Evangelical Textual Criticism

Friday, December 04, 2009

Wachtel on the Byzantine Text of the Gospels

The very last paper In the last NT textual criticism session a few days ago at the SBL in New Orleans was presented by Klaus Wachtel, INTF, Münster:

"The Byzantine Text of the Gospels: Recension or Process?"

Codex Alexandrinus (A 02) and the Purple Codices (N 022, O 023, S 042, F 043) are often classified as early witnesses of the Byzantine text and thought to support the theory that it was the result of a recension made early in the 4th century. Full collations of 38 synoptic pericopes in 156 manuscripts brought together in a research project at the Münster Institute for New Testament Textual Research can now be used for a fresh look at the question of how the Byzantine text of the Gospels arose. In fact, the evidence points to a development rather than to a recension, although it becomes clear that a large part of this development had already taken place by the 5th century. This paper will describe the phases of that development represented by Codex Alexandrinus and the Purple Codices.

Since Wachtel perceived that people in the audience were a bit tired in this late afternoon (especially the Europeans with the huge time difference), he decided not to read his whole paper, but instead summarized it, showed the slides, and went straight to the conclusions.

However, the whole paper including tables is now available for download on the INTF website here.


  1. 043 is Phi. Funny that it displays as Digamma.

  2. We need more of this kind of study. Thank you, Dr. Wachtel!

    My basic question is this: What percentage of agreement with the Majority text constitutes membership within the Byzantine Textform? Or is the current proposal that such is an outdated way of looking at the data? Certainly NA27 is not a member, yet its readings are 86 percent Byzantine? Codex W/032, which has many Byzantine readings, is only 83 percent Byzantine. Even Vaticanus and Sinaiticus are basically 80 percent Byzantine!

    I enjoyed the following quote the most, regarding the late Kr recension of the Byzantine Textform:

    "This large group is the result of an attempt to finally establish the text of the church, especially at passages where the Byzantine witness is split. Here we have reached the Byzantine text in its purest form, although you see that it does not represent the majority text at a 100%. In fact, there is no manuscript in our selection that does, although we tried hard to include several that looked promising in this respect. Ironically, the majority text, like the initial text, is an eclectic entity. At least I have not yet found one manuscript that contains all the majority readings of a NT writing, although there are very many witnesses that come close to the 100%."

  3. Excluding the late Kr mss (which are more Byzantine due to a controlled, recensional process), I'm looking at RN numbers 12 through 20. The date of ms does not appear to influence its "Byzantineness," as here we have 6 uncials and 3 minuscules representing a high and similar degree of Byzantineness from the 8th through 12 centuries. I am looking forward to reading the coming evaluation of this new project!

  4. This is an interesting project, especially as it helps to dispel the false notion that the so-called Byzantine text is a monolithic entity.

    I find it particularly interesting that attention is being paid to the 6th c. purple codices. It seems to me an omission in the NA apparatus that whereas N/022 is a constant witness (albeit secondary, in that it is not explicitly cited except where it disagrees with the Majority), neither O/023 nor Σ/042 are constant witnesses. My point is not that they should be cited for the sake of completeness, since their text is virtually identical to N, but that they are sometimes extant where N is not extant, so they are to that extent complementary to N and therefore ought to be treated the same way.

    By a quick search I found 21 variant units in Matthew and 17 in Mark where Σ (usually where N is not extant) is the earliest Greek witness to the Byzantine text.

    In Dr Wachtel’s list of % deviation from the Majority, I could not find O/023. I wonder why. He refers in the abstract to all four purple uncials, but in the paper itself only to N and Σ.

    As for Φ/043, it is unfortunate that the distinctiveness of that MS is often lost sight of. Whereas NOΣ form a close family, if Φ is a member of that family it is an erratic one. Sometimes it agrees with B against them, and often with the Majority against them. Dr Wachtel’s table ranks Φ at #47, quite a long way off from N at #80 and Σ at #85.

    I found 10 variant units in Matthew and 13 in Mark where Φ is the earliest Greek witness to the Byzantine form of the text (N and Σ being either against it or not extant).

  5. Well, everybody knows that Alexandrinus is not identical to the late Byz text.
    But one must explain why 80-90% of the Byz variants are already in Alexandrinus in the 4th/5th CE.
    From what I see, Wachtel does not address this problem.

  6. Wieland,

    Because the Byzantine Text (in the Gospels, at least) is a stratified text, composed of readings from more than just the Alexandrian and "Western" texts.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  7. You know my opinion.
    Whatever the variants come from, they are there in the 4th CE.
    Is this a process or a recension/edition of some kind?
    I don't buy the process theory. To the fixed 13th CE text, yes, but not to the 4th CE text of Alexandrinus.

  8. Wieland,

    I don't think it's a matter of process-or-recension. I think that somewhere in the ancestry of the Byzantine Text of the Gospels there was a recension that drew from Alexandrian, "Western," and Proto-Byzantine exemplars, followed by a process of mixture as the resultant text invaded other locales. When a majority of the Gothic version, the Peshitta, A, W (in its Byz blocks) and Maj agree, we're probably looking at the pre-recension Proto-Byzantine Text. But variants have to be taken case-by-case.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  9. Dr. Wachtel,

    I printed out the paper, and lots of questions are forming. One of them is about the description of the Ca corrections as "with a few exceptions systematic throughout the entire Bible." And, related to that, I wonder if it's justified to use the date of a corrector as a means of showing textual developments, when we don't know the production-date of his exemplar(s). But those are side-issues; my first questions are:

    (1) What would the the MS-table look like if you considered only pericopes from the Gospel of Mark?

    (2) Is there a way that you could include the text of a nice lectionary as a witness, to see how Byzantine it is?

    (3) Do you have a list of the 1,404 (or 1,378) variants that were used in the calculations?

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.