Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Student's Guide to Textual Criticism

Also noted by Justin Taylor:

Paul D. Wegner, A Student's Guide to Textual Criticism of the BibleIts History, Methods and Results (IVP, 2006)—334 pages for just $14.40. Unusually this book seems to focus on both testaments.

IVP publicity here.

Commendations by Walter Kaiser and Bruce Waltke here.


  1. Hi,

    With regard to pg 40:

    There is no doubt that the New Testament is better represented than any other works presently collated by western scholars.

    However, as far as I am aware, once fully published, there will be perhaps over 1,500 continuous text manuscripts of Homer Iliad.

    That is more manuscript evidence than any book of the GNT excepting the gospels.

    Of course Wegner can choose any comparison he wants (see pg 40), but that does not mean there are not other comparisons that cannot be made.

  2. I'd be interested in a source for the figure of 1,500 mss which you give. I should rather doubt that this could be a figure for complete mss. At any rate isn't the earliest ms of the whole of the Iliad Venetus A (Codex Marcianus 454), which is 10th century, i.e. somewhat later than the earliest complete ms of the NT, which is from the fourth century (Codex Sinaiticus)? I don't therefore think that Wegner's statement is inaccurate.

  3. There is easily far more Homer than NT among the papyri (say up to c. 600). But although they all may represent 'continuous text manuscripts' most are pretty fragmentary.

    Yes, playing the numbers game is completely pointless.

    I have a paper on 'Evangelical Apologetics and the Reality of New Testament Textual Criticism' which addresses this (and other issues). Should be submitted to EvQ shortly.

  4. Of course, I was being silly: 'continuous text manuscripts' means manuscripts that originally contained continuous text (not excerpts), not manuscripts that now contain continuous text. Since Homer does not have lectionaries (non-continuous texts) this allows you to claim that there are more mss of Homer than of any of the NT book. Yes, there are many strange things that can be done with numbers. A more interesting thing would be to compare the fidelity of the transmission of Homer with that of the NT. How would we go about doing that?

  5. PJW,

    In the middle of last year when I checked, according to Harvard University's online database, they were around 733 continuous text manuscripts of Homer's Iliad.

    Professor Martin West lists an additional 800 or so fragments from (nearly all) continuous text manuscripts of Homer's Iliad that have not been incorporated into the online database - as this only happens when the fragments are published.

    See his book, Studies in the Text and Transmission of the Iliad, 2001, p. 86-138.

    I thought the earliest complete ms of the GNT was from the 9-10th century?

    There is a significant difference between the words comparison and accuracy.

  6. PJW,

    I'm sorry, Homer does have non-continuous texts. Please examine the relvant databases held online at Harvard.

  7. Hi Anon,
    Thanks for this information. You can see a pseudo-facsimile of Sinaiticus on:
    A full digitisation of the text is being prepared.

  8. PJW,

    I remember when I was being witnessed by some nice (not saracastic) evangelical people, this numbers thing came up with Homer.

    I thought it was worth some extra investigation so I corresponded with the Centre for Hellenic Studies and subsequently Professor West and hence the numbers I provided above.

    When I read Wegner it just reminded me.

  9. Dear Anon,
    There's a history of evangelicals comparing the transmission of Classical works and the NT, which goes back at least to F.F. Bruce The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? and then has been spread wide by popular apologetic texts. The brief section in Bruce (pp. 16-17) deals with such texts as Caesar's Gallic War and Tacitus' Annals. The point Bruce makes is that there's far more textual evidence for the NT than for these. Bruce did not claim that the NT was better transmitted than all Classical works and therefore it was legitimate that he did not mention the good attestation of Homer. However, one would be surprised after reading popular apologetic texts to learn just how many mss of Homer there are.

    However, even granting the large number of mss of Homer, I would still argue that there is better textual evidence for the NT than for Homer. The gap between writing and the earliest complete copies of any book is under 300 years and the geographical spread and range of witnesses (including translations into other languages) is far greater. Now I haven't looked into the textual quality of transmission in Homer, but I'd still say that Wegner's statement, given that this is an introductory work and can't nuance everything, is perfectly legitimate.

  10. PJW,

    I think the point I am trying to make has been addressed by PMH.

    There are a multitude of different comparisons that can be made which can produce different impacts on the receiver of the information.

    The numerical comparisons found in apologist material are normally factually accurate, but it should be remembered they only convey a snapshot of a large pool of data - this snapshot selectively chosen by the author.

    Therefore Wegner's statement may be legitimate and accurate, however, it is certainly not comprehensive and does not convey all of the "numerical truth".

  11. When I first saw the announcement of this book I thought, "At last!" a text that can be used at the MDiv/MA level to cover both testaments. Wegner was off to a good start in chapter one with the standard catalog of textual errors with (sometimes illustrated) examples from both teestament. But then I encountered an inexcusable quantity of misstatements, outdated bibliographic references and outright errors. They appear with such regularity that the proverb "The devil's in the details." In my view, the book is fatally flawed for use as a textbook.

    A few examples may suffice, to illustrate my point.

    Wegner uses the first editions of Wuerthwein and Tov. Wuerhtwein has been significantly updated. Tov has made a nuanced change in his 2nd edition at the very point where Wegner cites Tov's view of the "original form -- final form" from the first edition.

    On p. 102 Wegner says that only two volumes of HUBP have appeared, but on p. 112 he correctly states that three volumes have been published.

    On p. 108 the footnote incorrectly identifies the Eerdmans/Brill facsimile edition of L as Dotan's BHL.

    On p. 118 Weil's _Massorah Gedolah_
    is described as "(A diplomatid edition of the Leningraeensis B19a manuscript and the best resource avialable today)". Weil's work is quite useful, but it is NOT a diplomatic edition of L.

    On p. 110 the massorah magna is described as a "book of lists," at best a misleading description of MM.

    On p. 104 Ginsburg, Not Darlow and Moule, is identified as the author of the BFBS Historical Catalogue.

    On p. 122, the Cairo Geniza mss are described as codices. Many are not.

    I'm currently preparing a full review of Wegner's book, cataloging many more slips and urging the publisher to issue a corrected printing/edition. Baker Book Houase did this for an earlier publication by Wegner.

  12. Thanks for the helpful comments. Where is the review to be published?