Lecture 10: Local Text Forms and the Impact on its Transmission | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 10: Local Text Forms and the Impact on its Transmission

Course: Textual Criticism

Lecture: Local Text Forms and the Impact on its Transmission


C. The Emergence of Local Text-forms

1. Four Different Groups

We have four groups of manuscripts that have these text types, but sometimes it is reduced to just three. One group is known as the Alexandrian family, typical associated with Egypt. Alexandria was the most important center in the ancient world for faithful accurate copying of literary texts. The Alexandrian library was considered the largest and most important library of the ancient world. It was destroyed at two or three different times in history even before Christianity. There is also the Western text, a group of manuscripts that didn’t originate in the west but ended up in the west and really throughout the Roman Empire. It was a very popular text form and calling it a text form may be a too generous statement. They were free-wheeling copies of manuscripts that went in a number of different directions. It paraphrased, dropped verses, added verses, changed words and added a number of phrases; in the Book of Acts for example which is almost ten percent longer than the Alexandrian text form. Some of these additions were due to personal reminisces, etc. Then there is the Byzantine text form which grew up, beginning in the fourth century and it migrated to the east where it really started in Constantinople, today known as Istanbul which is where Emperor Constantine move the seat of the Roman Empire in the 4th century. Ninety percent of our manuscripts today are Byzantine and ninety percent of our manuscripts are from the 9th century or later. That relationship is not an accident. Most of the manuscripts in Greek came from that region and once Constantine moved the capital of the Empire to Constantinople, the influence of Greek begin to decrease in regards to the remaining part of Europe. So Western Europe began to speak in Latin while Greek only had an influence in Greece and Asia Minor. This is the reason why we have almost twice as many Latin manuscripts of the New Testament as we do of Greek. Today we have languages that are based on Latin, such as French, Spanish, Italian, Romanian, Portuguese and even English to some extend because of the Norman Invasion. What language do we have that are based on Greek? Absolutely none! It doesn’t have any descendants. It does in terms of its alphabet but nothing else. There is Russian, Coptic and a couple of other languages but no actual descendants. However, its area of influence was almost all Christianized. Constantine was the first emperor to say that Christianity was a legal religion. He had fifty Bibles made for the Capital. This ended up with a large group of people calling themselves Christian in one area which virtually became the only place that Greek was spoken. So these manuscripts would look a lot like each other. Finally, there is the Caesarean text, but we are not sure whether there is such a text form. It would have probably been a pre-cursor to the Byzantine text group and there it would have been absorbed by the Byzantine group. Most scholars today would say that the Caesarean text never existed.

2. Illustrations and Examples

Some critics are now saying that text-type is not a good term because it doesn’t necessarily relate to all the regions and to some extent that is true but we are using it because it is serviceable for our understanding. We will call it text-type or text-form or family which essentially all means the same thing. Let me illustrate a text type this way; it is the largest group of manuscripts with shared readings, apart from the fact that all manuscripts in some sense are copies of the New Testament. So, if I can say that these manuscripts look more like each other than they do something else. I would call that a text type. So, say we don’t have any of the media abilities that we have today, no way to duplicate anything. Say, that we had the KJV, the NAS and the NIV; these translations would all be copied by hand. And let’s say that the NIV is produced primarily in Chicago with the New American Standard being produced in Loss Angeles; and then the King James Bible being primarily produced in London. So, you grow up in England and all you know is the KJV of the Bible. You move to America and attend seminary. So when you copy out the NIV, do you think it is possible, you are copying out and at some point you don’t remember the text or some words or you remember the wording of a different translation? You are going to mix King James readings in with NIV writings and readings. So, when you hear someone preach from the Scriptures, you can almost always tell what Bible they are preaching from. These are patterns of readings that people had to get use to; that is the idea of text types. So we have manuscripts that have now been cross-pollinated with these four text types I mentioned earlier. It was the Roman Empires with its Pax Roma and it roads that spread throughout the Empire. People travelled freely in those days.

3. General Considerations

So, you get this mixture in these manuscripts because we don’t have any pure manuscript of any text form today, except for the later Byzantines. Let me illustrate it with Luke 24:53 and we will come back to this illustration in another lecture. This is the last verse in Luke’s Gospel, ‘and they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.’ So Jesus has just ascended up to heaven and here the pronoun they refer to was the apostles. They were in the temple blessing God or they were in the temple praising God, or it could read, they were in the temple blessing and praising God. The Alexandrian manuscripts say, ‘they were in the temple blessing God.’ The western manuscripts say, ‘they were praising God.’ The Byzantine manuscripts say that they were blessing and praising God. That is the difference between the text types. You are going to have the groups where they just separate from each other and what is interesting, Westcott and Hort says that there are several places where the Byzantine texts seem to conflate the western and Alexandrian readings. They argued that the Byzantine text was a later text form and it tried to preserve all the textual traditions. So the scribe who is putting together the Byzantine text and looks at the Alexandrian and see that everyone in the temple were blessing God; and the in the western manuscript, they were praising God. He is wondering which to use, blessing God or praising God. I don’t have time for this so I will say both, blessing and praising. So this kind of thing did happen though not frequently. What Hort pointed out was that only the Byzantine conflates from these other groups. It is never the other way around, which strongly suggests that it was a secondary text form.

4. Text-types and numerical preponderance

So what does numerical superiority prove? We have two manuscripts that are the ancestors for these other copies. The first manuscript has sixteen copies representing three generations while the second manuscript gets five copies representing two generations. This shows us what we see among New Testament manuscripts. The Alexandrian manuscripts were produced in Egypt but in the 7th century, Egypt got overrun by Islam resulting in a cut off of the Alexandrian texts. Meanwhile, the Byzantine texts rises with the vast majority coming from the 9th century and later where the majority of the Alexandrian manuscripts from a much earlier time; the first eight centuries. But earlier, Constantine changes the Capital from Rome to Byzantium, now called Constantinople, today Istanbul, Tuckey. Then declares the whole of the Roman Empire as being Christian; he ask Eusebius to print him fifty Bibles for the Empire. All of a sudden, we are dealing with a text form that is going to spread over the east and a few centuries later, Greek is no longer spoken anywhere else in Europe, just in Asia Minor and Greece which was the largest cluster of churches. So numerical superiority is due to historical conditions and it doesn’t tell us anything about the quality of the text. Also, a later manuscript may be more valuable than an earlier one. So textual scholars don’t count manuscripts, they weigh them.

5. Text-types and Genealogical Solidarity

So we can reconstruct the local original from the copies that still exist and we can take a reading back earlier in the manuscript that it appears in. So a manuscript might be 5th century or it might be 10th century, but the wording in that manuscript could go back many centuries earlier. Ultimately, we don’t have the New Testament documents, the actually originals, but the wording in at least some of our copies goes all the way back to the originals. So, for example, in-text A, we don’t have the original, first or second-generation but all those manuscripts agreed with each other. So, you can reconstruct the local original from the copies especially when they have a high amount of agreement internally with each other. Is it possible that a single manuscript can represent the archetype against all other witnesses? Yes, that is definitely possible because you can have a manuscript that is a better copy than the others.

We have talked about Alexandrian, Western, Byzantine and Caesarean text types. The Alexandrian text form probably goes back to 2nd century. It was not an intentional edited text, but a faithful stream of copies. Bruce Metsker and Bart Ethman in their book, the ‘Text of the New Testament’ argue that it is a
careful tradition going back very early. We have a number of church fathers from the 2nd century that quote the Western text form. It was very widespread and there was no official addition of it, but it originated not in the west but it became a missionary text. It is not a careful tradition, but it is early, and we have to take that into account because it was early. Virtually all of our western manuscripts are either not in Greek or in Greek plus another language. It is the most amorphous of the text forms; they just went all over the place. They neither agree with others or themselves. Then you have the Byzantine text which originated early in the 4th century or maybe the late 3rd century and becomes increasingly widespread. This is the most uniform of all the text types. And as far as Greek manuscripts are concerned it became increasingly widespread. And strong editorial activity took place for that text. So by the 9th century, it was by far the most popular text. But the overall, the Alexandrian text was more popular. The Byzantine text was heavily edited; a very liturgical text. The Byzantine text form was used in the churches; it was the one that grew up around Constantinople. Ninety percent of our manuscripts are Byzantine and come from the 9th century or later. The liturgy in the churches was driving a lot of this. As they went to various passages they read as scripture that gets imported into the actual text form of the Byzantine that they would use later. You get these explanatory notes like the one I covered earlier. The Byzantine manuscripts were longer than some of the others.

Then we have the Caesarean text form, it may not even exist but if it does, it is probably only in the Gospels. These are from the 3rd century. If it exists it is almost completely absorbed by the Byzantine. If there is a Caesarean text form, it actually would contain the original reading. There are groups of manuscripts that seem to do that against all the rest of the traditions. You can’t distinguish the Byzantine texts from the Caesarean text, perhaps only in a couple of places.

So you have the Alexandrian solidarity agreeing with each other. That would probably be the reading of the autograph. But yet, we don’t often have Alexandrian solidarity. The western text is early but erratic. Strong internal evidence is needed to make a claim of authenticity and this has to with what the scribes wrote, what the author wrote. We will later discuss one major western reading that I think is authentic against the world. Because it is so early, we can’t just throw it out, but because it is so erratic, we can’t accept it. So we are in a kind of no-man’s land. It has to have compelling evidence on its side that would suggest that it was authentic and I can see why all the other manuscripts would have changed the text. The Byzantine was later, probably a secondary text for the most part and yet it can have some authentic readings that seem to slip through the net. It was essentially based on the Alexandrian, the Western and Caesarean. Even though it was early 4th century, there are just a few occasions where I think the Byzantine text having the original wording. The Caesarean is a pre-cursor to the Byzantine, very view authentic readings.

D. The Emerging Dominance of the Byzantine Text

1. Majority of manuscripts are Byzantine

Ninety percent of our Greek New Testament manuscripts are Byzantine; why? Some say, because they represent the original. The original will always have the majority of the manuscripts. This is what you get from the majority text people and the Textus Receptus people argue something like this. I don’t think that is the case as such. It would only be true if we are dealing with uniform copying. Copying that was done consistently where each manuscript had five copies done, etc.

Six Reasons for its Dominance: 1. there was a Diocletian persecution in 303-311 AD where Christian was persecuted; it is considered the worst persecution of the church in the ancient world. Diocletian issued three edicts: destroy the churches, burn their sacred texts and imprison or kill Christian leaders.
Sometimes, whole villages that were mostly populated by Christians were destroyed and killed off. This was a remarkable persecution. The basic result of this, Diocletian persecuted the church in the east and in the south but the west, there was much less persecution. So we have a number of manuscripts
destroyed in this persecution. One of the fascinating results of this was the Codex W, now at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. This manuscript was produced in the late fourth or early fifth century. The first editor of it said that it was a patchwork manuscript; it had all four Gospels in it and its text form changes between the Alexandrian to the Western and the Byzantine. It changes right in the middle of the Gospel. Most likely the scribe who put this together did it on the basis of partial Gospel manuscripts that he had found, it was the residue that Diocletian had not been able to destroy and I agree with this. I think he is right. One of my students has done some work on this without realizing it, but demonstrating that Sanders is really onto something here.

About the time of this persecution a fellow by the name of Lucian of Antioch, who had done a text of the Old Testament; he was probably the originator of the Byzantine text form. He died in 310 AD toward the end of the Diocletian persecution. We see the way in which he copied the text that Lucien was a textual scholar and he used the manuscripts to compile and publish new additions of them. It wasn’t a time where you advertised what you were doing. So it is obvious that everything he did was low key; even Gerome said that Lucien did this. Lucian’s point was to preserve everything of the textual tradition. So considering the circumstances, a person would write ‘blessing and praising God’ in Luke 24:53. So, this seems to be the major motive for what Lucien did. And so, shorten after this, you have Constantine commissioning fifty Bibles which could have been based on Lucian’s text, we are not sure. But such a text would instantly have an impact on the Eastern Church. So Constantine moved the capital to Constantinople and made Christianity legal becoming the official religion of the Empire. He commissioned Eusebius to produce fifty Bibles in Greek for the churches of Constantinople. These three events worked together to shrink the geographical influence of Greek while simultaneously increasing its control in the production of the text. So, you have a smaller area where Greek is being used and within that area becoming all Christianized, which in turn resulted in more copies of the Bible making the text more uniform with a lot of copies of it.

The third reason for it dominance is that Latin became the lingua franca of the West. The larger area resulted in lots of control of the uniform text. It because quite amorphous. We have more than twice as many manuscripts in Latin as in Greek. Gerome was commissioned to clean up the text because of this lack of standardization. In order to do this, he moved to Israel and spent thirty-five years there learning Hebrew. He was a dedicated scholar and had the wealth of the Vatican behind him. Now, the Vulgate ended up with copies everywhere while the Byzantine text was different. Another reason was due to how John Chrysostom popularized the Byzantine text. His writings are second to the New Testament as far as the number of copies. We have hundreds and hundreds of them. He was thoroughly orthodox and he used a text form that was about seventy-five percent toward the later Byzantine standard that would emerge about a thousand years later. Just imagine a huge endorsement for one translation of the Bible. This would have an impact and this is the kind of force that John Chrysostom had on the Eastern Church. Then the fifth reason was due to African Christianity and the rise of Islam. As far as the existing Greek manuscripts are concerned, the Alexandrian text form dominated through the first eight or nine centuries. Only after that did the Byzantine text become dominate. This dominance has to be answered by what, when and where in terms of manuscripts. Christianity in Egypt became almost completely overrun by Islam. Still it took several centuries before the Byzantine text overtook the Alexandrian text in popularity.

The final reason is the invasion of Constantinople in 1453 where Turkish Muslims overran Constantinople and also the roots of the Reformation. Until 1453, the knowledge of ancient Greek had virtually disappeared from Western Europe. It was May 9, 1453 and it was on a Tuesday that the Turks broke through the walls of Byzantium. All the scribes fled into Western Europe and brought with them knowledge of Greek. They had been copying these manuscripts and brought with them this knowledge of ancient classical texts as well as the Christian texts. The Reformation was born because of this and this would have never happened if Luther hadn’t had a Greek New Testament in his hands. The Renaissance which had started before this got a huge push forward and five years later 1458 was the first time in Western Europe that we had any university to teach a course in ancient Greek. This was at the University of Paris. The western world came out of the dark ages because of this terrible crisis of the Tucks invading Constantinople. Then March 1st, 1516 Erasmus’ Greek Text was published and the manuscripts he used, almost all of which came from Constantinople. The point here is this – the Byzantine text was isolated in the East until the invasion of 1453; even though dominate, it was still unknown to the west. They were using the Latin Vulgate which was quite different. So ninety percent of all Greek manuscripts are Byzantine but ninety percent of them were all produced after the 9th century.

In summary, only if the transmission of the text was uniform, that in the copying frequency the same in all regions would the majority text equal the original. But it wasn’t uniform; it wasn’t anywhere close to being uniform. So the Byzantine text was largely late, secondary and inferior yet, occasionally could have the original wording.


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