Re: tc-list on a praxis for textual criticism
- I had a great deal of trouble following some of this (including the side
Petrovich is on), but I'm going to reply to one point.
On 8/4/99, Doug Petrovich wrote, in part:
>Therefore, choosing a reading because of age of manuscripts is not the bestThis is, I think, a semantic difference.
>praxis of t.c., but Waltz is not precise when he says that "age doesn't
>mean anything." It often means a great deal. However, its overall
>significance can only be assessed after a ms. has undergone thorough
>scrutiny. But let me restate that greater antiquity means that a ms.
>probably represents fewer generations of copies between it and the original
>(a notable exception is 1739), thus meaning that usually there will be
>fewer reproductions that are laden with error.
The point I am trying to make is that age does not guarantee the
value of a manuscript. Certainly it is true that earlier manuscripts,
taken as a class, are fewer generations removed from the original
than are late manuscripts.
But note the key words here: "Taken as a class." But we cannot
take manuscripts as a class; they're unique individuals. This is
true even of the Byzantine witnesses (which are generally highly
similar), and is even more true of the earliest witnesses. So
we cannot treat them as an entity. If you assume that, say, a
"Western" witness is Alexandrian, you're going to be in a lot
You are approaching the problem based on *having seen the manuscripts.*
I am arguing at a purely logical level, which has no relation to the
manuscripts. My argument is the same for any for of textual criticism,
NT, OT, or classical.
The point is, an old manuscript can be bad, and can be copied
repeatedly to produce a bad text. Or it can be good, and copied
repeatedly to produce a good text. A bad manuscript is bad
whatever its age. Once a textual stream is "muddied" (as, e.g.,
most of us would say the "Western" text was muddied), there
is no cure for it except to cut off the stream and substitute
It's all very well to say that the older manuscripts are *less
likely* to be corrupted, but it's not helpful. It may well be
true -- but it's *not proof*. It is generally accepted, for
instance, that the Byzantine texts of the _Iliad_ are more
accurate than the papyri, even though the papyri are older.
As long as the possibility exists (and the possibility *does* exist)
that the old manuscripts are corrupt, then we cannot make *any*
judgements in advance. We must categorize the manuscripts,
and examine them based on the categorization.
It happens that, in the case of the NT manuscripts, the majority
of the older manuscripts (i.e. the Alexandrian text) *do* seem to
preserve the best readings. But they are best because they are
best, not because they are oldest.
You yourself observed that "manuscripts must be weighed and
not counted." The weighing must be done based solely on the
quality of the text. It must not be based on the age, or
on the number of supporters -- or on any other irrelevant point,
such as the writing material or the quality of the scribe's
penmanship or the place the manuscript was discovered.
Robert B. Waltz
Want more loudmouthed opinions about textual criticism?
Try my web page: http://www.skypoint.com/~waltzmn
(A site inspired by the Encyclopedia of NT Textual Criticism)
- I can agree with a previous contributor who said that normally I find
myself in agreement
with Robert Waltz, but I did come across an e-mail where I must take issue
on a few points. Allow me to address a few of his statements, some of
which I agree with, and others where I think adjustments need to be made.
And since you've gotten me talking anyway, I should make a point
here. Helge Evenson makes the argument that the issue is the number
of witnesses. Jim West or Philip Wesley Comfort would argue for
Neither one matters. If majority rule meant anything, the world
would be flat and we'd all be pantheists (since, when the human
race evolved, people held both opinions :-).
Age doesn't mean anything either.
First of all, one's praxis of doing N.T. textual criticism is certain the
most important issue at stake, just as hermeneutics is the most significant
element in biblical exegesis. The rules that are played by determine what
happens on the field. I am in total agree-ment with Waltz that the praxis
of textual criticism that says, "Choose a favorite text-type based on
numerical superiority" is absolutely erroneous.
The following flaws cannot be overcome: 1) Mss. must be weighed, and not
counted, because if (for example) ten mss. are copied from a single
exemplar, then an error appearing 10 times in the exemplar will appear 10
times in all 10 copies. 2) Burgon and Miller use an illustration of a
trial before a judge. They say that if there are 10 witnesses called in to
give evidence, and one of the 10 resolutely contradicted the testimony of
the other 9, which of the two parties would the jurors be inclined to
believe? However, this illustration is flawed. The 10 witnesses in the
court case are contemporaries, first-hand witnesses to an event.
Naturally, the one who opposes the other 9 who bear corroborating evidence
is very likely to be wrong. However, in the case of N.T. t.c., the
witnesses are not contemporaries. Bringing this into the realm of the
illustration, 50 or 100 10th-hand or 20th-hand witnesses, who are far
removed from any of the 10 original witnesses, command little weight if
their information is only derived from one of the original 10 witnesses.
Two or three dissenters who are closer to the original 10 witnesses would
be granted much more credibility in the eyes of most jurors. The further
problem with some Byzantine readings, particularly those that resulted from
conflation (which may have occurred during a large-scale recension), is
that they may not even be derived from ONE of the original 10 witnesses
(i.e. en efesO in Ephesians 1:1, which probably resulted from #1 the choice
of the Pauline corpus editor or a successor to write PROS EFESIOUS at the
top of this epistle, followed by #2 an ambitious scribe who wanted to
harmonize "Ephsians" with other Pauline epistles that contained an explicit
addressee reference in the body of the text).
3) Advocates of this praxis suggest that in light of the great similarity
among Byzantine manuscripts, one would have to propose a grand, scribal
conspiracy intended to deceive people with the wrong text-type for hundreds
of years. In response, opponents of the idea that the majority of
manuscripts leads to the original text do not accuse scribes of deceit.
Instead, they consider MT scribes to be faithful reproducers who followed
the text of their exemplars WITH GREAT CARE. Unfortunately, these scribes
were faithfully reproducing a secondary text that was the result of a later
revision, as the large number of Byzantine conflations suggests.
4) According to adherents of this theory, the dominance of the MT is
accounted for by its continuous transmission from the autographa, and the
copies nearest to the autographs will normally have the largest number of
descendants, as is true of all ancient documents. Against this argument,
the MT form is completely unknown by any of the evidence up to A.D. 350,
with the earliest evidence being found in some of the fathers, then later
in the fifth century in portions of Codices A and W. Furthermore, if the
MT represents the "broad stream" that issues from the autographs, why is it
true that amid all of the manuscript evidence from the first three hundred
years, only the "offshoots" are attested?
5) Another belief is that quantity was ordained by God as an important
factor, and as such, inerrantists must believe that God preserved this
text-type throughout the ages (Thus Helge Evenson's providential
preservation, which I, as an inerrantist, also believe in!). This is
clearly a theological argument rather than a logical one. The fact remains
that due to the diligent work of textual critics since the eighteenth
century, along with the excavations of the last 150 years, Christian
scholarship now knows that God also preserved other text-types, which
possess quite excellent examples of the biblical text. Therefore, God's
providential preservation also extends to the mss. recently made extant!!
Their argument also breaks down in that the MT is not said to be a "bad"
or heretical text. It presents the same Christian message as the other
three text-types; it just preserves the errors inherrant in its exemplars,
in addition to creating its own (as is true of any text type). In
addition, until the advent of the printing press, the church had never
followed a rigidly uniform text; many variants were present within the
manuscripts used by the church down through the ages.
Therefore, on the basis of these problems, which are representative but not
exhaustive, the praxis of t.c. that chooses a favorite text-type based on
numerical superiority must be rejected. Unfortunately, this view is
usually embraced as a result of mere presuppositions.
Allow me to move on to Waltz's comment that age doesn't mean anything
either, along with his claim that Comfort would appeal only to age for
selection of readings. In "The Quest for the Original Text of the N.T.",
Comfort explicitly states that "an 'early' ms. is not always the most
trustworthy manuscript." This does not sound like a statement from one who
is ready to burn all mss. copied after A.D. 300. What I assume Comfort and
West would be driving at is that earlier mss. are generally more important
than later ones. If this is truly their position, then I would tend to
agree, especially with the word "generally" inserted.
What is the difference between a ms. from the 2nd c. compared with a ms.
from the 13th c.? One PROBABLE difference is that there are fewer
generations of copies between the ms. in hand and the autographs. This is
quite significant, since every generation of new copies brings along with
it the errors of previous generations as well as its own errors, not to
mention the fact that many more scribes have the potential to compare their
own exemplars with other mss. of increasingly-more mixed texts (as time
passes), thus resulting in mss. that are further edited (or conflated).
Having said this, I must admit that the praxis of t.c. that says, "Choose a
Favorite Text-Type Based on the Earliness of Mss." is also flawed. Why?
1) This view cannot avoid the charge of circular reasoning, which thus
negates its cogency. Epp explained this well in his 1989 HTR article.
Simplistically, a "very ancient" ms. must be examined for the quality of
its text in order for it to be considered as a reliable "older" witness.
How do we examine it? How do we know that a ms. is reliable, and thus
worthy of being using as a standard of external evidence that can
effectively weigh more heavily than later, "inferior" mss.? We compare it
to other mss. and use the canons of internal criticism. Therefore, we use
internal evidence to call a ms. a strong or weak authority in assessing
external evidence. Circular reasoning.
2) For this praxis to present an airtight case, it requires a clear picture
of the history of the transmission of the text. It also requires that our
earliest mss., nearly all from preservation-friendly Egypt, represent the
text of the entire church. Epp asks, "How representative, really, of the
earliest history of the NT text are these earliest papyri? What assurance
do we have that these randomly surviving manuscripts represent in any real
sense the entire earliest period of the text?" Comfort asserts that the
early papyrus mss. represent not only the Egyptian N.T. text, but also the
text of the entire early church. However, this assertion is very difficult
to prove, and I am not sure that he convincingly did so in "Quest." The
oldest papyrus manuscripts have shown that they also suffer from scribal
error and transmission of prior mistakes.
3) If age is indeed the absolute criterion, we should turn to the "Western"
text as the basis of our text. However, it is well-established that this
"text-type" is certainly not the purest or most reliable for establishing
the wording of the autographs.
Therefore, choosing a reading because of age of manuscripts is not the best
praxis of t.c., but Waltz is not precise when he says that "age doesn't
mean anything." It often means a great deal. However, its overall
significance can only be assessed after a ms. has undergone thorough
scrutiny. But let me restate that greater antiquity means that a ms.
probably represents fewer generations of copies between it and the original
(a notable exception is 1739), thus meaning that usually there will be
fewer reproductions that are laden with error.
Well, that is all for now, and probably all that you are ready to read. It
is now past midnight in central Russia! Later I want to deal with a few
more of Waltz's comments from the same e-mail. Exact quotations and
citations can be found in my ThM thesis.