Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Galen's Rules of Textual Alteration

While reading through Eric W. Scherbenske's "Canonizing Paul: Ancient Editorial Practice and the Corpus Paulinum," I came across a fascinating discussion over Galen's (129 - 216 CE) scholarship on the text of the Hippocratic corpus. In the midst of analyzing the textual work and editions of two former Hippocratic scholars who were active in the first part of the second century, Galen wrote;
"A second book written in place of one formerly written is said to be revised (επιδιεσκευασθαι), when it has the same 'hypothesis' (υποθεσις) and most of the same words; some (of the words) taken out from the former work; some added; some altered. If you want an example of this for the sake of clarity, you have the second Autolycus of Eupolis revised from the former. Thus the doctors from Cnidus published the second 'Cnidian Opinions' in place of the former ones; some having the same in every way; but some added; some taken away; just as some altered. This then is the second book of Hippocrates which they say is more medical than the former." (Hipp. vict. acut. 120.5-14; Scherbenske's translation)
Galen sets limits on the amount of textual tampering an ancient Hippocratic scholar should perform on the text by defining an 'edition' of an ancient work. The original author's "hypothesis," that is, the foundational concept or idea written by the author (in this case, Hippocrates), should not be altered in any way. When a scholar in Galen's time was preparing an edition of an ancient work, the scholar was "revising" the text when it had the same "hypothesis" and "most of the same words." These words could be altered, however, by the scholar, as long as "most of the same words' were retained.

A similar mentality can be detected in much of the transmission history of the New Testament writings, especially the Gospels. Michael W. Holmes noted that the fluidity of movement in the words at the sentence or verse level in the manuscript tradition is "remarkable." Despite this, the overall structure of the Gospels in the manuscript tradition is very stable. Holmes wrote;

"No matter how fluid the text of a particular verse or episode maybe, the overall narrative structure is extremely stable. The circumstances of Luke and Acts are very similar to those of Matthew, John, and Mark. In short, a very high percentage of the variation evident in the text of the Four Gospels and Acts affects a verse or less of the text. On this level, the fluidity of wording within a verse, sentence, or paragraph is sometimes remarkable. At the same time, however, in terms of overall structure, arrangement, and content, these five documents are remarkably stable. They display simultaneously, in other words, what one may term micro level fluidity and macro level stability." (Holmes, 674)
It seems then, that as in the case of Galen's criteria, the overall "hypothesis" of the Gospels remains unaltered. The wording of the Gospels was merely shifted and the order of words altered slightly, with some words added and removed. Perhaps Galen's understanding of textual alteration and "edition" was more widely held by scribes in the ancient and medieval world.

Estoire del Saint Graal, France (Royal MS 14 E III c. 1315 – 1325 AD)

Holmes, Michael W. “From ‘Original Text’ to ‘Initial Text’: The Traditional Goal of New Testament Textual Criticism in Contemporary Discussion.” Pages 637-681 in The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis. Second Edition. Edited by Bart D. Ehrman and Michael W. Holmes. New Testament, Tools, Studies and Documents 42. Leiden: Brill, 2013.

Scherbenske, Eric W. Canonizing Paul: Ancient Editorial Practice and the Corpus Paulinum (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 39.

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