Jean-Dominique Barthélemy


"Scholars will always associate the name of R.-P. Dominique Barthélemy, OP, of Fribourg with the Minor Prophets scroll because of his masterly treatment of its contents in Devanciers, a book which in many ways has revolutionized scholarship." So wrote Emanuel Tov of Hebrew University in Discoveries in the Judaean Desert (DJD, vol. 8 [Oxford: Clarendon, 1990]). Barthélemy's work has indeed revolutionized scholarship, especially textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible and of its earliest Greek translations, the so-called Septuagint. It was a master stroke on Eugene Nida's part to invite Barthélemy to join a group of six First Testament scholars to work on the really difficult text critical problems for which UBS translation committees around the world most often turned to modern versions for solutions (just as ancient translators often turned to the Septuagint). It became clear to the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project (HOTTP) at its very first meeting in Arnoldshain in West Germany in 1969 that Barthélemy would set the tone and the pace of its work. (The other members were Hans Peter Rüger of Tübingen, Norbert Lohfink of Frankfurt, W. D. McHardy of Oxford, A. R. Hulst of Utrecht, and myself.)

Barthélemy had co-edited, with J. T. Milik, the first volume of DJD (1955), the fragments from Cave 1 other than the seven full scrolls published in America and Israel, and then was assigned the Dodecapropheton, or Greek Minor Prophets scroll, from Nahal Hever. It was Barthélemy's work on the Hever manuscript to which Tov referred, and it did indeed revolutionize textual criticism. Les devanciers d'Aquila: première publication intégrale du texte des fragments du Dodécaprophéton (Leiden: Brill, 1963) demonstrated Barthélemy's grasp of the field and turned it on its head. His work on that document brought unprecedented clarity to the early history of the transmission of the text of the Hebrew Bible and of its early Greek translations. The field had thought in largely theoretical and uncertain terms about the early transmission history of the text, but now it had through his work what he called "a missing link" between the early rather fluid Greek translations and the more formal, even rigid Greek translations of the second century of the common era. This matched the same observation the newly recovered biblical scrolls had brought to light, that of a move from the early, relatively fluid Hebrew texts of the Bible at Qumran to the more "stable" biblical texts from Murabba'at, Masada, and elsewhere--or from the second-century BCE 1QIsaa to the first century CE 1QIsab. The history of transmission of the text could now be stated in clear terms: the pre-Masoretic, the proto-Masoretic, and the Masoretic periods. Barthélemy stated the case not only in Devanciers, and elsewhere in French, but also in English in the supplementary volume to The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 1976). But the influence of his thesis had already been reflected in major critical works in the field in the late '60s, particularly those of the Hebrew University Bible Project (HUBP). It was indeed the basis of the thesis I then advanced that the concept of authority of the text changed from a vaguely shamanistic or dynamic understanding of inspiration to that of "verbal inspiration," by which the focus shifted from making the message of the text understandable for ever-changing believing communities to focus on accurate verbal transmission of the text ("Text and Canon: Concepts and Method," Journal of Biblical Literature 98 [1979]: 5-29). Devanciers showed that the movement was from relative textual fluidity to accuracy of transmission of a particular text type, which would become the MT. The focus shifted from the community to the text.

When the work of the HOTTP got underway it too was based on the new understanding. We made it clear to Nida that we were committed to the needs of the Translations Department of the UBS but that we also wanted to work out and elaborate the new understanding of text criticism. Beginning in 1970 the work of the committee took on a sense of excitement in seeing how the new understanding of textual criticism applied to the problems we were given to work on, which amounted finally to nearly 6000 textual cases throughout the Hebrew Bible. The work continued annually, meeting for a month each year, usually in August, in Freudenstadt at the Erholungsheim of the Württembergische Evangelische Kirche. Rüger annually worked up sheets of ancient variants for each problem, Lohfink provided recent critical scholarship on each problem, and I provided extant readings from those Dead Sea Scrolls that had not yet been published, while Barthélemy probed and analyzed all the pertinent ancient, medieval, and early critical treatments of each problem. It was clear from the beginning of our work that Barthélemy was a rare master of the medieval Judeo-Arabic (Qaraite or rabbinate) commentaries, many of which had not been published. Barthélemy had accumulated scores of microfilms of extant manuscripts of ancient, medieval, and early critical works on the Hebrew Bible, which he also used to check against those that had been published.

I shall never forget my first visits to his study in Fribourg. It was in those visits and out of my admiration for his quest for accuracy in textual work that I conceived of the idea of making such films available to scholarship generally. We often found in our work on the HOTTP a perpetuation of errors copied from one apparatus to another in even the finest of scholarship, simply because there was lack of access to images of many manuscripts to check against. Dominique's collection, while admirable in its extent and depth, was for his personal and professional use in Fribourg. I grew increasingly convinced that all scholars had to have access to such images for the sake of the field and for the sake of the churches and synagogues, which benefit from the work of textual scholarship. This was the motivation behind my accepting Elizabeth Hay Bechtel's invitation to join her in 1977 to establish the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center in Claremont, where we have accumulated photographic images of the most important manuscripts of the Bible, both testaments, including all the Dead Sea Scrolls, for distribution to scholars who request copies of them. Now, of course, we are moving to digitize all we have accumulated, and more as they become available, for distribution on the web and by compact disk. The mission of the Center is "to acquire, preserve and distribute images of biblical and related manuscripts," and the inspiration for it came from Dominique Barthélemy's passion for accuracy.

Participation in the work of the HOTTP was sheer joy. Besides the six on the committee the team included John A. Thompson of the Bible Societies, who located the textual problems we were to work on out of his experience with translation committees supported by the Society; Adrian Schenker, Barthélemy's student at Fribourg and later his successor there; plus student assistants. Nida often expressed pleasure at how well we worked together and enjoyed each other's company. We soon established a daily routine that sustained us the eleven years we met. We ate together, prayed together, and played together. Each day started with Scripture readings and prayer at the big table in the Arbeitszimmer. We took all our meals together after saying grace; we played "les boules" together on the lawn of the Erholungsheim; we took walks together in the Black Forest each evening, and upon our return would play "international scrabble" or "Fang den Hut" after a beer at 9pm (never before!). French was the primary language in the workroom, with some English and German, but each played scrabble in his mother tongue, which made for some hilarious evenings. We did everything together except on weekends, when some would take excursions hiking in the forest or going into Stuttgart, except Dominique, who we knew would be hard at work reviewing his preparation for the next week's problems. He was the accepted leader of the team. There was plenty of debate and critique on each problem in order to make sure every angle of each problem was probed, but Barthélemy essentially set up the terms of the discussion.

Out of that work have come nine volumes of reports. First there were the five volumes of the Preliminary and Interim Report (in English and French) of the HOTTP published by the United Bible Societies (London and New York 1974-80), which were intended for the use of the UBS translation committees working around the globe, but have been used by scholars also. Then came Critique textuelle de l'Ancien Testament (CTAT), published by Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht in Göttingen, vols. 1-3 (1982-1992), which has been entirely written by Barthélemy out of our work. Rüger, Lohfink, and I have served as co-éditeurs, but Barthélemy was the author. Those volumes covered the committee's work on the historical books, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and the Minor Prophets, but it is all essentially the work of Barthélemy himself. A fourth volume, on the Psalter, which will hopefully be published next year, unfortunately will not have a full introduction. There is no volume on the Pentateuch or the rest of the books of Poetry, nor will there be a sixth volume Barthélemy wanted to write to fulfill our desire to work out fully the new understanding of textual criticism.

But we do have the introductions to the first three volumes of CTAT in which much of what needs to be said about the new understanding of textual criticism is laid forth, and they are all finally the work of Dominique Barthélemy. They constitute 437 pages of tightly reasoned and argued review of the whole field of textual criticism, how it arose, what it entails, how it developed, how all the elements historically related to each other, and how the field must change in the light of the new situation. It is in effect a magnum opus in succinct compass, packed with incisive observations on every aspect of the field. One is, however, shocked at how few scholars have taken advantage of its finds or wrestled with its proposals (see my remarks in "Hermeneutics of Text Criticism," Textus 18 [1995]: 1-26). An English translation is underway and should be available about a year after Barthélemy's death. It will provide the essential complement forty years later to Devanciers, but in the lingua franca of today. With CTAT it will be a lasting monument to one of the giants of the modern era.

James A. Sanders
President, Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center