The Full Wiki

More info on Textual criticism

Textual criticism: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Carmina Cantabrigiensia, Manuscript C, folio 436v, 11th century

Textual criticism (or lower criticism) is a branch of literary criticism that is concerned with the identification and removal of transcription errors in the texts of manuscripts. Ancient scribes made errors or alterations when copying manuscripts by hand.[1] Given a manuscript copy, several or many copies, but not the original document, the textual critic seeks to reconstruct the original text (the archetype or autograph) as closely as possible. The same processes can be used to attempt to reconstruct intermediate editions, or recensions, of a document's transcription history.[2] The ultimate objective of the textual critic's work is the production of a "critical edition" containing a text most closely approximating the original.

There are three fundamental approaches to textual criticism: eclecticism, stemmatics, and copy-text editing. Techniques from the biological discipline of cladistics are currently also being used to determine the relationships between manuscripts.

The phrase lower criticism is used to describe the contrast between textual criticism and "higher" criticism, which is the endeavor to establish the authorship, date, and place of composition of the original text.



Textual criticism has been practiced for over two thousand years.[citation needed] Early textual critics were concerned with preserving the works of antiquity, and this continued through the medieval period into early modern times until the invention of the printing press.

Many ancient works, such as the Bible and the Greek tragedies, survive in hundreds of copies, and the relationship of each copy to the original may be unclear. Textual scholars have debated for centuries which sources are most closely derived from the original, hence which readings in those sources are correct. Although biblical books that are letters, like Greek plays, presumably had one original, the question of whether some biblical books, like the gospels, ever had just one original has been discussed.[3] Interest in applying textual criticism to the Qur'an has also developed after the discovery of the Sana'a manuscripts in 1972, which possibly date back to the 7-8th century.

In the English language, the works of Shakespeare have been a particularly fertile ground for textual criticism—both because the texts, as transmitted, contain a considerable amount of variation, and because the effort and expense of producing superior editions of his works have always been widely viewed as worthwhile.[4] The principles of textual criticism, although originally developed and refined for works of antiquity, the Bible, and Shakespeare,[5] have been applied to many works, extending backwards from the present to the earliest known written documents, in Mesopotamia and Egypt—a period of about five millennia.

Basic notions and objectives

The basic problem, as described by Paul Maas, is as follows:

"We have no autograph manuscripts of the Greek and Roman classical writers and no copies which have been collated with the originals; the manuscripts we possess derive from the originals through an unknown number of intermediate copies, and are consequentially of questionable trustworthiness. The business of textual criticism is to produce a text as close as possible to the original (constitutio textus)." [6]

Maas comments further that "A dictation revised by the author must be regarded as equivalent to an autograph manuscript". The lack of autograph manuscripts applies to many cultures other than Greek and Roman. In such a situation, a key objective becomes the identification of the first exemplar before any split in the tradition. That exemplar is known as the archetype. "If we succeed in establishing the text of [the archetype], the contitutio (reconstruction of the original) is considerably advanced.[7]

The textual critic's ultimate objective is the production of a "critical edition".[citation needed] This contains a text most closely approximating the original, which is accompanied by an apparatus criticus (or critical apparatus) that presents:

  • the evidence that the editor considered (names of manuscripts, or abbreviations called sigla),
  • the editor's analysis of that evidence (sometimes a simple likelihood rating),[citation needed] and
  • a record of rejected variants (often in order of preference).[citation needed][8]


Folio from Papyrus 46, containing 2 Corinthians 11:33–12:9

Before mechanical printing, literature was copied by hand, and many variations were introduced by copyists. The age of printing made the scribal profession effectively redundant. Printed editions, while less susceptible to the proliferation of variations likely to arise during manual transmission, are nonetheless not immune to introducing variations from an author's autograph. Instead of a scribe miscopying his source, a compositor or a printing shop may read or typeset a work in a way that differs from the autograph.[9] Since each scribe or printer commits different errors, reconstruction of the lost original is often aided by a selection of readings taken from many sources. An edited text that draws from multiple sources is said to be eclectic. In contrast to this approach, some textual critics prefer to identify the single best surviving text, and not to combine readings from multiple sources.[10]

When comparing different documents, or "witnesses", of a single, original text, the observed differences are called variant readings, or simply variants or readings. It is not always apparent which single variant represents the author's original work. The process of textual criticism seeks to explain how each variant may have entered the text, either by accident (duplication or omission) or intention (harmonization or censorship), as scribes or supervisors transmitted the original author's text by copying it. The textual critic's task, therefore, is to sort through the variants, eliminating those most likely to be un-original, hence establishing a "critical text", or critical edition, that is intended to best approximate the original. At the same time, the critical text should document variant readings, so the relation of extant witnesses to the reconstructed original is apparent to a reader of the critical edition. In establishing the critical text, the textual critic considers both "external" evidence (the age, provenance, and affiliation of each witness) and "internal" or "physical" considerations (what the author and scribes, or printers, were likely to have done).[3]

The collation of all known variants of a text is referred to as a variorum, namely a work of textual criticism whereby all variations and emendations are set side by side so that a reader can track how textual decisions have been made in the preparation of a text for publication.[11] The Bible and the works of William Shakespeare have often been the subjects of variorum editions, although the same techniques have been applied with less frequency to many other works, such as Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass,[12] and the prose writings of Edward Fitzgerald.[13]


Eclecticism refers to the practice of consulting a wide diversity of witnesses to a particular original. The practice is based on the principle that the more independent transmission histories are, the less likely they will be to reproduce the same errors. What one omits, the others may retain; what one adds, the others are unlikely to add. Eclecticism allows inferences to be drawn regarding the original text, based on the evidence of contrasts between witnesses.

Eclectic readings also normally give an impression of the number of witnesses to each available reading. Although a reading supported by the majority of witnesses is frequently preferred, this does not follow automatically. For example, a second edition of a Shakespeare play may include an addition alluding to an event known to have happened between the two editions. Although nearly all subsequent manuscripts may have included the addition, textual critics may reconstruct the original without the addition.

The result of the process is a text with readings drawn from many witnesses. It is not a copy of any particular manuscript, and may deviate from the majority of existing manuscripts. In a purely eclectic approach, no single witness is theoretically favored. Instead, the critic forms opinions about individual witnesses, relying on both external and internal evidence.[14]

Since the mid-19th century, eclecticism, in which there is no a priori bias to a single manuscript, has been the dominant method of editing the Greek text of the New Testament (currently, the United Bible Society, 4th ed. and Nestle-Aland, 27th ed.). Even so, the oldest manuscripts, being of the Alexandrian text-type, are the most favored, and the critical text has an Alexandrian disposition.[15]


External evidence

External evidence is evidence of each physical witness, its date, source, and relationship to other known witnesses. Critics will often prefer the readings supported by the oldest witnesses. Since errors tend to accumulate, older manuscripts should have fewer errors. Readings supported by a majority of witnesses are also usually preferred, since these are less likely to reflect accidents or individual biases. For the same reasons, the most geographically diverse witnesses are preferred. Some manuscripts show evidence that particular care was taken in their composition, for example, by including alternative readings in their margins, demonstrating that more than one prior copy (exemplar) was consulted in producing the current one. Other factors being equal, these are the best witnesses.

There are many other more sophisticated considerations. For example, readings that depart from the known practice of a scribe or a given period may be deemed more reliable, since a scribe is unlikely on his own initiative to have departed from the usual practice.[16]

Internal evidence

Internal evidence is evidence that comes from the text itself, independent of the physical characteristics of the document. Various considerations can be used to decide which reading is the most likely to be original. Sometimes these considerations can be in conflict.[16]

Two common considerations have the Latin names lectio brevior (shorter reading) and lectio difficilior (more difficult reading). The first is the general observation that scribes tended to add words, for clarification or out of habit, more often than they removed them. The second, lectio difficilior potior (the harder reading is stronger), recognizes the tendency for harmonization—resolving apparent inconsistencies in the text. Applying this principle leads to taking the more difficult (unharmonized) reading as being more likely to be the original. Such cases also include scribes simplifying and smoothing texts they did not fully understand.[17]

Another scribal tendency is called homoioteleuton, meaning "same endings". Homoioteleuton occurs when two words/phrases/lines end with the same sequence of letters. The scribe, having finished copying the first, skips to the second, omitting all intervening words. Homeoarchy refers to eye-skip when the beginnings of two lines are similar.[citation needed]

The critic may also examine the other writings of the author to decide what words and grammatical constructions match his style. The evaluation of internal evidence also provides the critic with information that helps him evaluate the reliability of individual manuscripts. Thus, the consideration of internal and external evidence is related.[citation needed]

After considering all relevant factors, the textual critic seeks the reading that best explains how the other readings would arise. That reading is then the most likely candidate to have been original.[citation needed]

Canons of textual criticism

Various scholars have developed guidelines, or canons of textual criticism, to guide the exercise of the critic's judgment in determining the best readings of a text. One of the earliest was Johann Albrecht Bengel (1687–1752), who in 1734 produced an edition of the Greek New Testament. In his commentary, he established the rule Proclivi scriptioni praestat ardua, ("the harder reading is to be preferred") [18]

Johann Jakob Griesbach (1745–1812) published several editions of the New Testament. In his 1796 edition, he established fifteen critical rules. Among them was a variant of Bengel's rule, Lectio difficilior potior, "the harder reading is better." Another was Lectio brevior praeferenda, "the shorter reading is better", based on the idea that scribes were more likely to add than to delete.[19] This rule cannot be applied uncritically, as scribes may omit material inadvertently.

Brooke Foss Westcott (1825–1901) and Fenton J. A. Hort (1828–1892) published an edition of the New Testament in 1881. They proposed nine critical rules, including a version of Bengel's rule, "The reading is less likely to be original that shows a disposition to smooth away difficulties." They also argued that "Readings are approved or rejected by reason of the quality, and not the number, of their supporting witnesses", and that "The reading is to be preferred that most fitly explains the existence of the others."[20]

Many of these rules, although originally developed for biblical textual criticism, have wide applicability to any text susceptible to errors of transmission.

Limitations of eclecticism

Since the canons of criticism are highly susceptible to interpretation, and at times even contradict each other, they can often be employed to justify any result that fits the textual critic's aesthetic or theological agenda. Starting in the nineteenth century, scholars sought more rigorous methods to guide editorial judgment. Best-text editing (a complete rejection of eclecticism) became one extreme. Stemmatics and copy-text editing – while both eclectic, in that they permit the editor to select readings from multiple sources – sought to reduce subjectivity by establishing one or a few witnesses presumably as being favored by "objective" criteria.[citation needed]



Stemmatics or stemmatology is a rigorous approach to textual criticism. Karl Lachmann (1793–1851) greatly contributed to making this method famous, even though he did not invent it (see Timpanaro, The genesis of Lachmann's method). The method takes its name from the stemma, "family tree", which shows the relationships of the surviving witnesses. The family tree is also referred to as a cladorama.[21] The method works from the principle that "community of error implies community of origin." That is, if two witnesses have a number of errors in common, it may be presumed that they were derived from a common intermediate source, called a hyparchetype. Relations between the lost intermediates are determined by the same process, placing all extant manuscripts in a family tree or stemma codicum descended from a single archetype. The process of constructing the stemma is called recension, or the Latin recensio.[22]

Having completed the stemma, the critic proceeds to the next step, called selection or selectio, where the text of the archetype is determined by examining variants from the closest hyparchetypes to the archetype and selecting the best ones. If one reading occurs more often than another at the same level of the tree, then the dominant reading is selected. If two competing readings occur equally often, then the editor uses his judgment to select the correct reading.[23]

After selectio, the text may still contain errors, since there may be passages where no source preserves the correct reading. The step of examination, or examinatio is applied to find corruptions. Where the editor concludes that the text is corrupt, it is corrected by a process called "emendation", or emendatio (also sometimes called divinatio). Emendations not supported by any known source are sometimes called conjectural emendations.[24]

The process of selectio resembles eclectic textual criticism, but applied to a restricted set of hypothetical hyparchetypes. The steps of examinatio and emendatio resemble copy-text editing. In fact, the other techniques can be seen as special cases of stemmatics in which a rigorous family history of the text cannot be determined but only approximated. If it seems that one manuscript is by far the best text, then copy text editing is appropriate, and if it seems that a group of manuscripts are good, then eclecticism on that group would be proper.[3]

The Hodges-Farstad edition of the Greek New Testament attempts to use stemmatics for some portions.[4]

Limitations and criticism

The stemmatic method assumes that each witness is derived from one, and only one, predecessor. If a scribe refers to more than one source when creating his copy, then the new copy will not clearly fall into a single branch of the family tree. In the stemmatic method, a manuscript that is derived from more than one source is said to be contaminated.

The method also assumes that scribes only make new errors – they do not attempt to correct the errors of their predecessors. When a text has been improved by the scribe, it is said to be sophisticated, but "sophistication" impairs the method by obscuring a document's relationship to other witnesses, and making it more difficult to place the manuscript correctly in the stemma.

The stemmatic method requires the textual critic to group manuscripts by commonality of error. It is required, therefore, that the critic can distinguish erroneous readings from correct ones. This assumption has often come under attack. W. W. Greg noted, "That if a scribe makes a mistake he will inevitably produce nonsense is the tacit and wholly unwarranted assumption."[25]

Franz Anton Knittel defended tradition point of view in theology and was against the modern textual criticism. He defended an authenticity of the Pericopa Adulterae (John 7:53-8:11), Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7), and Testimonium Flavianum. According to him Erasmus in his Novum Instrumentum omne did not incorporate the Comma from Codex Montfortianus, because of grammar differences, but used Complutensian Polyglotta. According to him the Comma was known for Tertullian.[26]

The critic Joseph Bédier (1864–1938) launched a particularly withering attack on stemmatics in 1928. He surveyed editions of medieval French texts that were produced with the stemmatic method, and found that textual critics tended overwhelmingly to produce trees divided into just two branches. He concluded that this outcome was unlikely to have occurred by chance, and that therefore, the method was tending to produce bipartite stemmas regardless of the actual history of the witnesses. He suspected that editors tended to favor trees with two branches, as this would maximize the opportunities for editorial judgment (as there would be no third branch to "break the tie" whenever the witnesses disagreed). He also noted that, for many works, more than one reasonable stemma could be postulated, suggesting that the method was not as rigorous or as scientific as its proponents had claimed.

The stemmatic method's final step is emendatio, also sometimes referred to as "conjectural emendation." But in fact, the critic employs conjecture at every step of the process. Some of the method's rules that are designed to reduce the exercise of editorial judgment do not necessarily produce the correct result. For example, where there are more than two witnesses at the same level of the tree, normally the critic will select the dominant reading. However, it may be no more than fortuitous that more witnesses have survived that present a particular reading. A plausible reading that occurs less often may, nevertheless, be the correct one.[27]

Lastly, the stemmatic method assumes that every extant witness is derived, however remotely, from a single source. It does not account for the possibility that the original author may have revised his work, and that the text could have existed at different times in more than one authoritative version.

Copy-text editing

A page from Codex Vaticanus Graecus 1209 shows a medieval scribe (the marginal note between columns one and two) criticizing a predecessor for changing the text: "Fool and knave, leave the old reading, don't change it!"[28]

When copy-text editing, the scholar fixes errors in a base text, often with the help of other witnesses. Often, the base text is selected from the oldest manuscript of the text, but in the early days of printing, the copy text was often a manuscript that was at hand.

Using the copy-text method, the critic examines the base text and makes corrections (called emendations) in places where the base text appears wrong to the critic. This can be done by looking for places in the base text that do not make sense or by looking at the text of other witnesses for a superior reading. Close-call decisions are usually resolved in favor of the copy-text.

The first published, printed edition of the Greek New Testament was produced by this method. Erasmus, the editor, selected a manuscript from the local Dominican monastery in Basle and corrected its obvious errors by consulting other local manuscripts. The Westcott and Hort text, which was the basis for the Revised Version of the English bible, also used the copy-text method, using the Codex Vaticanus as the base manuscript.[29]

McKerrow's concept of copy-text

The bibliographer Ronald B. McKerrow introduced the term copy-text in his 1904 edition of the works of Thomas Nashe, defining it as "the text used in each particular case as the basis of mine." McKerrow was aware of the limitations of the stemmatic method, and believed it was more prudent to choose one particular text that was thought to be particularly reliable, and then to emend it only where the text was obviously corrupt. The French critic Joseph Bédier likewise became disenchanted with the stemmatic method, and concluded that the editor should choose the best available text, and emend it as little as possible.

In McKerrow's method as originally introduced, the copy-text was not necessarily the earliest text. In some cases, McKerrow would choose a later witness, noting that "if an editor has reason to suppose that a certain text embodies later corrections than any other, and at the same time has no ground for disbelieving that these corrections, or some of them at least, are the work of the author, he has no choice but to make that text the basis of his reprint."[30]

By 1939, in his Prolegomena for the Oxford Shakespeare, McKerrow had changed his mind about this approach, as he feared that a later edition – even if it contained authorial corrections – would "deviate more widely than the earliest print from the author's original manuscript." He therefore concluded that the correct procedure would be "produced by using the earliest "good" print as copy-text and inserting into it, from the first edition which contains them, such corrections as appear to us to be derived from the author." But, fearing the arbitrary exercise of editorial judgment, McKerrow stated that, having concluded that a later edition had substantive revisions attributable to the author, "we must accept all the alterations of that edition, saving any which seem obvious blunders or misprints."[31]

W. W. Greg's rationale of copy-text

Anglo-American textual criticism in the last half of the twentieth century came to be dominated by a landmark 1950 essay by Sir Walter W. Greg, "The Rationale of Copy-Text". Greg proposed:

[A] distinction between the significant, or as I shall call them 'substantive', readings of the text, those namely that affect the author's meaning or the essence of his expression, and others, such in general as spelling, punctuation, word-division, and the like, affecting mainly its formal presentation, which may be regarded as the accidents, or as I shall call them 'accidentals', of the text.[32]

Greg observed that compositors at printing shops tended to follow the "substantive" readings of their copy faithfully, except when they deviated unintentionally; but that "as regards accidentals they will normally follow their own habits or inclination, though they may, for various reasons and to varying degrees, be influenced by their copy."[33]

He concluded:

The true theory is, I contend, that the copy-text should govern (generally) in the matter of accidentals, but that the choice between substantive readings belongs to the general theory of textual criticism and lies altogether beyond the narrow principle of the copy-text. Thus it may happen that in a critical edition the text rightly chosen as copy may not by any means be the one that supplies most substantive readings in cases of variation. The failure to make this distinction and to apply this principle has naturally led to too close and too general a reliance upon the text chosen as basis for an edition, and there has arisen what may be called the tyranny of the copy-text, a tyranny that has, in my opinion, vitiated much of the best editorial work of the past generation.[34]

Greg's view, in short, was that the "copy-text can be allowed no over-riding or even preponderant authority so far as substantive readings are concerned." The choice between reasonable competing readings, he said:

[W]ill be determined partly by the opinion the editor may form respecting the nature of the copy from which each substantive edition was printed, which is a matter of external authority; partly by the intrinsic authority of the several texts as judged by the relative frequency of manifest errors therein; and partly by the editor's judgment of the intrinsic claims of individual readings to originality — in other words their intrinsic merit, so long as by 'merit' we mean the likelihood of their being what the author wrote rather than their appeal to the individual taste of the editor.[35]

Although Greg argued that an editor should be free to use his judgment to choose between competing substantive readings, he suggested that an editor should defer to the copy-text when "the claims of two readings ... appear to be exactly balanced. ... In such a case, while there can be no logical reason for giving preference to the copy-text, in practice, if there is no reason for altering its reading, the obvious thing seems to be to let it stand."[36] The "exactly balanced" variants are said to be indifferent.

Editors who follow Greg's rationale produce eclectic editions, in that the authority for the "accidentals" is derived from one particular source (usually the earliest one) that the editor considers to be authoritative, but the authority for the "substantives" is determined in each individual case according to the editor's judgment. The resulting text, except for the accidentals, is constructed without relying predominantly on any one witness.


W. W. Greg did not live long enough to apply his rationale of copy-text to any actual editions of works. His rationale was adopted and significantly expanded by Fredson Bowers (1905–1991). Starting in the 1970s, G. Thomas Tanselle (1934–) vigorously took up the method's defense and added significant contributions of his own. Greg's rationale as practiced by Bowers and Tanselle has come to be known as the "Greg–Bowers" or the "Greg–Bowers–Tanselle" method.

Application to works of all periods

In his 1964 essay, "Some Principles for Scholarly Editions of Nineteenth-Century American Authors", Bowers said that "the theory of copy-text proposed by Sir Walter Greg rules supreme".[37] Bowers's assertion of "supremacy" was in contrast to Greg's more modest claim that "My desire is rather to provoke discussion than to lay down the law".[38]

Whereas Greg had limited his illustrative examples to English Renaissance drama, where his expertise lay, Bowers argued that the rationale was "the most workable editorial principle yet contrived to produce a critical text that is authoritative in the maximum of its details whether the author be Shakespeare, Dryden, Fielding, Nathaniel Hawthorne, or Stephen Crane. The principle is sound without regard for the literary period."[39] For works where an author's manuscript survived – a case Greg had not considered – Bowers concluded that the manuscript should generally serve as copy-text. Citing the example of Nathaniel Hawthorne, he noted:

When an author's manuscript is preserved, this has paramount authority, of course. Yet the fallacy is still maintained that since the first edition was proofread by the author, it must represent his final intentions and hence should be chosen as copy-text. Practical experience shows the contrary. When one collates the manuscript of The House of the Seven Gables against the first printed edition, one finds an average of ten to fifteen differences per page between the manuscript and the print, many of them consistent alterations from the manuscript system of punctuation, capitalization, spelling, and word-division. It would be ridiculous to argue that Hawthorne made approximately three to four thousand small changes in proof, and then wrote the manuscript of The Blithedale Romance according to the same system as the manuscript of the Seven Gables, a system that he had rejected in proof.[40]

Following Greg, the editor would then replace any of the manuscript readings with substantives from printed editions that could be reliably attributed to the author: "Obviously, an editor cannot simply reprint the manuscript, and he must substitute for its readings any words that he believes Hawthorne changed in proof.[40]

Uninfluenced final authorial intention

McKerrow had articulated textual criticism's goal in terms of "our ideal of an author's fair copy of his work in its final state".[41] Bowers asserted that editions founded on Greg's method would "represent the nearest approximation in every respect of the author's final intentions."[42] Bowers stated similarly that the editor's task is to "approximate as nearly as possible an inferential authorial fair copy."[43] Tanselle notes that, "Textual criticism ... has generally been undertaken with a view to reconstructing, as accurately as possible, the text finally intended by the author".[44]

Bowers and Tanselle argue for rejecting textual variants that an author inserted at the suggestion of others. Bowers said that his edition of Stephen Crane's first novel, Maggie, presented "the author's final and uninfluenced artistic intentions."[45] In his writings, Tanselle refers to "unconstrained authorial intention" or "an author's uninfluenced intentions."[46] This marks a departure from Greg, who had merely suggested that the editor inquire whether a later reading "is one that the author can reasonably be supposed to have substituted for the former",[47] not implying any further inquiry as to why the author had made the change.

Tanselle discusses the example of Herman Melville's Typee. After the novel's initial publication, Melville's publisher asked him to soften the novel's criticisms of missionaries in the South Seas. Although Melville pronounced the changes an improvement, Tanselle rejected them in his edition, concluding that "there is no evidence, internal or external, to suggest that they are the kinds of changes Melville would have made without pressure from someone else."[48]

Bowers confronted a similar problem in his edition of Maggie. Crane originally printed the novel privately in 1893. To secure commercial publication in 1896, Crane agreed to remove profanity, but he also made stylistic revisions. Bowers's approach was to preserve the stylistic and literary changes of 1896, but to revert to the 1893 readings where he believed that Crane was fulfilling the publisher's intention rather than his own. There were, however, intermediate cases that could reasonably have been attributed to either intention, and some of Bowers's choices came under fire – both as to his judgment, and as to the wisdom of conflating readings from the two different versions of Maggie.[49]

Hans Zeller argued that it is impossible to tease apart the changes Crane made for literary reasons and those made at the publisher's insistence:

Firstly, in anticipation of the character of the expected censorship, Crane could be led to undertake alterations which also had literary value in the context of the new version. Secondly, because of the systematic character of the work, purely censorial alterations sparked off further alterations, determined at this stage by literary considerations. Again in consequence of the systemic character of the work, the contamination of the two historical versions in the edited text gives rise to a third version. Though the editor may indeed give a rational account of his decision at each point on the basis of the documents, nevertheless to aim to produce the ideal text which Crane would have produced in 1896 if the publisher had left him complete freedom is to my mind just as unhistorical as the question of how the first World War or the history of the United States would have developed if Germany had not caused the USA to enter the war in 1917 by unlimited submarine combat. The nonspecific form of censorship described above is one of the historical conditions under which Crane wrote the second version of Maggie and made it function. From the text which arose in this way it is not possible to subtract these forces and influences, in order to obtain a text of the author's own. Indeed I regard the "uninfluenced artistic intentions" of the author as something which exists only in terms of aesthetic abstraction. Between influences on the author and influences on the text are all manner of transitions.[50]

Bowers and Tanselle recognize that texts often exist in more than one authoritative version. Tanselle argues that:

[T]wo types of revision must be distinguished: that which aims at altering the purpose, direction, or character of a work, thus attempting to make a different sort of work out of it; and that which aims at intensifying, refining, or improving the work as then conceived (whether or not it succeeds in doing so), thus altering the work in degree but not in kind. If one may think of a work in terms of a spatial metaphor, the first might be labeled "vertical revision," because it moves the work to a different plane, and the second "horizontal revision," because it involves alterations within the same plane. Both produce local changes in active intention; but revisions of the first type appear to be in fulfillment of an altered programmatic intention or to reflect an altered active intention in the work as a whole, whereas those of the second do not.[51]

He suggests that where a revision is "horizontal" (i.e., aimed at improving the work as originally conceived), then the editor should adopt the author's later version. But where a revision is "vertical" (i.e., fundamentally altering the work's intention as a whole), then the revision should be treated as a new work, and edited separately on its own terms.

Format for apparatus

Bowers was also influential in defining the form of critical apparatus that should accompany a scholarly edition. In addition to the content of the apparatus, Bowers led a movement to relegate editorial matter to appendices, leaving the critically-established text "in the clear", that is, free of any signs of editorial intervention. Tanselle explained the rationale for this approach:

In the first place, an editor's primary responsibility is to establish a text; whether his goal is to reconstruct that form of the text which represents the author's final intention or some other form of the text, his essential task is to produce a reliable text according to some set of principles. Relegating all editorial matter to an appendix and allowing the text to stand by itself serves to emphasize the primacy of the text and permits the reader to confront the literary work without the distraction of editorial comment and to read the work with ease. A second advantage of a clear text is that it is easier to quote from or to reprint. Although no device can insure accuracy of quotation, the insertion of symbols (or even footnote numbers) into a text places additional difficulties in the way of the quoter. Furthermore, most quotations appear in contexts where symbols are inappropriate; thus when it is necessary to quote from a text which has not been kept clear of apparatus, the burden of producing a clear text of the passage is placed on the quoter. Even footnotes at the bottom of the text pages are open to the same objection, when the question of a photographic reprint arises.[52]

Some critics believe that a clear-text edition gives the edited text too great a prominence, relegating textual variants to appendices that are difficult to use, and suggesting a greater sense of certainty about the established text than it deserves. As Shillingsburg notes, "English scholarly editions have tended to use notes at the foot of the text page, indicating, tacitly, a greater modesty about the "established" text and drawing attention more forcibly to at least some of the alternative forms of the text".[53]

The MLA's CEAA and CSE

In 1963, the Modern Language Association of America (MLA) established the Center for Editions of American Authors (CEAA). The CEAA's Statement of Editorial Principles and Procedures, first published in 1967, adopted the Greg–Bowers rationale in full. A CEAA examiner would inspect each edition, and only those meeting the requirements would receive a seal denoting "An Approved Text."

Between 1966 and 1975, the Center allocated more than $1.5 million in funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities to various scholarly editing projects, which were required to follow the guidelines (including the structure of editorial apparatus) as Bowers had defined them.[54] According to Davis, the funds coordinated by the CEAA over the same period were more than $6 million, counting funding from universities, university presses, and other bodies.[55]

The Center for Scholarly Editions (CSE) replaced the CEAA in 1976. The change of name indicated the shift to a broader agenda than just American authors. The Center also ceased its role in the allocation of funds. The Center's latest guidelines (2003) no longer prescribe a particular editorial procedure.[56]


Canterbury Tales, Woodcut 1484

Cladistics is a technique borrowed from biology, where it was originally named phylogenetic systematics by Willi Hennig. In biology, the technique is used to determine the evolutionary relationships between different species.[57] In its application in textual criticism, the text of a number of different manuscripts is entered into a computer, which records all the differences between them. The manuscripts are then grouped according to their shared characteristics. The difference between cladistics and more traditional forms of statistical analysis is that, rather than simply arranging the manuscripts into rough groupings according to their overall similarity, cladistics assumes that they are part of a branching family tree and uses that assumption to derive relationships between them. This makes it more like an automated approach to stemmatics. However, where there is a difference, the computer does not attempt to decide which reading is closer to the original text, and so does not indicate which branch of the tree is the "root"—which manuscript tradition is closest to the original. Other types of evidence must be used for that purpose.

The major theoretical problem with applying cladistics to textual criticism is that cladistics assumes that, once a branching has occurred in the family tree, the two branches cannot rejoin; so all similarities can be taken as evidence of common ancestry. While this assumption is applicable to the evolution of living creatures, it is not always true of manuscript traditions, since a scribe can work from two different manuscripts at once, producing a new copy with characteristics of both.

Nonetheless, software developed for use in biology has been applied with some success to textual criticism; for example, it is being used by the Canterbury Tales Project to determine the relationship between the 84 surviving manuscripts and four early printed editions of the Canterbury Tales.

Application of textual criticism to religious documents

All texts are subject to investigation and systematic criticism where the original verified first document is not available. Believers in sacred texts and scriptures sometimes are reluctant to accept any form of challenge to what they believe to be divine revelation. Some opponents and polemicists may look for any way to find fault with a particular religious text. Legitimate textual criticism may be resisted by both believers and skeptics.


Muslims consider the original Arabic text to be the final revelation, revealed to Muhammad from AD 610 to his death in 632. In Islamic tradition, the Qur'an was memorised and written down by Muhammad's companions and copied as needed.

However, it is well known to scholars that: "written versions vary enormously in materials, format and aspect". [58][59]

In the 1970s, 14,000 fragments of Qur'an were discovered in an old mosque in Sanaa, the Sana'a manuscripts. About 12,000 fragments belonged to 926 copies of the Qur'an, the other 2,000 were loose fragments. The oldest known copy of the Qur'an so far belongs to this collection: it dates to the end of the 7th-8th century. The important find uncovered many textual variants not known from the canonical 7 (or 10 or 14) texts. However, the latter claim of variants being not from the canonical 7 cannot be demonstrated as the only known version of the Qur'an has been the current form, accepted as the Uthmani recension, with wall inscriptions of certain verses dating further back than the Sana'a manuscripts mirroring the current content.[citation needed] In effect the San'aa manuscripts could just as easily fall into one of the oral traditions of the known Ahruf or dialect of the Quran as preserved by Ali or Ibn Masud. Additionally, the examination of the texts yielded a demonstration that the textual difficulties pointed towards a very strong oral tradition which would be indicative of the manuscript being written in the Qiraat or recitation style of the author - a phenomenon already seen in older inscriptions and wall markings.[citation needed]

The examination of Gerd R. Puin who led the restoration project revealed, "unconventional verse orderings, minor textual variations, and rare styles of orthography and artistic embellishment."[60] Recent authors have also proposed that the Koran may have been written in Arabic-Syriac. [61]

Effectively, textual criticism of the Qur'an as extant today is still an ongoing effort as current critiques have still fallen short of conclusively demonstrating any variant outside the already known sphere of Islamic narratives.

Book of Mormon

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints includes the Book of Mormon as a foundational reference. Some LDS members believe the book to be a literal historical record, while others believe it is pure fiction rather than historical writing.

Hebrew Bible

11th century manuscript of the Hebrew Bible with Targum
A page from the Aleppo Codex, Deuteronomy.

Textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible compares manuscript versions of the following sources (dates refer to the oldest extant manuscripts in each family):

Manuscript Examples Language Date of Composition Oldest Copy
Dead Sea Scrolls Tanakh at Qumran Hebrew, Paleo Hebrew and Greek(Septuagint) c. 150 BCE - 70 CE c. 150 BCE - 70 CE
Septuagint Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus and other earlier papyri Greek 300-100 BCE 2nd century BCE(fragments)
4th century CE(complete)
Peshitta Syriac early 5th century CE
Vulgate Latin early 5th century CE
Masoretic Aleppo Codex, Leningrad Codex and other incomplete mss Hebrew ca. 100 CE 10th century CE
Samaritan Pentateuch Samaritan alphabet 200-100 BCE Oldest extant mss c.11th century CE, oldest mss available to scholars 16th century CE
Targum Aramaic 500-1000 CE 5th century CE

Given the sacred nature of the Hebrew Bible in Judaism, those unaware of the details dealt with in textual criticism might think that there are no corruptions in the text, since these texts were meticulously transmitted and written. And yet, as in the New Testament, in particular in the Masoretic texts, changes, corruptions, and erasures have been found. This is ascribed to the fact that early soferim (scribes) did not treat the text with the reverence given to it later on.[62]

New Testament

The New Testament has been preserved in more than 5,800 Greek manuscripts, 10,000 Latin manuscripts and 9,300 manuscripts in various other ancient languages including Syriac, Slavic, Ethiopic and Armenian. The sheer number of witnesses presents unique difficulties, chiefly in that it makes stemmatics impractical. Consequently, New Testament textual critics have adopted eclecticism after sorting the witnesses into three major groups, called text-types. The most common division today is as follows:

Text type Date Characteristics Bible version
The Alexandrian text-type
(also called Minority Text)
2nd-4th century CE This family constitutes a group of early and well-regarded texts, including Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus. Most of this tradition appear to come from around Alexandria, Egypt. It contains readings that are often terse, shorter, somewhat rough, less harmonised, and generally more difficult. The family was once thought to be a very carefully edited third century recension but now is believed to be merely the result of a carefully controlled and supervised process of copying and transmission. It underlies most modern translations of the New Testament. NIV, NAB, TNIV, NASB, RSV, ESV, EBR, NWT, LB, ASV, NC, GNB
The Western text-type 3rd-9th century CE This is also very early and comes from a wide geographical area stretching from North Africa to Italy from Gaul to Syria. It is found in Greek manuscripts and in the Latin translations used by the Western church. It is much less controlled than the Alexandrian family and its witnesses are seen to be more prone to paraphrase and other corruptions. Vetus Latina
The Byzantine text-type
(also called Majority Text)
5th-16th century CE This is a group of around 80% of all manuscripts, the majority of which are comparatively very late in the tradition. It had become dominant at Constantinople from the 5th century on and was used throughout the Byzantine church. It contains the most harmonistic readings, paraphrasing and significant additions, most of which are believed to be secondary readings. It underlies the Textus Receptus used for most Reformation-era translations of the New Testament. KJV, NKJV, Tyndale, Coverdale, Geneva, Bishops' Bible, Douay-Rheims, JB, NJB, OSB

Alexandrian text versus Byzantine text

Codex Vaticanus is a primary witness to the Alexandrian text type
Byzantine illuminated manuscript, 1020

The New Testament portion of the English translation known as the King James Version was based on the Textus Receptus, a Greek text prepared by Erasmus based on a few late medieval Greek manuscripts of the Byzantine text-type (1, 1rK, 2e, 2ap, 4, 7, 817).[63] For some books of the Bible, Erasmus used just single manuscripts, and for small sections made his own translations into Greek from the Vulgate.[64] However, following Westcott and Hort, most modern New Testament textual critics have concluded that the Byzantine text-type was formalised at a later date than the Alexandrian and Western text-types. Among the other types, the Alexandrian text-type is viewed as more pure than the Western and Byzantine text-types, and so one of the central tenets of current New Testament textual criticism is that one should follow the readings of the Alexandrian texts unless those of the other types are clearly superior. Most modern New Testament translations now use an Eclectic Greek text (UBS4 and NA 27) that is closest to the Alexandrian text-type. The United Bible Societies's Greek New Testament (UBS4) and Nestle Aland (NA 27) are accepted by most of the academic community as the best attempt at reconstructing the original texts of the Greek NT.[65]

A minority position represented by The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text edition by Zane C. Hodges and Arthur L. Farstad argues that the Byzantine text-type represents an earlier text-type than the surviving Alexandrian texts. This position is also held by Maurice A. Robinson and William G. Pierpont in their The New Testament in the Original Greek: Byzantine Textform, and the King James Only Movement. The argument states that the far greater number of surviving later Byzantine manuscripts implies an equivalent preponderance of Byzantine texts amongst lost earlier manuscripts; and hence that a critical reconstruction of the predominant text of the Byzantine tradition would have a superior claim to being closest to the autographs.

Another position is that of the Neo-Byzantine School. The Neo-Byzantines (or new Byzantines) of the 16th and 17th centuries first formally compiled the New Testament Received Text under such textual analysts as Erasmus, Stephanus, Beza, and Elzevir. The early 21st century saw the rise of the first textual analyst of this school in over three centuries with Gavin McGrath (b. 1960). A religiously conservative Protestant from Australia, his Neo-Byzantine School principles maintain that the representative or majority Byzantine text such as compiled by Hodges & Farstad (1985) or Robinson & Pierpont (2005) is to be upheld unless there is a "clear and obvious" textual problem with it. When this occurs, he adopts either a minority Byzantine reading, a Latin text reading, or a church writer reading (if so, usually an ancient church writer). The Neo-Byzantine School considers that the doctrine of the Divine Preservation of Scripture means that God preserved the Byzantine Greek manuscripts, Latin manuscripts, and Greek and Latin church writers citations of Scripture over time and through time. These are regarded as "a closed class of sources" i.e., non-Byzantine Greek manuscripts such as the Alexandrian texts, or manuscripts in other languages such as Armenian, Syriac, or Ethiopian, are regarded as "outside the closed class of sources" providentially protected over time, and so not used to compose the New Testament text. Other scholars have criticized the current categorization of manuscripts into text-types and prefer either to subdivide the manuscripts in other ways or to discard the text-type taxonomy.

Textual criticism is also used by those who assert that the New Testament was written in Aramaic (see Aramaic primacy).[66]


In attempting to determine the original text of the New Testament books, some modern textual critics have identified sections as interpolations. In modern translations of the Bible such as the New International Version, the results of textual criticism have led to certain verses, words and phrases being left out or marked as not original. Previously, translations of the New Testament such as the King James Version had mostly been based on Erasmus's redaction of the New Testament in Greek, the Textus Receptus from the 1500s based on later manuscripts.

According to Bart D. Ehrman, "These scribal additions are often found in late medieval manuscripts of the New Testament, but not in the manuscripts of the earlier centuries," he adds. And because the King James Bible is based on later manuscripts, such verses "became part of the Bible tradition in English-speaking lands."[67]

Most modern Bibles have footnotes to indicate areas which have disputed source documents. Bible Commentaries also discuss these, sometimes in great detail.

These possible later additions include the following:[68][69]

Other disputed NT Passages
  • Opinions are divided on whether Jesus is referred to as "unique Son" or "unique God", in John 1:18[69]
  • 1 Corinthians 14:33-35. Some scholars regard the instruction for women to be silent in churches as a later, non-Pauline addition to the Letter, more in keeping with the viewpoint of the Pastoral Epistles (see 1 Tim 2.11-12; Titus 2.5) than of the certainly Pauline Epistles. A few manuscripts place these verses after 40[70]

It is also worthy to note that various groups of highly conservative Christians believe that when Ps.12:6-7 speaks of the preservation of the words of God, that this nullifies the need for textual criticism, lower, and higher. Such people include Gail Riplinger, Peter Ruckman, and others. Many theological organisations, societies, newsletters, and churches also hold to this belief, including "AV Publications", Sword of The LORD Newsletter, The Antioch Bible Society <> , and others. On the other hand, Reformation biblical scholars such as Martin Luther saw the academic analysis of biblical texts and their provenance as entirely in line with orthodox Christian faith. Many of these men called themselves Christian humanists, precisely because textual criticism (usually of biblical texts) lay at the heart of their work.

Classical texts

While textual criticism developed into a discipline of thorough analysis of the Bible — both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament — scholars also use it to determine the original content of classic texts, such as Plato's Republic.[71] There are far fewer witnesses to classical texts than to the Bible, so scholars can use stemmatics and, in some cases, copy text editing. However, unlike the New Testament where the earliest witnesses are within 200 years of the original, the earliest existing manuscripts of most classical texts were written about a millennium after their composition. Other things being equal, textual scholars expect that a larger time gap between an original and a manuscript means more changes in the text.

See also


Critical editions

Hebrew Bible
New Testament
Critical Translations
  • The Comprehensive New Testament - standardardized Nestle-Aland 27 edition[72]



  1. ^ Ehrman 2005, p. 46
  2. ^ Vincent. A History of the Textual Criticism of the New Testament
    "... that process which it sought to determine the original text of a document or a collection of documents, and to exhibit, freed from all the errors, corruptions, and variations which may have been accumulated in the course of its transcription by successive copying."
  3. ^ a b Tanselle, (1989) A Rationale of Textual Criticism'
  4. ^ Jarvis 1995, pp. 1–17
  5. ^ Montgomery 1997
  6. ^ Maas P. 1958. Textual criticism. Oxford. p1
  7. ^ Maas 1958, p2–3.
  8. ^ "The apparatus criticus is placed underneath the text simply on account of bookprinting conditions and in particular of the format of modern books. The practice in ancient and medieval manuscripts of using the outer margin for this purpose makes for far greater clarity." Maas 1958, pp. 22–3.
  9. ^ Gaskell, 1978
  10. ^ Greetham 1999, p. 40
    "Tanselle thus combines an Aristotelian praktike, a rigorous account of the phenomenology of text, with a deep Platonic suspicion of this phenomenology, and of the concrete world of experience (see my ' Materiality' for further discussion). For him—and, I would contend, for the idealist, or 'eclectic' editing with which he and Greg-Bowers are often identified, whereby an idealist 'text that never was' is constructed out of the corrupt states of extant documents—ontology is only immanent, never assuredly present in historical, particularized text, for it can be achieved only at the unattainable level of nous rather than phenomenon. Thus, even the high aims of eclectic (or, as it is sometimes known, 'critical') editing can be called into question, because of the unsure phenomenological status of the documentary and historical."
  11. ^ McGann 1992, p. xviiii
  12. ^ Bradley 1990
  13. ^ Bentham, Gosse 1902
  14. ^ Comfort, Comfort 2005, p. 383
  15. ^ Aland, B. 1994, p. 138
  16. ^ a b Hartin, Petzer, Mannig 2001, pp. 47–53
  17. ^ Aland K., Aland, B. 1987, p. 276
  18. ^ "Critical Rules of Johann Albrecht Bengel". Retrieved 2008-05-24. 
  19. ^ "Critical Rules of Johann Albrecht Bengel". Retrieved 2008-05-24. 
    "Brevior lectio, nisi testium vetustorum et gravium auctoritate penitus destituatur, praeferenda est verbosiori. Librarii enim multo proniores ad addendum fuerunt, quam ad omittendum."
  20. ^ "Theories of Westcott and Hort". Retrieved 2008-05-24. 
    "The reading is to be preferred that makes the best sense, that is, that best conforms to the grammar and is most congruous with the purport of the rest of the sentence and of the larger context." (2.20)
  21. ^ Mulken & van Pieter 1996, p. 84
  22. ^ Wilson and Reynolds 1974, p. 186
  23. ^ Roseman 1999, p. 73
  24. ^ McCarter 1986, p. 62
  25. ^ Greg 1950, p. 20
  26. ^ Knittel, Neue Kritiken über den berühmten Sprych: Drey sind, die da zeugen im Himmel, der Vater, das Wort, und der heilige Geist, und diese drei sind eins Braunschweig 1785
  27. ^ Tov 2001, pp. 351–68
  28. ^ Ehrman 2005, p. 44.[1] See also [2].
  29. ^ Aland, Kurt; and Barbara Aland; Erroll F. Rhodes (trans.) (1995). The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. p. 236. ISBN 978-08028-4098-L. 
  30. ^ Quoted in Greg 1950, pp. 23–24
  31. ^ McKerrow 1939. pp. 17–8, quoted in Greg 1950, p. 25)
  32. ^ Greg 1950, p. 21
  33. ^ Greg 1950, p. 22
  34. ^ Greg 1950, p. 26
  35. ^ Greg 1950, p. 29
  36. ^ Greg 1950, p. 31
  37. ^ Bowers 1964, p. 224
  38. ^ Greg 1950, p. 36
  39. ^ Bowers 1973, p. 86
  40. ^ a b Bowers 1964, p. 226
  41. ^ McKerrow 1939, pp. 17–8, quoted in Bowers 1974, p. 82, n. 4
  42. ^ Bowers 1964, p. 227
  43. ^ quoted in Tanselle 1976, p. 168
  44. ^ Tanselle 1995, p. 16
  45. ^ quoted in Zeller 1975, p. 247
  46. ^ Tanselle 1986, p. 19
  47. ^ Greg 1950, p. 32
  48. ^ Tanselle 1976, p. 194
  49. ^ Davis 1977, pp. 2–3
  50. ^ Zeller 1975, pp. 247–248
  51. ^ Tanselle 1976, p. 193
  52. ^ Tanselle 1972, pp. 45–6
  53. ^ Shillingsburg 1989, p. 56, n. 8
  54. ^ Tanselle 1975, pp. 167–8
  55. ^ Davis 1977, p. 61
  56. ^ "Aims and Services of the Committee on Scholarly Editions"". The Committee on Scholarly Editions, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. Retrieved 2008-05-24. 
    "The editorial standards that form the criteria for the award of the CSE "Approved Edition" emblem can be stated here in only the most general terms, since the range of editorial work that comes within the committee's purview makes it impossible to set forth a detailed, step-by-step editorial procedure."
  57. ^ Schuh 2000, p. 7
  58. ^ Journal of Qur'anic Studies. Volume 10, Page 72-97 DOI 10.3366/E1465359109000242, e-ISSN 1465-3591
  59. ^ Transcribing God's Word: Qur'an Codices in Context - Edinburgh University Press
  60. ^ ^ a b Lester, Toby (1999) "What is the Koran?" Atlantic Monthly
  61. ^ The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran: A Contribution to the Decoding of the Language of the Koran by Christoph Luxenberg
  62. ^ Tov 2001, p. 9
  63. ^ W. W. Combs, Erasmus and the textus receptus, DBSJ 1 (Spring 1996), 45.
  64. ^ Ehrman 2005, "For the most part, he relied on a mere handful of late medieval manuscripts, which he marked up as if he were copyediting a handwritten copy for the printer. ... Erasmus relied heavily on just one twelfth-century manuscript for the Gospels and another, also of the twelfth century, for the book of Acts and the Epistles. ... For the [last six verses of the] Book of Revelation ... [he] simply took the Latin Vulgate and translated its text back into Greek. ..." (pp 78–79)
  65. ^ Encountering the Manuscripts By Philip Comfort, 102
  66. ^ Dunnett & Tenney 1985, p. 150
  67. ^ Ehrman, Bart D.. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. HarperCollins, 2005, p. 265. ISBN 978-0-06-073817-4
  68. ^ Ehrman 2006, p. 166
  69. ^ a b Bruce Metzger "A Textual Commentary on the New Testament", Second Edition, 1994, German Bible Society
  70. ^ Footnotes on 14:34-35 and 14:36 from The HarperCollins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version: A New Annotated Edition by the Society of Biblical Literature, San Francisco, 1993, page 2160. Note also that the NRSV encloses 14:33b-36 in parentheses to characterize it as a parenthetical comment that does not fit in smoothly with the surrounding texts.
  71. ^ Habib 2005, p. 239
  72. ^


Further reading

  • Epp, Eldon J., The Eclectic Method in New Testament Textual Criticism: Solution or Symptom?, The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 69, No. 3/4 (Jul. - Oct., 1976), pp. 211–257
  • Aland B., J. Delobel, New Testament Textual Criticism, Exegesis, and Early Church History, Peeters Publishers, 1994.
  • Hagen, Kenneth, The Bible in the Churches: How Various Christians Interpret the Scriptures, Marquette Studies in Theology, Vol 4; Marquette University Press, 1998, ISBN 0-874-62628-5
  • Hodges, Zane C. and Farstad, Arthur L. The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text with Apparatus, Thomas Nelson; 2nd ed edition (January 1, 1985), ISBN 0-840-74963-5
  • Housman, A. E. (1922). "The Application of Thought to Textual Criticism". Proceedings of the Classical Association 18: 67–84. Retrieved 2008-03-08. 
  • Love, Harold (1993). "section III". Scribal Publication in Seventeenth-Century England. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 
  • Komoszewski, Sawyer and Wallace, (2006), Reinventing Jesus, Kregel Publications, 2006, ISBN 978-0825429828
  • Metzger & Ehrman, (2005), The text of the New Testament, OUP, ISBN 978-0195161229
  • Schiffman, Lawrence H., Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls: The History of Judaism, the Background of Christianity, the Lost Library of Qumran; Jewish Publication Society, 1st ed. 1994, ISBN 0-827-60530-7
  • Soulen, Richard N. and Soulen, R. Kendall, Handbook of Biblical Criticism; Westminster John Knox Press; 3 edition (October 2001), ISBN 0-664-22314-1

External links



Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

The object of textual criticism is to restore as nearly as possible the original text of a work the autograph of which has been lost. In this textual criticism differs from higher criticism, whose aim is to investigate the sources of a literary work, study its composition, determine its date and trace its influence and various transformations throughout the ages.


Necessity and processes of textual criticism

Textual criticism has no application except in regard to a work whose original does not exist; for, if extant, it could easily be reproduced in photogravure, or published, once it had been correctly deciphered. But no autograph of the inspired writings has been transmitted to us, any more than have the originals of profane works of the same era. The ancients had not that superstitious veneration for original manuscripts which we have to-day. In very early times the Jews were wont to destroy the sacred books no longer in use, either by burying them with the remains of holy personages or by hiding them in what was called a ghenizah. This explains why the Hebrew Bibles are, comparatively speaking, not very ancient, although the Jews always made a practice of writing the Holy Books on skin or parchment. In the first centuries of the Christian era the Greeks and Latins generally used papyrus, a material that quickly wears out and falls to pieces. It was not until the fourth century that parchment was commonly used, and it is also from that time that our oldest manuscripts of the Septuagint and the New Testament date. Nothing short of a continuous miracle could have brought the text of the inspired writers down to us without alteration or corruption, and Divine Providence, who exercises, as it were, an economy of the supernatural, and never needlessly multiplies prodigies, did not will such a miracle. Indeed it is a material impossibility to transcribe absolutely without error the whole of a long work; and a priori one may be sure, that no two copies of the same original will be alike in every detail. A typical example of this is furnished by the Augsburg Confession, presented to the Emperor Charles V on the evening of 25 June, 1530, in both Latin and German. It was printed in September of the same year and published two months later by its author, Melanchthon; thirty-five copies of it are known to have been made in the second half of the year 1530, nine of them by signers of the Confession. But, as the two originals are lost, and the copies do not agree either with one another or with the first editions, we are not sure of having the authentic text in its minutest details. From which example it is easy to appreciate the necessity of textual criticism in the case of works so ancient and so often transcribed as the books of the Bible.

Corruptions introduced by copyists may be divided into two classes: involuntary errors, and those which are either wholly or partly intentional. To these different causes are due the observed variations between manuscripts.

Involuntary Errors

Involuntary Errors may be distinguished as those of sight, hearing, and memory, respectively. Sight readily confounds similar letters and words. Thus, as can be seen in the pictured example, similar letters are easily interchanged in square Hebrew, Greek uncial and Greek cursive writing.

When the exemplar is written stichometrically, the eye of the copyist is apt to skip one or several lines. To this class of errors belongs the very frequent phenomenon of homoeoteleuton, i.e. omission of a passage which has an ending exactly like another passage which comes next before or after it. A similar thing happens when several phrases beginning with the same words come together. Secondly, errors of hearing are of common occurrence when one writes from dictation. But even with the exemplar before him, a copyist gets into the habit of pronouncing in a low tone, or to himself, the phrase he is transcribing, and thus is likely to mistake one word for another which sounds like it. This explains numberless cases of "itacism" met with in Greek manuscripts, especially the continual interchange of hymeis and hemeis. Lastly, an error of memory occurs when, instead of writing down the passage just read to him, the copyist unconsciously substitutes some other, familiar, text which he knows by heart, or when he is influenced by the remembrance of a parallel passage. Errors of this kind are most frequent in the transcription of the Gospels.

Errors Wholly or Partly Intentional

Deliberate corruption of the Sacred Text has always been rather rare, Marcion's case being exceptional. Hort [IntroductiOn (1896), p. 282] is of the opinion that even among the unquestionably spurious readings of the New Testament there are no signs of deliberate falsification of the text for dogmatic purposes." Nevertheless it is true that the scribe often selects from various readings that which favours either his own individual opinion or the doctrine that is just then more generally accepted. It also happens that, in perfectly good faith, he changes passages which seem to him corrupt because he fails to understand them, that he adds a word which he deems necessary for the elucidation of the meaning, that he substitutes a more correct grammatical form, or what he considers a more exact expression, and that he harmonizes parallel passages. Thus it is that the shorter form of the Lord's Prayer in Luke, xi, 2-4, is in almost all Greek manuscripts lengthened out in accordance with Matthew, vi, 9-13. Most errors of this kind proceed from inserting in the text marginal notes which, in the copy to be transcribed, were but variants, explanations, parallel passages, simple remarks, or perhaps the conjectures of some studious reader. All critics have observed the predilection of copyists for the most verbose texts and their tendency to complete citations that are too brief; hence it is that an interpolation stands a far better chance of being perpetuated than an omission.

From the foregoing it is easy to understand how numerous would be the readings of a text transcribed as often as the Bible, and, as only one reading of any given passage can represent the original, it follows that all the others are necessarily faulty. Mill estimated the variants of the New Testament at 30,000, and since the discovery of so many manuscripts unknown to Mill this number has greatly increased. Of course by far the greater number of these variants are in unimportant details, as, for instance, orthographic peculiarities, inverted words, and the like. Again, many others are totally improbable, or else have such slight warrant as not to deserve even cursory notice. Hort (Introduction, 2) estimates that a reasonable doubt does not affect more than the sixtieth part of the words: "In this second estimate the proportion of comparatively trivial variations is beyond measure larger than in the former; so that the amount of what can in any sense be called substantial variation is but a small fraction of the whole residuary variation, and can hardly form more than a thousandth part of the entire text." Perhaps the same thing might be said of the Vulgate; but in regard to the primitive Hebrew text and the Septuagint version there is a great deal more doubt.

We have said that the object of textual criticism is to restore a work to what it was upon leaving the hands of its author. But it is, absolutely speaking, possible that the author himself may have issued more than one edition of his work. This hypothesis was made for Jeremias, in order to explain the differences between the Greek and Hebrew texts; for St. Luke, so as to account for the variations between the "Codex Bezæ" and other Greek manuscripts in the third Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles; and for other writers. These hypotheses may be insufficiently founded, but, as they are neither absurd nor impossible, they are not to be rejected a priori.

General principles of textual criticism

In order to re-establish a text in all its purity, or at least to eliminate as far as possible, its successive falsifications, it is necessary to consult and weigh all the evidence. And this may be divided into: external, or that furnished by documents reproducing the text in whole or in part, in the original or in a translation -- diplomatic evidence -- and internal, or that resulting from the examination of the text itself independently of its extrinsic attestation -- paradiplomatic evidence. We shall consider them separately.

External (Diplomatic) Evidence

The evidence for a work of which the original manuscript is lost is furnished by;

  1. copies, (manuscripts),
  2. versions, and
  3. quotations.

These three do not always exist simultaneously, and the order in which they are here enumerated does not indicate their relative authority.


In regard to the copies of ancient works three things are to be considered, namely:

  1. age,
  2. value, and
  3. genealogy; and we shall add a word on
  4. critical nomenclature, or notation.

Age is sometimes indicated by a note in the manuscript itself; but the date, when not suspected of falsification, may simply be transcribed from the exemplar. However, as dated manuscripts are usually not very old, recourse must be had to various palæographic indications which generally determine with sufficient accuracy the age of Greek and Latin manuscripts. Hebrew palæography, though more uncertain, presents fewer difficulties, inasmuch as Hebrew manuscripts are not so old. Besides, the exact age of a copy is, after all, only of minor importance, as it is quite possible that an ancient manuscript may be very corrupt while a later one, copied from a better exemplar, may come nearer to the primitive text. However, other things being equal, the presumption is naturally in favour of the more ancient document, since it is connected with the original by fewer intervening links and consequently has been exposed to fewer possibilities of error.


It is more important to ascertain the relative value than the age of a manuscript. Some evidences inspire but little confidence, because they have frequently been found to be defective, while others are readily accepted because critical examination has in every instance shown them to be veracious and exact. But how is the critic to discriminate? Prior to examination, the readings of a text are divided into three or four classes: the certainly or probably true, the doubtful, and the certainly or probably false. A manuscript is rated good or excellent when it presents in general true readings and contains few or none that are certainly false; under contrary conditions it is considered mediocre or worthless. Needless to add, the intrinsic excellence of a manuscript is not measured according to the greater or less care exercised by the scribes; a manuscript may teem with copyist's errors, though it be made from a very correct exemplar; and one transcribed from a defective exemplar may, considered merely as a copy, be quite faultless.


The genealogy of documents, from a critical view-point, is most interesting and important. As soon as it is proved that a manuscript, no matter what its antiquity, is simply a copy of another existing manuscript, the former should evidently disappear from the list of authorities, since its particular testimony is of no value in establishing the primitive text. This, for instance, is what happened to the "Codex Sangermanensis" (E of the Pauline Epistles) when it was proved to be a defective copy of the "Codex Claromontanus" (D of the Pauline Epistles). Now, if a text were preserved in ten manuscripts, nine of which had sprung from a common ancestor, we would not therefore have ten independent testimonies but two, as the first nine would count for only one, and could not, therefore, outweigh the tenth, unless it were shown that the common exemplar of the nine was a better one than that from which the tenth was taken. The consequences of this principle are obvious, and the advantage and necessity of grouping the testimonies for a text into families is readily understood. It might be supposed that the critic would be mainly guided in his researches by the birthplace of a manuscript; but the ancient manuscripts often travelled a great deal, and their nationality is rarely known with certainty. Thus, many are of the opinion that the Vaticanus and the Sinaiticus emanated from Cæsarea in Palestine, while others maintain that they were written in Egypt, and Hort inclines to the belief that they were copied in the West, probably in Rome (see CODEX VATICANUS; CODEX SINAITICUS). Hence the critics' chief guide in this matter should be the careful comparison of manuscripts, upon the principle that identical readings point to a common source, and when the identity between two or more manuscripts is constant -- especially in exceptional and eccentric variants -- the identity of the exemplar is established. But this investigation encounters two difficulties. A first, and a very embarrassing, complication arises from the mixture of texts. There are but few texts that are pure; that is to say, that are taken from a single exemplar. The ancient scribes were nearly all to a certain extent editors, and made their choice from among the variants of the different exemplars. Moreover, the correctors or the readers often introduced, either on the margin or between the lines, new readings which were subsequently embodied in the text of the manuscript thus corrected. In such a case the genealogy of a manuscript is liable to become very complicated. It also sometimes happens that two manuscripts which are closely related in certain books are totally unrelated in others. As a matter of fact, the separate books of the Bible, in ancient times, used to be copied each upon its own roll of papyrus, and when they came to be copied from these separate rolls upon sheets of parchment, and bound together in one enormous "codex", texts belonging to quite different families might very possibly be placed together. All these facts explain why critics frequently disagree in determining genealogical groupings. (On this subject consult Hort, "Introduction," pp. 39-69: "Genealogical Evidence".)

Critical Nomenclature, or Notation

When the copies of a text are not numerous each editor assigns them whatever conventional symbols he may choose; this was for a long time the case with the editions of the original Greek and Hebrew, of the Septuagint and the Vulgate, not to mention other versions. But when, as nowadays, the number of manuscripts becomes greatly increased, it is necessary to adopt a uniform notation in order to avoid confusion.

Hebrew manuscripts are usually designated by the figures assigned them by Kennicott and De Rossi. But this system has the disadvantage of not being continuous, the series of figures recommencing three times: Kennicott MSS., De Rossi MSS., and other MSS. catalogued by De Rossi, but not belonging to his collection. Another serious inconvenience arises from the fact that the manuscripts not included in the three preceding lists have remained without symbol, and can only be indicated by mentioning the number of the catalogue in which they are described.

The notation of Greek manuscripts of the Septuagint is almost the same as that adopted by Holmes and Parsons in their Oxford edition 1798-1827. These two scholars designated the uncials by Roman figures (from I to XIII) and the cursives by Arabic figures (from 14 to 311). But their list was very defective, as certain manuscripts were counted twice, while others which were numbered among the cursives were uncials either wholly or in part, etc. For cursives the Holmes-Parsons notation is still retained; the uncials, including those found since, are designated by Latin capitals; but no symbols have been assigned to recently discovered cursives. (See the complete list in Swete, "An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek", Cambridge, 1902, p. 120-170.)

The nomenclature of the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament also leaves much to be desired. Wetstein, the author of the usual notation, designates uncials by letters and cursives by Arabic figures. His list was continued by Birch and by Scholz, and afterwards by Scrivener, independently, by Gregory. The same letters answer for many manuscripts, hence the necessity of distinguishing indices, thus Dev="Codex Bezæ", Dpaul=Codex Claromontanus, etc. Moreover, the series of figures recommences four times (Gospels, Acts and Catholic Epistles, Epistles of Paul, Apocalypse), so that a cursive containing all the books of the New Testament must be designated by four different numbers accompanied by their index. Thus the MS. of the British Museum "Addit. 17469" is for Scrivener 584ev, 228ac, 269pau, 97apoc (i.e. the 584th MS. of the Gospel on his list, the 228th of Acts, etc.), and for Gregory 498ev, 198act, 255paul, 97apoc. To remedy this confusion Von Soden lays down as a principle that uncials should not have a different notation from the cursives and that each manuscript should be designated by a single abbreviation. Hence he assigns to each manuscript an Arabic figure preceded by one of the three Greek initial letters, epsilon, alpha, or delta, according as it contains the Gospels only (euaggelion), or does not contain the Gospels (apostolos), or contains both the Gospels and some other part of the New Testament (diatheke). The number is chosen so as to indicate the approximate age of the manuscript. This notation is unquestionably better than the other; the main point is to secure its universal acceptance, without which endless confusion will arise.

For the Vulgate the most famous manuscripts are designated either by a conventional name or its abbreviation (am="Amiatinus", fuld="Fuldensis"); the other manuscripts have no generally admitted symbol. (The present nomenclature is altogether imperfect and deficient. Critics should come to terms and settle upon special symbols for the genealogical groupings for manuscripts which are as yet almost entirely deprived of them. On this subject see the present writer's article, "Manuscrits bibliques" in Vigouroux, "Dict. de la Bible", IV, 666-698).


The importance of the ancient versions in the textual criticism of the Sacred Books arises from the fact that the versions are often far anterior to the most ancient manuscripts. Thus the translation of the Septuagint antedated by ten or twelve centuries the oldest copies of the Hebrew text that have come down to us. And for the New Testament the Italic and the Peshito versions are of the second century, and the Coptic of the third, while the "Vaticanus' and the "Sinaiticus", which are our oldest manuscripts, date only from the fourth. These translations, moreover, made on the initiative and under the superintendence of the ecclesiastical authorities, or at least approved and sanctioned by the Churches that made public use of them, have undoubtedly followed the exemplars which were esteemed the best and most correct; and this is a guarantee in favour of the purity of the text they represent. Unfortunately, the use of versions in textual criticism offers numerous and sometimes insurmountable difficulties. First of all, unless the version be quite literal and scrupulously faithful, one is often at a loss to determine with certainty which reading it represents. And besides, we have few or no ancient versions edited according to the exigencies of rigorous criticism; the manuscripts of these versions differ from one another considerably, and it is often hard to trace the primitive reading. When there have been several versions in the same language, as is the case, for example, in Latin, Syriac, and Coptic, it is seldom that one version has not in the long run reacted on the other. Again, the different copies of a version have frequently been retouched or corrected according to the original, and at various epochs some sort of recensions have been made. The case of the Septuagint is well enough known by what St. Jerome tells of it, and by the examination of the manuscripts themselves, which offer a striking diversity. For these various reasons the use of the versions in textual criticism is rather a delicate matter, and many critics try to evade the difficulty by not taking them into account. But in this they are decidedly wrong, and later it will be shown to what use the Septuagint version may be put in the reconstruction of the primitive text of the Old Testament.


That the textual criticism of the Greek New Testament, the Septuagint and the Vulgate has profited by quotations from the Fathers is beyond question; but in using this authority there is need of caution and reserve. Very often Biblical texts are quoted from memory, and many writers have the habit of quoting inaccurately. In his Prolegomena to the eighth edition of Tischendorf (pp. 1141-1142), Gregory gives three very instructive examples on this subject. Charles Hodge, the author of highly esteemed commentaries, when informed that his quotation from Genesis, iii, 15, "The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head", was a serious inaccuracy, refused to change it on the ground that his translation had passed into use. In his history of the Vulgate the learned Kaulen twice quoted the well-known saying of St. Augustine, once accurately: "verborum tenacior cum perspicuitate sentientiæ", and once inaccurately: "verborum tenacior cum sermonis perspicuitate". Finally, out of nine quotations from John, iii, 3-5, made by Jeremy Taylor, the celebrated theologian, only two agree, and not one of the nine gives the words of the Anglican version which the author meant to follow. Surely we should not look for greater rigour or accuracy from the Fathers, many of whom lacked the critical spirit. Furthermore, it should be noted that the text of our editions is not always to be depended upon. We know that copyists, when transcribing the works of the Fathers, whether Greek or Latin, frequently substitute for Biblical quotations that form of text with which they are most familiar, and even the editors of former times were not very scrupulous in this respect. Would anyone have suspected that in the edition of the commentary of St. Cyril of Alexandria on the fourth Gospel, published by Pusey in 1872, the text of St. John, instead of being reproduced from St. Cyril's manuscript, is borrowed from the New Testament printed at Oxford? From this standpoint the edition of the Latin Fathers undertaken in Austria and that of the ante-Nicene Greek Fathers published at Berlin, are worthy of entire confidence. Quotatations have a greater value in the eyes of the critic when a commentary fully guarantees the text; and the authority of a quotation is highest when a writer whose reputation for critical habits is well established, such as Origen or St. Jerome, formally attests that a given reading was to be found in the best or most ancient manuscripts of his time. It is obvious that such evidence overrules that furnished by a simple manuscript of the same epoch.

Internal or Paradiplomatic Evidence

It frequently happens that the testimony of documents is uncertain because it is discordant, but even when it is unanimous, it may he open to suspicion because it leads to improbable or impossible results. It is then that internal evidence must be resorted to, and, although of itself it seldom suffices for a firm decision, it nevertheless corroborates, and sometimes modifies, the verdict of the documents. The rules of internal criticism are simply the axioms of good sense, whose application calls for large experience and consummate judgment to ward off the danger of arbitrariness amid subjectivism. We shall briefly formulate and expound the most important of these rules.

Rule 1. Among several variants that is to be preferred which best agrees with the context and most closely conforms to the style and mental habits of the author. -- This rule is thus explained by Hort ("The New Testament in the Original Greek", Introduction, London, 1896, p. 20): "The decision may be made either by an immediate and as it were intuitive judgment, or by weighing cautiously various elements which go to make up what is called sense, such as conformity to grammar and congruity to the purport of the rest of the sentence and of the larger context; to which may rightly be added congruity to the usual style of the author and to his matter in other passages. The process may take the form either of simply comparing two or more rival readings under these heads, and giving the preference to that which appears to have the advantage, or of rejecting a reading absolutely for violation of one or more of the congruities, or of adopting a reading absolutely for perfection of congruity." The application of this rule rarely produces certainty; it usually leads only to a presumption, more or less strong, which the documentary evidence confirms or annuls as the case may be. It would be sophistical to suppose that the ancient authors are always consistent with themselves, always correct in their language and happy in their expressions. The reader is all too liable to imagine that he penetrates their thought, and to make them talk as he himself would have talked on a like occasion. It is but a step from this to conjectural criticism which has been so much abused.

Rule 2. Among several readings that is preferable which explains all others and is explained by none. -- Gregory, in his "Prolegomena" (8th critical ed. of the New Testament by Tischendorf, p. 63), says apropos of this rule: "Hoc si latiore vel latissimo sensu accipietur, omnium regularum principium haberi poterit; sed est ejusmodi quod alius aliter jure quidem suo, ut cuique videtur, definiat sequaturque." It is, in fact, subject to arbitrary applications, which only proves that it must be employed with prudence and circumspection.

Rule 3. The more difficult reading is also the more probable. -- "Proclivi scriptioni pr stat ardua" (Bengel). -- Although it may seem entirely paradoxical, this rule is, in a certain measure, founded on reason, and those who have contested it most vigorously, like Wetstein, have been obliged to replace it with something similar. But it is true only on condition that the clause be added, all other things being equal; else we should have to prefer the barbarisms and absurdities of copyists solely because they are more difficult to understand than the correct expression or the intelligently turned phrase. Indeed copyists never change their text merely for the pleasure of rendering it obscure or of corrupting it; on the contrary, they rather try to explain or correct it. Hence a harsh expression, an irregular phrase, and an unlooked-for thought are possibly primitive, but always, as we have said, on this condition: ceteris paribus. Nor must it be forgotten that the difficulty of the reading may arise from other causes, such as the ignorance of the scribe or the defects of the exemplar which he copies.

Rule 4. The shortest reading is, in general, the best. -- "Brevior lectio, nisi testium vetustorum et gravium auctoritate penitus destituatur, præferenda est verbosiori. Librarii enim multo proniores ad addendum fuerunt, quam ad omittendum (Griesbach)." The reason given by Griesbach, author of this rule, is confirmed by experience. But it should not be too generally applied; if certain copyists are inclined to put in an insufficiently authorized interpolation, others, in their haste to finish the task, are either deliberately or unknowingly guilty of omissions or abbreviations.

We see that the rules of internal criticism, in so far as they can be of any use, are suggested by common sense. Other norms formulated by certain critics are based on nothing but their own imaginations. Such is the following proposed by Griesbach: "Inter plures unius loci lectiones ea pro suspectâ merito habetur quæ orthodoxorum dogmatibus manifeste præ ceteris favet." It would then follow that the variants suspected of heresy have all the probabilities in their favour, and that heretics were more careful of the integrity of the sacred text than were the orthodox. History and reason combined protest against this paradox.

Conjectural Criticism

As a principle, conjectural criticism is not inadmissible. In fact it is possible that in all existing documents, manuscripts, versions, and quotations, there are primitive errors which can only be corrected by conjecture. The phrase primitive errors is here used to denote those that were committed by the scribe himself in dictated works or that crept into one of the first copies on which depend all the documents that have come down to us. Scrivener, therefore, seems too positive when he writes ("Introduction", 1894, Vol. II, p. 244): "It is now agreed among competent judges that Conjectural Emendation must never be resorted to even in passages of acknowledged difficulty; the absence of proof that a reading proposed to be substituted for the common one is actually supported by some trustworthy document being of itself a fatal objection to our receiving it."Many critics would not go thus far, as there are passages that remain doubtful even after the efforts of documentary criticism have been exhausted, and we cannot see why it should be forbidden to seek a remedy in conjectural criticism. Thus Hort justly remarks ("Introduction", 1896, p. 71): "The evidence for corruption is often irresistible, imposing on an editor the duty of indicating the presumned unsoundness of the text, although he may be wholly unable to propose any endurable way of correcting it, or have to offer only suggestions in which he cannot place full confidence." But he adds that, in the New Testament, the rôle of conjectural emendation is extremely weak, because of the abundance and variety of documentary evidence, and he agrees with Scrivener in admitting that the conjectures presented are often entirely arbitrary, almost always unfortunate, and of such a nature as to satisfy only their own inventor. To sum up, conjectural criticism should only be applied as a last resort, after every other means has been exhausted, and then only with prudent scepticism.

Application of the principles and processes of textual criticism

It remains briefly to explain the modifications which the principles of textual criticism undergo in their application to Biblical texts, to enumerate the chief critical editions, and to indicate the methods followed by the editors. We shall here speak only of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament and of the Greek text of the New.

Hebrew text of the Old Testament

The critical apparatus

The number of Hebrew manuscripts is very great. Kennicott ("Dissertatio generalis in Vet. Test. hebraicum", Oxford, 1780) and De Rossi ("Vaniæ lectiones Vet. Testamenti", Parma, 1784-88) have catalogued over 1300. Since their day this figure has greatly increased, thanks to discoveries made in Egypt, Arabia, Mesopotamia, and above all in the Crimea. Unfortunately, for the reason given above under A. Necessity and Processes, the Hebrew manuscripts are comparatively recent; none is anterior to the tenth century or at any rate the ninth. The "Codex Babylonicus" of the Prophets, now at St. Petersburg and bearing the date 916, generally passes for the oldest. According to Ginsburg, however, the manuscript numbered "Oriental 4445" of the British Museum dates back to the middle of the ninth century. But the dates inscribed on certain manuscripts are not to be trusted. (See on this subject, Neubauer, "Earliest MSS. of the Old Testament" in "Studia Biblica", III, Oxford, 1891, pp. 22-36.) When the Hebrew manuscripts are compared with one another, it is amazing to find how strong a resemblance exists. Kennicott and De Rossi, who collected the variants, found hardly any of importance. This fact produces at first a favourable impression, and we are inclined to believe that it is very easy to restore the primitive text of the Hebrew Bible, so carefully have the copyists performed their task. But this impression is modified when we consider that the manuscripts agree even in material imperfections and in the most conspicuous errors. Thus they all present, in the same places, letters that are larger or smaller than usual, that are placed above or below the line, that are inverted, and sometimes unfinished or broken. Again, here and there, and precisely in the same places, may be noticed spaces indicating a hiatus; finally, on certain words or letters are points intended to annul them. (See Cornill, "Einleitung in die Kanon. Bücher des A. T.", 5th ed., Tübingen, 1905, p. 310.) All these phenomena led Spinoza to suspect, and enabled Paul de Lagarde to prove (Anmerkungen zur griechischen Uebersetzung der Proverbien, 1863, pp. 1, 2) that all the Hebrew manuscripts known come down from a single copy of which they reproduce even the faults and imperfections. This theory is now generally accepted, and the opposition it has met has only served to make its truth clearer. It has even been made more specific and has been proved to the extent of showing that the actual text of our manuscripts was established and, so to speak, canonized between the first and second century of our era, in an epoch, that is, when, after the destruction of the Temple and the downfall of the Jewish nation, all Judaism was reduced to one school. In fact, this text does net differ from that which St. Jerome used for the Vulgate, Origen for his Hexapla, and Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotus for their versions of the Old Testament, although it is far removed from the text followed in the Septuagint.

As centuries elapsed between the composition of the various books of the Old Testament and the determining of the Massoretic text, it is but likely that more or less serious modifications were introduced, the more so as, in the interval, there had occurred two events particularly favourable to textual corruption, namely a change in writing -- the old Ph nician having given way to the square Hebrew -- and a change in spelling, consisting, for example, of the separation of words formerly united and in the frequent and rather irregular use of matres lectionis. The variants that supervened may be accounted for by comparing parallel parts of Samuel and Kings with the Paralipomena, and above all by collating passages twice reproduced in the Bible, such as Ps. xvii (xviii) with II Sam., xxii, or Is., xxxvi-xxxix, with II Kings, xviii, 17-xx, 19. [See Touzard, "De la conservation du texte hébreu" in "Revue biblique", VI (1897), 31-47, 185-206; VII (1898), 511-524; VIII (1899), 83-108.]

An evident consequence of what has just been said is that the comparison of extant manuscripts enlightens us on the Massoretic, but not on the primitive text. On the latter subject the Mishna and, for still stronger reasons, the remainder of the Talmud cannot teach us anything, as they were subsequent to the constitution of the Massoretic text; nor can the Targums, for the same reason and because they may have since been retouched. Therefore, outside of the Massoretic text, our only guides are the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Septuagint version. The Samaritan Pentateuch offers us an independent recension of the Hebrew text, dating from the fourth century before our era, that is, from an epoch in which the Samaritans, under their high-priest Manasseh, separated from the Jews; and this recension is not suspected of any important modifications except the rather inoffensive, harmless one of substituting Mount Gerizim for Mount Hebal in Deut., xxvii, 4. As to the Septuagint version, we know that it was begun, if not completed, about 280 B. C. To Paul de Lagarde especially belongs the credit of drawing the attention of scholars to the value of the Septuagint for a critical edition of the Hebrew Bible.

Critical editions of the Hebrew text

After the publication of the Psalms at Bologna in 1477, of the Pentateuch at Bologna in 1432, of the Prophets at Soncino in 1485, and of the Hagiographa at Naples in 1487, the entire Old Testament appeared at Soncino (1488), at Naples (1491-93), at Brescia (1494), at Pesaro (1511-17), and at Alcala (1514-17). Then, between 1516 and 1568, came the four Rabbinic Bibles of Venice. It is the second, edited by Jacob ben Chayim and printed by Bomberg in 1524-1525, that is generally looked upon as containing the textus receptus (received text). The list of the innumerable editions which followed is given by Pick in his "History of the Printed Editions of the Old Testament" in "Hebraica" (1892-1893), IX, pp. 47-116. For the most important editions see Ginsburg, "Introduction to the Massoretic-critical edition of the Hebrew Bible" (London, 1897), 779-976. The editions most frequently reprinted are probably those of Van der Hoogt, Hahn, and Theile; but all these older editions are now supplanted by those of Baer and Delitzsch, Ginsburg, and Kittel, which are considered more correct. The Baer and Delitzsch Bible appeared in fascicles at Leipzig, between 1869 and 1895, and is not yet complete; the entire Pentateuch except Genesis is wanting. Ginsburg, author of the "Introduction" mentioned above, has published an edition in two volumes (London, 1894). Finally, Kittel, who had called attention to the necessity of a new edition (Ueber die Notwendigkeit und Möglichkeit einer neuen Ausgabe der hebraïschen Bibel, Leipzig, 1902) has just published one (Leipzig, 1905-06) with the assistance of several collaborators, Ryssel, Driver, and others. Almost all the editions thus far mentioned reproduce the textus receptus by correcting the typographical errors and indicating the interesting variants; all adhere to the Massoretic text, that is, to the text adopted by the rabbis between the first and second centuries of our era, and found in all the Hebrew manuscripts. A group of German, English, and American scholars, under the direction of Haupt, have undertaken an edition which claims to go back to the primitive text of the sacred authors. Of the twenty parts of this Bible, appearing in Leipzig, Baltimore, and London, and generally known under the name of the "Polychrome Bible " sixteen have already been published: Genesis (Ball, 1896), Leviticus (Driver, 1894), Numbers (Paterson, 1900), Joshua (Bennett, 1895), Judges (Moore, 1900), Samuel (Budde, 1894), Kings (Stade, 1904), Isaiah (Cheyne, 1899), Jeremiah (Cornill, 1895), Ezekiel (Toy, 1899), Psalms (Wellhausen, 1895), Proverbs (Kautzsch, 1901), Job (Siegfried, 1893), Daniel (Kamphausen, 1896), Ezra-Nehemiah (Guthe, 1901), and Chronicles (Kittel, 1895); Deuteronomy (Smith) is in press. It is needless to state that, like all who have thus far endeavoured to restore the primitive text of certain books, the editors of the "Polychrome Bible" allow a broad margin for subjective and conjectural criticism.

Greek text of the New Testament

Use of the critical apparatus

The greatest difficulty confronting the editor of the New Testament is the endless variety of the documents at his disposal. The number of manuscripts increases so rapidly that no list is absolutely complete. The latest, "Die Schriften des N. T." (Berlin, 1902), by Von Soden, enumerates 2328 distinct manuscripts outside of lectionaries (Gospels and Epistles), and exclusive of about 30 numbers added in an appendix, 30 October, 1902. It must be acknowledged that many of these texts are but fragments of chapters or even of verses. This enormous mass of manuscripts is still but imperfectly studied, and some copies are scarcely known except as figuring in the catalogues. The great uncials themselves are not yet all collated, and many of them have but lately been rendered accessible to critics. The genealogical classification, above all, is far from complete. and many fundamental points are still under discussion. The text of the principal versions and of the patristic quotations is far from being satisfactorily edited, and the genealogical relationship of all these sources of information is not yet determined. These varied difficulties explain the lack of agreement on the part of editors and the want of conformity in the critical editions published down to the present day.

Brief history of the critical editions and principles followed by editors

The first New Testament published in Greek is that which forms the fifth volume of the Polyglot of Alcala, the printing of which was finished 10 January, 1514, but which was not delivered to the public until 1520. Meanwhile, early in 1516, Erasmus had published his rapidly completed edition at Basle. The edition that issued from the press of Aldus at Venice in 1518 is simply a reproduction of that of Erasmus, but Robert Estienne's editions published in 1546, 1549, 1550, and 1551, the first three at Paris and the fourth at Geneva, although founded on the text of the Polyglot of Alcala, presented variants from about fifteen manuscripts, and into the last, that of 1551, was introduced the division of verses now in use. Theodore Beza's ten editions which appeared between 1565 and 1611 differ but little from the last of Robert Estienne's. The Elzevir brothers, Bonaventure and Abraham, printers at Leyden, followed Estienne and Beza very closely; their small editions of 1624 and 1633, so convenient and so highly appreciated by book-lovers, furnish what has been agreed upon as the textus receptus. -- "Textum ergo habes nunc ab omnibus receptum, in quo nihil immutatum aut corruptum damus" (Edition of 1633). It must suffice to mention here the editions of Courcelles (Amsterdam, 1658) and of Fell (Oxford, 1675), both of which adhere pretty closely to the textus receptus of Elzevir, and those of Walton (London, 1657) and of Mill (Oxford, 1707), which reproduce in substance the text of Estienne, but enrich it by the addition of variants resulting from the collation of numerous manuscripts. The principal editors who followed -- Wetstein (Amsterdam, 1751-1752), Matthæi (Moscow, 1782-1788), Birch (Copenhagen, 1788), and the two Catholics, Alter (Vienna, 1786-1787), and Scholz (Leipzig, 1830-1836) are noted chiefly for the abundance of new manuscripts which they discovered and collated. But we must here limit ourselves to an appreciation of the latest and best-known editors, Griesbach, Lachmann, Tregelles, Tischendorf, Westcott and Hort.

In his second edition (1796-1806) Griesbach, applying the theory that had previously been suggested by Bengel and subsequently developed by Semler, distinguished three great families of texts: the Alexandrian family represented by the codices A, B, C, by the Coptic versions and the quotations of Origen; the Western family, represented by D of the Gospels and the Acts, by the bilingual codices, the Latin versions, and the Latin Fathers; and lastly the Byzantine family, represented by the mass of other manuscripts and by the Greek Fathers from the fourth century onward. Agreement between two of these families would have been decisive; but, unfortunately, Griesbach's classification is questioned by many, and it has been proved that the agreement between Origen and the so-called Alexandrian family is largely imaginary. Lachmann (Berlin, 1842-1850) endeavoured to reconstruct his text on too narrow a basis. He took account of only the great uncials, many of which were then either entirely unknown or imperfectly known, and of the ancient Latin versions. In his choice of readings the editor adopted the majority opinion, but reserved to himself the conjectural amendment of the text thus established -- a defective method which his successor Tregelles has not sufficiently avoided. The latter's edition (1857-1872), the work of a lifetime, was completed by his friends. Tischendorf contributed no less than eight editions of the New Testament in Greek, but the differences among them are decidedly marked. According to Scrivener (Introduction, II, 283) the seventh edition differs from the third in 1296 places, and in 595 it goes back to the received text. After the discovery of the "Sinaiticus', which he had the honour of finding and publishing, his eighth edition disagreed with the preceding one in 3369 places. Such an amount of variation can only inspire distrust. Nor did the edition contributed by Westcott and Hort (The New Testament in the Original Greek, Cambridge and London, 1881) win universal approval, because, after eliminating in turn each of the great families of documents which they designate respectively as Syrian, Western, and Alexandrian, the editors rely almost exclusively on the "Neutral" text, which is only represented by the "Vaticanus" and the "Sinaiticus", and, in case of disagreement between the two great codices, by the "Vaticanus" alone. The excessive preponderance thus given to a single manuscript was criticized in a special manner by Scrivener (Introduction, II, 284-297). Finally, the edition announced by Von Soden (Die Schriften des N. T. in ihrer ältesten erreichbaren Textgestalt) gave rise to lively controversies even before it appeared. (See "Zeitschrift fur neutest. Wissensehaft", 1907, VIII, 34-47, 110-124, 234-237.) All this would seem to indicate that, for some time to come, we shall not have a definite edition of the Greek New Testament.

Portions of this entry are taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907.
Facts about Textual criticismRDF feed

Simple English

Textual criticism is the study of different copies of books or manuscripts. The purpose is to find the original, and see what changes were made to the later versions.

Textual criticism started with the study of the Bible, but now these techniques are used to study many texts.

Basic notions and objectives

The basic problem, as described by Paul Maas, is as follows:

"We have no autograph manuscripts of the Greek and Roman classical writers and no copies which have been [compared] with the originals; the manuscripts we possess derive from the originals through an unknown number of intermediate copies, and are consequentially of questionable trustworthiness. The business of textual criticism is to produce a text as close as possible to the original". [1]p1

The lack of autograph manuscripts applies to many cultures other than Greek and Roman. In such a situation, a key objective becomes the identification of the first exemplar before any split in the tradition. That exemplar is known as the archetype. "If we succeed in establishing the text of [the archetype], the reconstruction of the original is considerably advanced".[1]pp22–23

The textual critic's ultimate objective is the production of a "critical edition". This contains a text most closely approximating the original, which is accompanied by a critical apparatus that presents:

  • the evidence that the editor considered (names of manuscripts),
  • the editor's analysis of that evidence and
  • a record of rejected variants (often in order of preference).[1]pp22–23


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Maas P. 1958. Textual criticism. Oxford.


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address