Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Methodology in Transcribing Greek Manuscripts

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About two weeks ago I participated in a meeting in Volos, Greece, with the groups that are currently editing the Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior (from Münster, Birmingham, and elsewhere). We had a lot of stimulating presentations and discussions. At some point in a discussion I repeated an old suggestion I have made that independent transcriptions of manuscripts which are later reconciled (i.e., compared by software with each other and checked by a third person who resolves any differences between the files in order to create one reconciled transcription) could be transcribed from two different base texts – the Nestle-Aland text and a Byzantine text.

Personally, when I worked on my dissertation on Jude I transcribed some 560 manuscripts, most of which naturally followed the Byzantine majority, and so I used the Textus Receptus (Oxford, 1873) as a base text which I then edited for each manuscript. I did not want to use the Nestle-Aland text as a base text because I reckoned I would have to edit each Byzantine minuscule much more (i.e., more work), and when editing I would also risk introducing errors.

In fact, I transcribed first on paper because the computer tools for transcribing were not as good, and the paper method actually saved me precious time. I used a base text on the left side of the paper and recorded variants by underlining the text that had variation and recording the variant on the right side of the paper. The most common variants were already listed in the right margin so that I could just put a circle around the one attestested by the manuscript I transcribed ... I saved valuable "Münster-time" (yes, in these days you had to go to the INTF in Münster to collate manuscripts, there was no NT.VMR). When I came home I entered everything into the software Collate 2.0 developed by Peter Robinson (who sent me his software and manual for free – Kudos to him, I could not have done this without his software). I learnt the paper-transcription trick, i.e., to have the basetext with prepared variants on paper, from no other than the transcription master Maurice Robinson (who, to my knowledge, has not yet entered his collation data of the pericope adulterae into digitial form, but hopefully this will happen). UPDATE: Maurice informs us in a comment that all data has been digitized and he is waiting for an interested publisher.

In any case, I know that the INTF have used the Nestle-Aland text as a base text for a long time, and at the meeting in Volos someone pointed out that it is actually good that the manuscript to be transcribed differs from the base text – this will keep the transcriber alert and they will do less mistakes and this may well be the case. On the other hand, there was an openness to consider my proposal to use two different base texts for the initial independent transcriptions, at least it could make for an interesting experiment.

Here is my own experience as of today. I have just trained a student how to read and transcribe a manuscript in Philippians with the Online Transcription Editor, not the editor which is integrated in the NT.VMR, but the freestanding OTE (http://www.itsee.birmingham.ac.uk/ote/). There you upload a base text, transcribe your manuscript (using images from NT.VMR or elsewhere) and then export to an xml.file which you name after the manuscript you transcribe. As I was proofreading the first attempts by this student today I found the following seven errors (among others) which would likely have been spotted in a reconciliation where two students had used two distinct base text according to my proposal (NA28 and Textus Receptus):

Minuscule 365

1:27 ακουω (= base text NA28);
the manuscript reads ακουσω (= Byzantine text)

2:5 φρονειτε (= base text NA28);
the manuscript reads φρονεισθω (= Byzantine text)

2:23 αφιδω (= base text NA28);
the manuscript reads απιδω (= Byzantine text)

2:30 παραβολευσαμενος (= base text NA28);
the manuscript reads παραβουλευσαμενος (= Byzantine text)

3:6 ζηλος (= base text NA28);
the manuscript reads ζηλον (= Byzantine text)

3:10 συμμορφιζομενος (= base text NA28);
the manuscript reads συμμορφουμενος (= Byzantine text)

4:15 λημψεως (= base text NA28);
the manuscript reads ληψεως (= Byzantine text).

As I proofread I found another very interesting variant in Philippians 1:14. The manuscript does not read πεποιθοτας (both NA28 and Textus Receptus), but πεπονθότας. If I am not mistaken this translates, "and most of the brothers and sisters, having suffered in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear." This variant is not listed in von Soden's edition. I haven't checked Tischendorf's 8th edition.


10 comments :

  1. Back when I was working on transcriptions in Galatians and Ephesians with the IGNTP, I think this measure was being implemented, at least to some extent; the base text for Ephesians was NA27, while the base text for Galatians was TR1873. I'm not sure if the person doing the corresponding transcriptions had different base texts, though.

    I've been thinking about ways to improve the collation process lately. I believe a promising way to make it both faster and more precise would be to compare transcriptions based on "natural" segments of text rather than on individual words. This would quickly become laborious if individual transcribers had to think about how to segment the base text each time they transcribed, but if the base text XML files were pre-segmented (using the TEI XML <seg> tag), then most changes to the base texts would fall within existing segments and not require any extra modifications. It wouldn't be too much work to pre-segment a base text file. I'd be interested to see support for segmentation markers in the OTE.

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  2. Joey, I know that various base texts have been used by the IGNTP (for which I am secretary), but not two base texts in the way I have proposed.

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  3. The results from that experiment would be interesting to see. Having transcribed a couple dozen mss of 1Tim for the Greek Paul Project, I can attest to the (human, I like to think) desire to want to find in the manuscript what I see in the base text, especially when it comes to poor image quality or highly-ligatured text. It takes effort to look up ligatures, variants, etc. to ensure a good transcription. Transcribing from NA28 as base would surely slow things down, at least from the strictly mechanical perspective of changing the text in the VMR editor. Would it ultimately produce a higher fidelity transcription? Would be worth the test.

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  4. Steve, my point is to have two people independently transcribe from two different base texts, one from NA28, the other from a Byzantine text, to arrive from two different starting points to the manuscript text.

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  5. Yes, I understood the point and think it's worth the experiment.

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  6. For the record, my PA collation data (Oxford 1873 base text), originally recorded on paper in the double column format as Tommy described, in fact are all electronically digitized; just waiting for an interested publisher...

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  7. That's great Maurice, I have updated the post.

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  8. I've been transcribing for both the Greek Paul Project and the ECM through Birmingham for some time now and I can say that the existence of deviations from the NA 28 definitely keeps me alert, but as someone who is also working their way into textual criticism, I'd be very interested to see if the variants I find are representative of the Byzantine majority text or not. In this way, the unique variants (not represented in either base text) would be more recognizable. To date I've only found one such variant that I can think of.

    I like the idea, Tommy.

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  9. I've been transcribing for both the Greek Paul Project and the ECM through Birmingham for some time now and I can say that the existence of deviations from the NA 28 definitely keeps me alert, but as someone who is also working their way into textual criticism, I'd be very interested to see if the variants I find are representative of the Byzantine majority text or not. In this way, the unique variants (not represented in either base text) would be more recognizable. To date I've only found one such variant that I can think of.

    I like the idea, Tommy.

    ReplyDelete