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When does a variant become significant?

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  • Eddie Mishoe
    Folks, pre-suppose that a new NT Greek manuscript is found that is dated in the 12th century. What if there were two new variants found within that manuscript
    Message 1 of 4 , Oct 2, 2008
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      Folks, pre-suppose that a new NT Greek manuscript is found that is dated in the 12th century. What if there were two new variants found within that manuscript that has no other attestation within the existing manuscript evidence. What would the value of that new variant be (in light of the fact that it is a singular reading at this point)? What I'm trying to understand is, when a "new" variant surfaces, what are the events that need to follow in order for such a variant to be considered a "likely" reading of the original (please don't get sidetracked on the debate about the "originals" or living text or whatnot). I would assume that a sole variant found in the 12th century, with an unknown date of its vorlage, would not be significant until at least two or three (or more?) more manuscripts are found that also contain that same reading. It seems almost impossible to date the vorlage of the extant manuscripts so it would be hard to know how far back in
      time these newly 'discovered' variant readings go.

      Eddie Mishoe
      Pastor
    • Dr. Don Wilkins
      I think we ve discussed this before, but in any case, what you are describing strikes me as very similar to the controversy over the so- called Johannine comma
      Message 2 of 4 , Oct 2, 2008
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        I think we've discussed this before, but in any case, what you are
        describing strikes me as very similar to the controversy over the so-
        called Johannine comma (1 John 5:7 f.), where a late Greek ms was
        supposedly discovered to support the inferior reading in the Vulgate.
        But you seem to be on the verge of answering your own question. Since
        I hold to traditional TC guidelines, such a ms would have no value
        IMO. If at least one of the major Alexandrian mss had the same
        reading, the late date would still render your ms of no real value.
        On the other hand, if one takes the opposite view that there are no
        credible guidelines, then any ms that hasn't been faked is worthy of
        consideration.

        Don Wilkins

        On Oct 2, 2008, at 1:12 PM, Eddie Mishoe wrote:

        >
        > Folks, pre-suppose that a new NT Greek manuscript is found that is
        > dated in the 12th century. What if there were two new variants
        > found within that manuscript that has no other attestation within
        > the existing manuscript evidence. What would the value of that new
        > variant be (in light of the fact that it is a singular reading at
        > this point)? What I'm trying to understand is, when a "new" variant
        > surfaces, what are the events that need to follow in order for such
        > a variant to be considered a "likely" reading of the original
        > (please don't get sidetracked on the debate about the "originals"
        > or living text or whatnot). I would assume that a sole variant
        > found in the 12th century, with an unknown date of its vorlage,
        > would not be significant until at least two or three (or more?)
        > more manuscripts are found that also contain that same reading. It
        > seems almost impossible to date the vorlage of the extant
        > manuscripts so it would be hard to know how far back in
        > time these newly 'discovered' variant readings go.
        >
        > Eddie Mishoe
        > Pastor
        >
        >
        >
      • Robert Relyea
        Ok I ll take a crack at the answer since I there are a number of real textual critics and some amateurs who may was well be real TC s:) on this list who can
        Message 3 of 4 , Oct 2, 2008
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          Ok I'll take a crack at the answer since I there are a number of real
          textual critics and some "amateurs" who may was well be real TC's:) on
          this list who can correct any inaccuracies I present....

          Singular readings in any manuscript (not just a 12th century manuscript)
          are usually not considered significant in reconstructing the "original".
          Even well respected manuscripts like p72, B, and p74 have lots of
          singular readings that rejected as not original. What raises a singular
          reading to the point it may be considered is a combination of internal
          evidence and quality of the manuscript which has the reading. If
          internal evidence shows the reading is almost certainly a scribal error
          (like certain omissions in B), then we can safely discard it as
          spurious. If, however, the reading comes from a manuscript with good
          text, and the reading best explains how the other known readings arise,
          then that reading will get more consideration.

          In the case of your 12th century manuscript, it would need to have a
          pretty good text to begin with (like a good Alexandrian text, but
          obviously not a direct copy of one of our existing manuscripts), plus
          really strong internal evidence, before it would be considered. If, on
          the other hand, the manuscript has a late Byzantine text, then it's not
          very likely that singular reading in it has much claim on originality.

          bob




          Eddie Mishoe wrote:
          >
          >
          > Folks, pre-suppose that a new NT Greek manuscript is found that is
          > dated in the 12th century. What if there were two new variants found
          > within that manuscript that has no other attestation within the
          > existing manuscript evidence. What would the value of that new variant
          > be (in light of the fact that it is a singular reading at this point)?
          > What I'm trying to understand is, when a "new" variant surfaces, what
          > are the events that need to follow in order for such a variant to be
          > considered a "likely" reading of the original (please don't get
          > sidetracked on the debate about the "originals" or living text or
          > whatnot). I would assume that a sole variant found in the 12th
          > century, with an unknown date of its vorlage, would not be significant
          > until at least two or three (or more?) more manuscripts are found that
          > also contain that same reading. It seems almost impossible to date the
          > vorlage of the extant manuscripts so it would be hard to know how far
          > back in
          > time these newly 'discovered' variant readings go.
          >
          > Eddie Mishoe
          > Pastor
          >


          >
          >
        • James Snapp, Jr.
          Dear Eddie Mishoe: EM: What if there were two new variants found within [a newly- discovered MS from the 1100 s] that have no other attestation within the
          Message 4 of 4 , Oct 3, 2008
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            Dear Eddie Mishoe:

            EM: "What if there were two new variants found within [a newly-
            discovered MS from the 1100's] that have no other attestation within
            the existing manuscript evidence. What would the value of that new
            variant be (in light of the fact that it is a singular reading at
            this point)?"

            The value of a singular reading in a 12th-century MS would depend on
            several factors. I will list five:

            (a) The viability of the variant. If it is merely an obvious
            scribal error (such as an omission which is readily attributable to
            parablepsis), or quirky orthography, it would hardly have any value
            at all. (This probably eliminates over 99% of the singular readings
            in all 12th-century MSS.)

            (b) The value of the surrounding text. A sensible singular reading
            in a medieval MS with a text that frequently agrees with the
            Alexandrian Text, or with the "Western" Text, (or, in the Gospels,
            with A-versus-Maj), would be much more interesting to most textual
            critics than a sensible and viable singular reading in a medieval MS
            with a thoroughly Byzantine Text.

            (c) The pedigree of the MS, in cases where this can be verified by a
            colophon. A 12th-century MS may be suspected of having a family-tree
            which is taller than the family-tree of a 10th-century MS or an 8th-
            century MS or a 6th-century MS. But suppose a colophon in a 12-
            century MS says something like, "This is a copy of an ancient
            manuscript that was made by Abec, the lowly monk, during the reign of
            Governor Defeg," and we can determine from other sources that Defeg
            governed in Heijekel in the 500's. =Kapow!= Suddenly our 12th-
            century MS attests to a 6th-century text! There are some
            qualifications to consider in such a case: the copyist might not
            have copied his exemplar altogether faithfully, for instance. But if
            a medieval MS has such a colophon, its status is raised considerably -
            - and the potential value of its sensible, viable singular readings
            will be raised proportionately. (Unfortunately this sort of pedigree-
            determination does not happen often. But it does
            happen.)

            (d) The aesthetic appeal of the singular reading. Some textual
            critics strongly suspect that some passages in the NT text
            contain "primitive corruptions," which is a way of saying that none
            of the extant variants at those points is actually the original
            text. Some textual critics have offered calculated guesses --
            conjectural emendations -- about what the original text was in those
            passages. If a 12th-century MS were to agree with a well-known
            conjectural emendation, it would possess an inherent aesthetic
            appeal. For instance, if a 12th-century MS of First Peter
            read "Enoch" at 3:19, it would instantly be significant. Or if a
            12th-century MS of Colossians read, at 2:18, AIWRA KENEMBATEUWN, it
            would be instantly significant. There are some qualifications here;
            the significance of this reading at Col. 2:18 would be increased if
            the surrounding text of the MS containing it were good (some
            agreements with P46 would help!) and if it could be shown that the
            copyist did not have a habit of freely adjusting the text or mis-
            dividing words or confusing O and W. Such considerations
            notwithstanding, if a singular reading in a 12th-century MS
            vindicates a conjectural emendation, the reading almost automatically
            becomes noteworthy, even though it might not be significant enough to
            include in a textual apparatus.

            A singular Greek reading may also gain aesthetic appeal if it echoes
            the form of a passage cited by a patristic writer in a form which is
            not extant in any Greek witnesses. For instance, if a 12th-century
            Greek manuscript read "He who was born" in John 1:13, that would be
            significant. (That would not be 100% singular, since it has
            patristic and (very limited) versional support, but it seems to fit
            within your description of the hypothetical discovery of a reading
            without other attestation within the existing /manuscript/
            evidence.) Again, it would be more highly esteemed if the
            surrounding text were of high quality, if the MS had a verifiably
            good pedigree, and if it could be shown that the scribe was not
            reckless -- and, especially/paramountly, if the singular reading
            explains the origin of its rivals!

            (e) The singular reading's similarity to rare variants. For
            instance, if a 12th-century MS of Matthew had something similar to
            the interpolation found in D in Mt. 20:28, but with singular
            orthography, singular transpositions, and a smattering of singular
            vocabulary, the reading as a whole would be automatically noteworthy,
            even though its truly singular elements might not be.

            All five of those considerations should be in play. I don't know of
            any actual singular reading in any actual 12th-century MS that has a
            sustainable claim to embody the original text.

            On a related point, the idea that a MS from the 1100's can be
            casually dismissed as having no real value because of its date is
            spectacularly wrong. Late MSS can contain early texts. Just think
            about the early readings in MSS such as 579, 700, 1241, 1582, and
            1739, or the text of Acts in Old Latin g (Gigas, from the 14th
            century). Let me cite an example: the reading ELQETW TO PNEUMA
            SOU TO hAGION EF' hHMAS KAI KAQARISATW hHMAS in Luke 11:2 is
            found in MS 700 (dated to the 1000's). It is also found, with some
            variations, in MS 162, which is dated to the 12th century (1153, to
            be precise). This variant (which is significant, even though it is
            not original) is mentioned by Tertullian! In these two medieval MSS,
            a variant that was known to Tertullian is embedded. So at Luke 11:2,
            these two medieval MSS are echoes of a voice that spoke in the late
            second and early third centuries. Whenever a MS is newly discovered,
            the possibility exists that it might contain many such early
            readings. We have to examine the MS and discover its contents first;
            only *after* that step is taken can an estimate be made of its value
            as a witness. If we were to judge the value of a text solely by the
            age of the material on which it is written, we would have to regard
            the latest edition of the N-A text as the most worthless text of
            all. Obviously that would be bad.

            Yours in Christ,

            James Snapp, Jr.
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