Thursday, March 27, 2008

Attitudes to Harmonization in the Second Century

I have just read an essay by Martin Hengel, "The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ," in the collected volume, The Earliest Gospels (ed. Charles Horton; London/New York: T & T Clark, 2004), 13-26. Hengel asks himself: "How is it that we have the narrative of Jesus' activity in a fourfold and often contradictory form in the New Testament and what is the origin of these texts? A single Gospel about Jesus would have already spared the church – to the present day – much soul-searching" (p. 14). Then he refers to Irenaeus, ca 180 CE, who not only indicates the existence of the (older) Four-Gospels-Collection, but has to defend it with a variety of arguments. Likewise Justin, around 150 CE, who said that the reminiscences "were composed by apostles and their successors," which Hengel takes as a reference to Matthew and John (apostles) and Mark and Luke (successors). Further on, Hengel expresses the unexpected fact that "the early church resisted the temptation to replace the four Gospels with a Gospel Harmony, which would have done away with all these problems" (p. 15). Admittedly, as Hengel points out, Tatian composed his Diatessaron around 170 CE, and it became established in the Syriac-speaking East, but later it was again displaced by the four 'separate' Gospels of the mainstream church.

All of these things are of course well-known, but when Hengel comes to the implications for textual criticism he only mentions the "widespread freedom" in dealing with the Gospel writings in the second century; "in this early period the texts of the Gospels could still be changed." At the same time, however, he is optimistic in that "nearly all the alterations and interploations can be picked up in the multiple textual tradition" (p.19).

When I read this part of the essay, I wondered if there was not another important implication for textual criticism: In the second century there was not only a harmonistic tendency, but also a strong anti-harmonistic tendency (cf. Irenaeus) and I wonder to what degree such a tendency is reflected among early scribes. In a review of David Parker's The Living Text of the Gospels, co-blogger Peter Head criticizes Parker for over-emphasising the freedom of the manuscript tradition. PH points out: "We might say that it is precisely because not all scribes acted in a free manner that we are now able to study those which did, and to rank readings, when possible, in an order of historical development."

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Burkitt on Streeter

In 1925 F.C. Burkitt published a long review of B.H. Streeter's book, The Four Gospels. This review pays particular attention to Streeter's textual criticism (which was integral to Streeter's argument). Burkitt wrote: ‘It is one of the outstanding characteristics of Canon Streeter’s position that he considers certain details in the Synoptic Problem cannot be satisfactorily disposed of without recourse to that somewhat technical subject.’ (p. 278 - speaking of textual criticism). After a summary the review focuses on text-critical matters, especially on:
  1. whether the Caesarean text identified by Streeter is really identifiable (pp. 284-288);
  2. Burkitt’s disagreement with Streeter on Luke 3.22 and 11.2-4, and hence on the reconstruction of Q (pp. 288-292);
  3. whether Streeter is always right in his application of textual criticism to the minor agreements, especially Mark 14.62 (cf. Matt 26.64//Luke 22.70) and Mark 14.65 (cf. Matt 26.67f // Luke 22.64) (pp. 293f).
The penultimate paragraph of the review concludes rather enigmatically:

‘On a careful reconsideration of the evidence I feel inclined to maintain that the special value of the textual part of Dr Streeter’s book consists in the light that it throws on the psychology of Origen. Origen had used a very good text of the Gospels, but he was quite willing later on to acquiesce in a much worse text which he found current, and even to expound it. Indeed he does not appear to be conscious of the difference, except that there and there where it is a question of some quite striking variant he seems to remember that he has seen manuscripts which had another reading. There does not seem to be any evidence that he ever compared any MSS of the New Testament together.
After all, this textual work is only one part of Dr Streeter’s volume, and it would be out of proportion to stress it too strongly either by praise or blame. …’ (p. 294).

So what about this strange phrase "the special value of the textual part of Dr Streeter’s book consists in the light that it throws on the psychology of Origen" - is this an insult? Origen had no critical principles, Origen didn't know a good text from a bad one, Origen never compared any manuscripts. It sure sounds like an insult to me.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Deuteronomy 6.4 in Greek from 3c CE


3rd Century Shema in Greek from Austria, in gold:


See and

note large .jpg for viewing at the bottom of page.

Ferrini Liquidation Stock: Manuscripts for sale

Four separated out pages from a tenth-century lectionary manuscript and a piece of the sixth century Coptic Gospel book are among other items for sale in an auction of some of Bruce Ferrini's stock ( click on the first photo). For more info see the article in the Ohio news (here), which also mentions some material not for sale:

"The auction does not include the three most valuable and controversial segments of Ferrini's disputed collection. An ongoing legal battle has yet to sort out the true owner of these items, worth millions:

  • A batch of biblical artifacts that include fragments from the Book of Exodus and the Letter of Paul to the Colossians. It also includes part of the controversial Gnostic manuscript known as the Gospel of Judas.
  • A large marble Assyrian relief believed to have belonged to Alexander the Great.
  • Fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, whose display at the John S. Knight Center in 2004 devolved into a contentious public squabble, with court injunctions and lawsuits over missing money, unpaid bills and claims of fraud."


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Quiz: who said this?

'To many the study of Textual Criticism is wearisome and distasteful. The laborious nature of the methods employed, the apparent uncertainty of the results arrived at, the comparative unimportance of the problems to be dealt with, as contrasted with those of the Higher Criticism which face us on every side, all tend to deter from its pursuit. But it is only through those methods what we have reached the conclusion that by far the greater portion of the New Testament texts rests on a foundation more solid than that of any other ancient writing, and no further trouble can be ill spent that helps to increasee out knowledge of the Book which contains the revelation of God's love to man.'

NT MSS in Albania, photographed by CSNTM

A few more details about some of the 47 NT mss photographed by the CSNTM team in Albania are available in a document circulated by Dan Wallace - 'Greek New Testament Manuscripts Discovered in Albania' (which will presumably be available on the CSNTM web-site). All 47 were listed in the catalogue of the National Archive in Tirana, although the Kurzgefasste Liste lists only 13 mss, with 17 others as possibly in the National Archive (originally in separate locations in Albania). So far none of these 17 have been absolutely confirmed, nine are considered probable matches.
Of the manuscripts photographed only a few details have been provided so far:

  • Codex Beratinus (043), a purple codex (Matt & Mark; VI).
  • Codex 1143, a purple codex, gospels, IX.
  • Codex 1709, early member of family 13, XII.
  • Albanian National Archive (ANA) 15, XI-XII; four gospels (lacks pericope adulterae, except for later addition).
  • ANA 92, XIII-XIV; lacks pericope adulterae.
  • ANA 85, XIV; pericope adulterae at the end of the four gospels.
  • ANA 4; pericope adulterae at the end of the four gospels (but different scribe); "quite a few family 13 readings, although it does not appear to be strictly family 13 in its nature".

So, congratulations to the CSNTM for managing to photograph all this material, we look forward to images on the web-site (hopefully), and to some fuller analysis of the new material.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

"Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts Working to Preserve Ancient Pieces"

So it has appeared in the Dallas Morning News on Saturday, March 8 - the result of the press release from Dan Wallace, director of the CSNTM that we mentioned here.

Here is an abstract of the most interesting bits:

"In May, he'll start a sabbatical to embark on his most ambitious expedition yet.

He and a team of assistants are planning a 15-month trip to Albania, the island of Patmos, Turkey, several European and Russian cities, Mount Sinai in Egypt and several cities in the United States.
In expedition to Albania last summer yielded new excitement: His team found a treasure trove of manuscripts. The group had expected to work with 13 known manuscripts – but instead found that the National Archive in Tirana listed 47 New Testament manuscripts. At least 17 were unknown to Western scholars."

I sure which I could take 15 months off and go with them ...

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Textual Traditions and Jewish-Christian Relations

What I find interesting is how a study of the textual traditions contribute to our understanding of the relationship between Christians and Jews/Judaism in the early centuries. Two examples come to mind:

1. Rom. 15.8. This verse reads: "For I declare that Christ became a servant of the "circumcision" for the sake of God's truth". Robert Jewett (Romans, 886) notes that the perfect verb gegenēsthai is replaced by the aorist genesthai in B C* F G Ψ 630 1739 1881 etc. In Jewett's view this change to the aorist is secondary and "serves to drop the implication of the original reading that Christ remains the servant of the Jews".

2. Matt. 8.4. This verse reads: "Go, show yourself to the priest and the present the offering that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them". But the Diatessaron(eph), Ishodad of Merv, Romanos, the Liege Harmony, and the Venetian Harmony, read: "Go, show yourself to the priest and fulfill the law". This reading arguably stems from a Judeao-Christian background that is perhaps more concerned with a closer relationship between Christians and the Torah (Cited from Craig Allert, A High View of Scripture, 118).

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Verbal dissidence principle


"Since scribes would frequently bring divergent passages into harmony with one another, in parallel passages (whether quotations from the Old Testament or different accounts in the Gospels of the same event or narrative) that reading which involves verbal dissidence is usually to be preferred to one which is verbally concordant." Metzger, Textual Commentary, 13*.

Does anyone know any discussions of this principle?


Sunday, March 02, 2008

"Misquoting Jesus" Again

A reader of our blog, "Todd" has left a new comment on an old post with a review of Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus (see the last comment). Among other things Todd says : "Ehrman speaks of the knowable truth which is all we really do have if we are being honest, as cold as it is to believers."

Sometimes, new comments are added to older posts, which are unlikely to be read by many, so I thought I would respond to Todd with this new post.

The knowable truth is what we would like to pursue on this blog, and therefore we seek to struggle with the evidence all the time. Let me take a brief example from the Epistle of Jude which makes me hesitate in relation to Ehrman's thesis of "orthodox corruption" that has been discussed on several occasions on this blog.

When I examined the complete Greek textual tradition of Jude, I found that some witnesses in Jude 5 said that "Jesus" saved the people out of Egypt ("the Lord" or "God" are among other readings). Was Jesus thought to be present in these Old Testament days? Well there is a similar problem in 1 Cor 10:9, where Ehrman thinks the reading "the Christ" (other readings "the Lord"/"God") is a doctrinal alteration attributing divine characteristics to Jesus Christ (Orthodox Corruption, 89-90). Interestingly, the MSS A (02) and 81 are among the very few witnesses that attest "God" here, but in Jude 5 they are among the few witnesses that attests to "Jesus". Now, if a theological tendency in one single direction were possible to detect on the level of individual MSS, one would not expect MSS A and 81 to be among the witnesses that read "God" in 1 Cor 10:9.

In conclusion, it is easy to attribute various variants to this or that orthodox tendency, citing various manuscripts (at best) without paying close attention to what manuscripts are cited when. What is necessary, however, if such a thesis is to be proven is to examine the evidence in closer detail, even on the level of individual manuscripts, unless one want to be guilty of "misquoting manuscripts." I have the greatest respect for Bart Ehrman, and I regard several of his works in textual criticism as very valuable, but on this major issue I simply think he is wrong. I do not deny that there are single manuscripts with a detectable theological tendency (two examples of early witnesses are P72, of which I have written at length myself, and Codex Bezae), but I do not think that "orthodox corruption" was ever a programmatic, large-scale phenomenon in the textual tradition.

As announced several times on this blog, there will be a debate in New Orleans in April 4-5 on the "Textual Reliability of the New Testament," featuring among others Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace. I hope we will have a report of how that proceeds. I also know that audio-files will be made available. Read more here.