Monday, October 31, 2005

"a very important discovery, equal to the Naga Hammadi scrolls"

This find went public in February.

I have seen two sets of dates for these new documents ... the 3rd/4th and 6th centuries. These dates stem from the presumption that they were hidden during persecutions which would have happened at those times.

I think the picture on this page is from Nag Hammadi.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Itacism again

Following on from my last note: the Greek accentual system distinguishes final αι as long from final αι as short. Is there a greater frequency of ε for αι when the latter is short?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Vowels in Voelz

Peter mentioned the following article on another thread: James W. Voelz, 'The Greek of Codex Vaticanus in the Second Gospel and Marcan Greek', Novum Testamentum 47 (2005) 209-249. What caught my attention about this article was nothing to do with its main point, but rather its list of itacisms within Vaticanus for Mark on p. 211. What do Γαλειλαιας (1:16), θλειψεως (4:17), ατειμος (6:4), μεικρων (9:42) and all the other examples he gives have in common? They have in common the fact that the ει is used where etymologically there is a long i. He gives twelve examples of this, though he does not mention vowel quantity. Is it the case generally that this type of itacism in manuscripts correlates with the presence of etymologically long vowels? If so, this could tell us interesting information. One thing that fascinates me is the high incidence of the ει spelling for Semitic names (David, Pharisees, Galilee, etc.). Either the scribes were familiar with the vowel quantity of Semitic names (through knowing Hebrew/Aramaic or through hearing the names clearly enunciated in public Scripture reading) or the presence of ει comes from the authors themselves. Possible counter examples could be λειαν (6:51), which could apparently have short or long quantity, ανακλειθηναι (6:39), for a verb whose vowel quantity changes between various tenses, and εξεισταντο (6:51), whose vowel quantity I would have to do more work to discover. Does anyone out there know its quantity?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Every frame, every sound, every word ...

There is an interesting post on about cartoons and music which has special resonance for textual criticism and exegesis.

"I think you must learn -- If you're in any filmmaking, you must respect the single frame, and there are 24 of those per second. And in my opinion, if you don't respect that single frame, you're in the same boat with a musician who does not respect an eighth note or a sixteenth. . . . You have to find the smallest unit and you have to love it and believe that that one will make a difference. One frame, to me, will make the difference whether anything's funny or not."

Loving the smallest unit is something that characterises evangelical textual criticism!


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The dog that didn’t bark

In some contemporary discussion of textual criticism of the NT one could easily get the impression that the text was in a state of considerable fluidity. One possible counter to this is the existence of locations in the text where there are fewer variants than we might expect (Conan Doyle’s ‘dog that did not bark’). I raised the example of Matthew 27:9 in If Luz is right that early scribes corrected Matthew 13:35 to preserve the truth of the text, why did so few do this in Matthew 27:9? Similarly, no scribes seem to have found the negative added in Matthew 2:6 problematic. Is there a case for studying non-assimilation and non-harmonization as phenomena? Can we establish that it is in fact a tiny minority of texts that may have been found difficult by early scribes that any of them ever deliberately altered? Can we find evidence against the assertion that scribes changed the text to try to maintain the appearance of its factual correctness?

Strengths and weaknesses of evangelical textual criticism

Perhaps we should reapproach the question of what tasks need to be performed by an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of evangelicalism within textual criticism. It seems to me that it is useful to mention weaknesses, since these are the areas that will require research and some problem solving. I'll start with one strength and one weakness. The weakness is variants that are hard to resolve. These present evangelicals with the problem that they claim authority for a text, but they're not sure which text they're claiming authority for. The strength is the converse: the great amount of text for which a massive array of witnesses show no variation. This means that very many copying events have gone on without corruption of the text. This suggests the basic reliability of those transmitting the text. These assertions are a bit short on detail, I admit. But let's leave that to the discussion.

Friday, October 21, 2005

A private e-mail list and a webpage

Some colleagues have expressed the wish for a private e-mail list in addition to this blog. If you are interested in this possibility then I'm happy to undertake initial coordination of addresses and to serve as a public contact for anyone new wishing to join. However, I'm afraid that someone else will have to administer the list. I am also interested in the establishment of an 'Evangelical Textual Criticism' webpage. This could differ from other evangelical webpages on the subject by the introduction of peer review and an editorial board. Anyone interested in helping out here should contact me.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

‘Western Non-Interpolation’ in Luke 24:51-52 as haplography

We’re a bit short on discussion of readings in this blog so far...

In Nestle-Aland 27 it is suggested that in Luke 24:51 και ανεφερετο εις τον ουρανον is omitted by two major uncials, Old Latin witnesses and the Sinaitic Syriac. This is significant since it is the only clear indication of a vertical element in the ascension within Luke. This is also one of the many cases where Old Latin and Syriac witnesses are supposed to agree. In fact the Syriac does not omit και ανεφερετο since it has a verb involving vertical elevation that would not be used just to translate διεστη.

What to me is more interesting is the misleading way the information is presented. Immediately before και ανεφερετο εις τον ουρανον is αυτων ending with ν. The sequence of letters at the initial boundary of the phrase is thus νκαια. This is also the sequence that occurs at the final boundary of the phrase when the final ν of ουρανον is taken with the following και αυτοι. Thus the omission of the phrase can be explained as a parablepsis from νκαια to νκαια. Nestle-Aland inevitably put the omission marks round a whole grammatical unit. While I can see that as editors they had little choice about this, it is misleading if this is taken as an indication of what unit might actually have been omitted within a manuscript.

What is fascinating about this variant is that the omission is so readily explained by mechanical means. It seems to me that whole swathes of textual criticism work on the assumption that if there is a mechanical explanation for a variant and a theological explanation for a variant then the theological one is preferable. This assumption sometimes combines with a predisposition to see doctrinal development in early variants and results in a preference for readings that have no compelling reason to be taken as original.

This raises a wider question: how many of the variants that are alleged to arise from theological Tendenz could be explained as merely mechanical? The theory that says that theology is the predominant cause of variation would surely predict that there would be many variations for which a theological explanation was possible but for which no mechanical explanation was possible.

Over to you guys.

More on evangelical distinctives

I mentioned three characteristics of evangelical textual criticism: (1) belief in verbal inspiration; (2) caution; (3) confidence - leaving the latter two undefined enough to hope that people will want to discuss them. I said that none of these were characteristics that an evangelical could not share with a non-evangelical. A fourth characteristic could also be seen as entailed in the first. Evangelicals have historically argued that what was verbally inspired was a Hebrew (and partly Aramaic) text for the OT and a Greek text for the NT. Thus, while the RC position has (at least in the past) emphasised the Vulgate, and the Greek Orthodox position would emphasise a version of the Greek OT, evangelicals have generally not ascribed verbal inspiration to a Greek version of the OT. Now of course some people called evangelicals are wanting to talk of the LXX having equal authority to the Hebrew, but as far as I can tell they are not talking about verbal inspiration of the LXX such that it is entirely true. Rather they are talking about verbal inspiration of neither the Hebrew nor the Greek, but rather of some vaguer 'authority'. The only evangelical I know to ascribe verbal inspiration to both the MT and the LXX was A.W. Pink (sorry no reference to hand), but I rather doubt that he had ever read the LXX or MT. Evangelicals have therefore historically emphasised the original languages and the 'original' text. This is what makes the NT use of translations we now ascribe to the Septuagint so fascinating.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

What are the principal characteristics of evangelical textual criticism?

This is a big question, but one that must surely be bashed out thoroughly here. I suppose that one clear characteristic will be that it is based on verbal inspiration, i.e. the idea that particular words come from God. Whether we use the phrase 'original text' or 'initial text' or some other phrase there's no getting round the idea that evangelical views of scripture state that some actual words do come from God and some do not. Though this is an essential feature of evangelicalism it is not necessarily a distinctive feature of evangelicalism. Arguably, historic Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox accounts of scripture would say the same. Where some distance from older Roman Catholic accounts is found is in the Protestant emphasis on original languages. More recent Roman Catholic approaches have tended to come nearer to the Protestant accounts on this, but, sadly, modern Roman Catholic theologians can be a bit fuzzy about the idea that God gave particular words. In principle, however, a key element of an evangelical approach to scripture could be shared by someone with a completely different ecclesiology and soteriology.

Another feature of evangelical textual criticism is caution, but, again, evangelicals cannot claim the monopoly on this virtue.

A further feature will be confidence in God's provision of His word for us, the idea that His communication with us has not been lost (this obviously needs further unpacking and clarification). Again, this confidence or textual optimism need not be exclusive to evangelicalism.

Thus in principle three key tenets of an evangelical approach could be shared by a non-evangelical.


Heroes of Evangelical Textual Criticism (OT)

Who would be our suggestions for evangelical heroes of Old Testament textual criticism? I can only think of David W. Gooding. It has probably been an area of dearth.

Heroes of Evangelical Textual Criticism (NT)

If this is to be a blog/forum in 'evangelical textual criticism', then who would we think of as the best representatives of this outlook? In NT text criticism it is probably fair to say that a kind of pietist approach combined, to some extent, with a distancing from standard historical critical positions has characterised quite a few NT text critics in the last two centuries. But in terms of personal allegiance to historic evangelical theology, building their text criticism on the foundation of historical evangelical theology, and making real advances in textual criticism two scholars stand out.

Monday, October 17, 2005

What tasks need to be performed?

A natural question for evangelical textual critics to ask is 'What tasks most need to be performed?' One useful task might be to create a running textual commentary on the whole Bible. This could be a long-term goal (at ars longa vita brevis). A more manageable goal would be simply to create a location/public repository for textual comments, or perhaps a biblical text with hypertexted comments. Does anyone have any idea as to how such a public repository could be managed?

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Does anyone know where I. Avinery's thesis is?

One interesting work from the point of view of textual criticism of the Syriac Old Testament is a thesis by the late Iddo Avinery on the Syntax of the Syriac Pentateuch (written in modern Hebrew with French summary). When I tried to get hold of it some years ago (probably around 1994-5) I was told that there was only one copy in Israel and that this could not be removed. Copying it would cost about 200 dollars. I ended up viewing it in the Peshitta Institute in Leiden. Anyway, I have the late Michael Weitzman's notes on the thesis - I may even have some of my own notes somewhere (!), but I'd be very interested to know if there is any copy of the thesis residing in Britain.

Evangelical vocabulary?

I suppose that one of the first things that any group that is seeking to define their own perspective does is to undertake a review of language. The question I have is about the language we generally use for textual criticism. Of course one must maintain a certain parity between one's own language and that of the wider scholarly community if one wants to dialogue with that community. At the same time, we also need to look critically at the vocabulary that is used to see whether it is the most helpful. My little challenge here is to see whether anyone can improve on the terms 'Septuagint' and 'Masoretic Text' (or 'Proto-Masoretic Text'). The problem with the term 'Septuagint' is that is probably gives to many minds the impression of a uniform translation and can often lead to fuzzy thinking about the whole 'Septuagint' as an authoritative entity in the first century AD. The second term, the 'Masoretic Text' strikes me as potentially problematic because its consonants were fixed well before the Masoretes, and the term might therefore give the impression of something formed later. Am I unique in finding these terms unsatisfactory? I can't yet think of better ones. I suppose that we could reserve 'Septuagint' for the Greek Pentateuch and then give names to the other translation groups within something like Rahlfs. We would then need a generic name for them all, preferably a plural. For the Proto-Masoretic Text I'd like something that observes a universal aspect of its spelling in which it differs from other Second Temple texts. Any ideas? Is this a blind alley?

Friday, October 14, 2005

Further clarification

I've been asked to clarify a bit further what might be appropriate for this blog. The answer is that this blog should have a pretty wide remit. Any news about textual criticism that you might see on a non-confessional list is perfectly welcome as is discussion about individual readings, manuscripts, scholars, approaches, etc. In contrast to non-confessional sites this site also welcomes discussion of the doctrine of Scripture and its relationship to textual criticism and is a good forum to discuss how the approach of an evangelical textual critic to their task may differ from that of someone who is not an evangelical. While it may be a place in which we may present refinements of classic evangelical expressions of the doctrine of Scripture it is not a place to promote accounts of Scripture that reject the verbal inspiration or truth of Scripture or which seek to distance themselves from the historic tenets of evangelicalism.

What this blog is about

Hi all! This is P.J. Williams here. You can find out about me on:

Essentially what I’m wanting to do is to create a blog for those who wish to discuss textual criticism of the Old or New Testament from an evangelical perspective. There are many textual critics out there who are evangelicals and here I am trying to create a forum for us to discuss ideas together.

I want this forum to be robust in two ways: first, it is not going to be embarrassed about believing that the Bible is true and that the Bible is made up of particular words which come from God. Secondly, it is going to be a place where we discuss textual criticism based on a familiarity with the issues involved. If you haven’t read the New Testament in Greek or the Old Testament in Hebrew then it isn’t going to be appropriate for you to take part.

The blog will not generally try to justify the historic evangelical perspective that says that the inspired text of the Bible is Greek for the NT and Hebrew (or Aramaic) for the OT. Justifications may emerge within this group, but it will be more profitable to those involved if we take this as our basis.

Typically people divide into those who are interested in doctrine and those who are interested in history and texts. Here I hope we can see that there need be no division between these groups.

One thing that needs to be said is that evangelical textual criticism is not synonymous with textual criticism carried out by individuals who are evangelical. Evangelical textual criticism is textual criticism which is governed by the principles of evangelicalism. Thus while, for instance, there are some individuals who are undoubtedly evangelical who hold that an English translation of the Bible is superior to what is found in all the Greek manuscripts of the NT, since their position is in conflict with the historic evangelical position that locates the authority of the NT in the Greek they may be evangelical, but their textual criticism is not.

One further characteristic of evangelical textual criticism will also be the manner in which we engage in discussion. All who claim the name ‘evangelical’ need to show the characteristics which should accompany our faith.

I hope that I can have a relatively light touch in steering this blog, and would respectfully request that those who post to it have regard for the principles outlined above.