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An Interview with Emanuel Tov

Born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, Emanuel Tov emigrated to Israel in 1961. He studied Bible and Greek literature at the Hebrew University and continued his studies at the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Literatures at Harvard University between 1967 and 1969. He obtained his Ph.D. degree at the Hebrew University in 1973.

Since 1986, Tov has been a professor in the Department of Bible of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (since 1990 he holds the J. L. Magnes chair), from which he retired in 2009. Tov has specialized in various aspects of the textual criticism of Hebrew and Greek Scripture as well as in the Qumran Scrolls. In addition to writing numerous books and articles, Professor Tov is involved in several research projects, but since 1990 most of his energy has been invested in directing the Dead Sea Scrolls Publication Project. Under his guidance, thirty-three volumes appeared from 1992 to 2010 in the Discoveries in the Judaean Desert series, including an overall concordance.

In the interview that follows, Professor Marc Brettler discusses with Professor Tov his early days as a scholar of Biblical Studies, his major influences, and the legacy of his work—most notably his landmark book Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (2001), which continues to set the standard for his field. (An audio version of this interview is forthcoming in September 2012 at the OUPBlog.)

Marc Brettler: So this is June 18th. This is Marc Brettler, sitting in Mount Scopus1 in Professor Emanuel Tov's office. So, Professor Tov, at what time did you develop an interest in Biblical studies? How did that happen?

Emanuel Tov: It was in high school. I was in a classical gymnasium, where we studied the classics—Greek and Latin authors. At the same time I went to a Jewish class called Talmud Torah.2 And being a philologist of 12 and 14 and 16 years old, I thought let's do something also about Hebrew sources and at that time I was interested in the Hebrew Bible at the purely philological level. Of course, there were some personal feelings as well, but I was interested in the Bible as if it were another text from the ancient world.

MB: What country was this in?

ET: I was born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

MB: And at what point did you decide you wanted to be a professional biblical scholar?

ET: One never knows exactly at what time, at what moment you decide on your career. But basically I left the Netherlands for Israel in the year 1961 and I wanted to study Hebrew Bible. I found out that you can't study Hebrew Bible as a single topic, so I took also Greek, which I had already studied in high school. And then I simply wanted to become a teacher at a high school. Afterwards, when I had kids, I was very happy and I decided never to be a high school teacher. But when I entered the university, I wanted to become a teacher. I was then picked out by one of my teachers. Professor Shemaryahu Talmon,3 the late professor Talmon to be his assistant. And then slowly and slowly, you start an academic career. In the beginning, not so seriously, but then this is a career that soaks you up, and so you have to be serious. So at what time did I decide? I would say after my PhD, then I saw that I have no choice. I had to be a professional biblical scholar, which I am.

MB: And at what time did you decide that textual criticism would be the main area that you would spend your life's work on?

ET: I think my teachers. Professor Talmon and Professor Seeligman,4 they encouraged me to enter this course. In my second year of university studies, I was already allowed into the Septuagint course, the Greek Bible course, which was really for MA and for PhD level. I did well. I wrote some papers in this area and the remainder of history, my teachers, not only the ones I mentioned but also others, encouraged me to do so. And, indeed, most of my career has been devoted to the study of the text of the Hebrew and Greek Bible, as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The first one was Professor. . . they're all late. I have to think about this, but I think they're all late. No, with one exception. The late Professor Seeligman, like myself, of Dutch origin, teaching in Israel, as from about 1950 onwards. Professor Talmon. And later on, in my Harvard years, it was Professor Frank Moore Cross...And Professor Strugnell. They were my main teachers. To whom I should add Professor Moshe Goshen-Gottstein,5 also of Jerusalem, who was my teacher and advisor within the Hebrew University Bible Project.6 And he had the profound impression on me, as did the other four I mentioned.

MB: There are many different schools of textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible. Can you describe where you feel your scholarship is situated within the different approaches that people take?

ET: I would first make a distinction between people who study the text, do all the work, on this detail and that detail, and people who have mainly theories, but also study the text. So I start from down below. And I do all the work and I learned this in the courses of Professor Seeligman and the Hebrew University Bible Project. I don't know exactly where I stand with regard to theories. I think that...the theories I have I hope come from my dealing with the text. If I compare myself with others, like the old scholars well-known, like Paul Kahle7—he was a very fine scholar, but he started with theories and then applied them to the text. And so did Paul Anton de Lagarde.8 Professor Seeligman was a man who started from the text, and so was Professor Moshe Goshen. I don't know exactly where I stand with regard to other people. I don't know whether there are so many different schools. I have my views on the methods of the original text, on the Septuagint and its importance, but it's hard for me to place myself in the overall spectrum of views. I have my own views, yes, and maybe, in a way, I'm closest to those of Goshen and of Talmon.

MB: In terms of different views that were represented at the Hebrew University, Moshe Greenberg,9 for example was very much in favor of interpreting the Hebrew text not in creating earlier conjectural texts.10 Do you believe that it is possible to create more original texts than what we have? Is it possible to create original texts? Where do you stand on those issues?

ET: Moshe Greenberg is really a very good example of a scholar who did his best not to be involved in textual criticism. At the same time, he was a major, original and very fine scholar and extremely original exegete.11 Moshe Greenberg wrote a paper in which he tried to prove that we really have to exegete the Masoretic Text because the Masoretic Text has its own internal logic. And the Septuagint has its own internal logic. And the Aramaic Targum has. I don't think that's correct. And I had many a conversation with Moshe Greenberg. I quote him on many matters. I would say my overall aim, not obtainable, is still to try to work from the individual readings, to compare them, and to try to determine which reading is the best. And then to go back to the so-called original text. At the same time, I realize that this is an ideal. And an ideal is something that can never be obtained. Beyond that, I believe there is not one original text and that is my special contribution to textual criticism. There are several original texts or, more specifically, the texts developed in editorial stages and each stage was original at its time. That is in complicated books, like Jeremiah, Joshua, Samuel, Kings, etc. In a book like Psalms, this book, not so complicated—here there's only a number, or sometimes many different details and they can be more easily reconstructed to one common original text. But it is my special view about the stages of the original text that really complicates matters, and I'm pleased to see that the new edition to the Biblia Hebraica, the so-called Biblia Hebraica Quinta, follows this view, although not mentioning my view specifically. But the practical result is that they accept the idea of, you might say, different stages of an original text.

MB: This idea, of course, is seen in your book Textual Criticism of the Bible, which has gone through various editions over a number of years. Can you talk about the extent to which, and the manner in which your views have changed over the last 42 years that you've been publishing?

ET: Yes, my views have changed. I am not like my teacher John Strugnell, who had in his room at the École Biblique a large poster of a rhinoceros under which he had the text that said, "I have many vices, being wrong is not one of them." So again, I'm not like Professor Strugnell, and I've changed my mind. I would have to mention certain areas in which I've changed my mind. I've not changed my mind in the overall view of textual criticism, I've simply...it's become more sophisticated. And it's like a puzzle in which you've inserted your different views and different layers of your views.

But I've changed my mind, I would say...while they may seem like small details, but there's an important text from Qumran, which I published, together with Sidnie White [Crawford.12 It's called "4QReworked Pentateuch."13 It's a long text and there are five different manuscripts and we've published those texts as so-called "Reworked Pentateuch," which means it's not a biblical text.14 Although most of the fragments give us biblical texts. And it took me a while having studied more details and other texts—the Septuagint—to realize that basically these are biblical texts.

And this makes a big difference, I'm not alone in this view because I have those who've criticized me. And they said, a few years after we published the text, they said, "No, this is wrong, this is a biblical text." I've not revised my views because of the arguments they gave, but because of other arguments that I realized much later. I've changed my views with regard to, again another detail, the relation between the Septuagint and Samaritan Pentateuch which, as I now see, are much closer than they are to other texts.

I have not changed my mind with regards to the Qumran scrolls and the Septuagint, but I should say more and more I realize that those two texts are extremely important. Often more important than the Masoretic Text. And more and more I've started to realize that we should base our exegesis, because that's what we do with textual criticism, that we should base our exegesis not only on the Masoretic text but also on the Septuagint, Samaritan Pentateuch, and certain Qumran scrolls.

MB: You mention the Qumran scrolls several times. In conclusion, can you talk briefly about how you became the director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Publication Project and what this project has meant for you?

ET: My teachers brought me closer to the Dead Sea Scrolls—in particular during my Harvard years, two members of the small editorial team at the time. I was at Harvard between 1967 and '69; Professors Cross and Strugnell gave me an others insight to Qumran scrolls. They also taught me how to read the scrolls, how to interpret them, how to work with fragments, and the whole editorial process of publishing the scrolls.

Some time later I was asked to publish a large Greek scroll and I was then the first or the second Israeli scholar to be asked to publish scrolls, because this was a work that was primarily or only done by non-Israelis and non-Jews in those years. Slowly I worked more and more on the scrolls. In particular because of Professor Strugnell. And then life would have continued in the same quiet way had there not been troubles around Professor Strugnell, who became ill and who was discontinued as editor-in-chief.

At that time, I believe I was about fifty years old, and I was then asked, because they were looking for an Israeli who could head the international team, to lead the team—and that has quite changed my life. I became much more busy and I rearranged the team, reorganized the team, started fundraising for the organization, together with Weston Fields,15 the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation.16 And I was relieved of half of my teaching load and, at that time, we simply enlarged the editorial team and we started, embarked upon, a major attack on the work of publishing the scrolls.

I don't know how long it took, but the bulk was done in ten years, then a little more in fifteen years, and altogether it probably took some seventeen years in which I succeeded [in] publishing some thirty volumes, maybe thirty-two volumes. Our work was done with Oxford University Press, with which I had a very good relationship and twice a year I had to appear there, not only because of the press but also because in the beginning our major funding was from the Oxford University Hebrew Centre.

This whole work has been completed, thank God. I say "Thanks to God" because it was too busy a period in which I had to work with some fifty, sixty scholars around the world. Some easy, maybe most of them easy, but some not so easy. And this really took all my—I can't say free time because I have no free time—it took up all my time.

Did I learn a lot? Yes. I learned a lot, not only about the scrolls, but also about humans, because you don't work with fragments, you work with humans. And it was—the beginning few years were very difficult because...at first I had to prove myself. And this was not something I was born into, or was born for. But you probably have certain features in your character which made me appropriate for this job. And it worked. And after a few years of hardship, I was being appreciated in my job. The volumes started to roll from the press in Oxford, and things worked out very well. I was honored in several ways, and this was a good period in my life.

MB: And a wonderful contribution for all of us who deal in biblical studies. And finally, now that this period of publication of all the Dead Sea scrolls in the official manner is over, what are your next projects? Or what is your next project?

ET: Well, my first project was to finish my teaching at the Hebrew University. I'm now an Emeritus Professor, which means I can continue teaching in a small scale, which I'm doing and which I enjoy. I'm working now on a new Hebrew version of my book on textual criticism. The book will also be translated into Spanish and Portuguese —those are languages that I can read but cannot correct.

And I'm probably starting a large research project. I say probably because I'm still waiting for funding, which is to provide all the data on all the manuscripts and all the translations of the Torah.17 Something like an expansion, a large expansion, of my already existing computer module, called CATSS, Computer Assisted Tools for Septuagint Studies, which is a module within the program Accordance and BibleWorks and Logos, and which is really used everywhere in the world by people who enjoy accessing the data in comparing the Hebrew and Greek texts—not anymore with the large concordances, but now with more precise electronic data.

MB: Great. Thank you very much for your time.


1 Mount Scopus is the northern extension of the Mount of Olives, located to the northeast of Jerusalem, where the Hebrew University has a campus.
2 Talmud Torah is a traditional form of Jewish schooling that includes instruction in the Hebrew language, the Torah (Hebrew Scriptures), and the Talmud (sacred collection of rabbinic discussions and teachings).
3 Shemaryahu Talmon was a broad biblical scholar, who emphasized in his work on text criticism that sociological differences, rather than geographical ones, could explain many of the divergent readings found among ancient manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible.
4 Isac L. Seeligman was a professor at Hebrew University who also worked on the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. 5 Moshe Goshen-Gottstein was a professor of Semitic linguistics at the Hebrew University and one of the founding members of the Hebrew University Bible Project.
6 The Hebrew University Bible Project aims to create a text of the Hebrew Bible from the Aleppo Codex, a tenth century CE manuscript that is believed to be the most accurate preservation of the traditional Hebrew text.
7 Paul Kahle was a text critic who encouraged the use of the Leningrad Codes, the oldest complete manuscript of the Hebrew Bible, as the base text for the third edition of Biblia Hebraica . He championed the idea that the Septuagint is based on multiple translations of the Hebrew Bible. In addition, Kahle studied the famed Cairo Geniza, a collection of thousands of Jewish manuscript fragments found in an Egyptian synagogue in the late 1700s.
8 Paul de Lagarde was a nineteenth century text critic who popularized the idea that all manuscripts of the Septuagint derive from a single original translation.
9 Moshe Greenberg (1928–2010) was a rabbi and Biblical scholar, servings as professor emeritus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
10 A text critic may propose a correction to the Hebrew text that is not found in any extant manuscript. Such readings are called conjectural.
11 An exegete is someone who interprets a text through critical methods such as textual, historical, or literary criticism.
12 Sidnie White Crawford is Professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who researches the Dead Sea Scrolls and topics like rewritten scripture.
13 4QReworked Pentateuch is one of five Dead Sea Scrolls manuscripts from the first century BCE that demonstrates substantial rewriting of the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Hebrew Bible.
14 A biblical text is one that copies a manuscript of the Hebrew Bible; it may contain variations from the Hebrew text, but it is based on the text and attempts to reproduce it. Hebrew literature of antiquity was not, however, limited to only biblical texts. 4QReworked Pentateuch, for example, retells the story of Genesis-Deuteronomy with such significant variations that some consider it to be apocryphal, while others consider it to a biblical text, despite its variations from what later became the biblical text.
15 Weston Fields is the executive director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation.
16 The Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation raises financial support for the official publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls and for their conservation and preservation.
17 The Torah is a term that is sometimes used to refer only to the first five books of the Hebrew Bible but that can also refer to the entirety of the Hebrew Bible.

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