Monday, June 19, 2017

Chiesa’s Historical Philology of the Hebrew Bible

I can’t remember where I came across Bruno Chiesa’s work, but I think readers here will at least be interested to know of its existence. The two pertinent volumes I have in mind are titled Filologia storica della Bibbia ebraica or Historical Philology of the Hebrew Bible. Volume 1 covers Origen up to the medieval period and volume 2 takes us to the present.

I couldn’t get my hands on a copy before leaving England and it seems no library in the U.S. has them. The best I could do was this RBL review from Paul Sanders which provides a good English summary. I’ll clip from his conclusion here:
At the end of the eighteenth century, the focus of exegesis started to shift from philology to literary criticism and hermeneutics. Chiesa argues that textual criticism and literary criticism have different tasks. Textual criticism, which in Chiesa’s view deserves a positive reevaluation, tries to establish the oldest documented form of the given text, whereas it is the role of literary criticism to establish its original form. Chiesa believes that the time is ripe for the creation of critical editions of the books of the Hebrew Bible, especially of those for which a historical archetype can be reconstructed. During the past decades, several Italian scholars, such as Paolo Sacchi, have undertaken preliminary work in this field, but their studies have received too little attention.

In these two volumes, Chiesa has shown himself to be an independent expert who is thoroughly acquainted with the existing literature, both old and modern. Chiesa offers a magnificent overview of the history of the philology of the Hebrew Bible, paying due attention to periods that are usually disregarded by other authors. He even discusses the contribution of scholars, such as John Philoponus (sixth century), whose biblical studies have only recently been brought back into the limelight (104–9).


  1. This site has both volumes for about 19 euro each. Shipping to the USA was about 8 euro for one volume and presumably only a bit more for two. Considering the price of academic books these days that seems quite reasonable!

  2. Is the book written in Italian?

    1. It seems (not just on the basis of this book) that Italian would be helpful for aspiring textual critics to know. Perhaps someone should do a blog post on what modern languages are most worth the effort.