Thursday, April 14, 2011

Flaws in Critical GNT known 100 years ago

The Westcott/Hort theory and text, based as it was on earlier work beginning with the suggestions of Wetstein, Selmer, Griesbach, Lachmann, Tregelles, & Tischendorf, was criticized and rejected almost immediately by Christian conservatives, both Protestant and Catholic.  People such as Scholz, Scrivener, Burgon, Hoskier, von Soden, & Merk did not accept the arguments, methods or results of the new "naturalistic textual-criticism".
Hort, in a cranky mood

What is less well-known, is that within a decade, many among the liberal camps in scholarly and academic circles also roundly rejected the W/H text, especially in Germany, Britain, and America.   They saw plainly that Hort's theories and reconstructions were implausible and near-worthless on scientific and historical grounds.   A good example of this penetrating insight was William Benjamin Smith, who published a series of books and articles in both German and English from 1890 to 1911.

Wikipedia gives us the following backgrounder on Smith:

William Benjamin Smith

At around the same time William Benjamin Smith (1850–1934), a professor of mathematics at Tulane University in New Orleans, argued in a series of books that the earliest Christian sources, particularly the Pauline epistles, stress Christ's divinity at the expense of any human personality, and that this would have been implausible if there had been a human Jesus.   Smith believed that Christianity's origins lay in a pre-Christian Jesus cult—that is, in a Jewish sect that had worshipped a divine being named Jesus in the centuries before the human Jesus was supposedly born.   Smith argued that evidence for this cult was found in Hippolytus's mention of the Naassenes and Epiphanius's report of a Nazaraean or Nazorean sect that existed before Jesus. On this view, the seemingly historical details in the New Testament were built by the early Christian community around narratives of the pre-Christian Jesus.   Smith also argued against the historical value of non-Christian writers regarding Jesus, particularly Josephus and Tacitus.    

The following is taken from Smith's article "Status and Drift of NT Criticism" (1890-1911): 

  "The first inquiry ...of any document concerns the text itself. ...Has it suffered any corruption...? It will perhaps be necessary to reconstruct the original from the contradictory attestations of these witnesses [MSS].  Such is the text problem of NT Criticism, one of the most highly complex that ever challenged the efforts of human understanding. 
    The [textual evidence] enormous in amount, and...The problem of sifting and evaluating such a mass of evidence and striking the golden mean of truth would seem too difficult for the human intellect, especially as there is no ... sure way of testing our results... and the whole case must be left undecided.  Under such circumstances the marvel would seem to be that there should be any agreement at all, that there  should not be as many minds as critics.  However, as numerous as the [differences] are, the agreements are still far greater, where critical opinions rest harmonious...
    Now it might be thought that this agreement would be extended and perfected by the discovery of new testimony [i.e., MSS], which of late years has proceeded apace, and by the deeper and minuter study of the long familiar evidence.  But the fact is exactly the reverse:  Accumulation of depositions and profounder investigations have confirmed some critical judgments, but have shaken many others and completely overthrown not a few. The problem is indeed becoming not less but more complicated with advancing knowledge, and the textual uncertainty was never before so great as it is now.
   True it is that the last generation has witnessed the most brilliant attempts yet made to construct the most highly probable text.  Those masterly scholars, bishop Westcott and Dr. Hort, thought they might, by a certain careful study of the genealogy of the various witnesses, attach a coefficient of value to each one singly and in combination, and thereby determine the original text in the overwhelming majority of cases with a close approach to certainty.  Plausible and seductive as was their argumentation, and thoroughly accepted even now in many high quarters, it was yet fatally defective at many points and for several reasons, and can no longer command scientific assent.  
(a)  The "neutral" text which they posited, as best represented by the great Vatican Codex B, is a figment of the imagination.
(b)  The deference paid to certain 'great uncials' was unwarranted.
(c)  The testimony of the Fathers, and versions was undervalued.
(d)  The depreciation of the so-called Western text was undeserved.
(e)  The rash assumption that Codex F awas a copy of G was unfortunate. 
Closer study has shown decisively that at crucial points the witnesses upon which Westcott & Hort relied most confidently might all be misleading, and the MSS most lightly esteemed might present the older reading.  Even as the sheperd boy of old laid low the giant, so at any time may some neglected cursive or version or citation overthrow the most venerated uncial  [e.g. with  early papyrus support]. 
Romans 1:7, 15
The word  here is attested by nearly all the best authorities; nonetheless it is an interpolation (Smith, JBL 1901, Part I, p 3ff, Harnack, 'Preuschen's Zeitschrift', 1902, I, p83 f).
So too the doxology at the end of Rom. 16 is witnessed by Aleph B C D and the best versions;  nevertheless the position at the end of ch. 14 is certainly the older.
The Epilogue (ch. 14 and 16) is given by nearly every authority, but, in spite of all, it is proved to be a later addendum; the Amiatinian and Fuldensian capitulations clearly point to its earlier absence.
These examples also correct very usefully a prevalent notion that textual variations are after all mere trifles, ... On the contrary, they are sometimes blinding in their illumination, in their revelation of the primitive structure of our Scriptures.   Thus the textual facts just stated involve a complete reconstruction of our notions about Romans, which now seems to be no Epistle and not addressed originally to Romans, but to be a compilation of moral and theological essays...afterwards fitted with Prologue and Epilogue as it now stands. 
So too, the extremely important F and G variant in Rom 9:22, unnoticed even by the best commentators (as Godet, Sanday, Weiss, Lipsius, Hofmann), indicates clearly the pure Judaic original of this famous chapter... (see 'the Hibbert Journal' 1, 2 pp. 328, 329). 
Still another notion must be corrected.  Let no one imagine that all or nearly all of the variants are mistakes or due to mistakesvery many are visibly intentional.  It was the ancient habit, particularly of the Oriental, to compile and recompile, to edit and re-edit again, and with sacred books this habit became an almost inviolable rule.  No one disputes this fact in the case of the O.T. and the Apocrypha and the extra-canonical early Christian Writings (ECW).  It would be well-nigh miraculous, if the NT Scriptures should offer exceptions.  Before the establishment of the Canon no sacred awe invested the canonics; there was no apparent reason why the favorite Scriptures should not be systematically modified to keep pace with the developing Christian consiciousness, very much as our creeds are altered nowadays. 
 Wetstein's great word holds good: 
"Various readings, almost all, are due to the zeal, ingenuity, and guesswork of transcribers." 
Tischendorf admits:
"It can not be doubted that in the very earliest days of Christianity there were multifarious departures from the pure Scripture of the Apostles, wherein to be sure there entered naught of dishonesty or guile." 
Under the deeper probing of von Soden and others the original "neutral" B-text of WH turns out to be only a very learned revision;  the fault of the Vatican [MS] is that it has considered too curiously. (As Holsten was led to observe - Holsten, the matchless master of exegesis, whose imposing reconstructions of Paulinism, by their very perfection, constitute the reductio ad absurdum of the premises and methods he employs.)
It is impossible to blink at the fact that all MSS of all parts of the NT abound in readings that are plainly second thoughts.  Our most ancient and revered codices reproduce only deformed, transformed, and highly elaborated originals.  ...
 The discovery of new MSS, the collation of a few hundred more, will not bring the chaos to order but will make confusion still worse confounded.  Witness the publication of the Sinaitic Syriac palimpsest, and the turning of attention to the famous Codex Bezae (D): they have merely raised new problems, not settled old.  ...Blass no longer quotes critical editions but quotes the MSS themselves, never presuming to say what is the "true text".  Such in theory at least is the position to which criticism must finally come.  The critic's text, no matter how ingeniously or plausibly manufactured, is only the critic's text, not the "true text" after all. 

Such a thorough shredding of Westcott-Hort a mere decade after his final edition (1896) by a modernist and scientist delivers the death-blow to the claim that the W-H theory and text is in any way adequate or definitive, even objective in its radical editing of the traditional Christian NT. 

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