Tuesday, January 29, 2013

New journal and new review of NA28

Today the online journal Marginalia is launched, and with it my review of Nestle-Aland 28. The journal seeks to set new standards for substantial reviews written for online media. The editor in chief is textual critic T. Michael Law.

In my review you will find out why, even though NA28 is better than NA27, you still shouldn't throw away the old edition.


  1. In the review, the examples given regarding variants of accentuation (1Cor 3:14; Heb 5:12) are not exactly "new", but already are cited as such in the NA27 apparatus (but of course, the al and pc for those respective main text readings are now missing in NA28).

    On the other hand, I for one do appreciate the grammatical standardization of matters such as movable nu and ALL/ALLA. I see no need to memorialize orthographic peculiarities of various MSS when presenting a text designed for basic reading and study.

  2. Maybe I am a geek, but I do think orthographic peculiarities matter. They are usually thought of as scribal issues, but what if they can tell us something about the author's style and the level of Greek? My own reading of the documentary papyri thought me one thing: orthographic peculiarities abound. Hence, a part of my doctoral work revolved around the Koine/Attic dilemma. Just my two cents.

  3. Off topic but maybe of interest. According to the account published in 1890 by John Nicolay and John Hay, Edwin M. Stanton said, after Lincoln died, "now he belongs to the ages." Later, others asserted that James Tanner, a stenographer who was there (as was Hay), later recalled (not from notes; his pencil had broken (!)) that Stanton said "angels." What may not have been remarked as often is the counterclaim that Tanner actually did write "ages" and that someone may have mis-transcribed his account (in 1965 or earlier [if so, how much earlier?]). So Richard W. Fox at a bog from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum:


  4. Off the top of my head, I would think that "ages" would be the preferable reading.

    Visual and aural similarity aside, in the context of a death - where the mind naturally turns to thoughts of heaven, etc - the listener would have already been primed to expect "angels". the more esoteric "ages" is the odd man out.

    It makes more sense then, to imagine someone hearing "ages" but erroneously thinking they heard "angles" than vice versa. "ages" then is the reading that can best explain the others.

  5. To Timo: I have no problem dealing with the study of orthographic peculiarities among individual scribes and within individual MSS; such habits certainly can assist in the evaluation of some readings where alternative spellings might make a difference.

    But in relation to the review, I doubt whether the presence or absence of movable nu or the retention of ALLA (when ALL' would be proper) will tell us much about anything in a manner that might affect or aid the interpretation of the basic NT text within a reading edition such as NA28 -- specialized studies to the contrary. Instead, irregular implementation of such merely ends up grating on the reader's senses. So those are my 2 cents.

  6. Maurice, let me add another two cents (so we'll have six in total :)). If and when the editors standardize the spelling, they act as if they were scribes embellishing the text. Maybe I'm a purist (and a geek), but I doubt that's textual criticism at its best. I do understand why one would do such a thing in a pocket edition like the NA28, but our aim should be higher, in my opinion. Hence, I am looking forward to the edition with all the orthographic peculiarities present, as far as they can be restored.

  7. Timo, I'll add another two cents, or maybe only one, that you're starting to bring it back to the old question of "which text?" Are we trying to reconstruct (and, thus, is the NA28 effectively standing in for) some hypothetical initial text (which may or may not have had "all'" instead of "alla") or are we only trying to generate the earliest attested text (which should therefore reflect the spelling of whichever ms is the earliest attestation at each point)?

    If the latter, then I would agree with you, but if the former, then I would think the decision could and should be based on other factors, e.g. perhaps our own initiative to standardise what is really our own creation, or if we being historical purists, maybe our own best arguments over which spelling and style would have most likely been found in each author, etc.

  8. We should consider further that the particular standardisation about which I was expressing concern assumes, without evidence, that there is no difference of weight or semantic distribution between the two forms. Of course, if you standardise, it will be harder to investigate whether there is any such difference.

    Also, why standardise this and not other apocopations? Why spoil the euphony of successive forms against the universal testimony of the early mss?

    NA28 is IMHO better than NA27. I don't want to state my reservations too strongly, but it does seem that this is a less helpful change than some of the others.

  9. It seems to me it depends on what the purpose is. For Timo's work, grouping manuscripts in families, it makes sense to worry about orthography. If one wanted to get as close to the original text (or some historical text) as possible, one should probably address the orthography of the original (at least to the extent of determining if it's possible to get back to the original orthography). To the extent it is possible to reconstruct, such a text could be valuable in evaluation of the variants we see.

    NA27/28 clearly is not that tool, however. The NA27/28 text has modern capitalization and punctuation, paragraphing, etc. While some of these are derived from our manuscripts, the NA text does not look like any of our manuscripts orthographically (except, of course, other printed editions). In such an edition, I agree with Dr Robinson, moveable-n's and all'/alla variations should not be included.

    In the cases where these types of variants are interesting, so would itacism and nomina sacra. In these cases something more extensive like Swanson or ECM would be more appropriate.


  10. to Ryan: I think that even the hypothetical initial text should reflect our best estimations on the orthographical peculiarities.

    I agree with P.J.

    I have been examining one particular orthographical issue recently, namely, the spelling of Mary (MARIA/MARIAM). Our printed text(s) make(s) it look like the biblical authors used both the Greek and the Semitic forms interchangeably. So, I made a list of all available information I have. I quickly came to a conclusion that our printed editions are wrong, and inconsistent.

    There are fifty-three textual locations where the name Mary appears (not counting the D-text additions). Each and everyone of these textual locations have both forms attested in our textual tradition, albeit sometimes with a (very) weak support for the Semitic MARIAM.

    So, what did the original authors write? A mixture? Purely Semitic spelling with scribes mudding the waters? Vice versa?

    For example, our printed text has the Greek MARIA in every single instance in the gospel of Mark. A reader would think this is what the author wrote. Yet every textual location gives evidence to the Semitic MARIAM. So which one did the author write?

    How does the answer to that question help us in identifying the level of Greek and the writing style of any author? These are the issues I get worried about :)

  11. Regarding MARIAM vs. MARIA, this orthographic variation should be retained in the various editions.

    Within the Byzantine text of the Gospels, the indeclinable form (MARIAM) is used exclusively for the mother of Jesus, while the declinable form (MARIA) is used for her as well as other Marys.

    This distinction is not necessarily as sharp among other types of text.

  12. A bit worried about the pomposity of this new blog/book review club.