Friday, February 29, 2008

Identical Copies

Today I received a mailing by Wilbur Pickering, who is labouring away on the collation of Byzantine manuscripts. Here is what he writes:

"Down with canards! In graduate school (theology) I was taught that no two MSS of the NT are identical in text. If we consider a book at a time, which I take to be the only reasonable demand, the statement is not true. Taking only the MSS that I myself have collated (copies in my possession), I have fourteen with an identical Text for Philemon, seventeen for 2 John, sixteen for 3 John, twelve for Jude, five for Titus and 2 Thessalonians, three for Galatians, Colossians and 1 Thessalonians, and two for Ephesians, Philippians, James and 2 Peter. As I collate more MSS these numbers can only go up. The shorter books have the higher scores because the copyists didn’t have time to get tired or bored. For all that, the care with which the monks did their work is impressive. I invite all who read this to join me in exposing this canard."

13 Comments:

Eric Rowe said...

Interesting. Is this mailing something that people can subscribe to?

Peter M. Head said...

Pretty odd really. The statement to be disproved says that 'no two MSS of the NT are identical in text'. So far as I can see he has not disproved this. The only thing he has disproved (assuming all the data is correct) is the statement that no one has ever made (i.e. 'no two MSS of the NT are identical in text even for short sections of text'). Strange.

maurice a robinson said...

As I commented directly to Dr Pickering:

I find this result of your collation work valuable in (at least) showing that over-generalization in text-critical matters should be avoided.

However, I suspect the canard likely does remain correct in relation to most if not all of the pre-9th century uncials, even in single short books (and this includes those of Byzantine type); certainly it is correct in relation to all the papyri.

Thus, a specific nuancing needs to be made in regard to the canard.

James Snapp, Jr. said...

PMH, let me quote from Bart Ehrman's "The New Testament: A Historical Introduction," p. 443 --

"It is not simply a matter of scholarly speculation to say that the words of the New Testament were changed in the process of copying. We know they were changed because we can compare all 5,400 copies with one another. What is striking is that when we do so, we find that no two of these copies (except the smallest fragments) agree in all of their wording."

Here's that last bit again:
"No two of these copies (except the smallest fragments) agree in all of their wording."

If Pickering's data is correct, does anyone here really want to try to defend Dr. Ehrman's statement?

And someone *has* claimed that no two MSS of the NT are identical in text even for short sections of text. See Metzger's statement from the Preface of "Textual Commentary on the GNT," p. xxiv --

"Of the approximately five thousand Greek manuscripts of all or part of the New Testament that are known today, no two agree exactly in all particulars."

And J. Harold Greenlee wrote, in "Scribes, Scrolls, & Scripture," p. 4 --

"In ancient times the only way to reproduce a book was to make one copy at a time by hand. This meant not only that copies of the New Testament were expensive but also that no two copies of a New Testament book would be completely identical."

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.
Minister, Curtisville Christian Church
Tipton, Indiana (USA)

Daniel Buck said...

To say that none of the manuscript New Testaments are identical isn't saying much, really. While any given gospel or epistle is represented by close to a thousand complete mss, the entire NT is represented by about fifty--only 5% of the total. These mss represent different arrangements of sections, different arrangements of books within a section, inclusion or exclusion of Revelation, etc to say nothing of textual variants.

Try finding any two successive [b]printings[/b] of the NT from the 16th century that are totally identical; it's not a phenomenon unique to scribal transmission of the text.

What is is it, though, that caused this phenomenon to be so grossly misrepresented by experts of the highest calibre?

Is it because they are embarrassed by the unnumbered dissimilarities between all of their favourite manuscripts not just in inclusion and arrangement of books, but in the inclusion and arrangement of whole sections of the text--not to mention general disagreement in readings down to the verse level?

Daniel Buck said...

I'm sure I exaggerated a bit on the "close to a thousand" line there, at least for the later epistles.

"Over five hundred" says it a bit more accurately, but still on the same order of magnitude.

maurice a robinson said...

Wilbur Pickering responded to my previous comment by pointing out that the matter of uncials or papyri that do not have an identical text in even a single book reflect only a very small percentage of the total evidence.

However, this assertion begs the question, since the proportion of later MSS that putatively might contain identical text in any short NT book is not yet established, whether by Pickering or anyone else, and likely never will be.

As I responded to him further on this matter:

The nuance should stand until such point as at least one short book can be shown to have identical text among any two uncials or papyri, or combination of both, or even in combination with a post-9th century minuscule. (So far this has not been done).

The point of the nuance is simple and can be expressed concisely:

Of existing MSS, no two are known to have a precisely identical text even in a single short NT book until the later minuscule era.

Thus, from ca. AD 125 until at least AD 900, the manuscripts clearly reflect individual differences as opposed to preserving any perfectly identical text, even in a short NT book.

Roger Pearse said...

This is most interesting, and slightly unexpected. All solid data such as this must be of great value.

Ehrman's statements have certainly given rise to a perception in those who read him that every portion of text of any length is different to that in every other manuscript witness.

I admit that I am slightly surprised to find complete agreement between two or more mss for a complete letter; as such, this is very useful work.

One query on Maurice Robinson's comment. I was wondering why we should expect agreements in the minuscule period, but not in the uncial period? Surely later mss, *other things being equal*, would display more divergences?

Work on the Byzantine mss must be of use, not least as a source of information for non-biblical texts which are extant only in mss of that date.

maurice a robinson said...

Pearse: "One query on Maurice Robinson's comment. I was wondering why we should expect agreements in the minuscule period, but not in the uncial period? Surely later mss, *other things being equal*, would display more divergences?"

Actually, in light of known scribal propensity for scattered minor orthographic and accidental error, I had no particular expectation of total agreement even in regard to short NT books, whether during the minuscule period or that of the uncials and papyri (unless perhaps the known Abschriften might be the exceptions).

The fact that (according to Pickering) there are some minuscules that apparently do share identical text does come as a pleasing and interesting circumstance -- but even so, the total number even of minuscule MSS that happen to contain an identical text still represent a very small percentage (e.g. in Jude, 2.1%) of the whole.

Thus, as I see it, the canard still stands as a general principle.

James Snapp, Jr. said...

Daniel Buck,

Your statement that it wouldn't be saying much to say that no two MSS of the entire NT are identical is true. But that wasn't what Metzger was stating. He did not refer to 58 MSS. He clearly referred to "the approximately five thousand Greek manuscripts of all or part of the New Testament that are known today."

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.
Minister, Curtisville Christian Church
Tipton, Indiana (USA)
www.curtisvillechristian.org/BasicTC.html

Daniel Buck said...

Not to be contentious, but I was responding categorically to Metzger's claim. He did categorically specify both the 50 mss with "all" of the NT, and another 4950 with "[any]" of the NT.

I was referring to the first portion of his claim as not being worthy of specification, then to the rest of it as being falsifiable by any two single fragments in agreement ("5000" would have to include the smallest scrap identifiable as scripture). In the end, though, mss containing much larger chunks of text turn out to be identical.

My point is, mss surviving intact at the level of whole sections (e-a-p-c-r) show much more identity than the fragmentary mss of any original size, even at the level of a NT (even p52 has identifiable variants).

What this evidence hints at is that there was never any so-called Neutral Text--just manuscripts that shared more or less of their errors in common.

maurice a robinson said...

As a follow-up:

After corresponding with both Tommy Wasserman and Wilbur Pickering regarding their collation research, Pickering's initial claim of at least 12 identical MSS in Jude needs to be reduced.

According to Tommy, there are only 7 MSS in Jude from Pickering's list that are truly identical. This reduces the overall percentage of known identical MSS in that book to around 1.2% of the total (but, as Tommy noted, there may well be others among the non-Kr MSS not collated by Pickering).

Pickering disputes Tommy's collations in regard to 3 of those MSS, and thus claims that 10 MSS in Jude remain identical; however, I am not going to intervene in that particular squabble, having no means whereby to verify the accuracy of either's collations.

Anonymous said...

Daniel Buck wrote:

What this evidence hints at is that there was never any so-called Neutral Text--just manuscripts that shared more or less of their errors in common.

If one identifies the Neutral text as the original/autographic text from the pen of the author and the goal of TC is to recover the verbatim wording of that text, then the real existence of such a text is a given or sine quo non of this science.

Malcolm