Reviews of

The Human Face of Textual Transmission

In Charles E. HILL, Early Christianity, Edgar Ebojo, Michael J. KRUGER, New Testament, Oxford University Press, Papyrology, Scribal habits, Textual Criticism on April 22, 2013 at 2:15 pm


2013.04.05 | Charles E. Hill and Michael J. Kruger, eds., The Early Text of the New Testament. Oxford: OUP, 2012.  Xiv + 483 pages. HB. ISBN: 978-0-19-956636-5.

Review article by Edgar Battad Ebojo, University of Birmingham.

Many thanks to OUP for kindly providing us with a review copy.

This book is another provocative exploration of the text of the New Testament specifically in relation to the question of its character and quality of transmission as reflected in the earliest extant manuscripts (mostly papyri) dated within the first three centuries of Christian existence, hence, its title.  It is from this time-bound chronological perspective that the 21 articles, written by veteran and budding scholars from the various fields traversed in the book, were impressively and cogently composed, aiming to examine and asses what the text of the NT might have looked like in the earliest surviving manuscripts (and how the NT text [or specific portions of it] was eventually perceived by some of the early Christian writers) in comparison to [and disjunction from] the text of the NT that is now widely known to the modern readers through the printed critical texts.

In general, this book of 512 pages generously affords readers a well-rounded appreciation of the intricate (and somewhat controversial) issues involved in the transmission of the NT text at its earliest reconstructible history, derivable from the fund of earliest extant manuscripts.  The depth and breadth of the discussions and the wealth of references definitely makes it a must-read book for those who are interested in the text of the NT.  Having said that, I am of the opinion that the contributors would be the first ones to disagree if one would conclude that this book is the final word on the matter.

The book is divided neatly into three overarching themes: The Textual and Scribal Culture of Early Christianity (pp21-80); the Manuscript Tradition (pp81-258); and, Early Citation and Use of the New Testament Writings (pp259-413).  Each contributor and the editors are to be commended for the impressively cogent and wide discussions of the multifaceted issues and most recent areas of debate within their assigned topic, and any serious student of the New Testament text would never be disadvantaged in acquiring a personal copy of this book.

For its sheer size alone, it would not do justice to the book to simply offer a one-liner comment for each article.  Instead, for this review, I raise some observations and questions pertinent to the general theme and stylistic structure of the book.  Let me begin with the minute ones.

It is interesting to note that the OUP staff involved in the process have been duly acknowledged and specifically named, including the translator, but I wonder why the editors’ wives, while also acknowledged, were never explicitly named.  It would be great to see their names as well—a deserved accolade for sojourning with the editors for “six and a half years” working on this project!

All the contributors’ names are written in full in the “Contributors” page, except for Prof. J.K. Elliott’s.  I wonder if this is the wishes of Prof Elliott, but even if that is the case, it does not harm to see his name written in full just as anyone else in this compendium. (In fact, a look at the bibliography shows that his name entry is rendered as “Elliott, J. Keith” [pp423-24]).

Locating the book in the NT text-critical map

On a more substantial matter, Dr Hill and Dr Kruger  optimistically portrayed the field of NT textual criticism as having resurrected from near extinction in the last quarter of the previous century to a rejuvenated discipline where various text-critical and auxiliary projects all over the world are simultaneously being undertaken—an important point where this book takes off.  They also stated that “The growth in new knowledge unavailable to previous generations of scholars has arguably reached a ‘critical mass’” (p2).  (However, we are not explicitly told what the “critical mass” is for).  Then it intimates that the present volume “intends to provide an inventory and some analysis of the evidence for understanding the pre-fourth century period of transmission of the NT materials” (p2).

Because of the looming questions attached with the concept “original text”, which of course figures prominently throughout the book, the editors cautiously stated “Our concern here is not so much a recovery of the original text, but an analysis of the ‘early’ text and its transmission” (p4).  However, they immediately added “while the complexities in recovering the original text need to be acknowledged, that is a separate question from whether the concept of an original text is incoherent and should therefore be abandoned as a goal of the discipline”.  But I am a bit lost in the comparison they made between attempts to recover the original text of the NT and that of the classical texts, as a matter of goal, putting them on the same plane.  It seems naïve to me to dismiss the idea that the pursuit of establishing the “original text” does not have a religious component at all!  Perhaps there is wisdom in listening to those who are involved in Bible translations how this “religious phenomenon” has affected to a lesser or greater extent the form of the text they eventually chose to reflect in their translation and the reading/s they chose to relegate to the footnotes.

At any rate, underscoring the continuing value of recognizing the concept of an “original text” as a goal of the discipline, it is not difficult to sympathize with the editors’ statement on p5: “Recognizing the historical value of such scribal variations need not be set in opposition to the goal of recovering the original text.  These two aspects of textual criticism are complimentary, not mutually exclusive.” However, the following statement is, I think, less convincing:  “Indeed, it is only when we can have some degree of assurance regarding the original text that we are even able to recognize that later scribes occasionally changed it for their own theological purposes. Without the former we would not have the latter.” I doubt whether the intricate issue of detecting the emergence of textual variations can be simplistically framed into this chronological schema.

Scribal habits

In p13, the editors introduced Royse’s monograph as an indispensable study on “Christian scribal habits” (emphasis added). But I wonder whether Royse really clearly made this distinction in his 1981 dissertation and 2008 monograph, or whether there is distinctly “Christian” in the habits identified by him.  It seems to me that there is nothing uniquely “Christian” about a scribe committing haplographies or harmonisations to immediate contexts, etc.; scribes of early classical texts committed them, too.  “Scribal habits” would perfectly do!

The way the concept of “scribal habits” was introduced on p14 is also a bit unclear.  It seems to me that the operational assumption is that “singular readings” in a particular manuscript are equal to “scribal habits”.  The editors also seem to operate on the assumption that the identification of “scribal habits” would eventually help in the recovery of the “original text”, arguing that “(W)hat keeps this method from being circular… is that the features at issue do not include all forms of variation but only obvious scribal errors.  Particularly relevant would be those errors which result from the scribe skipping from one or more letters to other like letters…, and phenomena which appear to manifest the habitual traits of an individual scribe” (p14).  But why privilege the “obvious scribal errors” over the non-obvious ones if the goal of a scribal study is to profile its habits?  Also, we must ask what scribal habits are “particularly relevant” for?  Furthermore, does the statement “Identifying such obvious scribal contributions… may enable a somewhat clearer estimate of the underlying text which the scribe inherited” (p14) mean that the editors take the “underlying text” to be the “original text”?

Accordingly, one conspicuous feature of almost all the articles in Part II is the appeal to “scribal habits” of individual manuscripts, which admittedly highlights their copying peculiarity. However, it does not require an expert eye to get the impression that the (lone?) formula used in locating “scribal habits” is “singular readings = scribal habits” (the lone voice appears to be that of Chris Tuckett [p159], and only as a matter of methodological necessity). Hence, one must ask whether this formula is now the “scholarly consensus” in locating scribal habits?  It is equally surprising that none seems to have bothered to provide a substantial discussion on this methodology; what we read are all references to the works of Prof Colwell and Prof Royse!  But if we are talking about individual “scribal habits” of particular manuscripts, does this refer only to the “unique readings” recoverable in the manuscript, which in the first place cannot even be firmly established whether they were indeed created by the first hand or by another or something that are already in the exemplar (see p14 and cf. p85)?

Wish list

Since to a lesser or greater extent the book’s thrust hinges on the “earliness” of the manuscripts mentioned, it is a bit surprising that there is no dedicated article on the subject of how NT manuscripts are dated, whether palaeographically or otherwise. This point will prove its importance when viewed against the recent discussions about the proposed (re)dating of some NT MSS, but particularly of NT papyri.  Also, it would have been a big aid to the readers if there is a ready table of manuscript profiles, appended to the book, featuring their proposed dates, text quality, and textual transmission, codicological features, etc–this would have also compensated the lack of table in Dr Nicklas’ very informative article and a column on “transmission quality” in Prof Elliott’s table on p211.

Exciting Prospect

One very interesting (prophetic?) note by the editors is the second paragraph on p18: “Thus, the investigation of the quality of the work accomplished by the scribes, and the study of non-textual, scribal convention which imply an earlier tradition of controlled copying, are two promising avenues not only for the understanding the manuscripts we now have, but also possibly casting light on the earlier period from no manuscript survive.”  This is very commendable! Indeed, we should eagerly wait for the day when there are more exhaustive studies on the scribal habits of individual manuscripts that we now have, whether they categorically help in the establishment of the “original text” or not.  This would equitably put a human face to the transmission of the NT text.

Unfortunate typo and other errors

On matter of styles, unlike the articles, the documentation presentation is frustratingly fraught with numerous errors involving typography and publication details, as well as inconsistency of presentation.  They of course do not hurt the over-all tenor of the book and can be easily corrected in the next print run. However, I take time to note some of these as their high frequency unfortunately do not do justice to the meticulous effort given by the contributors to their pieces.

Some of the simple spelling errors include the following:  “Peshitṭa” for “Peshita” (p253-n37 [2x]), “omitted” for “omtted” (p345-n62), “Karavidopoulos” for “Karavidopulos” (p415), “Joel Delobel” should be “Joël Delobel” (p416 and p422; correctly reflected in p423), “Leonides” for “Leonidas” (p435 [Luijendijk]), and “Bibelgesellschaft” for “Biblegesellschaft” (p374-n33 and p437 [Metzger’s commentary]). Elsewhere, homeoteleuton/arcton, but homoioteleuton/arcton in p212.  There is a misplaced superscripted “5” after Earliest Gospels (p6-n27) which ought to be deleted. The second “in” (p346-n70) and the extra “and” (p449 [Westcott entry]) need to be deleted, too.

Usually only the author’s surname is retained once it has been previously cited; but the following goes against this universal practice: “Birt” not “Th. Birt” (p25-n4; already mentioned in p23-n1); “Quinn” not “K. Quinn” (p25-n7; cited already in n4); and “Fehrle” not “R. Fehrle” (p29-n25; cited already in n1).  Conversely, “R” or “Robert” should have been inserted before “Grant” (p36-n43). Also, “Miller, Patrick D.” (p427 [Gaventa]) should have been presented as “Patrick D. Miller”.

There are also a number of mistakes involving specific details.  For instance, the correct page number for Barbara Aland’s article assessing the textual character of ‰P46 is “116” and not “112-13” as Hill and Kruger cited (p13-n61).  Equally, the citation of the page number of A.G. Martin’s article as “50” (on p436) cannot be correct as the article’s actual page-range in the Lunel Colloquium compendium is “pp248-54”.

“ICC” is “International Critical Commentary”, not “International Critic Commentary” (p.xii), and Bagnall’s Oxford Handbook is on “Papyrology” and not “Papyrus” (p419 [Cavallo]).  Kenyon’s middle initial is “G.” not “C.” (p165-n41).  Das Neue Testament auf Papyrus, ii, Die Paulinischen Briefe teil 1 was entered in the bibliography as having been edited by Junack and Grunewald (p432) but was in fact edited by K. Junack, E. Güting, U. Nimtz, and K. Witte. UBS4 was published in “1993” and not “1983” (p415); UBS3 was the one published in “1983”. Hurtado’s Freer Biblical Manuscripts was published by SBL in 2006, while the hardback Brill edition in 2007 (cf. p151-n59). Similarly, Taylor’s Studies in the Early Text of the Gospels and Acts was published by SBL Text and Studies series, not by the University of Birmingham (p440 [Parker]). The publisher of Aloys Baldus’ book was not “Press” (p417); it seems that its original publisher was “Aschendorff”.

Perhaps because of the high recurrence frequency of the phrase “New Testament Textual Criticism”, a number of “unintentional errors” have been committed.  “Text Criticism” on p6-n30 (Colwell entry) should have been “Textual Criticism”, and the full citation should have been “Studies in Methodology in Textual Criticism of the New Testament” and not “Studies in the Methodology of the Text Criticism of the New Testament” (also p421).  Change “Lunel Conference” (p424) to “Lunel Colloquium”; “New Text in Early Christianity” (p416 [Baarda]; also on p338-n16) to “New Testament Text in Early Christianity”; and “New Testament Criticism and Exegesis” (p152-n64, p414 [Aland]) to “New Testament Textual Criticism and Exegesis”.  The subtitle for K. and B. Aland’s Text of the NT should be “Textual Criticism” and not the plural “Textual Criticisms” (p415). Conversely, “papyri MSS” on p157-n1 should have been “papyrus MSS”.

Presentation inconsistencies involving publication details can, when they recur, become a nuisance.  For instance, the publisher Brill is variably presented as “E. J. Brill” and “Brill” not only between different articles, but also within the same article (e.g., p2-n7 vis-à-vis p2-n8; p262-n6 vis-à-vis p264-n18, p271-n47), and within the same footnote (e.g., p253-n37).  Of similar situation is the presentation of “Mohr” (e.g., p295-n29), “Mohr Siebeck” (e.g., p303-n3), and “J. C. B. Mohr” (p429 [Heckel]).

One cannot help but also suspect that more recently published books cited in the articles have never been cross-checked.  For instance, In p434 Kraus and Nicklas’ Early Christian Manuscripts is still reflected as “forthcoming”, when it was already published in 2010 (so is Becker and Runesson’s Mark and Matthew [cited in p83-n1 and p448], which has been published already in 2011)!  Furthermore, Nicklas (p230-n26) cited Verheyden et al’s Ancient Christian interpretation of Violent Texts in the Apocalypse as published in “2011”, but is reported in p429 as still “forthcoming”.  (Surprisingly, the Hasitschka entry for the same book by Verheyden et al is differently entitled: Interpreting Violent Texts: The Reception of the Apocalypse in the Ancient World!).

There are also numerous abbreviation inconsistencies, especially of learned journals and monographs.  The “Abbreviations” page shows that the Studies and Documents series is to be abbreviated as “SD”.  However, the series is variously cited as “StD” (p423 [Ehrman and Holmes]), “St&D” (p434 [Kraeling]), “SandD” (p434 [Kubo]), and “Studies and Documents” (p425 [Epp]).  Similarly, the Text and Editions of New Testament Studies, to be abbreviated as “TENTS”, was rendered as “TENT” twice (p420 and p434). Curiously, Arbeiten Zur Neutestamentlichen Textforschung has two entries in the “Abbreviations” page, “ANTF” and “ANTT”, but rendered otherwise in p415 (Text und Textwert) as “ANT”.  On supplement series, “JNTS Suppl. Ser. 258” (p426 [Gamble]) should have been “JSNTSup 258”, whereas “NovTSup” for “Supp NovT” (p424 [Elliott]) if the “Abbreviations” page is to be strictly followed.

In contrast, the following are not listed in the “Abbreviations” page but were otherwise abbreviated: “BZ” (p237-n61 [Schmid]); “Div” (p436 [Mees]); and “JSJ.S” (p438 [Nicklas]); while “JTSNS” (p417) is an unknown abbreviation.  Novum Testamentum was also puzzlingly abbreviated as “NT” on p429 (Harvey), and its volume edition is inconsistently presented as “NovT, vol 53” (p416 [Baarda]), although on the same page, just one line below, another of Baarda’s NovT article is presented as “NovT 17”.

Another more conspicuous abbreviation inconsistency concerns the papyrus siglum in unicode format (unfortunately, I cannot represent the siglum here due to the limitation of this site’s platform), which is generally used throughout, but is occasionally represented as “P” in the body (p144-n15, p149-n39, 46; p168-n55; p171; p218-n40; p219-n42; etc), in the bibliography (p414 [3x], 418, etc), and in the manuscript index (e.g. “P5”, “P39”, “P47”, and “P113” [pp.470-71], etc).   There are also numerous instances where the accompanying papyrus numbers are not superscripted regardless of whether they use the unicode siglum or “P” (e.g., “‰66 und ‰75” p414 [2x], “P72” [p418], “‰64 + 67”, “P113” [p.471], etc).

The first letter of the sigla “cf.” and “ibid.” are in upper cases (i.e., “Cf.” and “Ibid.”) when they begin a sentence; conversely, “e.g.” is not capitalized except the anomaly in p108-n1 (i.e., “E.g.”; cf. p393-n1).

There are bibliographical entries that reflect only the actual page/s mentioned in the footnotes but not the actual page-ranges. For instance, Duff’s “‰P46 and the Pastorals” is “578-90” not “579” only (p180-n13 and p423); “361” in Ehrman’s “Text as Window” (p423) should have been “361-79”; Turner’s “Scribes and Scholars” in Bowman’s Oxyrhynchus (p447) should be “256-61”, not “258-9” (as cited in p17-n77); “163-73” for “169-70” (p426) of Fee’s “Text of John…”; “1-16” for “3” (p449) of Williams’ “An Evaluation of the Use of Peshitta…”;  Roberts’ Two Biblical Papyri in the John Rylands Library should be “219-36” not “227” only (p443). M. Parvis’ “The Nature and Tasks…” should be “165-74” not just “172” (p440), and insert the publication date “1952” (correctly cited in p3-n17). Obviously, “at 261” (p444 [Runia]) should have been deleted.

The citation of Epp’s “Twentieth Century Interlude” on p1-n1 (also on p424) is the JBL 93 (1974) edition but wrongly entered as “JBL 98 (1979)”. Furthermore, on both pages, the page-range given (again wrongly) is “94-8”, which is more likely to have been a citation from the reprint edition in Epp and Fee’s Studies in the Theory and Method of NT Textual Criticism, pp83-108!

The following, although explicitly cited in the body of the book, do not have bibliographical entries: Hurtado’s The Freer Biblical Manuscripts (cited in p.151-n59) as well as his RBL review of Bagnall’s Early Christian Books in Egypt (p83-n3);  Foster’s “The Gospel of Peter” (p352-n4); Nicklas’ “Papyrus Egerton 2” (p355-n11); Kraus’ “The Fayyum Gospels” (p362-fn17); and Anderson’s, “The Origen-al Text of the Gospels” (p394-n4).  Wasserman’s TC Journal article “A Comparative Textual Analysis of ‰4 and ‰64 + 67” has no entry also, although his SBL paper was entered (p448).  But whereas the foregoing do not have entries, the following have been entered twice: Keith’s The Pericope Adulterae (p432 and p433), and Colwell’s seminal article on “Scribal Habits” (p420), the first entry of which mistakenly cited “‰45” as “‰46” (also in p93-n37) and the second entry gave the original title of the 1965 article although it cites Colwell’s 1969 monograph!  Also, Fee’s “‰75, ‰66 and Origen: Myth of Early Textual Recension in Alexandria” was entered twice, as if two different articles, simply because only the subtitle of the article was cited in p9-n39 (but correctly quoted in p133-n67)!  The placement of the page-range “247-73” in the second entry is also misleading as the actual page-range in the original publication is “19-45”.  These are just few random examples; there maybe more.  These unnecessary errors could have been avoided if at the first instance of citation the page-range of the article has been cited fully in the footnotes, followed by the page of the actual citation, as is standard in most other documentation systems. One can easily sympathise with the bibliographer who, perhaps like the scribes of old, must have experienced disturbing difficulty in deciding which of the “variant forms” is to be discarded and which one to retain.  In these cases though, he reflected both!

Biblical references are generally presented with a 1-space gap between the chapter and verse/s (i.e., “1. 1”), however, there are a number of instances where this is not observed (e.g., p.109-n2 [8x]; p146 [3x]; p300-n41 [2x], etc).  (Conversely, there should be no space-gap for “FilNeo” on p415).

On matters of punctuation mistakes, the following may be mentioned: delete period (“.”) after “published edition” (p114-n27); insert comma (“,”) after Zwiep, and change full stop (“.”) to a comma (“,”) before “NTS (p137-n100); insert single close quote (“’”) after “Apokalypsen” (p231-n26); delete period (“.”) in “.47” (p444 [Schmid]); insert “/” sign in “6467” (p448 [Wachtel]); change  comma (“,”) after the date of publication to colon (“:”) (p416 [Baarda]); “Boston: Brill” not “Boston, Brill” (p234-n45:); and “Marmardji, A.-S.” for “Marmardji, A. S.” (p436; cf. p339-fn21).  Also, the colon (“:”) in B. Aland’s article in Weren and Koch should have been after “Textual Criticism” and not after “New Testament” (p414), and which should have also received a comma (“,”) (correctly cited in p424).

Overall, despite the unfortunate typographical and proofreading blemishes, this compendium from OUP is another important addition to our wealth of materials in the field, especially for the study of the text of the New Testament during its earliest recoverable transmission history—an era where the state of its text remains a very challenging one. The contributors to this anthology have done more than raise important historical and methodological questions; they have shown considerable depth, variety and range, and the editors have equally taken pains over their work—they are all to be congratulated for this significant feat!

  1. […] Read my review of the Dr Hill and Dr Kruger’s Early Text of the New Testament here. […]

  2. […] a few less-than-serious thoughts on Ebojo’s review of The Early Text of the New Testament, followed by a few more serious […]

  3. Edgar, I have found a copy of your Doctoral thesis on P46 online and I have found it to be amazing and would like a copy that shows the actually pictures of P46. The one that I found has the pictures blocked. Is this possible?

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