3894Re: Variants again, can you tell I'm frustrated

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• Aug 2, 2008
Dear Eddie M.:

(The "living text" scholar is David Parker.)

EM: "No two scholars calculate or define "variants" the same way."

A variant is a difference of content. A variant exists where one
witness has a reading which another witness does not have. While the
definition of a "significant" variant may be limited to instances in
which a whole word is different, any difference -- different word-
order, different spelling -- is a variant.

EM: "It gets even worse when you ask, "A variant against what?""

It would have to: if one uses Textus Receptus as a collating-base,
any given witness will agree and disagree against the TR in different
places, and to a different extent, than if one were to use as a
collating-base the Majority Text or the NA-27 text or the text of
Vaticanus.

EM: "The simple fact that we can not produce a list of variants in
such a way as to confirm or deny the wild numbers thrown around
(75,000, 100,000, some as high as "a half a million," etc.) is wrong."

Here's the estimate I mentioned earlier, based on post #1700 on the
TC-Alternate list.

Dr. Tommy Wasserman has collected 1,271 variants in the Greek
witnesses to the book of Jude -- a book which contains 461 words, as
Wasserman reconstructs it. If we work with the unproven premise that
variants were created at the same rate in other books that they were
created at in Jude, then if we apply the ratio of 461-to-1,271 to the
total number of words in the NT (put at 137,490 by Morgenthaler),
then the total number of variants = 379,067. Thus the number of
variants in a given book may be expected to be 2.75 times the number
of words in the book.

So 380,000 (and a formula of 2.75 x the # of words in a book) seems
about right. One thing that I'm not sure about, though, is whether
or not it's sensible to count the *authentic* readings as variants.
When most folks talk about variants, they mean variations from the
original text, even though technically a contested genuine reading is
also a variant. If we subtract from 380,000 the *authentic* 137,490
words, with their authentic spelling, in their authentic word-order,
then the number of inauthentic readings seems to drop to 242,510.

That unproven premise that I mentioned is probably incorrect. We
should probably expect the rate of variants in the Gospels to be much
higher than in Jude, since the Gospels have many more witnesses. So
let's figure in, oh, another 75,000 variants. Depending on whether
or not the authentic variants are counted, the total number of
variants in the Greek witnesses to the NT text might be about 455,000
or (subtracting the authentic readings) 317,510.

Imho, that's about the best estimate you will ever need to have.

Regarding that blog-entry by Dr. Wallace: I think I know the one you
have in mind (though I couldn't locate it in the P&P archives). The
statement by Dr. Geisler was incorrect, and Dr. Wallace was right to
correct it. I wish that he had also pointed out that many variants
are repetitions of the same orthographic difference (i.e., 100
occurrences of "euqus" in one witness and 100 matching occurrences
of "euqews" in another witness = 100 variants, not just one), and
that if one were to count such differences collectively rather than
individually then the number of distinct, non-repeated variants would
not be nearly as intimidating as it may initially seem. I don't know
what specific mathematical difficulty you detected.

EM: "I promise never again to bother the members of this list with a
question on variants again."

For my part, feel free to take back that promise anytime. Take away
discussions about variants from a list dedicated to NT TC and there's
not much left!

EM: "Just about every known Greek ms is available in a word
processing software. We don't have to "eye ball" this."

Even if you were to take the time to sift through the collations and
count up all the variants, you would still have just an estimate,
because (a) new MSS continue to be discovered, and (b) there is no
guarantee that the collations are correct in every respect, and (b)
many witnesses, such as lectionaries, remain to be collated, and (c)
some MSS are so illegible at some places that it is impossible to
confidently say which variant they support at those spots.

EM: "We just need a person who can align these texts and highlight
Variants."

Wasserman took the time to do that with the text of Jude, and while
it is nice to have the contents of all Greek witnesses systematically
listed, the exhaustiveness of his list does not make the already-
known-to-be-significant variants more significant; nor does it make
significant. As far as the recovery of the original text is
concerned, the exhaustive list does not do anything that a list of
variants in the 50 most important Greek MSS would not do.

An exhaustive list of variants could be helpful when attempting to
track the descent of MSS; the possibility exists that some
orthographic variants -- insignificant, by all initial appearances --
might show up at a particular point in a text-stream, and be passed
along to a specific group of witnesses which can be shown to be
a "family" by virtue of these common orthographic elements. But istm
that this is an approach which may be carried out book-by-book; it
need not wait for an exhaustive list of variants for the entire NT
text.

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.
www.curtisvillechristian.org/BasicTC.html
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