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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

Ancient Translations

Another source of information that scholars turn to is very early translations of the Bible. These early translations are called versions, and they were in use among Jews or Christians who could no longer understand the Bible in its original languages. (See “Jewish Translations of the Bible,” pp. 2005–20.) They include translations of the Bible into Greek (for instance, the Septuagint), Syriac (the Peshitta), Aramaic (the Targumim [singular “Targum”]), and Latin (the Vulgate).

These versions are useful in ascertaining what early Hebrew texts of the Bible might have looked like. The earliest complete manuscripts of the Septuagint are centuries earlier than our first complete Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible, and it is clear that the Septuagint was translated from a Hebrew text that differed in significant ways from the Masoretic Text. (There are many cases where this is now confirmed, where the Septuagint agrees with a Dead Sea scroll fragment against the Masoretic Text.) The versions can therefore be consulted, with care, for determining an earlier stage of the biblical text or an alternate tradition of its wording. In many modern translations, including the NJPS Tanakh, these ancient versions are sometimes cited in the footnotes to provide explanations or alternate solutions to difficulties in the Masoretic Text. The translators' notes in NJPS call attention to many of these matters. These notes are keyed to the text by superscript letters, and can be found at the bottom of the translation. The abbreviations used in these notes are listed on pp. xix–xx. NJPS, however, on principle follows the Hebrew Masoretic Text, which is discussed, along with the versions, in the section below, “The Bible: Texts and Versions,” and in greater detail in “The Development of the Masoretic Bible,” pp. 2077–84.

While not all scholars approach textual criticism in the same way, there are some guidelines that are generally agreed upon. First is the importance of collecting all the significant variants and information about the manuscripts in which they occur. Manuscripts must be evaluated as to their reliability and age. When it comes to choosing among different readings, in general, shorter readings are preferable to longer ones, since scribes are more likely to add to a text than to delete materials (though, in the case of offensive or theologically challenging texts, deletion must be considered); difficult readings, including awkward phrases, coarse words, and poor grammar, are preferable to smoother ones, since scribes might try to “correct” such difficulties; and stylistic considerations can help judgments about how a particular author would have written. There are cases wherenone of the variants seem to be satisfactory, or where the text does not make sense as far as current scholarship can determine. In such cases scholars must assume that the wording of the text has been lost or distorted in the course of the copying process. They then have several options open to them. One (called conjectural emendation) is to conjecture, based on the text as it now stands, what the lost or corrupted wording might have been. This can often be based on a scholar's general knowledge of the ancient languages, just as an English speaker can notice, and mentally correct, a typographical error in a modern book without having access to the author's manuscript. Finally, scholars may have to admit defeat and acknowledge that, given the current state of our knowledge, it is impossible to determine what the wording might have been. For instance, at 1 Sam. 13.1 , the translation shows, by the use of ellipsis, that a word (the age of Saul when he began to reign) is missing; the Hebrew text literally translated would read: “Saul was one year old when he became king,” a chronological impossibility. In this case, unfortunately, the Septuagint does not include any part of the verse, and there are no Dead Sea Scrolls which preserve the missing data. It is therefore impossible to recover the lost words.

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