The critical examination of the MT should be carried out, in principle, on the basis of all the evidence available. This concerns:
a. The ancient witnesses to the biblical text, both the Hebrew texts (Qumran, SamPent.) and the ancient versions, translations of a parent text in Hebrew (LXX, Targumim, Peshitta, Vulgate, and others; daughter versions are usually left out of consideration). For more information about the ancient versions, the reader is referred to Chapter 12 above.
b. The quotations in Hebrew, both in Qumran documents and in rabbinic writings.
c. The Hebrew manuscripts dating to the (late) Middle Ages.
In practice, however, the three sets of sources just mentioned are not considered of the same value from the text-critical point of view. As to (C), some scholars (e.g. Borbone 1990) are of the opinion that, in line with Kennicott and De Rossi, these MSS should be taken into consideration. Most scholars, however, share the view of Goshen-Gottstein (1967) that, except in a few cases, these MSS have no value at all for the quest of an early text tradition. Regarding the second group (B), the quotations in Qumran documents are certainly of interest (on methodological issues involved, see e.g. Lim 2002), but the difficulty with rabbinic sources is that in most cases the literature concerned is not (yet) available in critical editions.
Thus one is mainly left with the first group (A) as a means of text-critical research. But even in this case, some differentiation is involved. As appears from text critical studies, the focus is to a large extent on the evidence from the earliest period of manuscript documentation, viz. the third century BCE to the first century CE. Most attention is paid, in practice, to the evidence of Qumran, the LXX, and the SamPent (as far as the Pentateuch is concerned). Why is this so? The underlying idea is that the witnesses of later date belong to a period which is marked by the presence and dominance of a Hebrew text that actually is very similar to the MT, and which therefore is termed as ‘proto-masoretic’. An important witness in this respect is the Twelve Prophets scroll from Wadi Murabba'at (first half of second century) which shows remarkable agreement, including specific spellings of words, with the later MT (ketib). Consequently, the later versions—Aquila, Symmachus, Targumim, Peshitta, Vulgate—are considered less significant for text-critical research, as sources for variant readings which might turn out to be earlier or even better readings than in the MT. They are nevertheless of great value in other respects, for they widen the text-historical horizon in the following ways:
a. They show a variety of styles of translation, which is helpful for the study of the LXX (which also displays a variety of types of translations).
b. They are very important from the perspective of the history of ‘reading’ and interpretation of the Hebrew text, because in this respect they can shed light, at least by analogy, on variant readings in the early witnesses (Qumran, LXX).
c. The later versions, specifically the Targumim, may be useful in clarifying the phenomenon of literary creativity in the early texts. It would be interesting to study the cases of reworked and expanded versions in Qumran documents and in the LXX in the light of similar cases in the Targumim.
But still, in practice the focus of text-critical study is on the Qumran texts and the LXX, because they testify to a period of textual fluidity and pluriformity (for more information of this important matter, see Chapter 12 above).