Anderson, Amy and Wendy Widder. Textual Criticism and the Bible. Revised Edition. Lexham Methods Series 1; Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2018. Pb.; 236 pp. $29.99   Link to Lexham Press

This volume is the first of five texts in the Lexham Methods Series. Each volume is edited collection of basic introductions to important concepts for biblical studies. The series appears in both print and Logos Bible Software format. Although there are several basic introductions to textual criticism, it is rare to find a primer on textual criticism of both testaments in a single volume.

Anderson, Widder, Textual CriticismThe first two chapters of this guide to textual criticism define the discipline by describing the goal of textual criticism as establishing the earliest reading text of a biblical text (40). This is not translation or interpretation since textual criticism precedes both of these steps. Textual criticism is necessary because of the massive number of copies, translations, and quotations of Scriptures in the literature of the early church, all preserved in hand copied manuscripts.

The bulk of chapter two catalogs the usual list of textual variations with several examples draw from examples from both testaments. Greek and Hebrew is used, but the texts appear in translation so a reader without language skills will be able to get the sense of the explanation of the variants.

  • Haplography, writing something once instead of twice
  • Parablepsis, “eye-skipping” that overlooks and eliminates or repeats text
  • Dittography, writing something twice instead of once
  • Conflation, combining multiple readings
  • Glosses, incorporating marginal notes into the text
  • Metathesis, switching the order of letters or words
  • Confusing one letter for a similar-looking letter
  • Homophony, Confusing words that sound alike

For the most part these are unintentional errors which slip into the copying process. Although there are a few difficult examples, most are easy to explain and do not cause much trouble. More difficult are intentional changes to the text. In many cases a copies will correct spelling and grammar with the goal of improving the text. This is especially the case when the original syntax of the text is difficult. Sometimes a copyist will harmonize two parallel texts. This may occur when a copyist remembers the parallel passage and unintentionally inserts it into section he is copying, as in the case of the two versions of the Lord’s Prayer. But sometimes this is an intentional attempt to harmonize two parallel passages. One a few occasions, a copyist made theological changes, perhaps to prevent a reader from misunderstanding a text. The authors include the tiqqune sopherim as Old Testament examples. These are eighteen modifications to the Masoretic text made because the reading of the text seemed to be irreverent. The classic example of this theological change in the New Testament is 1 John 5:6-8 where the Latin Vulgate is clearly Trinitarian.

The second chapter concludes the basic method of textual criticism. Anderson and Widder offer three principle for evaluating external evidence, preferring the older manuscripts (although this is nuanced slightly since early manuscripts are just as likely to have intentional changes), the reading that has multiple attestations, and the reading found in a variety of manuscripts (text types, families). With respect to internal evidence or transcriptional probability, the basic rule is “the reading that best explains the origin of the other readings is probably original” (45, citing David Alan Black). Three corollaries follow, usually called the “canons of textual criticism.” The critic prefers the shorter reading, the more difficult reading, and the reading which best fits the author of the text. This assumes (correctly) that copyists were more likely to expand a text rather than shorten it. This is the case for the name of Jesus, a copyist is more likely to add titles to the name of Jesus than delete them. It also assumes that a copyist is more likely to smooth out difficult grammar.

After the first two chapters outlining the science and art of textual criticism, there are two sixty-plus page chapters for both the Old and New Testaments. Both chapters feature brief description of the materials for doing textual criticism, such as critical editions of manuscripts, translations and versions. These are necessarily brief and concise, and often summarized with helpful charts giving names, dates, and scholarly conventions for abbreviating these materials in the textual apparatus of critical editions. There are helpful charts for important papyri, majuscules, minuscules, but not for church fathers or lectionaries. Some readers will find these charts frustratingly brief, but since comprehensive lists appear in the front of the critical editions of the Greek New Testament is unnecessary to include more than the important witnesses in a handbook like this.

Both chapters have a section on method with several examples of the process a student might follow in order to examine a particular variation. The tree steps are simple: (1) assemble the evidence for all variants, (2) analyze the variants, and (3) draw conclusions. I will comment on two examples, one from each testament. For Lamentations 3:22 there is a variant “we are used up” or “they are used up”? The evidence is drawn from the Peshitta, a Targum, and the Vulgate (although the LXX is not used in this example, it is for other examples in the chapter). The student then should work through the list of potential variations in order to explain which reading is likely to be the original reading.

Doing New Testament textual criticism is more complicated because there are far more manuscripts and two different ways of indicating variants. The critical apparatus in the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament uses a series of sigla to indicate a variant (see the chart on pages 150-51, this is worth memorizing) while the United Bible Society uses footnotes when a variant occurs. The general rule is the NA has more variations and less evidence, the UBS has fewer variants and more evidence. Using the same three steps as outlined for the Old Testament, the authors walk a student through the process for a variant in John 3:32 using the evidence in NA28. Each chapter ends with an annotated Resources for Further Study. These resources are often sections or chapters rather than a monograph or article.

The final chapter is a short reflection on textual criticism today. Anderson and Widder make two points as a conclusion to their book. First, they discuss how textual criticism is reflected in popular Bible translations. This includes a short note on what critical editions the translation used for their translations as well as the textual-critical approach used by the translators. Second, the chapter includes two pages considering the impact textual criticism has on the authority of Scripture. They conclude “we can have confidence that the Bible we use reflects an extraordinary degree of accuracy and integrity” (184).

Two items add value to this book for students. First, there is a twenty page glossary of terms used in the book. Second, the new edition of the book has an expanded, twenty page bibliography, including subsections for critical editions of the Old and New Testament, Peshitta, Samaritan Pentateuch, Septuagint and Vulgate). The previous edition of the book was heavily dependent on Bible dictionaries, especially the Anchor Bible Dictionary; that is not the case for the revised edition. The book includes subject and Scripture indices.

Logos Bible Software Features. The book has a number of illustrations and charts. Most key terms appear in a PowerPoint like slides. These images can be copied and pasted into presentation software. The Logos Bible Software version also provides links to the glossary for key terms and scholars. For example, on the desktop version, floating the cursor over terms like Origen, Vulgate, or haplography and the glossary entry will appear; clicking the link will go to the glossary. This is extremely helpful when reading the book on an iPad. I am not sure if this is easily done, but I would challenge Lexham to take this glossary and release it in a flash card format, such as Study Blue, Quizlet or the adaptive learning technology platform Cerego. This would make the book more useful to students, especially of the book is adopted as a textbook.

 

NB: Thanks to Lexham Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.