Thursday, February 04, 2016

Defining the Byzantine Text

As a follow-up to my post about text-types from last week, here is an example of how our definitions of texts can influence our thinking about textual criticism. It matters particularly when it comes to comparing one “text” to another.

In their new book on NT textual criticism, Stanley Porter and Andrew Pitts make a common argument against the Majority Text position which could apply to the Byzantine Priority position as well. Porter and Pitts write:
Several other questions are left unanswered by the Majority text approach as well. Statistical probability of documents simply cannot explain why no distinctively Byzantine readings are identifiable in the Greek manuscripts, church fathers, or version from the first several centuries—certainly some remains would have been left, even if the manuscripts were in constant use. If the Majority text most accurately reflects the original, we would expect some traces of it chronologically close to the original. These significant obstacles to the Majority text approach still have not been convincingly overcome by its adherents (pp. 91–92 n. 3).
Now I admit that I find a form of the chronological argument against the Majority Text and the Byzantine text persuasive. But what I want to point out here is that this particular form of the argument hinges entirely on something that Porter and Pitts do not provide us with, namely, a definition of “distinctively Byzantine readings.”

To illuminate the problem, let’s consider how the Editio Critica Maior (ECM) defines the “Byzantine text.” You have to read it very carefully, but the ECM actually has two definitions. In the introduction (§3.1) we read that “the term Byzantine or Koine text refers to the form of text defined by those readings which are attested by the majority of the manuscripts and differ from the established text” (emphasis original). The supplementary volume gives a complete lists of just these readings for each book of the Catholic Epistles (pp. 10ff).

But the ECM also has a second, more implicit definition. On the same page (p. 10) of the supplementary volume we read about “the undivided (ungespaltene) Byzantine text” which differs from the initial text in only 61 of about 700 places in James. In the editors’ words, this undivided Byzantine text is, “apart from these 61 passages, an important witness to the early text” (p. 10; emphasis mine).

So we have two definitions: (1) the Byzantine text as all the shared readings found in the majority of Greek witnesses; and (2) the Byzantine text as that set of readings found in these same witnesses which differ from the initial text. The first entity is an important witness to the early text whereas the second is defined in distinction from essentially that same early text.

Now the problem should be obvious. An argument like that of Porter and Pitts risks circularity on this second definition and it is simply false on the first. There are hundreds of readings found in Byzantine manuscripts that are also found “chronologically close to the original.” In fact, according to the ECM, there are over 630 readings just in James that are the original or at least very close to it (depending on how you identify the initial text).

Now Perhaps Porter and Pitts have a definition of “distinctively Byzantine reading” that isn’t circular. From what they’ve written we simply don’t know because they don’t define their key term.

And that’s just the problem. Good arguments about the history of the text can only be made where we have clarity about what constitutes the textual entities—whether text-types or otherwise—that we are trying to relate to one another. Porter and Pitts have two texts they relate (“original” and “Majority/Byzantine”), but since they don’t define them, the relationship they propose is meaningless.

This isn’t to pick on Porter and Pitts. They just provide a good illustration of problem of not defining the texts we claim to relate to one another.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Fragmentarium Fellowship (Biblical Fragments) Grant for Postdocs

A grant for postdocs to study biblical fragments at St. Gallen has been announced by the Fragmentarium Fellowship (HT: Christina Kreinecker):

Fragmentarium fellowship 2016 Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallen 

The Fragmentarium Fellowship has been established to support research on medieval fragments.
Fragmentarium is an international digital research laboratory for medieval manuscript fragments, which collaborates with about 15 major European and American libraries. This international scholarly network will enable libraries, collectors, researchers and students to upload medieval manuscript fragments and to describe, transcribe and assemble them online. The grant will allow a scholar (postdoctoral candidate) to spend a period of minimum two to three months in St. Gallen, with the goal of carrying out a case study on the biblical fragments preserved at the Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallen.

The fellow will be responsible for this case study. He/she will have to document his/her research and make it available to Fragmentarium through the publication of an article. The fellow will also have to use the digital application which is now being developed by Fragmentarium in order to test its possibilities. The fragments on which the research will be carried out will be uploaded on the Fragmentarium website in close collaboration with its team.

The fellows of Fragmentarium will participate in two workshops. The first one will bring together the 2016 Fragmentarium fellows and will take place between June 6th and June 8th, 2016 in Fribourg. The second, during which the results will be presented, will take place in 2017. The research must be done between June 2016 and June 2017. The article will have to be submitted after the second workshop.

The candidate must be affiliated to a non-Swiss institution. He/she must be employed as a researcher in his/her home country before, during and after the fellowship. He/she may be DPhil or D.Theol. as well as a specialist in at least one of the following fields: edition, palaeography, codicology, latin, biblical sciences.

Depending on the destination, varying lump sums will be given to cover travel expenses. For room and board expenses, the support will range from CHF 3000 to CHF 3500 per month. Travel and living expenses for the workshops will be added to this sum.

Applications should be submitted (with curriculum vitae, a description of the research project with 10’000-12’000 signs, and planning) by February 28th, 2016, via email to:, Sylviane Messerli, Université de Fribourg, rue de l’Hôpital 4, 1700 Fribourg.


Sylviane Messerli
Université de Fribourg
Rue de l’Hôpital 4, CH-1700 Fribourg

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Painful blunders

Find the missing word in this verse:

Luke 14:27 And whoever does carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

This is the text produced by the first hand of Vaticanus, though I am glad that eventually the missing 'ου' was added above the line.

οστις ουν \ου/ βασταζει
τον σταυρον εαυτου
και ερχεται οπισω μου
ου δυναται ειναι μου

Incidentally, the correction is not noted (yet) in the transcription on the NT.VMR.

Images of P.Bodmer VIII (P72) On-line

5 Vatican Library has just released images of P.Bodmer VIII online! (HT: Brent Nongbri)

Friday, January 29, 2016

CSNTM Finds More Manuscripts in Athens

Manuscripts: great places
to look for new manuscripts.
Dan Wallace teases us on his blog with a note that he has recently found more uncatalogued NT manuscripts in Athens.
I recently returned from two weeks in Athens, working at the National Library of Greece. My student and former intern, Max Berti, joined me. We discovered a surprising number of New Testament manuscripts. But I’ll have to tell you all about that later. Follow the link to the CSNTM website below, where you’ll see info on several discoveries from 2015.
There’s more detail at the CSNTM blog. Rob Marcello tells me that 10 of the new manuscripts have already been published at and that more will be coming next month.

Before my first trip with CSNTM I remember thinking it was crazy that there could be NT manuscripts just sitting on library shelves that are virtually unknown to NT scholars. Having now seen the size of some of these library collections and understanding that NT scholars are generally busy folks, I now understand better how this can happen.

So good for Dan and his team for continuing to visit libraries and work through their catalogs. Any students out there reading should take note: if you want to find little-known manuscripts, start poking around in big libraries. (It’s best to get permission first, though.)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Contract to copy Scripture from AD 1021

Without doubt, one of the most important manuscripts for our modern editions of the Hebrew Scriptures is the Leningrad Codex B19a, and many institutions own the facsimile edition. [Interesting that people stick with the name ‘Leningrad Codex’ and that the name has not gone the way of the Rhodes statues.] This manuscripts is dated, and to my surprise I learned that from some years later we have a contract with the scribe of the Leningrad Codex, Samuel ben Jacob, to copy ‘Eight Prophets and the Writings’ for the respectable sum of 25 dinars.

Read the full story here in the fragment of the month of the Taylor-Schechter Research Unit of the Cambridge University Library.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Look twice, Read, and look again

I came across the textual variant at the end of Lk 12:38, 'Blessed are these'. The issue here is the presence / absence of οι δουλοι in μακαριοι εισιν οι δουλοι εκεινοι (I think οι δουλοι shouldn't be there, yet modern translations, ESV and NIV, put it in anyway). Sinaiticus has its own version and leaves out εκεινοι too, which was later added, as we can see on the second and third line:

The ink and lettering of the correction stands out as that of one of the later correctors, attractively named Cb2. Colour and style matches the interlinear addition αν a few lines further down (on top of an interlinear correction by an early corrector).
But there is something slightly off here, there seems some noise underneath. And indeed, NA27 has this down as Alef1, and so does NA28, which is more reliable when it comes to the corrections of Sinaiticus and, according to Tischendorf himself, "εκεινοι addidit A, item C". Suspicion was justified, εκεινοι of an earlier corrector was overwritten by a later corrector.

Look twice, read what others say about it, and look again.