Saturday, June 23, 2012

2.3 Common Sense Textual Criticism

My weekend series of hermeneutical biography.  It started with...

1. My early realizations about context...

and continued with last weekend's start of discussing issues of the biblical text:
2.1 Issues of the Biblical Text
2.2 Manuscripts, Manuscripts

We now join that show in progress...
In the end, it was not the so called "external evidence" of the manuscripts that convinced me to switch sides on matters of the biblical text. I was nowhere near knowledgeable enough to know whether the majority model about manuscript traditions was correct when I took the course in textual criticism at Asbury with Bob Lyon. I still don't know all the details.  The consensus model is basically that at Alexandria, as especially embodied by manuscripts like Sinaiticus and Vaticanus and even earlier papyri, there was a fairly conservative copying tradition, the Alexandrian tradition.  This is the most reliable manuscript tradition.

Then there is the Byzantine tradition, which generally corresponds to the Majority Text and what would become the Textus Receptus, the "received text" first put together when Erasmus first set the Greek New Testament to type. There was also the "Western" tradition of the Italic manuscripts and a few key Greek manuscripts like D, Codex Bezae. From time to time other textual traditions are also suggested.

This was all a fine story but I had no clue whether it was true or not when I went to seminary.  I remember Dr. Lyon asking me after class once if I was a closet textus receptus guy. ;-) It made sense to me in general that an older manuscript was closer to the original than a later one. But in the end, it was common sense that prevailed.  The basic rules of textual criticism, collected and perfected by Westcott and Hort, but originated in the years before them, made consummate sense. "Manuscripts must be weighed, not counted," because a thousand copies can be made of a bad manuscript.

Here's the mother of all rules: That reading is most likely to be original that best explains how the other variations would have arisen.  There it is, so simple, so commonsensical.  If one manuscript is missing a line other manuscripts have, and you can see that the same word would have been located about a line apart, then it's reasonable to assume that some copyist's eye skipped, from the end of one line to the end of the next, leaving out a line.

What this implies is that the "more difficult reading" is more likely to be original, because it is more likely that a copyist would smooth out roughness of some sort rather than mess it up.  So, ironically, the Byzantine tradition is a smoother, more harmonized text than the Alexandrian.  The majority of manuscripts at Colossians 1:14 read, "in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins."  The fact that modern translations omit the italicized phrase is no conspiracy, some lack of faith in the blood (after all, the blood is mentioned in 1:20). Rather, the earliest manuscripts lack the phrase and some scribe likely added it accidentally because he was thinking of Ephesians 1:7 where all manuscripts, including the earliest ones, have the phrase.

Conspiracy theories about modern translators are thus pure nonsense, based on ignorance of the manuscript situation. Disagree with textual scholars you may, but don't vilify them.

Let me use as an example the most famous of manuscript issues, the longer ending of Mark, Mark 16:9-20.  The words of this text are attested early in some church fathers. However, it is not clear that those earliest church fathers were quoting Mark. They could have been drawing from something else. The earliest Greek manuscripts we have of Mark don't have these verses, and a couple key church fathers from the 300s and 400s indicate it was a minority reading at the time. The earliest manuscripts have nothing after 16:8 and there is another shorter ending in some manuscripts.

It was not the preceding paragraph that convinced me that 16:9-20 were not in the original.  It was simply reading the flow.  In Mark 16:1-8 the women, including Mary Magdalene, come to the tomb and find the stone rolled away. A young man appears to them, announces Jesus' resurrection, and instructs the women to go tell Peter to go to Galilee to meet him. But they don't. They tell know one because they were afraid...

And then it begins all over again: "Now after he had risen early on the first day of the week..."  Now he is appearing to Mary Magdalene (with no mention of the earlier scene), who did you know he had cast seven demons out of? She goes and tells the disciples. Wait, what about the earlier statement that the women told no one?  The verses that follow read like a summary of stories from other gospels (e.g., the men on the road to Emmaus from Luke 24 are in Mark 16:12. The Great Commission from Matthew 28 is in 16:15).

In short, Mark 16:9-20 know nothing about Mark 1:1-8. It reads like someone has inserted this summary of resurrection appearances from somewhere else. It is thus the "internal evidence" that convinced me that the vast majority of textual scholars were right on this issue.  And it was the consistent alliance of the internal evidence with the textual traditions of the so called Alexandrian tradition that brought my secondary confidence in the prevailing sense of the external evidence. If you apply the commonsense model to the variations in the text, it consistently aligns with the manuscript tradition Westcott and Hort considered most reliable.

So in the case of Mark, the best explanation of the situation, in my opinion, is that the original ending of Mark was lost very, very early. It's possible Mark originally ended at 16:8 but I suspect there was originally more here. Two endings were added over time to try to make up for the abrupt sense of ending. The longer ending was taken from some early second century synopsis of the gospels, but a shorter one was created as well.

Since the longer ending is a more pleasing ending than an abrupt ending with the women telling no one, it was the reading that gained currency in worship and in copying. Thus the majority of manuscripts--mostly medieval since the older ones wore out--have the longer ending. But the older and more reliable ones don't. There's no conspiracy to take words out. There's no fiendishness to try to end the gospel on a dubious note. There is simply the following of the evidence to its most likely conclusion...


James E. Snapp, Jr. said...

Again some clarifications (and again this will take up more than one comment) --

Setting aside the large questions about whether or not the Alexandrian Text represents the original text better than the Byzantine Text, let’s focus on what you said about the ending of the Gospel of Mark. I will jump to that in just a minute or two – but there are two things that must be addressed before that. First there is the notion that MSS must be weighed, not counted. This is a sound principle, but it can be overloaded/abused. It is one thing to say that in a theoretical universe, 1,000 copies can be made of a bad manuscript. It’s another thing to show that in the actual universe, one manuscript is directly descended from another manuscript.

There are some cases of exactly that sort of thing. (Family-1 and Family-13 for example.) But most extant Greek MSS are orphans. While one can speculate that 500 closely-agreeing MSS share the same readings because they are twigs on the same branch, it is also possible that those 500 MSS, instead of emanating from a single branch, emanate from five branches represented by 100 MSS apiece. In which case, a reading that disagreed with the reading of four of those five groups would require extremely strong internal evidence to commend itself as original, if we figure that it is more likely that one copyist committed a mistake, affecting one subsequent group of MSS, than that several copyists independently committed the same mistake, affecting subsequent groups of MSS.

The axiom that manuscripts should be weighed rather than counted has become, it seems to me, an excuse for treating the evidence that supports Byzantine readings as if all the MSS (and versions) that support Byzantine readings are a monolithic group, a single branch, although this has not been proven, and although a lot of evidence points away from such a conclusion. The assumption that non-Alexandrian readings shared by many MSS must descend from one common source (that is not the autograph) has tended to /weight/ the MSS rather than /weigh/ them; the horses are being handicapped, so to speak: readings supported by the vast majority of MSS must struggle under the burden of a genealogical chart that has been assumed rather than proven.

Second, the idea that “That reading is most likely to be original that best explains how the other variations would have arisen” is not a panacea. There are sometimes two or more reasonable explanations that account for two or more rival readings. For example, in Mt. 13:35, Codex Sinaiticus attributes Psalm 78:2 to the prophet Isaiah. Some textual critics have reckoned that this must be the original text, because it is the more difficult reading; they say what you just said: it’s more likely that a copyist smoothed out a difficulty rather than cause one. But others have disagreed, proposing that special factors must be considered such as copyists’ tendencies to provide the names of alluded-to prophets. (Something similar may be considered in Mark 1:2.)

Now about Mark 16:9-20. (to be continued) . . .

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.

Ken Schenck said...

I pretty much agree with everything you say here James. There are cases where a reading is so difficult that it just doesn't work and there is often more than one reasonable scenario for how a reading arose. For example, I find the reading "apart from God" less likely than "by the grace of God" in Hebrews 2:9. But one can explain it either as a misreading of chariti as choris or as a theological emendation (as Ehrman does).

James E. Snapp, Jr. said...

(Continued) -- Now about Mark 16:9-20. First I have to disagree with your claim that it is not clear that the earliest church fathers were quoting Mark. It would require only a few pages to show that the copies of Mark used by Justin and by Tatian contained 16:9-20. But even less than that is needed to show that Irenaeus (c. 184) used a copy of Mark that contained 16:9-20. In Book 3 of "Against Heresies," Irenaeus specifically says, "Also, towards the conclusion of his Gospel, Mark says: 'So then, after the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God.'" That pretty much speaks for itself.

Second, while your statement, "The earliest Greek manuscripts we have of Mark don't have these verses" is technically true, it is significantly tinted by a few additional considerations: P45 (our oldest catalogued MS of Mk) does not have any text from Mark 16, due to damage. Vaticanus does not have 16:9-20 but after 16:8 the copyist left a prolonged blank space, as if he was using an exemplar that lacked verses 9-20 but recollected the passage and attempted to reserve space for it. Sinaiticus does not have 16:9-20 either, but the four pages of Sinaiticus that contain Mk. 14:54-Lk. 1:56 are replacement-pages. The copyist who made these four replacement-pages adjusted his lettering to avoid leaving a blank column between Mk. 16:8 and Lk. 1:1; in addition, his handwriting closely resembles the handwriting of one of the copyists who helped produce Codex Vaticanus.

All other undamaged Greek MSS of Mark (over 1,700, representing not only Byzantine but also Western and Caesarean and Alexandrian texts) include Mk. 16:9-20.

Third, your statement that “A couple key church fathers from the 300s and 400s indicate it was a minority reading at the time” needs clarification. Most commentators unfortunately allow their readers only a fleeting glimpse at the statements by Eusebius and Jerome to which you refer. Up close, the comments by Eusebius and Jerome give a very impression than the one that readers are likely to get from a distance.

Eusebius, in the course of answering a question from a man named Marinus about how to harmonize what Matthew and Mark say about the timing of Christ’s resurrection, said that someone could resolve the difficulty by rejecting the passage (i.e., Mk. 16:9-20) on the grounds that it was not in all copies, or was not in the accurate ones, or was in some copies but not in others, or seldom appeared at all, and because it seemed to contradict the other Gospels.

But – Eusebius continued – another person, accepting both accounts, would insist that faithful and pious readers should not pick and choose between Matthew and Mark. Taking this second approach, the thing to do is to punctuate 16:9 so as to say “Arising,” and then pause, and proceed with the rest, so that it is “early on the first day of the week” when Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene, as John also relates. Eusebius somewhat verbosely points Marinus to the second option, not the first one (which would be a rather strange thing for a bishop to do if he really felt that the inclusion of 16:9-20 was something rare). Further along in the same composition, Eusebius mentions that Mark, in some copies, identifies Mary Magdalene as the woman out of whom Jesus cast out seven demons, and, a little further on, he says (without mentioning any manuscripts) that the individual out of whom Mark says that Jesus cast out seven demons is the same individual whom John describes standing weeping by the tomb.

As for Jerome: what has, no doubt, been presented to you as if it is a statement by Jerome reflective of his own research, describing his own manuscripts, is simply part of his own Latin translation/condensation of part of Eusebius’ Ad Marinum, embedded in a letter that Jerome wrote by dictation to Hedibia in the early 400’s.

Now about the internal evidence . . . (to be continued)

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.

Ken Schenck said...

Thanks for summarizing your dissertation. It's much easier to dig into it in this form ;-) I will look these up. As I said, I did not make my final decision on the external. I consider the internal definitive (although I'm eager to see your perspective on it).

James E. Snapp, Jr. said...

(Continued again) Now about the internal evidence. The internal evidence shows that Mark 16:9-20 is an addition. The mere vocabulary-differences are not decisive (especially since a higher number of "non-Marcan" (i.e., once-used) words appear in another 12-verse section, specifically, Mk. 15:40-16:4). But four aspects of the non-transition between 16:8 and 16:9 are impressive:
(1) Grammatically, the final sentence of 16:8 is virtually unique as the end of a narrative, and stylistically it is unique as the end of a Marcan pericope.
(2) Mary is described in 16:9 as if she is being introduced for the first time.
(3) In 16:9, Mary Magdalene’s companions are suddenly gone from the narrative stage.
(4) In 16:9, the day and time are stated although they were already supplied in 16:1.
In addition, although Mark 14:28 and 16:7 foreshadow a meeting in Galilee, the events in 16:9-20 appear to occur in or near Jerusalem.

However, the same internal evidence that shows that Mark 16:9-20 is an addition also shows that it was not composed to conclude the Gospel of Mark. Hort acknowledged this: an ending composed deliberately to end Mark’s account would not have the aspects of the non-transition I just described; the otherwise truncated scene, as well as the account as a whole, would be neatly wrapped up rather than collided with.

The internal evidence also indicates that the author of Mark 16:9-20 was not aware of the contents of the Gospel of Matthew or the Gospel of Luke, although he is aware of some of the same events that they describe. No one, after reading in Matthew about how the disciples compliantly went to Galilee after the women saw Jesus and told them to go to Galilee, would deduce that the disciples refused to believe Mary Magdalene. Nor would anyone, having read Luke 24, present the report of the two travelers, and the appearance of Jesus to the main group of disciples, as two distinct scenes; the impression from Luke is that the events happened together. Somewhat like you said (if you meant "1:1-16:8"), Mark 16:9-20 does not indicate that its author was intending to tie up the loose ends of 1:1-16:8.

This narrows the historical window in which Mark 16:9-20 was composed and attached to Mark 1:1-16:8. That window includes the production-stage of the Gospel of Mark itself. I submit that the internal evidence is best accounted for by the following three-part explanation:
First, by the time Mark wrote Mark 1:1-16:8, he had already composed a short freestanding summary of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances.
Second, Mark 16:8 looks like an interrupted sentence because that is what it is: Mark was compelled by a sudden emergency to stop writing and to leave Rome, entrusting his unfinished account into the hands of colleagues at Rome.
Third, those colleagues, recognizing that Mark’s definitive record of the Petrine Memoirs was valuable, but also recognizing that it was not finished, declined to make copies of it for church-use until it contained an ending, and they supplied an ending, not by creatively composing something new, but instead by attaching the short freestanding summary of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances which Mark had written previously. With the Gospel-account this completed, its production-stage came to an end, and its transmission-stage began as copies of Mark 1:1-16:20 were made and distributed at Rome.

(To be continued once again ...)

James E. Snapp, Jr. said...

(Continuing once again)

While Mark 16:9-20 is in some sense an addition, more is needed to justify its rejection. You would need to show that these verses were added in the transmission-stage and not in the production-stage. We routinely grant that many passages of Scripture were added to the rest of a book by a co-author or redactor. Internal evidence tells us that Jeremiah 52, for example, did not come from Jeremiah; 51:64 says that the words of Jeremiah end there. Internal evidence tells us that Proverbs 30 -- the very place where we find the command not to add to the words of God –- was not composed by Solomon, but came from a secondary contributor. The textual fingerprints of co-authors and redactors are all over the Old Testament.

And in the New Testament, internal evidence commends a form of John that ended at 20:31. Who can deny that John 21:24’s statement, “We know that his testimony is true,” is from a secondary source? Or that Romans 16:22 is from Tertius? Internal evidence tells a story of Second Corinthians 1-9 as one epistle, and chapters 10-13 as another epistle.

The ability to discern intermediate stages within the production-stage does not authorize us to select which of those intermediate stages is the “original text.” The original text has traditionally been defined as the text that existed when a book’s production-stage was completed and its transmission-stage began (i.e., the point when copies began to be produced for church-use), regardless of how many human beings contributed to its production.

This still leaves us with the matter of the external evidence to deal with. I suspect that an early copyist who received a copy of the Gospel of Mark 1:1-16:20 was so meticulous (which is ordinarily a very good trait for a copyist) that when he reached 16:9-20 and noticed that it was identical to a short composition with which he was already familiar, he separated it from the rest of the text, regarding it as a separate composition rather than as part of the Petrine Memoirs. This led to the abruptly-ending form of the text getting established in Egypt, and it spread from there to Caesarea in the 200’s. (A similar mechanism motivated the copyist of Sinaiticus to initially reject Jn. 21:25, but then he changed his mind and included it.)

Subsequently someone in Egypt, unable to tolerate such an abrupt stoppage, composed the Shorter Ending to round off the final scene. Meanwhile, everywhere else (including at Rome), copies of Mark 1:1-16:20 were being produced, distributed and routinely used as inspired Scripture.

Also, regarding the idea that 16:9-20 "is a more pleasing ending than an abrupt ending with the women telling no one" -- I doubt that all beholders have seen it that way. Consider the perspective of an apologist attempting to defend the Gospels as a harmonious group. A harmonization is easier without Mk 16:9-20 than with it. Plus, Mk 16:18 posed interpretive challenges in the early church: for example, the anti-Christian writer Hierocles (c. 305, probably borrowing material from Porphyry, c. 270), proposed that Christians aspiring to leadership roles should have poison-drinking contests; he based this proposal on Mk 16:18 (in a copy that was at least as old as Codex Vaticanus). A person such as Eusebius (who wrote a huge composition against Porphyry which is unfortunately not extant), if he possessed some copies of Mark that included 16:9-20, and some copies in which the text stopped at 16:8, might easily discern that such jibes could be disarmed by rejecting the passage on which they were based. Perhaps this is why Eusebius, although he recommended harmonizing Mark 16:9 when he wrote to Marinus, did not include the passage in the Eusebian Canons. The apologetic value of the abrupt ending is not what caused verses 9-20 to be initially excised from a form of the text used in Egypt, but it may have been a major reason why the abrupt reading survived in Egyptian copies into the 300’s and 400’s.

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.

Ken Schenck said...

Thanks James, these are fascinating thoughts and, again, an indication of how intelligent you are and how genius those who hold minority positions can be. As you know, I personally don't think Mark 16:9-20 was created originally to be an ending of Mark. I think it was borrowed from somewhere else.

Thank you so much for these comments. You have made these posts a major wealth of information for someone doing research on this issue. I do intend to look into your primary sources about the early fathers.

James E. Snapp, Jr. said...

You’re welcome; thank you for allowing my comments to be posted. As you can see, we agree that Mk. 16:9-20 was not created initially to be an ending of Mark. The point where our views seem to currently differ is that I think the passage was attached in the production-stage, in the mid-60’s (and is thus part of the original text), while you think the passage was extracted from “some early second century synopsis of the gospels” (and thus is merely a large scribal accretion).

Regarding the patristic writers who used Mk. 16:9-20: I see that you mentioned that Augustine helped shape a consensus about the Biblical canon. His use of Mk. 16:9-20 may therefore be of special interest:

Writing c. 400, he quotes virtually the entire passage in chapters 24-25 of his "Harmony of the Gospels," without mentioning any doubts about it. In chapter 25, when commenting on 16:12 he casually mentions Greek MSS as well as Latin ones. (Unfortunately this reference was not mentioned by Metzger and was not included in the UBS or N-A apparatus.)

In "On the Soul," Augustine utilizes Mk. 16:18 figuratively, using the words, “if they should drink any deadly thing, it should not hurt them” as the basis for a principle by which he justified the reading of books written by heretics.

And in his "Fourth Homily on First John (To the Parthians)," as Augustine interprets First John 2:28 he says, “Where were they sent? You heard while the Gospel was read, ‘Go, preach the gospel to the whole creation which is under heaven.’ Consequently, the disciples were sent ‘everywhere,’ with signs and wonders to attest that what they spoke, they had seen.” Thus he refers to Mark 16:15 and 16:20 being read in the church-services.

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.