Monday, June 28, 2021

Scrivener: Principles of Comparative Criticism - Part 3


F. H. A Scrivener
F. H. A. Scrivener

I am unfeignedly anxious to present to the reader a clear and even forcible statement of the principles of textual criticism maintained in Dr. Tregelles’ “Account of the Printed Text of the Greek Testament.”  I assure him I do not criticize his book unread,1 or reject his theory without patient examination.  [1 – “Let me request anyone who may wish to understand the principles of textual criticism which I believe to be true, to read what I have stated,” etc. (Tregelles, Addenda, p. 2). A moderate request certainly, but I should hope it was hardly needed.]

 I presume he would wish it to be enunciated in such terms as the following:

The genuine text of the Greek New Testament must be sought exclusively from the most ancient authorities, especially from the earliest uncial copies of the Greek.  The paramount weight and importance of the last arises not from the accidental circumstance of their age, but from their agreement with the other independent and most ancient authorities still extant, viz. the oldest versions and citations by the fathers of the first four centuries.


To which proposition must be appended this corollary as a direct and necessary consequence:

“The mass of recent documents [i.e. those written in cursive characters from the tenth century downwards] possess no determining voice, in a question as to what we should receive as genuine readings. We are able to take the few documents whose evidence is proved to be trustworthy, and safely discard from present consideration the eighty-nine ninetieths, or whatever else the numerical proportion may be” (Tregelles, p. 138).

In the ordinary concerns of social life, one would form no favorable estimate of the impartiality of a judge (and such surely is the real position of a critical editor) who deemed it safe to discard unheard eighty-nine witnesses out of ninety that are tendered to him, unless indeed it were perfectly certain that the eighty-nine had no means of information, except what they derived from the ninetieth.  On that supposition, but on that supposition alone, could the judge’s reputation for wisdom or fairness be upheld.  That mere numbers should decide a question of sacred criticism never ought to have been asserted by any one; never has been asserted by a respectable scholar.  Tischendorf himself (Proleg. p. xii) cannot condemn such a dogma more emphatically than the upholders of the general integrity of the Elzevir text.  

But I must say that the counter-proposition, that numbers have “no determining voice,” is to my mind just as unreasonable, and rather more startling.  I agree with Dr. Davidson (p. 333) in holding it to be “an obvious and natural rule” that the reading of the majority is so far preferable. Not that a bare majority shall always prevail, but that numerical preponderance, especially where it is marked and constant, is an important element in the investigation of the genuine readings of Holy Scripture.  For on what grounds shall we justify ourselves in putting this consideration wholly aside?  Is the judge convinced to a moral certainty that the evidence of the eighty-nine is drawn exclusively from that of the ninetieth?  It has never I think been affirmed by any one (Dr. Tregelles would not be sorry to affirm it, if he could with truth) that the mass of cursive documents are corrupt copies of the uncials still extant: the fact has scarcely been suspected in a single instance, and certainly never proved.  I will again avail myself of Davidson’s words, not only because they admirably express my meaning, but because his general bias is not quite in favor of the views I am advocating.  Ceteris paribus," he observes, “the reading of an ancient copy is more likely to be authentic than that of a modern one.  But the reading of a more modern copy may be more ancient than the reading of an ancient one.  A modern copy itself may have been derived not from an extant one more ancient, but from one still more ancient no longer in existence.  And this was probably the case in not a few instances” (p. 101).  

No one can carefully examine the readings of cursive documents, as represented in any tolerable collation, without perceiving the high probability that Davidson’s account of them is true.  But it is not essential to our argument that the fact of their being derived from ancient sources now lost should be established, though internal evidence points strongly to their being so derived: it is enough that such an origin is possible, to make it at once unreasonable and unjust to shut them out from a “determining voice” (of course jointly with others) on questions of doubtful reading.  I confess that Tregelles is only following his premises to their legitimate conclusion in manfully declaring his purpose in this respect; but we are bound to scrutinize with the utmost jealousy and distrust a principle which involves consequences so extensive, and he must forgive me if I add, so “perilous.”

It is agreed then on all hands that the antiquity of a document is only a presumption, a primâ facie ground for expectation, that it will prove of great critical importance.  “The oldest MSS,” writes Dr. Davidson again, “bear traces of revision by arbitrary and injudicious critics.  Good readings make good manuscripts” (p. 101).  “It ought to be needless for me to have to repeat again and again,” insists Dr. Tregelles, whose reviewers I suppose were δυσμαθέστεροι, “that the testimony of very ancient MSS is proved to be good on grounds of evidence (not mere assertion); and that the distinction is not between the ancient MSS on the one hand, and all other witnesses on the other – but between the united evidence of the most ancient documents – MSS, versions, and early citations – together with that of the few more recent copies that accord with them, on the one hand, and the mass of modern MSS on the other” (Tregelles, Addenda, p. 2).

Very well:  this immeasurable superiority claimed for the early uncials over all later authorities (so that the former shall be everything in criticism, the latter absolutely nothing) rests not on an axiom intuitively true; it has to be proved by an induction of scattered facts; and we are bound to watch the process of proof with the greater care, from our previous knowledge that when once established it will inevitably lead us to conclusions which seem hardly consistent with even dealing towards a whole legion of honest and reputable witnesses.

Now Dr. Tregelles produces no less than SEVENTY-TWO passages from various parts of the New Testament (pp. 133-147), as a kind of sample of some two or three thousand which he reckons to exist there, wherein “the more valuable ancient versions (or some of them) agree in a particular reading, or in which such a reading has distinct patristic testimony, and the mass of MSS stand in opposition to such a lection, [while] there are certain copies which habitually uphold the older reading” (Tregelles, p. 148).  Of course I cannot follow him step by step through this long and labored catalogue; an adequate specimen taken without unfair selection will amply suffice to show my opponent’s drift and purpose.  I will therefore transcribe all the places he cites from the Gospel of St. Mark (they amount to seven), making choice of that Gospel partly for its shortness, partly because I wish, in justice to Dr. Tregelles, to discuss in preference those texts which remain unmutilated in the four uncial codices of the first class (see above, vide supra, p. vi.); in the following list they all are complete, except C in Mark 13:14 alone.  As Tregelles “for the sake of brevity” has laid before us these passages “without any attempt to state the balance of evidence” (p. 148), l have ventured to supply within brackets an omission which I cannot help considering a little unfortunate.

(l).  Mark 3:29.  Common text, αἰωνίου κρίσεως.  Vulg. has, however, ‘reus erit æterni delicti;’ so too the Old Latin [a. b. c. e. ff2. g1. l. Tregelles N. T., 1857], the Memphitic, Gothic, Armenian; and this is the reading of Cyprian [bis, Treg. N. T.], Augustine, and Athanasius. Corresponding with this BLΔ, 33 (and one other MS [28; add 2pe]), read αἰωνίου ἀμαρτήματος, and C* (ut videtur), D, 69 (and two others [13. 346]), have αἰωνίου ἀμαρτίας, a perfectly cognate reading.” (p. 141).

[But κρίσεως is found in AC** (whose primitive reading seems quite doubtful) EFGHKMSUVΓ1 being all the other uncials that contain the passage.  Of the cursive copies, all go with the received text, except the six named above, and three which have κολάσεως.  The Peshito Syriac reads [Syriac word] judicii; thus also the Harclean Syriac of the 7th century, the Ethiopic (“in condemnatione”), the Codex Brixianus f of the Italic (or Old Latin), the Codex Toletanus of the Vulgate, and any Fathers not named by Tregelles, many of whom must have cited this remarkable passage.]


[1 – Of the uncials cited for these texts B (Tregelles’ favorite) is least accurately known.  ACDLΔ have been edited in full; EFGHKMSUVΓ have been so repeatedly collated (recently by Tischendorf or Tregelles or both) that when they are not cited as supporting variations so marked as those under discussion, their testimony even sub silentio in behalf of the received text may be fully relied upon.  In these seven texts, however, they are expressly cited by Tischendorf’s seventh edition for the readings here ascribed to them.]


(2).  “Mark 4:12.  τὰ ἁμαρτήματα of the common text is omitted by Origen twice; by one MS of the Old Latin [two b. i. in Treg. N. T.], the Memphitic, and Armenian, with BCL, 1 (and some other MSS)” [i.e. “22. 118. 209. 251. 340* al.”   Scholz:  τὰ ἁμαρτήματα Theophyl. and eight MSS].

[τὰ ἁμαρτήματα is read in ADEFGHKMSUVΔ (hiat. Γ), all cursives not named above, Syriac both Peshito and Harclean, Ethiopic, Gothic, Vulgate, all Italic MSS except two].


(3).  “Mark 4:24. τοῖς ἀκούουσιν omitted by the Old Latin, Vulgate, Memphitic, Eth, with BCDLΔ, and some other copies.” [credentibus f Gothic, Treg. N. T.].

[Tischendorf, even in his seventh edition, adds G (Harl. 5684), but on reference to the MS, I find he is wrong.  Griesbach adds “item 13. 69 semel,” yet 69 in this verse reads τοῖς ἀκούουσιν, as do AEFGHKMSUV (hiat. Γ), all other cursive MSS, both Syrr.].


(4).  “Mark 10:21.  ἄρας τὸν σταυρὸν omitted by the Old Latin in most copies [b. c. f. ff2. g1,2 k. l. Treg. N. T.], Vulgate, Memphitic [by Schwartze], (so too Clem. Alex. and Hil.), with BCDΔ.” [L is here defective, and so for the first time deserts its allies: add to the list Scholz’s 406].

[ἄρας τὸν σταυρὸν is read in AEFHKMSUVXΓ, the whole mass of cursive copies, the Harclean Syriac, Wilkins’ Memphitic and the Gothic.  The words are placed before δευρο in G 1. 13. 69. 118. 124 and four other cursives; in Peshito Syr., Eth., Armenian, the Vercelli MS. a. of the Old Latin, and Irenaeus].


(5).  “Mark 12:4.  λιθοβολήσαντες omitted by Old Latin, Vulgate, Memphitic, [Theb., Treg. N. T.], Armenian, with BDLΔ, 1, 33 and four other copies.” [i.e. 28. 91. 118. 299.]

[But λιθοβολήσαντες is found in ACEFGHKMSUVXΓ, all other cursive copies, both Syrr,, Gothic, Eth.].


(6).  “Mark 12:23.  ὅταν ἀναστῶσιν om. some copies of Old Latin [b (ut vid.). (c). (k) Treg. N. T.], Memphitic, Syr, [i.e. Peshito; Treg. N. T. adds Theb. Eth.] with BCDLΔ, 33.

[ὅταν ἀναστῶσιν is read in AEFGHKMSUVXΓ, all cursives but one (13. 69. 346 alio ordine), Vulgate, a. ff. g2. i. of Old Latin, Harclean Syriac, Gothic, Armenian].


(7).  “Mark 13:14.  τὸ ῥηθὲν ὑπὸ Δανιὴλ τοῦ προφὴτου om. most copies of Old Latin [a. ff. g1. only in Treg. N. T., where he adds Theb.], Vulgate, Memphitic, Armenian, also Augustine expressly, with BDL.” [Scholz adds “nec attingunt Victor et Theophylact.”]

[The words are read in AEFGHKMSUVXΓΔ, all cursives (with some variation in my y and eight others), both Syriac, Eth, c. k. of Old Latin].


I do not think the reader will desire more than these specimens, transcribed as they are consecutively from Dr. Tregelles’ list without the possibility of undue selection.  I fully believe him that they may be increased twenty-fold.  It is time to offer a few remarks on the facts that have been alleged by each of us.  Meanwhile I must beg that the design of my learned opponent in producing his examples be carefully borne in mind.  He does not so much aim at showing that the readings of Codex B and its adherents are preferable to those of the received text (though this he implies throughout), as at demonstrating that the united testimonies of early uncials, primitive versions, and ecclesiastical authors of the first four centuries form together such a mass of evidence as will overhear the voice of the vast majority of witnesses of all ages and countries.

 We may grant that his favorite documents are entitled to great weight in the process of critical investigation, and this I admit fully and without reserve: we might even prefer many of their readings to those of the received text, which on the whole I am not quite disposed to do: and yet we must demur as firmly as ever to the claim of paramount and exclusive authority he sets up for them.  With these preliminary observations I pass on to an analysis of the state of evidence in the passages Dr. Tregelles has brought to our notice.


(1). First then it is obvious that the uncial documents, even the earliest of them, are much divided in every place he has cited. I hardly know why the Alexandrine MS. (A) has come to be considered a little younger than the Codex Vaticanus (B); we have free access to and minute knowledge of the one; through the jealousy of the Papal librarians our acquaintance with the other is still very imperfect1[1 – Since writing the above I have examined Cardinal Mai’s long-expected edition of the Vaticanus (5 Tom. Roman 1857) – the text of which was ten years passing through the press (1828-38), and was then kept back from publication till within the last few months.  I regret that I cannot even now modify my statement of the precariousness of our knowledge of this great document.  I must needs add my voice to the loud chorus of disappointment this work has called forth throughout Europe.  It is impossible to study Vercellono’s letter to the reader, prefixed to the first volume, without seeing the strange incompetency both of Mai and of himself, for the task they had undertaken.  In fact, Vercellone’s frank admission of the great Cardinal’s inaccuracy would be amusing if it were not most vexatious.  Finding his sheets full of errors and misrepresentations of the Codex Vaticanus (some of them inserted from printed books!), Mai tries to get rid of them as well as he can, sometimes by canceling a few leaves, sometimes by manual corrections made in each copy; while he reserves the mass for a table of errata, to be placed at the end of each volume.  In this unpromising state was the work found by Vercellone after Mai’s death in 1854, when, anxious to celebrate the Cardinal’s memory “novâ usque gloriâ atque splendidiore coronâ” (Tom. I. p. iii), he drew up the tables of errata projected by his predecessor, and at length submitted this deplorable performance to the judgment of Biblical scholars.  His lists of errata are obviously most imperfect; as regards orthography he only professes to give us “selectiora,” for Mai, it seems, did not care much about such points; at any rate it was not worth while to delay publication on their account: and so “reliqua quae supererunt eruditis castiganda permittimus; immo ut summâ ακριβεια castigentur optamus” (ib. p. xiii).  Add to all this that the lacunae throughout the MS are supplied from later sources; that even accidental omissions and errors of the pen are corrected in the text, though noted in the margin; that the breathings, accents, and ι subscriptum are accommodated to the modern fashion, and that a slight Preface of a few pages by Mai supplies the place of the full Prolegomena once promised and so urgently required.] 

  much doubt hangs over many of its readings; it seems barely certain whether its accents and breathings are prima or secunda manu.2  [2 – On this point however Vercellone’s testimony should be heard. After correcting Birch’s statement that the breathings and accents are prima manu, he adds, “etenim amanuensis ille, qui cunctas totius codicis litteras, vetustate pallescentes, atramento satis venuste, servata vetere forma, renovavit, idem accentus etiam spiritusque imposuit, qui nulli fuerant a prima manu; ut illae codicis particulae ostendunt, quas certis de causis (id est vel quia repetitas in codice vel ab eo improbatas) non attigit.  Rei hujus veritatem codicis spectatores ipsi per se deprehendent.” (Cod. Vatican. Tom. V. p. 499.)  I presume it is for this reason that while the facsimile of one column, Mark 1:1-9, prefixed to Tom. V. of Mai’s edition, contains no breathings or accents, they are represented in the splendid plate of the three columns of the first surviving page (commencing Gen. 46:28 πολιν) prefixed to Tom. I.]

We will adopt however the usual opinion about them: no competent critic places A later than the fifth, or B earlier than the fourth century.3 [3 – I find no traces in Mai’s Codex Vaticanus of the absurd opinion once imputed to him, that this MS dates as far back as the second century; Vercellone acquiesces in the date usually assigned to it, that of the fourth or early in the fifth century, but refers to Hug for the proof.]

  Now in each of these seven places A sides with the Elzevir text against B.  Is it an argument in favor of B that its readings are ancient?  The same plea might be entered for those of A.  And their divergencies, it will be noted, are not merely accidental exceptions to a general coincidence, but perpetual, almost systematic.  While I confess freely the great importance of B, I see not why its testimony ought, in the nature of things, to be received in preference to that of A.  I cannot frame a reason why the one should be listened to more deferentially than the other.

 (2).  In the next rank, yet decidedly below A or B, stand the palimpsest fragment C (Codex Ephraemi) and the Codex Beza or D. This latter is generally considered much the least weighty of the four great MSS of the Gospels (see for instance Alford, N.T. Proleg. on D.): and that not so much on account of its later date (perhaps about the middle of the sixth century), as from the violent corrections and strange interpolations wherewith it abounds.

“Its singularly corrupt text,” observes Davidson, “in connection with its great antiquity, is a curious problem, which cannot easily be solved.” (p. 288)4  [4 – Dr. Tregelles, indeed, in partial reference to Codex D, is good enough to say, “Some people rest much on some one incorrect reading of a MS, and then express a great deal of wonder that such a MS could be highly valued by critics. The exposure of such excessive ignorance as this might be well dealt with by one who knows Greek MSS as well as Mr. Scrivener” (p. 137 note). Thus appealed to, I will reply, that, putting aside the case of mere errors of the scribe, I do think that the admitted corruptions and deliberate interpolations which we all recognize in the Codex Bezae have a natural tendency to detract from the credibility of its testimony in more doubtful cases.]

Now in the seven passages under consideration, C accords with B in four cases, with A once; once its reading is doubtful, once its text has perished. Codex D agrees with B five times, much resembles it once, and once sides with A.  Thus these documents of the second class favor B rather than A, C however less decidedly than D.

 (3).  When we descend to uncials of the third rank, from the eighth century downwards, the case is entirely reversed. One of them indeed (L of the eighth or ninth century) edited by Tischendorf (Monumenta Sacr. Ined. pp. 57-399) is here and elsewhere constantly with B: Δ also (Codex Sangallensis of the ninth century) supports B five times, A only twice1[1 – Observe, however, that “The text of St. Mark’s selection of the passages in St Mark’s Gospel is that which especially gives this MS a claim to be distinguished from the mass of the later uncial copies.”  (Introductory Notice to Tregelles’ N. T. , 1857, p. iv);  which intimates that our selection of the passages in St. Mark’s Gospel is peculiarly favorable to Dr. Tregelles, so far as Δ is concerned.] while all the rest extant (EFGHKMSU and X where it is unmutilated) unanimously support A.  Some of these are as ancient as L, several quite as valuable as Δ.

(4). On coming down from uncial to cursive MSS the preponderance is enormous. Dr. Tregelles does not object to the rough estimate of ninety to one; and those few copies which often maintain the readings of BL are by no means steadfast in their allegiance.  Yet even here the resemblance to A or B or to each other is but general. The materials accumulated in the present volume and elsewhere show isolated readings of the most recent codices, even of those which approach nearest to the Elzevir edition, for which no ancient authority can be produced except the Codex Vaticanus.  No one who has at all studied the cursive MSS can fail to be struck with the individual character impressed on almost every one of them.  It is rare that we can find grounds for saying of one manuscript that it is a transcript of some other now remaining.  The fancy which was once taken up, that there existed a standard Constantinopolitan text, to which all copies written within the limits of that Patriarchate were conformed, has been “swept away at once and for ever” (Tregelles, p. 180) by a closer examination of the copies themselves.  Surely then it ill becomes us absolutely to reject as unworthy of serious discussion, the evidence of witnesses (whose mutual variations vouch for their independence and integrity) because their tendency on the whole is to uphold the authority of one out of the two most ancient documents against the other.


(5).  One of the arguments on which Dr. Tregelles lays most stress is the accordance of the oldest versions with Codex B rather than with A.  So far as the Latin versions are concerned the passages he has alleged must be admitted to prove the correctness of his assertion.  The Vulgate agrees with A but twice, with B five times. The Old Latin translations (for the term Italic, it seems, is obsolete), though in six instances some of them countenance A, give a clear majority for B.  I do not like to speak of the Coptic or Armenian translations, as I am totally ignorant of the languages wherein they are written: Tregelles, I perceive, labors under the same disadvantage (p. 171), and will be as reluctant as I am to dogmatize about matters on which we are both disqualified from pronouncing a trustworthy opinion.  Certainly these versions incline powerfully to the Latin, if we may rely on the common representation of them, and one of the editors of the Armenian (Zohrab) denies the correctness of the suspicion revived by Tischendorf, “Ætate multo seriori [than its origin in the fourth or fifth century] armenos codices passim ad latinam versionem correctos esse, virorum doctorum opinio fert” (Proleg. p. lxxviii).

It is time to turn to the Queen of the primitive versions, the graceful and perspicuous Peshito Syriac.  Here, at any rate, there is no ambiguity as to the preference bestowed on Codex A: it is supported by the Syriac in six cases out of the seven.  Nor is this the result of mere accident in the Gospel of St. Mark; no one who has studied its readings will question that a like proportion is steadily maintained throughout the New Testament.  Here then is a venerable translation, assigned by eminent scholars to the first century of our era [Now, in 2021, usually assigned to the late 300s – JSJ], undoubtedly not later than the second, which habitually upholds the readings of one of the two oldest uncial copies, of the later uncials, and of the vast majority in cursive characters.  Our conclusion shall now be drawn, mutatis mutandis, in the words of Tregelles, when he sums up the results of his induction of the seventy-two passages I have so often alluded to.  “Here then is a sample of very many passages, in which, by the testimony of the most ancient version, that such a reading was current in very early times, the fact is proved indubitably; so that even if no existing MS supported such readings, they would possess a strong claim on our attention; and such facts might have made us doubt, whether the old translators were not in possession of better copies than those that have been transmitted to us.  Such facts so proved might lead to the inquiry, whether there are not some MSS which accord with these ancient readings; and when examination shows that such copies actually exist (nay that they are the many in contrast to the few), it may be regarded as a demonstrated point that such MSS deserve peculiar attention” (Tregelles, p. 147) . . . . But here I pause; it is enough that I claim for Codex A and its numerous companions “peculiar attention” by reason of their striking conformity with the Peshito Syriac.  I ask not, I have no right to ask, that Codex B and its scanty roll of allies, strengthened as they are by the Latin, perhaps by other versions, should be overlooked in forming an estimate of the merits of conflicting readings. I am content to lay myself open to the poet's humorous reproof,

Νήπιοι, οὐδὲ ἴσσασιν ὅσῳ πλέον ἥμισυ παντός.


1 comment:

James Snapp Jr said...

II don't think the pet theories of Hort have actually been laid to rest in terms of *results*. The text in NA28 is still basically the same as Hort's text; a few more Byzantine readings have been adopted but they amount to very little.

The Peshitta investigation is a good idea but I just don't think there is currently any data to move the consensus earlier than a production-date around the late 300s w/standardization ongoing in the 400s.