FRAL - Programme franco-allemand en Sciences humaines et sociales

Thinking from the Margins: Textual Plurality Outside the Masoretic Tradition – PLURITEXT


Thinking from the Margins: Textual Plurality Outside the Masoretic Tradition

Project objectives

The PLURITEXT project aims to bring together the research carried out by French and German teams with the aim of building a theoretical and pragmatic reflection on the question of the irreducible plurality of textual witnesses to the Hebrew Bible on the basis of various non-Masoretic traditions: Ben Sira, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Seventy. It is fundamentally a question of rethinking the methods of critical editing of the Hebrew Bible texts.

The project is divided into three tasks carried out by the different teams:
Task 1 (Critical Edition of Ben Sira's Hebrew Manuscripts) aims to work on the issue of textual plurality in the different versions of Ben Sira's Hebrew text, as well as in the non-Biblical texts found at Qumran.
Task 2 (The Textual Variants Between the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Masoretic Text: Comparative and Contextual Analysis) aims to catalogue and evaluate the variants between the Masoretic text and the Samaritan Pentateuch.
Finally, based on the observation that the Greek translation of the Bible reflects a semantic, cultural and meaningful adaptation of the source text to the target language, Task 3 (Textual Plurality and Semantic Transformation from Hebrew to Greek) seeks to fill gaps in vocabulary and to study the Greek words whose meaning differs considerably from their Hebrew equivalents, as well as the impact of the language of the LXX on more recent texts of Jewish and Christian origin.
The fundamental challenge of the project is to amalgamate the actions carried out within the different teams in order to produce a coherent synthesis of the results. This is how it is envisaged:
- We will carry out recurrent joint research actions, exchanging the results of such research in collaborative working sessions, workshops, international symposia and by publishing the results.
- We will produce a collaborative work that integrates the data from the various teams: «Beyond the Urtext: Paradigms for Textual Plurality in the Textual Transmission of the Hebrew Bible«.

Theoretical research axes:
- Define new scientific paradigms in the field of textual criticism of the biblical text.
- Consider translation as an alternative text.
- Consider divergent textual traditions from a hermeneutical perspective.
- Articulate the reality of divergent textual traditions with the analysis of scribal practices in antiquity.

Collaborative achievements (in February 2019):

A. Symposium: Textual Plurality Beyond the Biblical Texts (17-19 October 2017, Metz).
- Publication of the Proceedings: Jean-Sébastien Rey, Marieke Dhont and Corrado Martone, eds., “Textual Plurality Beyond the Biblical Texts,” Qumran Review 30 (2018).

B. Colloquium: Scribal Activity and Textual Plurality (5-7 November 2018, Paris).
- Publication of the Proceedings to be published in the Henoch Review (June 2020)

C. Colloquium: Papyri, Septuagint, Biblical Greek (29-30 Sept. 2017)
- Publication of the proceedings to be published by Mohr Siebeck.

D. Workshop: Exodus - An Investigation of Vocabulary and Concepts from Ancient Greek Literature to Early Christian Writings (Bologna, European Academy of Religion, 4-6 March 2018)
- Publication of the proceedings to be published by Editions Il Mulino, Bologna.

E. Creation of the website (see

F. Production of a video presentation of the project:

Each team envisages working on the following issues within their specific corpus:
- Define new scientific paradigms in the field of textual criticism of the biblical text.
- Consider translation as another, but not less important, text.
- Consider divergent textual traditions from a hermeneutical, and not only a reconstructionist, perspective.
- Articulate the reality of divergent textual traditions with the analysis of scribal practices in antiquity.

Major publications :
- Jean-Sébastien Rey, Corrado Martone and Marieke Dhont, “Textual Plurality Beyond Biblical Texts,” Thematic issue of the Qumran Review, Peeters, 2019.
- J. Joosten, D. Machiela and J.S. Rey, The Reconfiguration of Hebrew in the Hellenistic Period: Proceedings of the Seventh International Symposium on the Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Ben Sira at Strasbourg University, June 2014, STDJ 124 (Leiden: Brill, 2018).
- Eberhard Bons, Emanuela Prinzivalli and Françoise Vinel, eds., La pluralité des sens de la Bible. Reading Scripture in the Age of Fundamentalism (Strasbourg: Presses Universitaires de Strasbourg, 2017).

Creation of a collection on the Septuagint: «The Septuagint in its Ancient Context« (Brepols, Turnhout, Belgium).

The project PLURITEXT intends to devote an in-depth methodological and hermeneutical reflection on the question of the textual plurality in ancient Jewish ans Samaritan Literature in Hebrew, Greek and Samaritan.
The discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls, in the middle of the 20th century, and of the Cairo Genizah, at the end of the 19th century, have shed new light on the question of divergent textual forms, not only for the texts that constitute the Hebrew Bible, but also for cognate ancient Jewish literature. They have proved that crucial divergences exist between the textual witnesses of the Hebrew Bible. While 19th century scholars addressed this problem through the concept of an alleged Urtext, this response is no longer satisfactory, and the question “What is the Bible?” needs to be raised anew, in light of the new evidence. New paradigms are needed to accommodate textual plurality. Against the background of this research-desideratum, the present project aims at the creation and testing of new scientific paradigms, which encompass and conceptualize the phenomenon of an irreducible textual plurality.
The concept of textual plurality must be understood broadly. The recognition of divergent textual traditions generates numerous theological, legal, political, social and cultural implications. The analysis would include: (1) divergent textual witnesses from the same linguistic tradition; (2) the phenomenon of translation and cultural transfers it entails; (3) semantic and conceptual transformation through transition from one language to another, from one socio-cultural identity to another; (4) examination of textual variants between the different witnesses, but also with comparison to rabbinical and patristic traditions; (5) in-depth study of scribal practices, at codicological level: paratextual elements, corrections, marginal notes as witnesses of a hermeneutical process through text transmission. Obviously, the transmission of the text is intertwined with its transformation, under the impact of scribes, translators, and commentators.
In addition to its clear scientifically-oriented goal, this project aims to have important socio-cultural impact: (1) it shows that the founding text of Judaism and Christianity was polymorph from its origin, which raises the question of its edition; (2) the diagnosis of textual plurality as an essential concept sheds new light at claims of religious communities, that these texts are normative in terms of legislative and cultural concepts, worship and identity; (3) and it therefore deprives religious fundamentalism of its basis, which is based on the concept of a monolithique text.

Project coordination

Jean-Sébastien Rey (MSH Lorraine)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg
USR3261 MSH Lorraine
EA4377 - Unistra EA de Theologie Catholique et de Sciences Religieuses - Université de Strasbourg

Help of the ANR 285,399 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: August 2017 - 36 Months

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