Authors: Bible Difficulties
After considering this example of textual correction, let us survey eleven main kinds of transmissional errors known to the field of textual criticism.
Essentially, haplography means writing once what should have been written twice. In student papers one often reads
has been written just once--which would make the word sound like
, according to our regular English spelling rules. In Hebrew it may be a single consonant that appears where there should have been two. Or it may be that two consonants are involved, or even two words. For example, in Isaiah 26:3-- "You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You"--the final words literally are "in you trusting,"
followed by "Trust in Yahweh" in Isa. 26:4. In Hebrew the final word "trusting" is
; the initial "trust" in v.4 is
. As they appear in the unpointed consonants, then, we have
. These two words are therefore almost identical in appearance, even though the first is a masculine singular adjective and the second a plural imperative of the verb. Scroll 1QIsa has only
, omitting the previous
altogether. Hence the Dead Sea Scrolls of Isaiah condense verses 3 and 4 to read thus: "A mind supported You will keep in real peace [lit.,
, `peace peace']; because in you...they have trusted [or else a new sentence:
`Trust'] in Yahweh forever." The MT reads (correctly): "A mind supported You will keep in real peace, because it is trusting in You. Trust in Yahweh." It should be added that the 22
word translated "trust" implies the vowel pointing
; the 1QIsa context might imply a different pointing; i.e.,
, which means "they have trusted." The LXX implies only a single
and a single verb
, for it translates the whole section (including v.2) as follows: "Open the gates, let there enter in a people who observe righteousness and observe truth, laying hold of truth [apparently reading
(`mind') as the participle
(òbserving, keeping')] and keeping peace. For in You [v.4] they have hoped [or
`trusted'], O LORD [the regular substitution for
] forever [
lit., ùnto the age,' a rendering attested by both the MT and the corrected reading of 1QIsa]."
In other instances haplography may have occurred in the MT itself, as is probably the case in Judges 20:13. The regular Old Testament usage is to refer to the tribesmen of Benjamin as
, but the Sopherim consonantal text reads the tribal name
alone (which also occasionally occurs). But LXX indicates the normal "the sons of Benjamin" reading (
hoi huioi Beniamin
) in both the A version and the B version (Judges in the LXX has two different Greek versions, both going back to the same Hebrew
, apparently). Interestingly enough, even the Masoretic scribes believed that the "sons of" should be in there, for they included the vowel points for
("sons of"), even though they did not feel free to put in the consonants of the word in such a way as to alter the Sopherim consonantal text that had been handed down to them.
This common transcriptional error consists of writing twice what is to be written only once. A clear example of this in the MT is Ezekiel 48:16:
hames hames me'ot
("five five hundred"). Noting this mistake, the Masoretes left the second
without vowel pointing, indicating that the word should be omitted altogether in the reading. In 1QIsa, Isaiah 30:30 reads
("Hear, hear"), instead of the single
that appears in the MT and is attested by the versions.
Another example of probable dittography occurs in Isaiah 9:6-7 (Isa. 9:5-6
Hebrew), which reads at the end of v.5
("prince of peace") and at the beginning of v.6
("of the increased of government"). Now this makes perfectly good sense in Hebrew as it stands, but there is one peculiar feature about the spelling of
(mem) is written in the special form that occurs at the end of a word. This clearly indicates that the Sopherim scribes found two different traditions concerning this reading: one that read only
(at the end of v.5) and began v.6 with
(which should be vocalized as
, "great"; i.e., "Great shall be the government").
A final example of dittography is taken from the last verse of Psalm 23: "And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever." As pointed by the Masoretes, the verb form
would have to mean "And I will return [to the house]"--as if the psalmist had left the Lord's house and now expected to return to it permanently. But if the consonants are pointed
, then we have the reading of the LXX:
kai to katoikein me
("And my dwelling" [will be in the house]). This is rather unusual from the standpoint of Hebrew style, even though it is by no means impossible. Perhaps the most attractive option, however, is to understand this word as a case of haplography. With the introduction of the square Hebrew form of the alphabet after the return from Babylonian 23
Exile, the shape of
(waw) greatly resembled that of
(yodh); and by the period of 1QIsa, it often happened that a long-tailed yodh looked precisely like a short-tailed waw.
That being the case, it would be easy for haplography to occur whenever a yodh and a waw occurred together. The Greek copyist, then, might have seen what looked like two waw's together and figured that this was mistake for a single waw, and hence left out the second one--which actually should have been a yodh. If this reconstruction is correct, then the original wording used by David was
, meaning, "And I will dwell,"
expressed in the normal and customary Hebrew way.
This involves an inadvertent exchange in the proper order of letters or words. For example, 1QIsa has at the end of Isaiah 32:19 the phrase "the forest will fall" rather than MT's corrected reading "the city is leveled completely." It so happens that the word for
) is written with the same consonants as the word for "city" (
). Since the verb
("is leveled completely") is in the feminine and
is masculine, the word for "city"--which is feminine--is the only possible reading. But the confusion of the Isaiah-scroll scribe is understandable since the word
does occur in the preceding clause of this verse: "though hail flattens the forest [
In Ezekiel 42:16, however, it is obviously the MT that is the error, reading, "five cubits rods" (
) instead of "five hundred rods" (
hames me'ot qanim
), which is the correction indicated by the Masoretes by having their vowel points go with the word for "hundreds" rather than with the word for "cubits." The LXX, the Latin Vulgate, and all the other versions read "five hundred" here rather than "five cubits."
This consists of combining the last letter of the first word with the first letter of the following word, or else of combining two separate words into a single compound word. A probable example of the latter type is found in Amos 6:12, where the MT reads,
"Do horses run on the rocky crags? Does one plow with oxen?" Obviously a farmer does plow with oxen, whereas horses do not run on rocky crags. Now it is possible to insert a
"them" after the word "plow" (so NASB) or to insert an adverb "there" (so KJV, NIV).
But actually there is no word in the Hebrew for either "them" or "there"; and it might therefore be better to split off the plural ending -
from the word
("oxen") and understand it as the word
("sea"). Then the amended clause would read thus:
"Does an ox plow the sea?"--an illustration of futile or senseless procedure, similar to horses running on bare rock. The only problem with this emendation, advocated by the critical apparatus of Kittel's
, is that no ancient version or surviving Hebrew manuscript so divides it.
Another textual problem of more far-reaching consequence is the apparent reference to a mysterious "Azazel" in Leviticus 16:8. In the procedure prescribed for the Day of Atonement, the high priest is to cast two lots for the two goats chosen for sacrifice. The NIV reads, "One lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat [
The MT indicates some otherwise unknown proper name, Azazel, which was explained by the medieval rabbis as a designation of a hairy desert demon. Aaron, then, would be casting a lot for a demon. Now since there is no allowance made for the service or the worship of demons anywhere else in the Torah, it is most improbable that it should appear here (and in the following verses of the same chapter). The obvious solution to this enigma is found in separating the two parts of
, that is, the "goat of departure, or dismissal." In other words, as v.10 makes clear, this second goat is to be led off into the wilderness and there let go, thus symbolically bearing away the sins of all Israel from the camp of the Hebrew nation. Unquestionably the LXX so understood it, with its
("for the one to be sent off") and likewise the Vulgate with its
("for the goat that is to be sent away"). So if we separate the two words that were improperly fused together in the Hebrew text, we have a reading that makes perfect sense in context, and which does not bring up an otherwise unexampled concession to demonology. In other words, "scapegoat" (KJV, NASB, NIV) is really the right rendering to follow, rather than "for Azazel" (ASV, RSV).
This refers to the improper separation of one word into two. For example, in Isaiah 61:1 the final word in Hebrew is
, according to the MT. Apart from this passage, there is no such separate
known in the Old Testament, or, indeed, in all Hebrew literature. Even 1QIsa reads this word as one reduplicated stem,
, and so do many later Hebrew manuscripts. None of the versions indicate an awareness of two words here, but they all translate the Hebrew as "liberation" or "release" or even
"recovery of sight"--relating
to the root
, which refers to the opening of one's eyes to see clearly. Without doubt, therefore, the hyphen (or
) should be removed from the text and the word read as a single unit.
Another interesting example of fission is in Isaiah 2:20, where the MT reads
("to a hole of rats"). This is by no means a difficult reading, and it yields satisfactory sense as a proper place for discarding heathen idols. But on the other hand, the 1QIsa reading fuses the two into
(with a masculine plural ending rather than feminine), which would probably mean "to the field mice." The Theodotion Greek does not know what to make of the word and so simply transcribes it into the meaningless
; but at least it indicates that the Hebrew
read the two parts as a single word. The meaning would then be that the field mice would do a good job of gnawing to bits the heathen idols discarded in the field by their disillusioned worshipers.
However, it must be admitted that the case for this emendation is not quite conclusive, and it should be regarded as merely a tentative correction.
It often happens in every language that words of entirely different meaning may sound alike, like the English words "beat" and "beet"; or even the noun "well," and the verb "well (up)," and the adverb "well." We have already alluded to a notable example in 25
Isaiah 9, where
("for him") was incorrectly given in the MT as
("not"). Another obvious example is Micah 1:15, where the MT reads
("my father to you") rather than
("I will bring to you"--the meaning obviously demanded by the context).
The Masoretic notation in the margin favors the addition of an '(aleph) to
. The LXX
so translates it (
) and also the Vulgate (
). As a matter of fact, it is conceivable that in Micah's day (eight century B.C.) the imperfect of the verb "to bring"
may have been optionally spelled without the aleph, owing to a greater brevity in the indication of sound.
Misreading similar-appearing letters
This type of error can actually be dated in history because at various stages of the alphabet development some letters, which later were written quite differently, resembled one another in shape. A notable example of this is the letter
(yodh), which greatly resembled the
(waw) from the postexilic period, when the square Hebrew form of the alphabet was introduced. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke of the "jot" (yodh) as the smallest letter in the alphabet-- "One jot or one tittle of the law shall not pass away until all be fulfilled" (Matt. 5:18). But up until the early sixth century B.C., yodh was as large a letter as many others in the alphabet and bore no resemblance whatever to the waw. Therefore we may confidently date all examples of confusion between yodh and waw to the third century B.C. or later.
Examples of misreading similar letters abound in 1QIsa. In Isaiah 33:13 it reads
("let them know") rather than MT's
("and know ye"). More significantly we find in the MT of Psalm 22:17 (Psalm 22:16 English.) the strange phrase "like the lion my hands and my feet" (
kaari yaday weraglay
) in a context that reads "dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me--like the lion my hands and my feet!" This really makes no sense, for lions do not surround the feet of their victims.