Friday, September 30, 2016

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Qumran and the 6,000

You might think that at least Qumran would settle when the two Hebrew versions of Torah – the Samaritan, and the Jewish – existed and which is more accurate.
More statistics.
The canonical number of differences between Jewish Torah and Samaritan Pentateuch, which I’ve seen quoted in forums like Tabletmag, is 6000. In 6043 verses.
The question is, differences between what and what? The original count was done in the 1600s, based on Rev. Brian Walton’s Biblia Sacrorum or “London polyglot” which has both Samaritan Pentateuch and Samaritan Targum (in Neo-Babylonian).
In 1918, when Augustus Freiherr von Gall published his compendium, he compiled the texts of dozens of manuscripts, and they are not identical. He has a main compilation, but at the bottom there are footnotes showing variations and which of the manuscripts have them. 
Dr. Emanual Tov realized that the count done in the 1600s can no longer be considered accurate, although he doesn’t specify what was wrong with the first one, not in the book I read. He recommended using Zelig Metal’s 1979 work, which is now out of print but supposedly supported the count of 6,000. It is hard to see how Metal could enumerate them, because his work is a booklet of 80 pages and supposedly covers Talmud and midrash as well as Tannakh. Von Gall’s compendium is 436 pages long.
I have a project that compares Torah interlinearly with SP and other Samaritan material. There are 31 verses in the first chapter of Genesis. Out of that, 23 verses are identical between von Gall’s main compilation and Jewish Torah. But there are 13 textual differences that clump into 8 verses.
Von Gall’s footnotes show that 6 of the manuscripts he had access to, covering 7 of these 13 differences, do not agree with the main body in von Gall’s work. That’s more than half. I haven’t finished this project so I don’t know if this statistic holds up.
For 7 of the differences in Genesis 1, Qumran agrees with Jewish Torah. (It’s not all the same 7 on which the Samaritan manuscripts disagree with each other.) For the other 6, it does not provide any text.
The Qumran manuscripts are fragmented. The text that would come down on one side or another falls in the gaps.
I have been through the entire Torah and recorded what Qumran says about all the differences I found, and it’s a much worse situation than whether there are holes in the Qumran parchments. The Qumran text sometimes disagrees with BOTH Jewish Torah or Samaritan Pentateuch, even when these two modern versions agree. It may agree with one on one word in a verse and with the other on another word in the same verse.  There may be multiple fragments for a given verse, and each of the fragments may go a different way. 
And finally, there are parchments written in the “paleo” script, usually thought of as Samaritan, which agree with Jewish Torah in places where our two modern versions differ. There are also  parchments written in the “square” script still used in Jewish Torah scrolls, which agree with Samaritan Pentateuch in some places where our two modern versions differ.
If anybody ever makes up a grid to diagram all this, it will be as complicated as the fragments themselves.
Qumran is not going to settle anything There is too much variation in the texts, as well as too much fragmentation in the parchment.
So the 6,000 differences are a myth when you take all the Samaritan manuscripts into account. And Qumran isn’t going to settle anything because it doesn’t have text for everything. Another urban legend – or maybe two – bites the dust.

Or three.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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