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Der byzantinische Text der katholischen Briefe. Eine Untersuchung zur Entstehung der Koine des Neuen Testaments
Berlin-New York: de Gruyter 1995. VIII, 463 S. gr.8° = Arbeiten zur neutestamentlichen Textforschung, 24. Lw. DM 248,. ISBN 3-11-014691-6
J. K. Elliott
Since the first printed Greek New Testament of 1516 to the end of the last century the Byzantine text-type, thought by many to have been an ecclesiastically approved edition of the text, held sway. The general characteristics of that text are to be found in the majority of the surviving manuscripts known today. That fact alone has predisposed many Christians, usually those from traditional backgrounds or of a conservative disposition, to favour the distinctiveness of the readings found in the bulk of manuscripts in preference to alternatives found in some of the early papyri or in the variants in the great uncials. The sharp divisions between those favouring the Byzantine text (especially as it is known in the Textus Receptus) and those favouring the Westcott and Hort type of text (to simplify the names of these parties) show no sign of abating.
In recent years the emergence of a Majority Text Society in the USA and the publication of a Greek New Testament according to the Majority Text are clear signs of the lively interest in these matters. Even though some of the writings emanating from some activists associated with these enterprises often lack proper academic rigour and intellectual restraint, nonetheless their proselytizing pamphlets, diatribes and polemics have served to keep the Byzantine or majority text-type centre stage. Even in more sober academic circles there are those who would wish to defend the occasional originality of readings supported independently by the Byzantine text. There is nowadays less of a willingness to dismiss this text-type willy nilly there is a greater openness to discuss objectively the origin, development and history of this text-type and to listen to its readings in text-critical debate.
The Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung in Münster, as one of the main promoters of the Nestle-Aland critical edition of the Greek New Testament in many ways recognised as a Westcott-Hort clone , has hitherto inevitably pooh-poohed the validity of the unique voice of the majority text. One of its major enterprises (Text und Textwert der griechischen Handschriften des Neuen Testaments also in the ANTF monograph series) has as a prime aim the identification, through a sampling process, of manuscripts whose textual characteristics are Byzantine, in order to isolate and marginalize them from further investigation. In its publications and in the various apparatus to its texts the siglum M (= Majority) or K (= Koine used in the published synopses to denote virtually the same text-type) are often to be found supporting rejected readings.
Whatever one´s judgement on these text-critical decisions, the alert scholar is aware of a distinctive text-type, the origins and cohesiveness of which merit investigation. It is such an investigation that we get in the present book. It is the revision of a doctoral thesis submitted by a researcher who is now employed as a Mitarbeiter at the Münster Institut. That alone gives the work its special importance and significance, especially as some of his results go against the received wisdom associated with that Institut. For instance Wachtel argues that the Koine or Byzantine text goes back beyond the fourth century, and that it found a fixity of form only after the ninth century.
Wachtel sets out his thesis by analysing text-critical theories and methodologies of the past one hundred years. In this section he provides a preceptive analysis of von Soden´s Kr group (a late form of the Byzantine type), and indeed of von Soden´s work as a whole. This belated appreciation of von Soden´s long-lasting achievements is particularly welcome. The bulk of the dissertation, however, is a thorough and critical analysis of ninety-eight variation units isolated from the apparatus of the Catholic Epistles. This detailed and instructive commentary is to be strongly recommended to all those working with the text of these letters.
This is verifiable scholarship at its best. The thesis is richly furnished with many tables and bibliographical aids. It is no wonder that Wachtel successfully supplicated for the doctoral degree! He and the publishers are deserving of our gratitude and praise for furthering research into the history of the Byzantine text as represented by manuscripts in this particular corpus of New Testament writings. Others should now be encouraged to build on this pioneering thesis, perhaps by venturing into the Gospels and applying similar methods there.