Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Kriticizing Kennicott; a learned Critick attacks 18th century textual criticism of the Bible, w/a surprising appearance by the Vilna Gaon in this post

I have previously posted about the Bible collations of Benjamin Kennicott (here). It is only fair that I follow it up with an attack on the specific point I covered in my post, namely the discrepancy between the spelling of דוד and דויד in the earlier and later books of the Bible. But first, I should mention an interesting fact: Kennicott's project included a search for as many Hebrew Bible manuscripts as he could find in Europe and beyond (including as far afield as China; more on Chinese Bibles in a forthcoming post). How did he go about collecting these manuscripts? Cecil Roth notes that his messengers to Jewish communities carried letters of introduction from, among others, Rabbi David Tevele Schiff (d. 1791)

A more pleasing episode of external relations during Tevele Schiff's Rabbinate was collaboration with the Oxford scholar, Dr. Kennicott, while he was engaged in his great work on the text of the Hebrew Bible. There are extant the letters of recommendation to Jewish scholars abroad which he received in 1770 from the two senior London communities, the Great Synagogue's being signed by the Rosh haKahal Aaron Franks and the Warden Aaron Goldsmid, as well as by the Rabbi himself.

So if anyone ever tells you that a model European rav of the old school wouldn't recommend placing your antique Tanakh manuscripts at the disposal of a Christian Bible scholar, show them this post. Lest anyone question what sort of rabbi R. Schiff (a talmid of the Pnei Hayeshua) was, here is an excerpt from his letter to his brother, which concerns Wessely's Divre Shalom ve-Emes, as published in Charles Duschinky's The Rabbinate of the Great Synagogue of London (1921; letter VIII, Hebrew pg. 177-78; English translation):

Rabbi David Tevele Schiff:

Getting back to the subject of this post, Kennicott believed that the text of the Hebrew Bible contained mistakes, but none of those mistakes were critical to matters of (Christian) faith. However, naturally more conservative scholars were not as sure that his formula was sustainable, and rejected the implication that the text contained errors at all. One such critic, an anonymous French abbe, voiced his views in a pamphlet sharply critical of Kennicott's State of the Printed Hebrew Text of the Old Testament Considered. It was translated from French to English as the Letters of mr. the abbot of *** ex Professor of the Hebrew Language, in the University of *** to Mr. Kennicott.

Here's a taste:

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i.e., who cares?

However, he goes on to say that he would have thought Kennicott's work simply useless, however it is actually insidious, since Kennicott also treats a verse crucial to the faith, Psalm 16.10 (לֹא תִתֵּן חסידיך לִרְאוֹת שָׁחַת is taken as referring to Jesus, "the sole and peculiar object of this psalm," according to the abbe). On pg. 107 of Kennicott (second volume) we find the point that חסידיך is the כתיב while חֲסִידְךָ is the קרי. The former should be plural, as if to say "thy saints," rather than the singular "thy saint, ie, Jesus." This is troubling as this verse is cited by Peter and Paul as referring to Jesus. If so, how could the real Bible text read חסידיך?

Keniccott notes a fortuitious discovery:

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In other words, an examination of many manuscripts show that the singular reading is correct. The apostles, vindicated!

The abbe hates this.

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He saw Kennicott claim that nothing in his text critical project concerned matter of faith, only mere details, and then a few pages later he places it all on the line with a mere י! Have no fear, seems to be Kennicott's view, the manuscripts vindicate the faithful reading. But would he really place it at the mercy of a iod?!

How does it make him feel?

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Later he gets onto the matter of דוד and דויד. Refer to the earlier post where the relevant Kennicott pages are shown. Here the author is really annoyed. Kennicott's contention is that the name was spelled דוד before the exile and דויד afterward. Kennicott's problem is that in one place in Amos (סֻכַּת דָּוִיד הַנֹּפֶלֶת) it is written with the י, but certainly Amos is from before the exile. However, all you have to do is open the first Rabbinic Bible printed in Venice in 1518 and you see this:

The same thing with the other דויד in Amos. Furthermore, the problematic דויד in Hosea is written דוד in the same Venice edition.

The critic notes the absurdity of this. First of all, of looking for the Bible to support your reading, and secondly for accepting Mafforetical circles when they are convenient. But, hold on! In the same Venice Bible there is a קרי וכתיב circle at חסידיך in Psalm 16.10, that is, read it without the י, which vindicates the Christian reading. Why didn't Kennicott call attention to it? Instead, he counted manuscripts, a happy discovery.

In short, his intention is to artificially increase the value of his manuscripts, by showing a large problem and solving it with his manuscripts alone.

This continues for pages. I heartily recommend printing it to read during chazaras hashatz.

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