The Hebrew Bible Edited


The Bible is a book that had gone through a complex editorial process to reach its final form. This post shows an example of a text that went through an editorial process.


My doctoral dissertation took approximately three years to complete, from the proposal stage in 2013 to its submission in 2016. It then took another two years to transform the dissertation into a sellable book.

The process of completing my book, Reanimating Qohelet’s Contradictory Voices: Studies of Open-Ended Discourse on Wisdom in Ecclesiastes, took about five years in total. During that time, I wrote, deleted, revised, and edited countless times. Although the process was tedious, it allowed me to clarify my thoughts and express them more effectively.

I cut repetitive sentences and paragraphs to make them more concise and added more words to some parts that lacked clear explanations. This long editorial process made my first book more logical and clear.

The Bible is also a book that has gone through a complex editorial process to reach its final form. However, unlike a dissertation or a book written by a single author, the Bible has been edited by multiple editors and authors. Some editors have deleted or added content, resulting in changes to the flow of ideas and sometimes contradictory elements within the same book.

Many modern readers hope that the Bible is similar to modern works of literature, wishing that a book like the book of Jeremiah, for example, was written entirely by Jeremiah from beginning to end. However, the reality is that this is often not the case.

As I have discussed in my previous posts, the Pentateuch (or the Torah) results from multiple authors and editors. Likewise, most other books in the Hebrew Bible are similar in this respect. In the following, I will discuss how this characteristic can also be found in texts outside the Torah.

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Traces of Editorial Process

The example texts are Jeremiah 23:5-6 and 33:14-16.

Jeremiah 23

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.
6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safetyAnd this is the name by which he will be called“The LORD is our righteousness.”

Jeremiah 33

14 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 
15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safetyAnd this is the name by which it will be called“The LORD is our righteousness.”

The bold letters above indicate similar or verbatim expressions, while the rest are different or exist only in one of the two passages. Now let’s compare them in detail.

1. The days are surely coming, says the LORD…… I will raise up (what?)

The expressions above are common in both texts. Note that the word haqimoti(I will raise up) appears in both texts, but the translation of Ch. 33 renders it as “I will fulfill” because the word’s object changes.

⁃ Ch 23: I will raise up a righteous Branch

 Ch 33: I will raise up the promise

As mentioned, the expression “the promise” does not become haqimoti(I will raise up) So the translator uses “I will fulfill” instead.

In ch 23, it says, “I will raise up a righteous Branch for David, but in ch 33, it says, “I will raise up the good words (translated as “the promise” in NRSV) that I spoke to the houses of Israel and Judah.”

This passage may seem similar, but it is, in fact, very different. Chapter 23 reminds us of the eternal covenant granted to David, which is the perpetuity of the Davidic dynasty. On the other hand, ch 33 gives the impression that the editor does not want to mention the perpetuity of the Davidic dynasty. The latter part of 23:5 directly expresses that the righteous Branch is king. In contrast, ch 33 only implies that something good will happen to Israel and Judah.

2. (I will raise up/I will cause to spring up) a righteous Branch for David…… he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land

The expressions above also look similar but not exactly the same.

 Ch 23: I will raise up a righteous Branch 

 Ch 33: I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up

Generally, using different objects with the same verb (e.g., to raise up) or using other verbs with similar phrases (e.g. a righteous Branch) can often be found in the writing of a single author to add variety to a monotonous text. However, in the case of the above passage, the variation in vocabulary is not simply an attempt to diversify the expression. The differences offer changes in theological or semantic meanings. Therefore it is reasonable to see it as a trace of the editorial process of different hands. Let’s take a closer look at why this might be the case.

 Ch 23: a righteous Branch = king = YHWH will raise up the king = a political statement

⁃ It is noteworthy that if an ancient text indicates, “god will raise up a king,” it is the official announcement of the group of people.

⁃ Ch 33: a righteous Branch = someone who fulfills the good words of YHWH = someone who will spring up = no political statement

The expression in ch 23 can only be understood as a highly political statement. On the other hand, the editing of ch 33 seems to avoid expressions that could symbolize political independence.

3. Judah will be saved, and Israel/Jerusalem will live in safety

These expressions are also similar, but there is a significant difference in meaning. The difference between the two texts lies in identifying the subject of the verb “to live in safety.” Chapter 23 mentions Israel, while ch 33 changes it to Jerusalem. The intention behind this will be explained below.

4. And this is the name by which he/it will be called: “YHWH Tsidkenu” (The LORD is our righteousness).

The expression YHWH Tsidkenu” (Yahweh is our righteousness) appears in both texts, but they refer to completely different subjects as to who or what is called “Yahweh Tsidkenu.” In ch 23, the person referred to as “Yahweh Tsidkenu” is the king in the Davidic line, a righteous Branch that YHWH will raise up; he will save Judah and Israel, rebuild the united kingdom, and restore the glory of Israel in the days of David so that all the people can live in peace again. This king will be called “Yahweh Tsidkenu” (the Yahweh our righteousness). The direct translation of this passage is this: “He (Yahweh) will call him ‘Yahweh Tsidkenu.’”

However, in ch 33, the “righteous Branch” is not introduced as a king. He will, like the king in ch 23, accomplish the good things that Yahweh has promised and make the people of Judah live in peace. But his work is not about political independence or building a united kingdom but about executing justice and righteousness, that is, doing God’s will. And that person will not be called “Yahweh Tsidkenu” either. This is because “Yahweh Tsidkenu” will become a nickname for Jerusalem. The Hebrew text of this passage is translated as follows: “He (Yahweh) will call her (Jerusalem) ‘Yahweh Tsidkenu.’” (NRSV takes the 3rd feminine singular pronoun as “it”). The editor replaces “Israel” in 23:6 with “Jerusalem” in 33:16 to change who/what “Yahweh Tsidkenu” really is. It is not a person or king but the holy city of Jerusalem. 

⁃ Why change the prophecy. If the editor’s era is assumed to be at the time of the Hellenistic period, it was a time when Israel had long disappeared, and only a tiny population lived under the rule of the Hellenistic empire, centering around Jerusalem. The reason for replacing “Israel” with “Jerusalem” seems to reflect the situation, in which too political a statement can only bring more oppression, and the extant prophecy attested in ch 23 does not seem to be fulfilled any soon. Nonetheless, the “righteous Branch” will accomplish the good things of God so that Jerusalem will be at peace, and therefore, the nickname “Yahweh Tsidkenu” will be given to that city, not to a specific person. The reason why Jerusalem replaces Israel in ch 33 is to change the story about the restored monarchy to a story about a beautiful city where God’s will is fulfilled, although it did not achieve independence.

Closing Words

I compared Jeremiah 23 and 33 and found that they contain very similar words and phrases, which may lead one to think that there is not much difference in their meanings, but only slight differences in expressions.

However, the circumstances behind these two texts are quite different. Verses 5-6 of ch 23 appear to have been prophesied at an earlier time, predicting the restoration of the kingdom. In contrast, 33:14-16 seems to have been inserted by a theologian/editor at a later time (probably in the 3rd century BCE or the Hellenistic era), who reinterpreted the text of ch 23 in a context, where the prophecy of the kingdom’s restoration had not been fulfilled.

One reason to consider ch 33 as a later addition, not vice versa, is that, according to Konrad Schmid, the Greek translation of Jeremiah is about 3,000 words longer than the Hebrew text, but 33:14-16 is missing in the Greek translation. Schmid argues that someone translated the Hebrew text of an unknown form of Jeremiah into Greek, then 33:14-16 was inserted in the final form of the Hebrew text of Jeremiah. For more information, see Konrad Schmid’s article “How to Identify a Ptolemaic Period Text in the Hebrew Bible” in Times of Transition: the Early Hellenistic Period (Philadelphia: Penn State University Press, 2021), 281-291.

When we write, we go through a process of editing, which makes our writing clear and logical. Of course, the ancients must have had their own ways of proofreading. However, the works they left behind have been constantly modified by later authors or editors and have taken on their current form.

As a result, very unique texts reflecting various ideas and thoughts appear in a single book. The Bible, for example, is said by some to tell only one consistent story, from Genesis to Revelation, about Jesus.

However, the Bible is a much more complex book containing various theological ideas, and sometimes these ideas are difficult to reconcile with each other. Is it really right to try to find unity in such a book? It is worth considering that simplifying a complex book can already be a distortion in itself.

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