|Martin L. West|
In his book Textual Criticism and Editorial Technique (1973), Martin West raises an important issue for the use of text-types in NT textual criticism.
Here is West:
When the critic has established that no stemma can be constructed, how is he to proceed? He must, of course, see what groupings are apparent among the manuscripts, and whether the individual groups can be analysed stemmatically… (p. 42).
Here we should pause and note that, as Colwell noted in his essay on the genealogical method, this is exactly what Westcott and Hort did in rejecting the “Syrian” text. They applied stemmatic principles, not to individual manuscripts, but to groups. Having done this, they were able to exclude the Syrian text from consideration on the principle that it was purely derivative. We might call this principle eliminatio textuum descriptorum.
Westoctt and Hort’s stemma has since been modified and the results have not usually been treated with such stemmatic rigor. But West goes on to explain how such groupings can still be useful to the critic:
…even if they [groups] cannot [be analysed stemmatically], he can treat them as units in his further cogitations, provided that they have a sharply defined identity. Thus he reduces his problem to its basic terms.
This reduction of the problem is a major reason why text-types have been so valuable in NT textual studies. Where you have four manuscripts in a tradition, you don’t need to reduce the material. But for the NT such reduction is a huge benefit, even a necessity. No one can keep dozens let alone hundreds of manuscript relations in their head and then apply them to specific variations. But three or four relationships is no trouble at all. Hence the value and appeal of text-types. They “reduce” the problem.
But note the key qualification in West’s sentence. The critic can treat groups as units in his further cogitations, provided that they have a sharply defined identity.
If this is true, then it would seem that the use of text-types in our text critical “cogitations” is in trouble since no such definition exists. Even Eldon Epp in his excellent essay on “textual clusters” says that “the tricky issue, of course, is determining, in percentage terms [West’s ‘sharply defined identity’], what extent of agreement in readings joins members into a group, and what degree of separation in agreements determines the existence of a separate group” (“Textual Clusters: Their Past and Future,” , p. 571).
Unfortunately Epp doesn’t have an answer to this “tricky issue” which makes me wonder if our failing effort to define text-types is an indication that we’re trying to solve the wrong problem. Maybe trying to reduce the problem is our problem and we should start looking for ways to use more manuscripts (not less) in studying the history of the text.