For the past 14 years, the team behind “The Hebrew Bible: A Critical Edition” has been laboring on a project to sift through the text and reverse the accumulated imperfections and changes, returning the books of the Hebrew Bible to something like their original versions. The first volume is due out later this year.A good, thoughtful article that clearly and concisely lays out the complexities involved in the textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible.
“It is a little chutzpadik,” acknowledged Ronald Hendel, HBCE’s general editor and a professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of California, Berkeley.
It’s also a messy, painstaking and controversial endeavor that has been criticized by some of the world’s leading biblical scholars. The critics argue that what Hendel and his team are attempting to do is misleading, counterproductive or flat-out impossible.
“I think it will actually end up causing more problems,” said Michael Segal, a senior lecturer in Bible at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The difficulties in the project stem from the Bible’s long history of transmission from scribe to scribe through the centuries. HBCE is trying to reverse engineer that process, to sift through the various extant texts of the Bible and — by analyzing grammatical glitches, stylistic hitches and contradictions of the texts — establish a reading closer to if not the original, then at least the archetype on which the subsequent copies were based.
UPDATE: Bob Buller sends the link to an earlier, longer version of the article that gives more context and detail: Scholars seek Hebrew Bible’s original text — but was there one? (JTA).