Friday, November 04, 2005

TC Heresy?

In another blog - - Michael Bird (who seems to be a kind of Australian-Scottish reformed baptist braveheart - you know the type) firstly linked to this blog (thus proving that there are at least 2 blogs in the world wide blogosphere) and then asked a question:

I have this insane idea for biblical studies. Why is it when scholars write a commentary on a NT book that they inevitably use either UBS4 or NA27? The fact is that no extant manuscript conforms to the text of UBS4 or NA27 so they are writing a commentary on a manuscript that does not physically exist.

Let me qualify that: (1) I believe that it is worthwhile to comb the various witnesses and try to establish what is probably the original autographs; (2) I'm not advocating the superiority of any one particular textual witness like the Western Text or anything like that. But why doesn't someone take, say, the earliest manuscript on Galatians (p46, ca. 200 I think) and write a commentary on that manuscript and argue in the footnotes passages where they think other readings are to be preferred.

I put this forward because, although I believe in the eclectic approach, at the end of the day there will always be an element of doubt as to our ability to reconstruct the original autographs with any certainty. Alternatively, p46 is a real manuscript not an imagined one, and the question that can be asked is to what degree does p.46 legitimately represent the original autograph. Is using a real manuscript (as opposed to a hypothetical one) as a template for the text of a commentary an act of textual critical heresy; or am I onto something?

It seems to me that the answer is a) that we don't like using the word 'heresy' since W. Bauer ... blah blah blah ...; b) that it is being done with respect to LXX at the moment; c) that we did have commentaries based on a single manuscript tradition for three hundred years (and most of them aren't very interesting on the detailed exegetical material); d) that it would be very interesting to have a series of textual commentaries on important manuscripts - treating them seriously as an artifact and representation of the text in its/their own time; BUT that e) if you want to comment on Paul you need to comment on the text you think Paul originally wrote. You might take P46 as your starting point and then vary from it, but effectively then you are still commenting on an eclectic text. The more disciplined you were in commenting on the manuscript itself, the less sure you would be that you are commenting on Paul.

The great commentaries of the past, thinking of say Lightfoot on Galatians (probably the greatest commentary in the history of NT scholarship), understood that an important part of the commentator's job is to establish (and publish) a critical text alongside the commentary. NT scholars today generally relinquish this job to NA27 and Metzger's Commentary (perhaps thinking that by-and-large the text critical task is complete, or else that the whole field is a bit too complicated) and invest their time and energy in different aspects of the commentators task.

So I'd be all in favour of a series of textual commentaries. Publishers would love it; RAE points for everyone; they would be permanent contributions to scholarship (if done well); helpful for Wirkungsgeschichte; honouring to the memory of the scribes; full of detailed pictures and charts. But I think they would be a lot of work. Sign me up for a little fragment.

What do the rest of you silent co-bloggers think?



  1. Peter,
    1. Interesting thoughts, I enjoyed reading your comments.
    2. Maybe there is a way of engaging with an actual manuscript, but also keeping an eye on what Paul originally wrote and meant in his context? I don't think that these two points are poles apart since all the ms are representations, to varying degrees, of a Pauline autograph.
    3. Long live the memory of Lightfoot! (How about a name for the series as the "The Lightfoot Textual Commentaries: Textual Tradition, Reception-History, and Exegesis"?)
    4. Put me down for a commentary on p52 (Ryland papyrus), given the brevity I might even have it done by Monday. That way I can score me some quick RAE points.

  2. Michael, you are correct that all MSS are "representations, to varying degrees, of a Pauline autograph." However, any given MS is not necessarily closer to the original autograph than a critical textual reconstruction. In fact, if the canons of traditional textaul criticism are at all correct, it could be further from the original autograph than a critical textual reconstruction. Thus, I maintain that, if you want to do traditional exegesis of a Pauline document (based on a reconstructed historical/theological situation), then you should use a critically reconstructed text. And, if you focus on a particular later MS, you should keep the orientation of the exegesis to matters of Wirkungsgeschichte.

  3. We should perhaps explain for those who don't have the privilege of living in the UK that the RAE is the 'Research Assessment Exercise': there are panels who weigh the books and articles by academics in Britain. Those printed on 120 gram paper rather than 80 gram paper are deemed more serious and therefore to give evidence of better research. This influences government funding decisions. The RAE panels insist that they really will read the works in order to evaluate their quality, but sober calculations demonstrate that this is no more possible than that Santa could visit all those homes in one evening.

    The original question does, however, raise the question as to why diplomatic editions have been so popular for the Old Testament (Cambridge LXX; Leiden Peshitta; various editions of MT), but not for NT. What examples of diplomatic editions of the NT are there? What would be the merit of taking a major pandect, e.g. Sinaiticus, and printing its text emending only when there is an obvious mistake and mss demonstrating affinity with Aleph allow one to restore what probably stood in an ancestor of Aleph?

    There is of course a diplomatic edition of the Byzantine text of John being done through Birmingham.

  4. My name is David Hymes, and I would like to comment on the interesting idea of commentaries on manuscripts and expanding that idea to textual traditions. . . .
    1) I was under the impression that there was quite a lot of working being done along these lines at Birmingham under David Parker. I believe that Roli de la Cruz completed a dissertation on the gospels that focuses on a manuscript/tradition level.
    2) David Clines suggested for O.T. text criticism that a post-modern approach would necessitate delving into works on manuscript themselves. (David J. A. Clines, "Pyramid and the Net: The Postmodern Adventure in Biblical Studies," in On the Way to the Postmodern: Old Testament Essays, 1967-1998, Volume 1, JSOT Supplement Series, 292, (Sheffield: JSOT, 1998), 138-57; also online.) This has been done on the more substantial Qumran manuscripts, but not on a medieval Hebrew ms or mss. The later seems over kill to me.
    3) The pluriformity of the Torah, for example during the period 300 BCE to 200/300 CE, seems to call for at lest the analysis of textual trajectories throughout this period. E. Ulrich's work moves in this direction. (Eugene Ulrich, "The Text of the Hebrew Scriptures at the time of Hillel and Jesus," in A. Lemaire, ed., Congress Volume: Basel, 2001, International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament, (Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2002), 105-107, and many other articles by Ulrich and sometimes those by E. Tov.) Commentaries on the LXX, as has been already indicated (both in English, French, and one on Genesis in Japanese [Gohei Hata, I believe]) is an important move in this direction. There has been some work on commentaries on the Peshitta and even the Samaritan Pentateuch (Genesis so far). These are all fruitful, but tedious studies.

  5. P.J. Williams said:
    "The RAE panels insist that they really will read the works in order to evaluate their quality, but sober calculations demonstrate that this is no more possible than that Santa could visit all those homes in one evening."

    So, what are you saying here? I don't get it. ... Someone has to deliver all the Christmas presents. Someone has to eat all the milk/beer/whisky that is left out in all those homes. Surely Occam's razor supports the tradition at this point - a single cause is more plausible than a practically infinitely complicated set of alternative hypotheses.


  6. Peter, if you leave whisky or beer out and find that it is gone in the morning, the most likely explanation is that someone in your family is taking it. But who? Your children are young, and your wife does not seem the type? Have you never dressed up as Santa?

  7. Just because some people pretend to be Santa doesn't prove that the real Santa doesn't exist (cf. Mark 13.6, 22 [interesting variants here]).

  8. Ah, textual evidence at last. Does 'Santa' exist in any Latin manuscripts as a variant of 'Sancta'? Are we wandering from the original topic?

  9. David, I'm at the University of Birmingham, although I'm not personally involved in the work that you are describing. But you're right that this sort of research and commentary is going on here under David Parker. There are many research students and staff involved in such projects. However, all of this is really one small slice of the possible pie which this sort of approach represents. The Bham website related to this is