A Thought on Editions: The Role of an Edition

I recently wrote a book of review of Morales, Pablo Torijano, and Andrés Piquer Otero, eds. The Text of the Hebrew Bible and Its Editions: Studies in Celebration of the Fifth Centennial of the Complutensian Polyglot. Supplements to the Textual History of the Bible 1. Leiden: Brill, 2017. The review was too long to publish, but I was given permission to publish the long form to my academia.edu page (here). I learned a lot from this volume, but there was one essay in particular that I thought merits an additional word or two.

This is Michael Segal’s essay which he entitled ”Methodological Considerations in the Preparation of an Edition of the Hebrew Bible.” I will include here my review of Segal’s essay, and conclude this post by elaborating a bit more on the final thought in my review:

”Segal elaborates on the editorial practices of the Hebrew University Bible Project apropos the issues of eclectic, hybrid, and synoptic editions. Segal compares and contrasts the advantages and disadvantages of diplomatic textual presentation (i.e., Aleppo as a base text) with a critical apparatus to annotate the textual history. Segal, however, is keen to acknowledge the various weaknesses created by selecting a diplomatic base text. Chief among the weaknesses is the implied preference granted to a base text, thus complicating the presentation of textual history. The selection of any base text—even an eclectic text—encounters the same weakness for, “the entire notion of a single point in time which we can describe as ‘the’ or ‘a’ canonical text is problematic, since it is in fact one moment in a complex process of development” (p. 44). As for multiple literary editions, Segal recognises how selecting a diplomatic text masks the textual variation among multiple literary editions. He suggests that an immediate solution would be to print parallel diplomatic texts (p. 45) in columnar format, each column with its own apparatuses. Segal makes an important observation that merits careful thought: he notes that, ”diplomatic and eclectic editions should include all of the same information and employ the same method for the recording of variants” (p. 45). In other words, editions themselves—as a visual presentation—are an argument about the textual history of ancient compendia. Despite the preference given to diplomatic editions, Segal concludes the essay with hopes that digital technologies will advance editorial theory and practice (p. 52).”

The final point here is significant. The presentation of an edition serves as part of the argument of the edition! This is my concern with eclectic editorial theories, for they conflate (diachronic and linguistic) evidence in a presentation that presents itself as a historical record—indeed even an argument for the earliest inferable archetype. What shocked me the most about all the essays in this volume was (a) a direct appeal for digital editions apropos the complexity of the issues at hand and (b) an implicit awareness that variants are not isolated differences of scribal mishaps. Segal did not spell it out, but he puts both the complexity of the issues (linguistics, manuscripts, scribal practices, literary developments, scribal hermeneutics) in direct conversation with the aim of editorial work: an analysis of the textual history. This information is—or should be—the foundation of any edition—but how that information is interpreted and presented is where editions differ. Thus, I would maintain my proposed definition of what makes an edition: “An edition is the transference of the media of an ancient culture into the media of our modern culture.” The implication of this definition is that the editions we’ve created vis-à-vis the media of the printing press model has conflated information in a way we have accepted without realising the inherent problems and limitations of the media of the printing press. So what? What does it matter? It matters because our historical and philological studies of the Hebrew Bible, Second Temple Judaism, Comparative Law, etc. are directly reliant on the editions from which we read to make our arguments. Scribes were not remote copyists, and we risk loosing historical issues that scribes may have been reacting to, in the very transmission of the text. Yet, most textual and editorial theories are concerned with the origins of the text, and do not sufficiently address the editorial issues inherent in the nature of scribalism—how texts were expanded, edited, rewritten, etc.!

We are only on the cusp of reconfiguring textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible apropos methods of enumerative, descriptive, and systematic bibliography and codicological analyses of ancient scribal artefacts. Segal’s article reminds us that we have an opportunity to work together—no matter our differences of editorial theory—for what stands to unite the field is the same for all: the work of ancient scholars and scribes who took up parchment to write, to think, to be creative, to partake in a ritual, to learn, and/or to be entertained.

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