Friday, September 07, 2018

New Article: Quantifying Variants in the Apostolos

In the latest issue of NTS, Greg Lanier has an article expanding on my work estimating the number of variants. He takes a deep dive into the data from the ECM of the Catholic Letters and now Acts to try a way of quantifying the variants in the most important witnesses.

Here is the abstract:
This article interacts with Peter J. Gurry’s recent estimate of the total textual variants in the Greek New Testament (NTS 62 (2016)) by (i) employing a different (and complementary) method using data from the Editio Critica Maior and (ii) producing an estimate that is narrowly confined to the ‘key’ manuscript witnesses for Acts and the Catholic Letters (a mix of majuscules and minuscules, both Byzantine and non-Byzantine). The results prove more useful for framing the development and distribution of textual variants in this group of key witnesses.
I wrote before, “There is more that can be done with these data and hopefully I and others will explore some of those in the future.” While I stumbled over some of the things done with the data here, this is the kind of additional work I had in mind. In particular, I want to highlight the three points that stood out to me.

First, he uses places where there is no variation in the ECM volumes to help calculate manuscript agreement. This is important because the CBGM only uses places where there is some disagreement to calculate the overall agreement. From this, he can say that about 15% of the 12,356 “textual units” in the Apostolos (Acts + Catholic Letters) have no variation in the ECM. With a larger collation set (like Tommy’s work on Jude), this diminishes, of course, but this is valuable especially because CBGM comparisons only compare “textual units” where there is some variation (i.e., variant units). In other words, they leave out all the places where there is no variation in the collated witnesses. (There is a good reason for this in the CBGM, by the way, but that’s another subject.)

Second, Lanier tabulated how many variants are actually found in each variant unit. This is important because it offers one good metric for how much work editors have to do. The reason is that deciding between ten different readings is usually a lot more work than deciding between two. Lanier found that in the Apostolos, about 64% of all variant units have just two readings. Another 27% have three and the remaining 9% have four or more. In other words, the vast majority of decisions in the ECM are between three or fewer variants. Gerd Mink had run the same numbers for James in 2004 with similar results, but now we have them for the rest of the Apostolos. I think this may be one of the most helpful stats in the article

Finally, Lanier plotted the rate of variation per word across the 28 chapters of Acts and found that, among his 16 key witnesses, the rate increases slightly toward the end (see figure). He says, “The data, of course, cannot tell us why this is the case, but it is nevertheless helpful empirical confirmation in the aggregate (for sixteen witnesses) of what textual critics have hypothesised for Acts within individual witnesses” (p. 568). I would suggest that scribal fatigue is the most obvious explanation. As scribes got further into Acts, fatigue set in and they copied a little worse than they did at the start of the book. (This, of course, does not mean that they made no mistakes at the start of books as in, oh, I don’t know, say Mark 1.1 for example.)

Variation rate across Acts
Update: See Lanier’s blog post for a bit on how he crunched the data.

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