Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 13 (2013) - Review

Ortega Monasterio, Mª Teresa, José Manuel Sánchez Caro, and Guadalupe Seijas de los Ríos, A través de los siglos: Historia del texto bíblico (Estella (Navarra): Editorial Verbo Divino, 2012). Pp. 94. Softcover. €15.00. ISBN 978-84-9945-308-8.

This brief volume is conceptually innovative: it turns what would have been an exhibit catalogue-leaflet into a book that addresses issues beyond the scope and possibilities of the exhibit itself. Two of the authors (Mª Teresa Ortega Monasterio and Guadalupe Seijas de los Ríos) were the curators of the exhibit “A través de los siglos: Historia del texto bíblico,” held in Seville in 2012 in tandem with the Third International Biblical Symposium of the Asociación Bíblica Española. From a collection of representative originals and facsimiles of biblical manuscripts and editions that illustrate the history of the biblical text, the authors have produced a brief but concentrated book of almost a hundred pages, whose aims are not just to provide descriptions for the materials shown in the exhibit, but also to provide the prospective visitor with a well-grounded history of the Bible in its widest sense. Therefore, the book surpasses its incidental value as catalogue-guidebook and becomes a valuable self-standing useful tool for readers interested in a variety of topics concerning the Bible. These topics are extensive, even if as necessary given the length of the volume,  this work provides only a brief introduction to them.  This volume may well offer one of the quickest surveys of Bible-related issues from a holistic perspective.

Remarkably, the book carefully combines two areas that are usually kept separate, the approach to the Bible as text and a vision of the Bible as artifact. This becomes evident through a quick glance at the table of contents: the chapters cover the following: (1) origins of the biblical text, both for the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament; (2) a history of the transmission of the Hebrew text in the Middle Ages; (3) the history of the Latin Bible; (4) Rabbinic and Polyglot Bibles; (5) Romance language translations since the Middle Ages; (6) illustrations of biblical manuscripts; (7) modern editions; and (8) modern translations.

Besides the clear material-plastic approach of chapter 6, other chapters (mainly 2 and 3) also include sizeable sections on considerations of the Bible as an object, explaining materials, scribal and book-making techniques, and providing illustrations. The book clearly benefits from the editors' expertise. Beyond their proficiency as well-rounded biblical scholars, Seijas' and Ortega's own areas of specialization are Masoretic studies and Medieval Hebrew codicology. This clearly shows in the volume, both in its accuracy and ability to present these important and easily-overlooked areas of biblical studies in a synthetic introductory language.

The same can be said of the other chapters, which constitute brief outlines of basics in biblical studies. In generally chronological order (from the formation of the canonical text down to the world of modern versions of the Bible), the reader is given access to a quick summary of the panorama of the Bible in antiquity, which covers both the Hebrew text (with special attention to the Dead Sea Scroll biblical texts) and the Septuagint, then the New Testament. The presentation is correct and accurate for such a short and condensed format, although in some cases it would have been desirable to see more marked references to textual plurality, especially in the section on the text of the Septuagint. In addition, the authors seems to have assumed some previous knowledge. This could make for slightly confusion reading of the first chapter for those without any relevant background knowledge. I would have included a specific section dealing with the problem of the canon (both Jewish and Christian), given that references are made to canonical, deuterocanonical, and apocryphal books.

A short reference to the formation of biblical books would have been desirable in the section that deals with the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. While it certainly falls outside the main topic of the volume, which deals with the Bible as an already-formed collection of books, such a reference would have provided a more accurate context for a layperson who may confuse the “oldest text of the Hebrew Bible” with “oldest witness of a biblical text.”

The subsequent chapters basically split the tradition into the separate histories of the Hebrew and Latin texts, something relevant for a book that covers the history of both Jewish and Christian Bibles in the Medieval and Modern periods. These are then aptly joined in the discussion of the Polyglots, a great symbol of the Renaissance period. The last two chapters are a solid starting point for students and general readership interested in various aspects of the biblical text (from modern translations to editions of the originals and versions). These two chapters, together with a complete but not overwhelming bibliography and a list of useful websites (with a welcome stress on the presence of digital images of codices as opposed to purely textual information), turn the book into a starting reference work for students of the Bible in its many forms.

The volume is attractive for a general readership. It can also be a useful tool for students starting out in biblical studies (especially as it covers aspects usually overlooked, like the aforementioned Bible-as-artifact line of inquiry) and for students in other disciplines who require introductory biblical knowledge. The scope of the book could appeal those with interests in art history, Spanish literature, or the history of media, to name a few. Its clarity of presentation, completeness of topics, and attractive format make it an ideal medium for initiating readers into the world of the Bible.

Andrés Piquer Otero, Universidad Complutense de Madrid