Re: Copying parameters for early NT MSS

 ---------------------------- Text of forwarded message -----------------------
Date:    Wed, 27 Apr 94  8:41 EDT
From:    "Bart D. Ehrman"                            <BARTUNC>
To:      Timothy John Finney <finney@CSUVAX1.MURDOCH.EDU.AU>
Subject: Re: Copying parameters for early NT MSS

   In response to Finney's questions (excellent ones, to which
those of us who do this kind of thing for a living would like, some day,
to find an answer!), may I make an altogether self-serving

   I deal with a number of these issues in my recent study of the ways
early Christian scribes (second and third centuries) modified their
texts for theological reasons (i.e., to make them more patently orthodox
and less susceptible to "heretical" interpretation): _The Orthodox
Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological
Controversies on the Text of the New Testament_ (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1993).

   I should also say that any attempt to establish a statistical
probability of manuscripts produced and errors introduced, etc.
will probably belie the hypothetical nature of almost every reconstruc-
tion.  The fact is that we don't _know_ such things (in any
statistically significant way), and given the nature of our
evidence, we never will.

    Regrettably, and relatedly, textual criticism
has been perceived as more "scientific" than other aspects of
NT study, and is therefore inclined to pass itself off somehow
as more objectively certain (an interesting modernist set of
assumptions underlies this inclination; let the one who has
ears to hear...)  In fact, statistical models provide an assurance
that is simply phantasmal (speaking as one who has developed
a statistical model for grouping Greek manuscripts on the basis
of group profiles of readings!)  (The model can be found in my book on
the Gospel quotations found in Didymus the Blind; it's a method that
Gordon Fee, Mike Holmes, and I will be using in the second volume of the
quotations of John -- both found in the Scholars Press series, _The New
Testament in the Greek Fathers_)

   So long as we know how statistics "work" and what they "mean" then we
are OK.  They should _not_ however, in this field at least, be taken to
designate some kind of historical certainty.

-- Bart D. Ehrman, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill