Saturday, July 24, 2021

Lecture 24: Conjectural Emendation

Lecture 24 

 The ongoing series of lectures "Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism" continues with Lecture 24, at , about conjectural emendations.  I had a stroke on June 14, and you may notice in this video that I am speaking more slowly than before.  Also for some reason I repeatedly didn't say "chi" correctly.  Oh well; hopefully improvement will continue.  I covered some of the passages mentioned in this lecture back in 2017 (in the "Cracks in the Text posts, part 1 and part 2).  Here is a transcript of the video!

Welcome to the twenty-fourth lecture in the series, Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism.  Let’s begin with prayer.

Heavenly Father,

          Thank You for giving Your people the fruit of Your Spirit.  Influence us to long to be more loving, modeling your love.  Make us more joyful as we remember Your promises to us.  Make us peaceful, in light of the peace you have provided.  Make us patient, kind, and good, seeking to conform to the image of your Son.  Make us gentle, seeking to represent Your kingdom in every circumstance.  And give us self-control, that all our actions may be guided by our awareness of Your presence. Through Your Son Christ our Lord, Amen.

          Today we are investigating one of the most controversial areas in the field of New Testament textual criticism:  the creation and adoption of conjectural  emendations.  A conjectural emendation is a reading that is not directly supported by any witnesses.  Conjectural emendations are driven by the premise that on some rare occasions, the reading that accounts for all other readings is a reading that is not extant.

          Even in the earliest days of the printed text of the Greek New Testament, some conjectural emendations were proposed:   in James 4:2, Erasmus did not think that it was plausible that the readers of James’ letter would kill, so he introduced the idea that James originally wrote that his letters’ recipients were envious.  Erasmus’ conjecture influenced some future translations, including Martin Luther’s translation, and the 1557 Geneva Translation.

          By the late 1700s, so many conjectural emendations had been proposed that a printer named William Bowyer collected them in a book in 1772 that was over 600 pages long, titled Critical Conjectures and Observations on the New Testament.  Many of the conjectures were apologetically driven and resolved historical questions rather than textual ones, and many others implied a magical stupidity on the part of copyists. 

          But in 1881, when Westcott and Hort printed their Greek New Testament, they were willing to grant the possibility that 60 passages in the New Testament contain a primitive corruption, where only by conjecture could the original reading be recovered.  Other scholars have seriously argued for the adoption of non-extant readings in a few other places.

          We’re not going to look into each and every one of those 60 passages today, but we will look into some of them, especially the ones that have affected some English translations.         

Mark 15:25 – One of the earliest conjectural emendations is from Ammonius of Alexandria, from the 200s, whose proposal was passed along by Eusebius of Caesarea and others.  Ammonius suggested a conjectural emendation that could harmonize Mark’s statement (in Mark 15:25) that Jesus was crucified at the third hour, and John’s statement (in John 19:14) that Jesus was being sentenced by Pilate at the sixth hour.  Rather than imagine that different methods of hour-reckoning are involved, Ammonius proposed that the text of John 19:14 contains an ancient error, and that the Greek numeral Γ,  which stands for “3,” was misread as if it was the obsolete letter digamma, which stands for “6”).   Some copyists apparently thought that this idea must be correct, and wrote the Greek equivalent of “sixth” in Mark 15:25; a few others (including the copyists of Codex L and Codex Δ) wrote the equivalent of “third” in John 19:14.  

 John 1:13 – Another early church writer, Tertullian, proposed that the extant reading of John 1:13 is not the original reading.  In chapter 19 of his composition On the Flesh of Christ, he insisted that the reading that is found in our New Testaments is the result of heretical tampering, and that the verse initially referred specifically to Christ.  Not only Tertullian but also Irenaeus and the author of the little-known Epistula Apostolorum appear to cite John 1:13  with a singular subject rather than a plural one.          

John 7:52 – No reading that is supported exclusively by papyri has been adopted in place of readings that were already extant.  But a reading of Papyrus 66 comes very close to doing so.   William Bowyer’s 1772 book included a theory that had been expressed by Dr. Henry Owen about John 7:52:  Owen had written, “The Greek text, I apprehend, is not perfectly right:  and our English Version has carried it still farther from the true meaning.  Is it possible the Jews could say, “that out of Galilee hath arisen no prophet;” when several (no less perhaps than six) of their own prophets were natives of that country?  . . . I conclude, that what they really said, and what the reading ought to be, was … That the prophet is not to arise out of Galilee:  from whence they supposed Jesus to have sprung.”   

            The key component of Owen’s proposal was vindicated by the discovery of Papyrus 66, which has the Greek equivalent of “the” before the word “prophet” – just what Owen thought was the original reading. 

Some commentators have considered it implausible that John would report, in John 19:29, that the soldiers at the crucifixion would offer to Jesus a sponge filled with sour wine upon a stick of hyssop.  In 1572, Joachim Camerarius the Elder proposed that originally John had written about  a javelin, or spear, and that after this had been expressed by the words ὑσσῷ προπεριθέντες, scribes mangled the text so as to produce the reference to hyssop.  This conjecture, which was modified by Beza, was adopted by the scholars who made the New English Bible New Testament in 1961.

In Acts 7:46, textual critics have to choose between the reading of most manuscripts, which is the statement that David asked to be allowed to find a dwelling-place for the God of Jacob, and the statement that David asked to be allowed to find a dwelling-place for the house of Jacob (which is the reading in the Nestle-Aland compilation). 

            The second reading is more difficult, because it seems to say that David asked to build a house for a house.  Even when the second “house” is understood to refer to the nation descended from Jacob, the problem does not go away, since the temple was for God, not for the people, who were not looking for a new place to reside in the days of David.  In 1881, Hort proposed that “οἴκω can hardly be genuine,” but instead of accepting the Byzantine reading, he conjectured that neither reading is original, and that the original text was τω Κυριω (“the Lord”), which was contracted, and then inattentive copyists misread it as ΤΩ ΟΙΚΩ.         

In Acts 16:12, Bruce Metzger was overruled by the other editors of the United Bible Societies’ Committee, and an imaginary reading was adopted into the UBS compilation:  πρώτης was adopted, instead of πρώτης της μερίδος, so as to mean that Philippi was a “first city” of the district of Macedonia.  Metzger insisted that the extant text was capable of being translated as “a leading city of the district of Macedonia.”   

● Acts 20:28 – Bruce Metzger dedicated two full pages of his Textual Commentary to consider the variants in Acts 20:28.  Did the original text refer to “the church of God,” or to “the church of the Lord,” or to “the church of the Lord and God”?  The contest between “God” and “Lord” amounts to the difference of a single letter:  if we set  aside the Byzantine reading, once the sacred names are contracted, it’s a contest between ΘΥ, and ΚΥ.    If the contest is decided in favor of ΘΥ, then a second question arises:  did Luke report that Paul stated that God purchased the church with His own blood? 

           Many apologists have used this verse to demonstrate Paul’s advocacy of the divinity of Christ.  Hort, however, expressed echoed the suspicion of an earlier scholar, Georg Christian Knapp, that at the end of the verse, after the words “through His own blood”, there was originally the word υἱοῦ (“Son”).      

            The Contemporary English Version, advertised as “an accurate and faithful translation of the original manuscripts,” seems to adopt this conjecture.  It has the word “Son” in its text of Acts 20:28b:  “Be like shepherds to God’s church.  It is the flock that he bought with the blood of his own Son.” 

The Greek evidence is in agreement about how First Corinthians 6:5 ends.  But the Peshitta disagrees.  The reading in the Peshitta implies that its Greek base-text included the phrase καὶ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ (“and a brother”). 

           The first part of Paul’s statement in this verse is something to the effect of, “Is there not even one person among you – just one! – who shall be able to judge between” – and that’s where the difficulty appears.  The Greek text just mentions one brother, whereas the idea of judgment between two parties seems to demand that more than one brother should be mentioned. 

            Although the Textus Receptus has the equivalent of between his brother” – which is clearly singular – the KJV’s translators concluded the verse with “between his brethren” (which is clearly plural).  The CSB, the NIV, and the NASB likewise render the text as if the verse ends with a plural word rather than a singular one.  All such treatments of the text make the problem all the obvious:  the first part of the sentence, in Greek, anticipates two brothers, while the second part of the sentence mentions only one.          

            In light of such strong internal evidence, Michael Holmes, the compiler of the SBLGNT, recommended the adoption of a conjectural emendation at this point, so that καὶ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ (“and the brother”) appears at the very end of the verse. 

             A fairly recent development in textual criticism is the tendency to regard First Corinthians 14:34-35 as non-original even though the words are in every manuscript of First Corinthians.  In a few copies they appear after verse 40.  The usual form of this conjecture is that the words began as a marginal note and were gradually adopted into the text.  

          Gordon Fee advocated this view in his commentary on First Corinthians and it has grown in popularity since then, especially among interpreters who favor an egalitarian view on the question of gender roles in the church.  One of the interesting aspects of this  issue is the impact of the double-dots, or distigme, that appear in the margin of Codex Vaticanus to signify a variation between the text of that manuscript and the text in another document.

 ● A much older scholarly debate has orbited the phrase “Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia” in Galatians 4:25.  This sentence is included the Nestle-Aland compilation; however, it has been proposed that the entire phrase originated as a marginal note.  This conjecture goes back at least to the early 1700s, with Richard Bentley.  More recently, Stephen Carlson has argued in favor of the same idea. 

In Hebrews 11:37, as the sufferings endured by spiritual heroes are listed, one of those things is not like the others:  they are all somewhat unusual experiences, except for “they were tempted.”  Some textual critics have suspected that the word ἐπειράσθησαν originated when a copyist committed dittography – writing twice what should be written once; in this case, the preceding word the means “they were sawn in two” – and that subsequent copyists changed it into something meaningful.  Others have thought that this relatively common term replaced one that was less common – perhaps another word that meant “they were pierced,” or “they were sold”. 

            Presently the Nestle-Aland compilation, deviating from the 25th edition, simply does not include ἐπειράσθησαν  in the text, following Papyrus 46.  But Papyrus 13  appears to support the inclusion of ἐπειράσθησαν and it has a very impressive array of allies.  I would advise readers to not get used to the current form of this verse in the critical text, for it seems to be merely a place-holder that might be blown away by the appearance of new evidence or slightly different analysis.    

● First Peter 3:19 – The most popular conjectural emendation of all time was favored by the textual expert J. Rendel Harris, who encountered a very brief form of it in William Bowyer’s book.  The extant text of First Peter 3:19 says, “in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison.”  Verse 18 refers to Christ, and nobody else is introduced into the text, so verse 19 has been understood to mean that during the time between Jesus’ death and resurrection, He visited the realm of the dead, and visited the spirits of those who had been disobedient in the days of Noah, prior to the great flood – and delivered a message to them. 

            However, Harris, proposed that the original text was different.  He thought that Peter had in mind a scene that is related in the pseudepigraphical Book of Enoch. In this text, Enoch is depicted delivering a message of condemnation to the fallen spirits who corrupted human beings so thoroughly that the great flood was introduced as the means of amputating the moral infection they had induced.

            Harris proposed that the opening words of the original text of 3:19 were ἐν ᾧ καὶ Ἐνώχ (“in which also Enoch”), assigning the subsequent action not to Christ, but to Enoch.   There are two ways in which the name “Enoch” could have fallen out of the sentence.              

          1.  If the original text were simply Ἐνώχ (without ἐν ᾧ καὶ), then, in majuscule script, the chi was susceptible to being misread as an abbreviation for the word και (“and”) [a kai-compendium].  A copyist could easily decide to write the whole word instead of the abbreviation, and thus Enoch’s name would become ἐν ᾧ καὶ.

            2.  Or, if the original text were ἐν ᾧ καὶ Ἐνώχ, a copyist could read the chi as an abbreviation for και [again, a kai-compendium], and assume that the scribe who made his exemplar had inadvertently repeated three words. Attempting a correction, he would remove “Ἐνώχ.”

            Against the charge that the introduction of Enoch’s name “disturbs the otherwise smooth context,” the answer is that a reference to Enoch is not out of place, inasmuch as Enoch’s story sets the stage for the story of Noah and his family, whose deliverance through water Peter frames as a pattern of salvation.

            If this conjectural emendation were adopted, it would have at least a little doctrinal impact, by diminishing the Biblical basis for the phrase “He descended into hell” found in the Apostles’ Creed. 

Finally, in First Peter 3:10, we encounter an imaginary Greek reading that has been adopted into the text of the 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament.  Rejecting the assortment of contending variant offered by the Greek manuscripts, the editors have preferred the reading that is implied by a reading for which the external support is only extant in Coptic and Syriac.  However, the judgment of the scholars who gave up on the extant Greek readings may have been premature.

 The text is sufficiently clear with the reading, “will be found,” while it is also puzzling enough to provoke attempts at simplification.

         Only two of these conjectural emendations are mentioned in the 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament; the 27th edition was the last one to list include conjectural emendations in its textual apparatus.   

          Some readers may be taken aback by the idea that some of the inspired words in the Word of God can only be reconstructed in the imaginations of scholars.  A realistic pushback against the idea of adopting any conjectural emendation is the question, “Does it really seem feasible that every scribe in every transmission-stream got it wrong?”  If scholars reject singular readings simply because they are singular, then non-existent readings should be even more disqualified, as a point of consistency.  It also seems very inconsistent to criticize advocates of poorly attested readings only to turn around and advocate readings with zero external support.

              It has been said by some very influential textual critics that New Testament textual criticism is both an art and a science.  But it should be all science, and not art, because it is an enterprise of reconstruction, not construction.  Its methods may validly be creative and inventive, and even intuitive, but not its product.  Conjectural emendation is the only aspect of textual criticism that potentially involves the researcher’s artistic or creative skill. 

            In my view, no conjectural emendation should ever be placed in a compilation of the text of the Greek New Testament.  At the same time, the task of proposing conjectural emendations as possible readings which account for their rivals serves a valuable purpose:  to demonstrate the heavy weight of the internal evidence in favor of such readings in the event that they are discovered in an actual Greek manuscript. 

            Thank you.           




Saturday, July 10, 2021

Scrivener: Principles of Comparative Criticism (Part 5)


F. H. A. Scrivener
   Those who have followed me through this prolonged investigation (which I knew not how to abridge without sacrificing perspicuity to conciseness) will readily anticipate my reply to Dr. Tregelles’ “statement of his case,” comprehended in the following emphatic words:  “It is claimed that the united testimony of versions, fathers, and the oldest MSS should be preferred to that of the mass of modern copies; and farther, that the character of the few ancient MSS which agree with versions and fathers, must be such (from that very circumstance) as to make their general evidence the more trustworthy” (p. 141).  Unquestionably, I rejoin, your claim is reasonable, it is irresistible.  If you show us all, or nearly all, the uncials you prize so deservedly, maintaining a variation from the common text which is recommended by all the best versions and most ancient Fathers, depend upon it we will not urge against such overwhelming testimony the mere number of the cursive copies, be they ever so unanimous on the other side.

But are we not discussing a purely abstract proposition?  Do we ever find the “united” testimony of the ancients drawing us one way, that of the juniors another?  I will not assert that such instances may not occur, though at this moment I can hardly remember one.  It is enough to say that principles broad as those laid down by Tregelles must be designed to meet the rule, not the exception.  In the seven texts we have been reviewing, in the sixty-five that remain on his list, in the yet more numerous cases he tells us he has passed over, the uncial MSS are not unequally divided; or where there is a preponderance, it is not often in our adversary’s favor.  The elder authorities being thus at variance, common sense seems to dictate an appeal to those later authorities, respecting which one thing is clear, that they were not copied immediately from the uncials still extant.  Such later codices thus become the representatives of others that have perished, as old, and (to borrow Davidson’s suggestion, p. viii) not improbably more old than any now remaining.  These views appear so reasonable and sober, that they have approved themselves to the judgment even of Dr. Tregelles: for he does not by any means disdain the aid of the few cursive copies (e. g. 1. 33. 69. etc.) which “preserve an ancient text,” whereby of course is implied one coinciding with his preconceived opinion of what an ancient text ought to be.

[1 – Dean Alford had constructed the text of his first volume of the Greek Testament (1st edition) on nearly the same plan as Tregelles would, and thoroughly was he dissatisfied with the result.  “The adoption of that test,” he writes with admirable frankness, “was, I do not hesitate to confess, a great mistake.  It proceeded on altogether too high an estimate of the most ancient existing MSS, and too low an one of the importance of internal evidence.” (N. T. Vol. II. Proleg. p. 58.)]


      Perhaps I shall be expected to say a few words respecting the scheme devised by Bentley for settling the sacred text on a firmer basis, since both Tregelles and his precursor Lachmann (N. T. Proleg. Vol. I. p. xxx) have sheltered their practice of recurring exclusively to the most ancient extant documents beneath the shadow of that great name.  We shall all agree on one point, that no authority, however imposing, can supply the place of argument in enquiries of this kind; nor do I scruple to confess that were I disposed to swear allegiance to any earthly teacher, it would be to that illustrious scholar, whose learning and genius shed a bright ray across the darkness of his evil generation.  It is painful to say of the most highly gifted man that ever devoted himself to the study of Biblical criticism, that his leading principle was taken up hastily and on precarious grounds.  Yet if the fact be so, why need we hesitate to avow it?  

Bentley’s theory, as most of my readers will remember, was built on the idea, that the oldest MSS of the Greek original and of Jerome’s Latin version, resemble each other so marvelously, even in the very order of the words, that by means of this agreement he could restore the text as it stood in the fourth century, “so that there shall not be twenty words, or even particles, difference!”  “By taking two thousand errors out of the Pope’s [Clementine] Vulgate, and as many out of the Protestant Pope Stephens’s [1550], I can set out an edition of each in columns, without using any book under nine hundred years old, that shall so exactly agree word for word, and, what at first amazed me, order for order, that no two tallies, nor two indentures, can agree better.”  Thus wrote Bentley to Archbishop Wake in 1716; the tone of his “Proposals,” in 1720, after considerable progress had been made in the work of collation, is not materially less confident.

Yet to those who have calmly examined the subject, the wonder is not the closeness of agreement between the Greek and Latin Codices, but that a man of so vast erudition and ability should have imagined that he perceived it, to any thing approaching the extent the lowest sense of his words demands.  Accordingly when his collations came to be examined, and compared, and weighed, keen indeed must have been the disappointment of our English Aristarchus.  With characteristic fearlessness he had been at no trouble to select his materials (at least I trace no indication of such choice in his surviving papers), and thus the truth would burst upon him all the sooner, that the theory on which he had staked a noble reputation, in the face of watchful enemies, must either be abandoned or extensively modified.  We can well ‘understand the struggle which silently agitated that proud spirit.  Had the subject of his labors been Terence or Milton, it would be easy to conjecture the course he would have adopted: if MSS refused to support his system, they must have been forced to yield to it.  

But Bentley, with all his faults of temper, was an honest and a pious man; he dared not make the text of Holy Scripture the victim of his sportive ingenuity; and so, soon after the year 1721, we come to hear less and less of his projected Greek Testament.  Though he lived till 1742, it does not appear that he ever made serious progress in arranging the stores collected by himself and his coadjutors.  As I have turned over his papers in the Library of Trinity College, with a heart saddened by the spectacle of so much labor lost, I could not persuade myself that the wretched dissensions which embittered his declining days had, of themselves, power enough over Bentley’s mind to break off in the midst a work that he had once regarded as his best passport to undying fame.


From the facts we have been discussing I feel entitled to draw two or three practical inferences.

(a).  That the true readings of the Greek New Testament cannot safely be derived from any one set of authorities, whether MSS, versions, or Fathers, but ought to be the result of a patient comparison and careful estimate of the evidence given by them all.

(b).  That where there is a real agreement between all the documents prior to the tenth century, the testimony of later MSS, though not to be rejected unheard, is to be regarded with much suspicion, and, unless supported by strong internal evidence,1 can hardly be adopted.

(c).  That in the far more numerous cases where the most ancient documents are at variance with each other, the later or cursive copies are of great importance, as the surviving representatives of other codices, very probably as early, possibly even earlier, than any now extant.2

I do not lay down these propositions as any new discovery of my own, but as being (even the second of them) the principles on which all reasonable defenders of the Textus Receptus have upheld its GENERAL INTEGRITY.


[1 – If I have hitherto said nothing on the important head of internal evidence, it is from no wish to disparage its temperate and legitimate use.  Yet how difficult it is to hinder its degenerating, even in skillful hands, into vague and arbitrary conjecture!]


[2 – Even Mr. Green, from whom I fear I differ widely on some of the topics discussed in this chapter, does not shrink from saying, “In a review of authorities special regard will reasonably be paid to antiquity; but this must not be over-strained into a summary neglect of more recent witnesses, as offering nothing worthy of notice,” finally adding, “The critic should not suffer himself to be encumbered by prepossessions or assumptions, nor bind himself to the routine of a mechanical method of procedure.  If he allows himself to be thus warped and trammelled, instead of ever maintaining the free employment of a watchful, calm, and unfettered mind, he abandons his duty and mars his work” (Course of Developed Criticism, Introduction, p. x.).]


IV. I have a good hope that the foregoing investigation of the laws of Comparative Criticism will have convinced an impartial reader, that the cursive or junior copies of the Greek New Testament have, in their proper place and due subordination, a real and appreciable influence in questions relating to doubtful readings.  If I have succeeded thus far, it results that the time and pains I have bestowed on studying them have not been wasted: the collations I have accumulated cannot fail to be of some service to the Biblical critic, even though he may think I have a little exaggerated their value and importance.  I am not so sanguine as to the degree of popular acceptance my views may obtain, nor (without affecting absolute indifference on the subject) am I by any means so anxious on this head.  I have always thought that the researches and labors of the scholar – of the theological scholar above all others – are their own highest and purest reward.1  Let me plead guilty to having read with sensations akin to scorn, the manuscript note appended by Caesar de Missy (a person who might have known better) to the copy of Hearne’s scarce edition of the Codex Laudianus (published in 1715), now preserved in the British Museum.  To Hearne’s miserable list of just forty-one subscribers to his book, De Missy subjoins the sarcastic comment “Après cela, Docteur, va pâlir sur la Bible!”  Yet why should he not have grown pale in the study of God’s Word?  Why not have handed down to happier times a treasure of sacred learning which the princes and prelates of George the First’s reign (that nadir-point of public virtue and intellectual cultivation in England) were too slothful to appreciate, too negligent even to despise?  The pursuits of Scriptural criticism are so quiet, so laborious, that they can have few charms for the votary of fame, or the courtier of preferment: they always have been, perhaps they always must be, the choice employment mainly of those, who, feeling conscious (it may be) of having but one talent committed to their keeping, ‘seek nothing so earnestly as TO USE THAT ONE TALENT WELL.



[1 – I should have wished to add some noble sentiments of Dr. Dobbin (Codex Montfortianus, Preface, p. xx.) on this point, but that I trust they are known to my readers, as they well deserve to be.]


Thursday, July 1, 2021

Scrivener: Principles of Comparative Criticism: Part 4

[continued from Part 3]

     How is this divergency of the Peshito version from the text of Codex B explained by Tregelles?  He feels of course the pressure of the argument against him, and meets it, if not successfully, with even more than his wonted boldness. The translation degenerates in his hands into “the version commonly printed as the Peshito” (p. 170).  Now let us mark the precise nature of the demand here made on our faith by Dr. Tregelles.  He would persuade us that the whole Eastern Church, distracted as it has been and split into hostile sections for the space of 1400 years, Orthodox and Jacobite, Nestorian and Maronite alike, those that could agree about nothing else, have laid aside their bitter jealousies in order to substitute in their monastic libraries and liturgical services another and a spurious version in the room of the Peshito, that sole surviving monument of the first ages of the Gospel in Syria!  Nay more, that this wretched forgery has deceived Orientalists profound as Michaelis and Lowth, has passed without suspicion through the ordeal of searching criticism, to which every branch of sacred literature has been subjected during the last half-century!  We will require solid reasons indeed before we surrender ourselves to an hypothesis as novel as it appears violently improbable.

And what is the foundation on which our opponent rests his startling conjecture?  The reader is aware that besides the Peshito, several other Syriac versions, some grounded upon it, and therefore implying its previous existence and popularity (e.g. the Philoxenian, executed A.D. 508, and Cardinal Wiseman’s Karkaphensian), others seemingly independent of it (e.g. Adler’s Jerusalem Syriac, and a palimpsest fragment lately discovered by Tischendorf) have been more or less applied to the criticism of the New Testament.  About the year 1847 Canon Cureton, in his most fruitful researches among the MSS purchased for the British Museum from the Nitrian monasteries, met with extensive fragments of the Gospels, which Tregelles has collated, and found to contain “altogether ancient readings,” and thus to be “an important witness to the ancient text” (p. 161).  As this MS, assigned to the fifth century, is still unpublished, we can only say at present that it affords us “AN HITHERTO UNKNOWN VERSION;” certainly not “the version commonly printed as the Peshito” with mere various readings.1  [1 – As this sheet is going to press (July 1858) Dr. Cureton’s “ Remains of a Very Antient Recension of the Four Gospels in Syriac, Hitherto Unknown in Europe,” has at length appeared. The Syriac text had been printed in 1848, but was doubtless withheld by the learned editor in the hope of finding leisure to write Prolegomena more full, and possibly containing more definite conclusions, than those with which he has favored us.  It would ill become me to express a hasty judgment respecting theories on which so eminent a scholar has bestowed thought and time and much labor. He will naturally expect Biblical critics to hesitate before they implicitly admit, for instance, the persuasion which he hardly likes to embody in words, that we have in these precious Syriac fragments, at least to a great extent (Preface, p. xciii), the very Hebrew original of St. Matthew’s Gospel, so long supposed to have been lost, that even its existence has been questioned.  But topics like this are sure to be warmly debated by abler pens than mine; I will confine myself to those points that concern my argument, the relation these fragments bear to the Peshito.  And here I would say in all humble deference (for my knowledge of Syriac, though of long standing, is not extensive) that my own hurried comparison of the Curetonian and Peshito texts would have led me to take them so far for quite separate versions.  Even Dr. Tregelles, who, through the editor’s kindness, has been enabled to use the text for years, and whose bias is very strong, can only venture to say “the differences are great; and yet it happens not infrequently that such coincidences of words and renderings are found (and that too, at times, through a great part of a passage) as to show that they can hardly be wholly independent” (Tregelles, Horne’s Introd. p. 268).  To the same effect also Dr. Cureton speaks:  “It seems to be scarcely possible that the Syriac text published by Widmanstad, which, throughout these pages, I have called the Peshito, could be altogether a different version from this.  It would take up too much space to institute here a comparison of passages to establish this fact, which, indeed, any one may easily do for himself” (Preface, p. lxx).  I heartily wish that Dr. Cureton had fully investigated the subject; he might have removed the difficulties at least of those who love truth, and are ready to embrace it wherever they shall find it.  As it is, we can but say with Tregelles, “Such a point as this can only be properly investigated after the publication of this version shall have given sufficient time to scholars to pursue a thorough investigation” (Tregelles, ubi supra).  In the meanwhile neither he nor I are at liberty to assume the truth of that hypothesis which may happen to harmonize best with our preconceived opinions.]

     To this version has been given the appellation of the Curetonian Syriac, and long may it bear that honored name: but for regarding it as the true Peshito, in the room of that commonly so known, I perceive at present no cause whatever except the strong exigency of Dr. Tregelles’ case.

     Yet has not the Peshito Syriac been suspected by previous writers of exhibiting a corrupt or modernized text?  Undoubtedly the reconciliation of the Maronites with the see of Rome, and the channels through which its earlier editions were conveyed to us, induced certain critics to hazard a conjecture that this version, like the Armenian, had been tampered with, in order to bring it into closer conformity with the Latin Vulgate.  This, however, is a change in precisely the opposite direction to that which Tregelles’ hypothesis demands:  his complaint against the Peshito is not its accordance with the Latin, but its consent with Codex A and the junior MSS against it.

I vouch not for the correctness of this surmise as regards the Armenian; its injustice towards the Peshito is demonstrated by the evidence of that old MS Rich 7157 in the British Museum, of the eighth century, a period long anterior to that when a “fœdus cum Syris” was possible on the part of the admirers of the Vulgate.  This precious document has been collated throughout by Tregelles; together with several others of high antiquity in the Museum, it has been carefully examined by Dr. Cureton, by Mr. Ellis, and two German scholars (Bloomfield, Preface to N. T., ninth edition, p. viii, note).  The reports of all concur to the same effect: these venerable MSS exhibit a text, singularly resembling that of the printed editions; which last were consequently drawn from purer and more ancient sources than, reasoning from the analogy of the Greek text, the warmest advocates of the Peshito had been led to anticipate.


(6). We have little to say about citations from the Fathers.  That the Latin ecclesiastical writers should accord with the Latin versions is nothing strange; perhaps some of them could not read, none of them used familiarly the Greek original.  As witnesses for the readings of the Italic or Vulgate they are of course valuable: unless in the very rare instances where they expressly appeal to the Greek, their influence upon it is but indirect and precarious.  As regards the Greek Fathers I am bound to state, that no branch of Biblical criticism has been so utterly neglected as the application of their citations to the discussion of various readings; indeed I know almost nothing that has been seriously attempted with respect to it, except Griesbach’s examination of the quotations of Origen in his Symbolae Criticae.  The whole question, however, is so replete with difficulties, that Bishop Fell (N. T. Oxon. 1675) thought the bare allusion to them sufficient to absolve him from entering upon it at all.  The ancient Fathers were better theologians than critics; they often quoted loosely, often from memory; what they actually wrote has been found peculiarly liable to change on the part of copyists.  Their testimony therefore can be implicitly trusted, even as to the MSS which lay before them, only in the comparatively few places where the course of their argument, or the current of their exposition, renders it manifest what reading they support. At present we have many intimations in our critical editions that this or that ecclesiastical author countenances a variation from the Textus Receptus, but few cases, very few indeed, are recorded in which they agree with it: the latter point being confessedly no less essential to our accurate acquaintance with the state of the evidence than the former.

     Any enlarged discussion on this head of our argument must at any rate be postponed till we possess more reliable information on the facts it involves.  Most thankful should I be to any student who has leisure and disposition to enter upon this wide yet almost unoccupied field. Meantime I am constrained to admit that many examples have been established by Griesbach and his successors, wherein Origen agrees with Codices BL against Codex A and the received text, one or both.  I will not dissemble, I strive not to evade, the force of such early testimony where it is unambiguous and express: let such readings be received with “peculiar attention,” let them never be rejected without grave and sufficient reason. Yet the support given to B or L by Origen is very far from being uniform or “habitual.”  While I can well understand the importance of his confirmation where he countenances the readings they exhibit, I fail altogether in apprehending what service he can do them, where he is either silent or positively hostile.1


[1 – e.g. Origen sides with the received text or with A against B, Matthew 21:29 cited by Tregelles (p. 107), and in the course of the next few chapters in 25:17; 25:19; 26:48; 26:53; 27:3; 27:11; 27:54 bis; 28:15; 28:18.  I could multiply references lectoris ad fastidium.  It may tend to show the precariousness of patristic testimony if I add that in five of the above-named passages Origen’s authority may be cited on both sides.]