P. Kyle McCarter’s Textual Criticism: Recovering the Text of the Hebrew Bible

I fully realize that this book is from 1986, so it may seem a bit late to be writing a review. However, you’ll have to forgive me since I was only 2 when the book originally appeared. This is one of the required texts for my Textual Criticism seminar at Harvard this semester. I’m looking forward to the seminar, and this book was short so I decided to go ahead and review it before the semester gets underway. I should also point out the fact that I am hardly an expert when it comes to textual criticism. Keep in mind that this review is very much from a student’s perspective.

The first thing that deserves comment is the size of the book; less than 100 pages, including appendices. As a student I’m extremely thankful. The book is good, it says what needs to be said and then moves on. McCarter excels at being concise in his statements. These are all things that hit the mark, as far as a student is concerned. At the same time, it means that McCarter’s book will never be the only text in a graduate seminar on textual criticism. This is fine though, since it serves well as an introduction (which is really all its supposed to do).

Something else that jumped out at me in the book is that McCarter is quite witty. Having an author who is easily able to inject wit into a textbook always makes for a more enjoyable read. In Textual Criticism this is done with style. I lost track of the number of places I chuckled as I read through the book. A question for any of you Johns Hopkins students, is McCarter this witty in class?

I should also mention the appendices. These short addendums are quite helpful. A glossary is the first to appear, and defines some of the basic vocabulary of text criticism (witness, codex, haplography, homoioarkton, etc). The second appendix is a bibliography of primary sources. For someone who has not done much in depth work with textual criticism, this is a gold mine of information. If this information wasn’t already available on the Internet, its inclusion alone would justify the purchase. Even so, it is still convenient to have the information in one easily accessible place. The final appendix deals with the textual characteristics of each book, or section of books, in the Hebrew Bible. This is another extremely helpful resource for beginning students, and one I’m sure I’ll consult often this semester.

In my opinion, the negatives of Textual Criticism are few. Obviously, because of its brevity, it doesn’t touch on every issue imaginable in textual criticism. It is, after all, more of an introduction than a monograph. You’ll have to move on to Emanuel Tov’s Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible for a more thorough treatment of the various issues. The only other negative is one that I’m not entirely sure I’m educated enough to give at present. However, with that disclaimer, I’ll go ahead; McCarter appears to be quite in love with LXX, and often makes very little mention of the DSS. Conversely, Tov mentions the Qumran materials often and even accuses McCarter’s Textual Criticism of adopting “the approach of the period before the discovery of the new data [ie, the DSS]” (Tov, Textual Criticism, 14).

Those caveats aside, I think McCarter’s Textual Criticism is a helpful introductory textbook. It certainly doesn’t offer the depth of Tov, but it provides a way to quickly get oneself up to speed on the necessary material. It’s worth reading, especially for those who only desire an introduction.

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One thought on “P. Kyle McCarter’s Textual Criticism: Recovering the Text of the Hebrew Bible

  1. My newly favorite article by the ever-witty PKM is an oldy from early in his career entitled “The First Two Seasons at Massebat-Saphon.” Just search in jstor for it & it should pop right up.

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