Monday, March 28, 2016

Holmes on Objective Evidence in Textual Criticism

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In response to the notion that the use of internal evidence is more subjective than external and therefore less reliable, Mike Holmes says this:
The claim that some methods are more “objective” than others—in particular, the view that decisions based on external data are somehow more “objective” (or at least less “subjective”) than those based on internal considerations—is largely illusory and misleading. With respect to both external and internal evidence, what counts as “data” or “evidence” is a theory-driven decision, and the choice of what data to follow is inescapably subjective. (p. 103 n. 40).
Maybe he will permit me to offer a simplified version: there are no text critical conclusions achieved without human judgment.

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Michael W. Holmes. “The Text of the Epistles Sixty Years after: An Assessment of Günther Zuntz’s Contribution to Text-Critical Methodology and History.” Pages 89–113 in Transmission and Reception: New Testament Text-Critical and Exegetical Studies. Text and Studies Third Series 4. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias, 2006.

8 comments :

  1. Of course any decision where we look (evaluate) at evidence contains subjectivity. However, the amount of subjectivity can vary. With external evidence, manuscripts, the subjectivity is controlled by the method one uses, i.e. Majority, earliest, etc.. The method used to determine internal evidence selection is much broader. So, yes both require subjectivity, yet there is a difference in the amount.
    So, as I see it, your simplification is true but:
    A) it is not what Holmes said
    B) what Holmes said is false.

    Tim

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  2. It would be a good exam question. That quotation. Discuss.

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  3. Peter H's suggestion intrigues me, esp. as I intentionally framed that statement a bit more provocatively than I might have in other circumstances.

    As regards Tim's thoughtful comment:
    1) in fact, I think Peter G's "simplified version" catches the point rather nicely; and
    2) one may suggest that the statement that "With external evidence, manuscripts, the subjectivity is controlled by the method one uses, i.e. Majority, earliest, etc." is a nice illustration of my point.
    Mike

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  4. This of course works for those who predominantly use either external or internal evidence as primary and the opposite as secondary or confirmatory (obviously in accord with their basic theory regarding the establishment of the text).

    Cases where such would not apply include thoroughgoing eclecticism on the one hand (e.g. Kilpatrick, Elliott) and strict documentarianism on the other (e.g., W-H, H-F, etc).

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    1. Dr. R.,
      First, I am also a documentarian just not Majority Text. Yet, even in these cases do we not still have times when we must make subjective judgments? For example, if the documentary evidence is split. Of course, I would argue that using a documentary approach greatly diminishes subjectivity over any method that involves internal evidence.

      Tim

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    2. Places where the favored documentary attestation is split obviously require different types of judgment, but not necessarily shifting the weight to internal criteria. In my case a divided Byzantine does allow a move to internal principles, whereas for Wescott-Hort when B and א differed they simply moved to other aspects of external evidence (much the same for Hodges-Farstad as well).

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  5. Documentary evidence is not "self-explanatory." Documentary evidence is, in its most basic form, ink marks on writing material, and becomes significant only when read and interpreted. In the case of a difficult MS, it is not uncommon for scholars to disagree about the significance of specific ink marks. Even when a MS can be read relatively easily, the MS itself does not tell us the significance of its evidence; that arises out of the interpretive framework within which we place it. Examples: (1) in Vaticanus, the gospel of Mark is followed by a blank column: what is its significance? Is it just blank space, or (as some argue) is it evidence that the scribe was aware of the longer ending (vv. 9-20)? The MS itself does not tell us; one's conclusion is an act of judgment. (2) Continuing with Vaticanus: does it preserve a text that is very near to the text of the autographs (W&H) or a text that is scandalously corrupt and shamefully mutilated (Burgon)? The MS itself does not tell us; the conclusions of both W&H and Burgon are the results of an act of judgment. In short, data becomes significant only when interpreted; it acquires significance only when placed within an interpretive framework. To borrow Peter Gurry's summary of my quote above, "there are no text critical conclusions achieved without human judgment."
    Mike

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  6. A difference exists between theory and praxis; thus the use, modification, or even non-use of specific internal criteria will rest on the presuppositions and framework of a particular underlying theory. On this point I think Mike and I are agreed.

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