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Re: [textualcriticism] When does a variant become significant?

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  • 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 1 of 4 , Oct 2, 2008
      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.


      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 2 of 4 , Oct 3, 2008
        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

        (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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