The 1997 publication of the Editio critica maior of James by the Institute for New Testament Textual Research (INTF) set a new standard in New Testament text-critical studies. Over the next eight years, fascicles on 1–2 Peter, 1–2–3 John, and Jude appeared. These eight paperback volumes collectively are known as the ECM1 or first edition of the Catholic Letters in the Editio critica maior series. Now, eight years after the last fascicle, the second edition of the ECM has appeared as two cloth volumes.
The ECM stands behind the Nestle-Aland 28th edition of the Novum Testamentum Graece. That pocket edition of the Greek New Testament had only 34 changes in the text from NA27, all in the Catholic Epistles.
In the introduction to the ECM2 the claim is made that this set “provides the full range of resources necessary for scholarly research in establishing the text and reconstructing the history of the New Testament text during its first thousand years” (21*). The data examined were select Greek manuscripts, all Greek Fathers up to John Damascene, and the three major versions (Latin, Coptic, Syriac) as well as selections from the Armenian, Georgian, Old Church Slavonic, and Ethiopic versions.
The claim of ECM2 to recording “all the variants” found in the selected Greek manuscripts requires some nuancing, however. There are eight exceptions to this all-inclusive claim. First, only 180 of the 522 continuous text “complete manuscripts and larger fragments” are included, along with ∏100, ∏125, and 0316; those witnesses that agree with the majority text at least 90% of the time in 98 test passages were excluded. Second, of the nearly 400 lectionaries that include readings from the General Letters, only 21 were examined for the whole corpus. Third, variants are considered distinct from errors, the latter being those readings that are neither “grammatically correct” nor “logically possible” (26*). These were not included. Fourth, orthographical differences involving moveable nu and moveable sigma were not recorded. Fifth, all Greek Fathers up to the time of John of Damascus (7th/8th century) were examined, along with Photius (d. 891) and Arethas of Caesarea (9th/10th century). But here, readings “attested exclusively by a [Greek] Father [i.e., not found in any Greek manuscripts] are only rarely recorded” (23*). Sixth, the secondary versional witnesses are not always cited because of the lack of critical editions. Seventh, non-Greek Fathers “are only cited rarely because the significance of their relationship to the Greek text is doubly secondary” (23*). Finally, many manuscripts have text that is partially or completely illegible.
What the introduction does not mention is why these manuscripts are, at times, illegible. From an examination both of the Text und Textwert series and of the microfilms at the INTF in Münster, the reason becomes obvious: the microfilms of many of the manuscripts are simply inadequate. To be sure, some manuscripts are illegible because of damage to the text (such as from vermin, water, or having been scraped and written over [palimpsests]), but the great majority of illegible places are due to the limitations of microfilm photography. Hundreds of New Testament manuscripts have now been digitized by various institutes, especially by the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. And in almost every case, the digital image is significantly easier to read than the actual page, and exponentially easier than a microfilm image. But with well over 5000 Greek New Testament manuscripts extant, it will take many years before all are digitized. When that is accomplished, no doubt the INTF will revise the ECM and include the readings of many more witnesses.
As a sidenote, what these eight exceptions to “all the variants” indicate is that it is impossible to determine how many variants there are for the Catholic Epistles, let alone extrapolate how many there are for the entire New Testament. Thus, although the number of variants for James in the ECM2 comes to 1713, how many more textual differences exist is impossible to tell. These 1713 variants bear virtually a one-to-one ratio to words in James. The best estimate today is that approximately 400,000 variants exist in the extant witnesses for the New Testament. That comes out to more than 2.5 variants per word. Except for the Apocalypse, the Catholic Epistles are the most poorly attested corpus within the New Testament. Thus, even if 1713 variants were the total extant variants for James, one could not use this letter—or the Catholic Epistles in general—to extrapolate the total number of variants for the New Testament.
There are several invaluable features of ECM2. First is the clear layout of variants with their witnesses. Second, the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method or CBGM, developed by Gerd Mink, provides a genealogy of readings for the corpus. This was refined after the first volume (James) appeared, resulting in three more textual changes from the first edition of ECM, making a total of five changes from the text of NA27. CBGM is an exciting and somewhat confusing development in textual studies; assessments are just now being published. Third, a logical change in the presentation of the witnesses was incorporated: Instead of the order Greek manuscripts, versions, Fathers, now the order is Greek manuscripts, Greek Fathers, versions, (select) versional Fathers. What makes this logical—and long overdue—is the fact that there is very little difference between a Greek manuscript with commentary and a patristic commentary with Greek text. All too frequently, initial decisions about the identity of a newly-discovered manuscript have been overturned after further reflection on whether such a manuscript is a Greek text with commentary or a commentary with Greek text. The difference, at times, is rather slight. To list the Greek Fathers immediately after the Greek manuscripts is a welcome change to what is still, curiously enough, found in the NA28 apparatus. The ECM2 has given Greek Fathers their rightful place in the order of witnesses. Fourth, in 43 instances the editors could not decide between two readings. In such places, the editors have listed both readings in the text between vertical lines, with one reading above the other, to indicate that a decision as to the original wording could not be reached. For example, in James 1:22 both movnon ajkroatai and ajkroatai; movnon are listed as the text reading. Fifth, the ECM2 does indeed achieve its claim of “establishing the text and reconstructing the history of the New Testament text during its first thousand years” (21*).
One other aspect of ECM2 is worthy of mention. In recent years, New Testament textual criticism has undergone some radical changes. Chief among them is what the goal of the discipline should be. Several scholars now argue that attempts to get back to the original wording of the New Testament are either futile or less important than other objectives. Some now speak of an “initial text” or Ausgangstext, by which they mean the archetypal text from which all manuscripts are ultimately derived but which is different from the original text. The ECM2 also uses this terminology, but they mean the original or autographic text (30*)—that is, the text as it was dispatched by the author. Although they do not claim absolute certainty about achieving this goal, they admirably argue that this is what New Testament textual criticism should primarily be attempting.
There are some minor irritations, chiefly flip-flops between British and American spelling and hyphenation. But, as has come to be expected, a scholarly work produced by the INTF is, on the whole, remarkably free from errors.
Overall, the ECM2 is a most welcome, even essential, addition to the toolkit of those who are serious about the text and transmission of the Catholic Epistles. We look forward to the completion of this series for the rest of the New Testament.
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