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Review of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: Liber Psalmorum

Bardtke, ed. Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: Liber Psalmorum. 5th ed. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Peabody: Hendrickson, and Edinburgh: Alban. Pb. xviii + 138 pp (= pp. 1087–1226 in BHS). $34.95 (£23.99)



In August 2017, the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft began reprinting the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia in fascicle form. These initial contributions, which ultimately comprised the completed BHS in 1977 were a breakthrough in textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible. The completed BHS, a replacement for the BHK, (3d. ed., 1921) has been the standard critical text of the Hebrew Bible ever since.


But scholarship moves on, and at present there are three major projects underway around the globe to establish new critical texts of the Hebrew Bible for scholars. The Hebrew University Bible Project is distinguishing itself by its decision to establish a diplomatic critical text based on the Aleppo Codex instead of the Leningrad Codex. Under the editorial supervision of Ronald Hendel (UC Berkley), the editors of the Hebrew Bible, Critical Edition (published by the Society of Biblical Literature) is attempting to create an eclectic text of the Hebrew Bible. And thirdly, the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft is working to replace its own BHS with the Biblia Hebraica Quinta, a vastly superior diplomatic text based on the Leningrad Codex; the first fascicle in this series initially appeared in 2004.


One would not be criticized, therefore, for wondering why these soon-to-be obsolete volumes are making an appearance once again. Indeed, I have wondered this myself. Is it only a publisher’s attempt to make money, or is there something more involved? More pressing an issue than the motive for publication is the issue of academic value, for a brief glance at the original reviews of the BHS project will show that even from its inception the BHS was viewed widely as insufficient from the word “go.” Mitchel Dahood’s review in CBQ 32/2, for example, is replete with examples illustrating the failure of Bardtke to utilize the latest philological advances or even the latest textual witnesses. One can, for example, immediately see the trouble with reprinting a critical Hebrew text of Psalms that doesn’t utilize the Psalm Scroll (11 QPsa ) that was published back in 1965.


Other problems with this volume are representative of the many and various issues with the approach adopted for the BHS generally. James Barr, in his highly entertaining—at times even humorous—review of the completed BHS (JTS 30/1) has catalogued many of these issues that remain frustrations for scholars today. These include a lack of consistency regarding methodology among the various editors, the stubborn use of Latin in the apparatus long after Latin had ceased to be the lingua franca of the academy, and a near-obsession with suggesting emendations to the text despite the lack of supporting evidence.


These complaints over style and content have, over the years, been vindicated. Again and again they have been shown to be more than the initial frustrations from senior scholars complaining of change and nostalgically longing for their BHKs. The BHS is less than adequate, and the concurrence of three major text critical projects on the Hebrew Bible testifies to this inadequacy.


The BHQ is the decades-long project aiming to resolve these shortcomings, and it has generally been received with great acclaim. But in the meantime, the question remains, why would the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft republish volumes that were less than fully satisfactory when they first appeared 50 years ago and will be obsolete in the not-so-distant future. In my own experience “convenience” is the appropriate word. To begin, the BHS (at 1574 pages) is a rather large volume, and the problem only increases when one uses an edition with any real margins for personal notations. To be quite honest, I am often reaching for my BHQ fascicles rather than my complete Hebrew Bible. But the BHQ fascicles are also quite large (I have doubts that the completed BHQ will ever fit into a single volume even without the Notes on the Masorah Parva or the Commentary on the Critical Apparatus provided by the editors in the back of each volume). Let’s consider the book of Genesis. In the BHS it comprises a slim 85 pages. In the BHQ it is 141 pages long, which represents an increase of nearly 66% before even considering the 226 pages of notes and bibliography. If the formatting stays the same, a completed BHQ could extend beyond 2,500 pages on account of the more extensive apparatus alone. Perhaps a three-volume solution—Law, Prophets, and Writings—will be adopted.


With these figures firmly in mind, there is something appealing about a Hebrew psalter that is smaller than the average academic journal. There is no telling how long Gerard J. Norton’s BHQ: Psalms will be, but at a mere 138 pages, the BHS edition is slim enough to fit onto any bookshelf. But most conveniently, the fascicle provides generous 2 inch (5 cm) outside and lower margins. This gives ample room for note-taking at church Bible studies, research seminars, or in personal study. An additional benefit is that anyone teaching a Hebrew Exegesis class on the book of Psalms will have the same apparatus as his/her students, who will likely be using the BHS. This means that Liber Psalmorum will continue to be useful for some years.


By way of a final assessment, I am not convinced that “making a profit” wasn’t the greatest contributing factor to republishing these volumes, but I don’t care. I like them, and I will probably collect all of these fascicles as well as those for BHQ. They are slim, they offer more than enough room for my personal notations, and the apparatus is familiar despite its recognized deficiencies.


– Stephen D. Campbell, Durham University

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