Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Looking for advice on “Categorizing MSS”

Good morning from St Paul, where we finally got some rain on our parched gardens,

I am re-writing a textbook for beginners on TC of the Bible. The OT part was pretty good, but the NT part needed to be re-done. I’m now in the section that introduces some of the important MSS. We only introduce the most commonly discussed ones and otherwise suggest to the reader to go to the other established resources like Metzger & Ehrman, Parker, Aland & Aland, and the GNTs.

Originally the book had charts, one each for the papyri, majuscules, and minuscules.

Here are the first lines of the papyrus chart:

Table 4.1: Important New Testament Papyri
Number Date Textual Tendencies Contains Name/Collection
𝔓1 3rd century Alexandrian Matt 1:1–9, 12, 14–20 P. Oxy. 2, Univ. of Penn.
𝔓4, 64, 67 Early 3rd century Alexandrian Portions of Luke and Matthew P. Oxy. 208, British Lib., Oxford
𝔓13 Early 3rd century Alexandrian Portions of Heb 2; 10–12 P. Oxy. 657
𝔓20 Early 3rd century Alexandrian Jas 2:19–3:9 P. Oxy. 1171
𝔓22 3rd century Independent John 15:25–16:2, 21–32 P. Oxy. 1228
𝔓23 ca. 200 Alexandrian Jas 1:10–12, 15–18 P. Oxy. 1229
𝔓24 3rd century Alexandrian Rev 5:5–8; 6:5–8 P. Oxy. 1230
𝔓27 Early 3rd century Alexandrian Portions of Rom 8–9 P. Oxy. 1355
𝔓29 Early 3rd century Possibly Western Acts 26:7–8, 20 P. Oxy. 1597

There are about 30 total papyri listed.

When I hit the papyrus chart I wrote the following to the editor:

“Table 4.1: Important New Testament Papyri. I find myself wondering if this ought to be included. The main reason for it would be to provide the textual tendency of many of the papyri, but most textual critics are now frowning on the over-simplicity of assigning each MS to a text type. If we don’t list the textual tendencies, I don’t really see a reason for the chart at all. We can refer the reader to the more extensive list of NT MSS in the back of the NA28. This would lead to a similar decision about the other charts for the majuscules, etc.”

He wrote back the following:

“I know tables and charts tend to oversimplify, and I want our text to address the text type categorization issue directly. However, there may still be heuristic value in identifying what text type those MSS have been traditionally associated with. That is, we are indicating the classification solely as a help for the reader who might come across those categorizations if they read previous scholarship on NT TC. Our text will prepare them for the reality that those are now not as widely accepted, but knowing of them may help them evaluate future work that appears stuck in the past methodologically.

“I think some of the charts are helpful but perhaps too long to include in the chapters themselves, so I was considering moving them to appendices. They could also be edited to not be presenting as “important papyri” but maybe more as “representative papyri.” That is, giving students a quick reference for well-known MSS.”

My request from you my colleagues is to hear not only your opinion on whether papyri ought to be categorized. I am going to try to talk him out of that. (Though his point about students encountering previous scholarship is valid.) But also whether such a chart is helpful in a book for beginners. Please stay in the beginners mindset when you evaluate this.

Responses much appreciated. Amy


  1. Hi Amy,

    I like charts. I remember working through the lists in the Aland&Aland book with massive attention.

    I think the categorising will depend on your general approach and what sort of method you are going to be advocating. A less geographically pretentious option would be Epp's cluster terminology. Perhaps one could also identify the closest level of agreement with major manuscripts. It is important, otherwise it is just a list. But P1, to take an example, has close agreement with B and was historically important in this regard.

  2. Hi Dr. Anderson,

    I'm a TC beginner (learning as I transcribe for IGNTP), and I think the chart is really helpful. I agree that the appendix is the best place for these charts - much faster to reference than Metzger & Ehrman.

    As long as the textbook itself explains the "rise and fall" of this categorization method, the chart shouldn't be misleading to students. In fact, students could use this chart to quickly find MSS to compare against one another to understand why this categorization method came about in the first place. And I also agree with the editor that evaluating past and future scholarly work depends on understanding the most widely used past methodology.

    And NA28 takes time to learn to navigate; any intermediate step is helpful.

    Thank you for thinking of us beginners while you edit this textbook. Please employ a cartoonist to explain the CBGM. :)


  3. Amy, I like Pete’s idea of listing manuscripts with close affinity. But I suspect that could get tedious quickly and risks being as loose by definition as text-types can be. My inclination would be to list papyri either by the Alands’ somewhat problematic “strict,” “free,” or “normal” characterization or to list them by their “traditional text-types,” but perhaps with some explanation elsewhere of the challenges facing those designations.

  4. I'm not sure there's a perfect way to handle this because it is important for beginners to understand certain textual relationships, even if they are somewhat unrefined and unclear.

    Minor correction: P.Oxy. 208 is P5, not P4.

    And I'm not sure it's good to list P64+P67 with P4. Sure, Skeat made that case, but others (Head, Charlesworth) have argued against that association.

  5. I like Peter's idea. It also handles the issue that "Western" in gospels means something different than "Western" in Paul, so knowing p45 has affinities to 06, 010, and 012 is more useful than saying it's "Western". So is p29 actually similar to Codex Bezae, or is the "Western"-ness because it's like one of the early translations, or simply because it disagrees with Alexandrian and Byzantine witnesses (often the traditional definition of "Western").

  6. In my opinion, if you remove the text type column, the rest of the information on the chart is still valuable.