Thursday, December 23, 2010

Manuscript Production

I enjoyed Mr. Scrivener's monologue on geneaological charting. It inspired me to create this diagram which attempts to show probable production in rough numbers, the various 'text-types' (more like textual streams, allowing for some mixture).

(Click on image to enlarge it)

As noted, displaying information in a new form can lead to insight, sometimes a profound one.

The first thing one tends to ask on viewing this chart, is "why?". Why did we have a heterogeneous collection of 'text-types', and how did it miraculously come to be under control and dominance of a single type? The answer that there was a "Lucian Recension" is simply inadequate.

Some conscious policy must have been instituted, and it must have been so reasonable and transparent, that it caused no real protests or fuss among the many hundreds of scriptoriums ( manuscript-making centers) spread across the two Empires (East and also West).

We include the West here, although the predominate language and copying centers worked in Latin for the most part of the 4th to 14th centuries, because the Latin text has a strikingly similar pattern: Some mixed texts, followed by an 'official recension' (Jerome's Vulgate, c. 400 A.D.), and rather rapid increase in numbers (finally up to 20,000 copies of later Latin MSS), with inevitable dominance (with some reversions/corrections back to the Old Latin & Greek texts).

The early history of Jerome's Vulgate is somewhat instructive, in that it faced strong opposition in some places over some changes of text (notably his abandoning of the LXX Greek O.T. readings for those of the 4th century Massoretic Hebrew text). Jerome's handling of the NT was not so extreme, although it was plainly well-researched, since to make his Latin translation, he went to Constantinople, the center of the Eastern Greek copying stream, to get good manuscripts. He claims he himself bypassed all three of the then popular Greek recensions, namely Origen's Hesychius' and Lucian's texts, each popular in their own local center of production.

Yet the Greek standardization was not an 'official' text, or imposed from the top-down. There is no record of any official policy among the Greeks, or in the Eastern Empire regarding an official text. What we do know is that in some cases, Constantine and Eusebius proposed special policies of translation into other languages, such as the Gothic, holding back for instance the Books of the Kings, because Constantine felt that the Goths were too warlike already, and this would only encourage them.

The kind of policy which would have a strong impact on the textual stream, and yet go completely unchronicled in the history of the church, must have been a simple policy that could and would be implemented by every scribe without even questioning the logic of it. The policy had to be self-evident and not only draw no resistance, but draw no comment.

It had to be a simple 'copying policy', one that was something trivially mechanical in nature and so self-evident once seen that no scribe would want to do anything else.

To meet these plausibility requirements, the policy had to include the 'oldest and best manuscripts' available at the time, in all areas. It had to include a mechanical procedure that would guarantee a new homogenization of the text to an unprecedented degree.

I suggest some combination of the obvious. Somebody proposed that all scriptoriums from now on, adopt an 'offical master-copy' (or small subset of copies, however created or chosen), and use them and them only for the next 500 years. This would naturally require no great news flashes or raise any eyebrows of protest, because of its innate reasonableness.

This suggestion, or rather adopted practice, quickly transferred from scriptorium to scriptorium, because the idea traveled alongside good copies. It would spread across Europe, at least to the major centers of production, and result in a new order of homogenized text.

While total conformity would not be possible, because of local variations in quality, the end result would indeed be a large quantity of later MSS presenting a tight, uniform text (relative to previous circumstances).

In order to meet the historical criteria of a grassroots, non-discussed trend, it would naturally involve the best available manuscripts, and this suggests that contrary to popular characterizations of the Byzantine text, it was indeed a fairly good, naturally created text based on ancient manuscripts.

Joe Layman

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