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Are the Coptic & Greek witnesses to GTh "substantially similar?"

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  • Randall Helzerman <rahelzer@ichips.intel
    ... I suppose it is incumbent upon me to clarify what I meant by substantially the same . I ll try to do it ostensively. Two other texts which I would
    Message 1 of 12 , Dec 14, 2002
      Mike Grondin writes:

      > Not so. Randy's "substantially the
      > same" covers a number of significant
      > differences.

      I suppose it is incumbent upon me to
      clarify what I meant by "substantially
      the same". I'll try to do it
      ostensively. Two other texts which
      I would consider to be "substantially
      the same" would be the KJV version of
      the bible and the NIV version of the bible.

      Even though there are some significant
      differences between the NIV and the KJV
      in both content (e.g. the ending of Mark)
      and in order (e.g. the location of the
      woman-caught-in-adultery story),
      not to mention differences in
      spelling, grammar and wording, I would
      say the two texts are substantially the
      same in both content and order. The
      differences between them are no more
      than what you'd expect of two translations
      produced centuries apart from two
      different originals.

      Same for the Poxy. and the N.H. witnesses.
      They were produced centuries apart, in
      two different languages, so we'd naturally
      expect significant differences. But
      I think it would be fair to say they
      are substantially similar in both content
      and order, don't you?

      -Randy Helzerman

      P.S. In my original post, I was making a
      rather narrow point--that the differences
      which are between the Greek & Coptic
      witnesses are not the right kind of
      differences to prove that GTh is stratified.
      Surely this is a rather uncontroversial
    • Michael Grondin
      ... Giving my short answer first, I think that the differences were largely due more to adaptation than anything else. Adaptation to the time and place of its
      Message 2 of 12 , Dec 14, 2002
        > Can you determine as to why scribes would make alterations?
        > What were they trying to do with these differences?

        Giving my short answer first, I think that the differences were largely due
        more to adaptation than anything else. Adaptation to the time and place of
        its retranslation, that is. Let's say, for example, that a Syriac version of
        Thomas found its way to Alexandria, and fell into the hands of someone
        skilled in both Syriac and Greek. One thing such a person _might_ have done
        was merely to translate the text from Syriac into Greek, more or less
        faithfully. But the limited evidence we have doesn't seem to support that
        scenario. What it seems to show is that the earlier text, though left much
        the same, was nevertheless significantly altered to fit the needs and
        interests of the group which had received it and now claimed it as its own.

        In addition to the differences between the POxy fragments and the Coptic
        version, consider the saying which Hippolytus attributed to the Naassenes,
        in the first known reference to a gospel 'according to Thomas':

        "He who seeks me will find me in children of seven years upward, for there,
        hidden in the fourteenth aeon, am I revealed."
        (Hennecke/Schneelmelcher, _New Testament Apocrypha_, v.I, p.280)

        Assuming that Hippolytus' quotation was substantially correct, the part
        about "hidden in the fourteenth aeon" must have been meaningful and
        important to the Naassenes, but not to others who handled this gospel. We
        don't know, of course, whether the Naassenes added it to some earlier
        version in another language, or whether it was dropped when and if the
        Naassene version was translated into other languages - or both. What we do
        know is that similar significant differences turn up between the Greek
        fragments and the Coptic version. It seems likely that there must have been
        cases of faithful translation from one language into another, but we don't
        have one, and we don't know whether that's a statistical fluke due to the
        small number of extant texts, or not.

        I'm not sure whether a _scribe_ could have made such alterations. I guess I
        tend to think of a scribe as a copyist, and it seems that copyists would not
        have had the freedom to make alterations. So I'll take the question to be:
        "Why would a translator/redactor ('T/R') make alterations (to the source
        text)?" In the first place, I think we have to assume that the T/R would
        have seen a great deal in the source text that he liked, and that he would
        thus have preserved the core meaning of the text, as he understood it. If
        there were, however, details that he didn't like, or which weren't relevant
        to his own community, he may well have left them out. Similarly, he may have
        taken the occasion to add material, for a variety of reasons, not least to
        tack on certain ideas that were important to his own community, but weren't
        addressed in the text. So why would a T/R change the text? Trying to collect
        all the possibilities under one heading, I would say: in general, to adapt
        it for the use he had in mind for his own community.

        The situation can be contrasted with the distribution of the NT. There is
        one class of texts that were apparently tightly controlled, as they show
        little difference between one exemplar and another. On the other hand, the
        so-called "Western" class of texts show quite a bit of variation. Which of
        these patterns would we likely find for Thomas, if we had more exemplars?
        Well, its own ideology seems to count against its having been
        tightly-controlled by a central authority, and that is borne out by the
        limited evidence available to us, so I would say that it would be likely to
        exhibit the "Western" tendency. I'm also reminded of the comment of Papias
        (as quoted by Eusebius) that everyone translated the logia of Matthew (which
        I take to be a sayings-source) "as best they could". I think what's _behind_
        that comment - i.e., what Papias likely actually observed - was simply that
        there were versions of this Matthean sayings-source in different languages
        that had significant differences in content. He may have _assumed_ that the
        reason for this was the difficulty of translation, but it seems more likely
        that it was due to differences between the using environments. Had Papias
        considered this possibility, he might have been loathe to admit it in any
        case. So I take his statement to be reflective of an actual historical
        situation, but his suggested cause of that situation to be unlikely in

        All of which doesn't exactly answer the question, because we don't know the
        exact answer to the question. We would have to know what the source text
        looked like, to determine what changes were made to it by the T/R in
        question. But we don't know, for example, whether the POxy fragments
        represent the source text from which the Coptic T/R was working, and we
        don't know what the source text for the POxy fragments looked like. In order
        to begin to determine _why_ a given T/R did what he did, we first have to
        determine _what_ he did, but that's exactly what we don't know for any
        individual case. About the only thing we do know is that there were
        significant (but not extreme) differences between versions of the text in
        different languages - thus that its transmission must have allowed for a
        significant (but not extreme) degree of translational/redactional freedom
        from one community to the next.

        Mike Grondin
        Mt. Clemens, MI
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