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Evaluating the Alexandrian Text

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  • james_snapp_jr
    Welcome, Joseph. (I assume that you are the same Joe Wallack with whom I discussed Mark 16:9-20 some time ago at CARM?) I visited the link you provided to the
    Message 1 of 37 , Nov 27, 2011
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      Welcome, Joseph.

      (I assume that you are the same Joe Wallack with whom I discussed Mark 16:9-20 some time ago at CARM?)

      I visited the link you provided to the forum at the "FreeThought & Rationalism" site -- which is a lot like an Internet Infidels site, devoted to the promotion of secularism. As I address your points, I'll try to put the question about Mark 16:9-20 in the background, and the current matter of the Alexandrian Text in the foreground. I numbered your statements (sometimes rephrasing them to form sentences, but, I hope you'll agree, in a way that conveys your meaning accurately) and respond to each one.

      (1) "The Alexandrian Text is the oldest extant text type."

      If that were the case, it would just be another way of saying that copies with the Alexandrian Text, such as P75, have survived longer than copies with non-Alexandrian texts. Which would be a natural side-effect of the papyrus-friendly climate where those copies were found. To favor a text just because its copies have survived the longest is tantamount to letting the weather do one's textual criticism.

      But I don't entirely grant the premise. P45 is the oldest manuscript of Mark, albeit very mutilated, and the text of P45 is not Alexandrian. In addition, the patristic evidence of the 100's and 200's does not generate a lot of support for the Alexandrian Text; "Western" readings tend to be supported instead. Cyprian's text is Western, not Alexandrian. Tertullian's text is not Alexandrian. Hippolytus' text is not Alexandrian. Even Clement's text -- which one would expect to be Alexandrian, since he worked in Alexandria -- has non-Alexandrian elements, like a fortress into which so many foreign rocks have been catapulted that they have been used to build the walls. (Just consider Clement's quotation from Mark 10 in his "Who Is The Rich Man?" -- does that look Alexandrian?? And, in the 300's, even one grants (as Dr. Ehrman contends) that Didymus used a form of the Alexandrian Text in Egypt in the late 300's, that does not erase Basil's use of a form of the Byzantine Text in Caesarea at about the same time -- or Chrysostom's in the late 300's -- or Wulfilas' in the mid-300's.

      (2) "The Alexandrian Text is favored by textual critics."

      Not by all of them. And besides, that is just an appeal to authority, not to evidence.

      (3) "The Alexandrian Text agrees with with even earlier fragments."
      Except when it doesn't -- as is often the case. Some fragments are too small to really be useful; there is just not enough text to make a confident judgment about the character of the text that was in the copy when it was pristine. Plus, as I mentioned already, the fragments that support the Alexandrian Text were dug up in Egypt; the existence of the Alexandrian Text there does not preclude the contemporary existence of other text-types in other locales that were not favored by a papyrus-friendly climate.

      (4) "The Alexandrian Text is generally shorter (forgery is more likely to be an addition than subtraction)."

      Except when it isn't -- which is often the case. The axiom "prefer the shorter reading" is still advocated by some textual critics (such as Daniel Wallace, in his chapter in "Interpreting the NT Text") who, for whatever reason, seem not to have fathomed the implications of the data that was presented by Royse, showing that early copyists tended to omit three times for every two times they added. The data compels a qualification of the old axiom (which, btw, was very qualified already when it was enunciated by Bengel, Griesbach, et al) so that the new, improved form of it is, as Wallace wrote, "*As long as an unintentional omission is not likely,* the shorter reading is *usually* to be preferred." [emphasis added] But what is that really saying, except that the shorter reading is more likely unless the longer reading is more likely, which is hardly worth saying?!

      (5) "Other text-types show signs of editing."

      The Byzantine Text is not unique in this regard. Forms of the Western text -- early forms! -- also show signs of editing, such as the text of Codex Bobbiensis, and the text of the Sinaitic Syriac. Noticing that some late readings, caused by editing (as in the case of conflations, and in the case of some benign attempts to make the text more explicit) have settled on top of an older textual stratum does not render the entire stratum late.

      (6) "The Alexandrian Text tends to agree with early Patristics."

      See #1 above. The earliest patristic texts favor Western readings more than they favor Alexandrian readings. And some early patristic authors were not consistent in the texts that they used.

      In addition, some scholars' analysis of the patristic attestation (or non-attestation) for the Byzantine Text puts it in a no-win scenario: the Byzantine Text is assumed to be (mainly) an amalgamation of Alexandrian and Western readings, so whenever a patristic writer uses a reading that is Western *and* Byzantine, or Alexandrian *and* Byzantine, that is categorized as attestation for the Western Text, or for the Alexandrian Text, but not for the Byzantine Text. Thus only the non-Western, non-Alexandrian readings can attest for the early existence of the Byzantine Text. But what if the Byzantine Text is original (or, at least, more original than its rivals), and the distinctly Western and distinctly Alexandrian readings are the barnacles? Then the same data is accounted for by a history comparable to the history of a fleet of ships which take different voyages, and acquire different barnacles, the distinctly Alexandrian and distinctly Western readings being barnacles that have displaced the Byzantine readings, rather than the other way around. But how can one discern a barnacle from the hull of a ship -- i.e., how is the false reading detected as false? One way is by comparing the internal evidence of rival readings and trying to discern which one is more likely to be original. But sometimes that is a close call. Another way is to study and measure the many ships which have reached harbor, reconstruct a ship-blueprint, and identify the deviations from that blueprint as barnacles. In the latter approach, the patristic evidence helps one track variants -- it helps us trace the voyages of the ships, and of the barnacles -- but only shapes the blueprint to the extent that each writer's text is one of the many models informing the blueprint.

      (7) "The Alexandrian Text is supported by the difficult reading principle."

      Like at John 7:8, where P66, P75, B, and T all read OUPW? Or like at John 7:39, where B (supported by Eusebius and by Jerome's Vulgate) reads DEDOMENON, but K and Pi do not (agreeing with P75)? *Sometimes* the Alexandrian reading is more difficult, or less explicit, but not always. And sometimes copyists made difficult readings, mostly accidentally.

      (8) "The 3 great textual critics of the early Church, Origen, Eusebius and Jerome, were all near the Alexandrian text-type."

      Origen's text-critical work was mainly on the Hexapla; his extant text-critical comments on NT passages are few: Metzger collected 22 of them in his article "Explicit References in the Works of Origen to Variant Readings in New Testament Manuscripts," in NTTS VIII. Origen's textual criticism was atrocious! Facing variants in John 1:28, for example, he reasoned that even though "almost all the copies" support "Bethabara," and even though he knew that Heracleon (an earlier heretical writer) had supported the reading "Bethany," he rejected it, figuring that there has always been one and only one Bethany, the one near Jerusalem, and figuring, in addition, that since "Bethabara" means House of Preparation, it is the more appropriate name for the place where John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ, and therefore he recommended it. Great textual critic? Bwa-Ha! Like the greatest whaler in Iowa. Augustine enunciated better text-critical principles. Besides, Origen's text is sometimes Alexandrian-ish, and sometimes Caesarean-ish; he does not display a deliberate preference for the Alexandrian Text.

      As for Eusebius and Jerome: do you have any evidence -- for example, can you direct me to an exhaustive table of readings from the Gospels showing how often the citations by Eusebius or Jerome agree with an Alexandrian reading that disagrees with the Byzantine reading, and vice versa? If Eusebius and Jerome were so close to the Alexandrian Text, why didn't they say anything about the Alexandrian text of Matthew 27:49? (And when considering that question it should be kept in mind that Jerome, in a comment on Matthew 24:36, appears to be aware of the contents of at least one copy used by Origen and Pierius.)

      (9) "Alexandria had a reputation for Scribal quality."

      The basis for that seems rather tenuous to me, as far as copyists of Christian texts are concerned. Do you have any evidence that anyone in a Christian community outside Egypt ever expressed a wish that he could obtain copies from Alexandria, as if there was something especially desirable about copies from there?

      Regarding your closing comments about the ending of Mark: Richard Carrier's article, even in its slightly emended form, still has plenty of misstatements. Although his profile on that page claims that he studied textual criticism for seven years, some features of the article as it initially appeared showed clear signs of noviceness. I welcome you to compare his claims to the contents of my book, "Authentic: The Case for Mark 16:9-20," a special edition of which can be downloaded from the Textexcavation website:

      And, regarding your claim that "There is no significant authority" for Mark 16:9-20 -- which I take to mean authority among academia, since among manuscripts and patristic writings, etc., there is abundant authority -- I would answer that there is more than you might think, and that the question is, sadly, still terra incognita on the map of many NT scholars, and that a lot of what passes for support for the abrupt ending in commentaries consists of regurgitations of Metzger's textual commentary.

      Yours in Christ,

      James Snapp, Jr.
      Minister, Curtisville Christian Church
    • james_snapp_jr
      Dear Joe: Regarding the attempt to illustrate scribal tendencies by examining Matthew s use of Mark: as I said already, this is not a legitimate comparison,
      Message 37 of 37 , Jan 1, 2012
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        Dear Joe:

        Regarding the attempt to illustrate scribal tendencies by examining Matthew's use of Mark: as I said already, this is not a legitimate comparison, because Matthew was an author, consciously using Marcan material as source-material; Matthew was not operating as a copyist. This should be obvious.

        cJW: "Where intent is limited to copying, I would agree that omission is more likely than addition."

        Great; we agree. (I'd say /generally/ more likely -- the ratios are not overwhelmingly one-sided. And I'd say that one of the very points where scribes got into trouble was when they veered from their strict duty to duplicate the contents of their exemplars. But /generally,/ yes.)

        JW: "Regarding "Matthew" tending to shorten "Mark's" stories, I hear that but I don't see it."

        That's because you've just looked in Mark chapter 1. And even there, you've overlooked places where Matthew moved Marcan material to other parts of his account (instead of conveniently keeping it all in sequence).

        Try the presentation at http://www.textexcavation.com/synopticlistedinventory.html , which will allow you to see out-of-sequence parallels, as well as verbal similarities in the Greek text -- things that you just can't do at the Five Gospels comparison-site you mentioned. Select 10 or 12 places throughout Matthew where Matthew's account is paralleled in Mark, and see whether it is Matthew or Mark who has more words within that episode.

        Here are a few episodes to consider:
        The Healing of a Leper: http://www.textexcavation.com/synhealleper.html
        The Healing of a Paralytic: http://www.textexcavation.com/synhealparalytic.html
        The Gadarene Demoniac: http://www.textexcavation.com/synexorcismgadarene.html

        Of course three other episodes could be cherry-picked that would show the opposite results. But if you go all the way through the parallels between Matthew and Mark, and look at the word-counts (which are listed at the site, episode-by-episode), you will see that although Matthew's episode is sometimes longer (especially when he adds material from another source), usually the longer episode is in Mark. Which implies that when Matthew is using Marcan material, Matthew is usually condensing Marcan material, even though he sometimes supplements the material he has condensed. This should be indisputable, since it is a simple matter of counting words.

        JW: "Is this directly relevant to Scribal editing of source texts? Yes it is."

        No; it isn't. Writing a book using source-materials is a different task than reproducing an already-written text.

        Getting back to Mark 16:9-20 --

        JW: "Since "Matthew" is longer than "Mark" anyway you look at it and preferred, the tendency would be to edit "Mark", the shorter text, to "Matthew", the longer text, and therefore addition here would be more likely than subtraction."

        And thus the tendency would be not to make just any addition, but an addition that looks like what we see in Matthew: an ending in which the frightened women are met by Jesus, and recover their resolve to report to the disciples, who believe the women and therefore proceed to Galilee. But that's not what we have in Mark 16:9-20, is it. We have, instead, a sudden restart in 16:9, followed by scenes in or near Jerusalem, even though this creative editor/composer you posit (or, rather, Kelhoffer posited) had the means, motive, and opportunity to use Matthew to create a harmonious and smoothly-transitioning conclusion. Do you really not see the difficulty?

        Yours in Christ,

        James Snapp, Jr.
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