Monday, June 04, 2007

Editio Critica Maior: those bold dots

In two previous posts I have discussed the Editio Critica Maior (How big will it be? and some more thoughts). One point raised in both those posts was the developing trajectories involved in this "edition". Today I want to focus on the use of bold dots in the ECM.

One of the interesting features of the primary line text (PLT) of the ECM is the use of a bold dot to signal ‘alternative readings’ which ‘are variant readings which the editors considered as of equal value’ [to the primary line text] (James, 11*). Thus the bold dots are an indication of editorial uncertainty and mark out particular variant readings. But it raises the obvious question: if the two readings are 'considered as of equal value', then why print one in the main (PLT) text and leave the other in the apparatus - and on what basis is the first among equals chosen for the PLT. I have not come across any discussion of the way in which the primary line text was chosen in these settings. I suppose one might think that the reading given in the main text is regarded as, however marginally, superior to the one which is relegated to the apparatus, but this is not, so far as I can tell, ever discussed.

The PLT reading must be regarded as somewhat superior to the supposedly equal variant given in the apparatus since some of the changes from NA27 text are marked in such a way. The first example of this is at James 2.3.44-48, where the PLT is H KAQOU EKEI (marked with double dots); and the second reading in the apparatus, also marked with bold dots is the NA 27 (= NA26) text reading: EKEI H KAQOU. Since this reading is flagged up in the introduction as one of two instances in which the ECM text differs from the NA27 & UBS4 text, and that ‘apart from these [two occasions] there was no need to alter the text’ (James, 11*), it follows that the ECM PLT reading at James 2.3 must be regarded as an improvement, a necessary alteration, and not simply as a text of absolutely straightforwardly equal plausibility as the dotted text.

This much is basically admitted in the preliminary notes to the second instalment which adds the following statement:

  • A bold dot (●) is again found frequently in the primary line and in the overview of variants. Its use was not governed by any absolute or precise definition. Sometimes it signals alternative readings which were considered of equal value. Sometimes the reasons for the reading in the primary line were regarded as superior, but not sufficiently to rule out with complete confidence the claims of the indicated alternative reading. In any event the dot indicates a passage which calls for special critical consideration. Further research may well lead to a new solution for it or confirm the present decision. In many instances, however, the resources of textual criticism may appear to have been exhausted. (Peter, 24*)

In the fourth instalment we are told that this is a better explanation for the significance of the bold dots than the one originally offered in the first instalment. (2 & 3 John, Jude, 37* note 2 cf. James, 11* as cited above) The following is also added:

  • ‘Perhaps their most important function is to indicate where critical discussion has not proved conclusive, even if in many instances the editors prefer the reading in the primary line.’ (Peter, 24*)

So it is clear that there has been some development in the use and signification of the black dots across the four installments. It appears that we must now reckon with a high degree of flexibility in the reasons for deploying bold dots in the PLT, and therefore with some uncertainty as to what they signify on any particular occasion in the ECM. Unfortunately we are not able to distinguish those variant readings which the editors actually do regard as ‘of equal value’ with the PLT, from other variant readings which the editors regard as of rather less value than the PLT, although not to be disregarded, and subject to ongoing discussion and research.

I would suggest, given the fact that improvements claimed over the NA27 in the PLT are sometimes linked with the NA27 reading marked by a bold dot, and given the fact that the editors must in each case have made a decision to print one reading as the main text and another in the apparatus (recall the phrase cited above: 'further research may well lead to a new solution … or confirm the present decision'), it is reasonable, indeed inevitable, that we will regard the PLT as superior in general (in the editors opinion) to the dotted text in the apparatus, even given the likelihood that there is also some residual default feeling for the NA27 text. But it would have been nice to have a list of readings regarded as genuinely equal in value to the PLT.


  1. Fascinating stuff.

  2. The problem with the dots has to do with the fact they were not used with a constant meaning attached to them. The preface to the Petrine epistles tells us that. As long as we do not have the Supplement telling us why a certain variant was chosen over the others, one can only speculate what is the exact meaning of the dots in any given textual location. This renders them quite useless, IMHO.

  3. Peter, just as you have noted the development in refining and more refined application of the Coherence-Based-Genealogical-Method in the course of the successive installments of the ECM, you now hint at a development in the ECM editors' way of employing bold dots.

    In my view this is all part of the same change of perspective that the considerable number of full collations and the evolvement of the CBGM brought about. Unfortunately, the editors have hitherto not been able to communicate their reasoning in order to be properly evaluated.

    Ulrich Schmid

  4. Given these various aspects of development, we can perhaps expect revised editions of some of the existing installments, and, to use Ulrich's word, a better communication in future installments. In the very next installment, the supplement for the Catholic Epistles, both the method and the places marked with bold dots will be discussed, which seems to demand the communication we are waiting for.