Re: Epp and the "Earliest Attainable Text"
As a report. The "Whaa?", etc., were my impressions/reactions to the article itself.
Yours in Christ,
James Snapp, Jr.
--- In email@example.com, Mike Holmes wrote:
A quick question, if you don't mind: did you read my posting re Epp as a report or as an endorsement?
> On Wed, Jul 18, 2012 at 12:24 PM, Vox Verax <james.snapp@...> wrote:
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
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.