Thursday, July 14, 2016

What Is ‘Logically Impossible’ for the ECM?

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The Editio Critica Maior defines a “variant” as a reading that is both “grammatically correct and logically possible.” If it doesn’t meet these two criteria it is marked with an f for Fehler (= error). Neither criteria is completely objective, but then most of the errors so recorded in the ECM are pretty obvious gibberish. Occasionally, however, one finds cause for disagreement. Here’s an example.

At James 2.3, minuscule 1563 reads:
...καὶ τῷ πτωχῷ εἴπητε· σὺ στῆθι ἐκεῖ ἐπὶ τὸ ὑποπόδιόν μου.
...and to the poor you say, “You stand there on my footstool.”
GA 1563 at Jas 2.3
Speaking of this variant, Klaus Wachtel explains that
Reading f [εκει in 1563] is marked as an error by an additional f (for the German Fehler). That it is an error becomes clear if we compare the reading of 1563 at the next passage of variation (50-56b) where it reads ἐπὶ τὸ ὑποπόδιόν μου, resulting in the request Stand there on my footstool.
Now standing on a footstool seems a bit odd to me but hardly impossible—either logically or physically. But maybe the editors have a different conception of “impossible” than I do.

Nothing of great significance follows from this except that editors have to make judgments and you may not always agree with them. So it may be something worth checking.

14 comments :

  1. Very interesting question: how are the editors defining "impossible"? At what degree is the threshold of likelihood set? Are you aware of any publication where they discuss this?

    I often think that when considering such questions we forget to contexualise them to a particular human speaker; that is, an actual person making that communication. The question must be "how possible is it that this particular person would have said it that way?". In contrast, I think we often consider it generically, as in "did the Greek language in general allow for this usage"?

    I wonder if ESL speakers don't offer a useful comparison. For whatever reason, i've done a lot of work helping people whose native language is not English who are nevertheless trying to produce work in English. Often they'll have a phrase that's just not quite right. They ask me what's wrong with it, and it's hard to explain to them what specifically the issue is, since the phrase is technically correct, follows the rules of grammar, and does accurately communicate the intended meaning. And yet it's still not quite right and the most I can say to them is "that's just not quite how an English speaker would say it".

    I wonder if the line drawn by the editors could sometimes reflect that standard: that yes, the variant could technically be correct, but we must reject it as unlikely because it would make James sound like the first century koine version of an ESL student"

    Or put another way, and to change analogies, if someone handed me a handwritten but unsigned letter and asked me whether I thought my wife was the author, I would judge the question completely on the basis of how much the writing "sounded like" my wife, and would be thinking very little about its adherence to the rules of English grammar.

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  2. To push the analogy though, were not many of the writers of the NT using koine as a second (or third) language?

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  3. Great point. I wonder which is the closer analog then to the typical NT author: and ESL student in America, or a continental European who naturally learns several of the other main European languages? I suspect the latter might be the better comparison, but I guess the question is: how koine was koine?

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  4. The answer would certainly vary depending on the writer. Paul would certainly fall into the latter category, Mark into the former. Luke likely into neither as Greek may very well have been his mother toungue.

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    1. I suspect an idiom, regardless of whether επι or υπο is used.

      Either preposition reflects the command to "sit just beyond the end of my footstool" -- neither literally "upon" = "on top of" nor literally "below" = "underneath".

      While υπο obviously is the primary reading, it represents the view from the speaker's position: "below" = "beyond" the end of his footstool. However, the επι reading equally could indicate the recipient's position, "at the head/beginning portion" of the footstool as the one being commanded would approach it.

      I therefore would not consider the επι reading to be an "error", although clearly not original.

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  5. So there's a difference between idiomatic and having proper grammar. The ESL example (statement has an intelligible meaning and grammatically correct but "not how an English speaker would say it") is non-idiomatic. My favorite example of this is 'Yoda' from Star Wars. He likes to put verbs first, where English has a very strict order (subject verb object for declarative statements). Yoda doesn't just move the words around, but uses English pronouns and helping verbs to maintain English grammar even if idiom is stretched to the limits. Otherwise he would not be undersood. Such a statements wouldn't trigger the "must have grammar and must make sense" exception just because the are unnatural to the native speaker.

    It seems, however, the general idea that we should take into account the author's tendancies and the context should definately be considered. ESL speakers do make grammar errors as well. Native speakers, in fact, make grammar errors (for instance, among actual English speakers, predicate nominative is pretty much dead. "It's me" is definately idiomatic English these days:). Even non-sense can be purposeful. Think about reconstructing Lewis Carrol's "Through the Looking Glass" in the future from a corrupted set of witnesses.

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  6. Talking in terms of the idiom of native speakers, etc., is definitely a step in the right direction, I think, but just one step of several that I think should be taken. For even reference to idiom is still fairly generic and impersonal, as if there was a group of idioms that we could expect all writers of a certain category to use in the same manner. I think we should be focusing a lot more than I think we tend to on the individual style of the writer.

    A couple times now on this blog we have had fun contest type things where we try to "guess who said it" and there will be a series of quotations from various textual critics and, surprisingly, the objective is to guess who said what. Interestingly is how well people tend to do on those things. Even though all of the authors in the list are writing within the parameters of standard English grammar and idiom, it is still possible to pick out who is who solely on the basis of their individual style.

    For example, if I gave you two quotes:

    1) "all trustworthy restoration of corrupted texts is founded upon the study of their history, that is, of the relations of descent or affinity which connect several documents.”

    and

    2) "At one level we might therefore think of textual criticism as the menial servant and the synoptic problem is the master: textual criticism provides the text of what Matthew, Mark and Luke wrote, and offers these texts to the synoptic specialist for analysis. But the relationship,like all good relationships, is a little deeper than simply using each other."

    And then I asked you "which one of those quotes is from Wescott & Hort, and which one is from Peter Head?" I am pretty sure that the majority of readers here would be able to answer correctly. And their ability to identify which quote was from Peter Head would have nothing to do with either grammar or idiom, but would be based primarily on the essential "peter-ness" of his quote.

    Now, you might say, "that's unfair, Peter Head has not been around as long as Wescott & Hort, so it's easy to identify the older writing style."

    And to that I would say that Peter Head has in fact been around since 1593, quite a bit *before* Wescott & Hort. Mind you, in fairness, that's the Scottish village Peterhead that I'm referring to (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peterhead), but come on, the man has a village in Scotland named after him, that's got to count for something, right?

    Ok, fine then. But what if instead of Wescott & Hort we go for someone more contemporary? Try this one:

    1) "The question before us, then, is: how can the Bible be authoritative? This way of putting it carries deliberately, two different though related meanings, and I shall look at them in turn. First, how can there be such a thing as an authoritative book? What sort of a claim are we making about a book when we say that it is ‘authoritative’? Second, by what means can the Bible actually exercise its authority? How is it to be used so that its authority becomes effective? The first question subdivides further, and I want to argue two things as we took at it. "

    or

    2) "And the second problem is related, that of data assimilation: the synoptic problem is a complex problem involving similarities and differences in content, wording and ordering of the synoptic problem. But the textual criticism of the gospels is a complex problem involving multitudes of witnesses (in numerous languages) and complex patterns of differences of wording. Juggling with three balls is manageable with a little practice, but who can keep six balls in the air?"


    Ok, so again, who said it? Which one of those quotes is from Peter Head, and which one is from the great N.ew T.estament Wright?

    Once again, I bet you most people get it (W)right.

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  7. One more time:

    1) "In order fully to accomplish which, we ought to distinguish the clearly genuine words of the Sacred Text, from those which are open to doubt or question, from the existence and authority of various readings, lest we should either pass by, and thus fail to profit by the words of the apostles, or treat the words of copyists as if they were those of the apostles."

    or

    2) "Accordingly… the readings of Aleph-B combined may safely be accepted as genuine in the absence of specially strong internal evidence to the contrary, and can never safely be rejected altogether. [In] the numerous variations in which Aleph and B stand on different sides…Every such binary combination containing B… is found to have a large proportion of readings which on the closest scrutiny have the ring of genuineness, and hardly any that look suspicious after full consideration: in fact, the character of such groups is scarcely to be distinguished from that of Aleph-B. On the other hand every combination of Aleph with another primary MS presents for the most part readings which cannot be finally approved… All other MSS stand the trial with even less success than Aleph"


    Answer in the next post…

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  8. So which one is Wescott & Hort, which one is Peter Head?

    did you get it?

    you think you got it?

    Second one was Wescott & Hort, right?

    That makes the first one Peter Head, eh?

    Trick question, of course. If you'd been reading this blog faithfully, you would have known that the first one was Bengel. But even if you haven't been reading this blog, I bet you were still looking at that first quote pretty suspiciously, right? You were thinking "man, I know #2 is Wescott & Hort, but #1 really doesn't sound like Peter Head to me!" Of course you were thinking something like that, and for a very good reason: even though they are both writing English, Peter Head has, in a number of ways, very little resemblance to Bengel.

    But all of that just confirms my point: when we are familiar with authors, it becomes very easy to identify their work, and it's not on account of their grammar or idiom, but rather their own essential style.

    That an author's personal style can be that much of an identifier is very important, since when we ask whether this or that variant is original to James, what we're really asking is: who said it - James or someone else?

    When we are reading contemporary work, not only do we use the author's essential style as evidence, but I'd argue we usually use it as our *primary* evidence. (Everyone here who has caught a student plagiarizing can nod along with me in agreement).

    So why, my question is, do we suddenly act differently when it comes to reading the NT authors? Why, when reading James, are statistics about ancient Greek usage, obscure quotations from pelagius, or lists of references from TLG, suddenly considered more probative than the simple question of whether a given line does or does not sound like James?

    You might say "well, phrases like 'sounds like James' seem awfully subjective to me, text criticism is supposed to be a science you know, so we need objective data, not personal opinions about airy-fairy ideas like 'the essential James-ness' of this or that phrase". But I would argue back that it's not nearly so subjective as you might think. After all, all those quotes I gave you above, I still bet you that most readers got the answers right. If everyone is seeing the same thing, surely that's a clue that there's something more there than pure subjectivity, no?

    Alright, enough thinking out loud for tonight.

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  9. To return to the variant in question and the suggested idiomatic use:

    I would not see either επι or υπο in the James location as any more of a problem than in the Gospels where a millstone is placed either περι one's neck (Mk 9.42; Lk 17.2) or -- among the Byzantine MSS in particular, the idiomatically "more difficult" but widely accepted -- εις (Mt 18.6) one's neck.

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  10. Peter, after so much acumen has been spent on the logic behind Jas 2:3/44-48ff I hardly dare to put in my two cents here. I feel a certain obligation, however, to defend my statement in the article you cite. So here is my first cent: To grasp the logic of a text one sometimes has to read more than six words. Second cent: The context is about προσωπολημψία, partiality to the favor of a rich man and to the disfavor of a poor man. The poor man is placed on a nice seat and the poor one is asked, according to variants 2:3/44-48ff and 50-56b, to stand “there on my footstool”. Anybody who ever has sat behind a taller person in a cinema will know how unpleasant that can be. But how would he or she feel, if that person was even standing? Keeping this in mind, please ask yourself again whether it is in keeping with the logic of Jas 2:1-4 to have the poor man stand before the speaker on his footstool.

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  11. Klaus (good to see you here!),

    I don't think anyone should oppose the logic of the dominant reading or that of the critical text ("stand there or sit [here] below my footstool").

    It is only whether the ἐπὶ τὸ ὑποπόδιόν μου reading found in 1563 or the ca. 38 other MSS cited in ECM would have been considered erroneous by those particular scribes, regardless of whether we might read such as problematic. I suspect those various scribes saw no problem with ἐπὶ in that situation, any more than did the majority of scribes with υπο (or one scribe with παρα).

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  12. Any chance of correcting the caption?

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