Monday, November 13, 2017

Initial thoughts on the Tyndale House Greek New Testament

Dan Wallace, Larry Hurtado, James Snapp, Todd Scacewater, and Brice Jones have all given us their first impressions on the Tyndale House Greek New Testament (THGNT) and, since I have now had some time to look over my gratis copy, I thought I would share some of mine.

Since I was able to see the final stages of the edition up close and personal, I cannot feign neutrality—I am an unashamed supporter of the effort, the editors, and (mostly) of the results. For what they’re worth, here are some of my initial reflections on the edition.
  • The most important distinctive of the edition is its documentary approach which aims to follow early manuscripts as much as was feasible. This is most obvious in the paragraphing and the textual choices but also in more subtle details of orthography. In terms of establishing the text, this approach means that only readings attested by at least two witnesses are printed and one of them (except in Revelation) must be from before the sixth century (p. 506). Within this documentary constraint, the editors gave special weight to matters of scribal tendencies. Where a variant could be explained transcriptionally, it was and was thereby set aside. The strict constraint bears some unexpected similarity to the Byzantine priority method of Maurice Robinson and William Pierpont. The difference is that here early external evidence sets the boundaries whereas in the Byzantine priority approach, late evidence plays that distinctive role. The result is that neither method is open to rejecting their take on external evidence where the internal evidence strongly goes against it. For examples, consider ὀνόματι vs. μέρει in 1 Pet 4.16 in THGNT and ἐπηγγείλατο vs. ἐπηγγείλατο ὁ κύριος in Jas 1.12 for Robinson-Pierpont. In both cases, strong internal evidence gives way to the editors’ external constraints.
  • The THGNT hardcover is
    just slightly taller than NA28.
  • The editors passed on printing nomina sacra in the main text though they do occasionally show up in the apparatus (e.g., Rom 8.34). This was because there was not time for a systematic review. While the nomina sacra would trip up beginning Greek readers, I think they would be great to have a in a printed edition. The trick, of course, will be deciding which nomina sacra to use and where. But its the same issue that faced the editors with the next matter of formatting so, I suppose, there is cause for hope for the future.
  • The paragraphing too has been drawn from the early manuscripts as much as possible. The editors only present a new paragraph where such is found in at least two pre-sixth-century manuscripts. Unfortunately, it is not clear from the edition itself which manuscripts these come from in any given case. How did the editors decide when two such manuscripts disagreed with two others? We are not told. This problem aside, I find the paragraphing to be one of my favorite features of the new edition. The amount of paragraphing is really quite surprising, especially in the Gospels. But even outside, the breaks will surprise many of us who are accustomed to reading, say, Romans in a certain way (note, for example, the non-break at Rom 3.21). One curiosity on this front is how often the THGNT’s paragraphs match the versification. So far, I’ve only spotted a small handful of places where a new paragraph does not line up with a new verse (e.g., Gal 4.12b).
  • Orthography is another major area of distinction as far as presentation goes (see Pete’s various posts). Much effort has clearly gone into matters of spelling here, so much that I think it is safe to say that no edition since WH has done more. Certainly, none that I can think of has been more transparent about it. Capitalization is kept to a minimum such that even χριστος is given a lowercase. However, I do question the decision to use uppercase letters at the start of paragraphs. Would doing otherwise really be a “stumbling block” (p. 511) to readers? I would think that the other changes introduced to the paragraphing (their frequency and ekthesis) are different enough, that it would be a small thing to also give way to the habit of capitalizing them too. There is also no distinction given to text cited from the Old Testament. I must say, this is one place I wish the edition had followed the early manuscripts more than it does. It seems to me that this is a perfect place to introduce the common use of the diple symbol to mark such quotations. Couldn’t that be handled in the same way as paragraphing? Perhaps something else for a 2nd edition. 
  • The apparatus is small and unencumbered. I cannot say I am happy that the versional evidence was excluded or that it seems to have played such a minor role in the editorial decisions (p. 507). But one thing I really like about the apparatus is that it gives much more detail about legibility. For instance, P75 is not merely marked with “vid” at John 13.10, but what appears to be in P75 is also listed as νι[ψ]α̣σ̣θ̣αι. This extra detail is quite nice to have in an appratus.
  • The order of books is a pleasant change. The editors have printed the Catholic Letters before Paul’s but have placed Hebrews at the end of the latter section. I am happy to see from the ECM for Acts that it too is moving this direction. Perhaps the NA29/UBS6 will adopt the same?
  • The type used in printing Greek New Testaments is one of my pet interests and I was very pleased with the use of Adobe Text here. Some letter shapes (like alpha) grate just slightly but, on the whole, it is a clean, crisp face that is a pleasure to read. I should confess that I campaigned several times for the use of Porson Greek given its Cambridge roots. But, alas, I failed to convince. Mostly I am just glad they did not settle for Times New Roman’s Greek. Unfortunately, it seems impossible to avoid Times New Roman altogether and here it managed to sneak itself into the edition in the book titles and the running heads.
These are some initial impressions, then. Overall, the edition is refreshing in its visual simplicity and some of the novelties such as paragraphing are a nice change. I will still use my NA, of course, for serious work but I expect to be reading the THGNT devotionally in 2018 and perhaps as my new church NT.

With only a few exceptions, the THGNT is set in Adobe Type throughout.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Some accents to note

Romans 16:5 Ἐπαινετὸν τὸν ἀγαπητόν μου not Ἐπαίνετον τὸν ἀγαπητόν μου.






Matthew 7:10 ἰχθῦν αἰτήσει not ἰχθὺν αἰτήσει (of course this affects the nominative and accusative singular of ἰχθῦς and ὀσφῦς elsewhere).








In assessing the differences between witnesses, we can take into account how smart, consistent, deliberate and grammatically knowledgeable each scribe was in matters of accentuation. The accentor of Vaticanus (B 03) is particularly deliberate and accents ἰχθῦς, ὀσφῦς and ὀφρῦς consistently, including for the genitive singular, e.g. Luke 11:11, against Herodian’s rules:

In this it was isolated, so we didn’t follow it in the THGNT. Minuscules tended to replace circumflexes with acutes and graves. This is but a grammatical trifle, but we had fun discussing it in preparing the THGNT and learning from Patrick James, who is, according to Dirk Jongkind the only person he knows who truly knows ancient Greek.

With thanks once more to CSNTM and the Vatican Library for images.

Where does the Parable of the Sower begin? (Mark 4:3)

In the Greek New Testament, Produced at Tyndale House, Cambridge (THGNT) we made the decision to begin the Parable of the Sower in Mark’s gospel with the second, not the first, word of Jesus’s speech. In Mark 4:3 we have ἀκούετε ‘listen’ and then a new paragraph beginning Ἰδοὺ ἐξῆλθεν ὁ σπείρων σπεῖραι· ‘Behold the sower went out to sow’.

I don’t know that we could reasonably have done anything else.

To make the point, I’ll just paste a series of pictures of manuscripts below with brief comments.

Vaticanus, fourth century, marks the new paragraph with the paragraphos above ιδου (credit Vatican Library).

Sinaiticus, fourth century, leaves space to the end of the line after ακουετε and has ekthesis before ιδου (credit British Library).

Alexandrinus, fifth century, ends the column with ακουετε and begins a new page with ιδου beginning with a littera notabilior (credit British Library).

Ephraemi Rescriptus, fifth century, does not use ekthesis with ιδου. Though ιδου does begin a line this is probably just a result of where it naturally falls within the paragraph. This manuscript therefore goes against the trend of the others (credit Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris)

Codex Bezae, fifth century, ends a line with ακουετε when there’s plenty of space for more. It then has ekthesis with ιδου (credit Cambridge University Library).

1424, 9th-10th century, is included here as illustrative of a later manuscript. There’s now a gap before ακουετε and another between ακουετε and ιδου. It’s a sort of intermediate form evolving from the earlier pattern of paragraphing to the more recent system of having the main break before ακουετε (credit

Of course the beauty of the old system, restored now in the THGNT, is that it separates the command to use one’s hearing from the command to use one’s imagination (or mind’s eye).

‘Listen up’
‘Now imagine you can see ...’

Thursday, November 09, 2017

SBL Sale on A New Approach to Textual Criticism

The SBL has just launched their annual meeting book sale for SBL members, and even our new book, A New Approach to Textual Criticism is included. The discount price is $13.97 for the paperback (−30%) and $24.47 (−40%) for the hardback (I recommend the latter). To receive the discount, download the order form here and follow the instructions on the last page.

The discount price for SBL members is of course also valid at the meeting in Boston which starts next week. At the meeting, Peter and I will be happy to sign the book for anyone who wishes. The easiest way is to ask us after any NTTC session.

The book has received a number of endorsements by David Parker, Larry Hurtado, Claire Clivaz, Peter Head, Paul Foster and Dan Wallace, but a few days ago, the first customer review on Amazon appeared here, by a “Brent” which delighted Peter and me (on Amazon you can also look inside the book here):
Required Reading for Pastors, Students, and Scholars
This book provides a concise and intelligent overview of the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method (CBGM). While Wasserman and Gurry’s chosen topic may sound esoteric and inaccessible, the CBGM has become a foundational tool for establishing the text of the Greek New Testament (GNT). Anyone preaching or teaching is using some text; therefore, the methodology for establishing the text is paramount. Every pastor and scholar working with the GNT will benefit from reading this important work. The stated intent of this book is to introduce beginning students and trained scholars to the CBGM—and it certainly meets that goal. Admittedly, some chapters may require rereading, but the content and presentation are excellent. 
In fact, the material is presented in a fresh and readable manner (it only took me two days of casual reading to get through it) and the content is fascinating. It is a scholarly and even sometimes entertaining resource. Helpful examples abound, the footnotes are excellent and often point the reader to key sources for further reading, key terms are explained clearly, and the glossary is a bonus. 
Regarding presentation, unfortunately the actual printing of this book isn’t the best. Some of the letters lack sharpness and ink. Some of the figures are tough to make out too (4.2 and those in the appendix are very poor). At the same time, the abundance of figures and tables are most welcome and contribute greatly to assisting the reader’s understanding of the material. Only two typos stood out: an unwelcome capitalized word on p. 40 and an oversized superscripted “20” on p. 46. Additionally, BDAG and LSJ were omitted from the list of abbreviations.

Monday, November 06, 2017

The ‘beginning’ of the gospel and minuscule 1241

The opening line of Mark’s Gospel is of interest for several reasons. One is, of course, the famous variant at the end of 1.1 involving “son of God.” But another is its use of εὐαγγελιον to refer to the narrative of Jesus that follows. Mark opens with “the beginning (ἀρχή) of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God.”

It is from this opening line that many think the use of εὐαγγελιον to refer to a written narrative of Jesus developed. Hence we find εὐαγγέλιον κτλ. as the title for each of our canonical Gospels. I wonder if Mark’s opening might also explain why we find κατά in the titles. The use of  κατά to delineate authorship is, after all, somewhat unusual given that the simple genitive would do just fine. But, given Mark’s opening line, perhaps κατά was needed to distinguish the author of the narrative (e.g., εὐαγγέλιον κατὰ μαρκον) from its main subject (εὐαγγέλιον Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ; cf. Hengel, Johannine Question, 193 n. 3). In any case, if we assume Mark wrote first, his opening effectively serves as the “beginning” of the gospel in multiple senses.

What is interesting is that minuscule 1241 adopts Mark’s language for the actual τιτλοι for both Matt and Luke. Both are titled ἀρχὴ (σῦν θεῷ) τοῦ κατὰ ... εὐαγγελιοῦ. Mark and John, on the other hand, are not so titled in this manuscript, I assume because both already have ἀρχή in their opening sentence. Interestingly, Acts also is titled “the beginning (ἀρχή ) of...” such that Mark’s influence is felt on all five of the canonical New Testament narratives in this manuscript. (The other books in 1241 do not have ἀρχή in the titles.) This is just one of the many ways that actually looking at manuscripts can get us thinking more about the text—both its original meaning and its later influence.

Both NA27 and the Aland Synopsis list pc or al with these Gospel titles, but I have not been able to track these others down yet.

Here are some images (more at CSNTM or the VMR):

Matt 1.1 in 1241

Luke 1.1 in 1241

Acts 1.1 in 1241

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Second Annual ETC Lunch at ETS

Last year we started a new tradition with an ETC lunch at ETS (Evangelical Theological Society). It was good fun so I thought we should do it again. This is especially for those who can’t attend SBL and our famed annual dinner. It’s a good time to eat cheap American fast food and discuss textual criticism—what could be better?

This year we will plan to meet at on Friday, November 17th at 11:15 am in the lobby of the Rhode Island Convention Center. From there we will head over to the Providence Place food court. Sadly, there is no Whataburger there. But, as a slight consolation, Pete Head should be joining us this time around. After lunch you can make your way over to Omni Providence room I for our special session on TC and Evangelical apologetics and hear from three of the five ETC Petes. All are welcome!

Foodcourt at Providence Place
Do leave a comment if you plan to come so that you won’t get left behind (and I don’t mean in the dispensationalist sense).

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Brian J. Wright on Communal Reading in the Time of Jesus

Today I’m happy to introduce a guest post from Brian J. Wright who is currently an adjunct professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He has a forthcoming book on communal reading published by Fortress. I heard Brian present some of his research at ETS last year and thought our blog readers would be interested in his work.

I’ve been a follower of this blog for over a decade, and have benefited from it in numerous ways. I also genuinely appreciate the work you all continue to do and look forward to getting my hands on a copy of the THGNT.

In my new work on communal reading, I’m essentially asking, “Who was reading what in the first century AD, and where?” The main reason I’m asking this question is because over the past few decades various scholars have argued for or against certain “quality controls” that must have been in place—consciously or unconsciously—in order to account for the transmission of the earliest Jesus movement (eyewitnesses, communal memory, memorization, performance, etc.). By successfully identifying one or more of these controls, it is thought, one can better account for the similarities and differences between the various Christian traditions, get closer to the earliest sources of the nascent Jesus movement, and ultimately understand the historical Jesus more accurately.

The problem, as I see it, is that the entire subject of communal reading events and their role in controlling literary traditions has been largely neglected in early Christian studies. Academic literature even hinting at the fact that communal reading events were a means of controlling literary traditions is sporadic and implicit at best—often centuries removed from the traditions’ inception. By asking the question I mentioned above, we can begin to answer the first of a series of important historical questions regarding communal reading events in the first century, namely, what evidence exists that would suggest that they were a widespread phenomenon? I ultimately argue that communal reading events were already a prevailing practice over a wide geographic range in the first century CE, and that these events acted as a conserving force over the transmission of literary traditions.

For readers of this blog, let me briefly mention just one important aspect that might not be immediately evident from the title and that I will not be covering specifically in my different presentations on various aspects of my book at the annual conferences next month (i.e., one at ETS, one at IBR, and two at SBL).

I document and discuss various comments made by first-century authors regarding manuscripts they hear, read, excerpt from, or examine. Based on their comments, it seems to me that more people in the world of the ancient biblical scribes and translators did care about consistency, and the aspiration for consistency was not merely an invention of later centuries. I’ll summarize just a few of the sorts of remarks here to illustrate my point.

Some first-century authors mention their community getting angry and throwing away manuscripts they receive to read because they contain mistakes. Other first-century authors write at length about textual differences, such as changes to earlier manuscripts and spelling differences between them, in order to highlight a quality control they think should be in place when audiences hear poets read their works. Still other first-century authors mention posting their communal readings publicly so others can read and verify the content, and/or they write about making corrections to manuscripts during readings.

Even in spite of the radical suppression of literature at certain times during the first century, such as the exiles, book burnings, and bans during the reign of Domitian, there was still a “vast flood of literature,” to use one of Petronius’s phrases; “thousands who recite,” as Epictetus states; and opportunities for “advertising your abilities” before “a multitude of fans” at communal reading events, according to Seneca the Younger and Martial, respectively. As I now see the evidence, the prevalence of literary works, activities associated with them, and more kinds of quality controls embedded in literary traditions in the first century CE suggests a world carefully shaped and controlled by a book culture typified by commonly held, albeit highly diverse, communal reading events. I believe the implications this will have on many other disciplines and subdisciplines, such as canonicity, NT textual criticism, orality, social identity, and performance criticism, are wide-ranging.

That said, perhaps I should conclude with a first-century quote: “One thing remains: please be equally honest about telling me if you think there are any additions, alterations, or omissions to be made. […] It is more likely to be long-lived the more I can attain to truth and beauty and accuracy in detail” (Pliny, Letters 3.10.5–6).

Monday, October 30, 2017

New Book: The Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity

The Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity: Texts and Analysis (OUP) by yours truly and Ed Gallagher releases in the UK this week (see the preview on Google Books here; see Amazon UK here; see Amazon USA here). It will be available on the tables at SBL in Boston, MA, and it will release in the USA on Jan. 2.

What is the relevance of this book for canon studies? The biblical canon of the Old and New Testament was formed over centuries. There were many Jewish “scriptures” or sacred writings of inviolable authority as shown from the MSS from Qumran and the deuterocanonical literature from Palestine and Alexandria. Even significant works such as the Didache or the Shepherd of Hermas reveal the early impulse for Christian literary output. Answers vary for how and why the churches settled on the same core Jewish canon with variation at the edges (N.B. the differences between the modern HB/OT Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox canons). Furthermore, the answers differ over the formation of the twenty-seven-book NT canon. These questions focus on the quantity and the quality of our evidence. Scholars have noted the variegated nature of the evidence for the biblical canon. What do we learn from MSS (e.g. Dead Sea Scrolls; Christian codices), citations of religious literature (e.g. early Christian usage of the Shepherd), ancient translations (e.g. Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures), ancient notices (e.g. “The Law and the Prophets”), and canon lists? Thus, a book on canon lists will necessarily not tell the whole history of the canon, but we suggest that the various, early lists provide the most specific information about the ancients’s canon.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

2017 SBL Boston Blog Dinner


Your SBL Boston 2017 experience will not be complete without the annual ETC blog dinner, which will take place at 7:30pm Mon 20 Nov at the Hard Rock Café.  Please purchase your ticket online ASAP.  Pre-purchase guarantees group seating, a special rate ($28.11) and protects the organizer (me!) from losing a deposit.  Everyone is invited.  You need not be an evangelical, a text critic or as dashing as Peter Williams to attend.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A New Approach to Textual Criticism – A Book that Will Keep You Awake

It is now possible to order my and Peter Gurry’s introduction to the CBGM from the SBL website or from Amazon.

Authors: Tommy Wasserman and Peter J. Gurry
ISBN: 9781628371994
Price: $19.95
Binding: Paperback (hardcover $34.95 here)
Publication Date: November October 2017
Pages: 164

Below is information from the publisher. Note in particular Peter Head’s endorsement, “It kept me awake almost the whole way through.”


An essential introduction for scholars and students of New Testament Greek
With the publication of the widely used twenty-eighth edition of Nestle-Aland’s Novum Testamentum Graece and the fifth edition of the United Bible Society Greek New Testament, a computer-assisted method known as the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method (CBGM) was used for the first time to determine the most valuable witnesses and establish the initial text. This book offers the first full-length, student-friendly introduction to this important new method. After setting out the method’s history, separate chapters clarify its key concepts such as genealogical coherence, textual flow diagrams, and the global stemma. Examples from across the New Testament are used to show how the method works in practice. The result is an essential introduction that will be of interest to students, translators, commentators, and anyone else who studies the Greek New Testament.


  • A clear explanation of how and why the text of the Greek New Testament is changing
  • Step-by-step guidance on how to use the CBGM in textual criticism
  • Diagrams, illustrations, and glossary of key terms


Tommy Wasserman is Professor of Biblical Studies at Ansgar Teologiske Høgskole, Kristiansand, Norway. He is secretary of the International Greek New Testament Project, serves on the board of the Centre for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts, and has started projects on manuscript transcription and manuscript forgeries for the Museum of the Bible. He is Associate Editor of TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism. Wasserman has authored and edited several books including The Epistle of Jude: Its Text and Transmission (2006) and Studies in Isaiah: History, Theology and Reception (2017).

Peter J. Gurry is Assistant Professor of New Testament at Phoenix Seminary. He has worked with the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts and the Museum of the Bible to both preserve and publish New Testament manuscripts.
This is Resources for Biblical Study 80. Download a printable standing order sheet to see other available volumes in the series and to give to your librarian to set up a standing order.

View the hardcover edition of this title.

Praise for A New Approach to Textual Criticism

“This book is essential reading for everyone who wants to understand how contemporary research is changing our understanding of the text of the New Testament or the significance of this new method for all textual scholarship. It is a clear and perceptive explanation of the methodology behind the new editions of the Nestle-Aland and the United Bible Societies Greek New Testaments, as well as the major edition on which they are based. With a historical overview and suggestions for further reading, it contains a step-by-step guide and examples that shed new light on such difficult passages as the first verse of Mark’s Gospel. The authors, who have practiced the methodology and studied it in detail, are ideally placed to offer this simple but thought-provoking guide.”
David Parker
Professor of Digital Philology and Director of the Institute for the Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing (ITSEE)
University of Birmingham

“Wasserman and Gurry have together written an extremely useful book. They introduce and explain in detail the history and inner workings of the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method, a method that has become extremely important to the textual criticism of the Greek New Testament through its foundational role in determining the Initial text for the Editio Critica Maior and, in consequence, the printed text in the current (28th) and future (projected) editions of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece. All students of the Greek New Testament … are in their debt for writing such a helpful and informed account. It kept me awake almost the whole way through.”
Peter M. Head
New Testament Tutor
Wycliffe Hall, University of Oxford

A New Approach to Textual Criticism is a clear introduction to a complex method, the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method. It reflects the transition of textual criticism into the digital age, by showing a new path to deal with the multiplicity of the New Testament manuscripts, leaving behind the categorization of text-types.”
Claire Clivaz
Head of Digital Enhanced Learning
SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, Lausanne

“For anybody who cares about the text of the New Testament, there will be few books published in biblical studies over the next decade that will be more important than this one. Tommy Wasserman and Peter Gurry describe some of the tectonic shifts that are currently occurring in the way that New Testament text critics are reconstructing the earliest recoverable form of the Greek text of the New Testament. With great care and clarity, the authors explain the intricacies of the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method in ways that both scholars and nonspecialists can readily understand. For anybody who wishes to know how the text of latest printed scholarly editions of the Greek New Testament has been determined and why it differs from earlier editions, this is the book to read.”
Paul Foster
Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity
School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh

“This book will be of great service in helping scholars and serious students of the New Testament to grasp what the CBGM is. To this point it has largely been a “black box” for many.The explanations are clear, and the examples will be particularly helpful in showing what the CBGM offers and how to make use of the online access to it.”
Larry W. Hurtado, PhD, FRSE
Emeritus Professor of New Testament Language, Literature and Theology
University of Edinburgh
In addition to the endorsements so far published on the SBL website, we have received this one from Dan Wallace:
“Writing an introduction to the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method for the uninitiated must be akin to trying to teach the Amish how to drive a Ferrari. CBGM is a complex method that Wasserman and Gurry have simplified with a rather humane writing style, but this does not mean that those who have minimal exposure to this method will jump at the chance to understand it. They should, and Wasserman and Gurry are the right guides to gently bring them into the realm of 21st century NT textual criticism. This book is a welcome addition to the library of anyone (not just the neophyte) who wants to understand this arcane, yet foundational, discipline that has grown in intricacies and subtleties in recent years.”
Daniel B. Wallace
Executive Director
Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts

Monday, October 23, 2017

Wuppertal Coptic Intensive 2018

For those of you who have been lying awake all night, lamenting your ignorance of the Coptic language, the solution is at hand.  I will be teaching a two-week intensive introduction to Sahidic Coptic in English 12–24 February 2018 at the Kirchliche Hochschule Wuppertal/Bethel.  During the first six-day session, students will rapidly encounter the basics of grammar and vocabulary, while the second six-day series will survey texts from the Coptic Bible and Nag Hammadi corpus.  Students should arrive Sunday 11 February with at least the first 98 words from Metzger’s Coptic word list memorized (preferably through 205; digital flashcards available) and a master of the first three Chapters of Layton’s grammar Coptic in 20 Lessons (preferably through chapter ten).  The experience will not replace a proper Coptic course, but instead augments self-learning, offering students a brief overview of the language as well as some of the cardinal issues relevant to early Christianity and textual criticism.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Brief review of Bible Nation

Over the weekend I managed to read the new book by Candida Moss and Joel Baden called Bible Nation: the United States of Hobby Lobby.

The book is an attempt to understand the motivations and actions of the Green family in relation to their plans for collecting Bible manuscripts, the Museum of the Bible, the Scholars Initiative, and the school curriculum they have designed. In general I found it readable and interesting, helpful for getting a perspective on some of the story and people involved (although I didn’t learn much that was new except for some details about tax deductions for charitable donations); it is, however, not very well informed on matters relating to manuscripts, papyrology, and evangelical theology (once accusing the Greens of subscribing to the prosperity gospel). It is also badly out of date. The whole discussion of the court case involving Cuneiform tablets announced in early July 2017 (see for example here) is treated on the basis of what was known in 2015 (which, to be fair, the authors had announced in articles published around that time).

They adopt a quasi-journalistic tone, but don’t always pull it off (e.g. Brent Nongbri is described as ‘the eminent New Testament scholar’; Christian Askeland as ‘a well known papyrologist’). They seem to like Mike Holmes (who is basically a genius) but not get on so well with David Trobisch (‘a stocky man, who sports the standard academic uniform of slightly ill-fitting suits and goatee’); they are impressed by all the members of the Green family they meet, but obviously don’t like their theology or their politics. They hear a broad narrative that the Green Collection started and grew so rapidly that some corners seem to have been cut, while much higher standards of professional and curatorial behaviour are currently being followed. But they wonder about whether this is so when the collection does not seem to be very forthcoming on issues of (dodgy) provenance of some items in the collection.

Of course a thing to note is that our blog gets a couple of mentions. So our annual dinner at 2012 SBL in Chicago gets a mention on p. 71 (basically noting the generosity of Jerry Pattengale and the Green Scholars Initiative in paying for our meals). The authors take this as an example of the generosity of the GSI towards some scholars, which contrasts with others: ‘while some who craved access were denied it, others were actively recruited to join the GSI’ (they don’t provide any evidence about the ones who craved access). (Nor do they note any of our other dinners which GSI generously supported!) [In note 33 they take several of our blog discussions about the supposed and so-called First Century Mark as indicative of ‘the type of conversations that were happening around this fragment among papyrologists and scholars.’]

One massive problem is that they haven’t seen the Museum of the Bible, which opens next month, which they describe on the basis of a walk through the building site; and they have apparently not had first hand experience of any of the Scholars Initiative activities.

Richard Fellows’s measurements of the Vaticanus paragraphoi

Over on his blog, Richard Fellows has written up the results of his measurements of the paragraphoi in Vaticanus and plotted them against the measurements of Philip Payne from his recent NTS article. Fellows has linked to his blog in the comments of my last post about it but I thought they were worth highlighting here. In short, he has found that Payne’s “characteristic bars” are not actually characteristic.

This can be seen, for example, in the graph below which plots the the length and marginal extension of paragraphoi at the 28 places where Payne finds them next to digstimai. There is no clear correlation here. (It would be useful to see this same graph using Payne’s own measurements.)

Fellows’s measurements against Payne’s

Here is the end of Fellows’s post:
What we can conclude is that the peer review process has failed us yet again. The measurement errors and questionable statistical method should have been spotted by reviewers.

We can also conclude that online discussion can make much faster progress then peer reviewed journals. The blog posts and comments on the ETC blog have advanced the debate, in large part because Philip Payne and others have been so willing to share their ideas and data. He has also exchanged multiple emails with me. If only all scholars were as willing to engage in online and offline discussion!
Payne has suggested that the discrepancy may be because Fellows is using the online images whereas Payne has access to the excellent facsimile. Certainly, that could be a factor. But I do not think that is the main issue here.

The problem is that we are measuring in millimeters in the first place. What we have is a case of what Charles Seife calls “proofiness,” an improper use of measurements in statistics. The question is not whether we can measure these paragraphoi in millimeters and attach meaning to the differences we find, it’s whether we should in the first place. To my mind, it’s a bit like saying that eating Whataburger will make you 50% happier. It might be true, but measuring happiness in percentages is the wrong way to prove the point.

As Pete Head says, “I don’t think the length of the bars or their distance from anything is of any significance whatsoever. These are written by hand!” Are we to imagine the scribe of 03 using a ruler to make them? Of course not. So a ruler is probably not the right tool for the job.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

MS Contents: NT Text and Material Document

Perusal of the LDAB over the past several days has yielded some interesting results in researching the contents of “NT MSS.” In the process, it has become clear that the Nestle-Aland edition and, even the Liste, describe MS contents in an unhelpful way, if one is looking at their listings for documentary evidence within the MSS. If one is looking at matters from a NT text perspective, then these resources helpfully supply the contents within MSS for the NT books.

For example, we are told in NA 27-28, that P6 (04C [= Liste] or 05C [= LDAB]) contains sections of John. The Liste confirms this and adds James 1:13-5:20. Now, if one reads all of the entry in the Liste, one will find the LDAB number with a link to its entry. What one finds on this page is different from the Liste’s page. Here, we are not even told the MS is P6. We are given archive and library numbers (Strasbourg, Bibliothèque Nationale P. k. 362 + Strasbourg, Bibliothèque Nationale P. k. 375 -379 + Strasbourg, Bibliothèque Nationale P. k. 381 + Strasbourg, Bibliothèque Nationale P. k. 382 + Strasbourg, Bibliothèque Nationale P. k. 384) and are also told that the contents of the MS include 1 Clement 1-26 (Copt.), James 1-13 (Copt.; note the mistake in reference numbers that are corrected by the Liste to James 1.13-5.20), Gospel of John 10, 11-13 (Gr.-Copt.; the Liste has more to say about the exact contents). Both the Liste and the LDAB provide links to the other’s site, which is helpful.

By using both databases, we learn P6 contains sections of John (Gr.-Copt.), James (Copt.), and 1 Clement 1-26 (Copt.). NA lists only the Greek portions of the MS. NA does not list the evidence of James because it is probably in Coptic (I have not checked this). The Liste includes all evidence for the text of the NT. Most interestingly, LDAB includes 1 Clement (Copt.) as part of this “NT MS,” while neither the Liste nor NA provide that information.

I’m not sure there’s a perfect database out there designed to meet all of our needs. At this point, it will be helpful to realize there are several wonderful, free resources on the Web to aid us in our varied research endeavors.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Matthew 2:15 and the Hexapla

We all know Matthew’s citation of Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son’ ἐξ Αἰγύπτου ἐκάλεσα τὸν υἱόν μου.

The exact form of the citation is not how you find it in your Septuaginta as edited by Rahlfs, which reads ἐξ Αἰγύπτου μετεκάλεσα τὰ τέκνα αὐτοῦ. A reasonably straightforward conclusion might be that Matthew translated straight from the Hebrew, which reads וּמִמִּצְרַ֖יִם קָרָ֥אתִי לִבְנִֽי.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see how other translators rendered the Hebrew? Enter Origen’s Hexapla, a third-century work setting the Hebrew, a transliteration into Greek, and four different Greek versions in parallel columns next to one another. Besides some rewritten fragments, most of the Hexapla is still lost though we have quite a few marginal comments.

Rather surprisingly, we have a good version of Hosea 11:1 tucked away within a commentary section in a manuscript in the Vatican, (which is a rich source of Hexaplaric material anyway – Rahlfs 86). On folio 17v we find this:

The first line gives the title of this little sub-section ἐκ τῶν ἑξαπλῶν, ‘from the Hexapla’.
The next line gives us five sections, which are the five columns of the Hexapla written in Greek letters. First, we get the transliteration, then the reading of Aquila (marked by α), followed by Symmachus (ς), the Seventy (oἱ ο̃), and Theodotion (θ); for νιπιος read νηπιος, note the nomen sacrum ιηλ for ισραηλ (as in the transliteration ισραηλ).

In the next two lines Theodotion’s reading is apparently the same as first Aquila’s and then Symachus’s, though it is convenient that the otherwise too long a line now fits on a single one. We see the various translations diverging: ἀπό and ἐξ, the presence of the conjunction καί, and in the next line, after ἐκάλεσα, Theodotion adds αὐτόν. This becomes important when we take this together with the next line, as Theodotion reads ἐκάλεσα αὐτὸν ὑιόν μου, ‘I called him as my son’. In the son line (starting with the transliteration λαβανι), only the reading of Aquila contains a nomen sacrum for ὑιόν, but that seems to me a scribal phenomenon more than anything else.

As things stand, none of the versions follows Matthew exactly, though every element in Matthew is reflected somewhere. There is little remarkable going on here as this is a basic sentence in which you cannot do that much wrong. There is of course always the possibility that things have gone wrong in the transmission of the Hexapla, so that we may not have the exact texts of the Greek versions, or already in the texts that Origen had available wording may be corrupted. Did Theodotion really read αὐτόν or is this a corruption of the article τόν as in Aquila and Matthew? Anyway, once the commentator has given this fragment of the Hexapla, he continues saying that Matthew did the same.

It is fun, I think, to see that at times New Testament text and the sometimes arcane field of Hexaplaric studies come close to overlapping. And perhaps more of us could use this example in our ‘Old Testament in the New’ lectures.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Robinson-Pierpont Byzantine Textform on the web

Ulrik Sandborg-Petersen has sent me an announcement:
The Robinson-Pierpont Byzantine Textform, along with various resources developed by Maurice A. Robinson, have a new home on the web at

The website contains freely downloadable resources and pointers to further information about the Byzantine Majority text.
Audio downloads of the entire Greek New Testament Byzantine text (1991 edition), spoken by Maurice A. Robinson.
A downloadable Reader's edition, as prepared by Jeffrey Dodson in consultation with Maurice A. Robinson.
Select bibliographies of articles and books on the Byzantine Text.
Downloadable editions of the Byzantine and other Greek New Testament texts.
... and more.
For developers, the website is accompanied by an official GitHub repository for Dr. Robinson's various resources,  The repository will be updated in close collaboration with Dr. Robinson as he makes updates available.  The repository includes Greek New Testament texts with morphological parsings and Strong's numbers, documentation, and a library written in the Python programming language for reading these texts.

The team behind the website and GitHub repository comprises Ulrik Sandborg-Petersen and Daniel J. Mount, in close collaboration with Maurice A. Robinson.

Friday, October 13, 2017

7th Lincoln College Summer School of Greek Palaeography

Georgi Parpulov has announced the 7th Lincoln College Summer School of Greek Palaeography.
The school is intended for students of Classics, Patristics, Theology, Biblical or Byzantine Studies. Potential applicants are advised that it only offers introductory-level instruction in Greek palaeography and codicology. Adequate knowledge of Greek is a must for all students.
It is well worth it if you can make it. I would echo what Pete Head says about it, “Highly Recommended (don’t let the fact that it is in Oxford put you off).” I did it several years ago and really enjoyed it. And now you can even pop by Wycliffe Hall during the breaks to make jokes about Oxford with Pete Head! ;)

More info is here. The deadline to apply is January 15, 2018.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

What hath Codex to do with Canon? A Rejoinder to Michael Kruger

UPDATE: this conversation is inching along with Michael Kruger’s response to my post here. I probably won’t pursue the matter any further with him presently due to time constraints. I do think matters have been well presented on both sides, even if there are lingering questions we may have for one another. Overall, I have appreciated the conversation with Kruger and think it has highlighted different aspects of method for determining and describing the ancients’ biblical theory.

My post a few days ago has attracted some attention; most significantly, it has prompted Michael Kruger to respond, which you can read on his own blog here.

Before I reply to him, I do want to affirm what Kruger says in his last paragraph: we probably do agree on more than we disagree. However, I think I have read Kruger carefully, and I restrict my response to method and the Shepherd.

Isaiah: rough or smooth?

Ever wondered whether Isaiah should have a rough or smooth breathing? Wonder no more. Mss I consulted were univocal:

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Why give Abraham a rough breathing?

cross posted from the blog The Greek New Testament. Post by P.J. Williams.

The question of whether to give Abraham a rough or smooth breathing is difficult. Manuscripts differ. We could say that it begins with aleph and that aleph = smooth breathing. The problem with this is that it’s sheer prejudice. We don’t have data which show a regular alignment between aleph and smooth breathing. OK, you say, but rough breathing = aspiration, and we know from lots of languages, the original Hebrew, and the NT versions of Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, Latin, Syriac, etc., that it wasn’t represented by aspiration in those scripts. Fair point, but it still doesn’t settle the question of how it was (a) pronounced in Greek; (b) written by educated scribes.

Look at Liddell and Scott and you’ll see that, if you exclude alpha privatives, ἁβρ- (perhaps with the rough breathing representing Proto-Indoeuropean s) is a more common Greek word beginning than ἀβρ-, so why should Greek not use the rough breathing here and make Abraham sound a little more native?

Now look at some manuscripts for Matthew 1:1 and note the first 12 sources I come across.

B 35 689 690 774 1418 2278 2414 read rough

478 481 1424 read smooth

688 has one of each!

Look at Gal 3:29 and check some different sources as well as some of the same:

B 35 69 104 319 757 2298 read rough

D (06) 1424 read smooth

So it seems that the rough breathing is preponderant. How do we decide which to print? That’s tough, but we know that the accentor of B was really smart and I value him more than the accentor of D (Claromontanus). So with a bit of hesitation, we choose the rough breathing as representing the stronger learned tradition for Greek breathings. Now we’re not thereby saying that anyone ever pronounced this with aspiration. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. Nor are we saying that this was pronounced with aspiration at the time of the NT. We’re just saying this: if you’re going to bother having breathings at all, they need to be there to give readers historical information which comes from manuscripts rather than from the heads of editors. Any reader who’s studied Hebrew knows that Abraham’s name in Hebrew begins with an aleph. They don’t need an NT editor to tell them that. What may be of more interest is for them to know that the strongest learned tradition of breathing in Greek is for Abraham to have a rough breathing.

What we’re printing here is not odd or a novelty. It was also what Erasmus printed and other early editions of the TR (which of course were closely based on the manuscripts available at the time). It’s also what you’ll sometimes find, for instance, in Niese’s edition of Josephus that Abraham is Ἅβραμος, given not only the nice Greek ending, but the nice Greek beginning of a rough breathing, in line with the mss.

So in making an edition where we try to model everything we can off the manuscripts we decided on balance to use a rough breathing for this name. It’s not necessarily a big deal, except that users may like to know that thought, care, and above all, documentary evidence has gone into decisions like these.

Monday, October 09, 2017

The New Testament Canon and Manuscripts

UPDATE: Michael Kruger responds to my post on his own blog here.

In this post, I briefly lay out some of Michael Kruger’s argument for the NT canon from the MSS to evaluate its worth for determining early canonicity of NT books. This is a pilot post, not finished research. I welcome your feedback in the comments.

In Canon Revisited, ch. 7, Kruger treats the “potentially fruitful” but often overlooked “study of the New Testament manuscripts themselves” (233) to discern what they might tell us about the formation of the NT canon. This chapter is divided into (1) The Quantity of Early Manuscripts, (2) Early Manuscript Collections with subsections treating the Gospels, Pauline Epistles, Catholic Epistles/Acts, Revelation, (3) The Early Christian Use of the Codex, and (4) Public and Private Manuscripts. Kruger notes that the first three areas focus on the broad features, while the last area treats internal features of early Christian MSS, noting the difficulty in attempting to separate public from private use (254).

Thursday, October 05, 2017

γεινομαι not γινομαι in Luke

Luke 6.36 in P75
One of the claims we’re making in the THGNT is that at the time of the New Testament there was a distinction (or at least a partially preserved distinction) between short and long [i], with the latter sometimes represented by ει. In due time we’ll publish more data backing up this claim. Here I’ll just start with the spelling of the word γίνομαι which in Luke we believe should be spelled γεινομαι, or blending later accent with earlier letters (we explain how accents and letters are separate ‘layers’ in our edition) γείνομαι. Here are some data on early spelling.
  • Luke 6:36 γειν P75(vid) 01 02 03 05 but γιγν 032 
  • Luke 9:7 γειν P75(vid) 01 03 05 032 but γιν 04 
  • Luke 11:26 γειν P75 02 03 05 032 but γιν 01 
  • Luke 12:40 γειν P75 02 03 05 032 but γιν 01 
  • Luke 12:54 γειν P45 P75 01 02 03 05 032 
  • Luke 12:55 γειν P45 P75 01 02 03 05 032 
  • Luke 13:17 γειν P45 P75 02 05 032 (03’s reading γεν- better explained from γειν- than γιν) 
  • Luke 15:10 γειν P75 01 02 03 032 
  • Luke 19:19 γειν 01 02 03 05 
  • Luke 20:33 γειν 02 03 032 
  • Luke 21:7 γειν 01 02 03 032 
  • Luke 21:28 γειν 01 02 03 04 05 032 
  • Luke 21:31 γειν 01 02 03 032 but γιν 04 
  • Luke 21:36 γειν 01 02 03 05 but γιν 04 032 
  • Luke 22:26 γειν 01 03 05 (γεν P75 02 032) 
  • Luke 22:42 γειν P75 01 02 03 but γιν 032 (γεν 05) 
  • Luke 23:8 γειν P75 01 02 03 05 032
  • The earliest witnesses P45 and P75 always support γειν
  • γιν is only supported by 01 04 032, of which we know that 01 has an overwhelming preference for iota in many instances where other mss have epsilon-iota. 04 is fifth century and sometimes supports epsilon iota and 032 may not be as early as the rest and still favours γειν more often than γιν.
  • Against the 3 relatively weak witnesses for γιν we have 7 for γειν.
  • In only 6 of the 17 occurrences in Luke is there earlyish support for γιν. In the rest there is none.
γεινομαι was the normal spelling in Luke. It’s not a misspelling, but a prestigious koine spelling used by careful scribes to bring out the long vowel which arose when the second gamma of the Classical form γιγνομαι was dropped. You can call it a ‘historic spelling’ if you like and claim it has nothing to do with pronunciation, but that just makes the scribes smarter that they were able to preserve into the fourth and fifth centuries spellings representing pronunciations which were no longer current.

And finally
There is one incredibly overused word in this context, which is the word itacism. We can only claim that such has occurred when we understand the standard and conventions which scribes were seeking to attain and are able to demonstrate that they missed it. Itacism certainly occurs often enough in some mss, e.g. 01, but many instances when this is claimed are nothing of the sort.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

More on Forged Dead Sea Scrolls, or ‘The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife saga times 70’

The Times of Israel has a lengthy article out yesterday on forged Dead Sea Scrolls in the Museum of the Bible collection, the Schøyen collection, and elsewhere. Here are a few snippets, but the whole article is worth reading. One scholar working on it calls this the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife “times 70” in terms of its importance.
MOTB’s Nehemiah fragment
In his latest article, “Caves of Dispute,” published in the Brill Dead Sea Discoveries series this month, [Kip] Davis found that at least six of the Museum of the Bible’s 13 published fragments are forgeries. (“Published,” in this context, refers to artifacts that have been researched by experts, with their findings presented in academic journals. The Museum of the Bible collection includes three more fragments whose origin and content have not yet been published.)

In conversation with The Times of Israel, Davis said while he is convinced that six of the fragments are forgeries, “that number could be higher. There are people out there that think that all 13 of the fragments are fake. I’m not quite there, but I have colleagues who are fairly sure they are forgeries.”

Far from ignoring the forgery assertions, the Museum of the Bible is sponsoring Davis’s research and that of other scholars.

Årstein Justnes, a professor of Biblical Studies at the University of Agder, Norway, has built the blogsite The Lying Pen of Scribes to document for free public use the mounting evidence of forgeries in the post-2002 Dead Sea Scroll-like fragments.


“The sellers of these fragments have preyed on the well-meaning faith of Evangelical Christians who are compelled by the idea of owning a piece of ‘the Bible that Jesus read,’” said Davis.

“This is more than a simple form of manipulation,” said Davis. Given how seriously Evangelicals “are committed to their notion of sanctity of scripture,” he warned, “there is a danger of inflicting collective psychological harm.”
A couple reflections. It is good to see the Museum and the Schøyen collection investing in the effort to vet their own collections here even if that means they turn out to not be what they thought. It is not so good, however, to see Evangelical schools being duped into buying these. I remember being at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary when they unveiled some of their fragments and it was all quite exciting. It’s obviously not so exciting if they turn out to be forged.

For more from the blog on all this, see our past posts on the MOTB DSS publication, DSS forgeries in Bible software, curious DSS recently bought in the US; and various current projects on forgery.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

The most learned TC blog post ever?

For those who like detailed philology, I’d like to highlight the post by the extremely learned Patrick James over at the Greek New Testament, Produced at Tyndale House blog. The brief summary: print φιλονικία in Luke 22:24 (against all editions) but φιλόνεικος in 1 Corinthians 11:16. The blog post is definitely worthy of a journal, but a journal wouldn’t give such good access to the images.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Tyndale House Greek NT: Mark available

With about 6 weeks to go before the publication of the Greek New Testament, Produced at Tyndale House, Cambridge, we now have the gospel of Mark available for download from Crossway (scroll to bottom for download, or go directly here.)

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).