The Textual History of the Ethiopic Old Testament Project (THEOT) is an international effort to identify and to trace textual trajectories found in Ethiopian manuscripts that contain books included in the canon of the Hebrew Bible. (The Ethiopian Orthodox church counts a number of other books as part of their canon, but another team is examining those texts.) Although we hope our efforts will eventually lead to full critical editions of each book, the immediate goal is more manageable. By employing profile methods similar to those used in the field of New Testament Textual Criticism we will produce a preliminary textual history based on the collations of 15-70 select readings in 30 carefully chosen manuscripts per book.
Ted Erho, in consultation with the Primary Investigator (PI) assigned to a particular biblical work, selects the manuscripts based on age and significance. All manuscripts predating the 16th century are included by default. A representative sampling of later manuscripts and textual families (when known) populate the remaining number.
I also work with each PI to determine which passages to collate. We look for places where there is clear and significant variation in the Ethiopian tradition as well as in the sources that may have impacted the development of the text such as the Greek, Hebrew, Syriac, Coptic, and Arabic versions. Collations of the Ethiopic texts will provide data for mapping out internal developments. Alignment of the subsequently isolated traditions with external versional evidence will establish the source of the original translation and perhaps what foreign influences subsequently affected Ethiopia’s transmission of sacred texts.
Once these elements are set, every selected passage in each manuscript is collated separately by a minimum of two scholars. We then use Juxta to compare the transcriptions. Juxta highlights in blue the areas where the collations disagree, which expedites comparison and final editing. The investigators work through the differences aiming for a consensus on every reading. The end result is a transcription 99.9% pure.
Second, we then collate these “pure” transcriptions of the thirty manuscripts to identify unique readings and family groupings. What once required a tremendous amount of effort is accomplished in mere seconds with Juxta. Relationships between groups of manuscripts are much easier to identify with the graded highlighting scheme employed in Juxta’s “Comparison Set” window. Plus the words and phrases highlighted in the collation window facilitate the isolation of distinct variation units of value for mapping out Ethiopia’s textual history.
(On the off chance that someone will read this who knows Ethiopic, I should note that we create two copies of the final “pure” transcriptions. One version is retained in its original form preserving all of the orthographical variants and scribal idiosyncrasies. These will be used later for publications and further research. The other version is “standardized” through a process that removes a large amount of the numerous orthographic variations, such as the frequent interchange of gutturals, that occur in Ethiopic manuscripts.)
In addition to providing the data we need for our immediate goals, these units will be compiled into a list that will allow scholars in the future to classify quickly the textual affinity of other manuscripts.
We are very grateful to the Juxta team for providing the software and quickly responding to the particular needs of the THEOT Project. We eagerly anticipate using this new web version and the further refinements and development sure to come.
The Textual History of the Ethiopic Old Testament Project
Co-Directors: Steve Delamarter and Curt Niccum
Steering Committee: Jeremy Brown, Aaron Butts, Ted Erho, Martin Heide, Ralph Lee