Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Trovato on why we need to face the ‘awkward problem’ of conjectural emendation

The following post is from Paolo Trovato who has been a welcome contributor to the comments the last few months. It can be good to have an outside perspective sometimes and that is what Paolo gives us. For those who need an introduction to his work, see my interview here and here.

Dear all,

Even though I don’t belong to your community, I am really interested in your posts and comments. One of the aspects that strikes me is the following position, which seems to be a very popular position in Greek NT studies: We have so many MSS that at least one of them must preserve the original reading of any passage of NT.

I only quote two different but clear examples of similar statements
PG: “it is assumed that manuscripts to which we don’t have access contained original readings. But if we don’t have access to them, how do we know they had original readings? From the argument as stated, we don’t. We need other evidence.”
MAR: “there is a reason to postulate a greater likelihood of the original reading being present in our existing MSS, and that indeed is the quantity of extant data that has been preserved — particularly in contrast to the extremely limited number of works of Latin antiquity (or even Greek classical antiquity) that virtually force conjecture by their paucity.
To put it statistically: even assuming, say, that 60% of all Greek NT MSS that ever existed have been lost, the odds remain extremely favorable that the remaining MSS would preserve in relative proportion the same readings that might have appeared in those now-lost documents; if so, then there is no good reason to postulate much if any supposed “loss” of original readings as matters now stand.”

(Both quotations are drawn from a very interesting post of last January.)

I have probably already bored some of you with my partial attempts of applying to the textual criticism of Greek NT some standard approaches of genealogical textual scholars of Classical and Romance literature. For those who are still interested in a comparison with different textual schools and methodologies I will try, very briefly, to explain why, in my opinion, these positions don’t seem very likely.
  1. The message of the Gospels was so new, moving and fascinating that it created very soon a strong interest (i.e. a strong demand of copies), but also persecution, theological opposition among the faithful, different degrees of standardization etc.
  2. There is a gap of centuries between the lost original(s) and the lost first copies of the Gospels and the few oldest extant witnesses
  3. Every act of copying produces fresh innovations., mostly but not always insignificant. No witness is a Xerox copy of its exemplar. In the domain of classic and Romance transmissions, four or five major, significant innovations every 10 pages seem a realistic rate for the progressive entropy of the textual transmission of any not too short text. So, a copy of 4th rank should feature 4 or 5 × 4 (= 20 or 25) significant innovations every 10 pages.
  4. In the first decades of printed books (1470–1530), every time we happen to know the runs of a book and we look for its extant copies, we find a loss rate of about 85% or 90%. I suspect that, the value T(ime) being higher for Greek NT MSS, their loss rate must be higher than that of the printed books of the Renaissance.
  5. Let’s suppose that after the original(s) of NT, there existed 3 copies of 1st rank, 9 copies of 2nd rank, 27 copies of 3rd rank, 81 copies of 4th, 243 copies of 5th rank, 729 copies of 6th rank, that is, a complete tree of 1,092 copies. (I will stop here for the sake of simplicity, even if I imagine that the complete tree, that is, ALL the MSS of Greek NT that ever existed were probably no less than 20,000). If we assume an optimistic random loss rate of 90%, the extant MSS should be 98 out of 1,092. 
Even without introducing other factors (the obsolescence of materials, the old fashion layout etc.), mere math suggests that most of the extant MSS must belong to ranks 5 and 6 (972 out of 1,092 MSS). It is probable that only one or no MS of ranks 1 and 2 (12 MSS) could survive to a rate loss of 90%. But even if a couple from these ranks was preserved nowadays, they should present 4 to 10 major innovations every 10 pages. No need to say that most of the surviving MSS must belong to rank 6 and that, as a rule, they should be marred by a good number of innovations.

Therefore, I would say that, at least in a few passages, not even my colleagues devoted to textual criticism of the Greek NT, can feel completely freed from the awkward problem of conjectural emendation.

(By the way, Dante’s Commedia, which I have been studying for 15 years, is transmitted by 600 extant MSS plus 200 fragments. Notwithstanding the fact that the oldest extant witnesses are only 15 years later than the completion of the work, a few passages do exist in which emendation is really necessary).

Monday, September 25, 2017

Payne Again on Punctuation

Last week co-blogger Peter Gurry turned our attention to Philip B. Payne’s recent article in New Testament Studies: “Vaticanus Distigme-obelos Symbols Mark Added Text Including 1 Corinthians 14.34–5,” NTS 63 (2017): 604-25.

I thought I should comment on another interesting feature in Codex Vaticanus (that Larry Hurtado also highlights). Payne observes that in Vaticanus there is a high presence of high stops marking the end of sentences in the Epistles, whereas this feature is virtually absent in the Gospels (Payne, “Vaticanus,” 621-622).

I do not think this evidence permits us to say, as Payne does, that the gospel text in Vaticanus must therefore be older than 𝔓75 which has punctuation. Payne points out that 𝔓75 uses high stops extensively in contrast to Vaticanus and the papyri traditionally assigned to the second century (𝔓52, 𝔓90, 𝔓98, 𝔓104) and takes this as a sign that the text in Vaticanus is older than in 𝔓75 (“Vaticanus,” 622). In my opinion, the presence of punctuation cannot be used in this way to construct a relative chronology between the early witnesses of the Greek New Testament.

Punctuation is present in Greek MSS from the fourth century BCE and, as Alan Mugridge observes, “[t]here is some punctuation in a large number of the Christian papyri from the early centuries . . .” Alan Mugridge, Copying Early Christian Texts (WUNT 362; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck), 81.

In this connection, I should also point out that punctuation (cola in high position and dicola) is present in 𝔓4, 𝔓64+67.

Friday, September 22, 2017

More Payne, no gain on the distigmai

Supposed distigmai-obeli in 03
In the latest NTS, Philip Payne has published an expanded form of his 2015 ETS paper on Vaticanus and its supposed use of “distigme-obelos” symbols to mark additions in the text. Payne has also summarized his “groundbreaking discoveries” for Scot McKight’s blog here. The full article is generously open access and can be read here.

I heard Payne give this argument in 2015 and wrote about my reaction to it back then. Here I thought I would add just a little to that.

The crux of the argument is that certain NT paragraphoi are longer than others and occur alongside distigmai (double dots). These “distigme-obelos” marks are then said to mark textual additions which Payne identifies, as before, using the NA apparatus. Payne does concede this time around that seven of his eight “distigme-obelos” symbols might also mark paragraph breaks, but he is quite confident that they are more than that. The upshot in all this for Payne is that 1 Cor 14.34–35 is not Pauline and the apparent inconsistency with 1 Cor 11 is thereby removed.

As before, I find the manuscript argument nearly impossible to believe.

All of Payne’s supposed obeli happen at natural breaks in the text, none of them are actual obeli like we find in the OT portion of Vaticanus (or in other MSS), and all look just like the other paragraphoi to the naked eye. The fact that Payne has to measure them in millimeters to show their distinctiveness only proves the point, in my mind. How could any ancient reader be expected to identify them without measurement?

Add to this the fact that seven of his eight “obeli-distigmai” texts do not actually include the supposed “added text” and the problems are just too much. The ancient reader would have no idea what text these marks were actually marking. The whole point of using an obelos, of course, was that you leave the questionable text in but mark it so that the reader knows what it is. In Payne’s system, the reader is left with no way to know what the symbols mark in 87% (seven of eight) of their cases. Payne’s system, as he envisions it, would never work in practice.

With scholars like Niccum and Miller, then, we should conclude that there is no semantic connection between these distigmai and paragraphoi.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

“Daniel” in Select Codices

I have written elsewhere on the (in)significance of the codex for determining the boundaries of an ancient’s canon of Scripture. Probably, historical anachronism has occurred, and we have foisted the significance of our modern, printed Bible on to the ancient codex. So what is the value of the MSS for such studies? They do help in determining a wide range of contents of religious literature as well as provide context for the various orders of books, neither of these aiding in determining a canon.

Though the MSS probably did not help the ancients concretize the canon, they do visualize for us what an ancient scribe or church father meant or conceptualized by the title of a certain book. This may not be a big deal for New Testament studies, but for the Greek Old Testament, we need to take this point to heart. The contents of books such as Jeremiah, 1-2 Esdras, Esther, and Daniel are not very straightforward. Let’s use “Daniel” as a test case by touring some select MS images of the book to see whether our vision of the contents improves. As is well-known, the book of Daniel in Greek was transmitted in quite a different form from the Protestant Bible, taking the form of Susanna-Daniel-Bel and the Dragon in most of the early MSS. We will consider briefly Daniel in Codex Vaticanus (IV), Codex Marchalianus (VI), and Codex Syro-hexaplaris (VIII/IX).

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Problem of P38 and the ‘Western’ Text in Acts

In his published dissertation, Eldon Epp was interested in theological tendencies in Acts. In particular, he was interested in theological tendencies in the “Western” text. (From here on, I’ll forgo the quotation marks because they get tedious.) His method, however, was to study one particular witness of the Western text, namely, Codex Bezae.

The problem for Epp is that Codex Bezae could not be treated as a simple proxy for the earlier Western text. The reason is that Bezae sometimes reflected various accretions to the Western text. In order to address the problem, he compared Bezae “with those witnesses which, along with D, are recognized as the best ‘Western’ evidence” (p. 28). In this way, Epp could confirm where Bezae was or wasn’t likely preserving the earlier Western text-type.

Setting aside for a moment the risk of circularity here, I want to point out a serious problem with one of Epp’s key control manuscripts, namely, P38.

In discussing the proper use of D as a witness to the Western text, Epp cites P38 as a key reference point for determining whether a reading in D is, in fact, Western. He writes:
If P38, because of its earlier date, is ipso facto assumed more accurately to preserve the early “Western” text, then a comparison of D with this papyrus shows, as H. A. Sanders concluded, that “D is a very imperfect source for the ‘Western’, or second-century, text’. Granting this, however, it must also be emphasized that D and P38 show such a degree of agreement over against the B-text that the papyrus can be used, at the same time, to show that ‘the D text existed in Egypt shortly after A.D. 300’; A. C. Clark could call P38 ‘a text almost identical with that of D’. Codex Bezae, then, at many points is an imperfect witness to the ‘Western’ text, and yet on this account it does not lose its leading place among those witnesses.
Later, Epp cites D, P38, and the Harklean Syriac margin as “the outstanding ‘Western’ sources for Acts” and they form, with the (then) recently discovered Coptic G67 as an “élite group” (p. 31). Epp cites Clark approvingly that P38 has a text “almost identical with D” and Epp says this agreement is especially prominent “over against the B-text.”

The problem is that this isn’t the case when one compares these manuscripts in more detail. Here are the results from the recently-released ECM for Acts:

P38 03/B 05/D
P38 69.4% (43/62) 59.0% (36/61)
03/B 69.4% (43/62) 68.4% (3,514/5,140)
05/D 59.0% (36/61) 68.4% (3,514/5,140)

P38 is, of course, fragmentary, containing only Acts 18.27–19.6, 19.12–16. This means that there is far less text to compare with B and D. But the problem for Epp’s Western text should be obvious. Far from P38 showing strong agreement with D “over against the B-text,” P38 actually agrees more with B than with D! And yet, Epp says that P38 is a member of the “élite group” of Western witnesses.

Now, perhaps Epp would argue that these texts shouldn’t be compared in all these places in our effort to identify the Western text. But until we can agree what variant points should be used and why, we cannot agree on whether or not P38 should assigned to the same text-type as D. If it should not be, then it obviously cannot be used to confirm that D’s readings are early Western readings and Epp’s thesis will need some revision.

Perhaps the issue of definition will move toward some resolution at this year’s SBL meeting in the ECM sessions. We shall see. But those in attendance will certainly want to read the ECM’s article (which I haven’t seen yet) on the Western text along with Epp’s recent, data-filled argument in NovT for its existence there.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Where are they now? New Testament text-critics’ libraries

Eb. Nestle’s library (photo credit)
Occasionally, one buys a book on Amazon or at a used book store and discovers with delight that it was owned by a famous scholar from times past. When I was at Tyndale I managed to get a copy formerly owned by F. F. Bruce, many of which float around the stacks there.

Much better than a one-off copy, however, is to discover a past scholar’s entire library. Aside from the insight this can give of a scholar’s interests and abilities (for example), there are often many hidden gems to be found either in correspondences, in the margins of the books, or simply in the books themselves if they are rare.

To further this benefit, I thought it might be worth trying to compile a list of New Testament textual critics’ libraries. Here is what I have come up with so far, with the help of a few of my fellow bloggers. I would like to add to this, so if you know of any corrections or additions, please let me know.
  • Richard Bentley – Trinity College CB (per P. M. Head)
  • J. J. Wettstein – scattered across Europe (see Jan Krans here)
  • S. P. Tregelles ­– papers and correspondence at various British libraries (see here)
  • C. von Tischendorf University of Glasgow
  • B. F. Westcott – Some at Westcott House (Cambridge), some with Bible Society in the CUL. A PDF catalogue from the British National Archives is here
  • F. J. A. Hort – Sold at auction. See here. PMH mentions Hort’s books here.
  • Hermann Hoskier – some books at Duke Divinity School Library
  • Caspar René Gregory – papers at Harvard Divinity School (see here)
  • Eberhard Nestle – Sold to Cambridge after 1913, now with the Van Kampen collection at the Scriptorium; papers, letters, and other memorobilia of Eberhard and Erwin are at FTH Giessen (see here)
  • Kirsopp and Silva Lake – ?
  • J. Rendel Harris – Woodbrooke Study Center in Birmingham, UK (see PDF here) and some at University of Birmingham library
  • E. C. Colwell – Library sold by his son (per Maurice Robinson)
  • Kenneth W. Clark – Duke Divinity School Library, mixed among the main collection
  • Alands – INTF?
  • Neville Birdsall – University of Birmingham (info)
  • Bruce M. Metzger – Sold on the internet if my memory is right
  • Gordon Fee – New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (info)
  • Jacob Geerlings – CSNTM (see here)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Press of the Text: Festschrift for James W. Voelz

Back in May a Festschrift was published in honor of James Voelz who has worked across many topics in his career including Mark’s Gospel, Greek grammar, and occasionally matters of text-critical interest. Sometimes the three came together as in his NovT essay “The Greek of Codex Vaticanus in the Second Gospel and Marcan Greek,” which I remember reading with interest in seminary.

I haven’t seen the book in person, but thought I would let our readers know about it. You can see the table of contents below with articles on TC by Elliott and Kloha that will be of interest.