Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS)

If you could only have one resource for biblical studies, BHS is it. In fact, if you are on this website, you probably already own a copy.

What is BHS?

BHS, or as it is known by its full name, Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, is the most important version of the Hebrew Bible available today. It is used by almost all biblical scholars and their students around the world.

BHS is an eclectic edition of the Bible based upon the Leningrad Codex, a text dating from the early 11th century. The Leningrad Codex is the oldest complete manuscript of the Hebrew Bible surviving today. The Aleppo Codex had been the oldest complete manuscript (from the 10th century). Unfortunately, much of the Aleppo Codex was lost after rioting in 1947.

What makes up the text of BHS?

Like almost all versions of Hebrew bibles, BHS has vowel and accent markings. These markings were invented by the Masoretes, a group of early medieval Jewish scholars. The Masoretes invented these markings to preserve the traditional reading of the text they inherited.

The vowel markings represent the traditional Tiberian vocalization of the text. (There are other traditions of vocalizing the text, but the Tiberian system became the standard over time).

The accent markings give important information about the syntax of a biblical verse. In fact, they are still used in the cantillation of the text during traditional Jewish worship services (although there are different traditions of textual cantillation). Occasionally, the accent markings can function as a kind of commentary on the text. By breaking up verses in certain places, a particular interpretation of a verse is implicitly supported.

BHS also includes some of the Masora, that is to say, the notes that the Masoretes made when they were studying and copying the text. To the side of the biblical text, BHS also includes information on qere/ketiv (קְרֵי/כְתִיב). These terms refer to differences in the oral and written traditions of the Hebrew Bible recorded by the Masoretes.

What is the Critical Apparatus in BHS?

Although the Hebrew Bible has been carefully preserved through hundreds, even thousands of years, there have probably been at least a few mistakes in its transmission. The field of textual criticism seeks to identify such errors and reconstruct the text as much as is possible.

The critical apparatus in BHS provides important information for textual criticism. The critical apparatus presents textual variants found in other Hebrew manuscripts, as well as textual evidence from ancient translations of the biblical text (such as the Septuagint, Vulgate, Targumim, etc.). BHS provides the evidence for possible textual variations, and it is left up to the scholar to decide what to do with this information.

The critical apparatus will also occasionally offer its own suggestions of how to read a problematic word or phrase, although these suggestions are often less helpful because they are more conjectural.

The critical apparatus of BHS is located below the text of the Hebrew Bible. Learning to use the critical apparatus is not an easy task. There is an abbreviations list at the beginning of BHS which can help you decipher what the notes mean. However, learning to use the critical apparatus will take a fair amount of time and practice.

It is possible to read the text of BHS without using the critical apparatus. In fact, depending upon what you wish to gain by studying Scripture, it might be a good idea to ignore the critical apparatus entirely. However, young scholars must recognize that textual criticism is a fundamental part of biblical studies. This is because occasionally the actual text of the Hebrew Bible is disputed.

The future of BHS

Scholars are currently working on a replacement to BHS, Biblia Hebraica Quinta (BHQ). Several books from the Hebrew Bible canon have already been published and others are on the way. One of the major differences between BHS and BHQ is that BHQ will include more information gained from the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Tips for using BHS

  • There is a A Simplified Guide to BHS that is more than worth a look. It can really help beginners get oriented to using BHS.
  • Abbreviations used in the critical apparatus are listed at the beginning of BHS.
  • BHS comes in different shapes and sizes. Often smaller print editions can be difficult for beginners to read. However, getting a bigger print edition can mean having to carry more weight. Similarly, the hardback editions are more durable, but the paperback editions are lighter. So, you have several choices for BHS, but none of them are perfect!

Information about purchasing  BHS can be found by clicking on the image below:

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