Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Holes in Hort's Case Against the Byzantine Text

            In Hort’s 1881 Introduction, he proposed that the Syrian (Byzantine) Text is derivative of the Alexandrian and Western text-types.  He based his argument partly on conflations – an argument which I addressed earlier this month – and partly on the observation that Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, Cyprian, Methodius, and Eusebius of Caesarea do not support any distinctly Byzantine readings:   “Before the middle of the third century, at the very earliest,” he wrote, “we have no historical signs of the existence of readings, conflate or other, that are marked as distinctively Syrian.”  
            That statement is no longer true, thanks in part to the discovery of various papyrus copies of books of the New Testament which contain distinctly Byzantine readings.  But before we look at those readings, let’s look at a map of territory that was, at one time or another, the territory of the Roman Empire.  If we were to put a big umbrella over the headquarters of Irenaeus (Lugdunum), Hippolytus (Rome), Clement of Alexandria (Alexandria, of course), Origen (Alexandria and Caesarea), Tertullian (Carthage), Cyprian (Carthage and Rome), Methodius (Olympus, in Lycia), and Eusebius of Caesarea, and assume that all Christians under those umbrellas in the 100s-200s used a text like the text of the writer who worked in that area, does that leave any part of the Roman Empire uncovered?
Headquarters of early patristic writers,
and their vicinities.
It does.  The evidence from these writers surely has much to tell us about the text of the New Testament that circulated in the areas where those writers worked and wrote, but it would be presumptive to suppose that it can tell us much about the text elsewhere – an “elsewhere” which includes Syria, Greece, Cyprus, Crete, Dalmatia, and five-sixths of Turkey, including the destinations of all of Paul’s letters except Romans.  Even when each location is extended very far from each writer’s headquarters, the picture does not materially change.                       
A second thing to consider:  the extent to which a specific writer quotes from a specific book.  Clement of Alexandria, for example, hardly quotes the Gospel of Mark at all, except from the tenth chapter.  And according to a simple check of the Scripture-index in Vol. 6 of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, Methodius, the least famous member of this group of writers, uses Acts twice.  Who can say with confidence that two quotations, both from the 28th chapter of a 28-chapter book, can show us that Methodius’ copy of Acts did not have a Byzantine character? 
Headquarters of early patristic writers,
and their vicinities' vicinities.
Similarly, Methodius uses Mark four times.  Who can say that four quotations from Mark’s 16 chapters demonstrate that Methodius’ text of Mark did not have a Byzantine character?   Methodius does not quote from 13 of Matthew’s 28 chapters; he does not quote from 15 of Luke’s 24 chapters, and he does not quote from nine of John’s 21 chapters – and his quotations from chapters 2, 4, 9, 10, 12. and 16 are limited to a verse each.  And (still relying on the ANF index) Methodius quotes from the General Epistles a total of seven times.  Who wants to establish from seven assorted verses (most from First Peter) a picture of the character of a 22-chapter segment of the text?
This is not to say that the evidence from each of the other writers is as sporadic as it is in the case of Methodius.  But when assessing the significance of the non-use of Byzantine readings by an author, one should first establish the extent of the author’s quotations, and their precision. 
A third thing to consider when asking how much this evidence can tell us:  after an inventory has been made of a patristic writer’s clear utilizations of New Testament passages, how much of that is capable of displaying Byzantine or non-Byzantine character?  For instance, Methodius uses John 1:18 near the beginning of his composition On Free Will, and one might hope to find there some evidence of whether his manuscripts read “Son” or “God” in that verse, but he only speaks allusively about raising a hymn to the holy Father, “glorifying in the Spirit Jesus, who is in His bosom.”   If one were to pick at random a verse from the Gospels, Acts, or an Epistle, chances are less than 50% that the Byzantine form of the verse is recognizably different from the Western and Alexandrian forms.  (That is my general impression.)  Where the text-types agree, even a clear quotation does not point to a specific form of the text.
Evidence of absence?
Or an absence of evidence?
A fourth thing to consider, when asking how much this evidence can tell us, has to do with the limitations of Latin:  is a specific quotation that has been preserved in Latin capable of displaying a Byzantine reading in a form discernible from an Alexandrian or Western rival?  Irenaeus’ work is mainly preserved in Latin.  Tertullian and Cyprian wrote in Latin.  When the difference between the Byzantine and Alexandrian and/or Western rivals is deep and wide, surely the answer is “Yes,” but when things are more nuanced – involving orthography, or the presence of an article, or a matter of word-order – not so much. 
            And there is a fifth factor to consider:  the diversity of readings that have been called Alexandrian or Western.  When Irenaeus or Hippolytus or Clement of Alexandria or Origen or Tertullian or Cyprian or Methodius or Eusebius clearly utilizes an identifiable passage in the Gospels, and uses a reading that agrees with Byz and disagrees with B and D, does Hort conclude that the writer has used a distinctively Byzantine reading?  Not so fast!  For a reading to be distinctively Byzantine, it has to not only be unique from the readings in the major Greek representatives of the Alexandrian and Western text-types, but their minor representatives as well.    
Thus a lot depends on what the allies of Byzantine readings happen to be.  For example, Tertullian (in On Baptism, ch. 5) supports the inclusion of John 5:3-4.  This reading is not supported by Sinaiticus, B, or D.  But because it is supported by several Old Latin copies, it is counted as a Western reading.  In addition, Sinaiticus and Vaticanus frequently disagree with one another, but at points where one of them agrees with the Byzantine Text, that particular reading is struck from the list of distinctively Byzantine readings.  Because of the textual diversity of the Old Latin text(s), and the incessant disagreement of the major Alexandrian witnesses, the Byzantine readings are told, “Be completely unique, or else you are either a Western reading or an Alexandrian reading” and thus have their work cut out for them.  If one reading were considered the Western reading, and one reading were considered the Alexandrian reading, then Byzantine readings would often have ancient allies.

So:  while this part of Hort’s basis for positing that the Byzantine Text is relatively late might initially look like a simple matter of sifting through patristic writings and noticing that eight ante-Nicene writers never use distinctively Byzantine readings, it is not really so simple.  Hort’s approach raises four questions:

            (1)  Territory:  Do these eight writers adequately represent the whole territory of Christendom in the 100s-200s?
(2)  Abundance of Quotations:  Does each of these eight writers quote from the New Testament in sufficient abundance to facilitate meaningful comparisons of the readings in their manuscripts to the readings of different text-types?
(3)  Precision of Quotations:  Does each of these eight writers quote from the New Testament with sufficient precision to facilitate meaningful comparisons of the readings in their manuscripts to the readings of different text-types? 
(4)  Versional Limits:  In the case of Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Cyprian, is the Latin text of their writings capable of displaying variations between rival Greek readings?
(5)  Levels of Distinctiveness:  when a patristic writer appears to use a Byzantine reading, but the same reading is also found in an early witness other than Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, or Bezae, is it plausible to treat that reading as if it cannot be considered evidence for the Byzantine Text on the grounds that it is not uniquely Byzantine?

Some of these same considerations apply with similar force to the contents of early papyri.  Hort claimed that the early patristic writings show that eight early patristic writers never used distinctively Byzantine readings, but the significance of his claim shrinks and shrinks the more one considers the limits of those writers’ territory, the limits of the extent of their quotations, and the limits of the precision of their quotations.  Similarly, to the extent that the provenance of our papyri can be established, they represent one particular locale (Egypt), and most of them are very fragmentary.  Yet even with these limits, they contain some readings which agree with the Byzantine Text, and disagree with the Alexandrian and Western readings as found in Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, and Bezae.   Such readings should not exist in a world in which uniquely Byzantine readings are all the result of a Lucianic recension, as Hort proposed.         
            Hort simply could not write today what he wrote about unique Byzantine readings in 1881 – at least, not without exposing his approach as biased against the Byzantine Text.  The papyri agree with the Byzantine Text dozens of times against Alexandrian and Western rivals.  If one were to argue that these are not distinctively Byzantine readings (and thus not evidence of the early existence of the Byzantine Text) because they were found embedded in non-Byzantine texts, then one would have to face the question:  if the existence of early Byzantine readings do not demonstrate that the Byzantine Text is early (at least regarding the books in which the readings occur), then how can the early Byzantine Text be shown to exist?
            To reframe the problem:  if a Greek patristic writer in 230 quoted from Mark 5:42, 6:2, 6:45, 6:48, 6:50, 7:12, 7:30, 7:31, 7:32, 7:35, and 7:36, and in each case, he used a Byzantine reading that is not supported by Sinaiticus or Vaticanus or Bezae, Hort would have a hard time proving that this is not evidence that that writer used the Byzantine Text.  Yet Papyrus 45 has such readings. 
            If one argues that that these distinctively Byzantine readings in Papyrus 45 do not mean that the Byzantine Text of Mark is early, then one is essentially admitting that Hort’s parameters really mean nothing:  he argued that the absence of distinctively Byzantine readings are evidence that the Byzantine Text is late, but you would be saying that even the presence of distinctively Byzantine readings proves nothing about the Byzantine Text (except the obvious point that some early distinctively Byzantine readings are not the result of a Lucianic recension, which is no small point).  But whoever would go that far, and still adhere to Hort’s transmission-model (even after admitting that at least some distinctively Byzantine readings are not the result of a Lucianic recension), would implicitly submit that there is only one way to show that the Byzantine Text is early:  for an early Byzantine manuscript (made before 300) to exist.  
            Only the climate in Egypt is conducive to the preservation of papyrus, so this sets a special hurdle for the Byzantine Text to surmount:  if a manuscript with a thoroughly Byzantine form of the text were made in the 100s-200s, anywhere in Syria, Cilicia, Asia, Cappadocia, Pontus, Bithynia, Thrace, Cyprus, Crete, Achaia, Epirus, Macedonia, or Dalmatia, it could not survive unless it somehow traveled to Egypt.



Ross said...

Not having read Fee on the matter, does the post negate anything he says?

Ross Purdy

Maurice A. Robinson said...

Fee claimed that clearly "distinctive" Byzantine readings in p66 were basically a single scribe's creation that happened to "anticipate" the type of readings later scribes eventually would prefer.