Evangelical Textual Criticism

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

"Conjectural Emendation in New Testament Textual Criticism with the Epistle of James as a Case Study"

In the end of December Ryan D. Wettlaufer successfully defended his thesis "Conjectural Emendation in New Testament Textual Criticism with the Epistle of James as a Case Study," submitted at the University of St.Michael’s College, University of Toronto. Six professors were present at the examination including supervisor John Kloppenborg and the external examiner Michael W. Holmes (via speaker phone). Below is the abstract. I have invited Ryan to share his thoughts about the occasion in a separate post which will follow tomorrow.

Congratulations Dr. Wettlaufer!

Abstract
This dissertation is a study of conjectural emendation as it relates to the text of the New Testament. Unlike many other ancient documents upon which textual criticism must be practiced, the New Testament has a rich and full textual history. Over the last two millennia it has inspired thousands of generations of copies, through which an astonishing amount of corruption has accumulated. Many counts suppose the total number of variants to be over 350,000. At most points it appears that the correct reading can be found in one of the close to 6000 manuscript copies that survive to this day. At a not-insignificant number of other points, however, none of the extant readings appears to be authentic. Such cases therefore call for resolution by conjecture, but in the history of New Testament scholarship the method has often been rejected, and modern printings of the text usually settle for the least inferior of the surviving readings. Why has this situation developed, and what should be done about it?

This dissertation will answer these questions by looking more closely at a number of different subjects. In chapter one it will engage in a more theoretical study of conjectural emendation. It will describe the nature and practice of the method in more detail, survey the history of its use and abuse within New Testament studies, and discuss its use by textual critics in other classical fields. It will then delve into three common reasons why New Testament critics have often rejected the method: 1) the hypothesis that the large number of surviving manuscript copies ensures that the correct reading necessarily survives somewhere among them; 2) the theological belief that God has providentially preserved the original text in one or more of the surviving manuscripts; 3) the philosophical position that textual critics should not privilege any one “original text,” by conjecture or otherwise, but should value instead the narrative revealed in the history of variation. It will then conclude with more practical instructions on when and how to make conjectures. The remaining chapters will move the discussion into concrete terms by engaging in several case studies from the epistle of James. In chapter two it will look at Jas 3:1 with its curious command that μὴ πολλοὶ διδάσκαλοι γίνεσθε. and subsequently argue that the text should be emended to read μὴ πολύλαλοι διδάσκαλοι γίνεσθε. Chapter three will turn to the famous conjecture of Erasmus, who proposed that the text of 4:2 be emended to read φθονεῖτε instead of φονεύετε. Chapter four explores how a long lost scriptural quotation can be rediscovered by emending πρὸς φθόνον to πρὸς τὸν θεόν. Finally, chapter five will look at what not to do by examining a farreaching conjectural proposal that would omit as interpolations the references to Christ in 1:1 and 2:1. Through these case studies, many of the ideas and truths that were explained in chapter one only in abstract will be seen to flow naturally from the texts themselves. In the end, all of this should work to restore in New Testament studies the place of conjectural emendation, and in so doing work to restore the text of the New Testament itself.

26 comments:

  1. We also look forward to Ryan's article “Unseen Variants: Conjectural Emendation in New Testament Textual Criticism” in Editing the Bible, eds. John Kloppenborg and Judith Newman, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, forthcoming (based on the paper from the 2007 conference on Editing the Bible,held at St Michael's College, University of Toronto.) http://projects.chass.utoronto.ca/cep/cep2007.html

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  2. Thank you for your congratulations Tommy, and thank you for drawing attention to this. It was a fun dissertation to do, made even better by John Kloppenborg's supervision. I was also very happy to have Michael Holmes agree to act as external.

    Especially with the growing research project of Jan Krans, I believe that conjectural emendation is a subject that is coming into its own, and the real discussion of it is just beginning. I remember last year when Krans' funding was announced, a poster playfully asking what importance was there to "research into...research", but as I looked into the subject, I was surprised to discover that conjectural emendation, in a sense, guards the intersection of many of the key issues of our field, and as we continue to discuss the nature and purpose of our discipline and the role our faith plays in it, the question of conjectures will only get bigger.

    I might be biased though!

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  3. I should also note with some chagrin, I'm not sure I'm looking forward to the conference paper's publication as much! I liked that paper when I wrote it, but now having learned from the dissertation research, I wish nothing but to revise it! Ah, I guess that's the way of things.

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  4. Thanks Ryan, is it not possible at this stage to revise the paper for the publication, or perhaps it is already passed deadline.

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  5. RW:
    "Over the last two millennia it has inspired thousands of generations of copies, through which an astonishing amount of corruption has accumulated."

    I just question the assertions in this sentence.

    1. "Thousands of generations of copies" (average generation span of about 6 months) is absolutely without any factual basis. No three generations of copies have yet been traced for certain, and it is very seldom that any two copies have been shown to inhabit successive generations--and these nowhere near close enough to each other to fit thousands more in the time available.

    2. "Through which an astonishing amount of corruption has accumulated" can be broken down into three assertions:
    a) The process asserted above was the mechanism for corruption.
    b) Said corruption reached an astonishing level.
    c) Corruption accumulated through aforesaid generations.

    Refuting assertion #1 nullifies all that I disagree with in assertion #2 (I myself am astonished by the documented level of corruption). But even if thousands of generations could be demonstrated, demonstrating that corruptions were carried over through those generations is yet another thing. We have discovered so far two examples of minuscules carrying over corruptions from a much older majuscule (05/1071 and 021/1049 pc)--direct evidence that even if there were many generations out there, they were being skipped over.

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  6. Hi Daniel,

    Thanks so much for your comments.

    I'll say three things in response.

    First, this being my first dissertation and therefore my first dissertation abstract, I had to go on the advice of others, and that advice was to assume a naive audience (meaning that in the technical sense that they are not experts in my field, of course, not that they are fools!) and therefore to simplify the language as much as possible. Accordingly, I've rounded off a lot of corners in that abstract and you should probably not expect the same level of technical precision that I attempted to achieve in the dissertation itself. (This is actually the shorter version of the abstract; the longer one begins with two paragraphs introducing what textual criticism is; but I thought I would spare you guys that!)

    That said, my second point would be to clarify what I meant by "thousands of generations." In one section of the dissertation I go into a thought experiment to guestimate the total number of mss ever produced, and in that theory I work with the assumption of a minimum of one generation per year over a roughly 1500 year span between the initial composition of the NT and the end of hand-copying.

    I chose the assumption of one generation per year because 1) it's an easy number to work with; 2) my feeling of it is that it is a conservative number, and thus makes my argument more responsible (since a more liberal number would help me more); 3) I'm not currently aware of any studies that might provide a more factual basis (if you know of any, I'd be delighted to hear, really) so it really was just arbitrary.

    So if we go with the assumption of 1 generation per year and a span of 1500 years, that results in a minimum conservative number of 1500 generations. NB, this is not a proposal for how many generations are documented in surviving ms base, but a theoretical guess of the total number ever produced.

    Now, 1500 generations would, technically, not be "thousands of generations" so in that sense you are right, the statement is technically incorrect, but "thousand and a half" just sounded clunky, and so in the interest of simplifying the language solely for the purpose of the abstract, I rounded up and just said "thousands."

    Finally, my third point, if I understand you correctly, I don't think I was intending any hard-fast correlation between generations and the process of corruption. Like I said, this abstract was targeted at those with little knowledge in the field, and so really the main point I wanted to make was that a whole real huge amount of variation occurred, and I think we can agree upon that, yes?

    Thanks!

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  7. Ryan,

    Apparently the second half of my post went into the trash (Tommy, can you retrieve it?) due to having to break it into two posts due to length.

    Yes, I agree that a whole lot of variation occurred, and there are, of course, various theories to account for it. I'd have to actually read your thesis, but from what I've seen so far you appear to be assuming your premise that a manuscript typically being copied within a year = every manuscript is copied from a manuscript only one year older.

    If I can inject this line of thinking into biological generations, I think it would go something like this:

    My oldest son is 20 years older than my youngest son. Are they in the same generation, or different generations? Well, in the sense that a generation is around 20 years, they are members of consecutive generations. Extrapolating from this logical premise, we can say that if these two sons are in different generations, than all that it takes for a son to be counted in a different generation is an interval of a year. As we know, at some point one generation is said to have given place to another, and in such a case two people only a year apart could be called members of successive generations. Putting these two premises together, I could be said to have children spanning 21 generations.

    But I don't. They are ALL in the same generation, the one below me.

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  8. Here bewlow is the second retrieved part of Daniel Buck's comment which got stuck in a filter:


    RW:
    "Many counts suppose the total number of variants to be over 350,000. At most points it appears that the correct reading can be found in one of the close to 6000 manuscript copies that survive to this day."

    The total number of bound manuscripts containing continuous text of Scripture is not so relevant to the identification of the correct reading. What is more germane to the question is the number of extant readings of each variant unit--a much more manageable number that varies depending on the portion of the NT in which the variant unit is located. For most of James, it would probably be considerably less than 1000.

    RW:
    "At a not-insignificant number of other points, however, none of the extant readings appears to be authentic. Such cases therefore call for resolution by conjecture, but in the history of New Testament scholarship the method has often been rejected. . ."

    This appears to overlook the many centuries of manuscript transmission addressed above, during which time an astonishing number of textual conjectures appear to have emerged from the pens of scribes (the NT scholars of their day). The main objection to conjecture at this late date appears to be that any reasonable conjectures have probably already been put forward in one manuscript or another. The best we can expect to accomplish now is resurrecting a former conjecture that failed to take hold in the transmission of the text. And it may eventually turn out that ours was not the first generation to come up with it.

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  9. First, my thanks to Tommy for rescuing the rest of Daniel Buck's comments.

    Turning to those comments then,

    Daniel (btw, I once knew a Daniel Buck who taught biblical studies at Briercrest; any chance that's you?)

    I think we may be getting caught up here on the use of the word "generation," and perhaps I did not make the best use of it. Maybe instead we could talk about a "copying event." That is, any time any one scribe sat down to make a copy of any other ms, we have a copying event, and in each copying event we have the potential for new errors to be introduced, old ones corrected, and old ones perpetuated, with the sum result that the new copy will always have some difference from the old copy. In that way, as the number of copying events grow, so too grow the total number of variants. Remembering that my point in that line of the abstract was simply to inform the lay reader that in NT TC we have a lot of mss and a lot of variants to sort through, I think that works, yes?

    I don't want to get too far off the subject though, because in the end the discussion of conjectural emendation really has little to do with the number of mss or the number of variations. We can all agree, I'll assume, that there are a lot of variations, and I think we'd also all agree that most of them are easily resolvable. However, most people would, I think, agree that a minority of variants have eluded easy resolution, and it's primarily on those points that the discussion of conjectural emendation is focused: how can an openness to conjectural proposals help us to find better solutions for problem points in the text?

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  10. Thanks, Ryan, for your helpful qualifications and explanations. No, I haven't taught at Briarcrest.
    And thanks also to Tommy. I'll try to keep my comments brief enough for a single post.

    Perhaps the thing that disappoints me the most about the focus on conjectures in the GNT is that the HOT, methinks, is much more in need of conjectural emendation. And why? Because--face it--most of the variants that once existed in the text were purged out in the Massoretic Recension. The RSV did a lot of conjectures in the OT, but for some reason they didn't appear to take hold.

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  11. Following Peter Head's multi-post strategy (!), another comment:

    (actually, I meant to post this yesterday, but the phone lines went down here in northern ontario)

    Daniel said "This appears to overlook the many centuries of manuscript transmission addressed above, during which time an astonishing number of textual conjectures appear to have emerged from the pens of scribes (the NT scholars of their day). The main objection to conjecture at this late date appears to be that any reasonable conjectures have probably already been put forward in one manuscript or another. "

    You're right, I think, that many of the extant ms variants were simply conjectures of that day, just as I have written that modern conjectures are really "scribal variations of the Gutenberg age."

    And you're also right, I think, that at this late date, most reasonable conjectures have already been proposed. When I started out on the dissertation I actually suffered the naive delusion that I might propose one or two of my own! But, as I said in my defense, every time I thought I had a good idea, I would soon discover that some long-dead German had already proposed it a century ago!

    I think though that this can be a strength, not a weakness.

    Take my example in James 3:1. The conjecture of polulaloi for polloi is very old indeed. I was able to trace back a string of scholars proposing it all the way back to the early 15th century. That's essentially the dawn of our field. In other words, for as long as we've been looking at James 3:1 critically, some of us been looking at James 3:1 and thinking that it originally said polulaloi. That, to me, is an awesome pedigree and provides all the more reason why I think we should take the proposal seriously.

    And there's the theological angle as well: Evangelicals believe that the Holy Spirit guides the enterprise of the church. If that is true, then we have to ask what that guidance would look like, and could it look like that?

    Thanks again for your comments!

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  12. Ryan,

    I'll join the chorus of congratulations. However, I think that James 3:1 does not exactly commend the method of conjecture. After all, there's nothing un-Greek about the standard reading and it fits the context. Even if I were to concede that an emendation fitted the context better (and I would probably contest that) that would not necessarily commend the emendation. The fact that one can 'improve' a text does not mean that the 'improved' text was earlier. Who reads a book nowadays and cannot sometimes suggest improvements to the text?

    Then we have another issue: even if James 3:1 (or another text) was shown to be un-Greek, why should that mean that it wasn't original? Native speakers and writers often produce text that is awkward (in the sense of being non-standard) and sometimes such text will find its way past several native speakers before a fifth native points out that such a locution is not a standard one within the language.

    [Theological note: God may oblige himself to speak truly, but I see no reason why he should oblige himself to speak 'standard' or 'preferred' forms of language.]

    These two considerations make it hard for me to imagine a cj which attains greater probability than an extant reading, even if we allow a cj to fit perfectly into an exposition of a passages as a whole in a way which no extant reading does.

    If the cj doesn't reach greater probability than any alternative, then it surely has no role to play within interpretation of any passage, other than as an intellectual exercise and what can be learned from that.

    You rightly bring in the notion of the Holy Spirit guiding the enterprise of the church and how such guidance might be recognised. How about if part of the guidance were external evidence?

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  13. Thanks P.J.

    I think you are right when you say that just because we can improve a text does not make the improved text earlier.

    W&H talked about this in their introduction, noting that quite often an author could have simply composed some "infelicitous" language.

    Seeing the need for conjecture, then, at every point of authorial awkwardness is an error that must be avoided.

    I think the equal and opposite error to that, however, is denying the need for conjecture solely because the extant text can make good sense. (Not that I think you're doing that, I'm just making the point.)

    For starters, just as the authorial text could be infelicitous and make bad - or at least not as good - sense, so also a scribal change could make great sense. W&H again noted that if a scribal change did not bear at least the appearance of improvement, then it would not have gained wide circulation.

    Further, as David Parker pointed out in his introduction (quoting all the english introductions tonight...) with a text like the NT, so many people have spent so much time trying to make sense out of it, that there will always be someone somewhere with someway to make even the most deficient text sound somewhat sensible. But what does that prove, other than that necessity is the mother of invention?

    A responsible treatment of conjectures, as I tried to lay out in my thesis, will therefore be based on much more than simply whether the extant text is "bad" or whether the proposed emendation is "better," all though I think both of those concerns play a role.

    My handling of Jas 3:1 is just such an example, I think. It's hard to decide what to type here, because I really do think my best arguments for it are in the thesis, but while I cannot simply paste that here, nor can I do it much justice with just a summary.
    All the same, to summarize...

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  14. ...

    I think my argument for jas 3:1 would be three-fold.

    The first is the deficiency of the extant text. And by this I do not primarily refer to whether or not it is "ungreek." (indeed, I don't think the Greek is that objectionable.) Rather, my concerns center on how I see it disagreeing with the logic of its own immediate context, disagreeing with the broader teaching of James, and disagreeing with the more general teaching of early Christianity.

    Looking deficient to me, however, is hardly enough to prove anything. So the second plank of the argument is the fact that it has looked deficient in that way to so many others for so long. As I document, finding problems with Jas 3:1 predates the critical era.

    Finally, the superiority of the proposed emendation commends itself as genuine. As we agreed, superiority alone does not necessarily make a text earlier, but a certain kind of superiority does. What do I mean by "a certain kind"? It has to do with the character or nature of the superiority. This is the same process - delving into the artistic side of our field - that causes us in one case to prefer the more difficult reading, but in another to reject it as "just too difficult." How can you tell the difference between "difficult" and "just too difficult"? It's not magic, and I don't think it's gut feeling, but I do think its a conflation of a variety of elements. In the case of Jas 3:1, the superiority involves many difference elements. How the emendation makes the text fit better with patristic interpretations of it, is one. How the emendation makes the text fit better into the logic of the immediate context is another. How the emendation is not internally contradicting, like many have found the extant text to be. How the emendation turns the text into yet another Jacobean echo of Jesus, like numerous other Jesus echos found in Jas. How the mechanical explanation of haplography offers a feasible explanation for how the emended text, as an earlier text, could give rise to the extant text. And so on (I don't want to give all my arguments away!) Elements like that begin to pile up, and when the pile gets high enough, there comes a point when you can no longer call it co-incidence, unless you really want to. I agree strongly with your final line though: best to be guided by evidence about the text, rather than our wants for the text. (and again, lest it sound otherwise, that's not what I'm accusing you of, I'm just pontificating a little!)

    Thanks for your thoughts, I enjoy hearing them.

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  15. Ryan,

    Clearly you have a lot of argumentation behind your conclusions (e.g. on James 3:1) and it would be necessary for me to consider your thesis.

    However, I still have concerns. I don't think you can even decide whether there is a need for an emendation until you know what the function of an emendation is. (Just as I don't know whether I need a screwdriver unless I know what one does.) Of course I don't want to assert that no emendation could possibly be correct. The burden of proof would be intolerable.

    However, equally I'm not sure that it is possible for anyone to demonstrate that a single emendation in the NT is needful. But let us start with the easier task of convincing me that such an emendation is purposeful. I think that the purpose of conjectures is at best very limited.

    One potential purpose of a conjecture becomes realised if a seriously credible manuscript turns up with the previously conjectured text. This serves to testify to the scholarly brilliance of the conjecturor.

    However, how would a conjecture ever function as (a) confirming a line of interpretation; or (b) authoritative?

    As you note about the cj in James 3:1, the same lesson could be derived from Matthew. Thus, whereas the extant text of James 3:1 says something distinctive, your proposed text would not. Moreover, if you can establish the correctness of a general interpretation of James based on other passages, your conjecture cannot provide further support of the proposed interpretation, though it can remove an objection to the interpretation. Thus in theory it would function merely negatively.

    Likewise, I don't really see how a reading not extant in any 'witness' could function as authoritative for the church (that is, if the church is aware that it is not extant in any witness).

    To be a bit tautologous: it is hard to regard something that is not written as 'scripture' (i.e. sacred writing). It is hard to accept the witness of a non-existent witness. If receipt of witness is essential to receiving scripture (as many think it is) then the conjecture by definition is a non-starter.

    So, I'm still a bit puzzled by what one is to do with a conjecture other than observe that someone has made it and then wait and wait.

    Am I missing something?

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  16. P.J. Thanks so much for your latest comment - and I mean that, because I find it very thought provoking. I have a few ideas I`d like to offer you, but before I get too far into that, I was hoping you could clarify a bit more for me how you are using the term `authority`?

    Thanks!

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  17. Ryan,

    By 'authority' I personally mean sovereign speech which one has no right not to heed or, where relevant, obey. I thus mean something to which one submits. Even if one submits willingly, one had no right to do otherwise.

    Others (e.g. some Anglicans) might understand scripture's authority to be one of several authorities (alongside tradition and reason). I'm not sure that even in this second weaker sense a conjecture is able to function as authoritative, but I've thought a lot less about that.

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  18. Ok, Thanks P.J., I think I see what you're asking now.

    It reminds me of one of the questions during the defense, actually, when I was asked what I thought should happen with the 3 conjectures I defended, and I replied rather matter-of-factly that I thought they should be printed in the main text of the Nestle-Aland! The questioner followed up wondering if admitting conjectures like that wouldn't make the text too unstable, to which I replied - only half joking - that there were 27 versions of the NA already with none the same as the others, so how much more instability could I really introduce!?

    If I am interpreting you correctly though I think that cuts to the heart of the issue: the notion of authority and its relation to the idea of certainty or stability.

    I actually spent a fair amount of time dealing with this in (what I called) "the theological chapter" of my thesis, and there I relied heavily on the well-written essay by Wallace (linked to on this site) and the provocative book of a year or two ago by kenton sparks "God's Word in Human Words." What I tried to connect with there was their well-argued explanation that its a human, and more rightly modern, human fallacy to assume that authority can only spring from certainty.

    One of the reasons we know this is that despite appearances to the contrary, in many ways certainty continues to elude us.

    And true to that, certainty is not something we really enjoy when it comes to the New Testament.

    From a TC perspective, we are doing our best to reconstruct a text with only a fraction of the evidence -- yes, we have a large body of extant mss, but of all the mss ever produced we have lost the majority. We have lost at minimum half of the total produced, and as I argue in my thesis, probably at least two thirds. (Can you imagine a court case where a judge would rule with any certainty after two thirds of the evidence went missing?) The singular readings of extant mss imply that readings would have been lost with each of those lost mss, and the fact that the NA text sometimes depends on as little as one ms means that we can't dismiss those lost readings out of hand as inauthentic. The fact is, we don't even know what or how much we've lost. We have no bird's eye view of the situation. It could be that the extant ms base represents the whole very well, but we would never know that with certainty.

    But that's just the start of our TC work! Once we start dealing with the evidence we do have, the uncertainty continues. You can see this easily by simply perusing all the "C" ratings in the UBS text. And, as I noted half in jest, the 27 different versions of the Nestle-Aland, and now the SBLGNT which differs from that text in hundreds of places still.

    All this to say, if there's one thing we do not have it is a stable and certain "text of the NT."

    If we broaden our perspective beyond TC work to the theological use of the text, the uncertainty is only compounded. Even if NTTC could offer an absolute, 100% certain text, it would still have to be translated into the language of application and that itself necessitates a degree of fuzziness, as evidenced by the differences in published translations. But even if translation could be agreed upon, that would not preclude yet a further layer of uncertainty, that of interpretation. Even in times or locales where a common translation dominated, we have still always had multiple churches spring up who look at the same text and see different truths. And finally, even if we could enforce a mono-theology of some universal church, that would still be dimly reflected in the very human preaching of its clerics, as they struggle their best to express ideas that reach listeners with varying degrees of success.

    It's uncertainty from start to finish, I tell you!

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  19. ...continued


    Given that, while I admit that the use of conjectures does add some more uncertainty, in the larger balance is it really a meaningful difference?

    I don't think so, and I'll tell you why. Because I don't think that the authority of the scriptures has ever rested on the stability of the text itself, but rather on the God from whom they spring who can chose to work through them. And if he so chooses to do that and thereby make them authoritative, I don't think that much could stop him - not a C rated variant, not a lost ms, not a bad interpretation, not a poor translation, and certainly not a conjecture.

    So, to answer your original question, what are we to do with conjecture? I think we should use it to restore the text just as well as we use any other method at our disposal.

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  20. Ryan,

    Thanks for yours. It is hard for me to respond to part of your post because it seems to use the categories of certainty and stability interchangeably and I really do not understand this.

    We obviously also differ in our definition of authority. I argue that authority does not spring from human certainty (this ought to agree with you). In fact authority could exist even if no human in the world were certain of anything. The problem I was raising is a logical one: how can I submit to an authority as extrinsic if it would have no authority if I did not wish to ascribe authority to it?

    I would be interested to know what section of Sparks you found helpful, as I found the argument very ropey (especially in the opening philosophical section which serves as an almost Cartesian foundation to the rest!).

    I’m putting your text in bold and my responses in Roman.

    Ryan: It's uncertainty from start to finish, I tell you!

    This is a statement of your certainty.

    From a TC perspective, we are doing our best to reconstruct a text with only a fraction of the evidence -- yes, we have a large body of extant mss, but of all the mss ever produced we have lost the majority. We have lost at minimum half of the total produced, and as I argue in my thesis, probably at least two thirds.

    We have probably lost much more than two thirds if we measure quantity of manuscripts. However, I do not see why a greater number of manuscripts (either extant or having existed) should lead us to greater levels of uncertainty. If I make a copy of the New Testament and then lose or destroy the copy have we become less certain as to the text of the New Testament in the process?

    Also the fact that the massive growth in numbers and ages of known manuscripts since, for instance, Erasmus has not produced a linear growth in variant units shows us that, based on current evidence, our extant manuscripts hold a good representation of all variations that have ever existed. That may be why there are not new variant passages of the size of a Mark 16:9-16 (a variant unit known to Erasmus) being discovered with time. Erasmus has two manuscripts for the Gospels. Now we have rather more, but the increase of variant units has not been not linear.

    To be continued ...

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  21. Continuation

    Moreover, as has been explored on this blog previously (I’m sure someone can locate the discussion), it is possible to get some estimate of all the variants that have ever existed even without having all the manuscripts extant using the Mark and Recapture method. The rate of discovery of known variants vs. previously unknown variants allows one to estimate the number of all variants ever.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_and_recapture

    Now, of course, you might choose to say that all of our manuscripts come from a stage postdating the corruption of the texts you are alleging have a secondary reading in all manuscripts. However, if that is the case the number of extant manuscripts or lost manuscripts is simply an irrelevance, and you must make your case on internal grounds alone, and not seek to appeal to numbers of variants or any such thing.

    Ryan: (Can you imagine a court case where a judge would rule with any certainty after two thirds of the evidence went missing?)

    Yes, for instance an event witnessed by 30 people, of whom only 10 turn up in court as witnesses and whose testimony agrees.

    The singular readings of extant mss imply that readings would have been lost with each of those lost mss, and the fact that the NA text sometimes depends on as little as one ms means that we can't dismiss those lost readings out of hand as inauthentic. The fact is, we don't even know what or how much we've lost. We have no bird's eye view of the situation. It could be that the extant ms base represents the whole very well, but we would never know that with certainty.

    You are very certain about what is uncertain. However, as suggested above, we can make some estimate of what or how much we’ve lost.

    Of course, I don’t believe that one can dismiss a lost reading out of hand as inauthentic, but that’s hardly the question. I never disputed that in theory a conjecture could be authentic.

    If we broaden our perspective beyond TC work to the theological use of the text, the uncertainty is only compounded. Even if NTTC could offer an absolute, 100% certain text, it would still have to be translated into the language of application and that itself necessitates a degree of fuzziness, as evidenced by the differences in published translations. …

    If everything is so uncertain, how can you be sure that uncertainties are compounding, not cancelling each other out?

    Because I don't think that the authority of the scriptures has ever rested on the stability of the text itself, but rather on the God from whom they spring who can chose to work through them. And if he so chooses to do that and thereby make them authoritative, I don't think that much could stop him - not a C rated variant, not a lost ms, not a bad interpretation, not a poor translation, and certainly not a conjecture.

    I agree that God can work through a C-rated variant, as he can through a non-original variant or a misinterpretation (or a sin like Judas’ betrayal for that matter). I don’t see really how the fact that God can work in divers manners really has anything to do with the purpose of a conjecture. I also don’t see that simply the fact that God chooses to work through something (e.g. abuse of authority) makes it authoritative in the sense of something Christians need to submit to.

    I hope these responses make sense to you, but think that we probably need a longer face to face discussion to evaluate our differences.

    Best wishes,

    Pete

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  22. I wrote:
    "the HOT, methinks, is much more in need of conjectural emendation."

    Just in the way of example, I stumbled across this one in Genesis 1:26:

    NIV '84
    Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth,[Hebrew; Syriac all the wild animals] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

    NIV '10
    Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[Probable reading of the original Hebrew text (see Syriac); Masoretic Text the earth] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

    It's not so clear to the English reader, but probably all that is missing here is the single Hebrew word BEHEMOTH.

    It has been well demonstrated that in any list of 3 or more items, a common scribal practice is to skip over one item, and then go back and insert it after writing the next one. A later scribe will then transcribe the insertion at a different point. Or several other scenarios can result in the transformation of a list. In this case, only a single word was lost, but it destroyed the sense of the rest of the item.

    We can't be sure what the original order of this list was, nor even if the Syriac translator had the intact list in front of him. Maybe he was the first to conjecture a more sensible reading, or maybe he wasn't. At any rate, with or without the Syriac reading, common sense practically begs for the Hebrew text to be emended to read "all the beasts of the earth."

    Interestingly enough, the RSV editors did not catch this one, even though they found conjectures where "the versions provide no satisfactory restoration."

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  23. I was mistaken in writing BeHeMOTh for my conjectural emendation of Genesis 1:26. I should have written XITh, as in verse 24.

    While I'm at it, I'll conjecture a change to verse 24, where XiTh seems to be corrupted with a masculine possessive, when the context requires a feminime possessive. The present reading is:
    WaXiThU 'eReTs (and his beast earth).
    I conjecture the original reading to be:
    WaXiTh Ha'eReTs (and the beast of the earth).

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  24. One more correction (I'm not used to transcribing Hebrew): it's XITh, not XiTh.

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  25. Hi P.J., sorry for the delay.

    "it seems to use the categories of certainty and stability interchangeably and I really do not understand this."

    Yes, I (certainly!) am. That's what I've usually encountered anyway: we arrive at a satisfactory degree of textual stability, and from that we take a feeling of certainty. From that perspective, C.E. is not looked highly upon, since it undermines that certainty and introduces uncertainty. My counter-argument, of course, is that the situation never really was that certain, and thus the amount of uncertainty introduced by responsible C.E. is really not meaningful.

    How would you distinguish those categories?

    "The problem I was raising is a logical one: how can I submit to an authority as extrinsic if it would have no authority if I did not wish to ascribe authority to it?"

    I don't think that's where I was going. Rather, I was more down the line that the scriptures are not (and cannot be) authoritative unless God chooses to work through them and make them so, and that such work must occur on a case by case basis. We all know many people who study the NT academically on a daily basis but do not experience any authority from it. Without God's active decision to empower, it really is just a book. There was a time when it did not exist, and there will yet again be a time when it will not exist.

    "You are very certain about what is uncertain. "

    You bet. It's a nice word play, but there's nothing contradictory about that, is there? I'm very certain, for example, that I am uncertain what "P" and "J" stand for in your initials. In fact, I am 100% certain that I am uncertain of that fact.

    "I hope these responses make sense to you, but think that we probably need a longer face to face discussion to evaluate our differences."

    I would like that very much! I have really enjoyed discussing this with you so far. Hopefully I can afford SBL next year and we can talk then. Meanwhile, there is much more I would like to run by you re: the ms witness, but I am afraid I injured my hand at work and typing is very hard right now. This little response has been a chore. I will certainly post again soon though.
    thanks!

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  26. Ryan,

    I hope your hand makes a speedy recovery. Thanks for making the effort to reply.

    P.J. = Peter John, generally called Pete by those who know me. No preference between Pete and Peter.

    "We all know many people who study the NT academically on a daily basis but do not experience any authority from it. Without God's active decision to empower, it really is just a book."

    My problem with this is that there seem to be instances in a variety of biblical texts (e.g. Jekoiakim burning what Jeremiah, via Baruch, had written) which make the authority of the text something which is there whether or not any human chooses to recognise it. So whether a particular scholar believes that they experience authority from a writing is really just irrelevant to the question of whether it has authority.

    Actually it is often the case that books have value independent of the value put on them by those who encounter them.

    So why have such a Protagorean view of authority?

    No need to reply. We can discuss this when (DV) we meet.

    With best wishes,

    Pete

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