Saturday, September 13, 2014

Eusebius and New Testament Textual Corruption: Part 2

I posted a link to one of my recent posts over on the New Testament Textual Criticism Facebook page and received a lengthy and engaging response that required more detail than a comment on Facebook would allow. I dealt with the first discussion in the previous post and more discussion followed in response to this post. I now hope to engage with the first point concerning textual corruptions. In a following post I will address the issue of Eusebius and the canonicity of certain books of the New Testament and the nature of the Cesarean library.

It is a true that there is no way to verify that Eusebius was recounting the story of Asclepiodotus and Theodotus correctly, we have to take his word on this, just as we do with all of his other quotations. I do not see why we should doubt that Eusebius is not accurately quoting the source. For example, most scholars take his quotation (Hist. eccl. 3:39.1-3; 15-16) from Papias’ “The Sayings of the Lord” seriously and these fragments are given in critical editions of the Apostolic Fathers (i.e. Holmes). Even if this account is fictional, it is representative of real occurrences that are known from the second century, such as the allegations against Marcion, that theologically motivated textual changes were being made. Deliberate corruptions often occurred during the process of transmitting,
circulating, and publishing ancient works.
In the case of Asclepiodotus and Theodotus recounted by Eusebius, I am not sure why we should not expect that there would have been no way to check these readings. Asclepiodotus and Theodotus had to get their exemplars of scripture from somewhere, those who lent them their bookrolls (or more likely codices) of the New Testament writings would know that these individuals changed the text (majorly) from the exemplars they loaned them, perhaps even years after they were loaned as the following example will illustrate. 
William Johnson in his work Readers and Reading Culture, drew attention to a group of bookrolls of classical texts from Roman Oxyrhynchus that contained marginal notations attributing different readings to different scholars (p.185-190; see especially the appendix p.193-199 for a list of bookrolls). One example Johnson noted on page 189, a marginal note in POxy 24.2387;
"This [passage] is wrongly inserted in copies [also in the] fifth (book), and in that book it was bracketed [in] Aristonicus's copy, but was left unbracketed in Ptolemy's."
This bears witness to a book-culture in which differing readings were attributed to different schools/scholars. I find it interesting that differing readings were marked by various notations, the "chi" being one of them. I am not suggesting that Christians necessarily treated their manuscripts in the same "scholarly" fashion, Christians had a different social view of reading than the Greco-Roman culture, and because of this Christian manuscripts were much more "serviceable" with a view to "practicality." However, there were some early Christians that did show a concern and care for their texts (Clement of Alexandria, Origen, etc). P66 shows some "diplai" in the text which may have been used to indicate differing readings (see Brice Jones' blog article). It is not unusual then to assume that the changes made by Asclepiodotus and Theodotus would have gone unnoticed/unchecked by the larger Christian community.
Antiquity and early Christianity are replete with references to situations where corruptions in the texts of works occurred and were noticed. These were corrected by either the author (re)producing an authorial copy, or reproducing/rewriting the text and re-circulating it (see Gamble, Books and Readers, 118-119).
Quintilian in the preface to his Institutes of Oratory wrote;
"I have been all the more desirous of so doing [writing this work on oratory] because two books on the art of rhetoric are at present circulating under my name, although never published by me or composed for such a purpose. One is a two days' lecture which was taken down by the boys who were my audience. The other consists of such notes as my good pupils succeeded in taking down from a course of lectures on a somewhat more extensive scale. I appreciate their kindness, but they showed an excess of enthusiasm and a certain lack of discretion in doing my utterances the honour of publication. Consequently in the present work although some passages remain the same, you will find many alterations and still more additions, while the whole theme will be treated with greater system and with as great perfection as lies within my power." (Inst. Or. 1. pr. 7-8)
Quintilian knew of these inferior texts because they were circulating within a community, his community. This problem of inferior texts circulating also plagued Christian writers as well. Tertullian wrote in his Adversus Marcionem,
"I am embarking upon a new work to replace an old one. My first edition, too hurriedly produced, I afterwards withdrew, substituting a fuller treatment. This also, before enough copies had been made, was stolen from me by a person, at that time a Christian but afterwards an apostate, who chanced to have copied out some extracts very incorrectly, and shewed them to group of people. Hence the need for correction. The opportunity provided by this revision has moved me to make some additions. Thus this written work, a third succeeding a second, and instead of third from now on the first, needs to begin by reporting the demise of the work it supersedes, so that no one may be perplexed if in one place or another he comes across varying forms of it." (Adv. Marc. 1.1)
 There was very little that could be done in the case of corrupted texts. When writing to his brother Quintus, Cicero wrote 
“As to the Latin books, I don't know which way to turn—they are copied and exposed for sale with such a quantity of errors!” (Cic. Quint. 3.6). 
The only recourse an ancient author had was to re-publish the text and notify those within the social networks that a newer/better text was being released for circulation in hopes that this new edition would supplant the inferior copies that were circulating. And this could only be done if those within the social-circle willingly desired to obtain a copy of this new work. In other words, it was through sheer popularity and demand that the new edition would out-do, so to speak, older or corrupted editions. I will come back to this fact of ancient publication practices in the next post, when addressing the issue of Eusebius and the canonicity of certain books. The important thing to note here is that (major) changes in a text were noticed
Early Christian writings were produced and circulated within social networks and the work of authors only gained popularity through word of mouth. Early Christianity evidences lively interaction even as early as the first century. We see Paul (or at least the first century Pauline school) alluding to this in Col 4:16 (see earlier post) and even expecting it. Clement of Rome wrote to Corinth because he had heard of their circumstances (all the way across the Adriatic) which required his interaction and communication thus occasioning the letter (see 1 Clem. 63:3-4, 65:1). Ignatius wrote to churches along his route to Rome and these in-turn interacted with each other (Phil. 11.2, Smyr. 12.1). Polycarp wrote to Philippi in answer to their request and appended copies of Ignatius’ letters within a short amount of time after Ignatius passed through the area (Poly. Phil. 13:1-2). At the end of the martyrdom of Polycarp we see a series of colophons attesting to sources from which copies of the martyrology were obtained which reveal a community of Christians circulating and interchanging literature (see Kim Haines-Eitzen discussing this in Guardians of Letters, 80-81). When the Shepherd of Hermas was written in the mid second century it was already being quoted by Irenaeus in 180, Clement ca. 200 and copies of it are located all the way across the Mediterranean in Egypt by the end of the second century (Kim Haines-Eitzen Guardians of Letters, 77). This reveals a rapid interchange within the earliest segments of Christianity. These same channels would facilitate the ability to retrieve copies of early Christian literature, ideas, doctrine, theology, and make MAJOR changes in the text of manuscripts known. It is because there was such an interchange of Christians in the first two centuries of the Christan era that Michael Holmes can write of a "macrolevel stability" with a "microlevel fluidity" of the New Testament text (Holmes, From Original Text to Initial Text, 674).
Coupled with this, there is evidence, though scant, of some churches, even smaller provincial congregations, having a collection of writings at their disposal (see Gamble, Books and Readers, 198-202). It appears that this account concerning Asclepiodotus and Theodotus occurred in Rome ca. 198-217 (Haines-Eitzen, Gaurdians of Letters, 37). Origen wrote that Celsus, the second century philosopher who was an ardent critic of Christianity, obtained copies of at least Matthew and very likely the other gospels as well (Origen Contra Celsum 2.34; C. E. Hill, Who Chose the Gospels?, 155-157). And from the perspective of Celsus, these gospels were being read by a large majority of Christians in Rome, he called them the "Great Church" (Origen Contra Celsum, 5.59).
 I will end with this caveat. When I say "major changes" to the text, I am using as a definition the description Michael Holmes gave after summarizing the textual evidence of the four gospels and Acts,
"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 microlevel fluidity and macrolevel stability."
(Holmes, From Original Text to Initial Text, 674).
Because of the "serviceability" of  early Christian manuscripts, it is understandable that "microlevel" variation would occur, but any "macrolevel" alterations to the text, "in terms of overall structure," these levels of changes would have more than likely been noticed. But Christians would have been powerless to control these corruptions. The only way would be through that of consensus, in which the larger social network of Christians would only wish to copy the "best" manuscripts, or at the very least, those with not "macrolevel" (i.e. major) alterations.
There is very little else I can say, except for expounding on what I have already said, to make the case that larger corruptions would have been noticed in the text. Therefore I will not respond to further queries in this regard. I hope to address the issues of Eusebius and the canonicity of some books in the near future.
Eusebius and New Testament Textual Corruption (Part 1)

Eusebius and New Testament Textual Corription: Part 3

The above are in response to these previous posts

Asclepiodotus and Theodotus, the Banker: 'Corruptors' of Scripture 

A Riot in the North African Church! Augustine on Jerome's Translation of the Bible


Gamble, Harry Y. Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995.

Haines-Eitzen, Kim. Guardians of Letters Literacy, Power and the Transmitters of Early Christian Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Hill, C. E. Who Chose the Gospels? Probing the Great Gospel Conspiracy. New York City: Oxford University Press, 2010.
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.
Johnson, William A. Readers and Reading Culture in the High Roman Empire: A Study of Elite Communities. Edited by Joseph Farrell and Robin Osborne. Classic Culture and Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

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