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Note: This is the second article in a series on Old Testament textual criticism.

Occasionally the reader of BHS will come across a note which reads “Tiq soph, lect orig . . . .” These abbreviations mean “Tiqqunê sopherim, original reading. . . .” The equivalent note in BHQ simply shows a variant reading followed by the symbol ✣, which directs the reader to the textual commentary. Tiqqunê sopherim is a Hebrew term which means “emendations of the scribes.” According to rabbinic sources and the Masoretes, these are places where scribes of an earlier Jewish tradition had altered the original text of the OT out of theological sensitivities. Normally this involved a statement that was disrespectful to God and therefore, in their judgment, could not be said aloud when reading. The disrespectful term was replaced with a term that could be acceptably read. The Masoretes noted what they believed was the original reading, but their extremely conservative copying practices forbade them from altering the main text of their manuscripts. Many of the tiqqunê sopherim seem strange to Christian students of the Bible, since the things in the text which were theologically troublesome for Jews are very different from those things which might seem problematic to Christian scribes. The tiqqunê sopherim have more to do with matters of reverence than with matters of systematic theology.

Although rabbinic lists vary, the main lists have eighteen verses with alleged emendations, as shown below, with McCarthy’s evaluation of the authenticity of each tradition (in Carmel McCarthy, The Tiqqune Sopherim and Other Theological Emendations in the Masoretic Text of the Old Testament, Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 36 [Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1981], 61-129).

  1. Genesis 18:22—”Yahweh was still standing before Abraham” (וְיהוה עוֹדֶנּוּ עֹמֵד לִפְנֵי אַבְרָהָם) was changed to “Abraham was still standing before Yahweh” (‎וְאַבְרָהָם עוֹדֶנּוּ עֹמֵד לִפְנֵי יהוה), because to “stand before” someone usually means to minister to an authority who is sitting. McCarthy: unauthentic emendation
  2. Numbers 11:15—”Your wretchedness” (בְּרָעָתְךָ) was changed to “my wretchedness” (בְּרָעָתִי), so as to avoid a disrespectful expression toward God. McCarthy: unauthentic emendation
  3. Numbers 12:12—”our mother’s womb” (אִמֵּנוּ) and “our flesh” (בְשָׂרֵנוּ) were changed to “its mother’s womb” (מֵרֶחֶם אִמּוֹ) and “its flesh” (בְשָׂרוֹ), in order to avoid an expression of disrespect regarding the origins of Moses. McCarthy: unauthentic emendation
  4. 1 Samuel 3:13—”his sons were cursing God” (‎כִּי־מְקַלְלִים אֱלֹהִים בָּנָיו) was changed to “his sons were cursing themselves” (‎כִּי־מְקַלְלִים לָהֶם בָּנָיו), so that the reader of the Scriptures would not have to speak aloud of cursing God. McCarthy: authentic emendation
  5. 2 Samuel 16:12—”Yahweh will look with His eye” (יִרְאֶה יְהוָה בְּעֵינוֹ) was changed to “Yahweh will look on my eye” (Qere: יִרְאֶה יְהוָה בְּעֵינִי), in order to avoid an anthropomorphism. McCarthy: unauthentic emendation
  6. 2 Samuel 20:1—”to his gods” (‎לֵאלֹהָיו) was changed to “to his tents” (‎לְאֹהָלָיו), in order to avoid reading aloud a call to apostasy. McCarthy: unauthentic emendation
  7. 1 Kings 12:16—”to your gods” (‎לֵאלֹהֵיךָ) was changed to “to your tents” (‎לְאֹהָלֶיךָ), in order to avoid reading aloud a call to apostasy. McCarthy: unauthentic emendation
  8. Jeremiah 2:11—”My glory” (‎כְּבוֹדִי) was changed to “their glory” (‎כְּבֹדוֹ), so as to soften the force of an expression of disrespect toward God. McCarthy: unauthentic emendation
  9. Ezekiel 8:17—”My nose” (‎אַפִּי) was changed to “their nose” (‎אַפָּם), to avoid expressing the blasphemous idea of putting a branch to Yahweh’s nose. McCarthy: unauthentic emendation
  10. Hosea 4:7—”My glory” (‎כְּבוֹדִי) was changed to “their glory” (‎כְּבוֹדָם), so as to soften the force of an expression of disrespect toward God. McCarthy: unauthentic emendation
  11. Habakkuk 1:12—”You will not die” (‎לֹא תָּמוּת) was changed to “we will not die” (‎לֹא נָמוּת), to avoid the unseemly concept of God’s death. McCarthy: unauthentic emendation
  12. Zechariah 2:12 (2:8 Eng.)—”My eye” (‎עֵינִי) was changed to “His eye” (‎עֵינוֹ), so as to refer to the divine eye euphemistically (in the third person). McCarthy: authentic emendation
  13. Malachi 1:13—”you have snuffed at Me” (‎וְהִפַּחְתֶּם אוֹתִי) was changed to “you have snuffed at it” (‎וְהִפַּחְתֶּם אוֹתוֹ), in order to avoid an expression of offense toward Yahweh. Some lists include Malachi 1:12 instead of or in addition to Malachi 1:13, claiming that “you profane Me” (‎וְאַתֶּם מְחַלְּלִים אוֹתִי) was changed to “you profane it” (‎וְאַתֶּם מְחַלְּלִים אוֹתוֹ). McCarthy: unauthentic emendation
  14. Psalm 106:20—”My glory” (‎כְּבוֹדִי) was changed to “their glory” (‎כְּבוֹדָם), so as to soften the force of an expression of disrespect toward God. McCarthy: unauthentic emendation
  15. Job 7:20—”I am a burden to You” (‎וָאֶהְיֶה עָלֶיךָ לְמַשָּׂא) was changed to “I am a burden to myself” (‎וָאֶהְיֶה עָלַי לְמַשָּׂא), because of the unseemliness of speaking of becoming a burden to God. McCarthy: authentic emendation
  16. Job 32:3—”yet they had condemned God” (וַיַּרְשִׁיעוּ אֶת־אֱלֹהִים or ‎וַיַּרְשִׁיעוּ אֶת־יהוה) was changed to “yet they had condemned Job” (וַיַּרְשִׁיעוּ אֶת־אִיּוֹב), in order to avoid reading an expression of blasphemy. McCarthy: unauthentic emendation
  17. Lamentations 3:20—”Your soul is bent down within You” (וְתָשִׁיחַ עָלֶיךָ נַפְשֶׁךָ with some variations in the tradition) was changed to “my soul is bent down within me” (וְתָשִׁיחַ עָלַי נַפְשִׁי), in order to avoid a strong anthropopathism. McCarthy: unauthentic emendation
  18. 2 Chronicles 10:16—”to your gods” (‎לֵאלֹהֵיךָ) was changed to “to your tents” (‎לְאֹהָלֶיךָ), in order to avoid reading aloud a call to apostasy. McCarthy: unauthentic emendation

McCarthy’s thorough evaluation of the tiqqunê sopherim shows that they were mostly traditions which developed from midrashic exegesis; he finds only three of the eighteen in the main list to be genuine scribal emendations.

There are a number of other places in the OT, outside of this list, in which it is suggested (either by ancient rabbinic sources or by modern scholars) that words were substituted for theological reasons. However, in many cases it is debated whether the substitutions are true tiqqunê sopherim (i.e., emendations by copyists), or whether they were a euphemism supplied by the original writers. Some of these include the following, with McCarthy’s evaluation:

  1. The substitution of “bless” for “curse” in 1 Kings 21:10, 13; Job 1:5, 11; 2:5, 9. McCarthy: original euphemism
  2. The substitution of “these men” for “our” in Numbers 16:14 and 1 Samuel 29:4. McCarthy: original euphemism (or not a substitution at all)
  3. Insertion of “the enemies of” before a name in 1 Samuel 20:16; 25:22; 2 Samuel 12:14. McCarthy: emendation
  4. Changing “Yahweh” to “the word of Yahweh” in 2 Samuel 12:9. McCarthy: emendation
  5. Addition of “the men” in 1 Samuel 2:17. McCarthy: probable emendation
  6. Names in which “Bosheth” (shame) or the name of the true God is substituted for “Baal” or the name of a false god: Jerubbaal/Jerubbesheth, Ishbaal/Eshbaal/Ishbosheth, Mephibaal/Mephibosheth, Eliada/Beeliada/Baaliada, Joram/Hadoram. These substitutions are complex to judge; in each case, there are three possibilities: (a) Some individuals were known by two or more names. (b) The original writers of Scripture altered these names for theological reasons. (c) A scribe or copyist emended these names. McCarthy’s evaluation is different in the case of different names and verses.
  7. The substitution of “Manasseh” for “Moses” in Judges 18:30. McCarthy: emendation
  8. Changing “who hate David’s soul” to “who are hated by David’s soul” in 2 Samuel 5:8. McCarthy: emendation
  9. Changing “your wives” to “your men” in 1 Kings 10:8 and 2 Chronicles 9:7. McCarthy: 1 Kgs 10:8 is an emendation; 2 Chr 9:7 is an original euphemism. (Note: McCarthy’s split evaluation is based on liberal theological presuppositions.)
  10. Changing “he was afraid” to “he saw” in 1 Kings 19:3. McCarthy: emendation (Note: This is not a true emendation, since it is only a difference in vocalization.)
  11. Changing “he prospered” or “he was victorious” (יוֹשִׁיעַ) to “he acted wickedly” or “he put them to the worse” (יַרְשִׁיעַ) in 1 Samuel 14:47. McCarthy: emendation
  12. Changing “this house will become lofty” (עֶלְיוֹן) to “this house will become a ruin” (לְעִיִּין) in 1 Kings 9:8 and 2 Chr 7:21. McCarthy: 1 Kgs 9:8 is an emendation; 2 Chr 7:21 is an original euphemism. (Note: McCarthy’s split evaluation is based on liberal theological presuppositions.)
  13. Changing “The City of the Sun” (עִיר הַחֶרֶס) to “the City of Destruction” (עִיר הַהֶרֶס) in Isaiah 19:18. McCarthy: emendation

It is noteworthy that in every instance in the above two lists where, in McCarthy’s judgment, an emendation was made, there is textual evidence for the original reading. In other words, we do not need to speculate about places where the Hebrew text might have been emended, because some manuscripts or ancient versions always preserve the original reading.

There was a time when many OT scholars assumed that the traditional list of eighteen tiqqunê sopherim was merely a representative sample out of a huge number of theological emendations that Jewish scribes systematically conducted throughout the OT. More recently, scholars such as McCarthy, Ellis Brotzman, and Emanuel Tov have called into question this assumption. In fact, most of the traditions about the tiqqunê sopherim were developed after the text form had already been fixed by means of strict copying practices which forbade any alteration of the sacred consonantal text. The tradition about emendations is mainly a record of midrashic interpretation, rather than text criticism. Tov writes the following in Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (2nd ed.; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), p. 66:

Another common characteristic of the corrections of the scribes is that most of them correct merely one or two letters, principally the pronomial suffix. If the corrections had represented changes in the text, it is hard to believe that the correctors would have limited themselves to such small details. Moreover, for some corrections it is improbable that the original text would indeed have read as the Masorah claims.

This agrees with McCarthy’s conclusion (The Tiqqune Sopherim, p. 250):

The actual extent of emendatory initiative undertaken by the ‘scribes’ was considerably restrained, and one must continually marvel at the overall fidelity and care taken by those to whom we are indebted for the transmission of the biblical text.

The reality is that the MT is an extremely conservative text. It is in the LXX (and, to a much lesser extent, the SamP) where we see evidence of frequent and large-scale emendations for theological reasons. Further, many of these emendations are directly concerned with systematic theology, rather than merely the formal expression of reverence. An example in the SamP is changing “Mount Ebal” to “Mount Gerizim” in Deuteronomy 27:4. Examples in the LXX include: (a) Changing “a little lower than God” to “a little lower than the angels” in Psalm 8:5. (b) Changing “seventh” to “sixth” in Genesis 2:2a. (c) Changing “pillars” to “stones” in Exodus 24:4. (d) Moving the oracles against the nations from Jeremiah 46–51 to Jeremiah 25 in order to match the statement about “this book” in Jeremiah 25:13. (e) Editing the prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27 in order to change the referents of the prophecy to events in the time of Antiochus IV and the Maccabees.

To summarize, the following principles should be applied to an analysis of the tiqqunê sopherim when doing textual criticism:

  1. It is very likely that some of the tiqqunê sopherim are genuine scribal emendations, but not all are. It should not be assumed that every such tradition represents a place where the text was emended.
  2. Some, probably most, of the tiqqunê sopherim are false traditions developed by midrashic exegesis.
  3. Tiqqunê sopherim that are not supported by manuscript evidence or readings of the ancient versions are far less likely to represent authentic emendations.
  4. The rabbinic tradition about tiqqunê sopherim is simply another witness to the text that should be considered alongside other textual witnesses; it is not authoritative.
  5. There are a few unrecorded places where the Proto-Masoretic Text was altered for theological reasons, but not many. Widespread emendatory activity should not be postulated.
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