Friday, February 06, 2009

SBL Boston, Book Review of David Parker, An Introduction to the NT MSS and Their Texts, pt. 5

We have come at last to the final part of the book review session (SBL 24-32) of David Parker's An Introduction to the NT MSS and Their Texts (CUP), featuring David Parker's response. Again, this is a recapitulation from my notes and memory.

Part 5

David Parker’s response

Parker began by expressing his gratitude for the kind things that have been said about his book. [Rather humurous in light of the serious critique that had just been raised.] He now wanted to share some of his experiences writing the book, and this also answered some of the critique. On the one hand, he did not make the new order of this introduction up. On the other hand, he did not use the "proto-type model" of Scrivener’s introduction. Parker thinks this old way is not the best way to go about today. Instead, he wanted to create a story in a narrative framework. The ordering of the book simply represents the story Parker wanted to tell. He decided to tell two stories. The first is the “knowledge of documents”-story. It locates the book in a philological tradition. Part one is about the documents. Part two describes how the documents have been studied, why the text changed, and how to edit the text. Part three shows how this applies to the sections of the New Testament.

Parker did not expect to write this book when he did. But he felt there was a gap between those that apply textual criticism, and those who are editing the NT. The former did not know about the major recent changes that are taking place. This is not the fault of the discipline at large. The concept of editing needed explanation. The books that were out there were completely out of date in this regard. The second part of the book, “textual criticism and editions,” in particular offers a “what is happening today-perspective.”

Finally, concerning the third part of the book, “the sections of the New Testament,” it is usual to provide a section termed something like “practice.” Parker had found these parts boring in other books; they want the reader to imitate. If these rules are so useful why does none agree on their application? Housman said “every textual problem is potentially unique." In his response, as in the book, Parker continued to show his disinterest for the canons of criticism. He does discuss thoroughoing ecclecticism, conjectural emendation, and the like, but such is admittedly woven into the overall framework of the book.

Then some words about indexing and navigating: Here Parker largely blamed the publisher (Cambridge University Press), since he himself wanted to put everything in there. The publisher did not. They wanted a “target”-perspective (focused on those issues that get a paragraph). Parker will discuss this again with the press for future editions.

The issue of readership is important. The book is intended to share contemporary scholarship within the guild. There is no point in writing an introduction for anybody. The discussion has to take place. Already Parker’s earlier monograph, The Living Text of the Gospels, was a kind of introduction for a more general audience. All four of the panelists are North-American males over 50 years. Parker says the book is also aimed at the new generation. We need more voices.

About the choice to put the images on a website, it is because they come out too badly in the printed book. All you see is an outline of a manuscript. You see so more on the website. There is only this way to go. You can always access the internet on you mobile phone but the display may be a bit small [laughter].

Parker then responsed to some of Ehrman’s critique. He had suggested that Parker is someone who knows everything about manuscripts but not texts. Ehrman kept using the phrase “idiosyncratic” about the book, e.g., about the use of terms. Parker was not problematizing the terms but tried to make them clear. The issues are tendentious. Ehrman had complained that Parker did not discuss Royse’s work on scribal habits, but he does and he is even mentioned in the index. Many of Ehrman’s examples neglect a different part of the book. For example, palaeography is indeed discussed on five pages; there is a discussion of Latin and of Coptic palaeography in the book. What Ehrman is revealing in his critique is his own views on various matters. For example, Parker emphasized that the quantitative analysis is past. [Here I should point out to Parker’s defense that various versions and developments of quantitative analysis, including Ehrman’s Comprehensive Profile Method, is indeed treated in the book, albeit briefly but with ample bibliography (pp. 163-65). Parker’s conclusion (p. 165) is that one common problem with these methods is the definition of group relationships of the basis of the whole text as it stands in a MS, and on the basis of a pre-determined sample. But in recent years a different technique has been developed – the ECM implied – which “has been applied with worthwhile results.” In this part of the book, the quantitative methods actually get more coverage than the CBGM!]

Then Parker proceeded with Epp’s defense of text-types, i.e., Epp’s objection against Parker’s rejection of the concept: Parker said he accepted everything in Epp’s response [Did I misunderstand this!?] But then he took a hyphothetical example of 50 copied MSS. The bottom-line of the example was that the concept of text-types is very static. Parker wants to know how the forms developed, a family tree, how the text changed. The division into text-types does not tell you that, and the contamination between text-types is a hinder. The CBGM gets around the problem with contamination. It is now possible to build a family tree of the textual flow. Text-types are no longer particularly important, we are now able to move beyond them.

[To some extent I agree with Parker here. Although I still find it difficult to talk about text-critical problems in practice without being able to generalize in the traditional way, e.g., “the Alexandrian witnesses attest to reading x” or “the Byzantine tradition is split between x and y.”]

How do we fit the versions into this? (Epp suggested that a consideration of the “Western” text-type must take the versions into account). The point Parker made is that you cannot reconstruct the Greek Vorlage of e.g., the Syriac version. In the Catholic Epistles it happens to be possible to pinpoint the Harklensis group. But often otherwise it is not possible in detail. [Hence, there are serious methodological problems with the identification of the “Western” text-type to include versional witnesses.”]

As for the definition of textual history, brought up by Holmes, textual history, said Parker, is the history of the whole text after the variants have been described. Parker then separated two issues in Holmes’ response:

1) Authorial fallacy
There is a real gap between the textual tradition and the author’s intention. Here Parker managed effectively to use the reference to his associate, Peter Robinson (to whom Holmes had referred), in detail to his own defense. In the example of Chaucer, the textual tradition of which Robinson has worked with, we can get back to just a little step from Chaucer, though there is still a gap between the “initial text” and the “authograph.” [It does not surprise me that Parker managed to use this particular objection to his own defense – he must have had opportunity to discuss these issues with Robinson over hundreds of cups of coffee/tea in that nice project room they have in Birmingham.]

2) The second-century text
Parker now brought up that they are reconstructing Paul’s collection. The goal is to edit the corpus. There is again a gap between the “initial text” and the author’(s’) text. In the question of exegesis, there will always be a gap. It is positivistic to say that NA27 is what Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, etc., wrote. Just read what the editors of NA27 say in their introduction.

Finally, Parker emphasized, supposedly concerning what method he uses, that every place in the tradition may be potentially unique as to what factors (call them canons if you like) are applicable.

In the time for questions I wanted to bring up several issues, but my main comment was this:

What exactly is reconstructed by the CBGM, the editors of the the ECM themselves are actually not agreed on. The easiest hypothesis, says Gerd Mink [Occam and I agree], is that the “initial text” of a given book is the original text, not introducing any other explanation. Particular factors like the affect of a collection have to be addressed. But, interestingly, the results of the CBGM in the Catholic Epistles show that the individual books have their distinct transmission history, suggesting that we can reconstruct beyond the point when the books were collected. Moreover, I have already pointed to the use of intrinsic evidence to move beyong the “archetype,” and this also applies to an archetype of a collection. I am now eagerly awaiting the results for the Pauline corpus (Parker nodded his head – he is too).

What I really appreciated with Parker’s response was that he managed to keep it in a good tone, in spite of the "attacks," especially by Bart Ehrman. And, finally, the presiding Amy Anderson gave Parker the last word of the session, which he actually ended with a positive appeal to the panelist and to all present, "Times are exciting, let us move on!" This in the same enthusiastic note on which he ends his book. Let me therefore close this review by citing the conclusion of the book (p. 349):

“The curent generation is experiencing one of the most momentous periods in the transmission of biblical texts and of much in textual scholarship. It will be equally exciting to see what happens in the next few years.”

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