Thursday, December 29, 2005

Final notes on Horton

Herewith comments on the remaining essays within Charles Horton, The Earliest Gospels and other reflections inspired thereby.

Martin McNamara, 'The Latin Gospels, with Special Reference to Irish Tradition', pp. 88-106, is a particularly useful introduction to the Irish Gospel tradition, or indeed to the Latin Gospel tradition in general. It deals with the nature of the mixed-text manuscripts, which contain both Vulgate and Old Latin elements. One methodological question that is raised by this essay is the question of what is Old Latin. McNamara explains that within the Irish scribal tradition there was a certain license in transmission of Vulgate texts and that this license is often found alongside genuine Old Latin elements. This of course raises the question as to how you actually recognise what is pre-Vulgate (i.e. Old Latin) and what is post-Vulgate license in transmission. Both might show similar features. This is where translation technique profiling will be absolutely vital. I note that we have a parallel situation in the Syriac tradition, where it has often been difficult to identify what is 'Old Syriac' because some scholars, esp. Arthur Vööbus, seemed to work on the basis that whatever was not Peshitta (or a later Syriac translation) was Old Syriac.

Barbara Aland, 'The Significance of the Chester Beatty Papyri in Early Church History', pp. 108-121, considers attitudes to textual transmission in the early Church and asks how the communities which commissioned early papyrus manuscripts might have viewed their errors. The communities may not have been so aware of the errors of an early papyrus 'because they have nothing to compare it with' or perhaps 'because the lector in the worship service can quietly smooth over any difficulties ...' (p. 118).

J. Keith Elliott, 'Singular Readings in the Gospel Text of P45', pp. 122-131, considers 'singular' and 'subsingular' readings, but also discusses the meaning of these terms. No readings should be dismissed as aberrant simply because they fall into one of these categories.

Larry W. Hurtado, 'P45 and the Textual History of the Gospel of Mark', pp. 132-148, focuses on scholarship since Westcott and Hort and especially the concept of the 'Caesarean' text: how P45 seemed at first to give support to this concept, but then led to its undermining.

The final essay is Charles Horton, 'The Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri: A Find of the Greatest Importance', pp. 149-160. It surveys the history of the discovery and acquisition of these papyri, and brings together a number of sources to highlight various personal details about Beatty, his financial position and his method of acquiring manuscripts. However, it does not relate the origins of the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin.

Overall the volume is of a high quality (with some weaknesses of proofreading). A number of senior figures restate, précis, and develop material they have previously worked on. The essays have a wide relevance.

Issues which those interested in evangelical doctrine may wish to consider carefully relate to the general conclusions about scribal habit. A number of the authors conclude that the willingness of scribes to modify their Vorlage was not merely occasional. If this is true, what does it suggest about their attitude to verbal inspiration? Of course, someone who believes in verbal inspiration is not bound to maintain that early scribes generally believed in it. However, it would be somewhat surprising, at least to me, if none of the early scribes were concerned for full verbal accuracy in their product. (Those who do not share my convictions about verbal inspiration will have no occasion for surprise if indeed scribes were not concerned to produce full verbal accuracy in their manuscripts.)


  1. What line of argument does Elliot take in justifying the singular or sub-singular readings of P45 as worthy of consideration? Examination of individual examples or a more theoretical approach to singular readings on the whole?

  2. Elliott [sic] reviews a number of such readings and argues (without saying so exactly) that in some cases they best explain the origin of other forms of the text.