Reviews of

The Early Text of the New Testament

In Charles E. HILL, Early Christianity, Manuscripts, Michael J. KRUGER, New Testament, Oxford University Press, Papyrology, Peter Malik, Reception history, Textual Criticism, Transmission history on October 10, 2013 at 10:44 am


2013.10.20 | Charles E. Hill and Michael J. Kruger (eds.). The Early Text of the New Testament. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. xiv + 483 pages (HB) ISBN 9780199566365.

Review by Peter Malik, University of Cambridge.

Many thanks to OUP for providing a review copy.

The present volume is comprised of twenty-two essays (including the extended introduction) written by a wide array of distinguished scholars under editorship of Charles E. Hill and Michael J. Kruger. In the introductory essay entitled “In Search of the Earliest Text of the New Testament”, the editors set out “to provide an inventory and some analysis of the evidence available for understanding the pre-fourth century period of transmission of the NT materials” (p. 2). Thenceforth, the reader is (briefly) introduced to the much debated issues such as the “original text” and the related problems such as goals of textual criticism, classification of manuscripts, the quality of their texts as well as their transmission character (e.g., a low quality copy of a high quality Vorlage), and finally the physical phenomena such as nomina sacra, lectional signs, quality of the scribal hand, etc., which may in some way reflect the social setting of the manuscript (MS) production and readership. This survey both echoes the resurgence of interest in the careful study of NT MSS and anticipates further discussion in the subsequent portions of the book.

The volume itself is comprised of three major sections, each dealing with different data relevant to the study of early transmission of the NT text:

Part 1: The Textual and Scribal Culture of Early Christianity

1. The Book Trade in the Roman Empire (Harry Y. Gamble)

2. Indicators of “Catholicity” in Early Gospel Manuscripts (Scott Charlesworth)

3. Manuscripts and the Sociology of Early Christian Reading (Larry Hurtado)

4. Early Christian Attitudes toward the Reproduction of Texts (Michael J. Kruger)

Part 2: The Manuscript Tradition

5. The Early Text of Matthew (Tommy Wasserman)

6. The Early Text of Mark (Peter M. Head)

7. The Early Text of Luke (Juan Hernández, Jr.)

8. The Early Text of John (Juan Chapa)

9. The Early Text of Acts (Christopher Tuckett)

10. The Early Text of Paul (and Hebrews) (James Royse)

11. The Early Text of the Catholic Epistles (J. K. Elliott)

12. The Early Text of Revelation (Tobias Nicklas)

13. “Where Two or Three are Gathered Together”: The Witness of the Early Versions (Peter Williams)

Part 3: Early Citation and Use of the New Testament Writings

14. “In These Very Words”: The Methods and Standards of Literary Borrowing in the Second Century (Charles E. Hill)

15. The Text of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers (Paul Foster)

16. Marcion and the Early New Testament Text (Dieter T. Roth)

17. Justin’s Text of the Gospels: Another Look at the Citations in 1Apol. 15.1–8 (Joseph Verheyden)

18. Tatian’s Diatessaron and the Greek Text of the Gospels (Tjitze Baarda)

19. Early Apocryphal Gospels and the New Testament Text (Stanley E. Porter)

20. Irnaeus’s Text of the Gospels in Adversus haereses (D. Jeffrey Bingham and Billy R. Todd, Jr.)

21. Clement of Alexandria’s Gospel Citations (Carl P. Cosaert)

In what follows, I shall limit my discussion to the Part 2, as it seems to be central to the book and (probably) the most useful one as a reference tool. As outlined above, Part 2 consists of nine chapters, the first eight dealing with the “early” MS tradition of the NT writings and the last one with the versional witness. The editors set forth in the introductory essay that they had not asked the contributors to follow one specific method, apart from noting “Alands’ judgments about strictness or freedom of each text,” as these “constitute one significant datum which many researchers use in formulating judgments about the transmission of the NT texts in the early period” (p. 18); in addition, each contributor had been asked to offer their own judgment on these matters (although it might be noted that Tobias Nicklas’s essay on the early text of Revelation lacks the table with both Alands’ and his judgements). That said, it still seems to me that by asking the contributors to include and revise Alands’ assessment of the textual quality and transmission character of the witnesses, they do, in fact, make a statement regarding their methodological preferences. Inasmuch as a considerable amount of important data are presented (at least partly) by means of such categories, though, I for one would like to see a more developed argument against the doubts voiced by Ehrman, Epp, and others concerning the circularity of Alands’ classification method (cited on p. 9, n. 42) such as that found most recently in Tommy Wasserman, “Criteria for Evaluating Readings in New Testament Textual Criticism,” in The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis, ed. Bart D. Ehrman, and Michael W. Holmes (NTTSD 42; Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2013) 575–583 (esp. 580ff.).

The essays are generally very helpful and abound with valuable information with regard to the textual character of the witnesses they deal with, although the mentioned liberty (rightly) given to the authors is, of course, reflected in some degree of unevenness regarding the method of analysis and regarding the selection and presentation of the evidence. This sense of unevenness is, however, sometimes evoked merely by the fact that different NT books often have very different transmission histories, which must ipso facto influence the choice of method, presentation, etc. All the same, some remarks to this effect are in order.

Firstly, the method of selecting the MSS for consideration is not always clear. On the one hand, the contributors were asked to map out the early NT text which the editors seem to limit to the pre-fourth century period of transmission. On the other hand, though, this limitation is not always followed by the contributors—and rightly so. For instance, Head’s essay on the early text of Mark also includes a discussion of the fourth century MSS, namely, P88 and the “great Uncials” Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. This may be partly due to the fact that the only pre-fourth century MS of Mark is P45, which would make for a rather short chapter (unless a detailed discussion of scribal habits and textual affinities were provided, which could make for a proper monograph). If one wishes to consult the fourth-century witnesses, though, it follows that all of them ought to be consulted, not just the papyri. One may well wonder what difference to the text of a MS makes the nature of its material (on this, see Thomas J. Kraus, “‘Pergament oder Papyrus?’: Anmerkungen zur Signifikanz des Beschreibstoffes bei der Behandlung von Manuskripten,” NTS 49 (2003) 425–432). While the type and quality of the writing material may have some role in the rise of certain types of scribal errors, the distinction between the papyrus and parchment MSS seems, for the present task, immaterial. To be fair, Nicklas’s method of selection is at least transparent in noting that “[b]ecause space permits” he will take a look at “some lesser known manuscripts” (p. 236), i.e., P24, 0169, and 0207—all dated to the fourth century. In some of the essays, however, the fourth century papyri are discussed without any justification for their inclusion. Whilst I actually think that such inclusion is warranted, I would have also liked to see Sinaiticus and Vaticanus on the list. After all, the influence of these two majuscules (especially the latter) is felt throughout the Nestle-Aland text—the hypothetical Ausgangstext der Überlieferung used for the classification of the papyri. Why not include them as well, then? Had this been done, the “early” attestation of some NT writings such as the Pastorals would have no doubt gained in number! If the editors wished to exclude the fourth century MSS, then it should have been done throughout, as the fragmentary papyri don’t seem to be a reasonable exception.

Another interesting question pertains to the discussion of the patristic evidence. On the one hand, The Early Text contains a whole one section dealing with the Wirkungsgeschichte and citations of NT writings. And yet, each NT book (or a collection of books) has its own peculiar reception history which is not unrelated to its textual transmission, manuscript attestation, and which in turn needs a specific discussion. In fact, the essays on Mark and Revelation include such discussions, probably (again) due to the sparse nature of the early manuscript evidence available for these books. Related to this problem is also the lack of attention given to the transmission history/histories of NT writings. Apart from the two aforementioned discussions of the reception history of Mark and Revelation and apart from Nicklas’s discussion of Schmid’s important (and broadly accepted) theories concerning the transmission of Apocalypse, very little effort has been made to draw some broader conclusions in this respect for the rest of the NT. The origin and/or development of the (no doubt “early”) Western text of Acts—to name but one possible line of enquiry—would be an obvious candidate for such treatment.

The final essay by Williams sets out first to look at the way in which the versional agreements are cited in our apparatus critici and then, more specifically, to assess the “level of agreement” between Syriac and Latin in the Gospels (p. 239), emphasising throughout the necessity of studying translation technique for accurate appraisal of the versional evidence. While the essay is in itself valuable, one wonders as to its inclusion within a section on “Manuscript Tradition.” Perhaps it should have been included in the final section instead, as it deals with methodological questions rather than with the nature, history, and manuscript attestation of various versions. As it is, the editors could have made much more of the early versions; not necessarily with regard to their intrinsic textual value (which is, as Williams correctly reminds us, rather limited), but rather with regard to their place in the “early” transmission history of the NT text. Questions pertaining to the age of the versions, their character, attestation, peculiar agreements, and the like would have enriched the volume significantly, since, for the most part, The Early Text deals only with the early Greek text of the NT .

By way of conclusion, I would like to congratulate the editors of this impressive collection of essays for bringing together some of the best scholars in the growing field of NT textual criticism and the related subject areas. Although the book of this kind, scope, and price (!) must be by its very nature easy to criticise, The Early Text will doubtless prove useful to many a student of the NT text, including the present reviewer.

Peter Malik
University of Cambridge
pm486 [ at ]


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