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Review of The Samaritan Pentateuch: A Critical Editio Maior

Updated: Sep 25, 2019

Stefan Schorch. The Samaritan Pentateuch: A Critical Editio Maior. Volume 3: Leviticus. Berlin: Walter De Gruyter, 2018. xlvii + טז + 250 pp., € 99.95, hardcover.



After years of anticipation, the first volume of the major critical edition of the Samaritan Pentateuch (SP) has finally been published. Visitors to CRBMI may remember a previous review of Benyamim Tsedaka and Sharon Sullivan, eds., The Israelite Samaritan Version of the Torah: First English Translation Compared with the Masoretic Version (here). That review was published back on December 29, 2016 in anticipation of this present volume. Thus the time has finally arrived for the reader to be introduced to this long-awaited and highly significant volume. The present review will attempt to offer the reader an introduction to the project as a whole. This will include some issues of methodology as well as matters of how to use the volume’s five apparatuses. Additionally, because of Stefan Schorch’s generosity I will be able to provide the reader some information along the way regarding the five forthcoming volumes in the series. But first, allow me to set the scene.


Within the field of Hebrew Bible / Old Testament studies, there is a growing awareness of the importance of the Samaritan people and their text known to us as the Samaritan Pentateuch. On the one hand, this importance is due to what it tells us about the Samaritan people. On the other hand, the SP has roots in the textual traditions of the Pentateuch common to the Jewish-Israelite people of the Second Temple period. In the words of Schorch (“A Critical editio maior of the Samaritan Pentateuch: State of Research, Principles, and Problems” HeBAI 2 (2013): 1–21 [quote from p. 1]), “the SP is not only foremost among all Samaritan literary texts, but it is also the most significant Hebrew witness to the textual history of the Pentateuch, aside from the MT.” As such, the release of this publication coincides with a general growth in scholarly publications on the subject of Samaritan history, culture, archaeology, religion, and texts. All of this growing knowledge has proven invaluable to biblical interpretation; anyone seeking proof of this need look no further than the special issue (volume 6 [2017] / issue 2) of the journal Hebrew Bible and Ancient Israel dedicated entirely to essays on Joshua 24.


It is difficult to imagine, therefore, a more appropriate time for a major critical edition of the SP to emerge. The project will consist of six volumes, all under the careful editorial supervision of Stefan Schorch (Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg). The volumes will be as follows:


  • Volume 1 (Genesis): completed in collaboration with Evelyn Burkhardt, Ulrike Hirschfelder, Irina Wandrey, and József Zsengellér (in proof-reading stage)

  • Volume 2 (Exodus): completed in collaboration with József Zsengellér, Evelyn Burkhardt, Ulrike Hirschfelder, and Irina Wandrey (in preparation)

  • Volume 3 (Leviticus): completed in collaboration with Evelyn Burkhardt and Ramona Fändrich (published 2018)

  • Volume 4 (Numbers): completed in collaboration with Evelyn Burkhardt and Ramona Fändrich (in preparation)

  • Volume 5 (Deuteronomy): completed in collaboration with Evelyn Burkhard and Martin Hagg (in preparation)

  • Volume 6 will provide a detailed description of the Samaritan Hebrew manuscripts used for the edition.


The present volume contains a helpful introduction to the project as a whole and discusses previous editions of the SP and outlines the standard matters found in a critical edition such as listing extant manuscripts, offering guidance on using the apparatuses, and listing symbols and abbreviations. Notably, the introduction is written in German, English, and Modern Hebrew, indicating both the global importance of this project and its expected influence.


After the relatively short introduction, the reader is immediately met with the text itself. It looks like this (pictured is p. 240 displaying Lev 26:42eβ–44b):



It is important to note that this is a diplomatic critical text, with the main text of the edition provided by the consonantal framework MS Dublin Chester Beatty Library 751 (copied in 1225). There are at least three reasons for selecting this manuscript as the base text. First, MS Dublin Chester Beatty Library 751 is the oldest manuscript of the SP preserved almost in its entirety. (In the final chapters of Deuteronomy, seven folios are missing, but have been supplemented by another old manuscript.) Of course, there are older witnesses to the SP, but they are much more fragmentary in nature. Secondly, MS Dublin Chester Beatty Library 751 is a very carefully written manuscript. Clearly its scribe Abi Barakata followed high scribal standards. According to Schorch, “The ruling of each of the pages is uniformly implemented and consistently adhered to by the writing, and the manuscript shows very few erasures and scribal corrections (which are quite common in many other Samaritan manuscripts)” (Schorch, “A Critical editio maior of the Samaritan Pentateuch,” 14). Finally, in nearly every respect MS Dublin Chester Beatty Library 751 is in an excellent state of preservation. None of the extant pages are damaged beyond the point of legibility. According to Schorch, this is true even of punctuation, vocalization, and text-critical signs. In sum, according to the present textual witnesses to the SP, there is no better candidate for producing a diplomatic critical text.


As the reader will no doubt recognize, the text of the SP is presented in square script Hebrew rather than Samaritan Hebrew. This is for the obvious practical reason that the former is more widely known. But with this decision made, Schorch and his team had to address the problematic fact that the Samaritan script contains signs (such as punctuation, vowels, and text-critical) that are not in the square script. To solve this problem, a new font was created by Israeli font designer Nadav Ezra. The font (called “FbFrankRuehlShomroni”), is comprised of the consonants in Hebrew square script and the additional signs of the Samaritan script in their original shape, slightly adapted graphically to fit the consonants of the square script.


A close-up of the text looks thus:


close up of Samaritan Pentateuch page

Apart from the diplomatic text in the upper outside corner of each page, there are several other useful tools (labeled a-c above) for the reader. Together, these elements in the top half of each page focus not on variants, but rather on cataloging which manuscripts witness to the presented reading. In the image above, “a” indicates a system of marginal notes that refer to the traditional vocalization, especially for words for which the vocalization is problematic. For example, at Lev 19:20, a marginal note indicates that את should be read as the preposition אֶת. Directly below the text are two very helpful tools (labelled “b” and “c”) that give information regarding the various manuscript witnesses to the base text. In the case of this example, “b” indicates that 23 of the 24 witnesses to SP Leviticus contain the verses here. In the case of Pi6, the superscripted asterisk indicates that that that particular manuscript (Ms Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, Sam. 1) is damaged to a point which makes the reading impossible to infer. This information gained from “b” then draws our attention to “c,” in which the reader can learn which portions of Pi6 are missing/damaged. This is only one example of the excellent work that Schorch and his team have done to depict in coded form the visual aspects of the extant witnesses to SP Leviticus. Once acquainted with this volume’s system, it becomes rather straightforward to determine which manuscripts are damaged (and where), which have scribal corrections, and even which have marginal notations.


Below this top portion of the text there are five apparatuses. Although these do not all appear on each page, they do on our exemplar below:



Once again, the image displayed is of p. 240 displaying Lev 26:42eβ–44b. The five apparatuses labelled do not all appear on every page, but typically take up at least the bottom 50% of each page. On page 240, the apparatuses take up closer to 65%. The apparatuses are as follows:


I: var.ms. — This apparatus records variant readings to the consonantal base text. This includes corrections (even by Abi Barakata, scribe of MS Dublin Chester Beatty Library 751), erasures, lacunae, additions (in-line and above/below the text), and marginal notations. In each case, the reader is informed, when possible, if these variant readings are provided by later hands.


II: var.int. — This apparatus lists the cases in which the Samaritan translations of the Pentateuch may go back to a Hebrew Vorlage different than the base text.


III: not.ad. —This non-comparative apparatus (called apparatus IV in the introduction although it always occurs above par.ex.) lists all cases in which a manuscript uses a sign added to the consonants of the text, either in order to indicate a certain vocalization, or to mark a contentious detail in the consonantal framework.


IV: par.ex. — This apparatus (called apparatus III in the introduction although it always occurs below not.ad.) lists textual parallels between the SP on the one hand and the Qumran scrolls, the LXX tradition, and the Peshitta on the other hand (esp. when these parallels may deviate from the MT).


V: punct. — This apparatus lists variant punctuation.


As the reader can hopefully understand, this major critical edition is a mammoth project with many important implications for biblical research. In essence, Stefan Schorch and his team are providing centuries of future scholars with a coded catalogue of all witness to the SP. I have no doubt that these volume will become the basis for many, many important studies to come. Fortunately, due to the relatively few number of witnesses to the SP and the somewhat large team of assistants that Schorch has assembled, the project is not likely to take an insufferable amount of time. In fact, Schorch has informed me that his team is currently working to complete proof-reading of the Genesis volume and hope to have it available by the end of this year. With all the interesting variants between Genesis of the SP, MT, and LXX, I can’t wait.


— Stephen Campbell, Durham University

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