Day Conference on TC and the NA Text (2 of 3)

Alexandrian, Western, Byzantine? The Theory of Local Text-Types - A Plea For Paradigm Shift in New Testament Textual Research.

Holger Strutwolf

In this second paper of the day conference we recieved a heavy dose of a few theoretical considerations at work behind the various projects related to the new NA databases. It was very helpful to look at the NA 28 and the Editio Critica Maior from this perspective as it served two convenient aims. Strutwolf situated these projects and the CBGM in the broader history of NT text criticism, and he demonstrated the potential they have for founding new paragigms in textual research.

The paper was outlined in three sections (these points are in paraphrase):

I. Essentials of the History of the Recension Hypothesis.
II. Reasons This Theory is Faulty.
III. Ways the Editio Critica Maior Embodies Necessary Theoretical Changes.

I. In the first section Strutwolf handily summarized the history of the Recension Hypothesis starting with Bengel, and then working through Griesbach, Semler, Westcott and Hort, and von Soden. In the introduction to his 1734 text, Bengel hypothesized that we should adopt the regions mentioned by Jerome and Tertullian as the broad outlines of the text-type groups manifest in our extant manuscripts. This basic notion of Bengel's Recension Hypothesis was taken up by Semler, and then popularized by Griesbach in his 1775 edition. The history of the RH is basically the history of variations on Bengel's theme. Different scholars used different nomenclature for various recensions, and retooled Bengel's original regional groupings. But by and large, the idea that we should assign manuscripts to one of a set number of geographical recensions held fast. Strutwolf suggested that the basic fault of Bengel's hypothesis is as material as it is methodological. As he simply didn't have enough manuscripts to critically discern different text-types, he was far too reliant on Jerome's attestation. It is a construct that stands or falls based on the accuracy of Jerome's comment which can be attributed to a number of things other than objective historiography. For example, Strutwolf commented that perhaps his partitioning early Christianity into three main areas of influence is colored by a trinitarian theology. Yet one of the long-standing durabilities of the RH is its simplicity, and it has become no less than axiomatic in NT textual research as a result.

II. The Editio Critica Maior is a crisis for the RH. Utilizing the flexible visualizing capabilities of the CBGM and its related databases, Strutwolf walked us through a number of texts which contradict the idea that we can draw such hard and fast lines between text-types and their according geographical locations. To this end, Strutwolf made two points in this section raised by manuscript evidence made clearer by the unique capacities of the CBGM.

- Firstly, when you look at the role manuscripts from different text-types play in genealogical coherence, the RH crumbles. We begin to see differing text-types showing up in stemmatic diagrams in places they shouldn't according to the RH, as their genealogical coherence displays textual interaction and ancestry where the RH attempts to make hard and fast regional distinctions. (Sorry I don't have any specifics on this, you really have to see the slides Strutwolf was using to get a detailed sense of his argument.) This leads us to a basic principle that we must privilege the role a manuscript plays in the genealogy of a text rather than its pre-concieved text type. Such roles are most properly assessed via the CBGM.
- Secondly, when one looks at the regional statistics (Sahidic, old Latin, Peshitta, etc...) of the manuscripts within the stemma for a particular reading, one can often see different text-types appearing in single regions. Simply based on these stastics, it doesn't seem that assigning sets of manuscript idiosyncracies to particular regions a priori is a legitimate critical enterprise. We can find any given set of "recensional" characteristics in any region throughout the transmission histories of certain texts. (Strutwolf demonstrated, for example, that we can see the characteristics of the Alexandrian tradition all over the place.)

These two general points are evidence that any reliance on the RH is unacceptable, as it doesn't fit our most current manuscript evidence.

III. Strutwolf then called for an abandonment of the text-type paradigm. In its place we should rely on the type of evidence produced by the CBGM. In a charming analogy, Strutwolf explained that his children are his children no matter where they live. Even if they are currently in Munich, they are his children based on their genetic relationship. In the same way the geographical location of a manuscript is not indicative of its ancestry. The place of origin and/or storage of a manuscript is nothing other than an indication of where it was last used. Instead we should assess the text-type of a manuscript based on its genealogical relationship to other manuscripts.

All the papyri from Egypt, for example, display a great deal of supposed "recensions" or text-types in one given region. And we have early Christian writers such as Origen who seem content with using a number of different text-types at the same time in one location. After an accumulation of such evidences, Strutwolf exclaimed that we are now in a "thrilling time" for NT textual criticism. We now have the tools and know-how available to initiate "a radical transformation of New Testament textual history." Even if one reads Strutwolf's paper in light of related points made by Colwell and Epp in equally paradigmatic essays, it actually was "thrilling" to see some of his evidences visualized by the CBGM and its databases. It did become apparent throughout the course of this essay that just as Strutwolf is able to conduct a wholesale appraisal of the RH and its affect on NT text criticism, so in the near future will one be able to conduct an appraisal of the CBGM as an apex of past genealogical methods and identify its pros and cons from that perspective.

Highlights from the Q and A Session:

1. When one looks at the stemmatic diagrams produced by the CBGM, we find certain single manuscripts cited as ancestors for a larger group of manunscripts through one or two other single manuscripts (completely hypothetical example: you will have a branch from 663 leading to 754 which then leads to another level of numerous manuscripts). How are we to then discern whether 754 or 663 is the most probable ancestor for this branch of the stemma?

Rather conveniently, Wachtel pointed out that even if one were to switch 754 and 663 (in this hypothetical example), the structure of the stemma would still remain the same. We can still argue about the fine details of probable ancestors for given readings, but the CBGM does produce more accurate structural outlines of manuscript transmission than we have had in the past.

2. Shouldn't we then switch from the geographical labels of the RH to something like "text-type 1," "text-type 2," usw...

No, because this approach still retains the basic notion that we need to seperate out text-types. We still could not legitimately draw a line between text-type 1, 2 and 3 when faced with the evidence of the CBGM. We simply need to confine our discussion of manuscript variants within the specific context of the transmission history of a given text.

3. What are some of the broader hermeneutical backgrounds to the CBGM?

Strutwolf did start his answer by recognizing that it is impossible to conduct any sort of criticism without some sort of hermeneutical bias. But, the CBGM is a relatively neutral tool in this respect. It features no ideological perspective on the text of the NT, and seems to circumvent the Bengelian fiddling with manuscript evidence which led to the RH by virtue of its raw statistical nature.

4. (My poorly worded question.) With the RH we had a starting place with discussing manuscript variants, namely the labels assigned to them a priori based on geography. But where then is our starting point with the CBGM? It seems that we are limited to talking only about the textual tradition of single texts, such as James, or 2 Peter. With such a starting point, we can't talk about the textual tradition of the Johannine Corpus as a whole, as we could with the RH. Rather, we can only talk about 1 John in isolation, GJohn in isolation, etc...

Yes. We have to start over with each book and develop their transmission histories in isolation. We cannot speak of a Luke/Acts transmission history. Only a Luke and an Acts transmission history.

I wish we had more time during the session to address this final point, as it raises the question as to how Strutwolf's hypothesis relates to the history of early Christianity. He did state that he sees in early Christianity a much broader network of textual transmission than the RH permits. If we can find all these different text-types existing in what are supposed to be the scribal and theological centers of early Christianity, then we must assume a different social structure than is often presupposed. Thus, while the CBGM presents itself as a neutral tool in terms of hermeneutical ideology, it does at the very least suggest a vision of early Christian geographical relationships that cuts against the grain of current models which position early Christian communities in relative textual isolation (thus resulting in historical constructs like "Johannine Christianity"). Here is a point of contact between the CBGM and the study of early Christian origins that really needs to be explored.


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