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Metzger and Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament (2005)

Bruce M. Metzger and Bart D. Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration, 4th ed. (2005)

This book is a textbook on “both the science and the art of textual criticism as applied to the New Testament” (xv). It is organized in three parts. Part I, “The Materials for the Textual Criticism of the New Testament,” presents an overview of ancient bookmaking practices and gives a narrative catalogue of the chief witnesses to the text of the New Testament. Part II, “The History of New Testament Textual Criticism as Reflected in Printed Editions of the Greek Testament,” surveys the textual character of printed Greek New Testaments from the Textus Receptus to the NA27 and UBS4. Part III, “The Application of Textual Criticism to the Text of the New Testament,” describes the development of scientific text criticism from Hellenistic Alexandria to the digital age, lists the types of textual errors found in the witnesses to the NT, describes some scholarly uses of textual variants outside the realm of text criticism, and closes with worked examples of the text criticism of several NT passages.

Part I begins in chapter 1 with a brief overview of ancient bookmaking practices, highlighting various parts of the process that produced variants among the textual witnesses to the NT, namely:

  • types of handwriting
  • reusing the parchment a text is written on (palimpsests)
  • abbreviations and nomina sacra
  • the διορθωτής correcting manuscripts after they were produced
  • fatigue brought on by the typical scribe’s working conditions

This chapter also catalogues the various “helps for readers” (33) found in manuscripts of the NT, like chapter divisions (κεφάλαια), titles of chapters (τίτλοι), and introductory material appended to the beginnings of texts.

Chapter 2 describes the various witnesses to the NT’s text. For each of the Greek manuscripts (arranged from oldest type to youngest—papyri first, then majuscules, then minuscules), Metzger and Ehrman give the date it was copied, its current contents (and, sometimes, its original contents and pagination), its text-type (Western, Alexandrian, Byzantine, Caesarean, or an mixture of the above), and any special features of the manuscript worth noting. Next, they list and briefly describe the ancient versions (i.e., translations) of the NT, giving the dates of composition, text-type affinities, and significant manuscripts for each. Finally, they very briefly mention how patristic quotations of the NT are useful for text criticism.

Part II narrates the history of the rise of the Textus Receptus (TR), its reign as the most commonly used Greek NT (chapter 3), and its demise at the hands of the Greek New Testaments produced through scientific text criticism (chapter 4).

The first printed Greek NT was produced in Spain in 1514 as part of a multivolume Hebrew-Aramaic-Greek-Latin polyglot bible (the Complutensian Polyglot) that was completed in 1520 and began circulating in 1522. However, even though this was the first printed edition of the Greek NT, it was not the first edition to circulate publicly; Erasmus’ edition claimed this honor in 1516, though because Erasmus rushed his edition to press so that it would be published before the Complutensian Polyglot, he did not have time to consult good textual witnesses, so his text is faulty in a great many places.

Erasmus’ edition quickly became the most popular edition of the Greek NT, and it was widely accepted as the only authoritative edition of the Greek NT. Over the subsequent few centuries, many scholars produced editions of the Greek NT that differed from the TR in various readings; however, they all faced severe opposition, including excommunication or being forced from ecclesiastical positions.

In the late 1700s, Johann Jakob Griesbach, a German scholar, laid the groundwork for modern text criticism; he set forth 15 canons of text criticism, which he used to produce a Greek NT that differed quite substantially from the TR. Over the next half-century, many new manuscripts came to light, and several scholars produced critical editions of the Greek NT, culminating, roughly 60 years after Griesbach’s edition, with Karl Lachmann’s critical edition of the Greek NT. Lachmann’s edition broke totally with the TR; instead, it depended solely on the results of text criticism, and, although his edition itself is not very good—since it depends on a very small number of manuscripts—it is important for inaugurating the age of scientific text criticism of the Greek NT.

In addition to Griesbach and Lachmann, Westcott and Hort are two very important figures in the history of NT text criticism. In the second volume of their New Testament in the Original Greek, Hort details the methodology that he and Westcott followed in producing their edition of the text, and he discusses the different text-types into which he and Westcott categorized the various manuscript witnesses (Syrian [the latest and least reliable], Western, Alexandrian, and Neutral [the most reliable].

Finally, the fruits of modern text criticism may be found in the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament, 4th rev. ed. (UBS4) and in the 26th edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament (NA26; now actually in a 27th and 28th edition [NA27 and NA28, respectively]). These texts were produced by committees of scholars working with all the available textual witnesses, from papyri on through the patristic citations.

Part III outlines the process of modern text criticism of the Greek NT. It begins with chapter 5, a brief overview of how the practice of text criticism developed, tracing it from Hellenistic Alexandria through Renaissance Europe—material that seems more at home at the beginning of Part II than Part III.

Next, in chapter 6, Metzger and Ehrman give an overview of different approaches to text criticism: the “classical method,” which follows Lachmann’s methodology (i.e., eclecticism, with readings weighted by the manuscript’s text-type), and reactions against Lachmannian text criticism from Joseph Bédier (who argued for pure eclecticism rather than using manuscript genealogies) and Albert C. Clark (who argued that scribal omissions were far more common than scribal interpolations); Streeter’s theory of “local texts” as the source of manuscript variation; diplomatic text criticism, using the Majority Text (which is Byzantine) as a base text; thoroughgoing eclecticism, which judges variant readings based not on text-type but on the book’s content and the author’s style; and, finally, conjectural emendation, which “classical” text criticism regularly employed when all of the readings of a text were equally bad. Chapter 6 ends with an overview of modern (= computer-based, mostly) tools for NT text criticism, and several ongoing projects (as of 2005), which make/made use of those tools. As with chapter 5, chapter 6 seems much better suited to Part II, since it largely covers the history of NT text criticism.

Chapter 7 is a partial catalogue of “the causes of error in the transmission of the text of the New Testament” (250), which I have condensed here.

Chapter 8 recounts the how the text of the NT was transmitted, tracing the development of the Alexandrian, Western, and Byzantine text-types and placing that process in the context of how other early Christian literature was disseminated. (Strangely, though the book makes frequent reference to the Caesarean text-type, it does not discuss the Caesarean along with the others, but instead discusses it on three pages in the next chapter.) Next, this chapter gives six ways in which textual data is useful for historians of early Christianity: 1) It gives information about early Christian doctrinal debates; 2) It provides data about Jewish-Christian relations; 3) It gives us information about gender roles in early Christianity; 4) It provides evidence of Christian apologia; 5) It provides information about early Christian asceticism; and 6) It provides data about the place of magic and fortune-telling in early Christianity.

The last chapter, chapter 9, gives an overview and several worked examples of how to perform text criticism on a particular NT text, the principles of which I have condensed here.

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Isaiah 40:7-8 in the Ancient Versions

I’m trying to work out the/an original text for Isaiah 40:7-8, which is proving to be quite a puzzle. Here are the ancient versions in roughly chronological order (in English, for those who can’t read the various languages).

The Versions

1QIsa [The Great Isaiah Scroll]
ca. 150-100 BCE

Grass withers, a flower fades,
(Because the breath of YHWH blows on it.
Truly the people are grass.
Grass withers, a flower fades,)
But the word of our God stands forever.

Notes: The text in parentheses is written in a second hand in the margins of the scroll. It was either a haplography that was corrected by a second scribe, or the second scribe added it to make 1QIsa match the text of a different exemplar. At any rate, the uncorrected text matches LXX, while the corrected text matches MT, Vulgate, Peshitta, and Targ. Isa.

Septuagint (LXX)
ca. 140 BCE

The grass dries up and the flower falls,
But the word of our God remains forever.

Notes: The text of the LXX matches that of the uncorrected 1QIsa, except for “the flower falls” versus 1QIsa’s “a flower fades.” It is worth noting that LXX and 1QIsa are more or less contemporaneous, though they come from quite different places.

Targum Isaiah (Targ. Isa.)
2nd cent. BCE-1st cent. CE

The grass withers, its flower fades, because the wind from before YHWH has blown upon it. Therefore, the wicked among the people are counted as grass. The wicked dies, his thoughts perish, but the word of our God abides forever.

Notes: Targ. Isa., being an Aramaic explanation of a Hebrew poem, is necessarily in prose, and I have reflected that here. (Translation is modernized from Stenning’s.) And, though the translator has taken some liberties, it’s clear enough that the Hebrew text behind Targ. Isa. corresponds with MT, Vulgate, Peshitta, and corrected 1QIsa.

Peshitta
1st-2nd cent. CE

The grass withers, the flower fades,
Because the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
Surely this people is like the grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God shall stand for ever.

Notes: Translation is Lamsa’s. The text matches that of the corrected 1QIsa, Targ. Isa., Vulgate, and MT.

Vulgate
390-405 CE

Hay dries up and a flower falls,
Because the breath of God blows on it.
Truly the people are hay.
Hay dries up and a flower falls,
But the word of our God stands forever.

Notes: Hay, of course, is dried-up grass, so the variant reading isn’t all that important. Vulgate has “flower falls,” like the LXX, over against 1QIsa, Peshitta, and MT.

Masoretic Text (MT)
Fixed 10th cent. CE

Grass withers, a flower fades,
Because the breath of YHWH blows on it.
Truly the people are grass.
Grass withers, a flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever.

Notes: The text of MT matches that of the corrected 1QIsa, Targ. Isa., Peshitta, and Vulgate.

Analysis

I find it interesting that the two oldest texts in the tradition — LXX and uncorrected 1QIsa — both contain the short reading. Moreover, the two are from different provenances: 1QIsa from Palestine and LXX from Alexandria. In my opinion, the age and geographic separation of the two texts argues against simple haplography, instead presenting evidence of a consistent textual tradition. I’ll call this tradition the “shorter tradition”

However, the tradition in corrected 1QIsa, Targ. Isa, Peshitta, Vulgate, and MT dates to roughly the same time as LXX and uncorrected 1QIsa. I’ll call this tradition the “longer tradition.”

Dating of manuscripts will not help us decide which of the traditions is original, since they are both reflected on the same manuscript (1QIsa). The style of the two traditions argues in favor of the longer, as it is the more difficult reading (a brief survey of the commentaries is more than enough to bear this notion out). However, the length of the two traditions argues in favor of the shorter, because shorter readings are to be preferred over longer ones.

In the end, I prefer the shorter tradition because of its geographical diversity. The longer tradition is confined to Palestine, while the shorter tradition was in both Palestine and Alexandria at the same time. In addition, though the phrase “Truly the people are grass” could be read as a refrain or as part of a call-and-response, its main purpose is to make explicit the metaphor of humans as grass; in other words, it looks very much like an explanatory gloss, which should therefore be rejected.

Thus, I find that the shorter tradition of Isaiah 40:7-8 is more original.

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Isaiah 40:1-2 — LXX, Masoretic Text, Links to the Synoptics

I read part of Isaiah 40 in a wedding today, and while I was at the rehearsal, I got bored and started comparing the versions of the text contained in the Septuagint (LXX) and the Masoretic Text (MT). And, unlike my last text criticism/commentary on Ezekiel, I did a little research before I wrote this. My main sources are:

Hans Debel, “Greek ‘Variant Literary Editions’ to the Hebrew Bible?”, Journal for the Study of Judaism 41 (2010): 161-190.

Wilfred G. E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry: A Guide to Its Techniques, 177-185.

I only really had time to look at Isaiah 40:1-2, but verse 2 provides plenty of fodder for consideration. Here are the two texts, followed by my own English translations.

1 Παρακαλεῖτε παρακαλεῖτε τὸν λαόν μου, λέγει ὁ θεός.
2 ἱερεῖς, λαλήσατε εἰς τὴν καρδίαν Ιερουσαλημ, παρακαλέσατε αὐτήν·
ὅτι ἐπλήσθη ἡ ταπείνωσις αὐτῆς, λέλυται αὐτῆς ἡ ἁμαρτία·
ὅτι ἐδέξατο ἐκ χειρὸς κυρίου διπλᾶ τὰ ἁμαρτήματα αὐτῆς.

1 “Comfort, comfort my people,” says God.
2 “Priests, speak to the heart of Jerusalem, comfort her,
Because her humiliation has been completed, her sin has been removed,
Because she has received from the Lord’s hand double her sins.”

נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ עַמִּי יֹאמַר אֱלֹהֵיכֶם1
2 דַּבְּרוּ עַל-לֵב יְרוּשָׁלִַם וְקִרְאוּ אֵלֶיהָ
כִּי מָלְאָה צְבָאָהּ
כִּי נִרְצָה עֲוֹנָהּ
כִּי לָקְחָה מִיַּד יְהוָה כִּפְלַיִם בְּכָל-חַטֹּאתֶיהָ

1 “Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God.
2 “Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her
That her servitude has been completed,
That her guilt has been satisfied,
That she has received from YHWH’s hand double for all her sins.”

Verse-by-Verse Comparison

Verse 1 only merits brief mention, because the difference between the two texts is so slight — the LXX simply has “God,” while the MT has “your God.” These different readings do not change the meaning of the text in the slightest.

Verse 2, however, is where the fun begins. Here’s my analysis.

Analysis of Vocabulary

The imperatives of vv. 1-2 are plural in both texts — they are second plural in the LXX and masculine plural in the MT; that is, they are functionally equivalent. The original reading seems to have been simple imperatives with no explicit subject, with the LXX’s addition of “priests” serving to make the subject explicit. References to priests in Isaiah are infrequent enough; ἱερεύς appears only in LXX 24:2; 28:7; 37:2; 40:2; 61:6; 66:22, and כהן only appears in MT 8:2; 24:2; 28:7; 37:2; 61:6; 66:22, which means that “priest” is likely only original in 24:2; 28:7; 37:2; 61:6; 66:22 — three times in 1 Isaiah and twice in 3 Isaiah, but none in 2 Isaiah, where ch. 40 is located. Thus, it’s likely that the original version of this text contains only the plural imperatives, with “priests” being an interpretive addition.

The “proclaim” of the MT (קִרְאוּ) is more original, with the LXX making the shift from καλέσατε (“call,” “proclaim”) to παρακαλέσατε (“exhort,” “comfort”) based on the presence of παρακαλέω twice in verse 1 and the similarity of παρακαλέω to καλέω. Likewise, the MT’s “servitude” is more original than the LXX’s “humiliation.” It is easy to see how the specific “servitude” shifted to the more abstract “humiliation,” while the move from abstract to specific is not as likely. Finally, the LXX’s “double her sins” is more original than the MT’s “double for all her sins.” The LXX’s reading is far more difficult to interpret than that of the MT, which makes it more likely to be original than the MT’s reading.

Analysis of Structure

Let’s look at the structure of the comforting message in the two different texts.

LXX:
“Priests, speak to the heart of Jerusalem, comfort her,
Because her humiliation has been completed, her sin has been removed,
Because she has received from the Lord’s hand double her sins.”

MT:
“Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her
That her servitude has been completed,
That her guilt has been satisfied,
That she has received from YHWH’s hand double for all her sins.”

The LXX structures the priests’ consolation as a set of nested parallelisms in a bicolon — that is, the two ὅτι clauses are parallel, and the contents of the first ὅτι clause are also parallel — while the MT arranges the proclamation in a tricolon. I cannot tell at this point which version is more original; even though parallelism is a classic feature of biblical Hebrew poetry, tricola are by no means unknown (cf. Watson, 177-185).

I can say for sure, though, that the LXX has revised the Hebrew text it reflects. Since the MT’s וְקִרְאוּ (“and proclaim”) is more original, we can say with certainty that the LXX has dropped the conjunction in favor of juxtaposing the two clauses in the parallelism; that is, it reads “speak to the heart of Jerusalem, comfort her” instead of “speak to the heart of Jerusalemand comfort her.” We may thus assume by analogy that “Because her humiliation has been completed, her sin has been removed” reflects an older “Because her humiliation has been completed and her sin has been removed.” (This reading, of course, is different than that of the MT, which has כִּי (“that”) where the LXX’s source has וְ (“and”).) With the vocabulary of the MT as a guide, we may reconstruct the LXX’s source as follows:

דַּבְּרוּ עַל-לֵב יְרוּשָׁלִַם וְקִרְאוּ אֵלֶיהָ
כִּי מָלְאָה צְבָאָהּ וְנִרְצָה עֲוֹנָהּ
כִּי לָקְחָה מִיַּד יְהוָה כִּפְלַיִם הַחַטֹּאתֶיהָ

“Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her
That her servitude has been completed and her guilt has been satisfied,
That she has received from YHWH’s hand double her sins.”

As I said, though, I’m not certain whether the LXX’s bicolon or the MT’s tricolon is more original, though the two structures definitely reflect two different text-types.

Analysis of Meaning

As they stand, the texts of the LXX and MT here provide two pretty different meanings. The MT has unnamed heralds — the most obvious group is the prophets — making a threefold proclamation directly to Jerusalem, that she no longer will suffer servitude, that her guilt is absolved, and that God has repayed her sin in full. In other words, these heralds must proclaim to Jerusalem that God, of his own accord, has forgiven her sins. The LXX, on the other hand, has the priests comforting Jerusalem because her guilt had been absolved; that is, it implies that Jerusalem’s absolution has come by means of the Temple sacrifices.

If we assume that the text recorded in the MT is more original — an assumption that most of the linguistic features support — the MT thus reflects a prophecy made during the time of the Babylonian exile (i.e. the time 2 Isaiah was written), that God had forgiven Jerusalem because he had exhausted his wrath against her, and he would soon return the Jerusalemites home. The LXX, it seems, reflects a later, post-exilic tradition, which took root at a time when the Temple sacrifices occurred regularly. In this tradition, God has still forgiven Jerusalem for her sins, but because she has offered acceptable sacrifices at the Temple.

Interaction with the New Testament

The tradition of the LXX’s text is not very friendly to the traditional understanding of the prophets (e.g. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” Hosea 6:6) or of the NT (e.g. the Temple sacrifices being insufficient for salvation, which is something only Jesus’ death can bring about).

Interestingly, it is quite probable that at least three of the NT authors knew of this second tradition. Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:2-3, and Luke 3:4-6 all quote this passage (specifically, Isa 40:3, the verse immediately after the one we are currently considering) with wording identical to that of our LXX. Thus, it is highly likely that their version of Isa 40:2 refers to priests, not prophets, as does our LXX. While we cannot say for certain how exactly these authors would have treated the pro-sacrifice tradition in Isa 40:2 in the LXX, it is certainly a question worth considering.

Conclusion

In sum, we may reconstruct two different text-types of Isaiah 40:2 — one reflected by the LXX (LXX-source) and one reflected by the MT (MT-source):

LXX-source:
דַּבְּרוּ עַל-לֵב יְרוּשָׁלִַם וְקִרְאוּ אֵלֶיהָ
כִּי מָלְאָה צְבָאָהּ וְנִרְצָה עֲוֹנָהּ
כִּי לָקְחָה מִיַּד יְהוָה כִּפְלַיִם הַחַטֹּאתֶיהָ

“Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her
That her servitude has been completed and her guilt has been satisfied,
That she has received from YHWH’s hand double her sins.”

MT-source:
דַּבְּרוּ עַל-לֵב יְרוּשָׁלִַם וְקִרְאוּ אֵלֶיהָ
כִּי מָלְאָה צְבָאָהּ
כִּי נִרְצָה עֲוֹנָהּ
כִּי לָקְחָה מִיַּד יְהוָה כִּפְלַיִם הַחַטֹּאתֶיהָ

“Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and proclaim to her
That her servitude has been completed,
That her guilt has been satisfied,
That she has received from YHWH’s hand double her sins.”

The MT reflects a more original tradition, one in which the Judean population, held captive in Babylon and longing to escape their servitude and return to their homeland, receives a prophecy that God has forgiven them — not from anything they themselves had done, but simply because had exhausted his wrath against them.

The LXX is a later tradition, one that roots itself in the efficacy of the Temple sacrifices; in this tradition, God still has forgiven Jerusalem her sins, but because the priests have offered acceptable sacrifices to atone for their sin. Matthew, Mark, and Luke likely knew this tradition, since their quotations of the next verse (Isa 40:3) are identical to the text of our LXX, and it is worth considering what effect, if any, this tradition had on their thought.

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