Comments on “Multiple Originals” by Gary D. Martin (part 1)

[Caveat: the following is not a review since I am not attempting to summarize the book. I’m simply recording some of the more salient points in the book and I hope to interact with them.]

Multiple Originals: New Approaches to Hebrew Bible Textual Criticism by Gary D. Martin (SBL, 2010) is one of the most recent monographs treating methodologies of text criticism of the Hebrew Bible. As the title suggests, Martin does not find the search for the Urtext or original text of the Hebrew Bible as the proper goal of text criticism. He concludes chapter one, “In Search of the Original,” with a paragraph containing massive implications:

In recent years, at both scholarly conventions and in published works on textual issues of the Hebrew Bible and its versions, the term “fluidity” has become a household expression. To what extent are the texts fluid, and what does one do with such a preponderance of fluid texts? These questions have become the current focus for textual critics of the Hebrew Bible. There is much work to do in moving forward with the mass of new textual data at our disposal. Scholars are increasingly less inclined to look to the past for answers. If a trifaria varietas ever existed, it is no longer evident, and is therefore no longer a useful model for the analysis of extant manuscripts. Perhaps, however, the earliest testimony [Letter of Aristeas, Prologue to Sirach] I have examined in regard to the state of our texts, taken at face value, tell us that the situation we face now is as they described it then. Aristeas said manuscripts had been “carelessly copied” [ἀμελέστερον σεσήμανται Arist. 30-31a] and Ben Sirach was concerned that translations often miss the sense of the original. Removing the pejorative adverb “carelessly,” the implication is that there were a variety of biblical Hebrew texts in circulation. Aristeas sees that as a problem to be resolved. For the most part, modern textual critics agree, although their numbers are diminishing.

It seems to me that although Aristeas acknowledges that Hebrew mss have been copied carelessly so that in his day there were differing texts, he also acknowledges that this resulted from “carelessness” in transcription, not multiple originals. Martin has a difficult way forward if he is to show that the texts of the Hebrew Bible resulted from anything more than carelessness or translation technique deviating from the original text (difficult to define, but I favor the final canonical form of the text for my definition. See here and here for my view of the closed canon.). I doubt “multiple originals” can account for the evidence with the simplest explanation, but I will continue to give Martin a fair reading.

I will interact next with his chapter 4, “Split Visual-Aural/Oral Tradition in the Song of Songs,” which will occupy a couple of posts at least.


4 thoughts on “Comments on “Multiple Originals” by Gary D. Martin (part 1)

  1. Philip,

    Great question. It seems that it would be a simple collation of variants and almost tradition criticism, not textual criticism. The goal would be to sort out the traditions, and perhaps get back to the original tradition. This may be what happened in the formation of the Targum for example, since there is an oral tradition there. The question is, does the evidence for the LXX and MT and NT for that matter multiple originals or the classical model of text criticism which searches for an original text? I think it fits the latter.

  2. Paradoxically, Gary Martin’s discussion/search for multiple originals actually leads directly to a single original text especially where variations are caused by double entendre such as voweling differences.

    1. You are of course correct. I just read the review of this book here: It is a helpful summary of the book but it does not provide any critique. If the double entendre in Song of Songs 1:2 is originally intended, then we can arrive at the the original, and furthermore, we can posit the mechanism for the variants in the Versions. It may be that the Versions cannot capture the double entendre. But does this mean that the Hebrew text is fluid? Any more thoughts?

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