Evangelical Textual Criticism

Friday, December 25, 2009

Review of The Text of the Gospels in Clement of Alexandria

Co-blogger Mike Bird's review of Carl P. Cosaert, The Text of the Gospels in Clement of Alexandria (NTGF 9; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2008) is out in Review of Biblical Literature 12/2009.









Bird concludes his balanced review:

Cosaert has produced a significant work in a still largely uncharted area on the text of the New Testament in the church fathers, and there is much potential remaining here for showing the value of patristic authors for establishing the history of the text, scribal habits of the transmitters, and the reception of the New Testament. It is obviously impossible to determine the veracity of his data without the Greek text of Clement in front of you, but overall the impression I get is that his study is accurately detailed and analytically sound. Indeed, Cosaert’s near encyclopedic listing of Clement’s Gospel citations (including that of Clement’s opponents in an appendix) makes this a valuable reference resource that New Testament researchers and patristic scholars will want to avail themselves to.

The only major reservation that I have about this volume is the continued use of the notion of text-types such as “Alexandrian,” “Western,” “Caesarean,” and so forth. The Coherence-Based Genealogical Method (CBGM), pioneered in Münster, seems to have shown that variants indicative of a particular text-type are dispersed over a wide array of witnesses and that, furthermore, documents can fluctuate in the “type” of text that they exhibit. Application of the CBGM has so far been limited to the Catholic Epistles (where text-types are the least discernible), and one can still recognize the textual affinity of various manuscripts in a common trajectory or textual tradition whereby an identifiable textual group remains evident. Still, whether the historical nomenclature of text-types represents the most fitting way to express the fluidity and accordance of the manuscripts and patristic citations remains an open question. If anything, Cosaert’s study supports this, since he shows the relative fluidity of the textual traditions in Clement and the lack of a single dominant textual form that Clement’s texts of the Gospels corresponds to (with the exception, perhaps, of the Alexandrian quality of John). He is also correct to ask in what meaningful sense the primary influence on Clement’s text of Matthew can be Byzantine when Byzantine readings do not emerge as a unified text-type until the fourth century. I question, therefore, whether it is profitable to even try to place Clement in relation to a particular text-type. The most we can do is identify Clement against a series of analogous readings from other texts that may themselves fluctuate in the character and origin of their witness. That question aside, Cosaert has produced an outstanding volume that contributes significantly to matters of textual criticism in relation to the church fathers.

Earlier J. K. Elliott has reviewed this book in RBL here.

Read also my summary of Cosaert's presentation at the SBL Annual Meeting in Boston, 2008 here. During the time for questions co-blogger Dirk Jongkind posed a question to Cosaert that is congruent with Mike Bird's "major reservation" – Cosaert's appeal to text-types: "What do we mean with a 'fluid text.' Does not your conclusion undermine your own analysis (there was no clear text types at this time, they develop later, why include them?)." Unfortunately, I do not know whether Cosaert replied, I did not record an answer in my notes.

1 comment:

  1. "He is also correct to ask in what meaningful sense the primary influence on Clement’s text of Matthew can be Byzantine when Byzantine readings do not emerge as a unified text-type until the fourth century."

    Either "unified text-type" doesn't mean much, or there are two fourth-century gospel manuscripts in close agreement that I'm not yet aware of.

    According to Metzger, the Menaeon's entry for October 15 states that Lucian of Antioch wrote out the entire Bible in 3 columns. This would have been in the 4th century, but the only mss that has 'emerged' to fit this description is Codex Vaticanus--the earliest extant testimony to the Byzantine reading OU in Acts 20:6.

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