What do you think about the Hebrew University Bible Project?


I want to know if you found this news link rather interesting, and if you can put some comments about it: "In Jerusalem, scholars trace Bible's evolution."


The Hebrew University Bible Project is in the process of doing textual criticism, which is not unusual for biblical documents. I have no idea about the quality of their work, but I do note that they operate under some flawed assumptions.

First, they are actually reproducing the Aleppo Codex, a manuscript from about 920 A.D. "This was the 1,100-year-old Aleppo Codex, considered the oldest and most accurate version of the complete biblical text in Hebrew" [In Jerusalem, scholars trace Bible's evolution]. There are older Hebrew manuscripts, including those found among the Dead Seas scrolls. I don't know what the criteria was for "most accurate." It should be noted that the Aleppo Codex is not complete, many sections are missing from it. The article does make mention of the Leningrad Codex, which dates from about 1008 A.D. The Leningrad Codex is complete and is the base codex for most of our Old Testaments today.

Hand-copied manuscripts do contain mistakes. Scribes aren't always perfect. Thus, manuscripts are placed into "families" of documents where it can be seen that a particular trait of errors get replicated from document to document. Textual criticism is the analysis of all the manuscripts, especially those between families, to determine what the original text was like without errors. It is basically detective work. By the way, Jewish scribes are highly noted for their accuracy. Over the years they have made far fewer errors than you would typically expect. Both the Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex are placed in the same family, called the "Tiberian mesorah."

No codex is used absolutely. Even our current text starts with the Leningrad Codex and then corrects it by comparing it to the Aleppo Codex because it is assumed that older manuscripts are more accurate. The Hebrew University Bible Project is starting with the Aleppo Codex and correcting it too. You shouldn't find any massive changes because both base codex are in the same family.

The second problem I found in the article was the statement that the Hebrew text "evolved." That isn't the correct view. Manuscripts devolve due to copyist errors. "Evolve" implies a belief that the text was improved over time. If that is the attitude of those working on this project, it will cause them to make numerous inaccurate assumptions in their corrections. I hope that it was the reporter's mistaken view that was recorded and not the scholars' view.

Textual criticism is important work. It is unfortunate that this particular's group's work won't be completed for another 200 years or so. Whether it produces a better text base that withstands scrutiny remains to be seen. However, it should be noted that almost all the variations discussed are minor and does not significantly alter our understanding of the Old Testament.