Friday, October 04, 2019

An example of how older editions mislead us about patristic citations

Earlier this week, I was speaking to Dirk Jongkind about Luke 1:50. The THGNT adopts the phrase “εἰς γενεὰς καὶ γενεάς“ as the viable reading that cannot be attributed to harmonisation. Some variants include a form of the phrase that uses singulars instead of plurals, “εἰς γενεὰν καὶ γενεάν“ (ℵ01 Ψ044 f1 f13 [including 69] 892 1424) as well as the reading in the majority of manuscripts, “εἰς γενεὰς γενεῶν“ (A[nt; the odes have a different reading] C2 D1 K Δc Θ 33 Byz).

One point of reference that Dirk mentioned is that the there might be patristic citations of the phrase that show that the phrase itself, “εἰς γενεὰς καὶ γενεάς“ is not inherently unusual. Sure enough, the TLG turns up two instances that I want to point out here.

The first instance is Origen’s commentary on Psalm 119(118):90. Origen makes an exegetical point that the text is singular, not plural: the two generations are Israel and the Church, so it is specifically “from generation to generation”.
Origen at the TLG
In the second instance, Chrysostom quotes part of Daniel 4:37 (LXX) in one of his Letters to Olympia (10.9), and he uses the exact same phrase:
Chrysostom in the TLG

So, here we have two patristic sources attesting the phrase that is adopted in the THGNT at Luke 1:50. Admittedly, neither of these phrases is a citation of Luke 1:50, but the question we are considering is whether the phrase itself is particularly unusual, and if so, would that mean that it could be subject to variation that would normalise the phrase into something more common. From the look of it, the phrase “εἰς γενεὰς καὶ γενεάς“ is common enough that Origen and Chrysostom use it, which would be a mark against the rationale that the phrase would be normalised and changed away from “εἰς γενεὰς καὶ γενεάς“ to either “εἰς γενεὰν καὶ γενεάν“ or “εἰς γενεὰς γενεῶν“, which are both more commonly attested.

Wait, not so fast.

Trying to do the responsible thing, I went to the CUL to pull the critical editions. Both are in the Sources chrétiennes series (henceforth, SC). The citation of Origen comes from a catena on Psalm 119(118). The edition is Harl, Marguerite, ed. La chaîne palestinienne sur le Psaume 118 (Origène, Eusèbe, Didyme, Apollinaire, Athanase, Théodoret): Tome I. Introduction, texte grec critique et traduction. Sources chrétiennes 189. Paris: Cerf, 1972. When I turned to the relevant pages, I did not find εἰς γενεὰς καὶ γενεάς“ as the TLG reported for the text here. Instead, the author of the commentary attributed to Origen roughly quotes Psalm 119:90 in the form of the text attested by the Byzantine tradition at Luke 1:50 (there is an added οὖν, but otherwise it is the same):
Origen in the SC edition

Similarly, the TLG also disagrees with the edition of Chrysostom: Malingrey, Anne-Marie, ed. Jean Chrysostome: Lettres à Olympias. Sources chrétiennes 13. Paris: Cerf, 1947. Instead of the plural form of the phrase εἰς γενεὰς καὶ γενεάς“ that the TLG says is Chrysostom’s text, we find the singular form “εἰς γενεὰν καὶ γενεάν“:
Chrysostom in the SC edition
But wait, there’s more!

This edition was primarily a revision of an older edition rather than being a genuinely new edition, but there is a second edition of this work in the SC series for that. This second edition of Chrysostom, which is the source of the TLG text, does in fact have “εἰς γενεὰς καὶ γενεάς“, and notes two manuscripts (a: Vatican Library, Palatinus gr. 228, and M: Paris, BnF, gr. 657) that have “εἰς γενεὰν καὶ γενεάν“. Malingrey does note that previous editions used these manuscripts for Chrysostom’s text (“a” in Savile, 1612, and “M” in Fronton du Duc, 1614 and Montfaucon, 1821—this is assuming my memory of the relevant page is correct; the Classics library wouldn’t let me borrow the book, so I had to read and take photos of the text itself with my phone):
Chrysostom in SE 2nd edition


What then is the point of this rather pedantic post? There are two points.

1. Pedantic details matter, because [2].

2. When we rely on older editions, we can be misled about the form of the text that a church father quotes. There even appears to be an error in the first edition of the SC edition for Chrysostom that was carried over from previous editions, so sometimes even critical editions don’t quite get it right. And they differ at a phrase for which there are textual variants when it occurs in Luke 1:50. More than that, Origen (or the author of the comment attributed to him) specifically makes an exegetical point about the precise wording of the text, and even there, the SC edition and the TLG disagree on what that precise wording is. TLG’s text of Origen here is based on J.B. Pitra, Analecta sacra spicilegio Solesmensi parata, vols. 2 and 3 (Paris: Tusculum, 1882). This is also an example why it is appropriate to take older literature with a grain of salt when it claims that certain patristic authors supported one reading against another. They might not have.

For more on why we might have problems citing Chrysostom for particular readings, see Peter Montoro’s guest post, here.


  1. Thanks for this great illustration of the complexity of citing patristic quotations as textual witnesses (which doesn't only affect older editions, but modern ones too).

    I think there's more yet than you say (unless I missed it, which I may have, since the way I had to keep scrolling down on this blog post brought to my recollection the opening scene of Space Balls--and that's a good thing).

    The fact that both of these patristic quotations are instances of fathers quoting OT texts is very important. It means that they were somewhat bound by the wording of the manuscripts of those texts they were using. I would not use these cases as evidence for the level of familiarity either these fathers or scribes of their day had with the particular turns of phrase used. For that kind of evidence I would want to rely on what the fathers say when they're composing the words themselves. When they were commenting on a Greek translation of ancient Hebrew and Aramaic scriptures, they had to wrestle with idioms that were not their own.

    The fact that the only patristic examples of form of the phrase that the THGNT adopts are in two places where the fathers are quoting the OT (and that's if this is even true that this is the form they quoted, which I fully grant in light of your post, is up for debate) does support the conclusion that they were not especially comfortable with this form of the phrase. The fact that it's debatable that they even did use this form of the phrase in these two instances makes this conclusion even better supported.

    On the other hand, this raises the question of how confident we can be that there aren't other patristic uses of this phrase. Your post shows us that a TLG search isn't enough to show us whether or not a particular phrase has patristic attestation. So, just as places where the TLG gave us hits for this one form of a phrase, even though some witnesses for these passages of the fathers attest another wording, so also there may be places where the TLG did not give us hits for this phrase, because the text TLG used had another wording, but where some textual witnesses for the passages where the TLG gives another wording support the wording that we're looking for.

    In other words, additional TLG searches for the other wordings of this phrase, so that the hits that bring those up can be investigated the same way you did for those two passages, by looking at critical editions (which, alas, may not even exist), would be warranted.

    And we see how complicated the use of patristic quotations in textual criticism can be.

    Also, it wasn't the point of your post, but these same examples would serve well to illustrate the usefulness and difficulty of using patristic quotations in textual criticism of Greek versions of the OT books, and I think looking at this side of it would raise some more questions.

  2. Also, there's a problem I've seen in Augustine, where there has been a tradition of "correcting" his citations of scripture—so it would not remotely surprise me if older editions of so contested a figure as Origen opaquely used a phrase not original to the author, complicating the exegetical task of comparison.