Thursday, February 18, 2016

ETC Interview with Hugh Houghton: Part 1

It is a real pleasure to continue our ETC Blog interview series with someone who is no stranger to our regular readers. Dr. Hugh Houghton is Reader in New Testament Textual Scholarship at the University of Birmingham (UK) and Deputy Director of the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing (ITSEE) there. He is currently working on the volume of John as part of the IGNTP/ECM collaboration as well as the letters of Paul. This month he has a new book out on the Latin NT which we’re giving away thanks to OUP. Without further ado, here’s Hugh.

PG: First things first. Can you tell us how to pronounce your name? Is it HOW-ton or HOE-ton?

HH: Thank you for asking. It’s HOW-ton, although HOR-ton is a very common pronunciation too in the UK, and I sometimes also hear HUFF-ton. As this is a blog on textual criticism, we could explore the relationship of the different pronunciations to textual variation: when my surname is misspelt – which is fairly common – is that because the copyist voiced it in their head and substituted a different spelling for the text of their exemplar? Is it just replacement by a simpler or more common form? Were they copying to dictation? And then what about the visual or orthographic influence of my first name, with the potential for interference, haplography...? You’d better ask the next question or we’ll never finish this interview!

Can you tell us about what led to your current interests in the text of the New Testament and specifically the Latin and Patristic evidence for it?

I’ve always enjoyed languages, particularly the historical relationship between them. I was fortunate to study both Latin and Ancient Greek at school, and then read Classics at university. In my final year, my courses included Medieval Latin, when I first visited the university library to see a manuscript (the Cambridge Songs), and the history of the Greek language up to the fall of Byzantium. I wrote an undergraduate dissertation on the Acts of the Christian Martyrs as linguistic documents.

My Master’s degree, although still in Classical Linguistics, involved studies of Tertullian’s language and the Greek Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles. A few years later, I took a second undergraduate degree in Theology as part of my ministerial training, which included a module on the Gospel according to Mark with Keith Elliott. So when Philip Burton (who had taught me as an undergraduate, while he was completing his doctorate) and David Parker contacted me to see if I would be interested in joining them to work on the Vetus Latina Iohannes (an edition of the Old Latin versions of John’s Gospel), I jumped at the opportunity.

Can you tell us a bit about your new book on the Latin NT? What was your aim in writing the book and who is your audience?

My work on the Vetus Latina Iohannes made me realise how out of date the chapter on the Latin version in Metzger’s Early Versions was, even though that is still cited as the standard introduction. What’s more, the Vetus Latina edition is pretty complex, and an explanation of how to use it is only provided in French and German, which I think has led to a lack of appreciation of this remarkable endeavour among English-speaking scholars. So I hope that my book will not only provide an up-to-date introduction to the Latin New Testament, but also enable users to make the most of these editions and build on the research which has already been carried out over the last half-century.

My aim was to appeal to as broad an audience as possible so that, say, someone who had seen the Lindisfarne Gospels in an exhibition and wanted to know more about their background would be able to pick up my book and find out more. But, equally, I wanted to produce something to which specialists could refer to make sure that they were using editions correctly and citing the most recent scholarship on a particular topic.

A major contribution of your new book is the catalogue of Latin New Testament manuscripts you’ve put together. Is this the first of its kind? Are there any manuscripts that were new to you in compiling the list or any that stand out as noteworthy?

No, it’s certainly not the first, which confirms what I’ve just said about publications related to the Vetus Latina edition! So far as Old Latin manuscripts are concerned, there is an official list published by the Vetus Latina Institute in 1999, last updated in 2004, but it’s expensive, mostly in German, and can be difficult to acquire. That was my principal source for the Old Latin witnesses, although I’ve checked most of the information in other sources and supplemented it with further bibliography, as well as adding the URLs. The Vulgate manuscripts were more difficult, as all I had to go on in many cases were the witness lists of the Oxford Vulgate and Stuttgart Vulgate. It took me some time to track down Codex Hafnianus, for example! (For what it’s worth, Hafnianus is the Latin adjective for Copenhagen, from the Danish word Hafn.)

I’m glad to be able to include the two Old Latin gospel manuscripts I identified a few years ago, as well as a further witness which Jean-Claude Haelewyck found more recently in Durham. One surprise was the discovery that a manuscript in the Old Testament section of the Vetus Latina list, VL 135, also had an Old Latin text of the end of Romans, and I’m off to Milan next week to transcribe that.

Are there any plans for something like a NT.VMR for Latin New Testament manuscripts?

I’ve been encouraged to do this by my doctoral student Troy Griffitts, who developed the current version of the NT.VMR, but I haven’t yet had time to take it further. There’s a lot of preliminary work which needs to be done first. For a start, no-one knows how many Latin New Testament manuscripts there are: the figure of 10,000 is often bandied about, but there is no equivalent to the Gregory-Aland Liste of Greek manuscripts.

The Vetus Latina Institute may be responsible for the list of Old Latin manuscripts, but they don’t have the remit or the resources to extend this to the Vulgate. And there’s also a question about how one would devise witness sigla, and whether yet another set would catch on. A few years ago, I started a spreadsheet based on Gregory’s list of Latin manuscripts in his introduction to Tischendorf’s edition: this currently has over 3,200 entries, and I hope at some point to be able to devote time to extending this and making it available online.

In the meanwhile, I’ve updated the list of Old Latin manuscripts at with links to all the digital images mentioned in my new book. I should also mention that I’m posting updates to my new book on my personal website, at to try to stop it from going out of date too quickly!

In your view, how important would you say the Old Latin and Vulgate are to reconstructing the Greek text? Or to ask it another way, what is a text critic or exegete who isn’t keeping an eye on the Latin missing out on?

Hmm. It may sound a little simplistic, but I would suggest that the early Latin tradition is equivalent to, at most, about eight Greek manuscripts: maybe a couple from the second century, two or three from the third century, and three or four from the fourth century. That may not sound like a lot from such an abundant tradition, but then again we don’t have many witnesses from that early period.

That’s quite specific, Hugh. Can you say more about where those figures come from?

Well, the significance of translations for the Greek text is based on the points at which they were in contact with a Greek source. This is recognised in the text-types reconstructed in the Vetus Latina editions. I explain these in my book: they are a way of summarising evidence from many different sources rather than a critical text, and it’s worth noting that they’re not the same as the geographical text-types which are sometimes talked about in Greek tradition. The earliest Latin translation was made from a Greek manuscript in the late second or early third century. Evidence for this most ancient form is brought together as the first text-type. Some of the revisions to Latin texts over the following centuries introduce variants which reflect comparison with other Greek witnesses, and further text-types can be constructed based on these. Finally, the Vulgate revisers (Jerome for the Gospels, someone else for the rest of the New Testament) made another comparison of the whole text with at least one Greek manuscript, which must have been copied before the end of the fourth century. And we shouldn’t forget that patristic evidence in Latin writers may transmit early Greek evidence: for example, Tertullian often seems to be using a Greek biblical text which he translates into Latin as he goes along, while Latin translations of Origen or Didymus of Alexandria may preserve evidence for the biblical text used by those authors.

In your first book on Augustine’s text of John, you note that the origins of the Old Latin are much more obscure than Jerome’s Vulgate. Have we learned any more about these origins since then?

No. The most detailed examination of the origins of the Old Latin version remains Philip Burton’s analysis of the Gospel manuscripts, and the suggestions he makes still need to be taken further. The identity of the reviser of the rest of the Vulgate New Testament outside the Gospels is also a topic about which there has been much debate, and Walter Dunphy has recently argued strongly against the identification (and even the existence) of Rufinus the Syrian.

One of the really interesting features of Augustine’s writing is the role of stenographers in disseminating his work, especially his sermons. Can you tell us about how common the use of stenographers was and what their role was in the process of publishing in the ancient world?

Yes, I was fascinated when I came across these references in my doctoral work. The more I encountered them, the more my initial scepticism was replaced with wonder that some of the sermons really do represent transcripts of what Augustine actually said on the day, such as the example in the Mainz sermons when he reminds the congregation to come early the following week for hymn practice. Stenographers clearly played an important part in the recording of public debates between individuals and also at gatherings of bishops, as we can see in the Conference of Carthage in 411. And both Augustine and Chrysostom, too, seem to suggest that the congregations to whom they preached were much more literate, and had more access to written texts than has often been assumed to be the case. Harry Gamble’s Books and Readers in the Early Church is the place to start, but I suspect there’s more evidence for a popular textual culture in the early Church which the surviving artefacts only hint at.

See part 2 of our interview with Hugh in which we learn of his likeness to a certain snowman in Disney’s Frozen. For past interviews on the blog, see here.

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