Sunday, June 5, 2011

Majority Text: (XI): What Jerome described

Jerome (c. 390 A.D.) described succinctly the textual situation and the state of the Greek NT text in his time:

"...when Jerome is comparing his own work as reviser of the Old Latin text with similar work by others in Greek, he is rather severe in his judgment of Lucian. Thus in his Preface to the Four Gospels, which takes the form of an open letter addressed to Pope Damasus and which was composed perhaps about the year 383, he refers somewhat contemptuously to the "manuscripts which are associated with the names of Lucian and Hesychius, the authority of which is perversely maintained by a few disputatious persons."  
Continuing in the same vein Jerome condemns the work of Lucian and Hesychius as infelicitous:  
"It is obvious that these writers could not emend anything in the Old Testament after the labors of the Seventy; and it was useless to correct the New, for versions of Scripture already exist in the languages of many nations which show that their additions are false." (1a)
 Subsequently, in the Preface to his translation of the books of Chronicles, Jerome makes a more temperate allusion to the work of Lucian and other Biblical scholars. In referring to the diversity of the editions of the Greek Old Testament, he declares that three are current in various parts of the Empire:
"Alexandria and Egypt in their [copies of the] Septuagint praise Hesychius as author; Constantinople to Antioch approves the copies [containing the text] of Lucian the martyr; the middle provinces between these read the Palestinian codices edited by Origen, which Eusebius and Pamphilus published."(1)
(Metzger, Chapters in the History of NT TC,
"The Lucianic Recension" (1963) p. 3 - 8)

In the diagram below, we illustrate the situation Jerome has described.  The three popular regional texts probably came into existence around 300 A.D. -- their authors seem to have lived at this time.  These "recensions" or corrected, standardized texts referred to by Jerome are whole Bibles (including the O.T.), so the editing/correcting and the differences for the most part probably refer  to the O.T. text, which in the 2nd century A.D. suffered a series of disputes and revisions (see Origen etc.).
It is likely that the NT portions of these three popular regional texts did not differ as much as the most extreme texts do today.   Their editors had the same basic goals, i.e., correcting errors and restoring the best possible text.   Already these recensions would present "mixed texts", with readings taken from various sources.
  There are some key observations that can be extracted from Jerome's testimony:
(1)  There was no single dominant text, even at the beginning of the 5th century.   Rather, there were various popular regional texts. 

(2)   Jerome tells us that the Old Latin translations were in a similar state, with many variations and errors having accumulated between copies.  (Hence the need for a new standardized translation into Latin).

(3)  Jerome specifically tells us he avoided all three of these popular Greek recensions, when making his fresh Latin translation.  He went to the East,  (Constantinople etc.) to secure the oldest and most reliable manuscripts he could.

Just as importantly, we can add several other observations and historical facts to the picture subsequent to Jerome:
(1)  Jerome's text was not based on any later recension, but rather on early independent texts closer to the originals.

(2)  Jerome's Latin Vulgate was later corrected from the Old Latin (older readings were restored), because many preferred the established text and older readings.   The final result was a mixed text but with both of its sources predating Greek recensions (c. 300 A.D.).

(3)  The Greek text in the East was never corrected using Western Latin copies, but was a regional text independently copied at the core of the Greek speaking center of the Eastern Empire.

(4)  Most of the later Greek copies originated in the East.  The Greek copies and Greek-speaking monks did not flee West until very late, at the fall of the Eastern Byzantine empire.  

(5)  The divergences and mixture present in the later Greek copies shows they were not the result of an official text-type imposed upon the copyists.  The close conformity of the Byzantine copies is a result of random processes and careful copying.
(6)  It is unlikely that all the later independent Greek copies descended exclusively from the recension of Lucian.   Rather, the obvious mixture and divergence suggests multiple lines of descent. 

In this wide and diverse transmission path, there is no physical mechanism or plausible process by which minority readings and majority readings could switch places and reverse themselves.   No single text or recension could be imposed by individuals or groups upon the textual stream.

The argument that the decrease of the spread and influence of the Greek language allowed a late and erroneous text to become dominant is a logical fallacy: 
(1)  The decrease in influence of the Greek language did allow for its replacement by the Latin texts, but the so-called "Western" text (the Latin) is older than the Byzantine text and actually more primitive.   The majority of  "Byzantine readings" finding support from the Latin must themselves be primitive and original, and not distinctively "Byzantine" (i.e., 'late').

(2)  The Muslim and Arabic hordes certainly did destroy some lines of transmission in Egypt, Palestine and Turkey, but these churches were Monophysites (Coptic, Jacobite, Armenian), and their textual traditions are known.   They did not use the Alexandrian text-type, and their destruction cannot account for the dominance of the Byzantine text.

(3)  Alexandria and its texts were abandoned within the Empire, and this may simply have been as a result of the adoption of more accurate texts from the Byzantine and Palestinian traditions.

(4)  The Syriac texts often support Byzantine readings, and show the antiquity and purity and preference of that text-type.

When all is said and done, there remains no mechanical possibility, nor any historical force, which could cause the majority and minority readings to switch places.


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