Tuesday, December 7, 2010

When the Exception does not prove the Rule

,If we take a step back, and look at the history of this debate over the NT text, we see some outstanding and longstanding claims and assertions.

If we put the more controversial passages aside for the moment, we can catch our breath and ask a few pertinent questions about key planks in the various platforms being sold the public.

It is well known that the Traditional (Byzantine) text is fuller than the so-called 'critical' text ("Alexandrian"). There is a longstanding claim then, that the Traditional text is expanded, inflated, with many various insertions.

This isn't just a general or vague statement, it focuses intently and exactly on some 200 whole and half-verses which Lachmann, Tregelles, Tischendorf and Hort expunged from the critical text(s) some 100 years ago, on the basis of Codices B and א.

These, it was argued, were mainly interpolations, some accidental, some deliberate. Some random and independent, some as part of a formal recension in the 2nd or 3rd century. Some early, some late, some under theological or apologetic influence, others via confusion, misunderstanding or ignorance.

It is fair to say that the large chunks of text involved are not all merely accidents, nor would they be wholly unknown or unnoticed by both defenders of the traditional text and innovators. Correctors and fusspots can be seen at work in the margins and upon the text of the very earliest papyri. That is, the text was watched by some, and actions were performed upon it by others, from the earliest times.

This view of the evidence has generated its own precepts, canons and corollaries. When the "Alexandrian" texts are viewed as holding the purest readings, the overriding Canon as finally developed (by Hort) becomes:

"Prefer the shortest text."
It becomes a shorthand statement about the Alexandrian text: "The Alexandrian reading (i.e., the shortest) is the best."

The corollary naturally follows from the acceptance of this premise:

"The Byzantine text is an inflated, interpolated text."
It is remarkable however, that this judgment comes from a procedure which rejects the entire Byzantine tradition from the start. That is, (and it cannot be stressed too much), the above Canon was based upon rejecting fully 95% of all the surviving manuscript evidence, and only thoroughly studying the tiny (Alexandrian) remainder.

In a very real sense, Hort 'found' the Alexandrian text, because he only looked at Alexandrian manuscripts. No doubt this procedure seemed perfectly reasonable and unassailable at the time: The Alexandrian manuscripts were the oldest, and the oldest manuscripts were assumed to be closest to the original and hence the best.

But Hort then looked at all counter-evidence and competing texts through the lens of his Alexandrian text, his "rose-coloured glasses". The observation of striking differences, mostly longer readings, only reinforced his original view. The Byzantine differed greatly from the "earliest and best" manuscripts, and so it must be in error. These errors were mostly additions to the text, and so the Byzantine text was an interpolated text.

Since that time, we have had over 100 years to examine the Byzantine text itself on its own terms, beginning with von Soden's work, and culminating in the Robinson/Pierpont Majority (Byzantine) text. The detailed examination of the Byzantine text should have established the basic truth about Hort's position one way or another.

What was expected was that we would find one of two things:

(1) Evidence of random interpolations and glosses peppered all over the manuscript streams, spread across time from the 4th to the 14th century, or:

(2) Evidence of a short but major catastrophic event, i.e., an official recension, rapidly replacing the varied streams with an authorized, standardized text bursting onto the scene and taking over.

In either case, the evidence should have been aplenty, and of a certain type, and most importantly of all, of a certain content.

We should have found hundreds, or at least dozens, of clear cases of 1st hand, 2nd hand, and 3rd hand interpolations, glosses, marginal insertions, in many Byzantine and 'proto-Byzantine' manuscripts.

But instead we have absolutely nothing, not a single case of any actual evidence of a single successful interpolation or insertion, involving the all-important 200 alleged insertions vis. the Byzantine/Alexandrian comparison.

Understand the "double-barrel" shotgun blast this represents:

Not only are there no examples showing evidence of insertion re: the 200 key-texts, but there are no examples AT ALL of any insertions, accidental or otherwise.

That is, except ONE:

The cute case of the late miniscule Codex Corsendoncensis (GA-3) in 2nd Cor. 8:4.

Here a scribe has obviously misunderstood a marginal note as a lost bit of text to be reinserted in his new copy. But this one single example, coming from the 12th century, "by an ignorant transcriber" 1, cannot possibly characterize the bulk of even the late Byzantine copyists, let alone stand for the whole Byzantine tradition from the 3rd to the 13th centuries.

Thus we have the absurd but telling situation in which the exception (GA-3) simply does not prove the rule (i.e., "the Byzantine is an interpolated text").

Deanery, Chichester,
All Saints Day, 1883

1. An introduction to the critical study and knowledge of the Holy Scriptures
, Volume 2, E. Littell, (1825) Sect.II, Para.4, p.107


  1. Yes but there is some truth to the idea that occasionally small interpolations of marginal notes did actually happen. The problem, as Jan Krans notes, is, exactly how often did it happen, and can it actually characterize a whole text-type, or is it just a rare occurance that all text-types are equally susceptible to?


  2. There is something seriously wrong with the way Dean has interpreted the saying "the exception proves the rule".

    Normally it means there *is* an exception, and because it is, it proves the rule.

    In this case, if MS #3 is the exception, then the rule would be that most MSS are not rife with interpolations.

    A small point, but attention to detail is the correct procedure.

    - the Engineer

  3. I'm not going to say "picky picky" until you explain how your observation makes a difference on the flow of the argument...


  4. Naz,
    How about setting up 1 John 5:6-9 in such a way as to show how the CJ could have been lost by h.t.?

  5. I think thats a good idea, but Mr. Scrivener did the graphics for the last bunch. Maybe he'll have a go at it. I'll email him