Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Alexandrian Error and Byzantine Re-authentication?

A most intriguing discussion occurs in Metzger's Textual Commentary in relation to the NA/UBS reading at Acts 9:25a. The preferred reading of those editions is LABONTES DE OI MAQHTAI AUTOU NUKTOS, supported by p74 Aleph A B C 81c pc vg-st,ww; whereas the Byzantine MSS (as well as E Psi 33vid 1739 gig vg-cl sy, and, with variation, 6 81*; with conflation 1175) read LABONTES DE AUTON OI MAQHTAI NUKTOS.

The difference involves more than just a change of word order, being reflected in various modern translations as either "his disciples took him by night" — indicating Paul's own disciples; or "the disciples took him by night" — indicating believers in general. The consistent pattern in the book of Acts (some 30+ occurrences) is to state "disciples" without a modifier, even when it is obvious that certain believers are a disciple of a given person (e.g. Ac 19:1, disciples of Apollos; 20:1, 7, Ephesian disciples of Paul, etc.). The only modified occurrence of the word appears in Ac 9:1, but even there it is inclusive, "the disciples of the Lord".

Metzger, Textual Commentary, admits that OI MAQHTAI AUTOU appears to be "the oldest reading extant in the manuscripts," and of course this explains the main text reading of NA/UBS. Yet Metzger immediately provides compelling reasons why the "oldest reading" -- as found among the Alexandrian witnesses -- cannot possibly be correct: "it is scarcely conceivable that Jewish converts to Christianity at Damascus would be called 'Paul's disciples'"; nor can "the genitive AUTOU" be "construed as the object of LABONTES"; nor can it be "gratuitously" assumed "that these disciples had been Paul's 'companions on the way to Damascus, who . . . had themselves come to the faith".

Yet Metzger (and, presumably, the entire NA/UBS Committee) seem unwilling to allow in this case that (for once, at the very least!) the Byzantine Textform has preserved the correct reading, AUTON. Instead, the reader of the Textual Commentary is treated to a tour de force that is reminiscent of Westcott and Hort's "Western non-interpolation" terminology:

"The most satisfactory solution appears to be the conjecture [!] that the oldest extant text arose through scribal inadvertence, when an original AUTON was taken as AUTOU" -- i. e., the Byzantine AUTON indeed is original, but not as it appears within the Byzantine Textform!

To push this conjectural envelope further, Metzger cites Haenchen on Acts, where in loc. Haenchen repeats and extends the fictional/conjectural hypothesis:

"MAQHTAI AUTOU must be an early corruption" (Haenchen, 332)

"Here AUTON has been misread as AUTOU . . . The reading AUTON in the later MSS is thus a correction [!] which — for once — is correct" (Haenchen, 332n3)!

Thus — even though all the evidence points to the Byzantine AUTON as the original reading in this location, those who reject the Byzantine text under almost all circumstances instead prefer to hypothesize a conjectural "original" reading that became totally "lost" through error permeating all earlier MSS, yet which "error" then was "corrected" by the mass of later Byzantine scribes.

Forgive me for asking, but why should Occam and his Razor not be applied in the present instance? Why engage in speculative gymnastics and textual legerdemain to defend as "conjecturally original" a reading that clearly exists among the vast mass of manuscripts? Certainly the simpler solution would be to admit "Alexandrian archetypal error" at this point.

I suppose the real difficulty is similar to the problem faced by Westcott and Hort when they could not bring themselves to acknowledge "Alexandrian non-original interpolations" at those points termed "Western non-interpolations." But even so -- if Metzger's opinion reflects that of the NA/UBS Committee, why then should they not have "conjectured" the "original [Byzantine] reading" as the main text rather than publish what appears to be held as incorrect on all counts (as cf. Ac 16:12)? More importantly, what then about all the various modern translations that continue to perpetuate this acknowledged error by reading "his disciples" in Acts 9:25? Food for thought.

23 Comments:

John said...

The number of recent translations that get it right ("the disciples" or the like) include: REB, NJB, Biblia del Peregino, La Nuova Diodati, NJKV, NLT, and The Message. Those who get it wrong ("his disciples" or the like) include: NRSV, NAB, NIV, NASB, TOB, NCV, and CEV.

Some of the translations that get it right base themselves on the Byzantine text-form (NKJV and La Nuova Diodati); the others simply use their heads.

What does that say about the translations that get it wrong?

John Hobbins

Peter M. Head said...

Thanks Maurice,

That is a very interesting account. This has got to be one of the great bloopers of Metzger's Commentary! Concerning how often one sees it cited as authoritative.

On the actual textual question I don't see the early uncial text as impossible. I would see it as reprising the disciples mentioned in v19 (as you noted, Acts can use MAQHTAI for 'disciples of a given person').
This early uncial text also is the more difficult reading (since Luke most often uses OI MAQHTAI absolutely); and it explains the smoother Byzantine reading in a way that is congruent with Byzantine tendencies.

So it is not difficult to prefer the NA/UBS reading without at all buying into the TCGNT nonsense.
Cheers
Pete

maurice a robinson said...

PMH: On the actual textual question I don't see the early uncial text as impossible.

The point involved is not so much the stylistic use of MAQHTHS with a qualifier (even though Ac 9:1 is the only such case otherwise in Acts, and there general as opposed to specific). Rather, the issue is whether at such an early point after Paul's conversion he could be stated already to have disciples specifically attached to him. This becomes the primary basis for the impossibility of the AUTOU reading and thus the (correct in my opinion) Textual Commentary's assumption of error in the archetype of the Alexandrian text at that point.

I note also in this regard James Hardy Ropes, The Acts of the Apostles: The Text of Acts, 3:89, "The soundness of our text [reading AUTOU] must remain doubtful unless it can be made to appear natural to describe any Christians at Damascus as 'Paul's disciples.'"

Peter M. Head said...

MAR: "the issue is whether at such an early point after Paul's conversion he could be stated already to have disciples specifically attached to him."

Well, actually the issue is not the historical one you have raised, but whether or not Luke may have been willing to associate disciples with Paul (I don't think we can prejudge exactly what sort of relationship is denoted by AUTOU here).

Based on Gal 1.17f Paul may have spent a long time in Damascus (up to three years; cf. Acts 9.19, 23). He obviously had help to escape the city (cf. 2 Cor 11.32f). So, while admitting that the reading may be difficult, I don't see it as impossible on this basis.

Cheers
Pete

Peter M. Head said...

Possibly Chrysostom should be added to the support for OI MAQHTAI AUTOU here, at least as reported in the IVP Ancient Christian Commentary on Acts (I know this is not a critical edition, that is why I said 'possibly').
'For they sent him out alone, and no one was with him. This was fortunate, because it resulted in him showing himself to the apostles in Jerusalem. Now his disciples sent him out on the assumption that he ought to procure safety by flight ...'
Homilies on Acts 20 (NPNF 11.132f)

But Bede says the opposite (based on the same source): 'That is, Christ's disciples, for in the Greek the "his" is not stated, but only "disciples", so that we may understand it in general, as the disciples of Christ or of the church. For we do not read of Paul as having yet made disciples but only of having confounded the Jews who were living in Damascus' (Comm Acts 9.25A; CS 117.88).

maurice a robinson said...

PMH: Possibly Chrysostom should be added to the support for OI MAQHTAI AUTOU here

I am puzzled on this point as to what the IVP commentary seems to claim. The NPNF reference cited reads only "disciples" (NPNF 11:132, col.1 ["Then the disciples took him by night"; and col 2, "Then the disciples", with a repeat, "Then the disciples took him by night").

The NPNF does have a footnote by George B. Stevens regarding the variant, accepting the Alexandrian reading ("The reference is to the band of converts whom he had been successful in winning at Damascus"). However, the purpose of the footnote is clearly to point out a difference between Chrysostom's text and that which appeared in the ERV of 1881.

Tischendorf also cites Chrysostom as having the Byzantine reading; so I don't know where the IVP commentary gets their information at this point.

S.W. Whitney, The Revisers' Greek Text (1892), concurs in regard to Chrysostom. Whitney also comments to the point I was making (2:96), "This [AUTOU], in all probability, is a false reading. As Bede says, Paul could not as yet be said to have made disciples; and, if he had, they would not be his, but Christ's; nor can Luke be supposed to have spoken of them as Paul's disciples .... It is simply a copyist's blunder in writing AUTOU ... for AUTON .... It is an erroneous reading, which, on that very account, met with but limited acceptance. The disciples referred to were obviously those at Damascus."

Peter M. Head said...

Thank goodness for my parenthetical comment! Good grief. What were they up to?

They only cite the NPNF ref that I gave. In the back of the book they add a ref to TLG: 2062.154 (or in Migne PG 60.13-382). I can't access this right now. I suspect they have created a reading from the text they were using as their base text (RSV).

Eric Rowe said...

Some of you may remember a series of posts Mark Goodacre made about this passage last year in which he argued that Acts 9:25ff. was a flash forward to the same time as the famine relief visit of Acts 11.
http://ntgateway.com/weblog/2006/09/jerusalem-council-gal-21-10-acts-15.html

There was an ongoing discussion about his theory that spanned several lengthy posts and spawned some interesting feedback on hypotyposeis, where this particular TC issue was addressed.

I'm sure there's not much more to say here about Goodacre's theory that hasn't already been said. But I do think it's an interesting case study for the evaluation of the byzantine text. If somebody is willing to accept the auton reading, then they have to accept that this reading managed to slip through the cracks and survive until its later attestation in the byz mss even though so many widely distributed earlier mss attest to the autou reading. I have to agree that scholars who believe the auton reading did exist early on (or was even original) should reappraise the byz.

Tommy Wasserman said...

Chrysostom from the TLG:

Καὶ ὅρα 24 αὐτὸν τέως οὐ χάριτι σωζόμενον, ἀλλ’ ἀνθρωπίνῃ σοφίᾳ· 25 ἵνα μάθῃς τοῦ ἀνδρὸς τὴν ἀρετὴν καὶ χωρὶς σημείων 26 λάμποντος. Λαβόντες δὲ αὐτὸν οἱ μαθηταὶ νυκτὸς, 27 καθῆκαν διὰ τοῦ τείχους, χαλάσαντες ἐν σπυρίδι.

maurice a robinson said...

Thanks to Tommy Wasserman for showing that Chrysostom here (at least according to TLG) does reflect the Byzantine reading, as noted by Tischendorf and others.

Rowe: "If somebody is willing to accept the auton reading, then they have to accept that this reading managed to slip through the cracks and survive until its later attestation in the byz mss"

But that is the very point that the Textual Commentary (and by extension the NA/UBS Committee) is attempting to avoid.

The convoluted explanation assumes (1) a "conjectural primitive originality" of AUTON, followed by (2) some sort of "total loss" occasioned by an erroneous change to AUTOU, and (3) only later some sort of "fortunate restoration" via correction -- but not any "preservation of originality" to be found among the Byzantine MSS, even if they read as per the putative "original".

My concern remains with the NA/UBS editors choosing to publish as their main text what they seemingly admit in the Commentary to be a primitive error. If so, why not correct it as they did with PRWTHS in Ac 16:12, rather than mislead exegetes and translators as to their real opinion?

jonthanclarkborland said...
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jonthanclarkborland said...

Thanks for this fine treatment, Prof. Robinson. Is there a list somewhere that shows places where the Alexandrian archetype (i.e. the Alexandrian consensus when it exists as such) is probably wrong? I would be interested in such a list.

maurice a robinson said...

JCB: "Is there a list somewhere that shows places where the Alexandrian archetype (i.e. the Alexandrian consensus when it exists as such) is probably wrong? I would be interested in such a list.

I thought that's why we published the Byzantine Textform edition.... :-)

The thrust of my initial post was to explore one possible case where the NA/UBS Committee as a whole -- at least so far as can be determined from the published comments in the Textual Commentary -- seem to declare that their main text reading as published contains some sort of "primitive error".

Whether other similar instances might exist would require a close reading of the Textual Commentary, not including the peronalized signed dissenting notes (which themselves do not reflect a majority of the Committee). So far as I know, no list of such occurrences exists.

Jan Krans said...

It may be important that the Byzantine manuscripts have AUTON before OI MAQHTAI, whereas AUTOU occurs after it. I wonder why this aspect has not been mentioned so far in this discussion. The difference in word order would imply that (in Metzger’s view of course) (1) OI MAQHTAI AUTOY is the oldest attainable (extant) reading, (2) OI MAQHTAI AUTON may have been the original (to be restored through conjecture), and (3) the Byzantine text contains a double correction of the oldest extant reading, to wit (a) the transposition of the pronoun to a position close to LABONTES and at the same time (b) its change into AUTON in order to make it the direct object of LABONTES and to avoid a reference to Saul’s disciples. The conjectured reading OI MAQHTAI AUTON has the merit of being somewhat ‘hard’ because of the distance between LABONTES and its object AUTON, and is therefore able to explain the scribal error AUTOY more easily than if the original text were AUTON OI MAQHTAI. In any case, Metzger does not imply that the Byzantine text agrees completely with the (presumed) original.

jonthanclarkborland said...

Tischendorf's 31. 61corr* read OI MAQHTAI AUTON, so if this is the presumed reading from which the Alexandrian consensus reading was derived, one must ask why this presumed original reading only exists in two late minuscule MSS.

Question: what does von Soden's I-a(pr) for AUTOU OI MAQHTAI at this place (Acts 9:25) mean?

Also, the sheer number of occurrences of the article + noun MAQHTHS + AUTOU (over 120x) makes it arguably the easier reading over a possible AUTOU + article + noun MAQHTHS (which hardly occurs if it even occurs at all).

So if an early AUTON OI MAQHTAI became AUTOU OI MAQHTAI, the scribal preference to what the Alexandrian consensus has preserved is not just easy but rather to be expected.

maurice a robinson said...

JK: "It may be important that the Byzantine manuscripts have AUTON before OI MAQHTAI, whereas AUTOU occurs after it. I wonder why this aspect has not been mentioned so far in this discussion."

Not that OI MAQHTAI AUTON (as appears in MSS 6, 81* 1175) should be considered the sole surviving remnants of the putative "lost archetype" (as per JCB): Metzger actually said nothing about word order issues in this regard.

My initial comment dealt only with what Metzger stated in the Textual Commentary.

To be sure, the word order involving AUTON is an additional factor; but actually, if word order is considered, the matter becomes only the tip of the iceberg, since the next variant in that verse (as cited by NA27) involves an additional positioning of another AUTON:

NA27: DIA TOU TEICOUS KAQHKAN AUTON
Byz: KAQHKAN DIA TOU TEICOUS (omit AUTON)

(Other: KAQHKAN AUTON DIA TOU TEICOUS; other: as NA27 but omit AUTON).

Once this additional relocation of AUTON becomes involved, I would suggest that the whole combination appears to involve recensional activity on one side or the other; however, that was not the intent of the original posting, which was only to call into question the matter of the assumed "primitive error" in view of what NA27/UBS4 actually publish as their main text.

maurice a robinson said...

JCB: "Question: what does von Soden's I-a(pr) for AUTOU OI MAQHTAI at this place (Acts 9:25) mean?"

According to Kraft's Key to Von Soden, these are the Commentary-based MSS 307, 36, 610, 453.

Jan Krans said...

Jonathan,
Well, the main point you hint at is important: one has to draw a local stemma of variants. There may be at least two alternative stemmas here, namely:
A (Maurice?): (A1) AUTON OI MAQHTAI (Byz) -> [(A1') AUTOU OI MAQHTAI ->] (A2a) OI MAQHTAI AUTOU and (A2b) OI MAQHTAI AUTON
B (Metzger?): (B1) OI MAQHTAI AUTON (69 pc/cj) -> (B2a) OI MAQHTAI AUTOU and (B2b) AUTON OI MAQHTAI.
I tend to prefer the second stemma, just because the first involves a rather difficult (may I say conjectural?) step in supposing a rather hard reading LABONTES DE AUTOY OI MAQHTAI as arising from a perfectly normal one LABONTES DE AUTON OI MAQHTAI (cf. vs 19 TWN ... MAQHTWN).
The case remains difficult, however, for the second stemma leaves some uncertainties as well: (a) the presumedly original reading is not very well attested or even conjectural (if one supposes that 69 pc arrived at it by a happy guess as well); and (b) whether the Byzantine AUTON OI MAQHTAI arose from OI MAQHTAI AUTON or (as I suggested in my previous comment) from OI MAQHTAI AUTOU is hard to say. The second stemma, however, has the advantage that the change from OI MAQHTAI AUTON to OI MAQHTAI AUTOU can be easily imagined. I also wonder how unusual the word order LABONTES DE OI MAQHTAI AUTON really is (but cf. Acts 27:6 etc.).

For von Soden's "pr" (in Greek) see his vol. 2 p. xv: "Text des Andreas-Kommentars".

Jan Krans said...

Maurice: "Metzger actually said nothing about word order issues in this regard."

Point conceded, but ... Metzger (a) states on p. 323 that the "oldest extant reading appears to be OI MAQHTAI AUTOI" and (b) conjectures on p. 324 that "the oldest extant text arose ... when an original AUTON was taken as AUTOU"; the implication is clear.

As to the general point: I agree with you that there is inconsistency when at one point the printed text is admitted to be a faulty earliest attainable text and at another it is arrived at by conjecture (Acts 16:12). Maybe at some other places, a text is printed that is admitted to be both secondary and original (!), in other words, a scribal conjecture (but how would one know that?) shared by the editors. I would prefer the editors to always print the text they consider to be "original", even if this involves printing a conjecture. They should not leave their task unfinished.

For interesting discussions in Metzger's TC, see e.g. Mt 1:18; Mk 3:7-8; 6:22; Acts 4:25 (of course); 12:25; Rom 5:6; 8:2; 2 Pet 2:11.

maurice a robinson said...

JK: "Point conceded, but ... Metzger (a) states on p. 323 that the "oldest extant reading appears to be OI MAQHTAI AUTOI" and (b) conjectures on p. 324 that "the oldest extant text arose ... when an original AUTON was taken as AUTOU"; the implication is clear."

(For the record: in my copy of the 1994 2nd edition these comments are on pp.321-322; the comments remain unchanged from the first edition, p.366).

I would add, however, that in the same paragraph, Metzger remains non-committal regarding the putative "lost original" form, noting only that OI MAQHTAI AUTOU is the "oldest reading extant in the manuscripts", and that it was this particular reading that he claims "was altered" into both OI MAQHTAI AUTON and (the Byz) AUTON OI MAQHTAI, as well as to OI MAQHTAI without AUTOU/AUTON present.

Metzger thus appears to make no statement nor implication as to what may have been the supposed initial form of the "primitive error" postulated. Obviously, had a primtive AUTON OI MAQHTAI been corrupted into AUTOU OI MAQHTAI, it requires very little additional speculation to comprehend why the "later" Alexandrian MSS (or, more likely, their common archetype) would have smoothed such an reading into the "more usual" (as per JCB) OI MAQHTAI AUTOU.

My objection to this whole scenario still remains the assumed complexity of the sequence of error, correction and editorial reworking -- a scenario which need not occur at all if the Byzantine reading simply is assumed as original at this point, and thus the point of departure (Ausgangspunkt) for the remaining variant possibilities.

maurice a robinson said...

JK: "a rather hard reading ... AUTOY OI MAQHTAI"

Somewhat unrelated, but possibly pertinent:

While in the Byzantine Textform the sequence AUTOU OI MAQHTAI nowhere occurs, in the NA/UBS text it occurs one time, Jn 12:16 (supported by p75 Aleph B Theta 579 pc); in that same location, OI MAQHTAI without AUTOU occurs in K pc, and the "usual" OI MAQHTAI AUTOU occurs in Byz.

Certainly there was no similar "primitive error" involved in the Johannine passage, despite whatever cause might be postulated for the phrase alteration in that location (Metzger does not comment on that one, but it seems obvious that the intent was either to connect AUTOU with EGNWSAN preceding or to rework what appeared to be an awkward reading into the "normal" form -- depending on one's view regarding original text).

Having recognized this variant, it thus does not appear impossible or improbable that in Ac 9:25 the archetype of the Alexandrian MSS indeed may have misread an original AUTON OI MAQHTAI as AUTOU OI MAQHTAI, which phrase (like that in Jn 12:16, according to a pro-Alexandrian understanding) may have been reworked by some MSS (the Alexandrians in this case) into the more usual OI MAQHTAI AUTOU.

Of course I am speculating at this point, but no more than Metzger or anyone else in this regard.

jonthanclarkborland said...
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jonthanclarkborland said...

In cases like this, are there recensional habits, so to speak, that might betray which way the direction of recension has gone, or are we forced, in the end, to rely on the best MSS that have proven themselves under more certain circumstances? IOW, are there rules governing, e.g., where one might place the AUTON, such as after the participle instead of after the verb, or vice versa, assuming that an original loss of AUTON, either at the beginning or at the end (or both!) might have spurred such activity?