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Re: [Synoptic-L] Approaches to Diatessaron

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  • L. J. Swain
    ... Consider it from another viewpoint. We have no manuscripts of the Diatesseron in its original language, we re not even certain about what the original
    Message 1 of 4 , Jul 26, 2000
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      Robert Shedinger wrote:
      I certainly do not disagree with most of what Larry says here. But it seems to me that textual critics normally assume that the earliest or best reading in a particular text can always be found among the variants documented in the usual textual sources (Greek Mss, versions, patristic citations, etc.). But is it not possible that some original readings may have disappeared from the textual tradition so early that they no longer exist in these later witnesses? Moreover, it is very unusual for a critical edition to adopt any reading into its text that has no Greek support. But why do we assume that the best reading necessarily must survive in the Greek Mss tradition to which the early versions and patristic citations give only secondary support?
      Consider it from another viewpoint.  We have no manuscripts of the Diatesseron in its original language, we're not even certain about what the original language was.  We also have nothing other than Dura Europa (that I'm aware of) in the mid third century that preceeds the fourth century, and this fragment has been called into question as a witness to the Diatesseron.  Further, one of the best sources for the Diatesseron has been Ephrem, known largely in Armenian mss, and only the last 40+ years in a single Syriac ms.  So what does this tell us about the use of the Diatesseron in reconstructing gospel readings?
      1) The mss. tradition isn't any older than the Greek mss tradition, and there is no reason to assume that the text of the Diatesseron was any more fixed or stable in those centuries than the Greek tradition was in respect to the gospels.  Thus, a degree of wariness and caution is called for when using the Diatesseron to confirm a reading.
      2) The problem of language: we know with a fair degree of certainty that the gospels were written in Greek (not at this moment speaking of traditions behind the gospels, just the gospels as we have them).  We're not, on the other hand, at all certain about the language of the Diatesseron.  Further, even if the DT was written in Greek, our best witnesses to it are not.  Regrettably, translation is to a degree interpretation as much in the first century as in the twenty-first century, and an Armenian or Syriac translation of a phrase is important and certainly tells us something, but does it really tell us the original form of the phrase?  It could, but that will need to be demonstrated with other evidence from other manuscripts.
      3) The DT is a harmony which brings to the table of establishing a particular reading in MATTHEW somewhat problematic--what if the divergence was really in Tatian's version of Mark, or perhaps Tatian was using Justin's harmony at that point, and that was where the divergence entered? or as diligent as he was, what if Tatian actually made a mistake, or did some editorializing?  or was citing another gospel other than the 4? or was even citing the phrase from  oral tradition or even memory?

      These are just a few of the problems of using the DT to reconstruct the texts of the canonical gospels.  This is not to say that it shouldn't be used or consulted, but that it should be done with caution.  A related, but sufficiently different, issue is how the DT can assist in reconstructing how the second century used and viewed the gospels, and the possibility of the DT preserving material and sayings from the sources of the canonical gospels is a more effective avenue of research in my view.

      My gut instinct (and at this point it is only a gut instinct, not a fully worked out thesis) is that the original text of the Gospels diverged more from our critical editions than many scholars allow for.
      Probably, but how do we with any degree of certainty recover it without recourse to the materials we already have examined?
      And not just textual scholars, but literary critics as well who frequently talk about what Matthew or Mark wrote in a certain place as if our critical editions always preserve precisely what they wrote. Our critical editions can probably do no better than get us a late third century text, but the Diatessaron and the versional traditions related to it (Old Syriac, Old Latin) may be able to get us back to the mid-second century.
      This relates back to what I stated above:  the manuscripts of these traditions are also third century and later, much less the translation difficulty, why are the textual traditions of the DT, OS, VL etc to be seen as more fixed and stable than the Greek tradition?
      I cannot take credit for this idea. William Petersen has made the argument in several places, and even Helmut Koester has commented on the naivety of textual criticism in this regard (See his "The Text of the Synoptic Gospels in the Second Century" in Gospel Traditions in the Second Century: Origins, Recensions, Text, and Transmission, ed. W. L. Petersen (University of Notre Dame Press, 1989), 20.
      Koester was the "certain scholar" I referred to in my last post.  If you take a look at the article you cited you'll note a decided lack of citation, or even an anecdote, to support the contention that either text critics or literary critics are so naive as you (or Koester) posits. I do think that ease of nomenclature may have given rise to the impression of naivete, after all its easier to say "Matthew wrote at x:y" than it is to say "the fourth century manuscripts of this text ascribed to Matthew by and large have this reading, with a minor traditon in which "TE" is read for "KAI"....

      Warm Regards and Returning to Lurkerdom,
      Larry Swain

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