Monday, April 13, 2009

Jimmy Barker responds to "Original Text vs. Critical Text"

Note: Jimmy sent an email reply to the previous post. I have taken some excerpts from his response, and he has agreed to let me post them here for you. Many thanks again to Jimmy for starting - and continuing - this conversation.


Here are a few thoughts on your blog post: One spelling correction: papyrology not papriology. Overall I'm quite pleased with your highlighting "original text" vs. "critical text;" I think it's a very important distinction.

Later on, in mentioning "texts, translations, and interpretations," you say that we're not getting at the "best" version of the "original." At least as far as textual criticism is concerned, though, I think that would actually be the stated goal; though here I think it's important always to put 'original' in quotes. However, as text critics, as best we can, we do want to get back to the earliest layer of text.

For example, between two readings, one convoluted the other easily intelligible, the rule of lectio difficilior (the more difficult reading) is an important principle; we're imagining that someone (later) made sense out of something that (earlier on) didn't make sense. What I think gets lost at this stage of textual criticism, however (and where a project like yours can make a great contribution), is the fact that these later 'corrections' end up creating their own meanings (ones that often carry the day, in that they're usually part of the 'majority text' which went into the KJV, which determines what modern English translations are allowed to say).

Another way to look at this is to take more of a nominalist approach and consider every witness a discrete text. This can become absurd, of course (since many many witnesses agree verbatim or nearly so). However, with something like Codex Washingtonianus's longer 'longer ending of Mark' (which mentions the rule of Satan etc.), we see an example of a text that has/creates its own meaning, and simply considering it a 'secondary' addition to what was already a secondary edition shouldn't virtually deny the codex's existence.

Sorry to get all metaphysical, but I haven't thought this aloud in quite some time, and I guess that's part of what bugs me about my discipline: not enough people look at what's going on in the variants (Bart Ehrman's dissertation The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture is the one example of such an approach--the only one that comes to mind off the top of my head).

I was also interested in your take on "original Hebrew/Greek." I actually tend to consider this a separate issue from original vs. critical text...but maybe I shouldn't. Appeals to "the" original Greek would, of course, be problematic if we're talking about a particularly difficult passage from a text-critical standpoint (e.g. Matthew's Parable of the Two Sons) since we don't know what the 'original' text was...but in such a case we at least know that Greek was the original language of the text.

For the most part, then, in appealing to original languages I think people are signifying that English translations often either get something wrong or at least miss a nuance that's there in the 'original/base' languages. As a Greek teacher, I'm always in favor of people learning the 'original' languages. Of course, as far as the 'original' Greek tells us, Aramaic was the 'original' language for Jesus' sayings, but that's another matter; one, however, that may be worth pursuing in some of your work given that Historical Jesus scholars (most notably Joachim Jeremias back in the day) use our Greek NT texts to go behind what's in the text to recover the 'original' Aramaic, which then can 'correct' or 'refute' what the Greek text tells us...fascinating! (and/or infuriating). Maybe we should talk about "the" "original" "text" or "language"...but that gets quite cumbersome!

On a related note, one place I'd love to see you (as a theologian) do some work someday is on evangelical statements of faith that talk about 'inerrancy in the original manuscripts.' As a biblical scholar it would already be a strawman argument to me (since we don't have any autographs), but as a theologian you could probably make more sense out of how such language works (however well or poorly) theologically.

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