Monday, January 08, 2018

Why Westcott and Hort gave special treatment to the woman caught in adultery

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Not long ago, we discussed on the blog whether or not the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 7.53–8.11) should be read and taught as Scripture. I remain somewhat torn myself though I lean toward a negative answer. Regardless of that larger question, one of the issues that came up in the discussion was whether Mark 16.9–20 and John 7.53–8.11 raise distinct canonical questions that are not warranted for other widely-attested variant texts like John 5.4.

The Pericope Adulterae
in Westcott and Hort’s GNT
Regarding this question, I was intrigued by how Hort explained his and Westcott’s unique handling of the Pericope in their edition. As you may know, they printed it in double brackets just like Mark 16.9–20 but then went a step further by placing it after John’s Gospel with its own separate heading. (Note, however, that it is not listed in the table of contents.)

In a letter to his good friend A. A. Vansittart dated May 4, 1865, Hort explained this decision as follows:
I firmly adhere to the Pericope so treated, though conscious that it may cause scandal. Let me repeat more clearly than before. This is one of many passages which belong in a sense to the New Testament, and which we feel we cannot expel from it, and yet which do not belong to the originals of its component books. The other such passages or clauses we leave (in at least one case, Mt 27.49b we insert) in their proper places for two reasons: those passages could not stand independently from their very nature, and the contexts are little or not at all injured by the interpolation, which of course is plainly marked. Here both conditions are reversed: the Pericope can very well stand by itself, and St John’s narrative is miserably interrupted by its insertion. To put it in the appendix would be to expel it from the New Testament: we can therefore only place it as an omitted chapter of the ΕΥΑΓΓΕΛΙΟΝ. It will, I trust, like the other passages stand within [[ ]]⟦ ⟧.
Thus, Hort explains why the Pericope could neither be expelled from the NT altogether but could and should be left out of the Gospel according to John proper, even with its double brackets. Hort, of course, was well aware that this might cause scandal which itself is interesting given that on theological matters, the two editors typically eschewed public controversy.

16 comments :

  1. Sorry Hort, any story that starts out "And then everybody went home" and is immediately followed by "And again Jesus spoke" can't stand on its own. That's way in the mss the locate it outside of its correct place, scribes sometimes mentioned that they didn't find it where it belonged, so they were putting it here.

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  2. "...St John’s narrative is miserably interrupted by its insertion." Is this really a common view among textual critics? This strikes me, a nonspecialist, as an overstatement. Has any scholar presented a strong argument for this? Just curious. I know N.T. Wright made the opposite case in his little "commentary" on John (to be clear, he was not offering a textual judgment, but a narrative one).

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  3. Contrary to general opinion, exclusion of the PA does not result in the narrative "flowing smoothly" from 7.52 to 8.12; rather, PA exclusion results in an aporia (not untypical of Johannine style, however), given that Jeaua has not been present since 7.44, but in 8.12 appears to address the chief priests and Pharisees.

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  4. So is there a formal narrative critique available from an expert in this area?

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    1. For one such study, see Gary M. Burge, “The Literary Seams in the Fourth Gospel,” Covenant Quarterly 48:3 (August 1990)15-25, where the PA is mentioned (pp. 18, 20) as a prime example of showing “some irregularity in the text, some narrative rift."

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  5. Peter G,
    I suppose, as a point of history, it is interesting to be reminder of how wrong Hort was about the pericope adulterae. It's also refreshing to be reminded of the evidence that Hort had no interest in the doctrine of inerrancy; he was perfectly willing to put the error-teaching Mt. 27:49 interpolation into the text; such was his fixation on Codex Vaticanus especially when/where Sinaiticus supported it. So, thanks for this post.

    To Bill Wortman: see my e-book, A Fresh Analysis of john 7:53-8:11 for a review of both internal and external evidences; I pretty much echo Dr. Robinson's point that the PA's opening line precludes its existence as a "floating" anecdote -- and this also renders Hort's assessment untenable. I believe that Chris Keith conceded this point but, determined to salvage his hypothesis, further theorized that someone added the opening phrase as a sort of textual handle. So it would seem that those who still (somehow) swallow the "floating anecdote" theory are required to believe (a) 8:1-11 circulated as a freestanding text, (b) verse 7:53 was added to connect the anecdote to John 7:52, (c) lots of folks liked the new story and so it was widely accepted, but (d) some folks didn't like it after 7:53, and so they moved it around. This imho is hopelessly contrived, compared to the simple solution that implies the genuineness of the passage, which I present in the book: in an early lecton-cycle -- not a full lectionary but just a basic annual cycle of readings for major holidays -- the lection for Pentecost began at John 8:37 and ended at the end of 8:12 but skipped 7:53-8:11. A very early copy included notes in the margin telling the lector (Scripture-reader in church-services) to skip from the end of 7:52 to the beginning of 8:12. Then a copyist used that manuscript as his exemplar, followed the instructions exactly, thinking that they were meant for him, and >poof< there went the passage.

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    1. James, somehow your appreciation always manages to seem insincere. But I guess you're welcome.

      As for Hort and inerrancy, it is true that he did not hold that the Bible was necessarily without error, but then he did write to Westcott at one point that he did not think he could name any actual errors either. But I think it is fair to say that the notion of rejecting a reading because it somehow challenged his doctrine of Scripture would be anathema to Hort.

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    2. Jim Snapp wrote: "A very early copy included notes in the margin telling the lector (Scripture-reader in church-services) to skip from the end of 7:52 to the beginning of 8:12."

      How early Jim? Where is the evidence of the usage (at any location in the text) of such marks in the most ancient manuscripts?

      An alternative explanation is that this particular lesson for Pentecost (from 7:37-8:12) was created from a manuscript which lacked the pericope, and then it is natural that it ends in 8:12 (no need to skip over text). When the pericope was inserted at its traditional place in John 7:53-8:11, then scribes used those marks (that came later) to indicate where to skip and where to assume reading again.

      I think that the lectionary system developed gradually and, for example, the lesson from John 7:37-8:12 is later than the reading from Acts 2 for Pentecost. The research on this matter will be presented in a forthcoming monograph.

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    3. TW: "An alternative explanation is that this particular lesson for Pentecost (from 7:37-8:12) was created from a manuscript which lacked the pericope, and then it is natural that it ends in 8:12 (no need to skip over text). When the pericope was inserted at its traditional place in John 7:53-8:11, then scribes used those marks (that came later) to indicate where to skip and where to assume reading again."

      Tommy, the fallacy in this theory was long ago pointed out by Burgon (Causes of Corruption appendix): if indeed an early MS read 7.53-8.12 without the PA, and then that passage later was selected as the Pentecost lection -- why then would any subsequent insertion of the PA intentionally interrupt what by then was known to be the Pentecost lection rather than simply inserting the PA after Jn 8.12, where no lection-related problems would exist?

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  6. Hort, letter to Lightfoot, 1870: "Might it not be plausibly said that a revision which substantially alters or affects such passages as...[Jn] vii.53-viii.11... is not fairly to be called conservative?"

    Cited in Graham Patrick, F.J.A. Hort: Eminent Victorian (Sheffield, 1988), 82.

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    1. Yes, obviously neither man was an Evangelical although Hort did grow up as one. In this quote, however, he is not thinking theologically but rather that their edition will not follow the status quo.

      By the way, the letter I mentioned above is cited in Patrick, p. 48. But the full letters can be read here. It is quite interesting to see the famed Triumvirate speaking fairly candidly about infallibility with each other.

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  7. Tommy W,

    How early? In the 100's.

    TW: "Where is the evidence of the usage (at any location in the text) of such marks in the most ancient manuscripts?"

    There isn't any *external* evidence from the 100's that demonstrates the use of such marks. (Indeed, for the text of Jn 7-8, is there any manuscript evidence certainly from the 100's at all?) But how do we discern that a scribe accidentally skipped a line? By finding the scribe and interviewing him, so as to have *evidence,* or by making deductions? By making deductions, of course.

    And when we see a particular segment of text missing in some MSS, and when we also see, in other MSS, marks at precisely the beginning, and at precisely the end, of that segment -- marks which mean "Jump down to the 'Resume here' mark," and "Resume here" -- what can be more logical than to deduce that someone misunderstood those marks as if they were meant for the scribe rather than for the lector? If other regions had the same papyrus-friendly climate as Egypt and we were to find Jn. 7:53-8:11 in the older MSS, and the non-inclusion in the younger ones, this would almost certainly be the deduction of everyone except those who as a matter of course never met a shorter reading they didn't like.

    TW: "An alternative explanation is that this particular lesson for Pentecost (from 7:37-8:12) was created from a manuscript which lacked the pericope, and then it is natural that it ends in 8:12 (no need to skip over text). When the pericope was inserted at its traditional place in John 7:53-8:11, then scribes used those marks (that came later) to indicate where to skip and where to assume reading again."

    But how did the position after 7:53 become "its traditional place"? Why not (as Dr. Robinson has inquired) just make the insertion a little later and avoid cluttering up the Pentecost lection?

    TW: "I think that the lectionary system developed gradually."

    You and I both, and everyone who has ever looked into it. *Of course* the lectionary system developed gradually. Lection-cycles are *still* developing as martyrs and confessors continue to be added among the fixed feast-days. That does not preclude the existence of very early annual cycles for the major-feast days, of which Pentecost was one. I submit the Quartodeciman controversy as evidence that annual observances existed in the early church and were considered important, centuries before any congregations were using full-fledged lectionaries.

    TW: "The lesson from John 7:37-8:12 is later than the reading from Acts 2 for Pentecost."

    In all annual cycles everywhere?? Where is your early evidence for /that/?

    TW: "The research on this matter will be presented in a forthcoming monograph."

    I hope this is not going to be another $80 cat-in-a-sack from Brill.

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  8. The extract of the unpublished letter referenced by Maurice Robinson can be seen here:

    F. J. A. Hort: Eminent Victorian (2015)
    Graham Patrick
    https://books.google.com/books?id=LP_rBQAAQBAJ&pg=PA82
    (also can be seen in Amazon books.)

    Are there other "gems" unpublished?
    How does Graham Patrick describe his letter sources?

    As for the quote from Peter Gurry, that is not in the 2-volume group of letters of Hort, the closest there is a couple of days away and mentions the editing of A. A. Vansittart.
    https://archive.org/stream/lifelettersoffen02hortuoft#page/34/mode/2up

    So, Peter, please share more about the source. Are they sitting in a cache in London?

    Thanks!

    Steven Avery
    Dutchess County, NY

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  9. Ok, Peter gave more info above and this url.
    https://archive.org/stream/lifelettershort00hortuoft#page/420/mode/2up

    This remains puzzling, the url is to an 1860 letter, and the Pericope does not seem to be mentioned.

    Allowing that the Pericope is referenced in Graham Patrick (p. 48 is invisible to my US google) and that might be what was quoted by Peter, maybe, it still does not help find the 1865 full Pericope letter.

    Any help appreciated.
    Thanks!

    Steven

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    1. This is from a manuscript at the Cambridge University Library (Add. MS 6597) that is a hand-copied selection from Hort’s correspondence.

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