Thursday, July 20, 2017

Kirsopp Lake on the need for conjectural emendation

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Here is a quote I came across today in Kirsopp Lake’s inaugural lecture at the University of Leiden. Note very carefully how Lake argues for the need for conjecture. In the context, he is explaining why he thinks Westcott and Hort failed “spectacularly” in their preference for 01 and 03.
It has become more and more probable that Greek MSS. as a whole only represent one type of text and its corruptions, that the Latin Versions and Fathers represent another type, and the Syriac versions a third, while perhaps Clement of Alexandria may provide us with a fourth.

 It is between these texts, and not between individual MSS., that we shall have in the last resort to judge, so that the situation which we must face is that we have to deal with a number of local texts, that no two localities used quite the same text, that no locality has yet been shown to have used a text which is demonstrably better than its rivals, and that no one of these local texts is represented in an uncorrupt form by any single MS.

The effect on the method of the textual critic is enormous. He has no longer the right to suggest that he can immediately edit the original text. He must go back and edit first the local texts. In the case of each locality he has the evidence of the versions used in the local church and of the writers who used them, but it is not very large, and in no case is without traces of corruption. Therefore, the student of these local texts is reduced to the level of the critic of classical texts. In the face of suspected corruption he has the right to use conjectural emendation. It used to be said that the classical student often needed to make use of conjectural emendation, because he had so few and so poor authorities for the text of his authors, but that the biblical student had no such need, because the MSS. of the New Testament were so numerous and so good that primitive corruption was almost unknown. The argument was reasonable, but when we recognize that in reality the text of the Gospels has not much better attestation than have some classical texts, the whole case is altered and the textual critic must be conceded the right of as free emendation in the Gospels as in the Classics. Granted this freedom it will perhaps be possible some day to reconstruct the texts which were in use at the close of the second century in Africa, in Alexandria, in the East, and perhaps elsewhere. None of these have been yet reconstructed : all that we can say is that each as compared with any of the others presents a definite series of interpolations and a definite series of omissions.
From The Influence of Textual Criticism on the Exegesis of the New Testament (1904), pp. 5-7 

8 comments :

  1. Consider in regard to the Greek manuscript text itself what Lake said in his The Text of the NT (1900, 1902, 1908), p.9:

    "In Biblical textual criticism . . . it is still doubtful what is the archetype of the existing manuscripts. But at least we may be sure that it is an exceedingly early one, with very few corruptions, and therefore the work of the conjectural emendation is very light, and scarcely ever necessary."

    [In the later 6th edition revised by Silva New, the latter phrase was changed to “the work of conjectural emendation is very light, rarely necessary, and scarcely ever possible”].

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    1. Curious. What do we make of the discrepancy?

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  2. No real discrepancy, given his statements in the opening quote. Lake clearly sees a separate Vorlage for the Greek MSS, regarding which conjecture becomes a severely limited option.

    However, to reconcile what he sees as discrepancies between the Greek MSS and the Latin versions, various fathers, the Syriac, and even Clement of Alexandria -- for Lake the resolution of that issue definitely requires some level of conjectural emendation (this is not to say that his assessment is necessarily correct).

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    1. Ah I see. Your explanation makes good sense with his example from John 3.5 in his inaugural lecture.

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  3. Hmm. (Setting aside the various misconceptions with which Kirsopp Lake was burdened -- ) How many conjectural emendations did K. Lake ever propose or even suggest? You mentioned something in John 3:5; I know of one in Colossians 2:18. Does anyone know of others?

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    1. He discusses two in the lecture. But note Maurice's point that for him this seems to mean a place where the versional and patristic evidence needs to correct the Greek MSS.

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    2. ... and this based on a very limited and narrow selection amid the versional and patristic evidence at that!

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