Textual criticism

Textual criticism

Textual criticism (or lower criticism) is a branch of literary criticism that is concerned with the identification and removal of transcription errors in the texts of manuscripts. Ancient scribes often made errors or alterations when copying manuscripts by hand. Given a manuscript copy, several or many copies, but not the original document, the textual critic seeks to reconstruct the original text (the archetype or autograph) as closely as possible. The same processes can be used to attempt to reconstruct intermediate editions, or recensions, of a document's transcription history. The ultimate objective of the textual critic's work is the production of a "critical edition" containing a text most closely approximating the original.

There are three fundamental approaches to textual criticism: eclecticism, stemmatics, and copy-text editing. Techniques from the biological discipline of cladistics are currently also being used to determine the relationships between manuscripts.

Lower criticism is used to describe the contrast between textual criticism and "higher" criticism, which is the endeavor to establish the authorship, date, and place of composition of the original text.

History

Textual criticism has been practiced for over two thousand years. Early textual critics were concerned with preserving the works of antiquity, and this continued through the medieval period into early modern times until the invention of the printing press.

Many ancient works, such as the Bible and the Greek tragedies, survive in hundreds of copies, and the relationship of each copy to the original may be unclear. Textual scholars have debated for centuries which sources are most closely derived from the original, hence which readings in those sources are correct. Although biblical books that are letters, like Greek plays, presumably had one original, the question of whether some biblical books, like the gospels, ever had just one original has been discussed.

In the English language, the works of Shakespeare have been a particularly fertile ground for textual criticism—both because the texts, as transmitted, contain a considerable amount of variation, and because the effort and expense of producing superior editions of his works have always been widely viewed as worthwhile. The principles of textual criticism, although originally developed and refined for works of antiquity, the Bible, and Shakespeare, have been applied to many works, extending backwards from the present to the earliest known written documents, in Mesopotamia and Egypt—a period of about five millennia.

Objective

The textual critic's ultimate objective is the production of a "critical edition". This contains a text most closely approximating the original, which is accompanied by an apparatus criticus (or critical apparatus) that presents:

  • the evidence that the editor considered (names of manuscripts, or abbreviations called sigla),
  • the editor's analysis of that evidence (sometimes a simple likelihood rating), and
  • a record of rejected variants (often in order of preference).

Process

Before mechanical printing, literature was copied by hand, and many variations were introduced by copyists. The age of printing made the scribal profession effectively redundant. Printed editions, while less susceptible to the proliferation of variations likely to arise during manual transmission, are nonetheless not immune to introducing variations from an author's autograph. Instead of a scribe miscopying his source, a compositor or a printing shop may read or typeset a work in a way that differs from the autograph. Since each scribe or printer commits different errors, reconstruction of the lost original is often aided by a selection of readings taken from many sources. An edited text that draws from multiple sources is said to be eclectic. In contrast to this approach, some textual critics prefer to identify the single best surviving text, and not to combine readings from multiple sources.

When comparing different documents, or "witnesses", of a single, original text, the observed differences are called variant readings, or simply variants or readings. It is not always apparent which single variant represents the author's original work. The process of textual criticism seeks to explain how each variant may have entered the text, either by accident (duplication or omission) or intention (harmonization or censorship), as scribes or supervisors transmitted the original author's text by copying it. The textual critic's task, therefore, is to sort through the variants, eliminating those most likely to be un-original, hence establishing a "critical text", or critical edition, that is intended to best approximate the original. At the same time, the critical text should document variant readings, so the relation of extant witnesses to the reconstructed original is apparent to a reader of the critical edition. In establishing the critical text, the textual critic considers both "external" evidence (the age, provenance, and affiliation of each witness) and "internal" or "physical" considerations (what the author and scribes, or printers, were likely to have done).

The collation of all known variants of a text is referred to as a Variorum, namely a work of textual criticism whereby all variations and emendations are set side by side so that a reader can track how textual decisions have been made in the preparation of a text for publication. The Bible and the works of William Shakespeare have often been the subjects of variorum editions, although the same techniques have been applied with less frequency to many other works, such as Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, and the prose writings of Edward Fitzgerald.

Eclecticism

Eclecticism refers to the practice of consulting a wide diversity of witnesses to a particular original. The practice is based on the principle that the more independent two transmission histories are, the less likely they will be to reproduce the same errors. What one omits, the other may retain; what one adds, the other is unlikely to add. Eclecticism allows inferences to be drawn regarding the original text, based on the evidence of contrasts between witnesses.

Eclectic readings also normally give an impression of the number of witnesses to each available reading. Although a reading supported by the majority of witnesses is frequently preferred, this does not follow automatically. For example, a second edition of a Shakespeare play may include an addition alluding to an event known to have happened between the two editions. Although nearly all subsequent manuscripts may have included the addition, textual critics may reconstruct the original without the addition.

The result of the process is a text with readings drawn from many witnesses. It is not a copy of any particular manuscript, and may deviate from the majority of existing manuscripts. In a purely eclectic approach, no single witness is theoretically favored. Instead, the critic forms opinions about individual witnesses, relying on both external and internal evidence.

Since the mid-19th century, eclecticism, in which there is no a priori bias to a single manuscript, has been the dominant method of editing the Greek text of the New Testament (currently, the United Bible Society, 4th ed. and Nestle-Aland, 27th ed.). Even so, the oldest manuscripts, being of the Alexandrian text-type, are the most favored, and the critical text has an Alexandrian disposition.

External evidence

External evidence is evidence of each physical witness, its date, source, and relationship to other known witnesses. Critics will often prefer the readings supported by the oldest witnesses. Since errors tend to accumulate, older manuscripts should have fewer errors. Readings supported by a majority of witnesses are also usually preferred, since these are less likely to reflect accidents or individual biases. For the same reasons, the most geographically diverse witnesses are preferred. Some manuscripts show evidence that particular care was taken in their composition, for example, by including alternative readings in their margins, demonstrating that more than one prior copy (exemplar) was consulted in producing the current one. Other factors being equal, these are the best witnesses.

There are many other more sophisticated considerations. For example, readings that depart from the known practice of a scribe or a given period may be deemed more reliable, since a scribe is unlikely on his own initiative to have departed from the usual practice.

Internal evidence

Internal evidence is evidence that comes from the text itself, independent of the physical characteristics of the document. Various considerations can be used to decide which reading is the most likely to be original. Sometimes these considerations can be in conflict.

Two common considerations have the Latin names lectio brevior (shorter reading) and lectio difficilior (more difficult reading). The first is the general observation that scribes tended to add words, for clarification or out of habit, more often than they removed them. The second, lectio difficilior potior (the harder reading is stronger), recognizes the tendency for harmonization—resolving apparent inconsistencies in the text. Applying this principle leads to taking the more difficult (unharmonized) reading as being more likely to be the original. Such cases also include scribes simplifying and smoothing texts they did not fully understand.

Another scribal tendency is called homoioteleuton, meaning "same endings". Homoioteleuton occurs when two words/phrases/lines end with the same sequence of letters. The scribe, having finished copying the first, skips to the second, omitting all intervening words. Homeoarchy refers to eye-skip when the beginnings of two lines are similar.

The critic may also examine the other writings of the author to decide what words and grammatical constructions match his style. The evaluation of internal evidence also provides the critic with information that helps him evaluate the reliability of individual manuscripts. Thus, the consideration of internal and external evidence is related.

After considering all relevant factors, the textual critic seeks the reading that best explains how the other readings would arise. That reading is then the most likely candidate to have been original.

Canons of textual criticism

Various scholars have developed guidelines, or canons of textual criticism, to guide the exercise of the critic's judgment in determining the best readings of a text. One of the earliest was Johann Albrecht Bengel (1687–1752), who in 1734 produced an edition of the Greek New Testament. In his commentary, he established the rule Proclivi scriptioni praestat ardua, ("the harder reading is to be preferred")

Johann Jakob Griesbach (1745–1812) published several editions of the New Testament. In his 1796 edition, he established fifteen critical rules. Among them was a variant of Bengel's rule, Lectio difficilior potior, "the harder reading is better." Another was Lectio brevior praeferenda, "the shorter reading is better", based on the idea that scribes were more likely to add than to delete. This rule cannot be applied uncritically, as scribes may omit material inadvertently.

Brooke Foss Westcott (1825–1901) and Fenton J. A. Hort (1828–1892) published an edition of the New Testament in 1881. They proposed nine critical rules, including a version of Bengel's rule, "The reading is less likely to be original that shows a disposition to smooth away difficulties." They also argued that "Readings are approved or rejected by reason of the quality, and not the number, of their supporting witnesses", and that "The reading is to be preferred that most fitly explains the existence of the others.

Many of these rules, although originally developed for Biblical textual criticism, have wide applicability to any text susceptible to errors of transmission.

Limitations of eclecticism

Since the canons of criticism are highly susceptible to interpretation, and at times even contradict each other, they can often be employed to justify any result that fits the textual critic's aesthetic or theological agenda. Starting in the nineteenth century, scholars sought more rigorous methods to guide editorial judgment. Best-text editing (a complete rejection of eclecticism) became one extreme. Stemmatics and copy-text editing – while both eclectic, in that they permit the editor to select readings from multiple sources – sought to reduce subjectivity by establishing one or a few witnesses presumably as being favored by "objective" criteria.

Stemmatics

Overview

Stemmatics or stemmatology is a rigorous approach to textual criticism. Karl Lachmann (1793–1851) greatly contributed to making this method famous, even though he did not invent it (see Timpanaro, The genesis of Lachmann's method). The method takes its name from the stemma, "family tree", which shows the relationships of the surviving witnesses. The family tree is also referred to as a cladorama. The method works from the principle that "community of error implies community of origin." That is, if two witnesses have a number of errors in common, it may be presumed that they were derived from a common intermediate source, called a hyparchetype. Relations between the lost intermediates are determined by the same process, placing all extant manuscripts in a family tree or stemma codicum descended from a single archetype. The process of constructing the stemma is called recension, or the Latin recensio.

Having completed the stemma, the critic proceeds to the next step, called selection or selectio, where the text of the archetype is determined by examining variants from the closest hyparchetypes to the archetype and selecting the best ones. If one reading occurs more often than another at the same level of the tree, then the dominant reading is selected. If two competing readings occur equally often, then the editor uses his judgment to select the correct reading.

After selectio, the text may still contain errors, since there may be passages where no source preserves the correct reading. The step of examination, or examinatio is applied to find corruptions. Where the editor concludes that the text is corrupt, it is corrected by a process called "emendation", or emendatio (also sometimes called divinatio). Emendations not supported by any known source are sometimes called conjectural emendations.

The process of selectio resembles eclectic textual criticism, but applied to a restricted set of hypothetical hyparchetypes. The steps of examinatio and emendatio resemble copy-text editing. In fact, the other techniques can be seen as special cases of stemmatics in which a rigorous family history of the text cannot be determined but only approximated. If it seems that one manuscript is by far the best text, then copy text editing is appropriate, and if it seems that a group of manuscripts are good, then eclecticism on that group would be proper.

The Hodges-Farstad edition of the Greek New Testament attempts to use stemmatics for some portions.

Limitations and criticism

The stemmatic method assumes that each witness is derived from one, and only one, predecessor. If a scribe refers to more than one source when creating his copy, then the new copy will not clearly fall into a single branch of the family tree. In the stemmatic method, a manuscript that is derived from more than one source is said to be contaminated.

The method also assumes that scribes only make new errors – they do not attempt to correct the errors of their predecessors. When a text has been improved by the scribe, it is said to be sophisticated, but "sophistication" impairs the method by obscuring a document's relationship to other witnesses, and making it more difficult to place the manuscript correctly in the stemma.

The stemmatic method requires the textual critic to group manuscripts by commonality of error. It is required, therefore, that the critic can distinguish erroneous readings from correct ones. This assumption has often come under attack. W. W. Greg noted, "That if a scribe makes a mistake he will inevitably produce nonsense is the tacit and wholly unwarranted assumption.

The critic Joseph Bédier (1864–1938) launched a particularly withering attack on stemmatics in 1928. He surveyed editions of medieval French texts that were produced with the stemmatic method, and found that textual critics tended overwhelmingly to produce trees divided into just two branches. He concluded that this outcome was unlikely to have occurred by chance, and that therefore, the method was tending to produce bipartite stemmas regardless of the actual history of the witnesses. He suspected that editors tended to favor trees with two branches, as this would maximize the opportunities for editorial judgment (as there would be no third branch to "break the tie" whenever the witnesses disagreed). He also noted that, for many works, more than one reasonable stemma could be postulated, suggesting that the method was not as rigorous or as scientific as its proponents had claimed.

The stemmatic method's final step is emendatio, also sometimes referred to as "conjectural emendation." But in fact, the critic employs conjecture at every step of the process. Some of the method's rules that are designed to reduce the exercise of editorial judgment do not necessarily produce the correct result. For example, where there are more than two witnesses at the same level of the tree, normally the critic will select the dominant reading. However, it may be no more than fortuitous that more witnesses have survived that present a particular reading. A plausible reading that occurs less often may, nevertheless, be the correct one.

Lastly, the stemmatic method assumes that every extant witness is derived, however remotely, from a single source. It does not account for the possibility that the original author may have revised his work, and that the text could have existed at different times in more than one authoritative version.

Copy-text editing

When copy-text editing, the scholar fixes errors in a base text, often with the help of other witnesses. Often, the base text is selected from the oldest manuscript of the text, but in the early days of printing, the copy text was often a manuscript that was at hand.

Using the copy-text method, the critic examines the base text and makes corrections (called emendations) in places where the base text appears wrong to the critic. This can be done by looking for places in the base text that do not make sense or by looking at the text of other witnesses for a superior reading. Close-call decisions are usually resolved in favor of the copy-text.

The first published, printed edition of the Greek New Testament was produced by this method. Erasmus, the editor, selected a manuscript from the local Dominican monastery in Basle and corrected its obvious errors by consulting other local manuscripts. The Westcott and Hort text, which was the basis for the Revised Version of the English bible, also used the copy-text method, using the Codex Vaticanus as the base manuscript.

McKerrow's concept of copy-text

The bibliographer Ronald B. McKerrow introduced the term copy-text in his 1904 edition of the works of Thomas Nashe, defining it as "the text used in each particular case as the basis of mine." McKerrow was aware of the limitations of the stemmatic method, and believed it was more prudent to choose one particular text that was thought to be particularly reliable, and then to emend it only where the text was obviously corrupt. The French critic Joseph Bédier likewise became disenchanted with the stemmatic method, and concluded that the editor should choose the best available text, and emend it as little as possible.

In McKerrow's method as originally introduced, the copy-text was not necessarily the earliest text. In some cases, McKerrow would choose a later witness, noting that "if an editor has reason to suppose that a certain text embodies later corrections than any other, and at the same time has no ground for disbelieving that these corrections, or some of them at least, are the work of the author, he has no choice but to make that text the basis of his reprint.

By 1939, in his Prolegomena for the Oxford Shakespeare, McKerrow had changed his mind about this approach, as he feared that a later edition – even if it contained authorial corrections – would "deviate more widely than the earliest print from the author's original manuscript." He therefore concluded that the correct procedure would be "produced by using the earliest "good" print as copy-text and inserting into it, from the first edition which contains them, such corrections as appear to us to be derived from the author." But, fearing the arbitrary exercise of editorial judgment, McKerrow stated that, having concluded that a later edition had substantive revisions attributable to the author, "we must accept all the alterations of that edition, saving any which seem obvious blunders or misprints.

W. W. Greg's rationale of copy-text

Anglo-American textual criticism in the last half of the twentieth century came to be dominated by a landmark 1950 essay by Sir Walter W. Greg, "The Rationale of Copy-Text". Greg proposed:

Greg observed that compositors at printing shops tended to follow the "substantive" readings of their copy faithfully, except when they deviated unintentionally; but that "as regards accidentals they will normally follow their own habits or inclination, though they may, for various reasons and to varying degrees, be influenced by their copy.

He concluded:

Greg's view, in short, was that the "copy-text can be allowed no over-riding or even preponderant authority so far as substantive readings are concerned." The choice between reasonable competing readings, he said:

Although Greg argued that an editor should be free to use his judgment to choose between competing substantive readings, he suggested that an editor should defer to the copy-text when "the claims of two readings ... appear to be exactly balanced. ... In such a case, while there can be no logical reason for giving preference to the copy-text, in practice, if there is no reason for altering its reading, the obvious thing seems to be to let it stand. The "exactly balanced" variants are said to be indifferent.

Editors who follow Greg's rationale produce eclectic editions, in that the authority for the "accidentals" is derived from one particular source (usually the earliest one) that the editor considers to be authoritative, but the authority for the "substantives" is determined in each individual case according to the editor's judgment. The resulting text, except for the accidentals, is constructed without relying predominantly on any one witness.

Greg–Bowers–Tanselle

W. W. Greg did not live long enough to apply his rationale of copy-text to any actual editions of works. His rationale was adopted and significantly expanded by Fredson Bowers (1905–1991). Starting in the 1970s, G. Thomas Tanselle (1934–) vigorously took up the method's defense and added significant contributions of his own. Greg's rationale as practiced by Bowers and Tanselle has come to be known as the "Greg–Bowers" or the "Greg–Bowers–Tanselle" method.

Application to works of all periods

In his 1964 essay, "Some Principles for Scholarly Editions of Nineteenth-Century American Authors", Bowers said that "the theory of copy-text proposed by Sir Walter Greg rules supreme". Bowers's assertion of "supremacy" was in contrast to Greg's more modest claim that "My desire is rather to provoke discussion than to lay down the law".

Whereas Greg had limited his illustrative examples to English Renaissance drama, where his expertise lay, Bowers argued that the rationale was "the most workable editorial principle yet contrived to produce a critical text that is authoritative in the maximum of its details whether the author be Shakespeare, Dryden, Fielding, Nathaniel Hawthorne, or Stephen Crane. The principle is sound without regard for the literary period. For works where an author's manuscript survived – a case Greg had not considered – Bowers concluded that the manuscript should generally serve as copy-text. Citing the example of Nathaniel Hawthorne, he noted:

Following Greg, the editor would then replace any of the manuscript readings with substantives from printed editions that could be reliably attributed to the author: "Obviously, an editor cannot simply reprint the manuscript, and he must substitute for its readings any words that he believes Hawthorne changed in proof.

Uninfluenced final authorial intention

McKerrow had articulated textual criticism's goal in terms of "our ideal of an author's fair copy of his work in its final state". Bowers asserted that editions founded on Greg's method would "represent the nearest approximation in every respect of the author's final intentions. Bowers stated similarly that the editor's task is to "approximate as nearly as possible an inferential authorial fair copy. Tanselle notes that, "Textual criticism ... has generally been undertaken with a view to reconstructing, as accurately as possible, the text finally intended by the author".

Bowers and Tanselle argue for rejecting textual variants that an author inserted at the suggestion of others. Bowers said that his edition of Stephen Crane's first novel, Maggie, presented "the author's final and uninfluenced artistic intentions. In his writings, Tanselle refers to "unconstrained authorial intention" or "an author's uninfluenced intentions. This marks a departure from Greg, who had merely suggested that the editor inquire whether a later reading "is one that the author can reasonably be supposed to have substituted for the former", not implying any further inquiry as to why the author had made the change.

Tanselle discusses the example of Herman Melville's Typee. After the novel's initial publication, Melville's publisher asked him to soften the novel's criticisms of missionaries in the South Seas. Although Melville pronounced the changes an improvement, Tanselle rejected them in his edition, concluding that "there is no evidence, internal or external, to suggest that they are the kinds of changes Melville would have made without pressure from someone else.

Bowers confronted a similar problem in his edition of Maggie. Crane originally printed the novel privately in 1893. To secure commercial publication in 1896, Crane agreed to remove profanity, but he also made stylistic revisions. Bowers's approach was to preserve the stylistic and literary changes of 1896, but to revert to the 1893 readings where he believed that Crane was fulfilling the publisher's intention rather than his own. There were, however, intermediate cases that could reasonably have been attributed to either intention, and some of Bowers's choices came under fire – both as to his judgment, and as to the wisdom of conflating readings from the two different versions of Maggie.

Hans Zeller argued that it is impossible to tease apart the changes Crane made for literary reasons and those made at the publisher's insistence:

Bowers and Tanselle recognize that texts often exist in more than one authoritative version. Tanselle argues that:

He suggests that where a revision is "horizontal" (i.e., aimed at improving the work as originally conceived), then the editor should adopt the author's later version. But where a revision is "vertical" (i.e., fundamentally altering the work's intention as a whole), then the revision should be treated as a new work, and edited separately on its own terms.

Format for apparatus

Bowers was also influential in defining the form of critical apparatus that should accompany a scholarly edition. In addition to the content of the apparatus, Bowers led a movement to relegate editorial matter to appendices, leaving the critically-established text "in the clear", that is, free of any signs of editorial intervention. Tanselle explained the rationale for this approach:

Some critics believe that a clear-text edition gives the edited text too great a prominence, relegating textual variants to appendices that are difficult to use, and suggesting a greater sense of certainty about the established text than it deserves. As Shillingsburg notes, "English scholarly editions have tended to use notes at the foot of the text page, indicating, tacitly, a greater modesty about the "established" text and drawing attention more forcibly to at least some of the alternative forms of the text".

The MLA's CEAA and CSE

In 1963, the Modern Language Association of America (MLA) established the Center for Editions of American Authors (CEAA). The CEAA's Statement of Editorial Principles and Procedures, first published in 1967, adopted the Greg–Bowers rationale in full. A CEAA examiner would inspect each edition, and only those meeting the requirements would receive a seal denoting "An Approved Text."

Between 1966 and 1975, the Center allocated more than $1.5 million in funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities to various scholarly editing projects, which were required to follow the guidelines (including the structure of editorial apparatus) as Bowers had defined them. According to Davis, the funds coordinated by the CEAA over the same period were more than $6 million, counting funding from universities, university presses, and other bodies.

The Center for Scholarly Editions (CSE) replaced the CEAA in 1976. The change of name indicated the shift to a broader agenda than just American authors. The Center also ceased its role in the allocation of funds. The Center's latest guidelines (2003) no longer prescribe a particular editorial procedure.

Cladistics

Cladistics is a technique borrowed from biology, where it was originally named phylogenetic systematics by Willi Hennig. In biology, the technique is used to determine the evolutionary relationships between different species. In its application in textual criticism, the text of a number of different manuscripts is entered into a computer, which records all the differences between them. The manuscripts are then grouped according to their shared characteristics. The difference between cladistics and more traditional forms of statistical analysis is that, rather than simply arranging the manuscripts into rough groupings according to their overall similarity, cladistics assumes that they are part of a branching family tree and uses that assumption to derive relationships between them. This makes it more like an automated approach to stemmatics. However, where there is a difference, the computer does not attempt to decide which reading is closer to the original text, and so does not indicate which branch of the tree is the "root"—which manuscript tradition is closest to the original. Other types of evidence must be used for that purpose.

The major theoretical problem with applying cladistics to textual criticism is that cladistics assumes that, once a branching has occurred in the family tree, the two branches cannot rejoin; so all similarities can be taken as evidence of common ancestry. While this assumption is applicable to the evolution of living creatures, it is not always true of manuscript traditions, since a scribe can work from two different manuscripts at once, producing a new copy with characteristics of both.

Nonetheless, software developed for use in biology has been applied with some success to textual criticism; for example, it is being used by the Canterbury Tales Project to determine the relationship between the 84 surviving manuscripts and four early printed editions of the Canterbury Tales.

Application of textual criticism to biblical criticism

Hebrew Bible

Textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible compares manuscript versions of the following sources (dates refer to the oldest extant manuscripts in each family):

Given the sacred nature of the Hebrew Bible in Judaism, those unaware of the details dealt with in textual criticism, might think that there are no corruptions in the text, since these texts were meticulously transmitted and written. And yet, as in the New Testament, in particular in the Masoretic texts, changes, corruptions, and erasures have been found. This is ascribed to the fact that early soferim (scribes) did not treat the text with the reverence given to it later on.

New Testament

The New Testament has been preserved in over 5,300 Greek manuscripts, 10,000 Latin manuscripts and 9,300 manuscripts in various other ancient languages including Syriac, Slavic, Ethiopic and Armenian. The sheer number of witnesses presents unique difficulties, chiefly in that it makes stemmatics impractical. Consequently, New Testament textual critics have adopted eclecticism after sorting the witnesses into three major groups, called text-types. The most common division today is as follows:

  • The Alexandrian text-type (also called Minority Text) constitutes a group of early and well-regarded texts, including Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus.
  • The Western text-type is also very early, but its witnesses are seen to be more prone to paraphrase and other corruptions.
  • The Byzantine text-type (also called Majority Text) is a group of around 80% of all manuscripts, the majority of which are comparatively very late in the tradition.

Minority Text versus Majority Text

The New Testament portion of the English translation known as the King James Version was based on the Textus Receptus, a Greek text prepared by Erasmus based on a few late medieval Greek manuscripts of the Byzantine text-type (1, 1rK, 2e, 2ap, 4, 7, 817). For some books of the Bible, Erasmus used just single manuscripts, and for small sections made his own translations into Greek from the Vulgate. However, following Westcott and Hort, most modern New Testament textual critics have concluded that the Byzantine text-type was formalised at a later date than the Alexandrian and Western text-types. Among the other types, the Alexandrian text-type (Minority Text) is viewed as more pure than the Western and Byzantine text-types, and so one of the central tenets of current New Testament textual criticism is that one should follow the readings of the Alexandrian texts unless those of the other types are clearly superior. Most modern English New Testament translations use the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament (UBS4) or the Novum Testamentum Graece (NA 27), the eclectic Greek texts that rely heavily on manuscripts of the Alexandrian text-type. This includes the New International Version, New American Standard Bible, Revised Standard Version, The Living Bible, New World Translation, and New Century Version.

A minority position represented by The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text edition by Zane C. Hodges and Arthur L. Farstad argues that the Byzantine text-type (Majority Text) represents an earlier text-type than the surviving Alexandrian texts. This position is also held by Maurice A. Robinson and William G. Pierpont in their The New Testament in the Original Greek: Byzantine Textform, and the King James Only Movement. The argument states that the far greater number of surviving later Byzantine manuscripts implies an equivalent preponderance of Byzantine texts amongst lost earlier manuscripts; and hence that a critical reconstruction of the predominant text of the Byzantine tradition would have a superior claim to being closest to the autographs.

Other scholars have criticized the current categorization of manuscripts into text-types and prefer either to subdivide the manuscripts in other ways or to discard the text-type taxonomy.

Textual criticism is also used by those who assert that the New Testament was written in Aramaic (see Aramaic primacy).

Findings

The Bible Society has concluded: "From comparing the earliest surviving fragments of the New Testament and hundreds of later full manuscripts (themselves copied independently from earlier manuscripts), experts are confident that what we have is very close to the documents as they were originally written. However, as noted above, other textual scholars and the KJV only advocates argue that the Byzantine text-type more accurately reflects the original texts of the New Testament than the Alexandrian text-type used in the United Bible Societies's Greek New Testament (UBS) and NA 27 (the texts accepted by most of the academic community as the best attempt at reconstructing the original texts of the Greek NT). A few textual critics, especially those in France, argue that the Western text-type, an old text from which the Old Latin versions of the New Testament are derived, is closer to the originals.

Interpolations

In attempting to determine the original text of the New Testament books, some modern textual critics have identified sections as probably not original. In modern translations of the Bible such as the New International Version, the results of textual criticism have led to certain verses being left out or marked as not original. Previously, translations of the New Testament had mostly been based on Erasmus's redaction of the New Testament in Greek, the Textus Receptus from the 1500s based on later manuscripts. This includes the King James Version, Geneva Bible, and Tyndale Bible.

According to Bart D. Ehrman, "These scribal additions are often found in late medieval manuscripts of the New Testament, but not in the manuscripts of the earlier centuries," he adds. And because the King James Bible is based on later manuscripts, such verses "became part of the Bible traditon in English-speaking lands."

Most modern Bibles have footnotes to indicate areas which have disputed source documents. Bible Commentaries also discuss these, sometimes in great detail.

These possible later additions include the following:

Other disputed NT Passages

  • Opinions are divided on whether Jesus is referred to as "unique Son" or "unique God", in
  • 1 Corinthians 14:33-35. Some scholars regard the instruction for women to be silent in churches as a later, non-Pauline addition to the Letter, more in keeping with the viewpoint of the Pastoral Epistles (see 1 Tim 2.11-12; Titus 2.5) than of the certainly Pauline Epistles. A few manuscripts place these verses after 40

Classical texts

While textual criticism developed into a discipline of thorough analysis of the Bible — both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament — scholars also use it to determine the original content of classic texts, such as Plato's Republic. There are far fewer witnesses to classical texts than to the Bible, so scholars can use stemmatics and, in some cases, copy text editing. However, unlike the New Testament where the earliest witnesses are within 200 years of the original, the earliest existing manuscripts of most classical texts were written about a millennium after their composition. Other things being equal, textual scholars expect that a larger time gap between an original and a manuscript means more changes in the text.

See also

Topics

Critical editions

Hebrew Bible

Critical translations:

  • The Comprehensive New Testament - standardardized Nestle-Aland 27 edition

Lists

Notes

References

Further reading

  • Epp, Eldon J., The Eclectic Method in New Testament Textual Criticism: Solution or Symptom?, The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 69, No. 3/4 (Jul. - Oct., 1976), pp. 211–257
  • Aland B., J. Delobel, New Testament Textual Criticism, Exegesis, and Early Church History, Peeters Publishers, 1994.
  • Hagen, Kenneth, The Bible in the Churches: How Various Christians Interpret the Scriptures, Marquette Studies in Theology, Vol 4; Marquette University Press, 1998, ISBN 0-874-62628-5
  • Hodges, Zane C. and Farstad, Arthur L. The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text with Apparatus, Thomas Nelson; 2nd ed edition (January 1, 1985), ISBN 0-840-74963-5
  • Housman, A. E. (1922). "The Application of Thought to Textual Criticism". Proceedings of the Classical Association 18 67–84. Retrieved on 2008-03-08.
  • Love, Harold (1993). Scribal Publication in Seventeenth-Century England. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Komoszewski, Sawyer and Wallace, (2006), Reinventing Jesus, Kregel Publications, 2006, ISBN 978-0825429828
  • Metzger & Ehrman, (2005), The text of the New Testament, OUP, ISBN 978-0195161229
  • Schiffman, Lawrence H., Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls: The History of Judaism, the Background of Christianity, the Lost Library of Qumran; Jewish Publication Society, 1st ed. 1994, ISBN 0-827-60530-7
  • Soulen, Richard N. and Soulen, R. Kendall, Handbook of Biblical Criticism; Westminster John Knox Press; 3 edition (October 2001), ISBN 0-664-22314-1

External links

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