PROVO — With its scriptural texts coming from the Holy Land's Old Testament era and its publication pedigree traced back to Germany at the turn of the 1900s, Biblia Hebraica Quinta will be a global product with worldwide benefits — and a Utah connection.
That Utah tie comes through Donald W. Parry, a Brigham Young University professor of Hebrew Bible. Parry is one of two dozen editors selected from across the world — and one of only a couple from the United States — for the current Biblia Hebraica Quinta project.
It's the fifth edition of Biblia Hebraica — the version of the Hebrew Bible published under the auspices of the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft (German Bible Society), which oversees 141 global Bible societies. Biblia Hebraica Quinta in turn will be used for future translations of the Old Testament into almost as many languages.
"It will become the standard for decades — no one will replace it," said Parry, adding, "in producing the newest translations of the Old Testament, they're going to use this work."
Invited to the editor's post in August 2008, he joins Arie van der Kooij of the Netherlands in providing the readings, interpretations, citations and footnotes for Biblia Hebraica Quinta's fascicle of the Book of Isaiah — all 1,292 verses.
The purpose of Biblia Hebraica Quinta is, Parry says, "to provide a clear statement of what the editor judges to be the earliest attainable form of the Hebrew/Aramaic text." That documentation — textual variants noted in the footnotes — in turn serves as a primary-source reference work for biblical societies and Bible scholars alike.
Key to the Biblia Hebraica Quinta project will be all the information and readings provided in recent years from the Dead Sea Scrolls, the some 900 ancient Hebrew and Aramaic documents — including texts of the Hebrew Bible — written mostly on parchment, with some papyrus records included. Originally discovered more than a half-century ago in caves near Qumran just off the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, the scrolls include some of the oldest surviving copies of biblical documents made before the first century B.C.
Besides having written six books on Isaiah, Parry brings 15 years of work on the Dead Sea Scrolls. A member of the scrolls' international team of translators, he translated the Book of Samuel and has authored 15 volumes on the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Previously, Old Testament readings have come from comparing the earliest Hebrew Bible versions along with the Greek translation, the Septuagint. An additional comparison element is now provided by the scholarly works on the Dead Sea Scrolls, with the first full-wave efforts of preservation, translation and interpretation taking five decades and concluding just last year.
So, instead of only comparisons of Hebrew text to Greek text when using the Septuagint, the addition of the Dead Sea Scrolls translations provides a comparison of Hebrew to Hebrew.
And when comparing Hebrew to Hebrew, a close inspection of two seemingly similar texts can reveal minor differences — a difference of a character or two in a word or even a character not quite completely or precisely inscribed in one of the texts when compared to its counterpart.
"One little character can change not only the reading but the context," Parry said.
The project's end result will be a Biblia Hebraica Quinta compiled of the most accurate readings of the Old Testament to date.
A simple example of the enhancements provided by the Dead Sea Scrolls is that they contain no fewer than six Psalms not found in the Hebrew Bible, Parry said.
Another example Parry cites is found in Psalm 145, which is written as an acrostic poem — meaning the first word in the first verse begins with the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet, the first word in the second verse begins with the second letter in the alphabet and so on.
Missing in the Hebrew Bible's Psalm 145 is an entire verse, the "n" equivalent verse — the letter "n" in Hebrew being "nun." Bible scholars have long acknowledged the missing verse, which is found in the older Dead Sea Scrolls texts.
"God is faithful in his words and pious in all his deeds. Blessed is the Lord and blessed is his name forever and ever," offered Parry in his translation of the Hebrew Bible's "missing verse" text found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
He noted besides fitting into the Psalm's acrostic puzzle, the verse itself is also written in Hebrew poetic formula.
So, the Dead Sea Scrolls provide additional factors on two fronts — first, the variant and supplemental readings from the texts themselves as well as a better understanding of the Hebrew language of the time.
"Besides the readings, the scrolls have taught us more of Qumran Hebrew — the words, the syntax or word order, the vocabulary, the root forms," said Parry. "We know so much more now of how it is formed and articulated."
Biblia Hebraica Quinta is being published in fascicles — installments or parts. The first fascicles, either a single Old Testament book or a collection of books — were released five years ago.
Parry's work will be found then in two related publications — the first being a scholarly fascicle on the Book of Isaiah, an estimated 500-page review with footnotes, arguments and supporting documentation.
When compiling his readings, his reasoning will take into account and even cite historical, theological and translation differences — some which may seem obvious, some more subtle and others not as clean cut.
"Some of the variant readings scholars don't even know — you can state it can go either way," Parry said.
The second publication is Biblia Hebraica Quinta itself, the sum of the respective fascicle readings and interpretations. The entire project is expected to be completed within the next several years.