Review of The Textual History of the Greek New Testament (Watchel and Holmes)

Title: The Textual History of the Greek New Testament – Changing Views in Contemporary Research

Editors: Klaus Watchel and Michael Holmes

Bibliographic info: viii +226

Cover: Hard

Publisher: Brill, 2012

Buy it at Amazon

With thanks to the kind folk at Brill for the review copy!

This volume is framed by an introduction by both editors and a conclusion by Watchel, between which is found eight essays that are the proceedings from a two day colloquium held in August 2008 at Münster on issues in contemporary New Testament textual criticism.

The first contribution is from D.C. Parker and is titled, Is “Living Text” Compatible with “Initial Text”? Editing the Gospel of John. Building off of his monograph The Living Text of the Gospels (CUP, 1997), in which he contended that the body of textual variation in the Gospels should be seen as a process of interpretation of the Gospel tradition (i.e. the living text), Parker discusses how, since its publication, he has worked on an editorial team for a critical edition of the Gospel of John. This has led him to address the question of the relationship between theories concerning the textual history of the Gospels, as well as whether his use of the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method (CBGM) in his work on John to arrive at an “initial text” (Ausgangstext) is compatible with his notion of a “living text”. Note that the initial text is not the authorial text, but is the text from which one can trace the readings in the extant manuscript tradition (i.e. the text from which readings in extant manuscripts are genealogically descended). Parker winds up concluding that “a point on which The Living Text and the initial text are totally agreed, namely, the impossibility of the attempt to recover a single original text” (21).

This conclusion is, in a way, what the next essay, Original Text and Textual History by Holger Strutwolf, argues against. Strutwolf disagrees with this notion, held by Parker and others, that the quest for the original authorial text of the Greek NT is problematic and unattainable. This chaper is an attempt to answer the question of whether the quest for the original text is obsolete or not. In order to arrive at an answer, Strutwolf draws upon two well-known examples: the Lukan Lord’s prayer (Lk. 11.2-3) and the Matthean version of Jesus’ logion on the goodness of God (Mt. 19.17), both of which were quite fascinating to read. His conclusion is that the “initial text” as arrived at by means of the CBGM (and as found in the Editio Critica Maior), which would maybe be the text in the early- to mid-second century, could very well be the original authorial text, unless there is “evidence which suggests a radical break in the textual transmission between the author’s text and the initial text of our tradition” (41).

The third contribution is David Trobisch’s The Need to Discern Distinctive Editions of the New Testament in the Manuscript Tradition. This brief essay (running in at five pages) puts forth the case that a critical edition of a NT text must include information regarding “the title of the book and the titles of the individual writings, about the collection units, about nontextual features such as the nomina sacra and codex form” (48). For those unaware, Trobisch has authored a slim volume on the development of the NT canon called The First Edition of the New Testament (OUP, 2000), which discusses the importance of the previously mentioned features in the case for an early final redaction of the NT.

The next chapter, Conceptualizing “Scribal” Performances: Reader’s Notes, by Ulrich Schmid, is about deliberate attempts by editors to improve the text through writing notes in the margins. These marginal additions, however, were not always meant to be editorial corrections but may have simply been notes serving other functions (e.g. pointing to a parallel passage elsewhere). In some cases these marginal notes may have ultimately found there way into the main text due to a later scribe using that manuscript as an exemplar and assuming the marginal notes were editorial corrections meant to be integrated into future copies of the manuscript. Schmid provides two main examples of this in Lk. 17.14 in P75 and Mt. 27.49 as found in several witnesses including 01 (Sinaiticus) and 03 (Vaticanus).

Michael Holmes provides the content of the next chapter, Working with an Open Textual Tradition: Challenges in Theory and Practice. After beginning with a discussion on the definition of terms (Holmes prefers “open” and “closed” as opposed to the possibly pejorative “contaminated” and affirmative counterpart “pure”), Holmes provides examples of how mixture occurs in the process of textual transmission. The different ways in which mixture can occur is why Holmes views the local-genealogical method as critical to NT textual criticism; for it deals with each variation unit on its own terms, providing stemmata of readings/variants, as opposed to simply creating a stemma of all manuscripts. This is where the usefulness of the CBGM comes into play, for it relates the local stemmata of variants to a global one of witnesses.

The next contribution is from Eldon J. Epp and is called Traditional “Canons” of New Testament Textual Criticism: Their Value, Validity, and Viability—or Lack Thereof. After giving a thorough history of the emergence of external and internal criteria in New Testament textual criticism, as well as a brief overview on the terminology used in such discussions (of which Epp prefers using “criterion” instead of other options like “canon” or “rule”), Epp then discusses the strengths and weaknesses of sixteen internal and external criteria. The discussion on the eighth criterion, which deals with the longer/longest and shorter/shortest reading in a variant, is quite detailed, bringing out the complexity of what ostensibly seems to be a simple criterion. It’s not as easy as just saying that scribes moved in only one direction, as they didn’t, thus each example that attempts to utilize this criterion needs to be adjudicated on a case by case basis. This chapter almost left me with the impression that this criterion should be basically jettisoned from the repertoire of text-critical criteria/canons (and I had a similar feeling with the Atticism criterion).

Epp finishes his essay by providing his own definition of New Testament textual criticism, a definition which I found myself quietly saying an affirmative ‘Yes!” to, as his mentioning of it as “both science and art” and how it provides a window on early Christianity really resonates with why I enjoy studying NT textual criticism. I will reproduce his definition below:

New Testament textual criticism, employing aspects of both science and art, studies the transmission of the New Testament text and the manuscripts that facilitate its transmission, with the unitary goal of establishing the earliest attainable text (which serves as a baseline) and, at the same time, of assessing the textual variants that emerge from the baseline text so as to hear the narratives of early Christian thought and life that inhere in the array of meaningful variants. (127)

Next up is J.K. Elliott’s chapter, What Should Be in an Apparatus Criticus? Desiderata to Support a Thoroughgoing Eclectic Approach to Textual Criticism. This brief contribution by Elliott, who is himself a practitioner of thoroughgoing eclecticism, contains his case for why a critical apparatus should have a wide range of sources. Though it is not the quantity of witnesses in an apparatus that is the issue, it is more so having a wide range of types of variants, including even those “overlooked as ‘merely’ orthographical.”

I can’t even begin to imagine how huge of a volume an edition of a NT text would be if it contained all the variants found in the Greek manuscript tradition (including lectionaries), other versional traditions, patristic citations, citations in the apocryphal NT (e.g. Gospel of Thomas), the apostolic fathers, as well as other pertinent information such as the scribal habits of particular manuscripts. As Elliott notes, though, this project would be better suited to the electronic age than to paper reproduction:

Electronic publishing is ideally suited to collecting and displaying an increasing number of manuscripts and other witnesses and an infinite number of variants in an ongoing and developing way, as more collations are made and more sources are scoured. Scholars’ greed can be satisfied electronically. (129)

The armchair textual-critic in me salivates at the idea of an “infinite number of variants” being available at my fingertips. For now, however, I will have to remain satisfied with the detailed apparatuses that are available right now, namely, the Nestle-Aland 27th edition of the Greek NT which contains a good starting point (with the 28th edition coming out in December I believe), and the Editio Critica Maior (ECM), a critical edition of the first 1000 years of the Greek NT tradition which, so far, is comprised of four volumes containing the Catholic Epistles (and which I am a proud and lucky owner of). There is also the Vetus Latina project (a thorough display of Latin patristic citations of the NT, some of which apparently may support readings predating Jerome’s Latin Vulgate), and the International Greek New Testament Project which has completed work on the Gospel of Luke and is currently working on the Gospel of John (I think I remember Parker saying that the IGNTP is essentially picking up the ECM franchise for the Gospel of John).

Gerd Mink then provides what is, in my opinion, the best contribution to this volume. It also happens to be, by far, the longest essay at 75(!) pages. Additionally, considering that I had to read through it three times in order to fully understand it (and I’m sure a lot of it is still out of my grasp), it also receives the title of most challenging to read. This essay is called Contamination, Coherence, and Coincidence in Textual Transmission: The Coherence-Based Genealogical Method (CBGM) as a Complement and Corrective to Existing Approaches.

The CBGM  is used by the Institut für Neutestamentliche Textforschung (INTF; The Institute for New Testament Textual Research) in their effort to produce the ECM. In a nutshell, the CBGM derives genealogical relationships between witnesses from attempting to assess genealogical relationships between their variants and, if possible, to construct a local stemma of the variants within a global stemma of witnesses. As Mink puts it: “Therefore, local stemmata of variants are the elements on which a global hypothesis about the genealogy of their witnesses can be based” (151).

My favorite feature in Mink’s essay is the awesome case study of the CBGM using the variant in Jude 15. In the Greek manuscript tradition this verse contains the reading of πασαν ψυχην (in P72, 01, and 1852) and the alternate reading of παντας τους ασεβεις [αυτων] in the rest of the manuscripts. Mink concludes that, by using the CBGM, there is “good reason to accept” the variant reading πασαν ψυχην as the initial text. This is actually the opposite conclusion to a couple of relatively recent studies done on this textual variant, as I believe that both Tommy Wasserman (in his published doctoral dissertation The Epistle of Jude: Its Text and Transmission) and Timo Flink (in a 2007 Filologia NeoTestamentaria article) both prefer the reading παντας τους ασεβεις. Nevertheless, I think that Mink has done a great job in this case study, and throughout the entire essay, of showing that coherence can be employed in order to make better, and perhaps more objective, use of the extant manuscripts.

All in all, this volume is a very valuable contribution to understanding the current status quaestionis of NT textual criticism, particularly in regards to how the ECM and the CBGM is altering the landscape. The edition I received for review was the hardback version published by Brill. It is somewhat expensive with a RRP of $135 (though it is ~$70 through secondary sellers on Amazon). Thankfully, though, the Society of Biblical Literature has published its own softcover version which goes for ~$30. Hooray for the Brill-SBL partnership!

One response

  1. Pingback: Around the Blogosphere (09.28.2012) | Near Emmaus

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