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The Oxford Illustrated History of the Bible A richly illustrated account of the story of the Bible written by leading scholars.

Nineteenth-century Scholarship

Griesbach provided the most thorough history of the text. He also developed further the canons of criticism, listing fifteen in all. The task of the student of the New Testament text was emerging as containing two stages. The first was the reconstruction of the history of the text and the recovery of the early forms in which it existed. The second was the comparison of these forms, and the applications of the canons, in order to ascertain, where they differed, which was the more recent. The greatest advances in these directions was found in two nineteenth-century editions. Karl Lachmann (1793–1851) provided the first. He did not set out to reconstruct the original text, but to recover that which was prevalent in the late fourth century. To do this he used a tiny number of witnesses—four Latin manuscripts, and four Greek. What was revolutionary was that he did not work by revising an existing printed text. He started from his selected manuscripts, and followed through the principles that had first been enunciated by Bentley a century earlier. The result was something radically different from the received text. Not surprisingly, it was received negatively by many theologians and church leaders. But to the textual critic it offered new horizons. These possibilities were fully explored in England, first by S. P. Tregelles. Tregelles (1813–75) was a Cornishman of humble origins, who had independently worked towards the principles followed by Lachmann. In two respects his work was superior to the German's: he studied manuscripts (having travelled widely), and he used more in the creation of his text. His edition, published in 1857–72, laid the foundations for the edition which was to cap all other alternatives to the received text hitherto produced. But before examining that, it is necessary to catch up on the search for manuscripts.

The scholar who had done most to make materials available, and indeed who continues to hold the palm, not only for this but in the incredible accuracy of his work, is Constantin Tischendorf (1815–74). This man spent his entire life, one might suppose, either in a library or on his way to the next. When he had exhausted Europe, he moved on to Asia. In his youth he transcribed the difficult fifth-century palimpsest in Paris, Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus, thus making more of its text certain and available. This work remains the primary source for its citation. In his Monumenta Sacra Inedita, and in many other productions, Tischendorf edited many of the principal early sources for the New Testament. He also produced critical editions of both the Old and the New Testament in Greek, of the latter in Latin, and of other texts. But his name is above all associated (to his honour and his discredit) with one manuscript. It was in the monastery of St Catherine on Mt Sinai that, in 1844, he was shown leaves of a magnificent codex which, as it transpired, contained the entire Bible and had been produced in the mid-fourth century. Thus of a stature and age comparable to Codex Vaticanus, though of a poorer textual quality, it was close enough to it to add great weight to the belief that this text was much better than any other available. Tischendorf's role in subsequent events, including the removal of part of this manuscript to Leipzig, and part to St Petersburg (whence it came to London in 1933) does not place him in the best possible light. But the use which he made of it testifies to his unparalleled abilities as a collector of evidence. In his eighth and last edition of the Greek New Testament (1869–72) Tischendorf provided the fullest apparatus criticus of the New Testament until then available. The text is too partial to his beloved Codex Sinaiticus to be of value, but the apparatus is still to be consulted frequently and carefully by anyone conducting a serious investigation into textual evidence.

Mary Evans Picture Library.

B. F. Westcott (1825–1901) and F. J. A. Hort (1828–92) in their epoch-making The New Testament in the Original Greek followed as far as was possible the recognition of the superiority of one manuscript. Just as it had been found that the Alexandrian text-type was superior in quality to the others, so it had emerged that one manuscript of this type was of matchless quality. Codex Vaticanus, fully available in a bad transcription (Cardinal Mai's) since 1857, in a better one (Tischendorf's) since 1867, and in a third competent one of 1868, formed the foundation of Westcott and Hort's text, and Codex Sinaiticus was its main supporter.

Curiously enough, although its recognition came so late, Codex Vaticanus had always been known. It first appears in modern times in a late fifteenth-century catalogue of the Vatican Library. Its omission of the passage in 1 John which had proved so vexatious to Erasmus was reported to him as early as 1521. An edition of the Septuagint based upon it was published in 1587. It was collated a number of times in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. After the transcriptions mentioned above, a photographic edition of the whole Bible was produced in 1889–90, and ones of the New Testament in 1904, 1965 (the latter on the occasion of the Second Vatican Council), and 2000. Copied towards the middle of the fourth century, this magnificent copy of the entire Bible (though it lacks the books of the Maccabees, and the end is missing, so that we do not know whether it ever contained Revelation) shows both consistency of spelling and accuracy of copying, and a quality in the text thus carefully reproduced. It is thus possible to conclude that this text is the product of a tradition of scholarly copying. Tending towards brevity rather than expansion both in details and in larger blocks of text, its virtues struck Westcott and Hort so forcibly that they allocated it and one other manuscript to their ‘Neutral’ text-type, a phrase indicating that, unlike the other types, it had not been subject to revision.

Alpine Club Library.

The period in which Westcott and Hort worked coincided with a revision of the Authorized Version. While some of the purpose was to bring the Bible into more modern English, there were also those who wanted a translation derived from a better Greek text. The two editors were themselves also revisers, and their up-to-date opinions were available to the committee. But some of their opponents, defenders of the traditional Received Text, were also present, and did not always lose the day. But in many ways the Revised Version, though a failure as a piece of English literature, popularized the revolution in textual criticism which Westcott and Hort embodied.

Their edition consisted of a volume of text, and a volume of introduction. There was no apparatus criticus. This economy of presentation might mask the degree of hard work that had led to it: two centuries of struggle against the received text, of travel from library to library, of learning ancient tongues in order to study the versions, of reading church Fathers in search of biblical quotations. The lists of manuscripts known at particular periods provide a pointer to the vast expansion of information available to the scholar. We saw that fifteen were cited by Stephanus. Mill's edition refers to nearly 100, and Wettstein's to about 220. About a thousand manuscripts were known at the beginning of Tischendorf's career, and three times that number fifty years later. C. R. Gregory's list of 1908, which set out the numbering system in use today, contained 4,000. That has been extended today past the five and a half thousand mark.

By permission of the British Library.

To a certain extent the work was cumulative. The discovery of a new manuscript led to an assessment of its readings, the comparison of this new evidence with existing knowledge, and a tentative conclusion. But in fact much of the work has had to be done again and again. Many early editions of the church Fathers were as corrupt as the received text was for the New Testament. The tendency was always for copyists of patristic texts to substitute their familiar scriptural texts for those older forms known to the Fathers, so these citations were particularly liable to corruption. Each new and better edition required a fresh examination of the biblical quotations. Moreover, standards of accuracy improved, and collations became more complete. Earlier editions cited only selected readings from a manuscript. Increasing scientific accuracy required the inclusion of all a manuscript's readings. Several ways were developed of providing the necessary information.

The most prodigal of space was to print a complete transcription of a manuscript. Properly effected, this would preserve the line endings of the manuscript, show any corrections as exactly as possible as they appeared, include any marginalia, and describe all secondary hands and indicate by which hand each correction or marginal note was made. This method requires particularly high accuracy, since the whole manuscript has to be copied out by hand, and then typeset. By the middle of the nineteenth century most of the major witnesses had been made available to research in this way. Some of the finest editions are those in specially cut founts imitating the scribe's hand. Since then, photographic reproduction has to some extent supplanted the transcription. But while it can generally reproduce better, it cannot interpret, and for a number of manuscripts one continues to consult the views of those who spent months or even years in the scribe's company. Palimpsests (manuscripts which have been reused by erasing the original text and writing over it) are also sometimes as hard or harder to read in facsimile than they are in the flesh, particularly since the nineteenth-century habit of treating the parchment with chemical to bring up the original ink has generally left a veneer impenetrable to every colour of light in the spectrum. More economical than the transcription and the reproduction is the collation. Many witnesses have been made available in this way, and the results subsequently incorporated into editions. The provision of the evidence of a version is harder. Few editors of the Greek New Testament are going to be perfectly fluent in every necessary language, so the original may not help. But putting it into Greek will require great caution. In many places, it will be uncertain which of several Greek readings the version favours, and in others its idiosyncrasy may be due to the translator or even to the language, and so silence is best. The same silence is necessary where a patristic text is concerned. The Father may have quoted wrongly from memory, or if he is preaching may have paraphrased the text in order to emphasize a point.

Thus the situation stood in the beginning of the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The materials had apparently been gathered, and the evidence analysed, and The New Testament in the Original Greek represented the pinnacle of achievement. Of course, not everyone thought so, and the Received Text continued to have its defenders. Indeed, it still does (the support is universally amongst conservative scholars, many of whom adhere to it on doctrinal grounds, principally that Providence could not have left the church so long without the pure Word). But the twentieth century has proved as exciting a period as the nineteenth. Tischendorf would have been delighted to have lived in it.

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