Old Testament Textual Criticism (Brotzman)

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Brotzman, Ellis. Old Testament Textual Criticism: A Practical Introduction. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994.

The Old Testament text finds itself in the strange place of being remarkably well-preserved yet also relatively young (in its final form).  On the other hand, it is attested by early and reliable translations and traditions. Complicating the matter is the BHS text itself.  It has strange markings in the margin.  What do they mean? Ellis Brotzman walks us through these issues.

This books gives the student confidence in approaching the Old Testament.  On one hand he can tell the Roman Catholic or EO apologist that the LXX isn’t perfect and that Jesus didn’t carry around a completed (blue) copy of the LXX.  Yet he can also show how the early dating of the LXX provides a witness to a surprisingly stable Hebrew text.

Brotzman begins by surveying different writing styles in the Ancient Near East.  This is important because the variations in spelling and grammar reflect later on in the text.

Chapter 2 is the heart of his book.  It describes OT transmission. The OT was copied by hand for 3,000 years before its first printing (37).  Its key feature is a multiplicity of family groups. If you look at the Qumran scrolls, some scrolls will line up with what was later known as the Masoretic Text while others resemble the Samaritan Pentateuch (43).

Ancient Versions of the Old Testament


Septuagint.  It’s probably better to speak of Septuagints rather than one monolithic text.  It underwent several transmissions.

Intentional and Unintentional Changes

“Typos” are going to happen.  This makes textual criticism not only necessary, but inevitable. Textual criticism is not a sinister group of atheistical scholars funded by the World Council of Churches.  Rather, it’s often just making sense of different readings that happened because of human fallibility in the copying process. Here are some examples.

  1. There could be a physical defect in the scroll copied on (107).
  2. The scribe’s eye skipped from one line to the next (cf the note on BHS, 162).
  3. Confusion of similar letters: resh and dalet; he and het; beth and kaf (1 Chron. 17:20), and yod and vav (Isaiah 30:4).
  4. Haplography (copying once of a letter that was written twice).
  5. Dittography.
  6. Errors related to faulty hearing (the negative particle sounds identical to the third person masculine singular suffix, 115).  We do the same thing. If you were copying something someone was reading aloud, and you heard them say, “You can see four miles.”  Would you write, “You can see for miles”?


Choosing the Right Reading

(1) Weighing external evidence.  This is mostly choosing between the Masoretic Text and other authorities.  Normally, we go with the Masoretic Text, but sometimes other witnesses offer a better reading, like in Deut. 32:8 where DSS read “sons of God” rather than “sons of Israel,” of which the latter doesn’t make any sense.

(2) Internal evidence.  Other things being equal, the shorter reading is preferred.  Other things being equal, the more difficult reading is preferred



3 thoughts on “Old Testament Textual Criticism (Brotzman)

  1. A note of interest from my 2TJ studies: there’s internal proof in the LXX that it had little/no aspirations to be a literary masterpiece, preserving many semiticisms despite it ruining the literary quality. This contributes to an argument that the LXX was originally crafted to be read along with the original Hebrew text as a supplement for a Jewish population that predominantly spoke Greek (Egyptian Jews). It wasn’t until the era of the Letter of Aristeas that there was a push to craft a myth that not only was the LXX a translation of the Hebrew, but it functioned as a replacement for diasporic Jews, signified in the Letter’s literary structure (i.e. it echoes the Exodus story and reception of the law at Sinai).


    • Part of the myth about the LXX was also its singularity (hence story of 72 scribes and the quasi-miracle of textual uniformity) could reflect a claim for a LXX devoid of plurality, which would reflect it becoming a canonical text in its own right, not that it was originally a supplementary text.


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