Friday, January 16, 2015

“Sleepy Scribes and Clever Critics”: A lesson in patience

If there is one thing I have learned during my PhD years, it is one has to have patience in scholarship.

In February 2011 I started my PhD in NT conjectural criticism. One of the things that struck me is that though there obviously are different kinds of conjectures, no one had ever come up with a comprehensive classification (neither in classical studies). I decided to give it a try. In the summer of 2011, when I started to register NT conjectures in our database, I labelled every conjecture, continuously changing the labels, grouping, separating, defining and re-defining. By the end of the summer I thought I had it: there were, in sum, eleven conjecture types. I hardly couldn’t wait to present it to the team (Jan Krans, Silvia Castelli and Bert Jan Lietaert Peerbolte). Fortunately, they were enthusiastic about it.

But in the weeks that followed, I became dissatisfied with the fact that whereas most categories described types of problems conjectures can solve, some categories described causes of corruption undone by conjectures. I remember exactly where we walked in the university building the moment Jan suggested to work with two dimensions in the classification: problems and causes. I immediately knew that was it! But how does that work, a classification with more than one dimension? I started to study the theory of classification, and I realized I had always been restricting myself to a certain form of classification, namely a taxonomy.

In a taxonomy, an object can occupy only one place in a hierarchical system: classifying a dog in a taxonomy of animals means positioning it at one of the branches of a tree, by means of characterizing it according to certain variables which are considered in sequence. However, there is also a more complex form of classification: a typology. An example of a typology would be the characterization of a group of people according to their gender as well as to the colour of their hair. Each individual is not positioned within a hierarchical structure, as in a taxonomy, but characterised according to two variables that are considered in parallel, instead of in sequence. 

We needed a typology! The argumentation for each conjecture necessarily has two dimensions, the detection of a problem (in the transmitted text) and the suggestion of a cause of the supposed corruption (that is, a certain type of scribal error/change). Just like people could be classified according to their gender as well as to the colour of their hair, so conjectures can be classified according to the problem involved and the cause indicated. 

Working with a typology not only allowed us to include both dimensions. It also provided a way out of a dilemma that had been bothering me from the start: what to do with conjectures based on multiple problems? It is impossible to render something like that in a taxonomy, and my initial solution, the idea of an essential problem for each conjecture, is untenable. In a typology, by contrast, things can be characterised by several categories within the same variable at once.

During that season there have been several moments I really thought: now it’s finished. But again and again some conjecture popped up that posed a problem and called for an adjustment of categories or definitions. Interestingly, most of the time such adjustments made the classification more straightforward, often making me wonder why that didn't occur to me earlier.

I think the classification was finalised by the summer of 2012, and shortly after we also finished an article on it. So that first year I had learned that patience was needed when developing such a thing as a classification. The two and a half year that followed I received another lesson in patience: submitting an article, waiting a few months, being told the article is too long, submitting it elsewhere, being told again the article is too long, cutting down the number of words significantly, submitting it again, waiting half a year, being told the article is accepted (with only a few minor comments), waiting for more than a year, having it published, finding out several subscribing institutions are not provided full-text access to the issue concerned, having your librarian contacting the publisher, and then, this week, learning the problem is solved. So here it is: “Sleepy Scribes and Clever Critics: A Classification of Conjectures on the Text of the New Testament.”

In forthcoming publications of our team, such as my dissertation on the NT conjectural criticism of Jan Hendrik Holwerda (1805-1886), the classification will come into action!

Friday, January 09, 2015

New Articles in the TC Journal

A late Christmas offering: three new articles in the 2014 volume of TC. A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism.

First, an extended and thorough review article by Georg Gäbel. “A Fresh Look at the Early Text” examines The Early Text of the New Testament (Charles E. Hill and Michael J. Kruger, eds).

Second, Hans Förster has an interesting note on “Μαρία and Μαριάμ in John’s Gospel in the Novum Testamentum Graece”.

And finally almost a small book by Lincoln H. Blumell on “Luke 22:43–44: An Anti-Docetic Interpolation or an Apologetic Omission?” You will have to read it in order to know why the author opts for the latter solution of the textual conundrum.

TC is an open-access, peer-reviewed journal with an editorial team of well-known textual critics and an impressive line-up for the editorial board. It also has an important review section. Submissions and reviews are welcomed on all subjects involving biblical textual criticism. All, from seasoned scholars to students writing a dissertation in the field, are invited to submit their work. See further the “about” page of the journal.