Reading the Resources — Ecclesiastes 2:25

Over on Sabio’s blog, he’s been blogging through Hector Avalos’s book “The End of Biblical Studies”. Now I confess that, like a lot of people who actually quite like biblical studies, I was prejudiced by the title. Also, I haven’t read it, so I’ve been happily spouting off in ignorance over there.

I don’t want to bring that discussion here. But I did think it was interesting talking through a bit about the resources one can bring to bear on these kind of linguistic issues. Because I think those readers of both blogs who’s resources are mainly web-based or study bibles might be interested in having a peek at the two main critical resources: the critical edition of the Old Testament, and the granddaddy of Hebrew lexicons.

Ecc 2:25 in the BHS - the standard critical edition of the Hebrew Bible.

First the text. Shown here is Ecc 2:25 in the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. The latest complete critical edition of the Hebrew bible*. The text is split into three. The body of the text itself (our verse highlighted – remember Hebrew reads right to left); the masorah parva in the outside margin; and the critical notes at the bottom of the page. The masorah parva is half of a traditional system of commentary and analysis – the larger half (the masorah magna) isn’t in modern critical editions. The parva contains checksums to help scribes make sure their copying is correct, links to other uses of a phrase, or indicates where what is read should be different to what is written (another tradition in Hebrew writings). The critical footnotes are written in highly abbreviated Latin with a good number of special abbreviations and symbols.

The phrase that Hector Avalos focussed his rebuttal of my off-the-cuff translation in Sabio’s blog is the two words at the end of the verse. The text reads CHUTZ MIMENI (tr. “except I”) It has a footnote. The footnote reads “sic etiam TV, sed pc MSS GS, MIMENU, l?” (where T,V,G and S are fancy symbols). Expanded this reads “sic etiam TV, sed pauci manuscripta GS MIMENU, legendum?”, or in english:

“thus, and so [i.e. as it was printed in the main text] are the Targumim [Aramaic translations and commentaries] and the Vulgate [the Latin version], but a few manuscripts, including the Septuagint [the Greek OT] and the Syriac have MIMENU, and that should be what is read? [the question mark indicates that this view is not settled]”

An excerpt from Brown Driver Briggs on Ecc 2:25

Now, onto the lexicon. I’ve shown here the relevant page from the Brown Driver Briggs translation and expansion of Wilheim Gesenius’s German lexicon (always just BDB). There are others, but this is the undisputed grandfather of Hebrew language resources. The relevant bit, to us, starts at “f. (late)” in the middle of the image. Up to this point, the lexicon has been discussing the various usage of the word CHUTZ. It has meanings around “outside”, but so far we’ve had more or less literal meanings. Here the indication changes. It says, there is a late use, in Ec 2:25, where it has the sense “outside of, i.e. except me”: a more metaphoric meaning. But, it goes onto say, it should be read, (along with G, the Septuagint, S, the Syriac, and the work of Delitzsch [De], Nowack [Now] and others [al]) “apart from him (i.e. God)”. It then goes on to say that there’s a similar Aramaic idiom which is used in (at least) two places in the Targums (the commentary on Ex 20:3, and Is 36:10) and a similar Syriac phrase with the same meaning.

So, it seems like everybody agrees that the text says “except me (i.e. Qohelet)”, but both resources agree that this was probably best read “except God”. Interestingly BDB changes the comparative when it changes the pronoun here, from “except, or outside” to “without”: a subtle change of gloss, but one which changes the feel of the passage.

Anyway, as I’ve promised to read Hector’s book, I can’t comment on whether I agree or not with his reading of this passage yet (I’m a bit confused what he’s saying, after hearing it second hand through Sabio). But I thought it might be interesting to have a peek at a couple of the most common resources used for looking at these questions.

* There is a more recent version of the Biblia Hebraica, called Quinta (its the 5th edition, after all). It isn’t completed yet, and isn’t expected until 2015. But Ecclesiastes has been published in this edition, in an initial fascile containing the “5 scrolls”. I don’t have a copy of that, however, so if anyone does and wants to scan in the relevant page, it would be informative to see what has changed.

Below Sabio asks about the Septuagint. Here is the greek text tradition, evidenced in the Codex Sinaiticus:

It has ‘AUTOU’ at the end of the first paragraph (line 6, which is the end of 2:25, in capitals this looks like AYTOY – see my previous post on original manuscripts for more details on reading these texts). AUTOS is ‘him’. As per the BHS and BDB, both of which said that ‘G’ (i.e. the Greek) had the ‘except him’ reading.


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7 responses to “Reading the Resources — Ecclesiastes 2:25

  1. (1) Good of you to confess your reaction to the title of Avalos’ book. This unfortunate naming is what I wrote about in my first post.

    (2) Endeed my ” study consists mostly of web-searches” [ouch] so I had to look up “Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia” and found out it is an edition of the Masoretic Text which Dr. Avalos mentions in his reply to you on my post. When you get his book you will see he discusses that text on pages 72-74. He discusses some of the problems even with the Masoretic Text. I’d be curious if this influences your discussion which is already over my web-searching head. Smile.

    Unfortunately, on-line Aleppo Codex does not seem to contain Eccles.

  2. Ian

    I don’t want to give the impression that I have some kind of devotion or disproportionate respect for the Masoretic Text (MT). The MT is relatively late (compared to the Septuagint, say). The Qumran discoveries do suggest that it has an impressive fidelity to much older texts, and we have secondary quotations that again suggest a good level of preservation. But if Avalos paints the MT as a pretty dubious contender for the ‘original’ text, then I’m with him 100%.

    What the MT *is*, however, is our *only* consistent and complete text tradition in what everyone agrees is the original language for almost all of the Hebrew Bible. So you have a choice: would you loose more from dealing with predominantly late texts, or would you loose more through translation.

    In fact, most Hebrew scholars I read seem to take a synthetic view, bringing in both sets of resources. There are problems with the MT, but it would be a brave scholar who would write it off. Similarly, there are few, if any, who would argue against the witness of the Septuagint.

    But, as I’ve said before on your blog, I think ‘original’ is not very useful a category. It is painfully, asininely important to many many Christians. But ultimately it is a fiction.

    Personally, I’m happier with the Septuagint, but only because my Hebrew sucks.

  3. So what does the Septuagint tell us about the text in question? Does it differ from the BHS?

    Just curious. Of course this is all a fun puzzle and not theologically of interest but dissecting it a bit helps me understand a bit more of the origin and management of texts for which I am very grateful. I hope Dr. Avalos jumps in.

  4. Ian

    … also I will post in the next couple of days on the difference between an Eclectic critical edition (as per the main NT critical editions) and a Diplomatic critical edition (as per the BHS), and what that means in practice for the kinds of information one can pull out of them.

  5. Ian

    Yes, as per the footnote in BHS, and the note in BDB, the Septuagint has the ‘him’ reading: ὅτι τίς φάγεται καὶ τίς φείσεται πάρεξ αὐτοῦ

    The last word: αὐτός is the greek 3rd person pronoun.

  6. Ian

    Edit: Added the greek text (not a scan this time, a quick web-clip) showing ‘AUTOU’ (him) at the end of 2:25.

  7. Pingback: » Fixing the Bible–or not? TaborBlog

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