Re: Textual Criticism.

From: Bart Ehrman (
Date: Wed Oct 22 1997 - 22:04:16 EDT

   In reply to Paul Dixon's aside, Bruce Metzger is alive and well; he has
just published an autobiography (I *think* he called it "Memoirs of an
Octogenarian"; it's actually not *quite* out yet, but is expected -- so he
told me on Saturday -- any day now; published by Hendrickson). For those
who will be at the AAR/SBL in San Francisco, there will be a special event
honoring him, the annual "Fireside Chat" (where he'll be interviewed by
Beverly Gaventa).

   I think the best way to get the basics of textual criticism, by the
way, is still to use his own book, the Text of the NT, now in paperback in
a third edition. For those who are somewhat more advanced, I might
suggest the collection of essays that Mike Holmes and I collected in honor
of Metzger for his 80th birthday, _The Text of the NT in Contemporary
Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis_ (Eerdmans); these cover all
the major aspects of textual criticism of the NT for those who already
have the basics (e.g., from Metzger's and the Alands' intros).

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

On Wed, 22 Oct 1997, Paul S. Dixon wrote:

> On Wed, 22 Oct 1997 14:13:56 -0400 (EDT) writes:
> >On a post recently (I'm sorry, but I'm not sure now which one), matters
> of
> >Textual Criticism were being discussed. Now I took a course in Seminary
> on
> >this, and remember, in broad outline, much of what was taught. Are there
> any
> >Experts in the field who can run through the basics for us
> less-than-experts
> >in the field? I'm sure I could buy any of a number of books on the topic
> and
> >study but both my time and my cash resources are very limited.
> >
> >For example, it would seem to make sense that the older a manuscript is,
> the
> >closer it is to the original (having presumably undergone fewer copyings
> and
> >therefore subject to fewer changes, either intentional or unintentional
> on
> >the part of scribes). But does this mean that a 3rd Century manuscript
> is
> >necessarily more accurate than a 9th Century manuscript or later at a
> >given reading? What other considerations, besides dates, must be taken
> into
> >accountin deciding on variants between these?
> >
> >Also, I remember about manuscripts being grouped into families based
> >upon similarities in variants; but I don't remember which families were
> >considered better (if such a word could be used in this connection) than
> others.
> >What about this?
> >
> >I recall being taught about variant readings being easier or more
> >difficult to explain than others, but not necessarily upon what basis a
> given
> >reading might be easier to explain than another.
> >
> >I can understand if this is too much to ask for anyone to go into here.
> If I
> >must buy and read a book, I'll just have to start saving. Also, I
> haven't
> >been participating in this list for all that long. If these matters have
> been
> >thoroughly discussed already, perhaps someone could point me in the
> >right direction in finding these in the Archives, etc.
> >
> >Thanks and God bless.
> >
> >Rev. Craig R. Harmon
> Aw, shucks. I ain't no expert, but if you're waiting for Metzger to pipe
> up, then we could be in trouble (I thought he passed away not too long
> ago, but, I could be wrong).
> Here are the guidelines I was taught and consider the best:
> 1. The age (of the manuscripts) is important, but not determinative in
> itself.
> 2. What is at least equally important is the distribution weight, that
> is, if a particular reading is supported by older manuscripts from
> different textual families (the more, the better, the families being:
> Alexandrian, Caesarean, Western, Byzantine), then that is more
> significant than a reading supported say by the majority of manuscripts
> but all from the same text family, like the Byzantine. The reason for
> this should be obvious. Errors can be introduced early on and can be
> replicated ad infinitum within the same family. But, if the reading is
> supported by ancient manuscripts from different textual families, then
> the likelihood of error should be reduced.
> 3. The reading that best explains the origin of the others is
> preferrable. This makes sense if we understand how errors were
> transmitted (many ways, of course). For example, the Byzantine family is
> typically characterized by a smooth, longer reading of the text. This
> makes senses if we understand the tendency of scribes to add things for
> clarification, or to smooth out difficult readings.
> There are other considerations, to be sure, but these probably are the
> three most important, as I learned them. I think it also reflects the
> majority position of evangelical seminaries today. If this involves
> circular reasoning, then let's talk about it.
> Paul Dixon

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