Book Review: The Text of Galatians and Its History

textofgalatiansTitle: The Text of Galatians and Its History

Author: Stephen C. Carlson

Series: WUNT II, 385.

Bibliographic info: XIV + 308 pp.

Publisher: Mohr Siebeck, 2015.

Buy the book at Amazon

With thanks to Mohr Siebeck for the review copy.

In this volume, the published version of the author’s doctoral dissertation completed in 2012 at Duke University, we have an examination of the textual history of Galatians that utilizes a method based on cladistic methods originally employed by computational biologists. Carlson collates 92 textual witnesses to Galatians and, by using his own software program, is able to provide a stemmatic analysis of these witnesses and produces a text of Galatians that is determined using both stemmatic and eclectic routes.

Chapter 1 contains a fine introduction and valuable overview of the methods and objectives of textual criticism. And for the potential reader who likely knows next-to-nothing about cladistics, the author’s method is clearly explained in Chapter 2, including a useful example that shows how it all works by comparing the text of Galatians 1 in four manuscripts (P46, א, A, and B).

Chapter 3 employs the author’s method to develop an unoriented stemma of the textual tradition, which is then oriented on the basis of internal considerations of the textual variants.  I have to admit, at first I was a bit puzzled by the author’s decision to use external evidence to orient the stemma. However, upon further consideration the use of external evidence is a necessary countermeasure to combat the dangers of using an exclusively statistical reconstruction of stemmata in Galatians. The unoriented stemma that is first created merely displays the relationship of the manuscripts to one another, but does not lay a foundation on any one witness (or even a group of witnesses) and does not indicate a particular starting point where the textual tradition of Galatians begins. So in order to determine which portion of the unoriented stemma should be the starting point, the author seeks to find the part of stemma that contains the most authorial readings (which is resolved through internal evidence). Due to the size of the textual tradition, the author decides to focus on the parts of the stemma that are the most promising for the base. Thus, the author “proposes three independent but converging approaches for pinpointing these promising areas of the stemma for further examination: Hort’s theory of the Neutral text, the oldest branches in the stemma, and the part of the stemma closest to the Nestle-Aland critical text.” In order to determine which variants are authorial and to orient the stemma, the author examines 36 variants on four early branches of the stemma in terms of their internal evidence. For each variant the author discusses, he explores the internal evidence and evaluates it in accordance with reasoned eclecticism, taking into consideration intrinsic probabilities and transcriptional probabilities. This analysis also includes a look at the semantic and syntactic meaning of the variants, and also includes a novel means of “pragmatic considerations related to the placement of emphasis on particular constituents of the sentence.” 

Chapter 4 then analyzes the text near the base of the stemma and works out textual variants where the earliest witnesses are at variance with one another. Chapter 5 then looks at the history of the text, with two branches of the textual tradition—the Western and the Byzantine—of Galatians being examined in-depth in order to evaluate the nature of the textual variation in their history. Chapter 6 concludes by contrasting the text of Galatians provided in the stemma with that of other scholars.

There are many interesting conclusions that the author draws from his stemmatic-eclectic hybrid approach. One such one is when he states: “There is little evidence that the Byzantine text is the result of a recension aside from a small influx of Western readings into the common ancestor of the Syrian group and the Byzantine text.”  I also found it kind of exciting that Carlson’s text of Galatians ends up disagreeing with the Nestle-Aland text in 13 places! I say “exciting” because it goes to show that new methods can still produce some interesting divergences from the Nestle-Aland text. One such disagreement is in Gal. 2:12 where there is the choice of deciding whether Paul wrote ἦλθον (“they came”) or ἦλθεν (“he came”). The Nestle-Aland text chooses the former, while Carlson opts for the latter. What is likely the most intriguing difference from the Nestle-Aland text, however, is how Carlson drops the phrase ὸ γὰρ Σινᾶ ὄρος ἐστὶν ἐν τῇ Ἀραβιᾳ (“Sinai is a mountain in Arabia”) out of Gal. 4:25, seeing it as a marginal gloss that was interpolated into the text of Galatians.

With over 250 variant readings being examined (and a spotlight being thrown on the possibilities of theological motivations behind the variants), this is a thorough (and innovative!) study on the text of Galatians. This is the first study (as far as I am aware) that provides a global stemma for an entire book of the New Testament, and I would have to say that the author has shown that a stemmatic approach is a valuable way to study the textual tradition of the New Testament. And I will note that while the method the author utilizes is not the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method, the author did find its idea of “coherence” to be useful and applied it in a stemmatic manner. So its nice to see that there is a bit of cross-fertilization between different methods.

I was not entirely convinced by some of the author’s conclusions, such his proposed anti-Judaic/Torah propensities in the Western text (seen in variants such as the Western reading of “Israel of God” rather than “Israel of the Lord” in Gal. 6:16). Nevertheless, this is undoubtedly an innovative advance in New Testament textual criticism. Hopefully, this kind of approach will be employed for analyzing further books of the New Testament in the future.

One response

  1. Pingback: September 2015 Biblical Studies Carnival | The Biblical Review

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