Saturday, October 28, 2017

Equitable Eclecticism - Part 2

(Continuing the presentation of a slightly updated version of my 2010 essay Equitable Eclecticism:  The Future of New Testament Textual Criticism)

Competing Analytical Approaches

In the Byzantine Priority view, Greek manuscripts which display the Byzantine Text are considered superior witnesses on the grounds that their text has a plausible transmission-history.  Pick any series of readings in the Byzantine Text, and it can be shown to have considerable manuscript support.  The Nestle-Aland compilation, meanwhile, is considered a “test-tube text,” because it often combines readings in a series that is unattested in any Greek manuscript.  And although it has been argued that this is unavoidably what one gets when selecting variants from among different text-types, the point remains that a heavy burden of proof should be upon the compiler whose work implies a transmission-history in which no copyists have preserved the original combination of readings in hundreds of passages.
On the other end of the spectrum, the approach used by Hort may seem like something very different from Byzantine Priority, but in terms of methodology the two approaches are similar:  Hort regarded a specific set of manuscripts as superior to all others (in this case, Codex Vaticanus and whatever allies Hort could find for it), and he built a transmission-model that vindicated its readings.  Having established Vaticanus as the best overall witness in a relatively small series of contests, Hort gave it enormous weight, with the result that its text just kept getting better and better, as more and more contests were decided by “the weight of the witnesses” – to the point that long segments of Hort’s compilation resemble transcripts of Codex Vaticanus.      
Two other approaches were developed by textual critics in the 1900’s by scholars aspiring to produce an eclectic text (that is, a text obtained via the utilization of a variety of sources).
Thoroughgoing Eclecticism (also known as Rigorous Eclecticism) values the relative intrinsic qualities of rival variants as the best means to determine their relationships, effectively rejecting Hort’s axiom.  In this approach, even if a reading appears exclusively in late witnesses, if its intrinsic qualities are judged to be better than its rivals, it is adopted, on the premise that its young supporters echo an older text – the autograph – at that point. 
Building on the theory that text-types did not stabilize until the 200’s or later, thoroughgoing eclectics resort to the only sort of reconstruction which can be undertaken without appealing to the relationships of text-types:  the relationships of rival variants.  Advocates of this approach tend to be more willing to introduce conjectural emendations, if an emendation possesses superior intrinsic qualities to its rival extant variants. 
Reasoned Eclecticism (also known as Rational Eclecticism), in theory, considers the relative intrinsic qualities of rival variants, but also considers the quality of each variant’s sources, their date, and their scope.  The text of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament was compiled using a form of reasoned eclecticism.  However, in its companion-volume, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Bruce Metzger’s comments show that the quality of sources tended to be measured according to Hort’s model of transmission-history.  In The Text of the New Testament, Metzger wrote, “Theoretically it is possible that the Koine text” – that is, the Byzantine Text – “may preserve an early reading which was lost from the other types of text, but such instances are extremely rare.”  This anti-Byzantine bias is pervasive.  It is no surprise, therefore, that the UBS text varies only slightly from Hort’s text, even though more evidence in favor of Byzantine readings is available to researchers than ever before.  (For more on this subject seem my four-part essay, The Text of Reasoned Eclecticism:  Is it Reasonable and Eclectic?)
An alternative is Equitable Eclecticism, in which the relative intrinsic qualities of rival variants are considered, and each variant’s sources, their date, and their scope are also considered.  Equitable Eclecticism begins by developing a generalized model of transmission-history, and estimates of the relative values of the readings of groups, through a five-step process:

            ● First, the witnesses are organized into groups which share distinctive variants.
            ● Second, variant-units involving variants distinct to each group are analyzed according to text-critical principles, or canons.   
            ● Third, a tentative model of transmission-history is developed, cumulatively explaining the relationships of the competing groups to one another by explaining the relationships of their component-parts where distinctive variants are involved.  This model of transmission-history utilizes the premise that the earliest stratum of the Byzantine Text of the Gospels (echoed by Family Π, the Peshitta, Codex A, part of Codex W, the Gothic version, and the Purple Codices N-O-Σ-Φ) arose without the involvement of witnesses that contained the Alexandrian, Western, or Caesarean texts.  Even readings supported by a higher stratum of the Byzantine Text and not by the lowest one are not rejected automatically. 
            ● Fourth, values are assigned to groups rather than to individual witnesses.  Less dependence by one group upon another group, as implied cumulatively by the relationship of its variants to the rival variants in other groups, yields a higher assigned value.
            ● Fifth, all reasonably significant variant-units (those which make a translatable difference) are analyzed according to text-critical canons, using all potentially helpful materials, including readings that are not characteristic of groups.  When internal considerations are finely balanced and a decision is difficult, special consideration is given to readings attested by whatever group appears to be the least dependent upon the others in the proximity of the difficult variant-unit.       
This will yield the archetype of all groups, albeit with some points of instability (at especially difficult variant-units) and with a degree of instability in regard to orthography.
Additional Principles

Equitable Eclecticism, besides rejecting the theory that the Byzantine Text was formed entirely via a consultation of manuscripts containing Alexandrian and Western readings, utilizes some additional principles which set it apart from the kinds of textual criticism which produced the revised text and its modern-day representatives:

1.  Textual criticism is a science, not an art.  It is an enterprise of reconstruction, not creation.
2.  The text of the New Testament should be reconstructed in its component-parts:  the Gospels, and Acts, and the General Epistles, and the Pauline Epistles, and Revelation. 
3.  Relationships shown by patterns of readings in one part of the New Testament should not be assumed to exist in the others.
4.  The genealogical descent of a group of manuscripts from an ancestor-manuscript other than the autograph is not assumed without actual evidence that establishes links among specific manuscripts (such as shared formats, shared marginalia, shared miniatures, or readings which conclusively show a historical connection).
5.  Variants involving nomina sacra are placed in a special class, and receive special attention.
6.  The assumption of preference for the shorter reading is rejected.
7.  If a variant has very sporadic support from witnesses greatly separated by age and textual character, this may indicate that the variant was liable to be spontaneously created by copyists, rather than that it was transmitted by distant transmission-streams.
8.  Exceptional intrinsic merit is required for the adoption of variants attested exclusively or nearly exclusively by bilingual manuscripts in which a Greek variant may have originated via retro-translation.
9.  Conjectural emendations are not to be placed in the text. 
Equitable Eclecticism also utilizes principles shared by other approaches.  These principles are all superseded by Principle Zero:  no principle should be applied mechanically.

1.  A variant which explains its rivals with greater elegance and force than it is explained by any of them is more likely to be original.
2.  A variant supported by witnesses representing two or more locales of early Christendom is more likely to be original than a variant supported by witnesses that represent only one locale.
3.  A variant which can be shown to have had, in the course of the transmission of the text, the appearance of difficulty (either real or imagined), and which is rivaled by variants without such difficulty, is more likely than its rivals to be original.
4.  A variant supported by early attestation is more likely to be original than a rival variant supported exclusively by late attestation.
5.  A variant which conforms a statement to the form of a similar statement in a similar document, or in the same document, is less likely to be original than a rival variant that does not exhibit conformity.
6.  A variant which involves a rare, obscure, or ambiguous term or expression is more likely to be original than a rival variant which involves an ordinary or specific term or expression.
7.  A variant which is consistent with the author's discernible style and vocabulary is more likely to be original than a rival variant which deviates from the author's usual style and vocabulary and the vocabulary which he may naturally be expected to have been capable of using.
8.  A variant which is fully explained as a liturgical adjustment is less likely to be original than a rival variant which cannot be thus explained.
9.  A variant which is capable of expressing anti-Judaic sentiment is less likely to be original than a rival variant which is less capable of such expression.
10.  A variant which can be explained as an easy transcriptional error is less likely to be original than a rival variant which cannot be explained as an easy transcriptional error or as one which would be less easily made.     
11.  A variant which can be explained as a deliberate alteration is less likely to be original than a rival variant which is less capable of originating in the same way.
12Ceteris paribus, in the Synoptic Gospels, a variant which does not result in a Minor Agreement is more likely to be original than a rival variant which results in a Minor Agreement.

Closing Thoughts

Christian readers may feel intimidated or exasperated at the realization that the original text of the New Testament can only be fully reconstructed by a careful analysis of the witnesses – a massive and intricate task which currently involves no less than 135 papyri, about 320 uncials, about 2,900 minuscules, and about 2,450 lectionaries, plus versional and patristic materials.  The feeling may be increased when one also realizes that even the most erudite textual critics have reached divergent conclusions, and that their conclusions must be subject to the implications of future discoveries.
This may lead some readers to decline to investigate the text, deciding instead to hopefully adhere to whatever text (or texts) they already use.  Such an expedient response is understandable, especially in light of the often-repeated (but false) claim that textual variants have no significant doctrinal impact.  Nevertheless, for those few who are not content to place their confidence in textual critics, or to posit providential favor upon a particular set of variants on account of its popularity or for other reasons, the best option is to become textual critics.
Becoming acquainted with the contents of the manuscripts and other witnesses gives additional responsibility, but also additional confidence, somewhat like the confidence of a traveler who knows his maps, as opposed to one who does not and must trust his guides.  
Knowing the message of the map that we have – and being aware of which parts are still questioned, and why, concerning how closely their form corresponds to the form of the original – makes one a confident traveler where one should be confident, and cautious where one should be cautious.  But after we have done our best to conduct research with scientific detachment, it will do us little good if we only possess the map.  Let us walk in the path that the Holy Spirit reveals to us through the Word.  With that thought I leave the reader to consider the words of J. A. Bengel, one of the pioneers of New Testament textual criticism:
Te totum applica ad textum:
rem totam applica ad te.

Apply all of yourself to the text,
Apply it all to yourself.


Daniel Buck said...

Another axiom which may be helpful to consider is that the same forces at work shaping the form of the text today have been at work since the earliest stages of transmission. Lying scribes have taken pen to hand since at least the time of Naboth and Jezebel.
1 Kings 21:8-9 "So she wrote letters in Ahab's name, and sealed them with his seal, and sent the letters unto the elders and to the nobles that were in his city, dwelling with Naboth. And she wrote in the letters, saying, Proclaim a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people . . ."

JoeWallack said...

"especially in light of the often-repeated (but false) claim that textual variants have no significant doctrinal impact."


A Christian Thinker said...

It sounds like you believe the original text is lost and it needs to be recontructed.

Carlie Hill said...

Interesting debate must be written in simple language not reversed language, you struggle to place these words at right place, these efforts are much more stable, keep us up to date for next article. Thanks for sharing such valuable post. It made me happy to visit college paper writing help for making my papers successful in the market.

Michael K. Singer said...

Are there individuals or groups who are doing this admittedly hard work? And are there extant New Testament versions in either Greek or English that reflect this effort?