religious communities, regard the NRSV as scripture. I bring it up because the NRSV adds a paragraph from 4QSam(a) before 1Sam 11, and a verse from 11QPs(a) to Psalm 145 to fill out the acrostic. This is the most obvious example of an eclectic translation that uses the Dead Sea Scrolls--that is, the NRSV is not based solely on the MT (i.e., BHS), but takes readings that it judges to be correct from any ancient text, especially the MT, LXX, and DSS. Of course, just about all English translations do this. Our English translations have actually been based on an implicit critical text, just as Hendel (pp. 15-16) cites Tov as saying with regard to critical commentaries.

So, eclectic texts have become scriptural for just about every religious community in the English-speaking world, and this is no doubt true for communities relying on non-English translations, as well. I can well imagine whenever the OHB is published, that some translations will be based on its text, and will become scriptural. The nature of OHB--presenting variant literary editions side-by-side--will complicate the process of producing translations based on it, but I would imagine that such translations would also present the variant literary editions. I don't know that this would prevent such translations from becoming scriptural.

Might such a process of 'scripturalization' for a variant edition (OHB) be comparable to the ancient variant editions that will be published in OHB. That is, Hendel recognizes the ancient variant editions (e.g., of Samuel, or Jeremiah) as texts of the Bible (pp. 14-15), so why wouldn't the OHB also become a text of the Bible?

It'll be interesting to see what kind of effect this has on people's view of the Bible. If we as teachers of the Word to God's people are diligent in understanding the issues and explaining them well, it might result in increased understanding of what the Bible is and where it came from. That would be a welcome development.

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