Friday, December 18, 2009

Review of A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament

New reviews have been added to Review of Biblical Literature, and one of them is:
Zeba Crook's review of Roger L. Omanson, A Textual Guide to the Greek New Testament: An Adaptation of Bruce M. Metzger's Textual Commentary for the Needs of Translators (Stuttgart: German Bible Society, 2006).
Crook seems himself as a translator and as such belongs to the primary target group, i.e., "Bible translators, most of whom... will lack formal training in textual criticism but who will need to grapple with issues pertaining to the reconstruction of the biblical text." It is clear from the review that Crook lacks this knowledge. He finds the often extended discussion of examples very helpful, while the introduction to the field and the theoretical framework does not answer her questions, as reflected in the concluding paragraph:
The practice of textual criticism naturally invites people to wonder about the relationship of the reconstructed text (UBS4) to the original New Testament documents. Does textual criticism re-create the original text? On the one hand, Omanson appears to leave this question unanswered when he says that the current text in UBS4 is as close to the original as our present state of knowledge allows. But later he says rather obliquely, “In the earliest days of the Christian church, after an apostolic letter was sent to a congregation or an individual, or after a gospel was written to meet the needs of a particular reading public, copies would be made.” These, Omanson writes, were “certain to contain differences in wording from the originals,” but he adds that “[m]ost of the differences arose from accidental mistakes, such as mistaking a letter or a word for another that looked like it” (16*). I would have preferred a little more specificity. What period exactly does Omanson have in mind: first century or second–third century? How many variants are not included in the “most” to which Omanson refers? Omanson’s implication appears to be that not much changed in the period between autograph and our earliest full Greek manuscripts (some 250 years). Given the utter paucity of textual evidence from this period (at least in Greek), this seems a groundless claim to make.


  1. From the review: "[Omanson] also does so without referring at all to the manuscripts. Visually, this makes Omanson’s Guide appear less daunting than Metzger’s Commentary."

    It is disappointing to hear that Omanson doesn't gloss the MSS, because I think it is the most important aspect to a "textual commentary." Also, I didn't know anyone viewed Metzger's commentary as "daunting." Having only a very little knowledge about textual criticism (i.e., Crook) would be sufficient preparation for one to understand Metzger. Really, just reading through the introduction of the UBS GNT would be sufficient grounds for understanding the majority of Metzger's commentary. So, comments like "Metzger’s Commentary was thus a great benefit, but even it presupposed some advanced knowledge of textual criticism" are certainly overstated. Is Omanson's commentary just a watered down version of Metzger? Why does Metzger need to be simplified? If translators can't understand Metzger's commentary (this is sad since a lot of these translators are scholars), why not just read through his "Text of the New Testament" once and then be fully prepared to understand it?

  2. Brice said "'Metzger’s Commentary was thus a great benefit, but even it presupposed some advanced knowledge of textual criticism' are certainly overstated."

    I agree.

    "If translators can't understand Metzger's commentary (this is sad since a lot of these translators are scholars)"

    I agree again. But I think many translators do understand Metzger's Textual Commentary, and they will certainly understand Omanson's Textual Guide.

  3. The reviewer of Omanson's book at one point writes:
    "Surely those with the ability to translate a text (at least in any professional capacity) from Greek into English will have scholarly training in classics or New Testament studies ..."

    This comment reveals, I suggest, how little the reviewer knows about the audience for whom Omanson writes, an audience that includes 2nd and 3rd world translators who know their native language and English and are seeking to render the Scriptures from English into their native language, in some cases creating for the first time an alphabet as a first step. In reading the review--or Omanson's book itself, for that matter--this might be a point to keep in mind.