Discrepancies in manuscripts show how Old Testament scribes edited the Book of Joshua

31.1.2018
New research in Old Testament studies proves that the Book of Joshua in the Hebrew Bible was edited at several points. Rewritten and removed sections continue to influence the Bibles in use today.

In his doctoral dissertation, Ville Mäkipelto examines the editing history of the Book of Joshua based on the earliest existing manuscripts. The research focuses on the end of the Book of Joshua, which features major discrepancies between early manuscripts.

The doctoral candidate establishes that several different versions of the Book of Joshua existed in the time of the Second Temple (200 BCE–70 CE). One of them, the Masoretic Text (a manuscript of the Hebrew Bible, or Tanakh) later became the mainstream version.

Current Bible translated from later texts

According to the dissertation, the texts were sometimes radically edited, and the scribes would rewrite or remove sections that they found ideologically disturbing.

“Several mentions of Moses were added to the Book of Joshua to increase the authority of the texts, while a section discussing uncircumcised Israelites being among those who fled Egypt was removed,” says Mäkipelto.

The research analysis indicates that the Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible drafted in Egypt) primarily represents an earlier version of the Book of Joshua.

“I’m critical of the stance that the discrepancies in the Septuagint were created in the translation process. My research shows that the Septuagint was translated from an earlier Hebrew source,” states Mäkipelto.

According to the doctoral candidate, the final chapter of the Book of Joshua in the Septuagint features sentences and verses that are not present in the other manuscripts.

“For example, they recount the legend according to which Joshua was buried with the flintstones used to circumcise the Israelites and describe events after Joshua’s death.”

The research is significant, as the Septuagint has not been considered in the translations of the contemporary Bible in terms of the Book of Joshua. Consequently, there are entire verses that are not present in the Finnish Bible, for example.

Results challenge research into editing history

Mäkipelto believes the diversity of the text versions has not been sufficiently taken into account, particularly in the study of the edits of the Book of Joshua.

“Many studies have overlooked the Septuagint, which has led to inaccuracies in the results. For example, some researchers assume that the texts are written by a single scribe, when a comparison with the Septuagint would prove they were produced by more than one person.”

Mäkipelto believes that in the future, researchers will have to pay more attention to conflicting manuscripts as well as the texts that were left out of the Bible.

“For the Book of Joshua, we will have to consider the edited Book of Joshua found in Qumran as well as the Samaritan sources.”

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Master of Theology Ville Mäkipelto will defend his doctoral dissertation on 7 February 2018 at 12.15 at the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Theology on the topic Uncovering Ancient Editing – Documented Evidence of Changes in Joshua 24 and related texts. The public defence will be held in PIII, Porthania, Yliopistonkatu 3.

The opponent will be Professor Kristin De Troyer, University of Salzburg, and the custos will be Professor Martti Nissinen from the University of Helsinki’s Faculty of Theology.

The dissertation is also available in electronic form through the E-thesis service.

VÄITTELEN TOHTORIKSI RAAMATUN MUUTOSHISTORIASTA

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