Review of The Early Text of the New Testament (Part II)

earlytextTitle: The Early Text of the New Testament

Editors: Charles Hill and Michael Kruger

Bibliographic info: xiv + 413 + 69

Cover: Hard with Dust-jacket

Publisher: Oxford University Press, 2012

Buy it at Amazon

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

Part I of this review.

The second section of The Early Text of the New Testament consists of nine chapters, eight of which is devoted to an examination of the early textual tradition of a book or section of the Greek New Testament, achieved by examining the extant papyri. The following are the chapters in this section along with their respective authors:

5. The Early Text of Matthew – Tommy Wasserman (pp. 83-107)
6. The Early Text of Mark – Peter Head (pp. 108-120)
7. The Early Text of Luke – Juan Hernández (pp. 121-139)
8. The Early Text of John – Juan Chapa (pp. 140-156)
9. The Early Text of Acts – Christopher Tuckett (pp. 157-174)
10. The Early Text of Paul and Hebrews – James Royse (pp. 175-203)
11. The Early Text of The Catholic Epistles – J. K. Elliott (pp. 204-224)
12. The Early Text of Revelation – Tobias Nicklas (pp. 225-238)
13. Where Two or Three are Gathered Together: Evaluating Agreements between Two or More Early Versions – Peter Williams (pp. 239-258)

I will not enter into a summary of each and every chapter. In regards to chapters 5 through 12, I will point out that the authors do not necessarily approach the task at hand with the same methods. For instance, J.K. Elliot’s contribution on the Catholic Epistles (CE) is able to make use of the Editio Critica Maior (which has been completed for the CE). He compares the reconstructed text of the CE found in the ECM to that of the text of the CE in the extant papyri, noting when each manuscript has readings that are for or against the text of the ECM. The other contributors can not do this (for the obvious reason that the ECM is only complete for the CE). For others, the difference in method is simply due, in part at least, to the differing nature of the manuscript available for the author to examine, e.g. Peter Head’s chapter on the Gospel of Mark doesn’t really have many papyri it can make good use of.

Another issue I should mention is that there is no consistent way in which the authors refer to the papyri in terms of categories; most (all?) of the authors use categories (strict, free, normal) that relate how close the manuscript is to the (reconstructed) original text (i.e. the text found in the Nestle-Aland edition), but some also use the text-type categories (Alexandrian, Western, Caesarean, Byzantine), while others do not. If I recall correctly, most of these chapters included tables of the papyri, though there was a few (maybe just one or two) that did not, and among those that did there was a little bit of variation on the details in the table. Additionally, there are other differences in the contributions in this section: some of the authors have more of a focus on what the manuscripts say in regards to specific textual variants, some lay emphasis on the use of nomina sacra in the manuscript, etc. None of this should be taken as a criticism of this section; it’s just a heads up in case a potential buyer/reader thought that each chapter would use the same method, format, details, etc.

I do feel, though, that the general aim of this section (i.e. providing a window on the early textual tradition of the NT by focusing on the papryi evidence) may only cement into place, for the (layman, novice, or armchair textual critic) reader, that the papyri are some sort of magical witness to the early text. Though I guess this notion is actually mitigated by the chapters themselves, as they do effectively note that not all papyri are made equal; they do not all really deserve the attention that is pushed upon them simply by virtue of being written on papyrus and having palaeographers dating them to a (relatively) early date. Take for instance P72, consisting of a full witness to the text of 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and Jude. Sure, it is our earliest witness to these texts, but the text in P72 isn’t exactly the most useful when it comes to determining the original/earliest text (due to scribe being very careless and possessing an obvious theological tendency in what he wrote down, e.g., see his reading of theos christos in the well-known textual variant in Jude 5).

I will briefly comment on the last chapter in this section, by Peter Williams, as it is different to the others in that it deals with the witness of the earliest versions of the NT, specifically in how it is not such a clear and simple task at determining the underlying vorlage of a Syriac manuscript of the NT (he focuses upon the Syro-witnesses to Mark and Luke 24). The following is a snippet from his concluding thoughts: “It appears that often citation of versions in the textual apparatus without due consideration of their translation technique gives the misleading impression that the support for a particular variant is much stronger than it really is” (258).

All of these chapters are obviously a great read if you are into textual criticism and are no doubt an invaluable resource if you are an active researcher in this field. I will get the third and final part of this review up in a day or two (hopefully).

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