10 October 2022


What is "Textual Criticism,"?  I thought I'd offer a few words about what that term means ... because, in my bitter experience, even very well-informed people often misunderstand it. You can even find the term misunderstood in otherwise respectable books.

Textual Criticism does not mean commenting on a text; going deeply into its meaning; explaining to people who don't understand it what the author was getting at; still less does it mean criticising it in the sense of explaining why it's wrong! 


Textual Criticism means this: -

Pre-modern and early modern editions of an ancient text rarely give us that text as it sprang like Athene straight from the head of its author. Almost invariably, a text has been transmitted by scribal copying, during which changes will have been made. Sometimes these changes are mistakes (like leaving out a line in error); sometimes they are intentional (I can improve that; or He can't really have meant that; or I think I'll bring this verse of S Mark into line with the parallel passage in S Matthew; or This is in rather awful Greek ... I'd better correct it ...etc. ad infinitum). So you will find that no two manuscripts are entirely the same.

Textual Criticism means using very many different skills to try to get back, from the available copies, to what the author actually did write. Although ... many of us now doubt whether the 'original text' really is always (even in principle) ascertainable, because in the Ancient World at least some sorts of texts existed fluidly rather than statically (a bit like your favourite Cookery Book in your kitchen, where, over the passing years, you have entered in some of your own discoveries ... changed the quantities here ... extended the cooking times because of the idiosyncrasies of your own oven ... written in a new recipe there ...). 

Shakespearian scholars among you will know that, even after the invention of printing, Textual Criticism still cannot be avoided, because the questions of 'Actors' copies', modified within the actual process of dramatic production, and of 'pirated' editions, published from a shorthand copy, muddy the waters. 

And have you ever looked at the Oxford Edition of Wordsworth? Phew!!

Talk about "fluid texts"!!!

The Authentic Magisterium of the Catholic Church has, for millennia, cheerfully accepted and employed Textual Criticism; perhaps most notably when S Jerome and, later, Roman Pontiffs were working on the Vulgate ... compare the 1590 Vulgate of pope Sixtus V; and the later Vulgate of pope Clement VIII ... which itself appeared in no fewer than three editions! Likewise, when S Pius V had the Missale Romanum revised ...

So it's Megauntraddy to be suspicious of Textual Criticism!

That doesn't mean that it's OK to behave like PF, and to monkey around with any bit of Scripture that doesn't fit ones own current personal fads.  

That is arrogant ultrahyperueberpapalist Bergoglianity.


Paul in Melbourne, Australia said...

I love your reference to "to bright-eyed Tritogeneia", or Ἀθηνᾶ, Father. Some of the hymns are inspiring, especially Pindar.

I find it so sad that the meaning of πειρασμόν, and the origin of the English word "temptation" and the Hebrew מַסָּה has been lost, so the Holy Father appears to have assumed that the Lord's Prayer required improvement. It is perfectly intolerable that there was no one in the Vatican who could explain this to the Holy Father.

Moritz Gruber said...

A nice example from rather very modern times is that in almost every written copy of the lyrics of the great song "Leaving on a Jetplane", the verse is: "I'll bring you a wedding ring" or something to the effect.

This is wrong; the only right from is, of course, "I'll wear your wedding ring". Sometimes the book is wrong, and texts are sometimes fluid even today.

william arthurs said...

Paul Maas's book Textual Criticism (1958) I remember as being a great introduction to this subject, I lost my copy when I moved house. Maybe interesting only to classicists, the late Hugh Lloyd-Jones's entertaining memories of Maas.

Anonymous said...

what is the difference between texcrit and text proofing Father?

Peter said...

A E Housman had a nice definition, that textual criticism is the science of detecting error in a text, and the art of removing it.

william arthurs said...

@Peter, Housman's wit and wisdom on the subject of textual criticism is showcased in A E Housman Classical Scholar, ed. Butterfield and Stray (Duckworth 2009).

Jared Olar said...

Regarding the difference in lyrics in "Leaving on a Jetplane," that isn't an error at all. John Denver wrote and sang it as "I'll bring your wedding ring," because he was singing it as a man going to propose to his lady. But it was Peter, Paul & Mary who first covered his song and made it famous -- and in their version, Mary is singing as a woman speaking to her lord, so she altered the lyric to "I'll wear your wedding ring." Because, of course, it is the man's duty and role to propose and to offer a ring to the woman, not the other way around.

So, both versions of the lyric are correct, depending on if the singer is a man or a woman.

In the same way, it is often that case that two different biblical textual variants, or even two different recensions of a book, are both correct, both the divinely inspired and inerrant Word of the Lord. Eastern Catholic tradition uses the short recension of Jeremiah (from the Septuagint) while Western Catholic tradition uses the long recension (from the proto-Masoretic). Which recension is correct? Both are -- they both come to us from God by way of Jeremiah and his amanuensis Baruch, and the later scribes and copyists of Israel and the Church.