Sunday, March 31, 2019

News from Germany: A Sequel to CBGM

Dr. Nicholas Zegers

            The city of Müenster, Germany is abuzz with news of a groundbreaking new method of textual analysis that has been developed by scholars at the Institut für Neutestamentliche Witze.  The new method, colloquially called the Conjecture Based Genealogical Method (not to be confused with its predecessor, the similarly named Coherence Based Geneaological Method), promises to shape the future of the text of the New Testament.  I sat down with resident scholar Dr. Nicholas Zegers at Caputo’s coffee bar in Müenster to find out more:

Q:  Dr. Zegers, what led to this new method, and what is the basic idea behind it?

Dr. Zegers:  The CBGM2, as I like to call it, is built upon the principles of CBGM1, applied to non-extant readings – thus the name “Conjecture Based.”  As we at the Institute were analyzing a group of variant-units with unusually high numbers of rival variants, the data appeared to break down; it was somewhat like traffic gridlock, when no car takes the lead.  And then it occurred to us:  considering that our extant manuscripts are only a small slice of all manuscripts ever made; why not add a conjectural reading, or a series of conjectural readings, to the database, and see if the gridlock dissipates?

Q:  And did it?

Dr. Zegers:  To an extent, yes – particularly in cases where the extant witnesses share a high level of contamination.  Using CBGM2, we reconstructed a number of hypothetical Ur-readings and secondary readings at specific variant-units, and regrouped the extant readings according to the classical principle of granting preference to the reading which best accounts for the others.  When we do this at many variant-units, we can establish a pre-genealogical relationship between the texts of entire manuscripts, and the conjecturally reconstructed texts.  And from there, we can build a stemma that includes the reconstructions.

Q:  Splendid.  Did you find anything interesting?

Dr. Zegers:  Yes; in a substantial number of variant-units, some rival extant readings were previously in a virtual tie, using conventional analysis, and even using CBGM1, but when CBGM2 was applied, they resolved themselves into discrete patterns that, when combined, suggest lines of descent.  Not only did this organization of the data account for many nonsense-readings, but sometimes readings which are poorly supported externally are favored on relational grounds, and on occasion, a hypothetical reading – usually a proposed Ur-reading but sometimes what had been posited as merely a possible secondary reading – augmented the coherence of the stemma, and was vindicated by the analysis as the variant that best accounted for its rivals.

Q:  Can you share an example or two?

Dr. Zegers:  Certainly; I can recollect a few off the top of my head.  We anticipate that the application of CBGM2 will elicit the introduction of new conjectural or singular readings into the text of several books of the New Testament:  our research so far confirms “the Prophet” rather than “a prophet” in John 7:52.  In James 1:17, the reading found exclusively in Papyrus 23 is favored.  And at this juncture, things don’t look good for the final phrase of John 4:9.  Non-extant readings are confirmed to be original in Acts 8:7, Acts 8:36, Acts 23:7, Galatians 4:25, First Corinthians 6:5, and Second Timothy 1:13. 

Q:  It sounds like this new method might disturb some folks who like their English New Testaments to have Greek manuscripts as a foundation.

Dr. Zegers:  Well, the basic idea is really nothing new.  What has to be understood is that most manuscripts of New Testament materials once had mothers and siblings, so to speak, which are no longer extant.  From a certain point of view, we are not creating new evidence; we are recovering the voices of manuscripts which once existed but which have been silenced by the ravages of time and chance.  Furthermore, CBGM2 confirms exponentially more traditional readings than non-extant readings, sometimes surprisingly so.  The reference in Luke 24:42 to Jesus eating a piece of honeycomb, for example, is strongly supported by CBGM2.  We’re still not sure how that happened.
Q:  This all sounds fascinating, even revolutionary.  When can we expect to see this research in print?

Dr. Zegers:  The first forty-five fascicles are in preparation, and are expected to be released in alternating volumes in a co-operative publication effort by Brill and Gorgias Press.  A preliminary draft of an introductory essay, published initially in Caucasian Albanian, is already available; following a period of peer review, it will be accompanied by an exhaustive digital database in Kotlin.

Q:  Thank you for sharing this exciting news.  I can hardly wait to read more about it.

Zegers:  You’re quite welcome.  



Pastor Larry said...

The guy Zegers looks like Ray Stevens Lol

John Roth said...

I take it we should be aware of the calendrical context.

Ross said...

As a lay person, I thought this has been standard operating procedure for a number of decades now, but this is new? Well I am a fool ain't I?

Jeff Dodson said...

Dr. Nicholas Zegers must be quite the celebrity. I saw him a few years ago in a Mexican restaurant in Nashville, and someone asked him for his autograph.

Jeff Dodson said...

And...according to Nashville-area billboards, he operates something called the "CabaRay."

ARCASA73 said...

Well, it seems that the Textual Critic studies has its own multiverse...

OrangeHunter said...

So...that means that in twenty years we'll get Bibles, filled with readings, most of which are utterly unknown as of now, am I right? Well, R.I.P., academic textual criticism...

Maurice A. Robinson said...

At least the Caputo's in Muenster is real, although I preferred the Kiepenkerl.