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Textual Criticism

Following the trail of the evidence

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The Dead Sea Scrolls possibly contain some of our oldest surviving Old Testament texts dating to around 150BCE - 75CE.

 

The earliest New Testament manuscripts that we have date to around 200CE. 

Every hand written manuscript is different. Textual criticism examines those differences.

Some differences found in manuscripts

Omissions: Caused by copyists losing their place.

Repetitions: Caused by copyists losing their place.

Spelling: Earlier manuscripts were subject to a fluidity in spelling and punctuation.

Aural Errors: When copying dictated texts, like sounding words can cause confusion.

Conscious Alteration: This may be to clarify a difficult word or passage, emphasise a particular theological point or position.

Background

 

Because we do not possess the original documents written by the Biblical authors (called the 'autograph') and because, even with the most careful copying techniques, errors and changes can creep in to a text, we do not know the actual words these writers originally wrote. Initially, textual criticism sought to reconstruct this original wording. 

 

Although attempting to establish an authentic and authoritative text in the form of a 'Critical Edition' is still an important element to textual criticism, it is also developing in different ways. It can help to identify ways in which the process of copying can alter a text. It can also help us to understand the Explore textual criticism further relationship between manuscript copies and therefore the history of a text and particular forms (types and families) of a text.      

 

The story of the Leper's healing is presented below as found, in translated form, in five important early manuscripts. 

They are presented in parallel to aid easy comparison. 

To get you started 

1:43 Does D attempt to clarify the strange phrase to 'snort violently' (literally - to snort like a horse)? Does it help us to understand what is meant by this word? How does your English Bible deal with it? If there is a difference, how do you explain the discrepancy?

If you have not done so already, have a look at Redaction Criticism to see how the writers of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke deal with this problem. 

1:43 Why do you think this verse might be missing from the text found in W.

1:45 Can you explain 'they' in Θ?

Can you detect any general tendencies in the text by Θ?

 

Compare these copies with the version you have in your Bible. Which is the closest?

Details of the manuscripts used

All the manuscripts cited are categorised as being 'uncials'. These are manuscripts which are written in (what approximates to) upper case or capital letters. The letters are not joined up and are, particularly in the later period, very beautifully and carefully written. 

The manuscripts are listed by letters or numbers (or both!).

B     Codex Vaticanus    4th century          

D    Codex Bezae Cantabrigienis  5/6th century 

א    Codex Sinaiticus     4th century        

W    Codex Washingtonensis (Freer Gospels) 5th century

Θ    Codex Koridethi  9th century

Highlighted text will take you to other sites relating to these codices.

1:40

B     And there comes to him a leper begging him                          saying to him, "Lord, if you are willing, you   can         cleanse me."

D     And there comes to him a leper  asking  him                   and saying,                    "If you       will,     you are able to cleanse me."

א     And there comes to him a leper begging him and kneeling      saying to him,          "If you are willing, you are able to cleanse me."

W    And there comes to him a leper begging him                    and saying,           "Lord, if you are willing, you are able to cleanse me."

Θ    And there comes to him a leper begging him and kneeling and saying to him, "Lord, if you are willing, you are able to cleanse me."

 

1:41

B    And          being moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, he touched him, and says to him, "I am willing, be clean."

D    And          being          angry,       he stretched out his hand, he touched him, and says to him, "I am willing, be clean."

א    And          being moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, he touched,        and says,           "I am willing, be clean."

W   But Jesus, being moved with pity, he stretched out his hand,                                saying,        "I am willing, be clean."

Θ   But Jesus, being moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, he touched him, and says to him, "I am willing, be clean."

 

1:42

B    And                         immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.

D   And                          immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.

א   And                          immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.

W  And                         immediately the leprosy left him.

Θ   And, having spoken, immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.

 

1:43

B   And snorting with indignation like a horse, immediately, he drove him out.

D   And snorting with indignation like a horse, immediately, he drove him out.

א   And snorting with indignation like a horse, immediately, he drove him out.

W

Θ   And snorting with indignation like a horse, immediately, he drove him out.

 

1:44

B   And he says to him, "See you tell anything to no-one, but go show yourself to the priest and offer, concerning your cleansing,

D   And he says to him, "See you tell                   no-one, but go show yourself to the priest and offer, concerning your cleansing, 

א   And he says to him, "See you tell                  no-one, but go show yourself to the priest and offer, concerning your cleansing,  

W And he says to him, "See you tell                  no-one, but go show yourself to the priest and offer, concerning your cleansing, 

Θ   And he says to him, "See you tell anything to no-one, but go show yourself to the priest and offer, concerning your cleansing,  

 

B   that which Moses commanded for a testimony to them."

D   that which Moses commanded for a testimony to them."

א   that which Moses commanded for a testimony to them."

W   that which Moses commanded for a testimony to them."

Θ   that which Moses commanded for a testimony to them."

 

1:45

B But going out,  he   began to proclaim many things and to spread abroad the matter so that he was no longer able to enter a city openly, 

D But going out,  he   began to proclaim                   and to spread abroad the matter so that he was no longer able to enter a city openly, 

א  But going out,  he   began to proclaim many things and to spread abroad the matter so that he was no longer able to enter a city openly, 

W But going out,  he   began to proclaim                    and to spread abroad the matter so that he was no longer able to enter a city openly,

Θ But going out, they began to proclaim many things and to spread abroad the matter so that he was no longer able to enter a city openly, 

 

B  but             outside in desert places and they came to him from all directions.

D but he was outside in desert places and they came to him from all directions.

א   but he was outside in desert places and they came to him from all directions.

W but he was outside in desert places and they came to him from all directions.

Θ but he was outside in desert places and they came to him from all directions. 

Please remember that, although the translations above try to reflect the major textual variations found in the manuscripts, it is not possible to show all the differences, such as changes in spelling, voice, word order etcetera.  
The above texts are based on the Greek text as presented in Reuben J. Swanson (ed.) New Testament Manuscripts: Variant Readings Arranged in Horizontal Lines Against Codex Vaticanus: Mark. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press. 1995.

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