Textual Criticism of the Bible

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Textual Criticism of the Bible is the study of the Bible with the intention of detecting errors in the text and determining what the original text may have been.

It proceeds by analysing the oldest manuscripts, published versions and translations to produce lists of variant readings. Critics then try to decide which is the best reading. Where no satisfactory reading can be found, critics may make conjectural emendations. Sometimes, these conjectures have later been found in previously unknown manuscripts, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Causes of Textual Corruption[edit | edit source]

Before the advent of printing, manuscripts had to be copied by hand so were quite rare and expensive. They rarely included the whole Bible, and were often just single books of the Bible.

Textual corruption usually occurs by accident, but sometimes a copyist would deliberately alter what he considered a corrupt or heretical reading. Since such alterations produce sensible readings, they are hard to spot.

Rules for Deciding on the Best Reading[edit | edit source]

There are no infallible rules for deciding which of several competing rules are the best, and at the end of the day good critical judgment is needed. However, the following rules are often useful.

Alternatives to Textual Criticism[edit | edit source]

It may be that it is not necessary to amend the text of the Bible. It did not seem to make sense, hence seemed to need amendment, because we did not understand it. However, advances in other areas may permit us to understand the text better.

Archaeology[edit | edit source]

Archaeology may help us to understand the historical and social background of a passage, hence reveal its meaning.

Comparative Philology[edit | edit source]

Examination of languages similar to those of the Bible may suggest new meanings of words. Many English words, such as roe, can have several completely different meanings (a kind of deer, fish eggs), which would make a passage seem corrupt if we only knew one meaning and the other was intended. The same may be true of Hebrew and Greek.

Example: Judges 18:7 seems to say "there was no-one to put them to shame in anything" or "there was no-one to insult them in anything". This assumes that the word kulum means "to humiliate" or "to insult". However, it may be equivalent to the Arabic kallama, "to speak", allowing the more intelligible translation "there was no-one uttering a word".

Bibliography[edit | edit source]