Tuesday, April 25, 2017

ETC Interview with Thomas Hudgins

I’m happy to present another installment of our ETC interview series. Today’s interview is with Thomas W. Hudgins who is Assistant Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at Capital Seminary and Graduate School. I first spoke with Thomas a little over a year go when he had just completed his doctoral thesis on the Complutensian polyglot and I thought readers here would be interested in that work. His most recent publication is a Festschrift for David Alan Black which includes a number of essays on text criticism from our own Tommy Wasserman and Maurice Robinson and others. You can learn more about Thomas at his blog or read his list of publications.

PG: I understand you have two doctorates, the first one in education (EdD) and the second in New Testament (PhD). Most people who teach New Testament in U.S. seminaries only have the second, so what led you to do both?

TH: Explaining the PhD at the Complutense is a little easier since the PhD is the norm. I love the New Testament and wanted to study it for the rest of my life and help others do so as well. But why an EdD and a PhD? The easy answer is I am a glutton for punishment—or so people often say when they hear I did two. But there’s actually a better answer. An opportunity arose for me to enter the EdD program at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and at the same time assist a seminary start-up in Central America. I had taken plenty of classes on the biblical languages, book studies (e.g., Isaiah, Mark), and theology, but despite having an undergrad degree in biblical studies and an MDiv, I had never taken a single course on education (and homiletics courses don’t count). That’s pretty remarkable if you ask me, especially considering the church is in part an educational institution (“teaching them...” Matt. 28:20).

I don’t know how many hours the average PhD program (for biblical studies) requires of instruction in the field of education, but I know it’s not a lot. The opportunity to study in the education department at Southeastern really changed my life—personally and professionally. It was the first time I was ever challenged to think about education. Even though I entered the Doctor of Education program, I was able to work with a faculty member outside of the department. I knew I wanted to do something different from what you would generally find with an EdD dissertation. I wanted to study the New Testament and education. So, I applied to study with David Alan Black (yes, Dave has a separate application to work with him). Working with him was one of the best experiences of my life.

A few months after I started teaching New Testament and Greek full-time at Capital Seminary, another opportunity arose for me to study in the PhD program at the Complutense University in Madrid, Spain and work with another world-renowned New Testament scholar, Antonio Piñero, on a topic that few had engaged in recent years (even though the subject’s quincentennial was rapidly approaching). Who could resist, right?

Can you tell us more about what you worked on at the Complutense University?

The title of my research was “The Greek New Testament of the Complutensian Polyglot: Vatican Manuscripts and the Gospel of Matthew.” The first printed Greek New Testament was edited by a group of humanistic philologists in Alcalá de Henares, just outside of Madrid, Spain. It came off the press on January 10, 1514. The biggest question surrounding the Greek text of the Complutensian New Testament deals with the sources used by the editors. The prefaces of the Complutensian Polyglot Bible indicate that manuscripts were sent by Leo X from the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana in Rome. Scholars have generally taken these statements at face value. But should they? Is there any evidence beyond the prefaces or the first biography of Cisneros that the Greek sources originated from Rome? I decided to compare the Complutensian Greek text with the Vatican manuscripts. I was focused on a specific library, a specific period, and a specific book of the New Testament (and it wasn’t one of the short ones!).

As you said, the biggest question about the NT portion has always been, ‘What Greek manuscripts did they use?’ Can you get us any closer to answering that question?

I wish I could say I found them! Unfortunately, I cannot.

My study had a historical component and a text-critical component. In the first part, I focused on issues like the identities of the Complutensian editors, when they arrived in Alcalá de Henares, and when their work on the polyglot actually began. The text-critical analysis begins with a discussion of the Vatican collections, the Greek manuscripts housed in the Vatican that contain the Gospel of Matthew and would have been available for loan at the beginning of the sixteenth century, and the two earliest registers of loans. A sample of those manuscripts that contain the Gospel of Matthew in Greek were compared to the Complutensian text. I analyzed the divergence that exists between the Complutensian text and Vatican manuscripts, identifying (1) readings that are only found in the Complutensian Greek text and (2) readings that are not found in most of the manuscripts consulted. The entire Complutensian Greek text of the Gospel of Matthew is presented with variant readings from the Vatican manuscripts placed below it, similar to an apparatus in a modern critical edition of the Greek New Testament.

So, I can’t say I found the manuscripts. But I think I found sufficient evidence to seriously doubt that manuscripts were sent from the Vatican library. You can read the bulk of it in my dissertation. I won’t bore you here with all the data. Here’s one tangent to consider that might illustrate why such doubt is reasonable. How much divergence exists between the manuscripts Erasmus used and the Greek column of the Novum Instrumentum omne? The amount of divergence there is nothing compared to the divergence that exists between the Complutensian Greek text of the Gospel of Matthew and the manuscripts of the Vatican library. I took a look at Matthew 8 and 22 in Erasmus’ Greek New Testament and the manuscripts he used just to see what it would look like compared to the divergence I found between the Complutensian text and the Vatican manuscripts. Minuscules 1 and 2 account for all of Matthew 8, assuming Erasmus accidentally left off τήν in 8:28. And they account for all of Matthew 22, assuming Erasmus left off εἰς in Matt. 22:16 because it followed the verb βλέπεις. All Erasmus needed was minuscule 1 and 2, and it’s clear he relied more on minuscule 2. I can’t say anything like that for the Complutensian Greek Gospel of Matthew and manuscripts housed at the Vatican. In fact, not even close! We are talking about hundreds of issues of divergence in most of the manuscripts. Of the ones I looked at (I did not look at them all), a minority have fewer than 200 issues of divergence in Matthew. In other words, only a small number—nine total—have fewer than 200 issues where they differ from the text of the Complutensian Greek New Testament in Matthew.

I ended up challenging the status quo in my research in a handful of places, not just when I call into question the veracity of the Complutensian prefaces. For example, I argue in the dissertation that the editors involved with volume five of the polyglot are none other than the authors of the dedicatory notes that appear after the colophon in volume five. I’m not the only one who has said that, but we are few. In my opinion, these notes, which only appear in volume five, serve as the signatures of their participation. I also performed an analysis of the Vatican registers of loan. Those records appear incomplete, which leaves open the possibility that manuscripts beyond those for the Septuagint were lent to Cisneros. But that still doesn’t overcome the divergence between the Complutensian text of Matthew and the manuscripts found at the Vatican. So, should we continue saying that manuscripts were sent by Leo X from the Vatican library, as it says in the prefaces, partly because the registers of loans from that period are incomplete, or should we call into question what we find in the prefaces until such a time that an analysis of the Vatican manuscripts produces manuscripts from the period whose divergence looks like what we find in the case of Erasmus and the Greek manuscripts utilized by him?

Here’s one more quick tangent: As if searches for the manuscripts loaned to Cisneros were not complicated enough, my research uncovered a new possibility—that manuscripts could have been loaned by Giovanni di Lorenzo de’ Medici, who became pope (Leo X) in 1513. The Medici library was kept in Rome for a number of years, and the editors of the polyglot could have assumed that any sources from Rome came from the Vatican library, though sent from the Medici collection. Is this likely? In my opinion, no, not really. But it’s interesting to think about.

If you told me I had to wager everything I had right now and put my chips somewhere, I’d say the manuscripts for the New Testament did not come from Rome, were not sent by Leo X, and were not and still are not found in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana. And I would put all my money on manuscripts that are mentioned in the earliest university library inventories from Alcalá de Henares—three manuscripts containing all they needed to produce the entire Greek New Testament. One manuscript had the Gospels, one Revelation and Matthew, and another Acts and the letters of the New Testament. That inventory dates back to 1512. Remember, volume five came out in 1514. They had all they needed right there in Alcalá. Cisneros’ team was able to get the New Testament without requesting manuscripts from the Vatican. For the LXX though, things were different. They needed a loan. Why say anything about manuscripts coming from the Vatican in volume five then? There’s more than one possible answer: (1) You had to thank the pope, right? I mean this project was big! And they knew it. This comment in the preface made him instrumental in its development. (2) If people thought manuscripts came from the Vatican, it could bolster the credibility of their edition of the Greek New Testament. By the time the Complutensian editors began to work on the project, the Vatican library had already established a reputation of having quite the collection.

In hindsight, it seems obvious to work on the Complutensian Polyglot at the university where it was produced, but how did you come to that topic and that university?

Dave Black encouraged me to do it and he’s the one who recommended the Complutensian Greek New Testament since the 500th anniversary was coming up. As far as figuring out where to go and with whom to study, some people we knew in Spain recommended working with Antonio Piñero at the Complutense University. And I’m so glad they did.

If New Testament students know anything about the Complutensian Polyglot, it’s that it was the first printed Greek New Testament but not the first one published. That title is due, of course, to Erasmus’s Novum Instrumentum omne (1516). What else do you wish New Testament students knew about the polyglot?

Here’s just a few that come to mind:
  1. I think people misunderstand just how involved Cisneros was when it came to work on the Polyglot. He was the busiest man in Spain during that period. 
  2. Work on the polyglot, in my opinion, did not begin in 1502, and we would be better off not saying it did. It creates an idea in people’s minds that the editors of the Complutensian Polyglot were laboring on this project for over a decade. They weren’t. In some respects, the project was rushed. I deal with this when I discuss the arrival of faculty in Alcalá de Henares. They did what they did rather quickly, especially when we consider the amount of time that was necessary to ready the plates for the press. And we have to remember that the faculty was engaged in teaching responsibilities and preparing numerous other texts for publication. The issue of time (i.e., how long they worked on the polyglot) is important because the longer the amount of time they had opens up the possibility they reviewed more manuscripts. Less time could mean fewer manuscripts, and I think it does. 
  3. No one at the Complutense library sold the manuscripts to use for fireworks. No one profits from urban legends. This one makes for an amazing story, but it’s been proven false. 
  4. If you want to see the biggest threat a librarian has ever made, check out my dissertation. Basically, the Vatican librarian is on record (centuries ago, not today) saying you’ll die and go to hell if you don’t bring the books back.

How many copies of the Complutensian Polyglot were printed and how many have you seen? Can you tell us about the volume that you found?

Hudgins at the Vatican library
I’ve seen copies of the Complutensian Polyglot at the Vatican, in Alcalá de Henares, in Madrid, in Lima, and Washington, D.C. The one in Lima was interesting because it was among the volumes taken by Chile during a war. The rare volumes were returned around 2008. When I went to the National Library in Lima to ask to see them, they had a hard time finding them . . . apparently, they were in a “bodega” somewhere. But the team in Lima was exceptional and they worked hard to locate the six volumes for me. It took a couple of days, but they found them. The one in Washington, D.C. was interesting too. When they brought the polyglot out for me to view, they told me they only had five volumes and no volume five. I couldn’t believe it! I said, “There’s no way. Y’all have to have a copy of the New Testament.” They assured me they didn’t. Long story short, we ended up finding it. What happened is that they had sent the volumes of the polyglot out to have them rebound back in like 1918. When the person went to emboss the cover, they made a mistake on volume five. And that little mistake caused all sorts of confusion. I’m that guy—the one who identified that one of the volumes was misnumbered.

Recently, you’ve been presenting some provocative ideas about teaching Greek. What have we all being doing wrong in how we teach the language?

My colleague Carl Sanders has a chapter coming out in July or October in Teaching Theology and Religion. The title is “Biblical Language Instruction by the Book: Rethinking the Status Quaestionis.” You’ll definitely want check that out. If you want something right now, you could check out my personal blog (search for things like Greek, teaching, and pedagogy) and my interview with Carl Sanders and Mike Heiser on “The Naked Bible Podcast” (see here).

You did your PhD in Spain which is a bit unusual for an American-trained seminarian. Did you enjoy the experience and would you recommend it?

I loved it and I would highly recommend it. The opportunity to study at the Complutense with Antonio Piñero was without a doubt one of the highest honors of my life.

Can you tell us a bit more about Spanish New Testament scholarship today?

Spain is a hub of New Testament research. When I think of Spain, I think of the founding of Filología Neotestamentaria and its impact on New Testament studies since; I think of the work being done on the Diccionario griego-español del Nuevo Testamento; etc. There’s lots related to semantic analysis. The field of New Testament studies sometimes ignores the fact that Spain is a thriving center of philology. But there’s a lot of work being done. Just FYI: If you’re looking for “New Testament” departments in Spain, you’re not going to find them. Everything related to biblical texts falls under philology departments. That might be helpful for someone to know if they are thinking about doing some research on possible schools and possible advisers.

If you were to name your son after a famous textual critic, who would it be?

C’mon. Maurice, of course.

Thanks, Thomas!

For other interviews in this series from Bart Ehrman, Charles Hill, Stanley Porter, Maurice Robinson, and others, see here.


  1. Regarding that final question, I would not consider Maurice P. Casey as primarily a textual critic.

  2. Thomas,
    Where can one conveniently read the proof that the fireworks story is false?

    1. See John Canon Dalton’s comments in his translation of Karl Joseph von Hefele’s Der cardinal Ximenes (The Life of Cardinal Ximenez). He mentions the “fireworks” story on page 141, but he provides a larger discussion on pages xlviii–xlix. This includes details of some personal interaction with Vicente de la Fuente in Madrid.

      J. H. Bentley offers an explanation of how the story gained traction before saying “it was finally laid to rest” (“New Light on the Editing of the Complutensian New Testament,” 146). So where was it laid to rest? You can find the details in Tregelles’ An Account of the Printed Text of the Greek New Testament (5–6, 11–18) and Delitzsch’s Studien zur Entstehungsgeschichte der Polyglottenbibel des Cardinais Ximenes (39–41), both of which Bentley references in his footnote.

      The rumor continues to spread even in the present day in scholarly publications (e.g., Ehrman, Whose Word Is It?, 77); Ehrman, I should mention, does acknowledge that “scholars have tried to discredit this account.”

    2. At least no one so far is claiming that the missing pages of Sinaiticus and Vaticanus were used for fireworks....

    3. Wait... I thought that was what happened to the end of Mark's gospel?!