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[textualcriticism] Ehrman Project: Eldon Epp and the original text - "it doesn't make sense... " ?

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  • Steven Avery
    Hi Folks, James Snapp Dr. Ehrman stated than he was no radical skeptic; his view is a normal view, and to prove it, he mentioned that William Petersen, Eldon
    Message 1 of 7 , Jul 16, 2012
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      Hi Folks,

      James Snapp
      Dr. Ehrman stated than he was no radical skeptic; his view is a normal view, and to prove it, he mentioned that William Petersen, Eldon Epp, Ann-Marie Luijendijk, Kim Haines-Eitzen, and David Parker agree with him that "it doesn't make sense" to talk about the original text. (Well, that's virtually worldwide support; it's "many scholars," and not concentrated in a relatively small cabal of deviantly liberal scholars at all!) Dr. Ehrman happened to have some of these writers' books handy, and held them up. (Was it valid to appeal to Epp? Afaik, he has raised questions; is he really on record saying that it makes no sense to talk about the original text? And wasn't Kim Haines-Eitzen taught by Dr. Ehrman?)

      Steven
      With Eldon Epp the answer to your question is ambiguous.  The key writing is The Multivalence Of The Term "Original Text" In New Testament Textual Criticism* Eldon Jay Epp Harvard Theological Review, 1999, Volume 92, No. 3, pp. 245-281.  Epp makes special note of the views of Ehrman, Parker, William Petersen (1950-2006) and his own theories.

      Thus, note that Epp does reference two writers for whom "it doesn't make sense" to talk about the original text might be a reasonable shorthand.  Especially David Parker with The Living Text of the Gospels, 1997and Bart Ehrman with Orthdox Corruption (1993). Ehrman with the theories that the established texts represent the result of rather extensive orthdodox corruption.  (My note: this is based on the Ehrman idea that the 1st-century text would actually be adoptionistic or ebionite and thus wholesale changes were possible to erase that original doctrinal perspective.) 

      Epp reviews the paper of William Petersen What Text Can New Testament Textual Criticism Ultimately Reach? (which I went over in the previous post) and really makes no attempt to put Petersen in that camp.  Epp shows that Petersen's emphasis was on the choices of evidences and the misplaced centrality of Vaticanus. And Petersen's offering a general proposition to, at least more frequently, go to the "earliest" evidences.  After referencing the throwaway quote with Secret Mark and the Mark ending as part of a series of "penetrating questions", Epp writes of Petersen:

      The burden of his article, however, runs parallel to these particular issues, namely, if the goal of New Testament textual criticism is to produce a text "as close as possible to the original," then it should employ the sources that will facilitate that goal. The papyri, Petersen says, will not do, for they contribute no new readings to the critical text of the gospels (that is, to the gospel text of Nestle-Aland / UBS), though they do frequently extend other manuscript evidence from the fourth century back to the third. Petersen is asserting, I gather, that the early papyri by themselves do not/cannot establish a text any closer to the original than already exists in the B-text. The abundant Patristic evidence, he continues, "has been largely ignored,"  ... What he has exposed here is a layer of text beneath what most would consider the "original text" that traditionally has been the object of textual criticism -- that is, he documents a layer constituting an earlier "original" or "originals" that are open to restoration.

      Epp assumes the same Vaticanus-Alexandrian circularity that Petersen both decries and partially assumes -- Petersen simply does not care that this is often an ultra-minority ill-supported (snip) or reading.   Petersen and the Hortians agree on the basics that ultra-minority is always fine, as long as there is some early support. And Epp properly points out that Petersen was simply asking for an evidentiary reevaluation.

      The fourth person examined by Epp is his own view. Epp spends a lot of time and a theory that chapters of the ending of Romans, before the closing Doxology, was a tack-on. (Such theories are popular with NT endings.)  Also he goes into his fav Corinthian questions. However, Epp summarizes his concern by dividing the "original text" into four constituent components :

      First, a predecessor text-form, that is, a form of text (or more than one) discoverable behind a New Testament writing that played a role in the composition of that writing. ...

      Second, an autographic text-form, that is, the textual form as it left the desk of Paul or a secretary, or of other writers of portions of what became our New Testament...

      Third, a canonical text-form, that is, the textual form of a book (or a collection of books) at the time it acquired consensual authority or when its canonicity was (perhaps more formally) sought or established ...

      Fourth, an interpretive text-form, representing any and each interpretive iteration or reformulation of a writing -- as it was used in the life, worship, and teaching of the church ....

      Epp's point is that:

      (1) is largely ignored in textual criticism, it is more discussed in realms like looking at Aramaic or Hebraic perceived earlier sources and quotes that were hypothesized to have been taken into the Greek NT text..

      (2) is the semi-standard sense.

      And James must allow (3) to be very important (as does Bruce Metzger at times of equivocation) since his own Mark ending theory moves in that distinction direction. (I strongly disagree, as does Professor Maurice Robinson). In fact, James Snapp tries to divide (3) into what we might call a soft and hard component. The soft component including "friends of Mark" .. while not accepting a hard component of later church canonization, say at 200 A.D.

      (4) is the Ehrmanesque perspective, where the issue can be whether you believe Burgon or Ehrman had a more sensible understanding of "orthodox corruption" .. my belief, Burgon.  However, Ehrman has pulled the wool over the eyes of the textual community by fudging the basic underpinning of his theory, that the early church was adoptionist or ebionite. As I discussed here earlier and as written in a paper by Tony Costa.   If Ehrman stated this clearly, he would likely end up in discussion externally not with the mythicists like Doherty, but more significantly with the more evangelical scholars like Larry Hurtado (Epp's former student) and Richard Bauckham.

      Anyway, lets go back to the question. 
      Does:

      "it doesn't make sense" to talk about the original text.- Bart Ehrman

      Sound like a reasonable categorization of the Eppian position ?  Only, and oddly, with difficulty, since Epp's goal is to supply the very breakdown that will make more sense to the term "original text".

      he has raised questions; is he really on record saying that it makes no sense to talk about the original text? - James Snapp

      Clearly, with Epp the Bart Ehrman language was very loose, although some might consider it acceptable.

      Shalom,
      Steven Avery
      Bayside, NY




    • Mike Holmes
      Colleagues, Steven, in response to James, summarizes very nicely Epp s Multivalence essay from 1999. Epp has further developed his ideas in a subsequent
      Message 2 of 7 , Jul 16, 2012
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        Colleagues,
        Steven, in response to James, summarizes very nicely Epp's "Multivalence" essay from 1999. Epp has further developed his ideas in a subsequent essay (not included in his 'collected essays' volume): "It's All About Variants: A Variant-conscious Approach to New Testament Textual Criticism," Harvard Theological Review 100 (2007) 275-308.

        In this essay, he offers his opinion that the traditional goal (i.e., the 'original text') of NT textual criticism is no longer a viable objective:

        "the nature of New Testament textual transmission virtually precludes any ultimate identification of “earliest attainable” with “the original.” The factors are many and varied, but predominate is the basic philological and philosophical barrier of the multivalence in the term “original.” Beyond that, the magnitude of Greek and versional manuscript and patristic citations that have transmitted the text, as well as the enormous quantity of textual variants that have resulted, militates against a single, simplistic original. ... the truth is that at numerous points this plethora of readings overwhelms the hope of isolating even the earliest reading, to say nothing of assuredly distinguishing the or an “original." (p. 294).

        He also writes that “such a pristine document”--which he characterizes as  “an imagined, idealistic ‘original’”—“at best is elusive anyway, and most likely illusive and mythical—given the difficulty in conceiving of what ‘the original text’ might specify.” (p. 287)


        In this 2007 article he clearly references and builds on his "Multivalence" essay, and goes beyond it in his characterization of the goal of TC. In place of 'original text' he proposes as a goal “establishing the earliest attainable text” of the New Testament. (p. 308; cf. 294).  He attempts to explain what he means by this as follows: in contrast to the “the autographs (a term that carries its own ambiguities),”

        the “earliest attainable text” is something farther removed in time, and a text quite different from the autographs might be envisioned—a text, or better, texts that represented the best that modern text-critical resources and methods can recover. (p. 287)

        Furthermore, this "earliest attainable text" is "a text that, as a whole and in larger sections, never existed in any actual manuscript” (p. 287).

        Epp does not really define clearly what he means by the term "earliest recoverable text" (an ironic turn of events, in view of his own "Multivalence" essay), though he says enough to make clear that it is not the same as an "archetype" (a text, now lost, from which all extant MSS descend). In any case, Epp's 2007 essay goes beyond what he said in 1999.

        thanks,

        Mike Holmes



        On Mon, Jul 16, 2012 at 6:50 AM, Steven Avery <stevenavery@...> wrote:
         

        Hi Folks,

        James Snapp

        Dr. Ehrman stated than he was no radical skeptic; his view is a normal view, and to prove it, he mentioned that William Petersen, Eldon Epp, Ann-Marie Luijendijk, Kim Haines-Eitzen, and David Parker agree with him that "it doesn't make sense" to talk about the original text. (Well, that's virtually worldwide support; it's "many scholars," and not concentrated in a relatively small cabal of deviantly liberal scholars at all!) Dr. Ehrman happened to have some of these writers' books handy, and held them up. (Was it valid to appeal to Epp? Afaik, he has raised questions; is he really on record saying that it makes no sense to talk about the original text? And wasn't Kim Haines-Eitzen taught by Dr. Ehrman?)

        Steven
        With Eldon Epp the answer to your question is ambiguous.  The key writing is The Multivalence Of The Term "Original Text" In New Testament Textual Criticism* Eldon Jay Epp Harvard Theological Review, 1999, Volume 92, No. 3, pp. 245-281.  Epp makes special note of the views of Ehrman, Parker, William Petersen (1950-2006) and his own theories.

        Thus, note that Epp does reference two writers for whom "it doesn't make sense" to talk about the original text might be a reasonable shorthand.  Especially David Parker with The Living Text of the Gospels, 1997and Bart Ehrman with Orthdox Corruption (1993). Ehrman with the theories that the established texts represent the result of rather extensive orthdodox corruption.  (My note: this is based on the Ehrman idea that the 1st-century text would actually be adoptionistic or ebionite and thus wholesale changes were possible to erase that original doctrinal perspective.) 

        Epp reviews the paper of William Petersen What Text Can New Testament Textual Criticism Ultimately Reach? (which I went over in the previous post) and really makes no attempt to put Petersen in that camp.  Epp shows that Petersen's emphasis was on the choices of evidences and the misplaced centrality of Vaticanus. And Petersen's offering a general proposition to, at least more frequently, go to the "earliest" evidences.  After referencing the throwaway quote with Secret Mark and the Mark ending as part of a series of "penetrating questions", Epp writes of Petersen:

        The burden of his article, however, runs parallel to these particular issues, namely, if the goal of New Testament textual criticism is to produce a text "as close as possible to the original," then it should employ the sources that will facilitate that goal. The papyri, Petersen says, will not do, for they contribute no new readings to the critical text of the gospels (that is, to the gospel text of Nestle-Aland / UBS), though they do frequently extend other manuscript evidence from the fourth century back to the third. Petersen is asserting, I gather, that the early papyri by themselves do not/cannot establish a text any closer to the original than already exists in the B-text. The abundant Patristic evidence, he continues, "has been largely ignored,"  ... What he has exposed here is a layer of text beneath what most would consider the "original text" that traditionally has been the object of textual criticism -- that is, he documents a layer constituting an earlier "original" or "originals" that are open to restoration.

        Epp assumes the same Vaticanus-Alexandrian circularity that Petersen both decries and partially assumes -- Petersen simply does not care that this is often an ultra-minority ill-supported (snip) or reading.   Petersen and the Hortians agree on the basics that ultra-minority is always fine, as long as there is some early support. And Epp properly points out that Petersen was simply asking for an evidentiary reevaluation.

        The fourth person examined by Epp is his own view. Epp spends a lot of time and a theory that chapters of the ending of Romans, before the closing Doxology, was a tack-on. (Such theories are popular with NT endings.)  Also he goes into his fav Corinthian questions. However, Epp summarizes his concern by dividing the "original text" into four constituent components :

        First, a predecessor text-form, that is, a form of text (or more than one) discoverable behind a New Testament writing that played a role in the composition of that writing. ...

        Second, an autographic text-form, that is, the textual form as it left the desk of Paul or a secretary, or of other writers of portions of what became our New Testament...

        Third, a canonical text-form, that is, the textual form of a book (or a collection of books) at the time it acquired consensual authority or when its canonicity was (perhaps more formally) sought or established ...

        Fourth, an interpretive text-form, representing any and each interpretive iteration or reformulation of a writing -- as it was used in the life, worship, and teaching of the church ....

        Epp's point is that:

        (1) is largely ignored in textual criticism, it is more discussed in realms like looking at Aramaic or Hebraic perceived earlier sources and quotes that were hypothesized to have been taken into the Greek NT text..

        (2) is the semi-standard sense.

        And James must allow (3) to be very important (as does Bruce Metzger at times of equivocation) since his own Mark ending theory moves in that distinction direction. (I strongly disagree, as does Professor Maurice Robinson). In fact, James Snapp tries to divide (3) into what we might call a soft and hard component. The soft component including "friends of Mark" .. while not accepting a hard component of later church canonization, say at 200 A.D.

        (4) is the Ehrmanesque perspective, where the issue can be whether you believe Burgon or Ehrman had a more sensible understanding of "orthodox corruption" .. my belief, Burgon.  However, Ehrman has pulled the wool over the eyes of the textual community by fudging the basic underpinning of his theory, that the early church was adoptionist or ebionite. As I discussed here earlier and as written in a paper by Tony Costa.   If Ehrman stated this clearly, he would likely end up in discussion externally not with the mythicists like Doherty, but more significantly with the more evangelical scholars like Larry Hurtado (Epp's former student) and Richard Bauckham.

        Anyway, lets go back to the question. 
        Does:

        "it doesn't make sense" to talk about the original text.- Bart Ehrman

        Sound like a reasonable categorization of the Eppian position ?  Only, and oddly, with difficulty, since Epp's goal is to supply the very breakdown that will make more sense to the term "original text".

        he has raised questions; is he really on record saying that it makes no sense to talk about the original text? - James Snapp

        Clearly, with Epp the Bart Ehrman language was very loose, although some might consider it acceptable.

        Shalom,
        Steven Avery
        Bayside, NY





      • Vox Verax
        Dr. Holmes, I just now looked over Epp s All About Variants. I ll try to cobble together something in response to that article soon. My first impression is
        Message 3 of 7 , Jul 18, 2012
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          Dr. Holmes,

          I just now looked over Epp's "All About Variants." I'll try to cobble together something in response to that article soon. My first impression is that three of his main points are
          (1) we can scientifically only reconstruct an archetype that occasionally diverges into two or more branches, not an autograph,
          (2) such a reconstruction must be considered provisional in light of the possibility of new data entering the picture, and
          (3) textual criticism is useful for tracking the history of theological tendencies, not just for the reconstruction of the "most likely original" text.

          However, that article, according to a footnote, was written while Dr. Epp was visiting professor at Harvard Divinity School. So what should we call the "original" text of this article: the form in which Dr. Epp wrote it when he was a visiting professor? Or the form in which it appeared in print in HTR? Some variants enter the transmission-stream of printed documents after publication (via misprints and computer-code glitches), but the most unstable period of the text of scholarly essays is the "dark age" between the time when an essay is produced by the author, and the time when it is published. During that period the text may undergo all sorts of editorial adjustments and revisions. So how can I be sure that this is really what Dr. Epp wrote?

          Setting aside for the moment the problem of the multivalence of the term "original text" (which is not nearly the problem that Epp and Ehrman have painted it as), the statements that you quoted from p. 294 seem poorly grounded:

          "The magnitude of Greek and versional manuscripts and patristic citations that have transmitted the text, as well as the enormous quantity of textual variants that have resulted, militates against a single, simplistic original." Whaa? Isn't that like saying that while small trees come from seeds, the great size of a gigantic tree militates against the idea that it came from a seed?

          And: "At numerous points this plethora of readings overwhelms the hope of isolating even the earliest reading, to say nothing of assuredly distinguishing /the/ or /an/ original." Is this not simply a way of saying that there are numerous variant-units in which the evidence is finely balanced among many rival variants? I would add that this occurs sometimes not just when there is a plethora of readings, but also in some cases where there are just two or three. But why this should extinguish the *hope* of isolating the earliest reading, and why these exceptional cases should become a rudder for the whole enterprise, however, is a mystery to me.

          And: "If – as a traditional view has it – there were a single original that was carefully copied as its sacred contents became an authoritative, canonical text, should not the quantity of variants have been fewer in the early period, followed over a long time by increasing numbers of variants in the later copies of copies of copies?" No, not necessarily! I deduce from the context that that the "traditional view" to which Epp refers is Hort's theory that the text of Aleph-B is a very ancient and accurately preserved text. But Hort pictured the Alexandrian transmission-stream as a fairly isolated thing; he granted that the Western Text was much more popular. Epp's objection seems to be a matter of asking how the Alexandrian Text could be accurately copied during the same period when the Western or free texts were being loosely copied.

          Epp, after citing a statement by Colwell to the effect that copyists who regarded the text as something sacred altered the text by correcting perceived misstatements, then stated, "Some such phenomenon is also supported by the fact, long affirmed among New Testament textual critics, that the bulk of textual variants arose prior to 200 C.E." A significant qualification is in order: when Epp says "textual variant," he excludes (in "Toward the Clarification of the term `Textual Variant'") nonsense-readings, clear and demonstrable scribal errors, orthographic differences, and singular readings unsupported by versional or patristic evidence. Istm that if Epp's definition of a significant textual variant is adopted, then the "numerous points" where a plethora of readings exists which overwhelm all hope of isolating the earliest reading become much less numerous.

          Consider the text of Jude. As Wasserman has shown, the text of Jude has a lot of variant-units, including some with a plethora of rival readings. And there are points in the text that I would consider unstable (v. 5 and v. 22-23 especially). But these two things do not mean that the Greek text of this letter cannot be reconstructed so as to form the text-base of an English translation that reliably conveys (except at those identifiable points, reflected by text-critical footnotes) in English what the letter originally conveyed in Greek. Setting aside suppositions about what new evidence might present, the available evidence does not present us with the sort of abandon-all-hope scenario that Dr. Epp described; Wasserman exhaustively presented the Greek evidence in one compact volume, and compiled a pretty good reconstruction of the original text.

          Figuring that something similar can be done for the whole New Testament (especially if one were to set aside the 94% of the Greek MSS that Dr. Ehrman apparently considers of minor interest and scant usefulness for the task of reconstructing the NT text), then even if it turns out that the reconstructed archetype diverges into two or more branches 6,000 times, I don't see how this renders the search for the original text superfluous at all.

          Yours in Christ,

          James Snapp, Jr.
        • Mike Holmes
          Dear James, A quick question, if you don t mind: did you read my posting re Epp as a report or as an endorsement? just curious, thanks, Michael ... Dear James,
          Message 4 of 7 , Jul 19, 2012
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            Dear James,
            A quick question, if you don't mind: did you read my posting re Epp as a report or as an endorsement?
            just curious,
            thanks,
            Michael

            On Wed, Jul 18, 2012 at 12:24 PM, Vox Verax <james.snapp@...> wrote:
             

            Dr. Holmes,

            I just now looked over Epp's "All About Variants." I'll try to cobble together something in response to that article soon. My first impression is that three of his main points are
            (1) we can scientifically only reconstruct an archetype that occasionally diverges into two or more branches, not an autograph,
            (2) such a reconstruction must be considered provisional in light of the possibility of new data entering the picture, and
            (3) textual criticism is useful for tracking the history of theological tendencies, not just for the reconstruction of the "most likely original" text.

            However, that article, according to a footnote, was written while Dr. Epp was visiting professor at Harvard Divinity School. So what should we call the "original" text of this article: the form in which Dr. Epp wrote it when he was a visiting professor? Or the form in which it appeared in print in HTR? Some variants enter the transmission-stream of printed documents after publication (via misprints and computer-code glitches), but the most unstable period of the text of scholarly essays is the "dark age" between the time when an essay is produced by the author, and the time when it is published. During that period the text may undergo all sorts of editorial adjustments and revisions. So how can I be sure that this is really what Dr. Epp wrote?

            Setting aside for the moment the problem of the multivalence of the term "original text" (which is not nearly the problem that Epp and Ehrman have painted it as), the statements that you quoted from p. 294 seem poorly grounded:

            "The magnitude of Greek and versional manuscripts and patristic citations that have transmitted the text, as well as the enormous quantity of textual variants that have resulted, militates against a single, simplistic original." Whaa? Isn't that like saying that while small trees come from seeds, the great size of a gigantic tree militates against the idea that it came from a seed?

            And: "At numerous points this plethora of readings overwhelms the hope of isolating even the earliest reading, to say nothing of assuredly distinguishing /the/ or /an/ original." Is this not simply a way of saying that there are numerous variant-units in which the evidence is finely balanced among many rival variants? I would add that this occurs sometimes not just when there is a plethora of readings, but also in some cases where there are just two or three. But why this should extinguish the *hope* of isolating the earliest reading, and why these exceptional cases should become a rudder for the whole enterprise, however, is a mystery to me.

            And: "If – as a traditional view has it – there were a single original that was carefully copied as its sacred contents became an authoritative, canonical text, should not the quantity of variants have been fewer in the early period, followed over a long time by increasing numbers of variants in the later copies of copies of copies?" No, not necessarily! I deduce from the context that that the "traditional view" to which Epp refers is Hort's theory that the text of Aleph-B is a very ancient and accurately preserved text. But Hort pictured the Alexandrian transmission-stream as a fairly isolated thing; he granted that the Western Text was much more popular. Epp's objection seems to be a matter of asking how the Alexandrian Text could be accurately copied during the same period when the Western or free texts were being loosely copied.

            Epp, after citing a statement by Colwell to the effect that copyists who regarded the text as something sacred altered the text by correcting perceived misstatements, then stated, "Some such phenomenon is also supported by the fact, long affirmed among New Testament textual critics, that the bulk of textual variants arose prior to 200 C.E." A significant qualification is in order: when Epp says "textual variant," he excludes (in "Toward the Clarification of the term `Textual Variant'") nonsense-readings, clear and demonstrable scribal errors, orthographic differences, and singular readings unsupported by versional or patristic evidence. Istm that if Epp's definition of a significant textual variant is adopted, then the "numerous points" where a plethora of readings exists which overwhelm all hope of isolating the earliest reading become much less numerous.

            Consider the text of Jude. As Wasserman has shown, the text of Jude has a lot of variant-units, including some with a plethora of rival readings. And there are points in the text that I would consider unstable (v. 5 and v. 22-23 especially). But these two things do not mean that the Greek text of this letter cannot be reconstructed so as to form the text-base of an English translation that reliably conveys (except at those identifiable points, reflected by text-critical footnotes) in English what the letter originally conveyed in Greek. Setting aside suppositions about what new evidence might present, the available evidence does not present us with the sort of abandon-all-hope scenario that Dr. Epp described; Wasserman exhaustively presented the Greek evidence in one compact volume, and compiled a pretty good reconstruction of the original text.

            Figuring that something similar can be done for the whole New Testament (especially if one were to set aside the 94% of the Greek MSS that Dr. Ehrman apparently considers of minor interest and scant usefulness for the task of reconstructing the NT text), then even if it turns out that the reconstructed archetype diverges into two or more branches 6,000 times, I don't see how this renders the search for the original text superfluous at all.

            Yours in Christ,

            James Snapp, Jr.



          • Vox Verax
            Michael, As a report. The Whaa? , etc., were my impressions/reactions to the article itself. Yours in Christ, James Snapp, Jr. ... Dear James, A quick
            Message 5 of 7 , Jul 20, 2012
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              Michael,

              As a report. The "Whaa?", etc., were my impressions/reactions to the article itself.

              Yours in Christ,

              James Snapp, Jr.

              --- In textualcriticism@yahoogroups.com, Mike Holmes wrote:

              Dear James,
              A quick question, if you don't mind: did you read my posting re Epp as a report or as an endorsement?
              just curious,
              thanks,
              Michael

              > On Wed, Jul 18, 2012 at 12:24 PM, Vox Verax <james.snapp@...> wrote:

              Dr. Holmes,

              I just now looked over Epp's "All About Variants." I'll try to cobble together something in response to that article soon. My first impression is that three of his main points are
              (1) we can scientifically only reconstruct an archetype that occasionally diverges into two or more branches, not an autograph,
              (2) such a reconstruction must be considered provisional in light of the possibility of new data entering the picture, and
              3) textual criticism is useful for tracking the history of theological
              tendencies, not just for the reconstruction of the "most likely original" text.

              However, that article, according to a footnote, was written while Dr. Epp was visiting professor at Harvard Divinity School. So what should we call the "original" text of this article: the form in which Dr. Epp wrote it when he was a visiting professor? Or the form in which it appeared in print in HTR? Some variants enter the transmission-stream of printed documents after publication (via misprints and computer-code glitches), but the most unstable period of the text of scholarly essays is the "dark age" between the time when an essay is produced by the author, and the time when it is published. During that period the text may undergo all sorts of editorial adjustments and revisions. So how can I be sure that this is really what Dr. Epp wrote?

              Setting aside for the moment the problem of the multivalence of the term "original text" (which is not nearly the problem that Epp and Ehrman have painted it as), the statements that you quoted from p. 294 seem poorly grounded:

              "The magnitude of Greek and versional manuscripts and patristic citations that have transmitted the text, as well as the enormous quantity of textual variants that have resulted, militates against a single, simplistic original." Whaa? Isn't that like saying that while small trees come from seeds, the great size of a gigantic tree militates against the idea that it came from a seed?

              And: "At numerous points this plethora of readings overwhelms the hope of isolating even the earliest reading, to say nothing of assuredly distinguishing /the/ or /an/ original." Is this not simply a way of saying that there are numerous variant-units in which the evidence is finely balanced among many rival variants? I would add that this occurs sometimes not just when there is a plethora of readings, but also in some cases where there are just two or three. But why this should extinguish the *hope* of isolating the earliest reading, and why these exceptional cases should become a rudder for the whole enterprise, however, is a mystery to me.

              And: "If - as a traditional view has it - there were a single original
              that was carefully copied as its sacred contents became an authoritative, canonical text, should not the quantity of variants have been fewer in the early period, followed over a long time by increasing numbers of variants in the later copies of copies of copies?" No, not necessarily! I deduce from the context that that the "traditional view" to which Epp refers is Hort's theory that the text of Aleph-B is a very ancient and accurately preserved text. But Hort pictured the Alexandrian transmission-stream as a fairly isolated thing; he granted that the Western Text was much more
              popular. Epp's objection seems to be a matter of asking how the Alexandrian Text could be accurately copied during the same period when the Western or free texts were being loosely copied.

              Epp, after citing a statement by Colwell to the effect that copyists who regarded the text as something sacred altered the text by correcting perceived misstatements, then stated, "Some such phenomenon is also supported by the fact, long affirmed among New Testament textual critics, that the bulk of textual variants arose prior to 200 C.E." A significant qualification is in order: when Epp says "textual variant," he excludes (in "Toward the Clarification of the term `Textual Variant'") nonsense-readings, clear and demonstrable scribal errors, orthographic differences, and singular readings unsupported by versional or patristic evidence. Istm that if Epp's definition of a significant textual variant is adopted, then the "numerous points" where a plethora of readings exists which overwhelm all hope of isolating the earliest reading become much less
              numerous.

              Consider the text of Jude. As Wasserman has shown, the text of Jude has a lot of variant-units, including some with a plethora of rival readings. And there are points in the text that I would consider unstable (v. 5 and v. 22-23 especially). But these two things do not mean that the Greek text of this letter cannot be reconstructed so as to form the text-base of an English translation that reliably conveys (except at those identifiable points, reflected by text-critical footnotes) in English what the letter originally conveyed in Greek. Setting aside suppositions about what new evidence might present, the available evidence does not present us with the sort of abandon-all-hope scenario that Dr. Epp described; Wasserman exhaustively presented the Greek evidence in one compact volume, and compiled a pretty good reconstruction of the original text.

              Figuring that something similar can be done for the whole New Testament (especially if one were to set aside the 94% of the Greek MSS that Dr. Ehrman apparently considers of minor interest and scant usefulness for the task of reconstructing the NT text), then even if it turns out that the reconstructed archetype diverges into two or more branches 6,000 times, I don't see how this renders the search for the original text superfluous at all.

              Yours in Christ,

              James Snapp, Jr.
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