New Testament Manuscript Trove Being Prepared for Study

(Hat tip: Chris Tilling over at Chrisendom)

The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) has been working for a while now at a (currently) undisclosed location photographing a trove of NT manuscripts for study. Having returned with a terabyte of data, the Center is preparing its first press release for media dispersion later this week. [Update, Feb 7: turns out it'll be next week sometime. Since it's for "perfectly legitimate reasons" which members of the CSNTM cannot comment on at the moment, my guess is that someone discovered an inaccuracy in the original PR material and wanted to get that fixed. Update, Feb 12: PR team still delaying, though the reason is not "bad at all". May mean they have news about a publication deal being done they want to include.]

The release will apparently be titled "Scholars Find Treasure Trove of Early New Testament Manuscripts", but this is not really very accurate according to Dan Wallace (one of the CSNTM team), who blogs on the topic here. Only one or maybe two texts could strictly be called early; and many of the 47 photographed manuscripts were already known to Western scholars. (So try to ignore the marketing blather.) Even so, Dan is quite excited about a GosJohn text, though until the press release is sent out he won't be able to say exactly why.

As Dan points out, however, it is possible to detect possible earlier strata by comparing deviations of a text to a solid known exemplar. Work has already been begun last autumn by Dallas Seminary students in doing this kind of subtractio princeps collation on some of the texts, producing a critical apparatus which only includes portions different from the exemplar (the relatively late Byzantine text in this case.) By comparing the results with taxonomic results elsewhere, likelihoods of earlier readings can be gauged.

So, even though only one or two of the texts may be properly called early, it isn't impossible to find evidence of earlier text forms in later documents by this method.

In any case, I would expect a new version of the Nestle/Aland to be commissioned (the critical apparatus which lists all known variants in the texts--um, is it still called the Nestle/Aland?); and depending on the various results, possibly a new version of the UBS, too. (The UBS and the N/A report the same reconstruction, but the UBS only mentions possibly notable variants rather than all known variants. The UBS's idea of what counts as possibly notable is usually pretty trivial, though. Nothing against the UBS on that, it's just a characteristic of most variants: the vast majority are completely unremarkable, and a good majority of the remainder are almost completely unremarkable. {g})

When-if-ever I hear more news on this, I'll redate and update. Textual geeks will be hyper about this (and rightly so), but I doubt it'll make much significant difference to non-specialists.


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