Conference URTEX

Urtext, Archetype, Fluidity or Textual Convergence
The Quest for the Texts of the Hebrew Bible
International Conference, Metz, 5-7 November, Metz

Topic of the conference

The question “What is the text of the Hebrew Bible?” is one of the most complex but also fundamental epistemological issues faced by Hebrew philologists and Biblical theologians today. The Dead Sea discoveries, the resurfacing divergent textual forms in medieval manuscripts (e.g., in the Cairo Genizah), and the textual traditions preserved in ancient translations, like the Septuagint or the Samaritan Pentateuch, exhibit a textual plurality that challenges and often even seems to contradict the concept of a linear relation between the different textual witnesses. Moreover, new approaches, like the so-called “new philology,” raise new questions and challenges. A re-evaluation of the textual history of the Hebrew Bible is needed, as well as very basic concepts in textual criticism, like “original,” “Urtext,” “archetype,” “authorship,” “redaction,” or even “text.”

In textual criticism, generally the aim is “to produce a text as close as possible to the original” (Maas). However, traditional definitions of concepts like “original” and “Urtext,” which are applied as points of departure, are far from clear and often highly problematic. For Avalle, the concept of “original” is “one of the most elusive and ambiguous concepts in textual criticism.” Moreover, the observation that these concepts seem to have been shaped by 19th century romanticism, rather than by the textual evidence, raises many questions: Is the original “the text that goes back to the author” (Dain)? Is the original an autograph? Is the original an authentic text that represents the “will of the Author” (Avalle), or even the latter’s “inner speech” before he began to write (Froger)?

The answers to these questions are even more complex with respect to the literature of ancient Israel and ancient Judaism, especially in light of the observation that we cannot pinpoint a single author of any biblical book, and insofar as the texts are generally recognized to be the product of long and complex literary processes, interwoven with oral traditions, that spans several centuries.

The conference aims to engage with the various models explicitly suggested, which tacitly underlie the different reconstructions of the textual history of texts from the world of the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Judaism, both from a theoretical and methodological perspective, as well as in light of the evidence attested in textual witnesses.