Reviews of

The Text of Galatians and Its History

In Galatians, Jordan Almanzar, Mohr Siebeck, Stephen C. Carlson, Textual Criticism on June 14, 2015 at 1:40 pm


2015.06.14 | Stephen C. Carlson. The Text of Galatians and Its History. WUNT II/385; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2015. Pp. xiv + 308. ISBN 978-3-16-153323-5.

Review by Jordan Almanzar, Georg-August-Universität, Göttingen.

Many thanks to Mohr Siebeck for providing a review copy.

Carlson’s study represents the first attempt to implement means and methods drawn from computational biology in reconstructing a critical text of the book of Galatians. To that end he collates and analyzes 92 witnesses and writes his own software that is able to analyze and interpret 1624 variation units in Galatians. Furthermore, his software was designed to account for significant levels of contamination in the manuscript tradition—something that has never before been done. But his study is not purely mechanical. Carlson is well aware of Zuntz’s warning about the pitfalls of purely statistical reconstructions of New Testament stemmata. Therefore, he justifies his employment of computational techniques by relegating them to the first stage of his research.

Taking his cue from Dom Froger, Carlson first produces, with the aid of his customized software, an unorientated stemma of the manuscript tradition for Galatians. What is meant by “unorientated” is that a computer generates a stemma that merely shows the relationship of the manuscripts but does not anchor its base on any one (or any combination) of the major witnesses, nor does it determine the correctness of any particular reading over another. Rather, the unorientated stemma merely delimits the manuscript relationships based on common agreements between them. Since computational stemmatics, otherwise known as cladistics, is likely a foreign science for most readers who are interested in the text of Galatians, Carlson first provides a simplified example wherein he demonstrates the method and its effectiveness using four manuscripts (P46, א, A and B) over the first chapter of Galatians. This step is a great benefit for the reader because the method and its accuracy are convincingly displayed on a small scale and prepare the way for an appreciation of the same approach being applied to all 92 witnesses. Remarkably, once all 92 witnesses are analyzed by Carlson’s program, the computer-generated results display an unorientated stemma that relates the manuscripts in a strikingly similar connection to the text types proposed by previous textual critics, specifically in the theories of F. J. A. Hort. The difference is, though, that what Hort sees as mixture of text types, Carlson sees as genealogy. Carlson is careful not to claim that his computer-generated data represents the “best” stemma possible, but merely defines the “best-found” stemma available.

An additional step is required to render the data into a serviceable reconstruction of Galatians. This step is to orientate the stemma, which means that a starting point has to be determined by deciding which portion of the stemma contains the most authorial readings. This task cannot be done mechanistically, since only an able textual critic can make sense of the internal evidences within the manuscripts. Carlson calls his overall method a hybrid stemmatic-eclectic approach. Three independently proposed starting points converge at roughly the same location in the unorientated stemma: Hort’s theory of the neutral text, the oldest branches in the stemma and the Nestle-Aland critical text. Carlson uses this approximate starting place to orientate his stemma by examining the “inner-branches” which are comprised of a Western Branch (Marcion, D, F and G), an Eastern Branch (A, C, P and 1241), a branch represented by P46 with B and an inner node consisting of א with 33 and 1175. Once this particular location on the stemma becomes the point of departure, a hypothetical inner-branch immerges (labeled “a”) between א and P46-B; and this is the provisional location where Carlson begins his reconstruction.

Roughly half of the book is dedicated to setting forth Carlson’s methods. The remainder displays the ongoing results. Before producing a history of the textual variation within Galatians, Carlson carefully analyzes all of the variation units present within the inner-branches to establish a new critical edition of Galatians. One of the highlights of the study is that the Carlson edition disagrees with Nestle-Aland in 12 places! Most notably, perhaps, in Gal. 2:12 where Carlson’s text reads, ηλθεν “when he came” referring to Peter whereas Nestle-Aland has ηλθον “when they came” referring to those sent from James. These and other such differences lead Carlson to believe that although the Nestle-Aland text is good, it bears room for improvement (p. 252).

Interestingly enough, Carlson’s results have excluded the so-called “Alexandrian” text type. His reasoning is that the Alexandrian text is usually made up of P46, B, א, A, C, 33 and 1739, but this is not seen to be a “coherent text” (p. 243). Each of these witnesses retains a high quality text but they do not enjoy an especially close genealogical relationship in Galatians. According to Carlson, “They do not share a common ancestor below the archetype; in fact, their most recent common ancestor is the archetype,” (p. 243). It is of note that the P46-B connection is highly valued in Carlson’s study and most especially in connection with the Western text. Carlson dates the archetype of this cluster of manuscripts to the beginning of the second century. In fact, at each place where P46-B agrees with the Western witnesses, Carlson has chosen that reading above any agreement in א, A, C, 33 and 1739. Much of what Carlson proposes corroborates Zuntz’s theories of the Pauline manuscript tradition, especially concerning the value of the Western text; however, he is much less favorable than Zuntz with regards to 1739 and also the Byzantine text type and its agreements with the Western text—which Carlson sees as influencing the Byzantine tradition at a much later period.

Unfortunately, some of the sweeping conclusions Carlson draws in his chapter on the history of textual variation in Galatians are less than convincing—most especially his proposals about what he calls eight “anti-Judaic” or “anti-Torah” tendencies in the Western text. For example, Carlson thinks that the change represented by D F G in Gal. 6:16b from “…Israel of God” to “…Israel of the Lord” displays an anti-Judaic maneuver since the following verse reads “…our Lord Jesus Christ…” in the same manuscripts. Similarly, for Gal. 5:1, he determines that shifting the wording from ζυγω δουλειας  to δουλειας ζυγω in the Western manuscripts is also anti-Judaic since this “…transposition gives more prominence to slavery (δουλειας) than to yoke (ζυγω),” (p. 200). Carlson also does not take into consideration some of the apparent Latinisms in the Western branch of Galatians, which would have made his history portion more comprehensive. The most he does is to say that it is tempting to see a variant in Gal. 5:12 as influenced by Latin.

Even so, one does not need to accept all of Carlson’s eclectic and historical determinations to recognize that his book represents a major step forward in textual criticism. It is hoped that his procedure can be carried out for more books of the New Testament. Carlson has demonstrated an approach that combines a perceptive use of advanced technology with a traditional text critical prowess in reconstructing the manuscript tradition of Galatians. Text critics, theologians, historians and anyone interested in the text of Galatians and its history will find much value in this book.

Jordan Almanzar
Georg-August-Universität, Göttingen
jordanalmanzar [ at ]


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