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[textualcriticism] Byzantine vs. Alexandrian in mss centuries six-eight - variant analysis needed

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  • Steven Avery
    Hi, There are various claims made about how the Byzantine text, manuscripts or variants became predominate in the Greek manuscript line only in the 9th
    Message 1 of 2 , Apr 23, 2014

      There are various claims made about how the Byzantine text, manuscripts or variants became predominate in the Greek manuscript line only in the 9th century.  This is often accompanied with rather vague language that is not equitably applied to other textlines And sometimes the grammar is faulty. And some times there are blatantly false assertions.

      And these issues have come up at times in the Wallace-Ehrman debates. I'll give some examples below.



      So I would like one aspect of that claim to be examined, on a level playing field.
      Possibly the new computer power can be helpful. Possibly it is a hand study.

      Rather than make broad claims, what I am interested in knowing is very specific.

      TEXTS       - Uncials - 6th to the 8th (or 9th) century (optionally papyri and/or lectionaries) - generally Category II, III and V in Aland
                         One century, or a century-by-century analysis, or all centuries combined.
                         All manuscripts, or a random sample (e.g. 25 ms)

      VARIANTS - Critical Text, Alexandrian (generally Vaticanus) vs. Byzantine Majority which usually = Received Text
                       - omission and alternate variants could be a sub-unit breakdown
                       - variants of major import or all units - the study could involved either one, or a sub-unit
                       - either large-scale, hundreds of variants, or a selected major group, or a random small-moderate number (e.g. 25 variants)

      QUESTION - What pct of the variants support the Byzantine text, what pct support the Alexandrian?
                            - century by century

      Your thoughts on this as a solid and possibly superior way to look at the evidences of the 6th to 8th centuries?
      (The ninth century would be helpful, obviously, to see the extent of any Byzantine jump.)

      Rather than look at parsed and fluctuating usage of the term "text-types" (remember, Aland properly questions that for the early centuries) and not an analysis based on categorizing manuscripts,

      Why not simply give a straight, logical, mathematical, statistical analysis?

      A straight, direct triangular pct of variants, on specified Bzyantine vs. Alexandrian variants.

      If this data exists, I would be most grateful to be pointed.


      We have, immediately visible, the Aland breakdowns of 1980, which also include a breakdown by century per category. Here is a sample, and in other section of the book there is more details on each ms.  Yes, the numbers have increased some, maybe 5%-10% more manuscripts.  Let's look at the sixth century.

      The Text of the New Testament (1995)
      Kurt and Barbara Aland
      (pics of specific mss, sixth century, from p. 104 and category breakdown from p. 159)


      Thus we get a breakdown in the 6th century like this, using Aland terminology:

      Category 1 -  0 mss  - Alexandrian
      Category 2 - 20 mss - Egyptian mixed-text 
      Categroy 3 - 35 mss - mixed text, note that the earlier Codex Alexandrinus gospels and the Codex Washingtonius are here
      Category 5 - 12 mss - Byzantine


      Aland Category breakdown

      p. 106

      Category I: Manuscripts of a very special quality which should always be considered in establishing the original text (e.g.. the Alexandrian text belongs here). The papyri and uncials through the third/fourth century also belong here automatically, one may say, because they represent the text of the early period (if they offer no significant evidence they are bracketed.)

      Category II: Manuscripts of a special quality, but distinguished from manuscripts of category I by the presence of alien influences (particularly of the Byzantine text), and yet of importance for establishing the original text (e.g.. the Egyptian text belongs here).

      Category III: Manuscripts of a distinctive character with an independent text, usually important for establishing the original text, but particularly important for the history' of the text (e.g.f1 f13).

      Category IV: Manuscripts of the D text.

      Category V: Manuscripts with a purely or predominantly Byzantine text.


      The rest is simply backdrop, to know where the assertions stand today.  This is without going into various additional discussions (e.g. Maurice Robinson, Timothy Ralston) about what changed in the transmissional process.


      Inspiration, Preservation, and New Testament Textual Criticism (1991) Grace Theological Journal vol 12, 1991. 21-50.
      Daniel Wallace

      "As far as our extant witnesses reveal, the Byzantine text did not become the majority text until the ninth century"

      Daniel Wallace has at least five quotes on this issue, some times making a claim about the history and not the "extant witnesses". And you might note that the past participle is used on a faulty way in the quote above.  Here is a recent one, from 2012 on the blog contra Bart Ehrman:

      Bart further argued that a Greek NT that came out in 2005 which claimed to have the original wording differs from other texts in over 6000 places. ... the majority text, which is based on Greek manuscripts that for much of the NT are only from the ninth century and later.

      Again, we have a somewhat unusual grammar and logic construction, something that often happens when a weak point is to be parsed.

      However, our point here is to really search out the facts on the ground, not to  be too concerned about dubious and errant assertions. However, one more as an example.


      Dean Burgon and His Phantom Manuscripts
      Alan Kurschner - April 19.2007

      "And given the supplanting of the Greek language for Latin in the West, and the expansion of Islam, it explains why Byzantine Greek manuscripts continued to be copied in the Byzantine sector and eventually became the majority Greek text not until the ninth century onwards"

      James White goes a step further, and even has a graph that very erroneously claims that the manuscripts in each century through the 8th were predominantly Alexandrian!

      King James Only Controversy p. 196-197 (2009).
      James White
      ...  the Byzantine is not found in full form until the fourth century and does not become the majority until the ninth century. Graphically we can compare the number of Alexandrian manuscripts to Byzantine manuscripts found over the first centuries of the Christian era. The following
      chart gives us a view of the relative relationship of the Alexandrian and Byzantine text-types.


      Your thoughts welcome!

      Steven Avery
      Bayside, NY

    • yennifmit
      Hi Steven, I m not sure how meaningful a comparison of numbers by century would be given the confounding factors. As an example of such a factor, the chance of
      Message 2 of 2 , May 10, 2014
        Hi Steven,

        I'm not sure how meaningful a comparison of numbers by century would be given the confounding factors. As an example of such a factor, the chance of survival of an early Alexandrian witness is better than that of an early Byzantine witness as the Alexandrian one is likely to have spent much of its life in the dry climate of Egypt.

        What would be required to get at the data you want is a database which includes variants, witnesses, and witness dates. (And the dates are rubbery.) I don't know of an easily accessible database of this kind. Perhaps the new Virtual Manuscript Room being developed at Muenster and Birmingham can do it?

        Back to numbers. I think that we have a small proportion of the copies that once were, with the proportion getting smaller the further back we go. My guess is that we have less than 1% from the time of Constantine (let's say 0.5%) and perhaps 50% from the time of Guttenberg. (For the in between part, as a first stab, draw a straight line on log-linear paper, using log for the proportion and linear for time.) If these numbers are anywhere near right (and they are *very* rubbery) then survival rates at 600 CE are only a few percent. (And rates would vary by region.)

        I wouldn't like to make too much of an argument based on numbers given that large chunks of the evidence is missing, and that the proportion missing varies from region to region. This doesn't mean that the survivors are not representative of their respective regional texts, by the way. (You can see that I think Streeter's theory of local texts is (largely) right.) However, given the small absolute number of survivors, sampling error may be significant (about 50% if only fifteen texts) so there may be big error bars on any estimates of relative popularity of variants. One may then have trouble asserting that two counts are significantly different for, say Alexandrian and Byzantine text types. There is also the difficulty of classification: how many types are there? (See here for a way to tell: tfinney.net/Groups/index.xhtml.) I think that it is not too inaccurate to think of four major types: Western (Latin-speaking parts of the world); Byzantine (Asia Minor then the Byzantine Empire); Eastern (Syria, Palestine, Armenia, Georgia then miaphysite communion); Alexandrian (Egypt). These four types might be associated with four early seats of church government at Rome, Ephesus, Antioch, and Alexandria.

        The idea seems good, nevertheless. Much can be discovered from careful analysis of the surviving evidence. (I believe that a very good approximation to the initial text can be recovered from the evidence we have.)


        Tim Finney

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