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 http://rosetta.reltech.org/TC/vol08/Luz2003rev.html. 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?


  1. I have raised this issue in the conclusion to my article: ‘Christology and Textual Transmission: Reverential Alterations in the Synoptic Gospels’ Novum Testamentum 35 (1993), 105–129.

    The very fact that the 'reverential alterations' (somewhat similar to what Ehrman labels 'orthodox corruptions') can be detected in (relatively) minority readings suggests that most scribes withstood the temptation to 'improve' their text in significant ways.

    For a possible method you could look at J.W. Voelz, ‘The Greek of Codex Vaticanus in the Second Gospel and Marcan Greek’ NovT 47 (2005), 209-249.
    Voelz attempts to do a study of Markan style on the basis of readings where all the manuscripts agree and then to compare it with Vaticanus. I think there are some problems with it in relation to Markan style (the sample biases the study towards the things that were generally acceptable to the Byzantine tradition), but it may be usable elsewhere.

  2. I haven't yet read your NovT article, but I've just finished the article by Voelz. I suppose its relevance here is showing the limits to how much scribes changed grammatical forms. The article raises some interesting issues that I will highlight on the main page.