Old Testament Textual Criticism by Ellis R. Brotzman

Old Testament Textual Criticism: A Practical Introduction by Ellis R. Brotzman (Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books 1998)


The first half of this book is an excellent general introduction to the text of the Old Testament, its history and transmission.  There is a brief but fascinating history of writing in the Ancient Near East, which helpfully places Hebrew in its historical context.  This is useful apologetically because it improves one’s confidence in the ability of the Hebrew language to communicate effectively and simply. 

On the transmission of the Hebrew text itself, it is interesting to note that contrary to what was previously thought, “the picture that we now have of ancient Semitic writing is that word division was the rule, and continuous writing was the exception” (p41).  Several pages are devoted to the activity of the Masoretes, and there are plenty of helpful charts and tables.  The overall impression is that the text was reliably and faithfully transmitted over the course of many centuries.

This impression is solidified by the chapters on the contribution of the ancient versions and the Dead Sea Scrolls, with the use of these texts for OT study clearly shown.  Despite the popular notion that the Qumran documents undermine Christianity in some way, this chapter shows quite effectively how they support the fidelity of the Masoretic tradition.  Much of this material is of use apologetically with those who have read recent “popular” books about the Dead Sea Scrolls or seen TV programmes on the subject purporting to be scholarly and learned. 

The second section of the book is given over to the use of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS).  Brotzman provides an extremely valuable overview of the liturgical divisions, the Masorah Parva, Masorah Magna and textual apparatus.  There is even an English key to the abbreviated Latin used in BHS, for which many will be grateful!    Chapters dealing with scribal errors and the principles and practice of textual criticism are good but, best of all, the last chapter contains a verse-by-verse textual commentary on the book of Ruth.  This is immensely valuable for those who wish to know how to go about the task.  It is great to see the theory put into practice and the implications for exegesis made clear. 

The second half of the book is really only for those with at least a year of Hebrew under their belts.  For those who wish to delve deeper there are certainly more detailed books covering the material of every chapter.  Brotzman, however, with his gift for illustration and simplification, is an excellent place for the intermediate student to begin.  Possibly the most stimulating contribution of this volume is a brief (but badly-needed) discussion of the relationship between textual criticism and the question of inerrancy.

This review was first published in Churchman 114/2 (2000).


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