Thursday, February 05, 2009

SBL Boston, Book Review of David Parker, An Introduction to the NT MSS and Their Texts, pt. 3-4

Okay, I know this is a bit late, but for completeness sake I now continue my "SBL sessions review marathon."

This is the third and fourth part of the book review session (SBL 24-32) of David Parker's An Introduction to the NT MSS and Their Texts (CUP), featuring Michael Holmes and Larry Hurtado.

Disclaimer: Note that this is a summary in my own words. I took notes very quickly, and there may be things that I have misunderstood, but, nevertheless, I hope to have captured the essence of the reviews.

Part 3

Michael Holmes
Holmes started with some appreciative words about the book and the good intention behind it, as expressed by Parker in the introduction. Holmes likened the book to “a fantastic map, a catalogue and an instructional manual.”

He then gave some concrete examples of its extensive treatment of subjects like corrections in MSS, editing text and editions including the challenge of electronic editing, tools for manuscript studies, collating MSS, information about subgroups of MSS, etc.

Then Holmes brought up some less satisfying issues, some of which I do not repeat (e.g., those that were brought up in Ehrman's review). For example, as a result of the organization of the book, which does not promote usability, and the incomplete index it took Holmes very long time to find the indication of how many Greek and Latin bibles that have been preserved.

He then proceeded with more substantial critique, specifically relating to Parker’s description of his method, the history of the text, and the goals of textual criticism, factors which form the overall understanding of the discipline:

1) Method
Parker does not mention the term "reasoned ecclecticism," but Parker apparently uses this method himself. He focuses on the documents, then the texts. But there is no discussion of method or criteria. The canons are woven into the discussion of examples. The method is scattered and woven in.

2) The history of the text
Parker says: “Textual history is the history of the changes in wording of a text” (p. 179). This involves collection of material and examination of the evidence "in order to relate the different forms of text chronologically” (ibid.). Parker rejects the concept of text-types (cf. Epp’s review that focused on this question), but Holmes is dissatisfied with the terminology Parker uses himself to describe the history of the text. What does he mean by “forms of text”? Presumably the text as a whole, as reflected in Parker’s definition of textual variant: “the entire text as it is present in a particular copy” (p. 4). At other times, however, Parker seems to speak about individual variation units, or the distinct textual history of individual books. In sum, Parker’s description of the concept of textual history is ambiguous and the terminology is unclear.

3) Goals and objectives
After all, Parker’s view of text-critical methodology and textual history reflects a consensus to a great extent. However, not his view of the goals and objectives. Parker has based his whole book on Hort’s dictum that knowledge of documents should precede judgments of readings, which actually forms an inclusio of the book. Whereas Hort’s goal was ultimately to reconstruct the authorial text, it has now been complemented by secondary goals and different terminology (e.g., “initial text,” etc). Parker thinks the initial text is from the end of the second century. And the gap between the initial and authorial text is a big problem.

Parker suggests that variants should be treated as early forms of commentary (not authorial). His formative vision is a move from the first traditional goal to the second goal, the reconstruction of the history of the text. Here Holmes finds himself in strong disagreement with Parker. Take the statement that contemporary editors do not claim to reconstruct the author’s text. They may have been wrong, but have they not expressed that purpose? This is still an open question. Interestingl, Holmes here refers to Peter Robinson (Parker’s close associate at the ITSEE in Birmingham), who has indeed expressed his desire to reconstruct the authorial text of works he edited!

Holmes continued to emphasize the continuity between the text at the end of the second century and the text that preceded it. He brought up some critique of William Petersen’s use of patristic evidence (e.g., Justin’s text), to which he appealed in order to prove that the text was unstable during the earliest era. Holmes concluded that the challenge of showing continuity between the text before and after the second century is not greater than of showing discontinuity. Parker is correct that we should not underestimate the challenge, but we should neither exaggerate it.

Part 4

Larry Hurtado
Hurtado was impressed by the width, and cover of languages, tools and resources, and more. Parker’s own enthusiasm is apparent. He promotes the study of manuscripts in the whole first part of the book. Hurtado felt gratitude and appreciation for very much. He was a bit surprised of Parker’s attempts to offer theological advice in the book (I assume he primarily had in mind the section 5.3.3 “Textual criticism and theology” on pp. 185-90).

Then Hurtado proceeded to mention some critical matters:

1) Who is the primary reader?
Hurtado suggested that the primary readers among students will only be a small number of post-graduate students. There are little incentives for less familiar readers to become enthusiastic themselves.

2) The lack of explicit criteria
As several other reviewers, Hurtado complained about the lack of an explanation of criteria. This is curious since the CBGM is ultimately based upon such criteria. The dicussion of textual criticism is particularly lacking.

3) The organization of the book
The order of presentation is warranted in one way (focusing on “knowledge of documents”), but the decision is a misjudgment for an introductory book, where one must particularly take into account the interest of the readers (who are primarily interested in the New Testament). Hurtado thinks the publishers must be interested in offering an attractive introduction to the field of textual criticism too, as the title suggests. The undifferentiated enthusiasm with all MSS is not effective (cf. Hurtado’s own particular interest in the earliest MSS pertaining to the early Christians). Parker seems to presume that MSS of any period of time will be interesting for the student. Moreover, Parker should have made better connections between the parts of the books (I presume Hurtado especially referred to the first and second parts, “the documents” and “textual criticism and editions”).

It was not a good decision to put the images on a web-site. The reader must have an internet connection open at the same time. There should at least have been some key samples included in the book. It will be impossible to study the book e.g., on the bus, or at the airport. [This of course is an overstatement in light of the development of “wire-less” connections.]

4) Other issues
Hurtado continued with some specific problems e.g., with some terms. The definition of reading seems to be better applied to a variation-unit (including “place”). Especially in an introduction these labels and the consistent use of them are very important. Moreover, there are also some unfortunate errors concerning MSS, e.g., P12is not a copy of Hebrews in particular, and not a roll.

Then Hurtado mentioned some words about the CBGM method, mainly suggesting that what is generated depends on the criteria used in individual units. He did not think the CBGM is an advance in terms of how we evaluate the evidence in individual passages, it just offers more transparency.

In the time for questions I brought up this last remark about the CBGM. I actually think the CBGM is an advance not only in transparency, because it offers a new and more controlled way of moving from internal to external evidence, a kind of “calibration” of the external evidence.

In the final post on this book review session I will attempt to summarize David Parker’s response.


  1. Tommy,
    Thanks for taking the time to write this. I was there, but I appreciate the refresher and your distillation of the discussion.

  2. Thanks so much for posting this, Tommy. It is great for those of us who couldn't attend.