Tuesday, December 02, 2008

SBL Boston, Askeland on the Coptic Versions

Here comes the next presenter of the New Testament Textual Criticism session, Saturday afternoon. It is no other than our co-blogger Christian Askeland (with the beautiful Norwegian name). I hope Christian can edit this post in case I misunderstood or omitted something important.

Christian Askeland, "Has the Coptic Evidence Been Properly Used in New Testament Textual Criticism?"

Askeland set forth three goals for the proper use of Coptic evidence in textual criticism:

1. To better understand the literalism of the Coptic translation ("selectively literal").

The version parallells the Greek Vorlage with an approximate "Greek word order" and Greek loan words, but sometimes it departs.

To demonstrate this "selectivity" Askeland presented an analysis of the occurences of Greek δε and Coptic δε in the NT. In the NT (NA27) δε occurs 2791 times, but Coptic δε in Sahidic 3368 times (121%)! The Bohairic (Horner's ed) has δε 2695 times (97%). And there are differences between the NT books (according to a handout with nice tables). Hence, δε and other Coptic words were added or omitted as against the Greek Vorlage, i.e., in this regard the Coptic version shows a relative independence from the Greek. Conclusion: Coptic Biblical texts reflect different translation styles.

The Coptic MSS are sometimes cited as supporting the Western text. However, a significant portion of readings seems to derive from Coptic translation tendencies. The Coptic translations tend to make explicit what was implicit in the Vorlage. For example in John 11:34, the Coptic adds the indirect object (which is only implied in the Greek); no known Greek MS has αυτοις where the Coptic consistently have the equivalent of αυτοις. This happens several times. The same phenomenon occurs in the Latin and Syriac traditions! So this type of variation may derive from translation techniques. In conclusion, agreements with a few Greek MSS may depend on translation techniques.

2. The Bohairic cited in the NA27 is dated to late centuries. Now we have more earlier findings.

Askeland's initial research shows that the late Bohairic has affinites to the early Bohairic versions. He referred to an example in John 6:6, which I cannot remember, but there both the classical and early Bohairic renders the verb similarly without Greek support. There are multiple agreements of this type. This leads to the question if the early Bohairic underwent several revisions that resulted in the classical. (Then the evidence in NA27 may not be of so great significance, i.e., the classical does not go back to a Greek Vorlage, independently, but has been redacted/revised).

3. NA27 on the whole deals rather well with the Coptic, but not in the PA (John 7:53-8:11)!

I did not note the details here, but I think Askeland mentioned that three Bohairic MSS contain the PA, whereas twenty-four omit it.

Finally, Askeland offered the following proposals to the editors of critical editions, as his own contributions:

* Remove the unreliable citations (e.g., 1/3 of the citations of single Bohairic MSS in John's Gospel are not reliable! or maybe even 2/3, e.g., the occurences of δε)

During the discussion, Askeland estimates that 10% must be relegated in John, but even more if the classical Bohairic is removed. Not those cited under siglum "co" (many are supporting txt), but if one shifts over to single Boharic MSS then there are some odd readings (corrected readings, etc), and it is here that the many unreliable are found, they do not reflect a Greek Vorlage.

The INTF (Münster) strategy seems to have been to "put it all in," so that no one can not criticize for inconsistency, considering that there is no worked out methodology for excluding material. This fact (that everything is in there) actually made Askeland's own project possible (e.g., to find occurences of δε).

* Describe more clearly the reasons for citing the Latin, Syriac and Coptic versions

* Standardize the citation of the Coptic, Latin and Syriac texts

* Develop a method for citing single Sahidic MSS, absolutely for those from the earliest centuries (cf. the Old Latin) - the Crosby-Schøyen MS 193, for example, is the earliest witness of 1 Peter. The Sahidic should not be cited when corrected.

Epilogue: Inspired by Christian's paper, I ventured to comment on Eva-Marie Becker's paper in the session of the Mark group, where she argued for a different structure of Mark 1, appealing to the reading και εγενετο in 1:4 (txt: εγενετο), attested by Sinaiticus and some Boharic MSS (if I remember correctly). I pointed out that the addition of και in the Bohairic version is probably related to translation technique. I suppose her other reference to και μετα in v. 14 attested by B and D, and some OL and Bohairic witnesses must also be evaluated with caution in this respect. It may have to do with scribal proclivities and translation technique in combination.


  1. Tommy,
    What a great summation! Tusen takk. In particular it is 1/3 of all (62) single Bohairic manuscript citations which are highly unreliable. Another third are (IMO) unreliable. Sorry if I was not clear on that.

  2. Sounds like a lot of good work. I look forward to seeing further developments!