Monday, June 6, 2011

Majority Text: (XII): James Snapp Jr. on "major disruptions"

Hort's Artificial Genealogy

Previously, we looked at D. A. Carson's arguments against the Majority text Probability model.  These ideas I think originally came from G.D. Fee or Epp, but have also recently been restated by Daniel Wallace.

These arguments still seem to have a psychological hold on various textual critics today, even defenders of traditional readings.   For instance, James Snapp Jr. offers a variation on D.A. Carson's argument in his proposal for an "Equitable Criticism".  Here is his statement from Part 3:
"Many scholars and interested bystanders, noticing that the weaknesses of several of Hort’s key premises and assertions have been exposed, have been willing to consider the model of transmission-history proposed by the supporters of the Byzantine Textform – but not many have decided to embrace it. Some have irresponsibly associated it with the novel American fundamentalist doctrine of King James Onlyism.
Others have rejected it because, despite detailed lists of principles of internal and external evidence in Dr. Robinson’s essay The Case for Byzantine Priority,15 the quality which usually determines the adoption of a variant in the approach advocated by Robinson is its attestation in over 80% of the Greek MSS. Patristic evidence and the testimony of early versions are not included in the equation of what constitutes the majority reading. Distinctive Alexandrian variants, Western variants, Caesarean variants, and even minority readings attested by the oldest Byzantine witnesses (such as parts of Codices A and W) have no chance of being adopted; generally, whenever a variant is supported by over 80% of the Greek MSS, it is adopted.
The validity of such an approach depends upon the validity of the premise that the transmission of the text of the Gospels was free from “major disruptions.However, major disruptions have had enormous impacts upon the transmission of the text. Roman persecutions and Roman sponsorship, wartime and peacetime, dark ages and golden ages – all these things, plus innovations and inventions related to the copying of MSS, drastically changed the circumstances in which the text was transmitted, and while all text-types were affected by them, they were not all affected to the same extent, as a review of history will show.16
Greek fell into relative disuse in Western Europe; Constantinople became the center of eastern Greek-speaking Christendom; Islamic conquests squelched the vitality of the transmission-streams in regions where Islamic rule was imposed; copyists in or near Constantinople invented more efficient ways to copy the text. Such historical events completely invalidate results that are based on a transmission-model that assumes the non-existence of such disruptions." 
( - James Snapp Jr. , Equitable Eclecticism, Pt 3)

As much as we like James' clarity and integrity regarding many issues, we feel that here he has dropped the ball: 

In fact, not only does the Majority Reading Probability Model survive the impact of transmission anomalies, the model itself invalidates these very objections.  We have previously demonstrated that imbalances in the copying quantities of various transmission lines and master-copies has no real effect on the essential outcome.  We only want to underline again here, that there is no plausible mechanism or genealogical stemma that can reverse the majority of readings, causing them to switch places. 

Again, the point is,  yes: one very specific and unique "major disruption" could cause the majority of majority readings to be false.   We have shown precisely the model stemma required.  But there is no known point in the history of the text where this could have taken place.  This is because of the very evidence which survives.   Two things are required:
(1)  All previous copies would have had to have been all but wiped out for a 'false' text to usurp the real text.
 (2)  A deliberately false or bad text would have to have been substituted.  A mere sample text from one or another textual line will not do.  That would only favour a few errors from that line, but it could not create a significantly different text than the true one, or one based on some other impoverished but random sample. 
But this is demonstrably false.  Not only are both circumstances required, but both can be shown to have never occurred.

James gives a vague list of events supposed to have created the potential circumstances for minority and majority readings to reverse themselves.  Lets look at them again:
(1)   Roman persecutions
(2)   Roman sponsorship
(3)   wartime and peacetime
(4)  Dark Ages and Golden Ages
(5)  Innovations and inventions re: copying methods
(6)  Disuse of Greek language
(7)  Constantinople becomes center of Eastern Empire
(8)  Islamic Conquests destroy textual lines
(9)  Copying efficiency significantly improves
This list is James' supposed "magic bullet" that inverts majority and minority readings.   The problem is, none of these separately or even all together create a any kind of plausible mechanism whereby the majority of majority readings could become minority readings, and the majority of minority readings could become majority readings.

On the face of it, and in the deepest analysis, the list is a demonstrable failure, because it neither provides a mechanism, nor coincides with the known history of the text.    We must stress this last point: its not enough, even if one can create a plausible historical mechanism that could supplant the true for the false: we ourselves have done that.  You must also show that it could plausibly have happened at some specific and unique point in history, supportable by historical evidence of a very unambiguous and specific kind.

The onus must remain on the person claiming that any of these factors, (or combination) could reverse minority and majority readings, to show how it could happen. 

The further onus must remain on that same person, also to show how it could have happened historically, either in harmony with existing evidence, or unobserved in spite of normal existing evidences.


  1. On the one hand, A and W have the same problem that B and Aleph have; despite being put forth as representatives of an ancient text, they disagree with each other thousands of places. But the discovery of p75 proved B to indeed be a representative of an ancient text, but only one of several, with no special claim to being the original text.
    The discovery of p45, on its part, shows that it shares with portions of W an ancient text that has since gone extinct.
    Now, it can be argued that these ancient texts were offshoots of the original, and that the Majority Text predates them both. But there are problems with this assertion--ones that are beyond the scope of a single comment.

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  3. The White Man is off on a bunny trail. What we are discussing is how the mass of manuscripts from about the 9th century to the 15th, which represents a true state of the text in their time because of sheer numbers, could have just suddenly appeared. In fact they could not. They had to come to a common source and without a documented explanation otherwise must have roots to the original documents.
    There is no evidence for an Ecclesiastically enforced recension. There was no mass replacement program forced on the Church. Their manuscripts therefore must be representative of the New Testament books back to its beginning.