Tuesday, June 11, 2024

J. K. Elliott (1943–2024)

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Last week marked the passing of one of the great NT textual critics of the 20th/21st-centuries. J. Keith Elliott has been a staple of textual criticism as long (and longer) than I’ve been a student of the subject. I first heard him at a conference on the ending of Mark at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2007 as an undergraduate. That conference, later published as a book, was instrumental in pushing me to become a text critic.

Elliott taught for many years at the University of Leeds after having studied under G. D. Kilpatrick at Oxford from whom he picked up his thoroughgoing eclecticism. This method is known for putting primary (though not exclusive) emphasis on internal evidence and a willingness to accept a reading regardless of its source. 

As a proponent of this method, he could write negatively about “the cult of the oldest and best manuscripts” though he was careful to add that he did not treat all manuscripts the same. Positively, his approach meant he could be extremely careful and insightful when writing about matters of Greek syntax and authorial style. All this left me surprised when, in my viva, he left my criticisms of his method virtually untouched. I had claimed that the results of the CBGM basically made his method untenable. But he seemed completely unbothered and was nothing but a delight as an examiner. Even typos were forgiven!

Speaking of typos, he was a very close reader, as any who read his book reviews will know. He had plenty of practice as as the long-time book review editor for Novum Testamentum. Receiving a positive review from Elliott gave one a sense, not so much of pride, as relief. I will never forget him referring to what he considered to be a book’s overly sanctimonious acknowledgements as “cringe-making and toe-curling.” Besides moving me to keep my own acknowledgments short, this particular line taught me that good academic writing did not have to be stiff and boring; it could be careful and still colorful. Elliott’s writing was both. 

In my mind, his meticulousness as a scholar is encapsulated in two books on my shelf: his Bibliography of Greek New Testament Manuscripts and his Survey of Manuscripts Used in Editions of the Greek New Testament. The former he updated regularly and it is amazing to read it and see all that Elliott kept his pulse on. If readers would like a good sample of his work, Brill has kindly made his essay on thoroughgoing eclecticism open access.

Besides serving as an editor for Novum Testamentum and secretary of SNTS, Elliott served the IGNTP for 43 years in various roles as editor, secretary and member. (See the interview with Tommy at his retirement.) It surprised me to learn that Elliott was instrumental in the work of the Luke volumes as early as the 1970s. Much more surprising, but still indicative of the kind of person he was, Elliott was also a member briefly of the Majority Text Society for some years of the Dean Burgon society. Hixson will have to confirm this for me, but my understanding is that he was asked to give a talk at one of their meetings and he maintained his membership in order to get their newsletter and stay abreast of their work. He was ever the consummate bibliographer.

Elliott truly was a giant in our field. His passing feels like a great loss, one impossible to replace. But I take it as a moment to remind myself how important it is for those of us in the field to inspire the next generation. For myself, Elliott did that most of all through his speaking and writing. He remains for me a model of precision and thoroughness.

Posted below is a video of Elliott with Craig Evans to get a good sense of the man. (By the way, did you know Elliott has an IMDB page?)

Wednesday, June 05, 2024

Video Look at the New ECM of Revelation

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Greg Paulson has recorded a short video on YouTube giving an overview of the new four-volume (!) Editio Critica Maior edition of Revelation. One whole volume is dedicated to punctuation and “textual structure.”

Some highlights: 

  • The textual commentary is the longest yet
  • 84 changes to the initial text; 106 split lines; 95 changes in orthography
  • The edition gives a list of singular readings
  • There is a new punctuation apparatus with paratextual data too
  • Nomina sacra are marked in the main text (I wonder how these were decided on)
  • This is the first ECM completed outside Münster


Congratulations to the team!

Thursday, May 23, 2024

What level of confidence we should have in reconstructions of fragmentary papyrus texts?

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With a fragmentary papyrus manuscript—as the majority of our NT papyri are—and a known text being copied, editors very often reconstruct the missing portions of text beyond the boundaries of the extant material. This is all well and good, and totally necessary. But one might ask the question as to what level of confidence we should have in the reconstructed (=non-extant) text?

A preliminary answer could be: “no confidence at all, it is not extant, reconstruction is basically speculation, try to ignore it.”

Another option might be: “well the scholar who did this had all the time with the actual manuscript, and had studied the general way of the scribe closely, and (potentially) long experience in such things, so it makes sense to trust it”.

But someone might say: “I wish we had a test case where a published text of a NT papyrus manuscript was later supplemented by the publication of a fragment or two which gave total clarity on the beginnings and endings of lines and could help us with an assessment of what level of confidence we should have in reconstructed texts.”

Recently I had occasion to look much more closely than I had before at two fragments of P66 from Köln (photos below) (remember that the later portions of P. Bodmer II was published by Martin and then in a revised edition by Martin and Barns in 1962). So we can compare the reconstructions (in John 19) of Martin & Barns with those of Gronewald.

 V. Martin & J.W.B. Barns, Papyrus Bodmer II, Supplément. Evangile de Jea chap. 14-21 (Geneva: Bibliotheca Bodmeriana; rev. 19622), 35-38.

M. Gronewald, ‘Johannes-evangelium, Kap. 19,8-11.13-15.18-20.23-24, Kölner Papyri 5’ Papyrologica Colonensia [Abhandlungen der Rheinisch-Westfälischen Akademie der Wissenschaften] 7 (1985), 73-76, 296-298.

Across the passages in John 19.8-11, 13-15, 18-20, 23-24 Martin (& Barns) was dealing with a fragmentary text (P. Bodmer II) somewhere in the middle of the four columns, and on that basis reconstructing total lines. With the new discoveries we had either beginnings or ends of lines for nine or ten lines in each of these columns.

The result of a comparison is that although Martin (& Barns) made some brilliant anticipations, the 1985 lines reconstructed by Gronewald match exactly the 1962 lines in only 18 out of 38 lines (47%). Although a fair number of the twenty are errors of word division of no great consequence; there are also new word order variations, spelling variations, additional punctuation, different cases, corrections, and one major difference in the text reading (in John 19.10 where alterations across three lines result in a quite distinct reading).

This test case confirms that we should be extremely cautious about appeals to reconstructed text in the use of fragmentary material.