All the writings which come to us from antiquity, including the writings of the Old and New Testaments, have suffered from misadventures. The interpreter of these materials cannot proceed from assumptions which would be accepted without question in the study ofa modern book. The text to be interpreted must first be established-it is not already defined. The available witnesses to the text must first be examined in order to reconstruct a single form of the text which we can assert with confidence to be as close to the form of the autographs as scientific principles can Lead us, if not (ideally) identical with them. The work of textual criticism is both a preliminary and an integral part of the task of interpretation; its role may once have been overrated, just as now it tends to be overlooked, yet its service remains indispensable. The purpose and goal of our critical editions of the Bible is to assist in achieving an objective understanding of the text. They bring together in a convenient form a vast array of material, well beyond the capacity of individual scholars to assemble for themselves, to provide the first requirements for a systematic study of the text. But to deal with all this material and use it effectively we must understand its peculiarities and the value of its various elements. When faced with a difficult passage we cannot simply gather together the various readings and select the one which seems to offer the simplest solution, at times preferring the Hebrew text, at other times the Septuagint, and yet other times the Aramaic Targum. Textual witnesses are not all equally reliable. Each has its own character and its own peculiar history. We must be familiar with these if we hope to avoid inadequate or false solutions.