Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Burkitt on Streeter

In 1925 F.C. Burkitt published a long review of B.H. Streeter's book, The Four Gospels. This review pays particular attention to Streeter's textual criticism (which was integral to Streeter's argument). Burkitt wrote: ‘It is one of the outstanding characteristics of Canon Streeter’s position that he considers certain details in the Synoptic Problem cannot be satisfactorily disposed of without recourse to that somewhat technical subject.’ (p. 278 - speaking of textual criticism). After a summary the review focuses on text-critical matters, especially on:
  1. whether the Caesarean text identified by Streeter is really identifiable (pp. 284-288);
  2. Burkitt’s disagreement with Streeter on Luke 3.22 and 11.2-4, and hence on the reconstruction of Q (pp. 288-292);
  3. whether Streeter is always right in his application of textual criticism to the minor agreements, especially Mark 14.62 (cf. Matt 26.64//Luke 22.70) and Mark 14.65 (cf. Matt 26.67f // Luke 22.64) (pp. 293f).
The penultimate paragraph of the review concludes rather enigmatically:

‘On a careful reconsideration of the evidence I feel inclined to maintain that the special value of the textual part of Dr Streeter’s book consists in the light that it throws on the psychology of Origen. Origen had used a very good text of the Gospels, but he was quite willing later on to acquiesce in a much worse text which he found current, and even to expound it. Indeed he does not appear to be conscious of the difference, except that there and there where it is a question of some quite striking variant he seems to remember that he has seen manuscripts which had another reading. There does not seem to be any evidence that he ever compared any MSS of the New Testament together.
After all, this textual work is only one part of Dr Streeter’s volume, and it would be out of proportion to stress it too strongly either by praise or blame. …’ (p. 294).

So what about this strange phrase "the special value of the textual part of Dr Streeter’s book consists in the light that it throws on the psychology of Origen" - is this an insult? Origen had no critical principles, Origen didn't know a good text from a bad one, Origen never compared any manuscripts. It sure sounds like an insult to me.


  1. I suppose it could be an insult of Origen, but note that saying "Origen never compared any manuscripts" goes somewhat beyond what Burkitt charged. After all, Origen did indeed compare manuscripts in his Hexapla, only that they weren't of the New Testament.

  2. If Streeter's work does shed light on the psychology of Origen, I would see that as a very positive contribution to TC, notwithstanding the weaknesses Burkitt sees in Origen as a textual witness.

    If it is the case (as some think) that some secondary readings attained popularity as a result of Origen's commentaries, and if we are able to understand the peculiarities of how Origen may have come to favor those readings, then we have a helpful tool for analyzing the transmission history at such points in the text.

    Baarda followed such a line of argument regarding the origin of the reading "Gergesenes" in the demoniac story.

    Now, whether Burkitt is right about the value of Streeter's insight, and Baarda is right about that particular example, is another story. But I would at least say that Burkitt's judgment on the point you mention is not necessarily an insult.

  3. It does seem that Burkitt implies that Origen off the cuff, from memory, as it occurred to him, that a variant reading was only striking and noted on occasion.

    Whether the real significance in the nuances of the meaning of the variants was recognized by Origen and then by implication Streeter is indeed a curious observation.

    Is this asquiescence of Origen implied by Burkitt to Streeter as well? If so, what does it say to us today? Are we likely also to go with the flow and give credence to a later ill attested reading just because some translations (modern or not) adopt it.

    I know from experience that some oft heard passages have a special fondness for me even though it is impossible that they are original to the biblical author.


  4. Where can I find the review of B.H. Streeter's book, The Four Gospels, published by F.C. Burkitt in 1925?