Bible Review 16:4, August 2000
The Most Original Bible Text: How to Get There

Keep Each Tradition Separate

By James A. Sanders

As one of those “reluctant” scholars whom Professor Hendel describes as “all too often averse” to creating an eclectic text of the Hebrew Bible, I would like to clarify that my reluctance stems not from any aversion, but from long experience.1 For nearly 40 years, I have been deeply involved in the discipline of Hebrew Bible textual criticism. I unrolled and published the large Psalms Scroll from Qumran, and for 31 years I have served on the preparatory committee of Biblia Hebraica Quinta—the forthcoming fifth edition of the Hebrew Bible based on the Masoretic Text (MT) and originally published by Rudolf Kittel in 1902. I admit that Hendel’s proposal is a very seductive one; indeed, I would venture to say that there is not a single Hebrew Bible text critic who has not at one time or another explored the possibility of creating such an eclectic text. But the project is at best premature. An eclectic version would need constant revision to incorporate new findings about our sources and to accommodate the differing understandings of the scholars preparing the text. Before we can begin to weave together our various sources into an eclectic edition, we must have a much deeper understanding of the sources themselves—especially the Masoretic Text.

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