Monday, June 12, 2017

Review: Michael Fox, Proverbs: An Eclectic Edition with Introduction and Textual Commentary, The Hebrew Bible: A Critical Edition, vol. 1.

Michael Fox, Proverbs: An Eclectic Edition with Introduction and Textual Commentary, The Hebrew Bible: A Critical Edition, vol. 1. Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, GA, 2015. 500 pages, $69.95.

Reviewer: Joe Abrahamson.

The Society for Biblical Literature published the first volume in The Hebrew Bible: A Critical Edition. I've only read a little bit so far, and Inter Library Loan doesn't allow me the time to pour through it. But my preliminary observations are: Fox was a great teacher, and he is an excellent writer. Though the volume is highly technical Fox is very good at presenting the manuscript evidence and its contexts in an understandable way. All of the relevant quotations from the Versions are presented in the original language and in English translation. This means that the reader can see not only the Syriac, Greek, Latin, Aramaic, but also see how Fox understands them.  Fox is very good about laying out his reasoning for his textual decisions in a clear way. In this alone he has raised the bar for presentation to a better standard.

Typesetting of Hebrew, Greek, and Syriac are beautifully done in clear, legible fonts.

The volume is in three sections: Introduction; Textual Commentary with Critical Text; and the Critical Text of Proverbs.

The Introduction alone makes this a worthwhile addition to the library of anyone pursuing Old Testament Exegesis, even if one’s focus is on other biblical books. It is here where Fox lays out in a very lucid manner the assumptions, materials, processes, tools, and scope of the Textual-Critical task. While the focus is, of course, on the book of Proverbs the matter at hand is dealing with manuscripts and the texts they convey. “The primary goal of The Hebrew Bible: A Critical Edition (HBCE) is to reconstruct the corrected archetypes of biblical books.” (p. 2) This means the most reasonable reconstruction of the Hebrew text from which our current Hebrew text and the Versions are derived. Fox states that this goal is more of a process to follow and not an expectation that the Critical Text that results from this would be fully accurate. He states: “I wish to be clear that the text I have produced, however successful, never had physical existence. It is a construct. It can be defined as proto-M as it should have been, the text the authors and editors wanted us to read. This goal is heuristic: approachable but not wholly attainable.” (p. 4-5)

The advantage that Fox has given the reader in his presentation is that he has made his cases in such a way that the reader can evaluate Fox as well as the evidence and make clear arguments where one would agree or disagree with Fox’s textual decisions.

The Introduction

The seventy-five page Introduction focuses first on the nature of Textual Criticism, then on the Hebrew texts and how they are handled, with special focus on Ketiv and Qere. Fox gathers together examples of different functions of Ketiv and Qere into handy tables. These are useful presentations of the evidence, Fox’s understanding of them, and how he deals with them. Fox turns to discuss the Versions: The Septuagint, the Peshitta, the Vulgate, and the Targumim. In this section on the Versions Fox discusses the nature of the relationships between the Versions and the Hebrew text.

The final section of the Introduction covers Policies and Procedures covers how Fox applies the tools and vocabulary of Textual Criticism and to clarify some important distinctions in Textual Criticism that often make things very complicated. This includes such points as textual agreement does not necessarily mean support of a variant; the assumption that a scribe knew the vocabulary he was copying; the distinction between a real variant and one that existed only in the mind of a scribe (thus copied into a manuscript without actual manuscript evidence) and other issues.

The Textual Commentary with Critical Text

The page layout for this section is well planned. The Critical Text appears at the top of the even pages with the Textual commentary below it and on the facing even page. Just enough of the Critical Text is included on the top of the even pages to balance out with the Textual Commentary. This eases reading, reducing the need for page flipping.

As noted above, Fox presents the Versions in their original language as well as in English translation.  

The Critical Text of Proverbs

The Critical Text of Proverbs starts at the right back cover making access to just the book of Proverbs in Hebrew both natural and handy. The Critical Text itself is free from extraneous markings making it distraction free. The textual notes are at the bottom of each page of the Critical Text marked by chapter and verse numbers. These present brief summaries of the textual evidences for Fox’s textual decisions.


Textual Criticism is exegetical. The exegete always brings his or her philosophical and theological background to the task. I would suggest that an exegete’s ability to see these personal assumptions and make the relevant assumptions clear in the discussion of an exegetical issue is a degree to which an exegete’s work might be considered objective.

Textual Criticism is exegetical. Textual Criticism involves the interpretation of not only one particular text, but of multiple manuscripts and Versions, each of which exhibit their own exegetical framework to a greater or lesser extent.

From the opening paragraph in his Preface Fox distinguishes his Textual Critical task from that of theological exegesis. Throughout the Introduction and Textual Commentary Fox’s ability to keep  careful and clear distinctions between the data, evidence, and the reasoning for his decisions makes his work accessible and useful to faith groups who may differ strongly on these issues.