Friday, October 29, 2010

Definitions of Textual Criticism

Nick Norelli provides a listing of various quotes about the purpose of textual criticism (though part of some debate as to whether or not TC seeks to identify the inerrant originals).


  1. Part of an introduction I wrote for something else:

    [quote]Textual criticism is the scholarly art of reconstructing an earlier form of a text. Any text that was published prior to the invention of the printing press was, necessarily, reproduced through hand-copying. With every hand-copy, however, changes and mistakes would be made. When a scribe would take up one copy to use as an exemplar for a new copy, he would sometimes see and correct some of the earlier variations, sometimes reproduce them unknowingly, and sometimes introduce new changes of his own. With each generation of manuscript copying then, the text would morph and change, with variations being introduced, corrected, reverted, perpetuated, conflated and otherwise celebrated. The primary task of the textual critic is to see how far back they can trace this line of change and variation, often called corruption, in order to discover the earliest attainable form of the text.[/quote]

  2. E. Epp's articles in HTR (on the "original text" and "It's all about the variants") as well E. Ulrich's articles in _The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Origins of the Bible_ give a non-"original text" focused definition. Instead of the "original text" they focus on looking at the full history of the text and all that can be learned from examining the mss tradition. This gives a lot more value to "secondary" and "interpretive" readings as well.

  3. I've always thought that Epp's article on the 'Original Text' was inconclusive. At least I saw no good reason after reading it twice why the concept of an 'Original Text' was a problem.

    There was, however, one argument I found hard to counter, namely that the discovery of the Secret Gospel of Mark made the term problematic. That really threw me :-)

  4. TC, in my humble opinion, has as its task the description of the complete history of a text in its written form, which includes all stages up to and including the various print-editions. As for the NT, it is important to know what the wording of the text was that a churchfather in the 5th century used as a basis for a commentary (which belongs to the realm of TC, but has nothing to do with 'original text'). Likewise, I know that most textcritics are fascinated by the differences between the various printed editions. And there are even those who want to know what 'our best hypothesis is of the wording of the autograph'. All are valid academic pursuits, but some have more significance for New Testament studies than others.

  5. Dirk's descriptions is basically what I was trying to get at, rather than promoting Epp's ideas in particular.

  6. I agree completely that part of our mandate is to describe the complete history of the text in its written form. I think, however, there is some necessary hierarchy to our tasks. I wrote about the "primary task" of the textual critic being to recover the earliest attainable text form. That use of "primary" was deliberate, so as to imply that we have other legitimate tasks, but that those tasks are secondary to establishing a primary text form.

    Should we call it an "original text"? A lot of debate has been waged over the meaning of that term, and perhaps it is no longer a helpful descriptor. As Ehrman conceded though, the manuscript tradition had to start somewhere, and so it is not nonsense to speak of seeking that starting point, no matter the attendant difficulties.

    Why should that starting point be primary to our task? Any number of reasons, I suppose. For the confessing, the original represents the beginning of inspiration, and thus the point of authority. For others, perhaps that authority stems simply from the fact that the original is the authorial text, and is thus endowed - as the etymology suggests - with authorial authority. Maybe for some it represents the start of some scarlet thread of legitimacy, like a theseus paradox. Or for those working more in the latter developments of the text, perhaps its primacy comes from being the necessary reference point: as I've argued elsewhere, narrative textual criticism cannot investigate the socio-historical significance of what the text was changed *to* without being able to compare it to what the text was changed *from.*

    Whichever way or ways apply to an individual, I do think we all in some way must acknowledge this primary task.