Monday, November 16, 2009

Panel on Textual Criticism and Exegesis in New Orleans

One day before the SBL Annual Meeting opens in New Orleans, on 20 Novmeber, 3-5PM there will be a panel talk on textual criticism and exegesis (I don’t know the exact title) at New Orleans Baptist Seminary, arranged by Bill Warren, director of the Center for New Testament Textual Studies (CNTTS). Panel members include Larry Hurtado, Edinburgh University, Michael Theophilos, Oxford University and Tommy Wasserman, Lund University/Örebro Theological Seminary. (-Yes, just men. I think Bill attempted to include a female scholar on the panel, but was unsuccessful.) Each panel member will offer a 20 minute presentation, and there will be plenty of room for response and discussion.

I have just finished my own presentation, “Surrounded by a Cloud of Witnesses,” in which I will make three points.

Pay attention to:

- the scribes
- the variants
- the parallels (including all the variants)

I will just mention the first and third point in passing because of the time constraint. My actual example from Luke 10:41-42 (Jesus’ response to Martha) will focus on the second point. I will emphasize that:
Variants that are judged as textual corruptions of the initial text, nevertheless stand in a direct or indirect hermeneutical relationship to the initial text, and as such they are more or less valuable for understanding that text.
The pre-eminent criterion in textual criticism suggests that the variant that is the initial text should be able to account for the origin, development, or presence of all other readings in its variation-unit. My point in this presentation is that conversely, the origin, development or presence of all other readings in the variation-unit contributes to the understanding of the initial text.

As for the example, Luke 10:41-42 (NASB) says:
But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but {only} one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
As most English versions NASB reflects the variant readings adopted in NA27.

This is basically how I have interpreted Jesus’ answer to Martha: Jesus is saying to Martha that there is one thing in life that is more important than everything else, and that is to be in his presence. That is what Mary has chosen and she should not be blaimed for doing so.

How many agree with my interpretation of the passage (in NASB)? Please answer the poll in the right sidebar, but don’t think too much about your answer – I want your spontaneous reaction.


  1. Will there be a way of ordering the papers presented there? If so, what is the URL?

    Ed Mishoe

  2. I will probably not turn my paper into an article in the immediate future because I have too much work on other stuff. I might publish on the blog later.

  3. Tommy,

    Do you know about the others?

    Ed Mishoe

  4. Tommy, thanks for posting this. On the other papers, Larry Hurtado's presentation will include consideration of Mk. 1:1 and the Christological emphases in Mark as well as consideration of some of the paragraph divisions in Mark 1 in the early MSS. with implications for understanding where the intro section of Mark ends. Michael Theophilos has titled his presentation "Creative Textual Criticism:
    Recovering All Classes of Evidence," and plans to discuss how ostraca, talisman, inscriptions, mosaics and painted artwork have important "textual" weight which should be considered. He will apply these information sources to the text in Jn. 1:1-18 as well as to some other passages from John and Luke.

    The discussion will allow for interaction both among and with these three scholars.

    The session will be held at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary along with an open house at the Center for New Testament Textual Studies. While a number of attendees are already planning to attend, thus the lack of more advertising of this event, I suspect we'll have ample space for all who want to attend. Also, we will have some transportation from the SBL hotels to the campus for the event (and return trip). On the transportation, please let us know in advance if you need help on that ( or

  5. Thanks Bill. I didn't want to include information about the other papers since I wasn't definitely sure about them.

  6. My point in this presentation is that conversely, the origin, development or presence of all other readings in the variation-unit contributes to the understanding of the initial text.
    It is nothing new that variants can be seen as early, but not necessarily correct, commentary/interpretation of a passage.
    I am wondering what your point is.

  7. Wieland, remember this is a presentation (not an article) in a panel on textual criticism and exegesis, and the relationship between the two.

    Textual criticism is intervowen with exegesis, but I suggest that too often textual criticism is dealt with in an atomistic manner in exegesis. It is the first step where the scholar/student establishes the text.

    My point to this audience (presumably many students) is to pay attention to the hermeneutical relationship between the variant readings. This attention may make us aware of other possible interpretations of the initial text (or variants), that we were not aware of.

    In your own commentary of Luke 10:41-42 you refer to Fee's article and the most relevant arguments, and you mention the "absolute" interpretation of ENOS (cf. my poll), but I cannot see that you discuss other possible interpretations of that reading. When I went through these different readings other possibilities opened up. More on that later.

    Now, Epp has described the "atomistic" approach well a few years ago in an article on a variant-conscious approach:

    "When that goal is defined as restoring the original text of the various authors, variants tend to have a binary character--they are either in or out, that is, accepted or rejected." And he goes on to promote another goal of textual criticism, namely ”to explore the wealth of information about the history and thought of the early churches that is disclosed by variant readings.”

    Hence Epp points to what you call "early commentary/interpretation," and Ehrman spoke in a similar wein of "windows into the social world of early Christiainty". I am making a similar (but not exactly the same) point, i.e., that variants are relevant to explore the meaning of the initial text. Do you see the slight difference?

  8. Ok, thanks.
    Basically the variants are nothing else than "anonymous church fathers".
    I'm looking forward to your arguments re Luke 10:41-42.

  9. Wieland, yes I will share my arguments. Basically I agree with much of what you say in your commentary and my point is just supplementary. If the longer reading is the initial reading, as you suggest, you might want to think about the question whether there is also an alternative interpretation of the reading now printed in NA27 that you say is characterized by "uncompromising exclusiveness." Otherwise one might say that a difficult reading developed out of another difficult reading (which is also possible).

    The work on these readings simply made me aware of an array of interpretations that was rewarding, and I will make a point out of it.

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Do you agree with the suggestion of Meyer, that the reading of Aleph B L etc. is the result of a later interpretation regarding the number of dishes that needed to be prepared?

    Jonathan C. Borland

  12. Jonathan, can you please give me that reference! I think I will have to cite it!

  13. In the English edition (Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Hand-book to the Gospels of Mark and Luke [trans. Robert E. Wallis; rev. and ed. William P. Dickson; suppl. notes Matthew B. Riddle; New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1884]), Meyer suggests OLIGWN DE XREIA H ENOS (Aleph B L etc.) originated because of "the explanation which takes the passage as meaning one _dish_" (381), whereas the editorial notes [by Riddle?] says the same reading must have been altered to _avoid_ such an explanation (396).

  14. TW:
    As most English versions NASB reflects the variant readings adopted in NA27.

    For decades, the NASB read differently than most English versions, only coming around in 1995, shortly before the trend reversed with the TNIV. Yet the reading in the text of NA27 has been around even longer than the NASB, going back to the Nestle text, and, if I'm not mistaken, Tischendorf.