Friday, June 25, 2021

Scrivener: Principles of Comparative Criticism - Part 2

[This is a continuation of what F.H.A. Scrivener wrote about different approaches to New Testament textual criticism in 1858.]

        The reputation of Tischendorf is so firmly grounded on his editions of the famous Codices Ephraemi and Claromontanus, on his Monumenta Sacra Inedita and other learned works, that his opinion on the great questions of sacred criticism cannot fail to be regarded with considerable interest.  In his 1849 manual edition of the New Testament his practice must be regarded on the whole as adverse to me.  His list of authorities in the Gospels is limited to the uncial MSS, and to a few of the cursive whose variations from the common standard text are most conspicuous (e.g. 1, 13, 33, 69, 102, 131).  Occasionally indeed he estimates (very roughly of course) the number of later copies supposed to countenance a reading of his uncials, yet I nowhere perceive that he gives much weight to such testimony in the arrangement of his text.  The edition of 1849, however, must be considered as quite superseded by another (which, reckoning several [editions] little known in England, Tischendorf calls his seventh), now issuing in parts from the Leipsic Press.

This, the latest fruits of his persevering toil, is far more comprehensive in plan and (experto credite) more accurate in execution than its predecessor.  In compiling it he has freely availed himself of the labors of others in this field of Biblical research, has cited the cursive MSS as much perhaps as is expedient in a volume intended for general use, and in exercising his judgment on the materials he has brought together, has produced a text (as Dr. Wordsworth has observed before me) much more closely resembling the Textus Receptus than that he had formed before.1  [1 – Thus, for example, Tischendorf’s 7th edition, in St. Matthew alone, returns to the received readings he had rejected in 1849 in no less than 187 passages.  The instances in which he abided by the common text in 1849, but subsequently deserts it, are 56 in St. Matthew’s Gospel, but about nine-tenths of them consist of Alexandrine forms (e. g. εἶδαν, εἶπαν, ἦλθαν, etc.) which he now prefers to the common ones.]  I cannot help believing this gradual and (as it would appear) almost unconscious approximation to the views I am advocating, into which more exact study and larger experience have led so eminent a scholar, to be no slight assurance that those views are founded in reasonableness and truth.2  [2 – It has been said indeed (in Journal of Philology, Vol. IV, March 1858, p. 107) that “the impression that Tischendorf is now beginning to entertain some respect for the textus receptus is quite unfounded.  Many of his present readings accidentally coincide with the ‘received’ readings, but that is all.  It is not that he prefers the bulk of late evidence to the weight of early evidence: but that he makes the worst or at least very bad evidence, if supported by a canon of probability, outweigh the best evidence standing alone.”  On a point of this kind there is nothing like coming to the test of facts. 

I select the third chapter of St. Matthew partly for its brevity. partly because the loss of cod. A (the first-rate authority which most resembles the later text) in this chapter, will so far assist the learned reviewer’s case.  Exclusive of his constant use of ν εφελευσικον and οὑτως (v. 15), Tischendorf in his edition of 1849 departs from the textus receptus 13 times; in his seventh edition he returns to it seven times out of the thirteen.  Now one of these seven instances I think favorable to the reviewer:  certainly there is considerable, perhaps even preponderating evidence (for versions can be relied on in such a. variation) for adding ποτάμῳ to Ἰορδάνη in v. 6; Tischendorf now rejects it, as if it were borrowed from Mark 1:5.  The other six passages seem fatal to the notion that internal evidence, not diplomatic authority, is the operating cause which is bringing Tischendorf’s text so much nearer what we believe to be the true one.  These passages are v. 2 και restored before λέγων; v. 7 αυτου restored after βάπτισμα; v. 14 Ἰωάννης restored, v. 15 προς αυτον of the common text replaces αυτω; v. 16 και βαπτισθεις replaces βαπτισθεις δε; v. 16 και is restored before ἐρχόμενον.  In each of these texts Tischendorf in 1849 rejected the common reading on the slender testimony of a single uncial, B, countenanced by one or more of the Egyptian and Latin versions or Fathers, and by a very few cursive MSS, sometimes by none at all!  Surely it is because he has seen the insufficiency of such evidence, that he has judiciously retraced his steps, rather than from “an increasing tendency to set private canons above the authority of manuscripts, versions, and Fathers.”]

    Yet even in the Prolegomena to his edition of 1849 (no critical Introduction to his 7th edition has yet appeared) I find little from which I should withhold my assent. “Textus” he observes “petendus est unicè ex antiquis testibus, et potissimum quidem e graecis codicibus, sed interpretationum patrumque testimoniis minimè neglectis” (Proleg. p. XII).  The drift of this self-evident proposition appears from the next sentence:  “Itaque omnis textûs nostri confirmatio ab ipsis testibus proficisci debebat, non a receptâ quam dicunt editione.”  Very true: I for one see nothing in the history or sources of the received text to entitle it, of itself, to peculiar deference.  I esteem it so far as it represents the readings best supported by documentary evidence, and no further.  If in my judgment the Elzevir text approaches nearer on the whole to the sacred autographs than that formed by Tischendorf, it is only because I believe that it is better attested to by the very witnesses to whom Tischendorf himself appeals:  the MSS, the versions, the Primitive Fathers.  I enquire not whether this general purity (for it is but general) arises from chance, or editorial skill, or (as some have piously thought) from Providential arrangement; I am content to deal with it as a fact.  Perhaps Dean Alford’s plan is preferable (N. T. Proleg. p. 69, Vol. 1. 1st edition), who, in difficult cases, where testimony seems evenly balanced, would give “the benefit of the doubt” to the Textus Receptus; but the practical difference between the two principles will be found, I imagine, very slight indeed.

     And now recurs the question, what we shall understand by “antiqui testes” in the case of Greek Manuscripts? In the first rank Tischendorf justly places those dating from the fourth to the ninth century, and among them, to the oldest he attributes the highest authority.  “Haec auctoritas ut magnoperè augetur si interpretationum ac patrum accedunt testimonia, ita non superatur dissensione plurimorum vel etiam omnium codicum recentiorum, i.e. eorum qui a decimo saeculo usque ad decimum sextum exarati sunt” (p. XII).  If this canon is to extend only to cases wherein the most ancient witnesses in competent numbers unanimously support a variation from the common text, I do not conceive that any judicious critic would object to its temperate application, though he may reasonably suspect that where the earliest available evidence is thus overwhelming, a portion of the later manuscripts will always be found to accord with it. What we do resist is a scheme, which, however guardedly proposed, shall exclude the cursive MSS from all real influence in determining the sacred text.  This is Dr. Tregelles’ avowed principle; that it is not Tischendorf’s (however much he may have once seemed to countenance it by his practice) plainly appears from his own distinct assertions:  “codices post octavum vel nonum saeculum scriptos negligendos aut parvi aestimandos non esse . . . . . . recentiorum codicum lectiones quas easdem antiquissimi interpretes ac patres testimonio suo confirment, antiquitatis commendatione minimè destitutas esse” (Proleg. p. XIII).  On this ground he praises the design of Reich, “praestantissimis codicibus minusculis denuo examinandis,” declaring of it “ea perquam utilia fore arbitror et ad historiam et ad emendationem textus (p. XXXIII, not).

To be continued, God willing . . . 

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