Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Latest Book Reviews from Keith Elliott

Keith Elliott’s reviews are always a highlight for me. His prose is a delight and his pen can be almost as sharp as his eye for detail. They always challenge me to improve my own book reviews.

In the latest NovT, he has reviewed at least four recent works on NT textual criticism: the Tyndale GNT, the ECM Acts, and two books on the CBGM by yours truly and Tommy (the latter of which is being given away right now, FYI). I was sent a digital copy, which was most welcome given my lack of digital access to NovT these days. Here is a taste of each:


The publication of a Greek New Testament is not usually a headline event for general readers but this Tyndale edition (under the editorship of its re- searchers, led by Dirk Jongkind and Peter Williams) is significant. It takes a proud place alongside other edited Greek testaments currently on the market. Significantly it appears c.500 years after Erasmus’ first printed and published Greek (and Latin) Novum Instrumentum and the anniversary of Luther’s initiating the Protestant Reformation and his German New Testament (of 1522). ... A Preface opens the book and contains a brief explanation of the editorial motives. (It ends with the evangelical slogan “Soli Deo Gloria” even though gratia is conveyed later—especially to financial donors—on pages 525–6). ... Fulsome acknowledgements conclude the volume. We reiterate the praise there for the researchers, editors and assistants who together have achieved their goal, against many commercial and scholarly odds. We must wait and see how influential this edition proves to be in the academic world of New Testament studies.

On ECM Acts

[See his much longer review in JTS 2018.] Many passages agree with the Byzantine text-type and therefore differ from “the established (sic) text” (i p. 19*). Among the 52 readings where ECM differs from NA28 (I pp. 34*-35*) thirty-six move towards Byz. Only three move away from Byz. ... This edition will be with us for many decades and its text will be used as the text in NA and UBS. We express our gratitude to the Münster Institut, its Direktor and Mitarbeiter. They have done themselves—and the scholarly world at large—proud, yet again.

On the CBGM books

[On my thesis:] At the viva voce at the University of Cambridge the examiners of Gurry’s thesis had no problem in recommending it as a worthy example of original thinking and a proper contribution to learning. Academic text-critics have known of—and pussyfooted around—CBGM for several years, suspicious of it because of its apparent lack of careful explication. Now Gurry has peered behind the veils of mystery and exposed the importance and significance of its methodology.
[On my book with Tommy:] This combined effort (although seemingly mainly Gurry’s work, if source criticism be applied) is a welcome introduction to the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method (= CBGM) devised by Gert [sic] Mink at Münster for coping with the large number of Greek New Testament manuscripts extant. Several of us have been wary about extolling its apparent virtues, partly because it looks so complicated and Mink’s own published explanations seemed opaque. Now Wasserman and Gurry have explained its history, use and consequences. They also highlight its limitations—always an honest approach to such matters. However, they hope that those promulgating the methodology (hitherto restricted to a few dedicated scholars) may soon allow its rich databases to become freely available. Yet another theological disciplina arcani is highly undesirable. “Transparency” need not be a term currently (over)used in business and politics! 
I note that Elliott thinks the CBGM is a “suitable resource” for thoroughgoing eclectics. He writes, “From my own preferred text-critical principles, whereby I put great score by readings compatible with an author’s style, language and theology and by first-century Greek etc., CBGM seems to be a suitable resource for so-called thorough-going text-critics to apply.”

Put this way, it may be so. But I am intrigued that Elliott—both here and in my viva—says ne’re a word about my argument in the thesis that the CBGM’s results challenge the foundational premise of thoroughgoing eclecticism, that premise being that we simply do not know enough about textual relationships to think that some manuscripts could be consistently preferred over others.

In fact, the CBGM tells us enough about witness relations that we cannot deny that some manuscripts lie closer (statistically, at very least) to the initial text, whatever we take that be. In other words, if Elliott were to use the CBGM on the front end using his own preferred principles, he would have to conclude on the back end that some manuscripts deserve his attention more than others.


  1. "In other words, if Elliott were to use the CBGM on the front end using his own preferred principles, he would have to conclude on the back end that some manuscripts deserve his attention more than others."

    As I understand it, thoroughgoing eclecticism has long been prepared to say that careful study will lead one to give certain MSS greater weight than others.

    1. That’s a fair point. My reading is that Elliott certainly allows a witnesses’s proclivities to influence his decisions, but not its age since we don’t know “how many stages exist between any manuscript and the original” or “what changes were made at each copying” (“Thoroughgoing Eclecticism,” p. 746). Insofar as age is a measure of weight (I speak of texts here not parchment here), then I think the CBGM is a challenge to him. That said, I agree the difference between thoroughgoing and reasoned eclecticism is often a matter of degree not kind.

  2. Since one of the first steps of the CBGM is to construct local stemmata of readings at each variation unit, I would expect a reading-centered approach like thoroughgoing eclecticism to be the recommended principle in making local genealogical decisions. If we choose a reading not on its own internal merits, but on the weight of the manuscripts (or texts) that support it, then it seems like we're assuming something that we're trying to prove.

    This isn't to say that age is a non-factor. I just think that it should be used to weigh internal evidence (e.g., as the earliest attestation of a reading) rather than external evidence (saying that a manuscript is better simply because it is older.)