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David Alan Black. Rethinking New Testament Textual Criticism. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002. Pp. 157. ISBN 0-8010-2280-0. US $16.99.
1. Originally presented at a "Symposium on New Testament Studies at Southeastern Seminary" on April 6-7, 2000, the essays in this volume are as follows: "Issues in New Testament Textual Criticism: Moving from the Nineteenth Century to the Twenty-First Century," by Eldon Jay Epp (pp. 17-76); "The Case for Reasoned Eclecticism," by Michael W. Holmes (pp. 77-100); "The Case for Thoroughgoing Eclecticism," by J. K. Elliott (pp. 101-124); "The Case for Byzantine Priority," by Maurice A. Robinson (pp. 125-139). The volume also contains an introduction by David Black and an engaging response by Moisés Silva. There is little in this slim volume that will surprise seasoned New Testament text critics; rather, the collection will be appreciated by introductory and intermediate students of New Testament textual criticism who wish to understand the current state of the discipline as well as some of the needs and tensions within the field.
2. Epp's essay is by far the most substantial and important; in it, he outlines the major issues confronting New Testament text critics today: (1) "choosing among variants--and deciding on priority"; (2) "choosing among manuscripts--and deciding on groups"; (3) "choosing among critical editions--and deciding for compromise"; (4) "choosing to address context--and deciding on influence"; and (5) "choosing to address goals and directions--and deciding on meanings and approaches" (p. 19-20). In short, Epp emphasizes the continued need for making text-critical decisions regarding individual variants, establishing manuscripts relationships, and--above all--the wish that text-critical work be done with careful attention to the history of early Christianity. Throughout, Epp evaluates the text-critical scholarship of the last century (and more) and encourages the shifts currently taking place--shifts that are leading to a more complex understanding of the "original" text and the nature of text transmission in the second century.
3. The essays by Holmes and Elliott can best be understood together, for they treat the question of methodology and are in constant conversation with one another. For Holmes, a proponent of "reasoned eclecticism," the best approach is one "that seeks to take into account all available evidence, both external (i.e., that provided by the manuscripts themselves) and internal (considerations having to do with the habits, mistakes, and tendencies of scribes, or the style and thought of an author)" (p. 79). In favoring such an approach, Holmes identifies himself as part of the Westcott and Hort, E. C. Colwell, and G. Zuntz lineage; indeed, throughout his essay, Holmes acknowledges the long history of this method (and also cites his own previous articles on the subject). While Holmes sees the combination of external and internal evidence as crucial for text-critical decisions, Elliott argues for "thoroughgoing [he prefers the term rational] eclecticism," where the emphasis is largely, though not exclusively, upon internal considerations (e.g., an author's language and style, the harmonizing tendencies of scribes, scribal errors, and the context of the theological developments in early Christianity). De-emphasized are the external criteria of the distribution, age, and quality of manuscript witnesses. Elliott attempts to demonstrate his preference for internal criteria by example: some fifteen variants are discussed briefly to illustrate why internal considerations are so critical. What Elliott fails to address, however, is the assumptions upon which a preference for internal criteria depend; for example, in his attention to the variant in Mark 1:4 (o9 bapti/zwn or bapti/zwn), Elliott accepts "the probability of Markan consistency"; indeed, his entire argument depends in part on the assumption that the author is--or would be--consistent in his usage.
4. While Holmes and Elliott discuss the ongoing methodological questions and preferences, Robinson approaches the issue of methodology from a different direction--namely, the argument that the Byzantine text-type deserves reconsideration: "Although the Byzantine Textform has generally been deprecated as late, conflationary, harmonizing, longer, and smoother, there remains a transmissional likelihood that this supposedly secondary Textform may in fact best exemplify the transmissional integrity of the New Testament text over the centuries" (p. 126). While Robinson is certainly correct to address the need for renewed attention to text-types, he fails to provide any concrete evidence for his argument regarding the priority of the Byzantine text (one wishes, for example, that Robinson would engage directly with differing scholarship, provide specific illustrative variants, and so forth). Moreover, to claim (as he does) that both reasoned and thoroughgoing eclecticism fail because the text they produce is not attested in a single manuscript seems highly problematic: as Moisés Silva says in his response, "the appearance of mishmash is exactly what you would expect unless you have the prior conviction that one particular witness or group of witnesses has not been susceptible to normal scribal changes" (p. 148).
5. While experts in the field will not find much that is new or startling, newcomers will find clear articulation of some of the issues and problems that continue to confront New Testament textual critics. Moreover, despite the diverse viewpoints within such a small collection, close readers will see that on one issue most of the contributors agree: the shifts in the field within the last decade that have led to a more socio-historical approach to text criticism (e.g., in work by Bart Ehrman, Eldon Epp, Harry Gamble, and David Parker) are steps in the right direction. On the whole, the volume attests the continued vitality of the discipline of New Testament textual criticism.
© TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 2003.
Kim Haines-Eitzen Cornell University