Rahlfs 803 (4QLXXNum) – A Case in Point

Felix Albrecht
August 1, 2022

Manuscript Rahlfs 803 (4QLXXNum), dated to around the turn of the era, is, so to speak, an example of what is disputed: if Patrick Skehan, John William Wevers, Udo Quast and Nicholas Petersen are correct in their characterisation, it is an example of a textual witness to an early text recensionally reworked on the basis of the Hebrew.[i] Eugene Ulrich, on the other hand, sees Ra 803 as a witness to the Old Greek, which he characterises as follows:[ii] “There are seventeen variants in 4QLXXNum, thirteen of which are unique, only four finding support in other Greek manuscripts.”[iii] This remarkable evidence notwithstanding, Ulrich argues that in Num 3:40 Ra 803 witnesses to the Old Greek and in his opinion the two editors of the Book of Numbers in the Göttingen Septuagint, Wevers and Quast, wrongly chose a recensional reading (although uniformly attested) as original.[iv] But the main criterion for Wevers and Quast to have rejected the reading of Ra 803 to Num 3:40 is that they gave preference to the translator's normal way of rendering the Hebrew. Emanuel Tov has put his finger on the problem here and stated that the tradition has become standardised over time, thus the less uniform readings and deviations from the MT tradition tend to be more original. At the same time, however, he emphasised that the abandonment of this editorial principle and the preference for individual readings based on fragmented papyri would have led to “an almost chaotic situation in the reconstruction procedure”.[v] In this respect, in the case of Ra 803, the question of whether it is an early recensional text or not is perhaps not to be decided at the moment, but Wevers’ text-critical decision can be justified in any case.

What the readings show, in my opinion, is the diversity of transmission at an early stage of textual history. The early daughter versions paint the same picture: they show that in the early phase of the history of transmission, a pluriformity of textual forms prevailed, which only later became stratified. The statement that we are dealing with several strands, stages or layers of editing, that the text was subject to constant change in its transmission and development, is therefore certainly capable of consensus, but sometimes not sufficiently substantiated. This development took place in different directions: Copies of a biblical text could be revised in different places and at different times according to the same scheme. This explains, for instance, why there was not one καίγε-revision, but why we can observe different καίγε-revisions, not only of different biblical books, but also within one and the same book.

[i] Skehan, P.W.: 4QLXXNum. A Pre-Christian Reworking of the Septuagint, in: HThR 70 (1977), 39–50; Wevers, J.W.: An Early Revision of the Septuagint of Numbers, in: Levine, B.A. (ed.): Harry M. Orlinsky Volume (Eretz Israel 16), Jerusalem 1982, 235–39; Quast, U.: Der rezensionelle Charakter einiger Wortvarianten im Buche Numeri, in: Fraenkel, D. et al. (eds.): Studien zur Septuaginta – Robert Hanhart zu Ehren. Aus Anlaß seines 65. Geburtstages (MSU 20), Göttingen 1990, 230–52; Petersen, N.: An Analysis of Two Early LXX Manuscripts from Qumran. 4QLXXNum and 4QLXXLeva in the Light of Previous Studies, in: BBR 19 (2009), 481–510.

[ii] Ulrich, E.: The Scrolls from the Judean Desert and the Septuagint, in: Salvesen, A.G./Law, T.M. (eds.): The Oxford Handbook of the Septuagint, Oxford 2021, 435–48, here: 439–441; recently, Tov, E.: The Use of the Earliest Greek Scripture Fragments in Text Editions, in: Textus 29 (2020), 60–79, here: 73, judged on Ra 803: “the evidence in favour of the assumption that the scroll reflects the OG is stronger”; Tov, however, is cautious, speaking of “probably” and “possibly” (e.g., ibid. p. 74). In essence, E. Ulrich: Scrolls, repeats what he had already criticised Wevers for in 1992, cf. Ulrich, E.: The Septuagint Manuscripts from Qumran. A Reappraisal of Their Value, in: Brooke, G.J./Lindars, B. (eds.): Septuagint Scrolls and Cognate Writings. Papers Presented to the International Symposium on the Septuagint and Its Relations to the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Writings, Manchester 1990 (SCSt 33), Atlanta 1992, 49–80, here: 70–73. Here it is true that a false argument does not become more correct through constant repetition. Well-founded criticism of Ulrich has been made by N. Petersen: Analysis (see n. i), which Ulrich studiously omits from his article for the Oxford Handbook. Is this good scientific practice to omit critical voices? Even Quast's detailed contribution to Num 3:40 remains unmentioned by Ulrich; cf. U. Quast: Charakter (see n. i).

[iii] E. Ulrich: Scrolls, 439 (see n. ii).

[iv] In my opinion, Wevers and Quast have given sufficient reasons for their text-critical decisions; cf. J.W. Wevers: Revision (see n. i). U. Quast: Charakter (see n. i), has commented on this in great detail. Ulrich’s arguments have also been criticised by N. Petersen: Analysis (see n. i), 485–488.

[v] E. Tov: Use (see n. ii), 75.