Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Reflections on Text, Canon, and Translation from Carl Amerding's "The Old Testament and Criticism"

I recently finished reading Carl E. Amerding’s The Old Testament and Criticism (Eerdmans, 1983).  In general I do not share Amerding’s optimism that “a moderately critical approach” to the OT is “fully consistent” with the evangelical view of revelation (p. 9).

The book’s review of literary (i.e., source) and form criticism now seems dated (pp. 21-66), as does, even more especially, the extended discussion of structural analysis (pp. 67-96). Of more lasting value is Amerding’s survey of OT text criticism (pp. 97-127).

I was particularly struck, for example, by Amerding’s observation that the development of the Old Testament canon involved not only the designation of the authoritative books that would be included in the canon but also the authoritative texts of those books:

But what was considered Scripture in this period?  As might be expected, the time from Ezra through the first Christian century was also the time when the Jewish list or canon of books became well established.  Moreover the development of an authoritative text is a natural corollary to an authoritative list of books….. (p. 101).

I remember when I suggested the connection between canon and text in the online debate with Jamin Hubner over the NT text, and he dismissed such a view as novel and obscurantist.  I have continued to raise this as an objection against the oft repeated argument of evangelicals who embrace the modern critical text that there are no major “doctrinal” issues involved in textual criticism.  Clearly, the canon of Scripture is a key doctrinal issue, and canon involves not only books but the texts of those books.

I was also struck by Amerding’s review of increasing departures in modern English translations from the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible in favor of readings and conjectural emendations drawn from the LXX, the Dead Sea Scrolls, etc.  Amerding calls attention, in particular, to the groundbreaking role of the Revised Standard Version in these departures from the traditional text:

A new era began with the publication of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the complete Bible in 1952. Not only did the revisers break with an old but now dated tradition by using the 1937 BH3 as their basic OT text, but they opened the door to a limited number of textual emendations, particularly where the LXX or another VS lent support.  Even a few readings of the DSS of Isaiah were included, although little work on the textual reliability of Qumran had been done at that time.  In general it should be noted that the RSV, despite its pioneering stance, remained reasonably conservative in its departure from the MT….

Once the barn door had been opened, however, it almost seemed as though all the horses fled at once!  A host of private and committee-produced translations have appeared since the RSV, some of which seem to treat the MT tradition with far less respect than previous custom…. (p. 116).  

This is a reminder that the issue of text is no longer limited to the NT alone, as the traditional (MT) text of the OT has been challenged by modern translations, with such challenges pioneered by the RSV.  This also explains why the ESV, following in the RSV tradition, so often provides OT translations based on textual emendations from the versions, etc. (see here for an example).

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