1004Re: [Synoptic-L] Alternating Primitivity (Method)
- Mar 24, 2008To: Synoptic
Cc: GPG, WSW
In Response To: Chuck Jones
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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