Thursday, December 18, 2008

SBL Boston, Book Review of David Parker, An Introduction to the NT MSS and Their Texts pt. 1

In spite of Peter Head’s posting as of yesterday, “SBL Finale” (about the visit to Houghton Library, Harvard), I am still stuck at the conference in Boston. I hope I will be able to finish my SBL report before the new year.

We have arrived at the Monday morning NTTC session (SBL 24-32), which is the book review of David Parker’s An Introduction to the NT MSS and Their Texts (CUP). Apparently, this session was very popular. Someone said they did not want to “miss the fireworks." There were so many people who wanted to attend the session, so when it began there was possibly a larger crowd left outside the packed room than inside! ” I sat so close in that little room (with my computer on my lap), that I could almost reach out and zip a panelist’s glass of water. Peter Head came a bit too late, and couldn’t get in, so instead he went out to find us a good restaurant for the ETC blog dinner that night. And he really did find a perfect place, an Italian restaurant nearby.

After the first speaker, Eldon Epp, however, the session was relocated into a huge hall, and suddenly there was plenty of space so everyone could get in. Again, the following summaries are filtered through me, building on my notes; I may have gotten some things wrong.

Eldon J. Epp

Epp had been asked to give a description of the book (therefore he had asked for extra time). In his judgment the book is not for the beginner, but a treasure trove for the advanced user. Some parts make up small monographs on their own. All will want it on their desk. It is a scholarly and praxis oriented volume. Epp then mentioned Parker’s earlier monographs, especially The Living Text of the Gospels dealing with the controversial issue of the original text (which made some corners of the TC world tremble). This study had inspired his own article on the “multivalence” of the term “original text.” In Epp’s judgment, this third monograph reflects the same scholarly precision.

After a very general description, Epp then devoted the rest of his discussion specifically to Parker’s call that the concept of “text-types” be abandoned. [This is also the standpoint of several scholars at the INTF in Münster]. This seems natural since Epp has been one of the strongest and ablest proponents of the concept. Here he offered a defence of the general concept of text-types, but, at the same time, he was open to modify the specific terminology.

1. Text-type terminology
There are admittedly some inaccurate labels, e.g., “Western.” However, what we name a particular text-type is not the issue (Epp has earlier proposed A, B, C and D-text type). Moreover, the term “type” connotates strong integrity; Epp thinks “constellation” or “cluster” is better (cf. astronomy, prominent stars create a pattern, overlaps in the margins with other constellations).

2. The stagnation of the theory
Parker has stated that the text-type concept has stagnated. But there are undeniably two early streams and one later (Byzantine). Epp thinks the strong evidence speaks against the stagnation of the theory. Moreover, multiple approaches are better than fewer and many scholars have referred to the text-types (continuity in the scholarly discourse).

3. Differences between individual witnesses
Parker says that there are so great differences between the witnesses (e.g., P45, P66, B, D, etc), which calls for an individual focus. However, the issue is not size and quantity, but quality. Epp suggests that various circumstances caused suppression of some texts. Hence many D-text witnesses were altered and conformed to the B-text and the Byzantine text. There are therefore fewer D-text witnesses.

4. Text-type theory and the text of Acts
Parker says the theory does not apply to Acts, where we have two texts in Acts. Epp wonders why this undermines the theory? They are simply the textual clusters in Acts.

5. The inadequacy of comparing Greek MS with only Greek MSS
Epp refers to Parker’s example of 614 where there is so low agreement with D (614 is claimed to be “Western” by some). The problem is the 104 testpassages in Acts. They are not useful for the purpose. Codex D is extant in only 72. One of the papyrus (“proto-Bezan” P38) was not included because it was extant in too few of the selected test passages. It is instead necessary to compare P38 with D in all places of variation. There is a high level of agreement. Clark said the text was almost identical, ignoring those variations that do not change meaning. Those that agree in sense are 24/29. This adjustment is a significant methodological issue.

6. A call for an appropriate method
Then Epp moved on to compare 614 with D with a different method than that used in Text und Textwert (where all variants are counted), which resulted in a higher agreement with D (64%). Parker only compared Greek MSS with Greek MSS. Epp’s, on the other hand, proposed that the D-text is a valid constellation if we include versional and patristic witnesses. All these witnesses are mixed with a D-text nucleus. Barbara Aland says that 614 has not the typical D-interpolations. Epp explains that the longer additions, etc. were the most obvious candidates for omission in the later centuries (when the Byzantine text dominated), but the minor traits were retained. A raw comparison in Teststellen will not be useful to identify the D text-type; it will only reveal agreements/disagreements between mixed texts. The method neither suits mixed material nor the historical development that created it. Neither does the CBGM method (only treating Greek MSS).

We cannot assume that Bezae best represents the D-text in Acts. Epp proposed a more appropriate method to identify the D-text, which he called a “triangulation of witnesses” procedure. The search for the D-text must begin with the common variants (which involves the search in non-Greek witnesses) and the identification of core witnesses. Because of the expansive and paraphrastic nature of the D-text, each variant must be scrutinized for the meaning (the Text und Textwert method only serves to exaggerate the differences). Epp thinks the D-text has several fixed points. He often referred to Tuckett’s treatment of this problem, using this type of method.

(I know that I have not made justice to everything that Epp said about this prodedure, "triangulation of witnesses" or explained why it is termed so. We will have to wait for a publication on the subject.)

My comment: Variants should weighed and counted (cf. par. 9.2 of my article on the Patmos family here). This is also what Epp seemed to suggest in the case of P38 as compared with D (because of limited amount of common text). I think the methods are complementary! It is analoguous to what the Teststellen-method does by first comparing agreements in all places of variation, and in a second phase by counting agreements only in variants deviating from the Majority Text. It is still unclear how to combine the values, but they form a double complementary picture. I think the proposed triangular method must be complemented by the quantitative measurement including all genealogically signifcant variation (only non-sensical errors should be removed). I actually suggest an process going from weighing variants to counting! This likens the procedure that is used when identifying a family of MSS and then, in the next phase, trying to establish the relationship between them. Within a close family of MSS even the errors take on genealogical signficance. (Weighing is crucial in the first phase because of the danger of counting accidental agreement or agreement due to contamination.)


  1. Thanks Tommy,
    I admit to some sympathy with Epp's view here - that we should sift the evidence through some intelligence filter before simply counting them all (as the CBGM). It is interesting thought that the CBGM type process (i.e. counting all variants) does tend to undermine the strict demarcation of text-types and I can see that this needs further exploration (along the lines of his discussion of P38, or perhaps B. Aland's discussion of P45). The counter problem with these approaches would be that you could be domesticating the evidence by means of existing paradigms.

  2. Peter, I am also sympathetic. As Epp said, multiple approaches are better than too few. This is why I suggest both weighing and counting. As Fee points out in his "On the Types of Textal Variation," (p. 67-68 in Studies in the Theory and Method of NT TC: "It is a truism of our discipline that some agreements in variation by their very nature are just as likely to be the result of independent scribal activity as others are almost impossible to explain apart from some kind of dependence on exemplars from the same family or text-type. One cannot make hard-and-fast rules here, . . . Therefore, some agreements of readings seem to demand textual relatedness, either by immediate ancestry or by ultimate relationship with a text-type parent or the original text itself. . . . On the other hand, major rewritings, some large addition/omission variants, certain kinds of substitutions, as well as several kinds of word order variants, must certainly be recognized as the basic data from which to construct stemmata of textual relationships."

    I think, however, that Fee in this essay overlooked the possiility that the transmission history of a reading is sometimes distinct from the transmission history of MSS, i.e., the kind of "major" textual variant that Fee is talking about is also more likely to influence other MSS that are not otherwise genealogically related (this is one of the conclusions of my article in the TC journal that I referred to).

  3. I think the evidence Tommy discovered implies that scribes who were copying a ms without the PA would get to the end of John 7:52 and say "Wait a bit here, there seems to be something missing." In some ms this point was even marked, as if in anticipation of such an eventuality.

    Then the scribe would hunt down some or another copy of the PA, whether in an unrelated ms or in free-standing form, and use it to copy the PA into the ms he was working on.

  4. Daniel, yes the PA was copied from other exemplars sometimes, when a scribe found that it was missing, but this was no surprise. The "discovery" was rather that even a spectacular reading within the PA was found in otherwise unrelated MSS. My conclusion was that the reading was known in a certain location (Athos?) and so could influence some various MSS. The point was that the more spectacular reading, the more not only can it become surpressed (so Epp suggests in the book review), but the more it can also have influence beyond the normal transmission process! Does it make sense? Maybe this is unclear.

  5. I think I understand the first part: that a spectacular reading is more likely to be suppressed. How is this different from the harder reading canon?

  6. Daniel, what I was trying to say in the second part is that a major rewriting has more potential to influence in a particular locality, and move from one MS to another (other than a direct descendant), because of its peculiar character it can become better known, wheras a minor textual variant, e.g., a transposition of word order, is not as likely to influence other MSS beyond the direct descendant(s).

    And the harder reading canon. Well, by "spectacular" I don't necessarily mean difficult. For example, various paraphrastic readings in the Western tradition could have been surpressed, but that does not mean they were necessarily the more difficult readings. Or, the reading in the PA I was examining, that Jesus wrote the sins of each of them (on the ground), and after having read them ... (the addition of ANAGINWSKONTES is not a difficult reading. On the contrary it is easier than AKOUSANTES in these particular witnesses where Jesus is said to have just written the sins.)

  7. TW wrote

    "Or, the reading in the PA I was examining, that Jesus wrote the sins of each of them..."

    Are you saying that there is a ms that actually says that Jesus wrote the sins of the accusers?

  8. Anonymous, no I am not saying one MS, there are nearly seventy MSS with that reading, Codex U being he oldest. Some 35 of them replace AKOUSANTES (having heard ...) with ANAGINWSKONTES (having read ...). Read more about that in the article I refer to in the posting. Since then one new MS in Albania with the readings has come to light (Albania National Archive MS 4).

  9. Great review, Tommy. Thanks for your time and effort.