OTTC GENESIS 37:3: Was it a “robe of many colors” or a “robe with long sleeves”?

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EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 140 books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

Major Critical Texts and Manuscript Abbreviations of the Old Testament

AC: Aleppo Codex
AT: Aramaic Targum(s)
B.C.E.
: Before Common Era
BHS
Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. Edited by Karl Elliger and Wilhelm Rudolph. Stuttgart, 1984.
B 19A: Codex Leningrad
c.: Circa, about, approximately
LXX: The Greek Septuagint (Greek Jewish OT Scriptures in general and specifically used during of Jesus and the apostles)
     OGOriginal Greek (Oldest recoverable form of the Greek OT (280-150 B.C.E.)
SOPHERIM: Copyists of the Hebrew OT text from the time of Era to the time of Jesus.
CTConsonantal Text is the OT Hebrew manuscripts that became fixed in form between the first and second centuries C.E., even though manuscripts with variant readings continued to circulate for some time. Alterations of the previous period by the Sopherim were no longer made. Very similar to the MT.
MT: The Masoretic Text encompasses the Hebrew OT manuscripts from the second half of the first millennium C.E.
QT: Qumran Texts (Dead Sea Scrolls)
SP: Samaritan Pentateuch
SYR: Syriac Peshitta
TH: Greek translation of Hebrew Scriptures by Theodotion, second cent. C.E.
VG: Latin Vulgate

Some Preliminary Thoughts Before Discussing the Textual Issue

The primary weight of external evidence generally goes to the original language manuscripts. The Codex Leningrad B 19A and the Aleppo Codex are almost always preferred. In the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS; critical edition of the Hebrew Bible), 90 percent is without a significant variation. Of the 10 percent that does exist, a very small percentage of that has any impact on its meaning, and in almost all of these very limited textual variants, we can ascertain the original wording of the original text with certainty. Yes, it is rare to find a substantive variant among manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible. The Codex Leningrad B 19A dating to about (1008 C.E.) and the Aleppo Codex from about (930 C.E.) were produced by the Masoretes, who are the most by far extremely disciplined copyists of all time, whose scribal practices date back to about the year 500 C.E. In fact, by the second century C.E., a particular text entire Hebrew Bible became the generally accepted standard text, which is often referred to as the Proto-Masoretic text, as it preceded the work of the Masoretes and, it already had the basic form of the Masoretic text that was to come. These subtle differences in the Masoretic manuscripts are almost exclusively spelling differences, which also included vocalization, as well as the presence or absence of the conjunction wāw, in addition to other features that in no way impacts the meaning of the text. In Old Testament Textual Criticism, the Masoretic text is our starting point and should only be abandoned as a last resort. While it is true that the Masoretic Text is not perfect, there needs to be a heavy burden of proof in we are to go with an alternative reading. All of the evidence needs to be examined before we conclude that a reading in the Masoretic Text is a corruption.

The Septuagint continues to be very much important today and is used by textual scholars to help uncover copyists’ errors that might have crept into the Hebrew manuscripts either intentionally or unintentionally. However, it cannot do it alone without the support of other sources. While the Septuagint is the second most important tool after the original language texts for ascertaining the original words of the original Hebrew text, it is also true that the LXX translators took liberties at times, embellishing the text, deliberate changes, harmonizations, and completing of details. Even so, it should be noted that the Septuagint manuscript of Aquila (Codex X), Symmachus (also Codex X), and Theodotion also read “according to the number of the sons of Israel.”

Textual Issue

The Hebrew kuttoneth is a type of robe, which corresponds to the Greek chiton and the Roman tunic. Both terms are most widely used to refer to a tunic or long shirt like article of clothing that was worn next to the body. It was long-sleeved or half-sleeved, which could hang to the knees or as low as the ankles. The Septuagint (LXX) and Vulgate (Vg) have a “robe of many colors” rather than “robe with long sleeves,” the reading of the Syriac (Syr). The meaning of the Hebrew term is uncertain (Also verses 23, 32).

The NET Bible Notes Read,

It is not clear what this tunic was like, because the meaning of the Hebrew word that describes it is uncertain. The idea that it was a coat of many colors comes from the Greek translation of the OT. An examination of cognate terms in Semitic suggests it was either a coat or tunic with long sleeves (cf. NEB, NRSV), or a tunic that was richly embroidered (cf. NIV). It set Joseph apart as the favored one. – Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition Notes (Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Ge 37:3.

As was stated above, the Greek Septuagint generally cannot overturn the Hebrew text when it is alone but in this case, the Greek Septuagint is also supported by the Latin Vulgate and the meaning of the Hebrew term is uncertain, so the scales are tipped in favor of the translation choice made by the Updated American Standard Version (UASV). Regardless, either rendering does not change the meaning that Israel had a special robe made for Joseph because he loved him more than the other sons.

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