Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Timing of Burgon’s Last Twelve Verses

Some time ago, I posted Hort’s review of Dean Burgon’s defense of Mark 16.9-20. Along with that, and more interesting than the review, was a letter that Hort sent to Westcott about his review and the importance of its timing. Hort tells Westcott that he hopes the review is out before the committee for the RV meets to discuss this passage. And so it was. The review was published just before that meeting.

What I had not realized then was that Hort, in timing his response, was following in Burgon’s footsteps. Burgon’s own book was timed to precede—and so influence—the committee’s discussion of this passage.

Here is what A. H. Cadwallader says in his article “The Politics of Translation of The Revised Version: Evidence from the Newly Discovered Notebooks of Brooke Foss Westcott,” JTS 58, no. 2 (2007): 415–39. After discussing how careful the committee was to remain tight-lipped about their internal deliberations and disagreements, Cadwallader says (pp. 424-25),
The newspapers were officially provided only with details of the days of meeting, the members present, and the passages examined. This provided at least one antagonist, Dean Burgon, with the opportunity to time a publication on the integrity of the last twelve verses to Mark’s Gospel (the ‘Longer Ending’) before the Company dealt with the passage. Westcott’s close companion on such textual issues, Fenton J. A. Hort, saw the political danger immediately, and bemoaned to Westcott the rapid refutation that was needed if the Company was not to swing behind the moderately conservative Frederick Scrivener. As it was, the implication from the minutes is that the discussions on this passage were lengthy if not heated. Of all the 412 days of meeting, this seven-hour meeting yielded the least number of verses processed.
Having seen the minutes from these meetings, I can say that they are pretty boring. The first few entries detail who voted for what change but after that they quickly become a mere record of who was present and what changes were voted for. But Cadwallader’s observation is probably right to see the less-than-usual progress as a sign of serious debate. At least we know the decision was not made hastily.

Perhaps I should also note that Cadwallader has been at work on a history of the RV and I hear that he is making good progress. It should be a fine study when it comes out.


  1. It perhaps overstates the case to claim such precise "timing" on Burgon's part regarding his Last Twelve Verses of Mark volume. Given that the book consists of well over 300pp of data, it hardly was hastily assembled merely to throw the RV Committee into a tizzy (even if it did so for two days straight). Any blame regarding the "timing" should more likely be addressed to the publisher (Oxford & London: James Parker & Co) who had the difficult task of hand-setting the type for such an extensive work — a task which definitely took a lengthy amount of time with no clear date for completion being certain.

    As noted in Burgon’s prefatory material, his primary and intended antagonists were Tischendorf and Tregelles rather than Westcott, Hort, or the ERV Committee. More importantly, Scrivener -- who actually was on the ERV Committee -- already had proclaimed "without the slightest misgiving" in favor of the Last Twelve Verses in the first (1861) edition of his Plain Introduction (pp.7,429-432) -- that being a standard handbook which members of the ERV Committee already would have known well. In addition, there was Scrivener's continued reinforcement of the identical view in his 1874 second edition (pp. 7,507-513), by then clearly siding with Burgon, and that volume published even while the ERV Committee was still deliberating.

    Therefore, too much, it seems, is being made of any supposed "timing" by Burgon in this regard, particularly when Scrivener would have been the primary opponent among the ERV Committee members.

    1. MAR, I did not mean to suggest that the timing was "precise," the assembly "hasty," or that someone should be "blamed" for any of this. However, it does not seem too much to suggest that Burgon intended to influence the RV committee (beyond Scrivener, obviously) with its publication just as Hort did with his review.

      Perhaps you know something more specific about the gestation of Burgon's book that would invalidate Cadwallader's claim?

  2. Goulburn's Life of Burgon, vol. 2, offers some fairly clear information (emphasis added throughout):

    "He had been for some time past collecting materials for a work which should vindicate the genuineness of the last twelve verses" (49); "He had been already for some years studying the manuscript evidence for and against the verses" (50); "The Epistle Dedicatory ... and the Preface are both dated July 1871, the work itself must have passed through the press shortly after, showing that it had been concocting long before" (50). Letter from Burgon 15 Aug 1871 states "the book (which I have been three years about!) is at last done. It will not be published till October [1871], but it is printed" (52).

    At the time when Burgon would have begun his research at least three years earlier (ca. 1868), the vote of Convocation to authorize the ERV and to form its Committee had not even been broached:

    "The present Revision had its origin in action taken by the Convocation of the Province of Canterbury in February 1870, and it has been conducted throughout on the plan laid down in the Rules drawn up by a special Committee of Convocation in the following May [3rd and 5th 1870]. Two Companies, the one for the revision of the Authorised Version of the Old Testament, and the other for the revision of the same Version of the New Testament, were formed in the manner specified in the Resolutions, and the work was commenced on the twenty-second day of June 1870" (ERV Preface 1881).

    Given those parameters, it would seem well-nigh impossible for either Burgon or his publisher to know that the ERV Committee (meeting in and sworn to secrecy!) would only have been about to discuss the last twelve verses of Mark in mid-November 1871. At best, the timing appears purely coincidental rather than intentional in that regard.

  3. Thanks, MAR. That certainly tells us that the had long been working on the problem. But the context in Goulburn's bio seems to agree with Cadwallader that the RV committee had an influence on Burgon's finally publicizing his work. "The then Regius Professor of Divinity, Dr. Payne Smith, suggested to him [Burgon] that, as St. Mark’s Gospel had always been his favourite book of the New Testament, and as he had been for some time past collecting materials for a work which should vindicate the genuineness of the last twelve verses of that Gospel, he should take those verses as the subject of the two exercises now required of him. Burgon accepted, nothing loth, the task of vindicating the genuineness of these twelve most important verses, — all the more so, because it was known that the most eminent textual critics of the New Testament Revision Company looked askance upon them, and would probably, as indeed they have done, insinuate a question as to their genuineness into the minds of unsophisticated English readers." (pp. 49-50)

  4. The Payne Smith comment concerned not the published volume, but a required lecture that Burgon was to deliver: "It was at that time required from candidates for the Bachelor's degree, that they should read two exercises publicly in the Divinity School, as evidences of their competency in the Faculty of Divinity" (49). "Accordingly his exercises for the Divinity School were all but ready to his hand when they were wanted; he had but to open his desk, bring out the manuscript notes which he had accumulated there, and throw them, or a portion of them, into the form of two dissertations" (50).

    Most notably, "These dissertations he read publicly in the Divinity School, on July 3 and 4 of this year [1871]" (50) — again, three months before the actual book was published.

    Since it would be difficult to presume that the members of the ERV Committee were wholly unaware of those lectures three months earlier, the supposed "timing" of the actual book publication seems more of a chimera than anything else. In reality, how would Burgon in July 1871 (when the book was sent to the press) have any relevant knowledge that it would appear in print at a point only a week or two before the ERV Committee would discuss that passage in November 1871?

    Cadwallader doth protest too much, methinks.

  5. I should add one other observation: whatever stirred the ERV Committee into debate regarding the last twelve verses of Mark, the end result (which had to be carried by a 2/3 majority) was to include the verses in the ERV, but separated by a space from 16:8, with a footnote typical of what one finds in most English translations: "The two oldest Greek manuscripts, and some other authorities, omit from ver. 9 to the end. Some other authorities have a different ending to the Gospel."

    Thus, the end result was more much ado about nothing rather than any serious attempt either to wholly exclude the verses or relegate them to a footnote.

  6. MAR, I confess I don't see where we are disagreeing. Burgon's book was released in July and just before that he gave his lecture at the divinity school. Both are months before the November RV meeting. Goulburn is clear that Burgon accepted the opportunity to give his lectures in July knowing that the RV committee "looked askance" on Mark 16.9-20 and that this was known. Perhaps we are wrong to think that Burgon knew the date when the committee was meeting to discuss Mark 16, but given that their progress was in the papers it does not seem like a significant leap. In any case, Goulburn clearly says that Burgon's work was made public with an eye to the committee. Do you disagree with him on that?

    1. Correction: Burgon's book was sent to the printer in July, but did not actually appear until (as Burgon noted) sometime in October.

      As for knowledge of the ERV Committee's views on those verses, that would have been clear from various commentaries, articles, and other publications already existing, including various by members of the Committee themselves (Scrivener as already noted).

      It therefore appears to me that it would not have been Burgon's or his publisher's "timing" on the matter, but more of Hort's "timing" to ensure that at least his review would appear prior to Committee discussion on that passage. So all I am saying is that the concept of "timing" appears to be misdirected when aimed primarily at Burgon.

      I also should note that Westcott and Hort's actual lengthy critique of Burgon's position only appeared in the Introduction and Appendix volume of their Greek NT in 1882 ("Notes on Select Readings," 28-51) -- a reply that gives the lie to those of the KJVO persuasion who claim that Burgon's book was "unanswerable". It definitely was "answered"; how persuasively might be another matter.

    2. MAR, thanks for that clarification. I did not mean to aim the concept of timing primarily at Burgon. Whether Burgon himself expected or hoped his book to be out before the committee met to specifically deal with Mark 16 is, I suppose, an open question. That he hoped to affect the committee with the book, however, seems clear.

  7. Even had the book come out later (say 1872 or 1874), the Committee theoretically still could have been influenced to alter or reverse its November 1871 decision; so the timing still does not appear to be that great a factor as opposed to whatever weighty statements Scrivener might have made in session defending the passage that November.

    From his own words, Burgon's primary aim in writing the book was the refutation of Tischendorf and Tregelles, thereby to convince those who may have accepted claims of inauthenticity based on their data. Given those parameters, Burgon’s intent clearly transcended any direct connection with the ERV project or Committee (several members of which are mentioned therein, but only in relation to comments published well before the act of Convocation establishing the ERV Committee and project).

  8. Burgon was very careful to survey all the opposition. Griesbach, Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tregelles and Henry Alford (note the deep words of sadness on p. 8) were given the most study.

    Westcott and Hort are described by giving their four quotes here:

    The Hort "Review" of the Burgon book is in The Academy and Literature p. 518-519 and was published November 15, 1871.


    The details given by Burgon are especially important today because Burgon was careful to analyze (and reject) the halfway-house ideas of an incomplete or lost or replaced or later-draft or floating-pericope writing by Mark, friends of Mark, or quasi-canonical redactors. Whether those positions were taken by those proclaiming authenticity or not.

    Those ideas are unfortunately associated with Markan authenticity defense writers today, to varying degrees (Lunn, Hester and Snapp.) Sometimes the ideas are quite wild, such as the floating pericope theory, and are easily recognized as de facto non-authenticity.

    The most notable and commendable exception on this point, a defender of full authenticity who gets deeply involved in the study and debate, is Maurice Robinson!


    "unanswerable" goes back to 1875 and Frederic Charles Cook (1804-1889), who was not remotely an AV defender:

    The criticism of the word by Maurice Robinson, as some sort of special AV myth (it was used by Fuller) is the only weak part of the above writings. Surely, "the sky is blue" can be answered, although not persuasively :).

    Steven Avery