Monday, May 15, 2006

Brock on Hebrews 2:9

Following on from earlier discussion of Hebrews 2:9, Chris Richardson, a postgraduate at Aberdeen, brought to my attention the following article:

S.P. Brock, 'Hebrews 2:9b in Syriac Tradition', Novum Testamentum 27 (1983) 236-44.

As would be expected from this author, we have a thorough review of the Syriac evidence for χωρις θεου vs χαριτι θεου. He considers 31 Peshitta mss from the fifth through to the thirteenth centuries. The data defy brief summary, since there were clearly a number of 'corrections' within mss, though broadly speaking the reading 'apart from God' found favour in the Church of the East ('Nestorians'), while readings with the word 'grace' found favour in the West (Syrian Orthodox and Maronite). Brock argues that 'grace' was the earliest reading of the Peshitta, though his conclusion is not indisputable.

The other thing that he does is to show how the different readings in Hebrews 2:9 were used in Christological controversy during the fifth and sixth centuries.

It occurred to me that Brock has provided evidence against Ehrman's 'Orthodox Corruption' reading of Hebrews 2:9. For Ehrman, patristic evidence of theological debate combined with variant readings supporting different sides of a debate can be taken to point to the fact that the debate led to the creation of a variant. In this case, however, it is clear that the Greek sources of the different Syriac readings were around long before the particular controversies of the fifth and sixth centuries. The different Syriac readings do not therefore require the controversy to explain them. The seeming connection between variants and a particular controversy is in this case coincidental.

1 Comments:

Peter M. Head said...

Pete,

you are I think right to note that Ehrman tends to present arguments along the lines of "patristic evidence of theological debate combined with variant readings supporting different sides of a debate can be taken to point to the fact that the debate led to the creation of a variant." It is important to Ehrman's thesis that the orthodox were the agents of corruption that he can locate variants in this way. We might also note that patristic writers sometimes tend to give the same (mistaken) impression - accusing opponents of creating readings (whether this would be orthodox or heterodox corruption). We can often know that the readings pre-existed the patristic controversy.

Without going into Heb 2.9 specifically I think this kind of thing is often a problem for any strong form of Ehrman's thesis - it very often cannot be shown that a reading was created in the context of a particular controversy (however neat the fit); and sometimes the evidence tells decisively against it.

But (surely you knew there would be one somewhere) it doesn't necessarily follow that "The seeming connection between variants and a particular controversy is in this case coincidental." It is not 'coincidental', because if it doesn't explain the origin of a variant the theological controversy will be a factor in choosing between available readings and in the geographical spread of a reading (esp in patristic witnesses). It also remains possible that an argument from analogy might be plausible - we know that reading XXX was the subject of theological debate in the 4th century, by analogy this might have been a factor in the origin of the reading (it certainly was a factor in the use and afterlife of the reading).

And sometimes (say e.g. 1 John 4.3) the fit between the variant and the theological controversy looks so good that the argument may work.