Friday, October 05, 2007

Teaching Textual Criticism

How do you teach textual criticism to your students? In the program that I teach in, students get a single lecture on "text and canon" in first semester, a whole lecture on the text and transmission of the New Testament in a second semester Greek class, and thereafter they cover text critical issues spasmodically in subsequent exegesis classes.

In my first year class when I cover "Text and Canon" the lecture takes the following form:

a. Clearing the deck. (i) Bible did not fall from the sky bound in leather, written in ye-old-Englishe, with words of Jesus in red, with Scofield footnotes, and with an introduction by J.I. Packer or Alister McGrath; and (ii) the Bible was not transmitted along the lines of a game of Chinese Whispers where "send reinforcements we're going to advance" becomes "send three and six pence, we are going to a dance".

b. Introduce the different witnesses. I talk about papyri, codices, lectionaries, patristic quotations, etc.

c. Examples of textual differences. I use Acts 4.1 and the variants related to "Priests" or "Chief Priests" or "High Priests" to illustrate the problem.

d. Reasons for differences in the text.

e. Principles of textual criticism.

How do you teach textual criticism to your first year students?


  1. Well, being that I don't teach, I can't say how I teach it, but I was taught in in my second year exegesis class. That is, not my second year of exegesis, but my second year of Greek was exegesis.

    We got a very general survey in Bible Introduction.

    In Exegesis, my prof spent almost a week on the topic. This included the witnesses themselves and then a discussion of method.

    We read Wallace's chapter on it in Fanning and Bock's Interpreting the New Testament Text

    The process we learn began with looking at external evidence and drawing a conclusion. And then looking at internal evidence and drawing a conclusion. And lastly, comparing those two conclusions to each other.

    Not much was said about the principle of choosing the witness that best explains the others.

    Probably I've learned more about TC simply from reading examples of it in commentaries (particularly Fee's commentaries), Epp and Fee's book, Metzger's handbook (3rd ed.),and the essays that Michael Holmes has written for exegetical handbooks.

  2. At our institution NTTC is covered briefly within NT Intro courses and sporadically in beginning Greek courses.

    The real meat is reserved until at least 2nd semester of the 2nd year of Greek, when we offer a semester-long course in the subject. This I will be doing next Spring; the last time it was offered, Dave Black took that class.

  3. When I teach about TC, I it's usually a one-time session to laity, so everything is highly summarized. If the listeners are listening because they want to learn how to undertake TC, rather than just learn about it, I review the development of the NT text (as presented at the Curtisville Christian Church website), and then teach how *not* to do TC, explaining why the fallacy of number and the fallacy of age are fallacies, and why it is very important not to oversimplify the canons (such as, "the diffficult reading is more likely to be original").

    I also try to give novices some idea of what the major variants are, what the major error-causing mechanisms are, and what the current schools of thought are.

    And, to give listeners a hands-on experience, I present them with some papyrus to pass around, and replicas of pages of some early papyri, uncials, and minuscules.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.
    Minister, Curtisville Christian Church
    Tipton, Indiana (USA)

  4. Among other things, I have used a simulation exercise that gives the students the experience of being scribes and helps make the textual apparatus more understandable.

    In the weeks before we cover the material, I ask students (before or after class) to take turns copying a handwritten document (something written in outdated or awkward English, so it could be easily confused). Each student gets a turn. The earlier students receive a document in all caps (uncials) and must write in caps, the later students write in normal lower case (minuscules). Some students listen to the document being read and write down what they hear. Different students get either the original document or another student's copy. I keep track of who received what.

    After everyone has participated, I create a textual apparatus, attach it to the passage copied, and hand copies out to the students. We discuss how the whole process worked, with the goal of making TC more accessible.

  5. I find it's possible to get the laity involved in TC when I teach Bible studies. Whenever I come across a significant variant that affects the interpretation of a passage in a way I know they can see, I try and get them to solve it based on internal evidence. I usually only do it if I think the external evidence doesn't help much. So I present them with the two options and ask things like, Which variant is more likely to have led to the other variant? Which one is in keeping with the author's style or argument? Is one more difficult than the other? Is one so difficult that it results in nonsense? I find that whenever I give laity a chance to solve real difficult interpretational issues and present them with some basic ways of solving them, they come away with a deeper appreciation for the Scripture. And I'm all for bridging the gap between the church and the academy

  6. I'll be doing the teaching this autumn myself and I would like to check on thing.

    How many majuscules, minuscules and lectionaries do we actually now know of?

    I know of 0309, 2865 and L2412. Any new findings I need to know?

  7. TF:

    "I know of 0309, 2865 and L2412. Any new findings I need to know?"

    Yes, there are now P118, 0318, 2880, L2436 (I happened to discover L2435 by the way). Check out:

    Timo, can you please contact me off-blog, I don't have your e-mailaddress.

  8. Does it matter? What is the point of knowing the latest numbers?

  9. Thanks Tommy.

    Peter, I know it sounds funny, but I want to tell the numbers to my undergraduate students. Just to let them know what we are dealing with :)

  10. Peter M. Head said:
    "Does it matter? What is the point of knowing the latest numbers?"

    When I teach TC introduction this figures belongs to the basic data, i.e. how many MSS are registered. OK. an update doesn't matter much, but why not give the current numbers?

  11. I don't know. Perhaps I'm just being a bit narky. I too generally offer the up-dated figures in handouts etc. Not in your cases, but sometimes these numbers are thrown around without any knowledge of the manuscripts themselves.
    It is certainly worth letting students know that there is a relatively constant flow (or at least dribble) of new discoveries, which might be good material for final year dissertations etc.

  12. Actually, I would reconstruct the original as "three and four pence."

    I enjoy teaching TC to laity and I always do it using something that they are familiar with: forwarded e-mails. I point out that people tend to both add mistakes, remove previously added mistakes, and fix perceived mistakes when they pass on an email. They also change data to make it more applicable to their readership (Oxford to Harvard, for example).

    Also, as is the case with NTTC, one seldom has the original ms. I use the Wayback machine to assign date ranges to online mss in search of the "oldest and best."

    Then, having shown how textual transmission works on the lay level, I move over to the professional scribe level and we study differences in the 13 or so printed versions of the US Constitution, the original of which is in fact available but rarely referenced. I show how professional scribes take care to pass down exactly even the archaic language and orthography of the original (which can result in errors when the orthography changes); how authorized changes (such as sigla on obsolete passages) find their way into the text; how a previously omitted pericope (Amendment 27) came to be inserted back into the manuscript stream; and how oral tradition is separately passed on alongside the text itself (such as the story behind John Hancock's signature).

    It's fascinating to see parallels to NTTC.

  13. Well, sorry, guys, but I teach it by saying, as I think J B Phillips used to say, that it's like re-wriring the house with the electric still on.

    I suppose I am getting a bit fed-up of people telling me that the Bible/New Testament/Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures/Christian Scriptures are just like any other writings.

    No, there're not! If they were, we wouldn't be wasting our time with them. We are only studying them (in other words, earning a living from them), precisely because we can convince people they are different.

    We are teaching them, studying and analyzing them because we do believe they are the Word of God. But to cope academically, that is, to have a career, we pretend that we think they are the same as any other texts. It is embarrassing to tell our colleagues that we are studying these texts because we believe the Holy Spirit inspired them.

    We do still think s/he did, don't we???

    Trouble is, if we do, it means we are not being true to our faith and are lying to our academic peers who do not share our faith. In other words, we are bearing false witness to everyone.

    Sorry if this sounds harsh.

    But c'mon guys, lets get real!

    It's about time we uncrossed our fingers!