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Elliott, J. K.
New Testament Textual Criticism: The Application of Thoroughgoing Principles. Essays on Manuscripts and Textual Variation.
Leiden/Boston: Brill 2010. XV, 661 S. m. 1 Porträt, Abb. u. Tab. 24,8 x 17,1 cm = Supplements to Novum Testamentum, 137. Geb. EUR 184,00. ISBN 978-90-04-18952-2.
Ryan D. Wettlaufer
When a distinguished scholar looks back at the race they have run, it has long
been a tradition for them to gather up their writings from across their career and publish
them as one definitive collection. While the ever advancing state of publishing
technology might eventually render such compendiums obsolete, we can be thankful
that before that day comes Keith Elliott has been able to offer us New Testament Textual
Criticism: The Application of Thoroughgoing Principles. An heir to Kilpatrick, Elliott has
spent a lifetime tenaciously pursuing the principles of thoroughgoing eclecticism in the
face of a discipline that is increasingly dominated by reasoned eclectics. This volume
offers the definitive presentation of those principles.
The collection consists of approximately 57 different works, all of which were
previously published. These are organized into four parts. In part one are three essays
that lay out explicitly the methodology of thorough-going eclecticism. Part two, perhaps
surprisingly for some readers, gathers 11 studies on particular manuscripts, including
45, Vaticanus, Bezae, various mss of Revelation, and some Oxyrhynchus papyri. Part
three turns to the practice of textual criticism, offering 13 shorter variant studies, seven
longer studies, and 7 exegetical studies (four of which specifically focus on synoptic
issues). Part four reviews recent critical editions such as the Editio Critica Maior, the
Nestle-Aland 27, and the International Greek New Testament Project. An appendix
contains an essay on manuscripts, the codex and canon. Two indices are included, one
of modern authors and another of biblical references. Finally, there is a complete
bibliography of all of Elliott’s publications: running 24 pages and including some 561
items, it stands as a testament both to the industry of Elliott’s scholarship, and the
refinement of this collection.
For the reader already familiar with those works, the most interesting part may
be the Introduction where, among other things, Elliott discusses some changes in his
thinking that have occurred since the earlier publications. He joins, for example, the
nascent shift in the understanding of the purpose and goal of the discipline in regard to
what was traditionally called “the original text.” Referring to Epp’s famous work on the
multivalence of that term, Elliott writes that “I now accept the consensus view that the
most that text-critics can hope to achieve is the promotion of the likeliest Ausgangstext,
that is, the earliest recoverable form of the textual tradition from which all deviant
readings can be traced and that what one is mainly concerned to show is the rich variety
of plausible and intelligible readings that existed and which may serve to illustrate the
multifarious texts of the New Testament in early Christianity” (p. 7). Another change is
the diminished role in his thinking of rigid notions of text-types. As Elliott explains, he
has “an increasing hesitation to speak confidently about the history of text-types” (p. 7).
Most startling, however, is the change in Elliott’s stance toward conjectural emendation.
Elliott has been well known for his opposition to the practice. He has previously written
that “Thorough-going critics see no reason to resort to conjectures. That the original text
has survived in our 5,000 extant Greek manuscripts and in the numerous versional
manuscripts is a cornerstone of the method” (p. 44, n. 10). While that matches the views
of many modern scholars, it has always been a particularly puzzling position for Elliott,
since thorough-going eclecticism, with its openness to evaluating readings purely on
their own merits regardless of origin, should, logically, be similarly open to readings
based on conjecture. It is gratifying, therefore, to hear Elliott finally confess “to being
less sceptical of allowing such intrusions into a text” and “more tolerant of the opinion
that on occasion it may be necessary to admit that no one manuscript preserves the
wording used by our first century author” (p. 8).
Aside from those provocative developments, it is fair to ask what the overall
value of this volume is, and why the student should be interested in it. The answer to
that question is two-fold. First, by experiencing these essays as a greater whole rather
than reading them piecemeal in their original places of publication, the reader can gain a
more balanced understanding of what the method of thorough-going eclecticism really
is. The method has often been maligned and mischaracterized. Some have said, for
example, that it does not care about external evidence. Such a myth, however, is easily
dispelled by this collection with its lengthy section of manuscript studies. Those essays,
collectively, prove the assertion, which Elliott makes in the Introduction, that the
method well takes account of external evidence: “the character of a manuscript may
often be determinative” (p. 2). By gaining a more balanced understanding of the
method of thorough-going eclecticism the reader is then in a position to benefit from a
second contribution this volume makes: the correction it offers to the more dominant
method of reasoned-eclecticism.
Westcott & Hort, arguably the fathers of the discipline, are well known for their
preference for the manuscript Vaticanus (B). On one occasion they wrote “the readings
of ÀB combined may safely be accepted as genuine in the absence of specially strong
internal evidence to the contrary, and can never safely be rejected altogether. [In] the
numerous variations in which À and B stand on different sides…Every such binary
combination containing B… is found to have a large proportion of readings which on the
closest scrutiny have the ring of genuineness, and hardly any that look suspicious after
full consideration: in fact, the character of such groups is scarcely to be distinguished
from that of ÀB… All other MSS stand the trial with even less success than À” (The New
Testament in the Original Greek, [New York: American Book Company, 1881] 557). In
other words, the only manuscript more trustworthy than Vaticanus (B) paired with
Sinaiticus (Å) is Vaticanus on its own! This is what Elliott has often called “the cult of
the best manuscript” and it has too often bequeathed to reasoned eclectics a tendency
simply to follow their favourite manuscript, turning to internal evidence only when such
external evidence is unclear. As Elliot describes “In most cases the text in our printed
editions follows the reading of the majority of extant manuscripts; where variation
occurs certain manuscripts are commonly relied on, typically Codex Sinaiticus and
Codex Vaticanus together with other early witnesses. Whenever these favourite
manuscripts are divided over a particular variant, then most editors have to resort to
principles based on internal evidence…” (p. 41). This, as Elliott points out, treats
internal evidence inconsistently – sometimes valuing its input, sometimes not.
However, if internal evidence is valid, Elliot argues, then it should be valid in all cases.
By beginning every case with the internal evidence – asking “which reading is in accord
with our author’s style or language and theology? and Why and how did the alternative
readings occur?” (p. 41) – the thorough-going critic “applies the criteria in a consistent,
thorough-going (but not doggedly mechanical) way” (p. 44). This call for balance and
consistency is the gift that Elliott, through his work in general and this volume in
particular, gives to the discipline of New Testament Textual Criticism.