Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Majority Text: True Power of the Probability Argument (pt IV)

Going Deeper into the 
Probability Argument

Our simple copying tree can illustrate a lot of other interesting questions regarding the probability argument.    One observation which has been bypassed so far in vague protests and discussions is exactly what kind of catastrophe could result in a false majority text, and what combination of features it would have to have.

For instance, an obvious objection would be that the Majority model presumes that all manuscripts are actually available to be counted.  In fact it does not require this at all.  However the question of adequate sampling of the copying stream is a legitimate issue, and poor sampling would naturally be expected to skew results and their confidence factor as well.
 Taking our copying tree, it is reasonable to assume the earliest copies would gradually be lost, not just for counting, but also for collating.
First two and a half generations lost...
 One immediate observation is that the loss of the earliest manuscripts will indeed benefit the % score of an Error Packet.  Here the Yellow Packet now holds 8/25 or 32%, up from 26%, for a gain of 6%.   The Red Packet however, goes from 3/31 (10%) to 3/25 (12%) and only gains about 2%.   Not only is the payoff low, but such a moderate loss only significantly benefits the earliest minority readings, those with the highest initial percentage. 

How big a catastrophe is needed to flip a minority reading into a majority?

Three and a half generations lost...
 The score is now 6/18 = 33% for Yellow (only +1%!), and 17% for Red (+7%).   A minor surprise.  What is happening is that now the earlier Error Packet is losing votes along with the original readings, while the Red Packet is still gaining in voting power, because none of its voters has been affected by the catastrophe.   Yet it doesn't take much to see that no minority reading can really get much further ahead simply by the loss or destruction of earlier manuscripts.

Textual Disasters:

What we need is a REAL catastropheThe good manuscripts need to be specifically targeted, and with ruthless efficiency.   With those eliminated, at least some errors end up in a majority of surviving MSS.  The Yellow Packet readings are now in 6 out of 9 MSS (66%) with a comfortable majority. 
But the Red Packet remains a reading-block with only minority support.   What happened?  Even though every good manuscript has been eliminated, the good readings in each of the remaining groups ensure that most readings, namely the later ones, are stuck with only minority support.  Remember that these Error Packets are not directly competing, but are independent groups of errors in different areas of the text. Any overlap will be very small, and the chances of the scribes making the exact same errors are smaller still.
Its clear that even the loss of the best early MSS alone cannot cause the dominance of any but a few of the very earliest errors.  This means generally, that no amount of destruction of earlier manuscripts by itself could cause a minority text to become a majority text. That is, the errors in the manuscript will include early , middle, and late errors.  All types of errors will be confined to this group, but not all can make it into a majority of surviving manuscripts.  Some must remain minority readings, even though they uniquely characterize the text-type and may be exclusive to it.

We need a very special kind of disaster, to pull off the kind of coup which is claimed for the Textus Receptus (TR, = Byzantine text-type).    Remember that almost ALL the readings unique to this text-type are rejected by critics, and ALL are claimed to be 'late' (not existing before the text-type).   Only a very small number of important readings are admitted to be ancient by critics, and these are said not to be unique or characteristic of the TR (or the Byzantine text). 

But this claim flies against the mechanics of transmission.  If this small group of readings really were ancient, they would be majority readings and characteristic of the Byzantine (Majority) text-type, not mere peripheral readings.  And if the bulk of the Byzantine readings really were late, they would mainly be minority readings within the text-type, and would not saturate every Byzantine manuscript.

(to be continued...)


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