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1004Re: [Synoptic-L] Alternating Primitivity (Method)

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    Mar 24, 2008
    • 0 Attachment
      To: Synoptic
      Cc: GPG, WSW
      In Response To: Chuck Jones
      On: Methodology
      From: Bruce

      CHUCK: I have always placed much weight on the text critical principle of
      preferring the more difficult reading, the thinking being that a scribe is
      more likely to smooth a passage than make it more difficult.

      BRUCE: Maybe *more* likely, but still not excluding the likelihood that the
      *less* likely option may also occur. Housman has a wonderful refutation of
      this mistake, and I will defer to him. A conveniently abridged version of
      his 1921 paper is at
      http://www.umass.edu/wsp/philology/front/housman/01.html. I think the
      relevant part is actually on the third of those four pages, but all of it is
      worth reading. I would add only that a typing error (I earlier invented the
      case of "thesef") is more difficult than the reading "these" but this does
      not make it preferable. It makes it wrong. Most accidental slips tend to
      produce impossible readings, but their impossibility is no warrant for their
      correctness. In short, no shortcut is safe, and no rule of thumb can
      substitute for the use of all the fingers. And sometimes of the other hand,
      or in really bad cases, of a knee or two. This stuff is not always easy;
      sometimes it is recalcitrant.

      CHUCK: This is the main reason I have been reluctant to buy into emending
      texts in the absence of textual variants: we become the very scribes that
      we've been cautioned about!

      BRUCE: There are certainly dangers, and caution is certainly needed, and any
      erudition one happens to possess (via concordances or in propria persona)
      comes in handy too. But I can only repeat my previous point: the evidence
      *in the text* is still evidence. If you have a splinter in your right hand,
      you don't check your left hand to be sure that is really *is* an
      interpolation; you reach for the tweezers.

      The scribes were sometimes careless; that we can remedy by trying to be
      careful. One tool of the philologist is to know when you are too tired to do
      the work; you keep routine chores on hand for those moments. The scribes
      were sometimes piously inventive; that we can try to avoid by keeping a
      decent emotional distance from the thing we are working on. (Keeping one's
      literal "philological hat" on the hatstand, and donning it while doing the
      work, may be useful to some in establishing and maintaining this separate
      persona). And as always in the historical enterprise, if despite our best
      efforts we make a mistake, others are there to point it out to us. Our
      individual shortcomings are doubtless inevitable, but collectively, we may
      be pretty good.

      CHUCK: But I have another, much more significant issue with proposing
      variant readings in the absence of manuscript evidence. The absence of
      variant manuscript evidence is evidence for the absence of variation!

      BRUCE: A nice phrase. I have used s similar one myself, in arguing for the
      validity of the "argumentum ex silentio." It goes like this: There are many
      reasons why writers might not refer to something. But if that something in
      fact did not exist in a particular period, the only evidence that fact is
      capable of leaving in the texts is the *silence* of the texts.

      In the end, I think it remains true that, if it is conceded (and
      Rachmaninoff, off in his corner, is nodding assent) that a work may expand
      or contract while still under its author's hand, then the unanimity of the
      manuscripts may merely mean that none of them has varied from the author's
      final version. It does not mean that the author's final version was not
      preceded by the author's *prefinal* versions, full of erasures, insertions,
      second thoughts, third thoughts refuting second thoughts ("stet"), and the
      whole array. Have you even seen one of Beethoven's sketchbooks? Or Emily
      Dickinson's? (The latter are held by the Amherst library, and I can show
      them to you when you come up for Don Wyatt's talk on Thursday). There is a
      whole philological education available there, just for the looking.

      CHUCK: For example, a significant number of Pauline scholars believe that I
      Thess. 2:15-16 is a later interpolation, despite the absence of textual
      variants. So here is what had to have happened. One scribe inserted the
      passage into one copy of I Thess. And then all of the other copies of I
      Thess. had to perish from the earth while this one copy became the single
      progenitor for all manuscripts of I Thess. from that day forward. I have a
      pretty big problem with the plausibility of that scenario.

      BRUCE: Again the fallacy of the scribe. The scenario would depend on how
      many copies were in existence when the insertion was made. And maybe there
      was only one; maybe 1Th was still in the custody of the recipient church,
      and (as we have reason to believe) was read occasionally to that
      congregation for edification and encouragement. If the resident reader felt
      that some local strengthening was called for, then he (probably he) might
      had added the lines in question, and his addition got copied into the text
      when the Pauline Epistles were gathered - by what agency we seem not to
      know, but we know that it happened, long before the end of the 1c - into the
      Corpus Paulinum. That change, and that prior perhaps marginal improvement,
      were made on the holograph, and thus on the thing from which all other
      copies were made. Some junior philologist in the 4th century might
      conceivably have detected a difference of tone, in the inserted lines, and
      excised them out of a sense of tidiness and scruple; this would produce
      manuscript variants. But the variant would still be rooted in the mind of a
      4c philologist. It would, if you come to think of it, have no better
      standing than the opinion of a 21c philologist, not to be sure tampering
      with the physical manuscript, but publishing in some modern footnote.

      Also relevant to the idea of an addition in 1Th is the idea that 2Th is a
      much larger subsequent suppletion of 1Th. Relevant in turn to both these
      problems is the oft mentioned possibility that 1Co has been conflated,
      probably by the church originally holding them, out of two or more
      originally separate Pauline letters, so as not to put that church in TOO bad
      a light when their originally private possessions were made available to all
      of Christendom. And this possibility in turn surely gains relevant evidence
      when it is noticed that similar doubts have been expressed about other
      undoubted Paulines, such as Romans. As these things are presently done,
      those debates tend to blaze up as so many separate fires on the battlefield;
      footnotes in so many separate commentaries. I think they also need to be
      looked at as a single phenomenon, not disposed of one by one (as Schnelle,
      for example, does) as "insufficiently persuasive." I always recommend the
      question: What's the big picture? The big picture here may be that the
      recipient churches tended to strengthen the message of what was at that time
      their only authority text, and that at the time of collection for
      publication, further and perhaps frantic changes were introduced out of
      consideration for the pending loss of privacy.

      Nothing proves itself, but at minimum, I find this possibility viscerally
      intelligible. What do I do myself, if I see somebody coming up the walk?
      Answer: I use my four seconds of grace to pick up at least some of my notes
      off the floor, whether they concern 1Th or any other matter, in the interest
      of presenting an image of decency and civility, however counterfeit and
      mendacious it may be, to my caller.

      If the Corinthians had the same thought, I am 100% in sympathy with the
      Corinthians. I feel their pain.


      E Bruce Brooks
      Warring States Project
      University of Massachusetts at Amherst
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