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I have a basic idea that, in New Testament text criticism, there is a guideline that the more difficult reading is more likely to be correct. (Mentioned in this answer on BH.SE. Even Wikipedia knows about it.) The logic goes that scribes tend to simplify readings that they find interpretively difficult but are less likely to do the opposite. Obviously it's not a perfect rule and is not applicable in all cases, as even the Wikipedia article points out. But in many NT textual discussions, it seems to come up and often wins out.

I have recently been looking at a few passages in the Hebrew bible where the Masoretic text is in question. In some cases, this is because the Qumran texts, LXX, or other ancient versions provide an easier reading (Psalm 22:16, Deut 32:8, ?Psalm 19:4). In other cases, it is purely conjectural because the MT reading seems absurd (Obad 7, Ecc 7:27, Job 6:14 in some renderings, perhaps all of Hosea ;-) ). In every case, the discussion seems to begin because the MT is too difficult.

  • Is this ‘rule' of Lectio difficilior potior differently applicable, or not applicable at all, to textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible because of the different textual situation?
  • Is the answer to the above different if we’re talking about variations for which there is manuscript support (DSS, Samaritan Pentateuch, ancient translations) or emendations that are purely conjectural?
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    E. Tov, RELEVANCE OF TEXTUAL THEORIES FOR THE PRAXIS OF TEXTUAL CRITICISM 2012, emanueltov.info/docs/varia/242.varia.text.theory.pdf – C. Stirling Bartholomew May 16 '15 at 20:53
  • @C.StirlingBartholomew Very relevant, thanks! – Susan May 16 '15 at 21:01
  • According to my understand of E. Tov, the goal of TC for the Hebrew bible is not restoration of the original wording used by the “author” which is hopelessly problematic. The goal is restoration of the official text. This official text would be something like the majority text in the NT where many difficult readings would already be smoothed out. A second goal is to look at all the readings to shed light on the history of interpretation. Lectio difficilior presumes that a difficult reading did not arise through transmisson errors. This isn't very useful in restoring the official text. – C. Stirling Bartholomew May 17 '15 at 19:39
  • @C.StirlingBartholomew Please consider adding an answer. – Susan May 17 '15 at 19:41
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Susan asked:

Is the answer to the above different if we’re talking about variations for which there is manuscript support (DSS, Samaritan Pentateuch, ancient translations) or emendations that are purely conjectural?

Yes, the answer is very different. A conjecture is not a lectio. A reading attested in a manuscript is by definition intrinsically superior to any conjecture. Only when none of the MS. readings are possible is it legitimate to resort to conjecture. The rejected MS. readings will of necessity be “more difficult” than the conjecture, but there is a point where you reach the boundary between “more difficult” and “impossible”.

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