Friday, May 22, 2015

Poll: What’s the Goal of Textual Criticism?

34
“Original text”?
Not long ago I read the entry on New Testament textual criticism in a very good dictionary that claimed that the goal of textual criticism has shifted so that today the quest for the “original text” has been displaced by a quest for the “initial text.” The article left the impression that this was now a settled matter.

When I read this it struck me as an exaggeration. True, the most widely-used edition (Nestle-Aland) has shifted its stated aim to the initial text, but have any other editions or editors shifted with it? I wondered.

So I asked several editors who have edited or are editing a Greek New Testament (all reasoned eclectics for what it’s worth) and the answer back was basically no. They’ve aimed their editions at the earliest attainable text, a text which they thought was substantially identical to the original (no scare quotes).

But I’m curious what readers of the blog think. Hence the poll: What is your preferred term for the goal of textual criticism? Vote below and then define (and defend) your preferred term in the comments. We’ll see if there’s any substantial shift afoot among the blog readers. (Note: the question is not whether you think such a goal is always attainable.)

What is the goal of textual criticism?

34 comments :

  1. No, no, no, no. The proper goal of textual criticism is to understand the entirety of the transmission of a text from the author down to us. Focusing on a particular point in this transmission will stagnate the field again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. True but isn't the point of understanding the transmission that when we translate we can intelligently pick a particular reading? (we can't translate transmission)

      Delete
    2. Jeremiah Coogan5/22/2015 11:36 am

      Textual criticism and textual history are not all about editions and a base text for translation. Just as significantly, it illuminates how Scripture was read, understood, and passed down over the centuries, which is a valuable scholarly and ecclesial task in its own right.

      Delete
    3. Stephen, this is a fair point and I probably should have said something about it. I didn't intend this to convey that this is the only goal of textual criticism. Perhaps I could have said "what is the textual goal of textual criticism." But that sounds awkward to me.

      Still, I would point out that you can't talk about the "entirety of the transmission of a text" without telling us what constitutes the "entirety." And doesn't that require you to answer the question posed here?

      Delete
    4. Thanks for your comment. I really wanted to underscore that *the* goal (note the definite singular, which is kind of self-limiting) shouldn't be so limited or the field will suffer for it, as it did throughout much of the 20th century. Yes, the entirety includes the whole shebang, including the original, authorial, initial text, but also other texts throughout the history of transmission can be studied and reconstructed.

      As for your poll question, I'll be a polite guest and try to give you an answer, which I gave some thought to in my monograph. While the whole textual transmission is properly within the purview of the field, a lot of our customers (translators, exegetes, theologians, linguists, historians, etc.) want a text that is a product of a more or less identifiable author, place, and time, rather than a melange of elements from generally less identifiable hands, places, and times. My preferred term for this is an "authorial text" because it uses internal evidence, which, to the extent it works, tends to distinguish authors from scribes. I don't see any conceptual difference between an authorial text and an original text. I also don't see how our evidence and methods can practically distinguish an authorial/original text from an initial text from or even the earliest attainable text. Unless they are tied to the outputs of particular text-critical methods, they seem indistinguishable to me. I have no idea what the canonical text is supposed to refer to: the text was already multiform when canon was recognized.

      Delete
    5. "True but isn't the point of understanding the transmission that when we translate we can intelligently pick a particular reading?"

      Yes, so that WE (not the editors) can pick the correct reading. I see the point of textual criticism as being to build the apparatus, not to pick the correct variants for us. After all NA27 had the correct reading "Lord" in Jude 6 and NA28 has jumped to the wrong one "Jesus"....that's all the editors of the body of the text do, jump back and forth pointlessly. Its the apparatus alone that has value. We can pick the correct reading ourselves. We don't need to appoint popes to do that for us.

      Delete
  2. Bart Kamphuis5/22/2015 9:35 am

    Textual criticism should not be equated with editing.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yes, yes, yes, yes! The transmission of a text cannot be the goal. The text itself is the goal! You cannot arrive anywhere until you are focusing only on the travel: you must know also where do you travel. But it's true that stagnating at a particular point in the process (of transmission/travelling) will lead you nowhere.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Is it not possible to have more than one goal?

    ReplyDelete
  5. I prefer a 'big tent' goal such as Stephen's above. Like other 'criticisms' in biblical studies, practitioners come from a variety of ideological perspectives and with a variety of similar (yet distinguishable) aims.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I distinguish goal from benefit. The goal is to arrive at the original text. One benefit is learning from its transmission history.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Perhaps it is a bit more circular, since one needs to understand the transmission history in order to arrive at the original text.

      Delete
  7. Jeremiah Coogan5/22/2015 11:32 am

    It strikes me that what editors and textual critics mean by "Ausgangstext" varies considerably. For some critics it simply reflects a healthy dose of humility about the imperfections of the scholarly enterprise. Try as we might, it's impossible to wind back the clock completely. In that sense, I'm quite happy with the idea that the earliest attainable form of the text is the objective of an edition. Frequently, however, the terminology seems to reflect a thoroughgoing skepticism about the very existence of a singular original text, which is much more problematic.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is why I find David Parker's article in The Textual History of the Greek NT so interesting but also confusing. Elsewhere he says there is no single original text of the Gospels, but he is quite happy to reconstruct a single initial text. I sometimes wonder if this isn't a reflection of some kind of discomfort with textual authority on Parker's part.

      Delete
  8. Perhaps the name of this blog should be changed to "Evangelical Textual Criticism of the New Testament."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe that is implicit in the adjective

      Delete
    2. Peter, is it really necessary for someone to unpack the mistake you just made? Or are you all going to restrict yourselves to the gospels from now on?

      Delete
    3. Matthew, it is always helpful for people to explain the mistakes I regularly make.

      Delete
  9. Awesome comment Peter!

    ReplyDelete
  10. I do think though that we should speak in terms of primary and secondary goals.

    I do think the primary goal is to recover, as best as possible, the original text.

    The original text should be the same thing as the authorial text, though authorial text has a little bit of a fuzzy definition depending on the nature of each book's composition process.

    As well, manuscripts alone may not conduct us all the way back through the transmission process to the original text; extant manuscripts alone may come up short at some points, which is why I advocate the use of conjecture at those points.

    I like how Stephen has phrased the goal of understanding the transmission process, though I think I would see that as either a secondary goal, or a means to the primary goal - still of independent value either way.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I agree with Stephen's assertion about the whole scope of transmission history. For me, "authorial text" has a preferable angle, simply as one who focuses on text critical issues in historical-critical context. I would pitch "authorial text" for a given work against "canonical text," which is at least notionally the form that is most distant from its authorial origin. However, "What did Paul write," or "What does a consistent author of Hebrews look like from a linguistic standpoint" involves work outside of NTTC even if we return to it. But that says to me that the real goal of NTTC probably looks more like "earliest attainable."

    ReplyDelete
  12. Stephen Brown5/22/2015 7:41 pm

    In I Tim 5:18 Paul quotes Lk 10:7 as Scripture, and in II Pet 3:15-16 Peter, a contemporary of Paul, recognizes Paul's epistles as Scripture. Recognition of books of the Bible as inspired was often, or perhaps always, immediate. Thus the canonical Scriptures as such = the authorial text. General Jewish attitudes toward Scripture (most of the earliest of Christians being ethnic Jews from a Jewish milieu) and the rapid and wide dissemination of NT books (Col was early shared with the Laodicaeans and Rev was sent to several churches, for example) combine to make the authorial text = the original text (which would also be the initial text, to the extent that the initial text refers to the original text of a NT book as such, though the term could, I suppose, be used to refer to the initial form of a secondary texttype). The earliest attainable text would ideally equal the original text, though any theory must acknowledge that equal confidence is not possible in the case of all variants. Thus, most of these terms seem to work out to the same thing. However, our interest is not on what has been widely used in the church per se but on what the Holy Spirit directed certain men to put down on paper. Short answer: The goal should be the original text.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The only way to get back to the original text is to literally find the original autographs. So obviously in realistic terms you can only get back as far as the first published edition. If you actually found the autographs (the only way to get back to the original text) then you would actually not need textual criticism.

      Delete
    2. Stephen Brown5/22/2015 9:09 pm

      True, if we had the autographs (and knew that that's what they were), we wouldn't need TC. What I'm saying is that the text of autographs is the goal, and that this text is the text of published edition. Peter Gurry said, "the question is not whether you think such a goal is always attainable," so full confidence in our ability to reconstruct the text of the original may not be within our reach in every instance, but it is still the goal.

      Delete
    3. Jeremiah Coogan5/22/2015 9:41 pm

      If you just want an edition or a translation, the autographs would theoretically suffice. But textual history is also a history of reception, and often sheds valuable light on challenges in the biblical text and its interpretation by Christian communities. For many of us, that's also an incredibly important area of study.

      Delete
  13. I think the responses to your query would have been less clear cut had you asked scholars who had worked on critical editions of the Hebrew Bible and (especially) its Old Greek translations.

    I notice that the article that prompted this was on "textual criticism," and not specifically "New Testament textual criticism."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well full disclosure, it was a NT dictionary. So far as I know, OT scholars don't use the term initial text do they?

      Delete
  14. An interesting discussion, but one that suffers from a lack of definitions for key terms (e.g., "original text"). At the risk of being accused of self-promotion, permit me to suggest an essay that might be helpful in this regard:
    "From 'Original Text' to 'Initial Text': The Traditional Goal of New Testament Textual Criticism in Contemporary Discussion."
    I have recently posted this in Academia.edu, so access should not be a problem.
    Mike Holmes

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mike, thanks for putting that up. It's a great (and pertinent) article. Here's the link for those who haven't read it.

      Delete
  15. Re OT textual criticism: the editors of the Oxford Hebrew Bible--the one current project I know of that is seeking to produce a critical eclectic text (or texts, as the evidence requires) of the Hebrew Bible--use language that is very similar (if not, in effect, identical) to the concept of the "Initial Text."
    Mike Holmes

    ReplyDelete
  16. On a side note, I think that the picture of Chris Farley explains well the use of quotation marks around the term original-text. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  17. Well, I was a "none of the above" mainly for the reasons Stephen Carlson articulated. However, I'd be reasonably happy tracing such a history from either an "initial" or an "earliest attainable text". I have far too many problems about "original", "authorial" (and whether there's a distinction between those) or "canonical" (whose canon?) to even approach those!

    ReplyDelete
  18. As I said in the opening sentences of my introduction to Equitable Eclecticism (which I recently made available at Academia):

    "The textual criticism of the Gospels is a scientific task which has two goals. The primary goal is the reconstruction of the text of each Gospel in its original form, that is, the form in which it was initially received by the church. The secondary goal is the reconstruction of the transmission-history of the text. In order to apply Hort’s axiom, “Knowledge of documents should precede final judgment upon readings,” these two goals should be pursued simultaneously. The consideration of individual variant-units should never be completely detached from the question of the relative values, or weights, of the witnesses, or from the question of how groups of variants became characteristic readings of text-types. Accurate text-critical judgments will assist in the estimation of the relative values of witnesses, and in the reconstruction of the text’s transmission-history. Likewise, accurate assignments of relative value to the witnesses, combined with accurate reconstructions of the text’s transmission-history, will assist specific text-critical decisions."

    I think that applies to New Testament textual criticism in general.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Ron Hendel of the Hebrew Bible Critical Edition frequently uses the term "corrected archetype," which I quite like as an editor's goal. Mike is right that it seems very similar to the "initial text," except perhaps that it seems to be focused on a single textual entity which at least in theory did exist in the past. Sometimes when people speak of the "initial text" it seems like they are referring to a collection of readings judged to have given rise to the other preserved readings, but that this text never existed even in theory in a single textual artifact.

    I would also agree that terms like "original text" and "authorial text" become pretty much meaningless when working with the OT, because the composition histories and questions of authorship are so complicated, creating multiple editorial stages without any obvious points to be so labelled in contrast with other stages. "Final form" (or something indicating the completion of a book in forms recognizable to us) is perhaps more helpful, but still a bit arbitrary, depending on how you define it.

    ReplyDelete