Wednesday, August 16, 2017

On the ‘idle boast’ of having so many New Testament manuscripts

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My post on the topic of the comparative argument for trusting our modern texts of the New Testament produced some good discussion. But one issue that got passed over in the ensuing comments deserves more attention and that is what I want to give it here.

A slide from Wallace’s presentation at Biola
The issue is whether apologists like James White or Dan Wallace, for example, are being inconsistent for practicing reasoned eclecticism and for appealing to the vast number of Greek NT manuscripts. Wallace, for example, likes to refer to our “embarrassment of riches” for recovering the original text of the New Testament. But his practice of reasoned eclecticism seems to suggest that he is “embarrassed” in quite a different way by these riches because he doesn’t actually use them (see, e.g., the NET Bible). Apologetically he wants to have his embarrassingly-rich cake, but text-critically he has already eaten it. That is the charge anyway and it is one I have heard Bart Ehrman use in debate against Wallace.

But Ehrman is not the only one to use it. He finds himself a strange bedfellow with Maurice Robinson on this who puts the problem this way:
The resources of the pre-fourth century era unfortunately remain meager, restricted to a limited body of witnesses. Even if the text-critical evidence is extended through the eighth century, there would be only 424 documents, mostly fragmentary. In contrast to this meager total,the oft-repeated apologetic appeal to the value and restorative significance of the 5000+ remaining Greek NT MSS becomes an idle boast in the writings of modern eclectics when those numerous MSS are not utilized to restore the original text.*
Robinson again:
Granting that a working presumption of most eclectic scholars (including Ehrman) is that the vast bulk of NT MSS basically should be excluded as irrelevant for the primary establishment of the text, Ehrman’s statement [against the comparative argument] makes perfect sense. Rather than claiming some sort of text-critical superiority to the classics based on the sheer quantity of extant MSS, modern eclectics perhaps should acknowledge that their actual preferred witnesses for establishing the best approximation to the “original” NT text number only in the few dozens, as opposed to the several thousands otherwise set aside from serious consideration.
I’d like to open this up to discussion again. Can reasoned eclectics make any apologetic appeal to the abundance of our NT witnesses without being inconsistent? If so, how?

———
* “Appendix: The Case for Byzantine Priority” in The New Testament in the Original Greek: Byzantine Textform 2005, p. 568.

96 comments :

  1. Isn't it true though that all the manuscripts are considered valuable - just that the later majority is less valuable than the earlier minority? If we only had 2nd til - say - 8th century manuscripts, and the NT manuscripts after that point vanished; wouldn't that affect the work of textual criticism negatively?
    Maybe the apologetic argument should be: "We have an embarrassment of riches in manuscripts - although we don't necessarily value them all the same." Just to be clear and honest.

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  2. I don't see any problem with noting the large number of mss as part of an apologetic argument even if one holds to an eclectic text preferring the earlier mss. I often use an argument of this kind. I ask, 'What would happen if we threw away our earliest 5,000 Greek mss?' Answer: we would end up with something closer to the TR than to our modern eclectic editions. Taking a big picture view that is not very different (though of course personally I'm passionate about investigating even small differences). The main problems with the large numbers arise if people go away thinking there are 5,000+ manuscripts of each part of the NT (not true) or that they are thousands of mss from the earliest centuries (not true) or that the mere fact that there are many mss is being used to argue for reliability of text (logically fallacious).

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    1. If we threw away all of our 5,000 latest Greek mss, and used all of the 600-800 left, we would also end up with something closer to the TR than to our modern eclectic editions.

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    2. (By "closer to the TR" I mean, at a minimum, closer than it is now.)

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  4. We shouldn't neglect the witness of the early versions as part of the 'embarrassment of riches.' Depending on the kind of variation, early versions can prove to be nearly as valuable as a Greek manuscript.

    But I always took the 'embarrassment of riches' comment as simply a broad statement advertising the pile of evidence available. Sort of like looking down at the forests from a airplane. There are a lot of trees to see, but no presumption is made from that view that all those trees are of equal beauty or usefulness.

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  5. The early text of the NT is not limited to only early mss. The early text is sometimes found in later mss (e.g., 33, 1739... or 2053 in Rev). If you have 5500+ mss--even if most of those are medieval--you are more likely in the midst of those to have one or two that reflect the early text than if you only had 10 medieval mss.

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    1. That may be, Jeff, but the charge is not that Wallace et al. don't value any late MSS. The charge is that they give the impression that the mass of MSS is valuable for recovering the original text but their text-critical practice shows otherwise. If you only use the needle, then why praise the height of the haystack in which you found it? That's how I understand Robinson and Ehrman's point.

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    2. But I think Jeff's point is valid. Yes we don't use the mass of manuscripts (or the better example is we lump a large number of them as a single witness). The point of the mass number is that the likelihood that original readings are lost from the entire manuscript tradition is smaller than if you have only 3 copies.



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    3. Bob, I agree that the likelihood of preservation of the original is what's behind the appeal to how many MSS we have. But, again, the charge is that this claim is not consistent with actual practice. As MAR says, "modern eclectics perhaps should acknowledge that their actual preferred witnesses for establishing the best approximation to the 'original' NT text number only in the few dozens, as opposed to the several thousands otherwise set aside from serious consideration."

      However, I would say that, in that case, your point about lumping witnesses together as a single witness should not be overlooked. The question behind all of this is when are we actually "using" a MS? To use Maurice's phrase, When does it have "restorative value"? If I follow the majority of Byz MSS at all the places where they agree with 01 and 03, which set of witnesses have "restorative value" in those cases? How you answer that says a lot about your methodological assumptions.

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    5. Peter: Instead of a haystack analogy, how about clover?... because a bigger haystack is more problematic for finding a needle since a needle is a foreign object. OTOH, any field of clover has the potential for the 4-leaf variety... and the bigger the field, the higher the chances.

      But you're right. Wallace & company aren't emphasizing the size of the clover field to find the 4-leaf variety... even though reasoned eclectics know that the significance of a large clover field is a higher chance of the 4-leaf variety.

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    6. Right on both points, Jeff.

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  6. The claim is frankly much more meaningful when considered against the textual evidence on which our editions of classical texts depend. Our editions of Greek texts, both classical and Patristic, depend almost entirely on minuscule
    mss. Papyri has enriched this, sometimes significantly, but our textual evidence for the NT is different by at least an order of magnitude from the surviving evidence for most other important antique texts. Hence NT textual criticism is largely ignored by broader field and vice versa: The quantity results in almost a qualitative difference. The embarrassment of riches thus holds true, I think, though is perhaps misleading.

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  7. The quantitative argument is a weak one because it fails to discuss the quality of these MSS. It doesn't really matter if we have 5,000 Greek MSS if they are shown to descend from a highly corrupt archetype. The beauty of the eclectic method is that the method considers all MSS regardless of date. As Jeff already noted above there are many late MSS that are high quality (1739, 1582, etc) because they are accurately copied and contain an old text.
    The problem is the inadequacies of the comparitive apologetic argument not in the eclectic method.
    The quantitative argument coupled with the ecletic method is actually a good apologetic for the stability of the text because it reveals that, accross the spectrum of 5,000 + MSS there are old and reliable texts.

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    1. But the more textual witnesses we have, the better our position is to show whether or not some of them descend from a highly corrupt archetype.

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    2. I agree Eric in some respects. But the quantitative apologetic alone does not shows this. It must be coupled with other evidence to argue that these MSS are numerous as well as of relatively high quality.

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  8. I think that Wallace makes this kind of comment with the understanding that to say all manuscripts are valuable is not to say they are all of equal value. One needs only look at the CSNTM website or at Wallace's recent trip to Greece to examine 10th century manuscripts to realize that he sees value in all of this evidence.

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    1. Sure. But Robinson is saying more. He is saying that Wallace doesn't value the text of most of the manuscripts he counts as significant in relation to classical authors. What's the text-critical value of 1,000 manuscripts whose isolated text you reject? That's the objection.

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    2. Well the fallacy here is that 1,000 MSS are not actually being rejected.

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    3. No reasoned eclectic is stating that Byzantine MSS do not contain the New Testament writings, or that they don't contain the "best" text. They are simply not utilized in a critical edition.
      I think Robinson is taking an all or nothing stance that seems to go beyond the quantitative argument.

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  9. Manuscript value can be measured against differing criteria. P52 has little to no value for establishing the early text of John's gospel, but it has tremendous value toward the dating of the gospel. A 14th century minuscule text from a monastery on Mount Athos may have minimal overall value, but if it contains just a few interesting or otherwise early individual readings, then on those few points, the value is greater. There can also be presumably wrong readings that contribute by helping us understand the history of transmission. For instance, when I collated GA2907 I found a lengthy insertion in Luke that was otherwise found only in Codex Bezae.

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    1. Darrell, you are right. Manuscripts can be valued for much more than their text, but it is their value for preserving and establishing the original text that is in focus here. And yes, later MSS can contribute to our understanding of textual transmission. But to your example of a 14th century MS, I think Robinson and Ehrman’s question for Wallace et al. would be to show places where they prefer readings only attested in the mass of late MSS that make up the vast majority of our “abundant riches.” That is as least how I understand the objection.

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    2. I would think the response then would be that the later Byzantine manuscripts do play a role and can tip the scales in specific situations where the witnesses deemed 'oldest' and 'best' (however one defines 'best') are evenly split and internal considerations prove inconclusive. In other words, they have a seat at the reasoned eclectic's table, but its a three-legged stool rather than a cushioned chair with arm-rests. And of course there are a few examples where even the reasoned eclectic concludes the Byzantine witness is preferred.

      One of the problems is the large number of Byzantine manuscripts that have not yet been fully collated and studied. They must outnumber scholars available to study them by what...100-1?

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    3. I would object to the statement that P52 has tremendous value for the dating of John's Gospel. P52 might prove that the Gospel of John was written before the end of the second century, but the date of P52 is by no means settled and precise enough to prove that John was written before A.D. 125. We can't be that dogmatic about it. Bear in mind that I'm not necessarily disagreeing with an earlier date of John; I'm just saying P52 isn't that relevant to the discussion. See Nongbri, "The Use and Abuse of P52" in HTR 98 (2005): 23–48, especially his conclusion.

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    4. "P52 might prove that the Gospel of John was written before the end of the second century"

      --that was my point. People believed that about the Gospel of John until P52 came along, so it had tremendous value toward debunking that view.

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    5. Baur thought it might be written as late as 170, but that isn't "end of second century." If you take the dating from the editio princeps of P52, "first half of the second century", it could rule out Baur's 170 date, but anything up to 150 would still be fair game.

      However, the dating in the NA28 is simply "second century", though the NT.VMR is slightly more precise at "II (M)" (I assume that "M" means "mid-second century"). Even at that more restrictive dating of mid-second century for P52, a date of composition as late as Baur's 170 is still *possible*. The only thing that P52 absolutely proves is that the Gospel of John was written before P52 was written—anything more than that requires arguments about manuscript use, copying, documents travelling, etc. If P52 was possibly written as late as 175 (or 200), then P52 only *proves* that John was written before 175 or 200.

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  10. Since Peter has asked me to weigh in on this discussion I offer some observations regarding many of the posted comments (apologies in advance for the length of this post):

    Eliasson: “All the manuscripts are considered valuable”
    Lamerson: “To say all manuscripts are valuable is not to say they are all of equal value.”

    Translation: While all MSS are “valuable”, some obviously are considered to be more valuable than others (shades of Animal Farm).

    Gurry: “The charge is that they give the impression that the mass of MSS is valuable for recovering the original text but their text-critical practice shows otherwise.”

    Both of these statements involve fallacies. Quite seriously, even if only some 200 or even 100 Byzantine MSS were extant, Byzantine-priority as a methodological concept would hardly be affected, although some refinements in theory, methodology, and application definitely would be necessary.

    Also, since some of my written comments are in view, one should not forget that I also stated (RP, 556): “Wherever possible, the raw number of MSS should be intelligently reduced”.

    Viper: “The claim is frankly much more meaningful when considered against the textual evidence on which our editions of classical texts depend.”

    Indeed, and most likely the real value of appeal to the mass of evidence in regard to the text of the NT as opposed to the paucity of evidence for most classical texts is that the very existence of this mass of evidence tends to rule out the level of conjecture within the NT text that otherwise might have been applied had the total number of MSS been far fewer. As Viper astutely commented: “The quantity results in almost a qualitative difference.”

    Mitchell: “It doesn’t really matter if we have 5,000 Greek MSS if they are shown to descend from a highly corrupt archetype.”

    Ah, yes, of course: a clear truism. But . . . can it be “shown” indeed that the vast mass of Greek MSS have all descended “from a highly corrupt archetype”? That is the question. And how “corrupt” is “highly corrupt” if the basic consensus text found among the mass of Byzantine MSS happens to agree ca. 94% with the NA/UBS critical text? — this particularly when compared with the much higher levels of textual corruption that are known to exist among the various MSS of classical literature? And one can similarly question whether the presumed "Alexandrian archetype" might be equally or even more "corrupt" in such instances.

    Gurry: “I think Robinson and Ehrman’s question for Wallace et al. would be to show places where they prefer readings only attested in the mass of late MSS that make up the vast majority of our “abundant riches.” That is as least how I understand the objection.

    I don’t think so, since Wallace or other eclectics readily could favor readings from the later Byzantine mass that in certain places differ from earlier testimony; that after all is what reasoned eclecticism is all about, and even more so when thoroughgoing or rigorous eclecticism is practiced. The real question continues to be whether the appeal to the 5000+ mass of MSS is as valid as the various apologetic statements claim, given that (a) the number of MSS supporting any given part of the NT text is far less than the 5000+ total; (b) that the mass of MSS extant at any given point are not seriously utilized for establishing the base critical form of the text; and (c) in actual practice for nearly every situation the list of “highly favored MSS” almost always devolves down to a few dozen key witnesses at best.

    I therefore would continue to maintain that the frequent apologetic claims that are made on the basis of MS quantity remain highly flawed in light of actual theory and praxis when dealing with the formation and promotion of the various critical text editions.


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    1. MAR, two questions about the three points in your penultimate paragraph. Re: (a) The devil is in the definition of “any given part of the NT text.” If I define this as a variant unit, I can show that most units are, in fact, supported by most extant MSS. As the new ECM for Acts says, “It is often overlooked that in the vast majority of variant passages only a few witnesses differ from all the others” (p. 30*). No doubt you don’t like this definition of “any given part,” but how shall we adjudicate our disagreement on that crucial point? Re: (b/c) As I noted above, the key issue here is what constitutes a “utilization” of a MS. I would expect we could reduce your Byz 2005 edition to fewer MSS than we could reduce the NA28. Does this mean that “the mass of MSS extant at any given point are not seriously utilized for establishing” the text of your edition too? If not, what do you mean by “utilize”? When have or haven’t I, as a reasoned eclectic, utilized the mass of extant MSS?

      That doesn’t mean there are no problems with the apologetic claim. But can we clarify the objection a bit more?

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    2. Dr. Robinson, just to clarify my quoted statement above, I was not attempting to say that Byzantine MSS were descended from a corrupt archetype. Rathet, I was stating that appealling to the quantity of MSS is in itself meaningless if the quality of transmission of those MSS is not also shown. Thanks for your insightful comments.

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  11. Thinking about Wallace's 5,600, I ask, how many Greek mss do we actually have? What do we count and what does it mean to 'have' them?

    Some mss have been found to not be continuous text--do we count them? What about those known to have existed, were never photographed, and have since been destroyed? There is no real reason to count them.
    Should we count abschrift manuscripts? GA2449 and 2450 are copies in modern Greek. 2427 is a forgery.

    Many manuscripts appear on the INTF's Liste marked as 'owner unknown' and no photographs are available. So do we really 'have' them?
    Similarly, there are many far away institutions (especially monasteries) housing manuscripts known to exist, but until the CSNTM can get to them with their cameras, they are not really useful.
    Some mss are mere fragments lacking enough text to contribute to disputed readings.

    So if the question is reduced to how many actual Greek manuscripts with sufficient text do we have available for research toward evaluating disputed readings, the number would be much less than the 5,600 shown on DW's slide. Of course he knows this--which means he was speaking in the broadest of terms about possible manuscript counts, not how many are ready to be used.

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  12. Gurry: "If I define this as a variant unit, I can show that most units are, in fact, supported by most extant MSS. As the new ECM for Acts says, 'It is often overlooked that in the vast majority of variant passages only a few witnesses differ from all the others' (p. 30*)

    This all depends on what one is counting as a real "variant unit".
    If all MSS save one 13th century minuscule happen to read with the critical text, is that really a "variant unit" per se? Or does one need something more in order for a "unit" to become "viable" in some serious manner?

    If you deal only with the "units" considered important for, say, UBS, then even if Byz and/or Lect is cited for non-preferred variants, this still leaves the preferred variant in most instances without the general mass of support. Similar results obtain even when the NA apparatus is in view (at least these in general constitute the more "serious" type of "units", do they not?). It seems that ECM is trying to move and redefine the goal posts in this regard by counting all those insignificant and sundry scribal deviations as "units" in the same class as all those that otherwise had long been considered viable and given a place in a practical apparatus.

    Gurry: "Does this mean that “the mass of MSS extant at any given point are not seriously utilized for establishing” the text of your edition too?"

    Obviously, "counting noses" in the minutiae is not the issue, but rather utilizing a general consensus reflective of the greater mass of MSS in order to establish a generally accurate and reasonable form of the Byzantine Textform. This is not much different than NA using the Gothic "M" symbol or UBS and ECM using "Byz" to reflect the same.

    Gurry: "When have or haven’t I, as a reasoned eclectic, utilized the mass of extant MSS?"

    The greater question is probably when have or haven't you accepted the readings found among the mass of extant MSS as opposed to most often rejecting such? Different strokes for different folks, it would seem to me.

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    1. Hmmm... you managed to avoid actually answering both my questions. In the first, you only restated the problem. Who gets to decide what counts as a variant unit? To me, you look like the one moving the goal posts. So how do we decide who gets to count what? In the second, I don't see the difference between utilizing and accepting, but since both terms are yours, I'll let you pick which one to define! ;)

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  13. Bob wrote:


    "The point of the mass number is that the likelihood that original readings are lost from the entire manuscript tradition is smaller than if you have only 3 copies."

    This is a very common line of thought. I think the essence of the OP, however, is that this line of thinking depends on a shift from weighing mss to counting them. That, of course, violates the cardinal rule of eclecticism.

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  14. Peter,
    If the question at hand is, "Can reasoned eclectics make any apologetic appeal to the abundance of our NT witnesses without being inconsistent?," then the short answer is No.

    The reason for that -- as I argued at http://www.thetextofthegospels.com/2017/05/the-case-for-christ-what-it-gets-wrong.html -- is that the most popular compilations which have been compiled via the so-called "Reasoned Eclectic" principles are suspiciously similar to what one would get if one adopted a slightly filtered text of B with some supplemental Alexandrian allies -- a compilation which disagrees with over 85% of the manuscripts in thousands of passages.

    In practice, the results produced by the methods approved by the same "reasoned eclectics" who go on about an "embarrassment of riches" in the church's treasury imply that in thousands of variant-units, over 85% of the coins in the treasury are counterfeit. Often 90% or 95%. Sometimes 99%. And in a couple of cases, 100%.

    There might be something apologetically salvageable along the lines of the usefulness of multiple transmission-streams -- but that has to do with diversity, not quantity, and quantity is what has been maximized by apologists.

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    1. James, you may forgive us reasoned eclectics for not being able to tell from our critics whether our method is too eclectic (so Maurice Robinson) or not eclectic enough (so you).

      As for the thousands of variant units where the coins are counterfeit, such numbers are always relative. 1,000 out of 1,000,000 isn't much. So, as I said to MAR above, you'll need to tell us about what "counts" before I can really be bothered by such stats. In the meantime, I'll refer to my point elsewhere that the NA28 text is overwhelmingly Byzantine in the Catholics (and soon in Acts).

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    2. Peter,
      PG: "you’ll need to tell us about what “counts” before I can really be bothered by such stats."

      This is not obvious?? Granting that one can construct a tall, tall pedestal in which Byz and NA agree, what counts = the points at which NA differs from the reading found in 85-99% of the MSS as a whole. At those points, the results of "reasoned eclecticism" imply that the reading found in 85-99% of the MSS is a corruption.

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    3. James, your conclusion here shows me that deciding what "counts" is not obvious. By limiting what counts to disagreements, you're just begging the question. If I used those same places to judge the RP2005 edition, I would conclude that it is only about 5–10% Byzantine! So again, I ask what counts as a reasoned eclectic's "use" of the majority of extant manuscripts? Does it only count when that majority disagrees with 01 and 03? Why should anyone count that way unless they held some bias against 01 and 03?

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  15. How can they be so very critical of Erasmus for his text for only using a handful of mss when it agrees with and reflects most closely the mass of mss we have now and then go on to praise the fact that we have so many? They never respond to that. I don't understand their praise when their text seems to discount the mass and seems to only rely on a few.

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  16. Mitchell: " Byzantine MSS .... are simply not utilized in a critical edition."

    Apparently my specific point, no? And this is not an "all or nothing stance", but merely an accurate observation and delineation of the facts.

    Mitchell: " I was stating that appealing to the quantity of MSS is in itself meaningless if the quality of transmission of those MSS is not also shown."

    Here we concur, and that also is part and parcel of my point.

    Gurry: "Who gets to decide what counts as a variant unit? To me, you look like the one moving the goal posts. So how do we decide who gets to count what?"

    I hardly think that appealing to past (pre-ECM) selection and display formats represents moving the goal posts (unless back from where ECM now attempts to place them). Epp long ago stated the same point that I have made: "The common or surface assumption is that any textual reading that differs in any way from any other reading in the same unit of text is a 'textual variant,' but this simplistic definition will not suffice." (Epp, "Toward the Clarification of the term 'Textual Variant'", Theory and Method of NT Textual Criticism, 47). So I fail to see the ECM view of "textual variants" supplanting the more normative position as previously held. Epp further distinguishes between "readings", both "significant" and "insignificant", and "How is a variant thus fit and appropriate. By virtue of its character as a reading that makes sense, that is not an indisputably demonstrable scribal error, that is not a mere orthographic difference, and that is not a singular reading" (61), to which exclusions I would also add (along with Epp elsewhere) readings that might reflect common scribal error or alteration that merely happen to coincide without any actual genealogical connection. As for who decides what to count as variants, apparently today it is something like every one does what seems right in their own eyes, although this does not appear to be the common position of earlier generations.

    Gurry: "I don’t see the difference between utilizing and accepting, but since both terms are yours, I’ll let you pick which one to define"

    One obviously can "utilize" any reading for any purpose, while "accepting" a particular reading as most likely original remains a separate matter. Not exactly a difficult distinction.

    Gurry: "numbers are always relative....So, as I said to MAR above, you’ll need to tell us about what “counts” before I can really be bothered by such stats.

    Mere "noses" don't count; that's one point. Multiple lines of transmission and their level of continued or non-perpetuation do count.

    Ross: "How can they be so very critical of Erasmus for his text for only using a handful of mss"

    Most probably because (a) Erasmus used too few MSS to establish a definitive text; (b) the MSS used were at points not representative of what otherwise appeared among the general consensus of Byzantine MSS; and (c) the readings even in consensus among his utilized MSS were not always followed, but replaced with some Latin-based readings and outright conjectures.

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    1. "Level of non-perpetuation" sounds a lot like counting noses again, but we digress.

      As for what counts as a variation unit, Epp is not far from the ECM and I don't see that his definition would change matters much. Even on his definition, it would still be true that the reading of most editors would be supported by most extant MSS. Unless you stack the deck as Snapp suggests, we have substantial agreement between your edition and, say, NA.

      In any case, the more interesting and relevant question is whether reasoned eclectics get credit for "accepting" the reading of the majority in all those places where their preferred reading agrees with the majority. Asked another way, is the majority still a majority when it includes 01 and 03? If so, can't Wallace and co. claim that the mass of MSS is valuable in their establishment of the original text? If not, why?

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    2. Thank you for your response Dr. Robinson.
      Just because a MS is not utilized in a critical edition does not mean that MS is not "valued" in restoring the NT Text. This is where the all or nothing stance fails. This whole discussion is rather silly because we are discussing units and clusters of variation (i.e. D-text, B-text, Byz.-text). All MSS of the NT agree at something close to 90% or greater if we are discussing ALL of the text and not just MSS variations. Every reasoned eclectic , especially Wallace (if we consider his recent article in JETS) considereds Byzantine era MSS as valuable conveyors of the NT text as well as significant cultural artifacts. To say that a reasoned eclectic does not "value" a Byzantine MS because they do not use a group of readings contained in that MS for a critical edition is an all or nothing approach.

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  17. Paolo Trovato8/17/2017 7:21 am

    As many of you already know, I don’t have got any expertise on NT studies. Still I understand that in this discussion there are 2 problems very often inestricably linked: 1. A technical problem; 2. An ideological problem (which use I can do of the solutions I propose for the technicalities). I am completely far removed from point 2 and I try to reason in an abstract way on point 1. There are thousands of late Byzantine witnesses and very few elder ones. Paul Maas (I quote from the translation of Flower, 1958, § 4) states: “Each witness depends either on a surviving or on a lost exemplar […]. It will be obvious that a witness is worthless (worthless, that is, “qua” witness) when it depends exclusively on a surviving exemplar or on an exemplar which can be reconstructed without its help. A witness thus shown to be worthless (cf. § 8) must be “eliminated” (“eliminatio codicum descriptorum”)”.
    In his Retrospect 1956 the very Maas adds: “The fact is that there are neither ‘good’, nor ‘bad’ witnesses, only dependent and independent ones […]. The oldest exisisting witness is always completely ‘independent’, whereas the independence of later witnesses, as against those which are earlier than themselves, must first be proved by ‘separative errors’ [i.e., here, errors of the oldest one absent in one or more recent ones. Note of PT]. These recentiores will for the most part, though of course not always, turn out to be dependent. And at that point a halt must be called. ‘All manuscrits should be collated and the results should be set out . . .; that might be even worse than idolizing one manuscrit as the sole source of grace’ (Wilamowitz,. Aristophanes, Lys( istrata ) 1927, p. 62)” (p. 52).
    I wonder whether ten or fifteen specially good and conservative Byzantine witnesses (plus the rich apparatuses of the most recent editions) could be a good controll sample in order to provisionally review the elder witnesses.

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  18. Peter Gurry,
    Again, I do not see how this is not obvious, since it’s a matter of acknowledging the data and making comparisons. As a convenient example, consider the General (Catholic) Epistles in NA28. NA28 rejects the Byzantine reading in 272 textual contests. So at those 272 points, NA implicitly concedes that the majority of coins in the treasury are counterfeit, and thus so much for the “embarrassment of riches” rhetoric.

    PG: “If I used those same places to judge the RP2005 edition, I would conclude that it is only about 5–10% Byzantine!”

    No; just that only about 5-10% of the Byzantine Text is distinct.

    PG: “I ask what counts as a reasoned eclectic’s “use” of the majority of extant manuscripts?”

    Asking for definition of “use” diverges from the initial question; adoption or rejection is the issue. And it seems obvious (again!) that the editors of NA reject the reading found in the vast majority of MSS hundreds of times – 272 times just in James-Jude. Getting back to the original question, that is why it is inconsistent to say that the many MSS which support Byzantine readings constitute the mass of “an embarrassment of riches” while proceeding to reject their contents hundreds of times in favor of the readings in a much much smaller group of MSS. This is not complicated.


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    1. James,
      The issue is not adoption or rejection when the statement is about having an embarrassment of manuscripts. You act like textual critics in the classics use every manuscript equally which is patently false. The claim is comparative. Regardless of which method is used, the NT critic starts out with a much greater number of witnesses to choose from. This greater number gives the NT critic a much greater confidence that within the manuscript tradition the original text has been preserved.
      This claim is not made in isolation by the eclectic critic, but in conjunction with the fact that we also have a relatively large (again comparatively) number of early manuscripts.
      Finally, this claim is also made with the knowledge that the existing manuscripts throughout the tradition are similar. This is especially so when we are talking about significant differences.
      The claim to have 'an embarrassment of riches' stands true even for the eclectic!
      Tim

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    2. James, thanks for clarifying. Let's put your Catholic Epistle numbers in context. The ECM editors reject the reading found in the majority of MSS 272 times (using your number). That means that in over 2,700 places where they had to make a decision they accept the reading found in the majority. By what logic would anyone conclude from these numbers that they have therefore not adopted the text of the mass of manuscripts in the majority of cases? Nine times out of ten they follow the mass. I do not see how the one case in ten could possibly nullify the nine unless your definition of what counts as "adoption" begs the question in favor of your conclusion.

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  19. Going back to Wallace's slide showing the "embarrassment of riches," keep in mind there are three bullet points there including the approximately 10,000 Latin manuscripts and 5-10,000 other language translations. But we need to keep this slide in the context of its presentation. I sat in a classroom and watched DW's presentation and I recall a slide like this one, and it was just a broad point he was making. He wasn't intending any comment about the quality, accessibility, worth, or usefulness about any individual manuscripts. Wallace knows well that a large share of the 5,600 Greek manuscripts are not accessible for study, a problem the CSNTM is working hard to resolve. Wallace knows there are many fragmentary manuscripts too brief to be useful at all. And (to the point of complaint) he doesn't define what it means to 'use' manuscript witnesses that are available. It's a three bullet-point slide folks. I don't understand the complaint.

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    1. Excellent. Thank you for bringing the discussion back to reality!

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    2. Very good point Darrell.

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  20. There are at least 4 different estimations of the value of the Byzantine Text:

    1. The Byz is completely secondary to the earlier mss and therefore of no value for restoring the original text (Ehrman, Alands, etc.).

    2. The Byz is secondary but nevertheless occasionally contains some early (and even original) readings that may not have been preserved in the earlier mss (Wachtel, Holmes).

    3. The Byz, though corrupted over time, is nevertheless an independent witness to the early period and may contain many original readings that are not present in the earlier witnesses (Bengel, Griesbach, Scholz, Sturz, etc.).

    4. The Byz represents the primary/earliest form from which all other mss in one way or another descended (Robinson).

    I think the "idle boast" charge rings truest only against those who hold to #1. For those who hold to #2, which seemingly is growing in popularity, or to anything other than #1, the charge obviously lessens by degree.

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    1. That’s very helpful, Jonathan especially as many proponents of the Byz text tend to ignore views 2 and 3.

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    2. This is excellent! Thank you. I would qualify this and go si far as to say that those who hold to #1 do "value" the Byz-text though they may not utilize its readings in a critical edition. Nearly all NT MSS regardless of textual character agree at something around 90% give-or-take a little. Personally I think I am a combination of 2-3 of your points above.

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  21. Paolo Trovato8/17/2017 5:10 pm

    To Johnathan C. Borland.
    Forgive me. If the supporters of position 2 and 3 give a list of the indicative (= significant) separative errors of the early period witnesses against Byz. and they explain on linguistic, historical, theological etc ground why they consider errors these readings, we have a first split in the stemma of extant witnesses. On the other hand, the supporters of position 4 should explain why almost all the variant readings of the early period witnesses against the Byz, are errors. The more sound thesis is, of course, the one with the more long list of indictaive errors and the most convincing explanation of why we must consider them errors. Otherwise we don’t do texual criticism, but metaphisics

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  22. I just completed a rough count of Greek manuscripts, accounting for the GA numbers dropped due to mergers, lost or destroyed manuscripts lacking photos, those identified as an abschrift, and other miscellaneous reasons to not be counted (forgery, modern Greek, commentary only, not continuous text).

    I didn't carefully re-check Lectionaries, and so I think I probably have inflated their count, but here are the totals:

    Papyri: 130
    Majuscules: 273
    Minuscules: 2,755
    Lectionaries: 2,434

    Grand total: 5,592

    So it appears DW has rounded up slightly to get to 5,600. However, the CSNTM web site lists about a dozen manuscripts yet to receive a GA number. So 5,600 is a reasonable approximation.

    Of course many of these are too brief to be useful for textual criticism, and many have yet to become easily available for research purposes.

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  23. Screed part 1:

    “I’m looking over a four-leaf clover I overlooked before” — Mort Dixon

    Gurry: “If I used those same places to judge the RP2005 edition, I would conclude that it is only about 5–10% Byzantine!”

    Indeed, and quite correct if the entirety of the NT text were under consideration (I would simply set the area of difference at 6% and leave it at that). But textual criticism doesn’t involve the bulk of the NT text where viable differences do not exist, so assertions that point to the entire NT text are misleading. As Hort noted (WH Introduction, 2):

    “With regard to the great bulk of the words of the New Testament, as of most ancient writings, there is no variation or other ground of doubt, and therefore no room for textual criticism. . . . The same may be said with substantial truth respecting those various readings which have never been received, and in all probability never will be received, into any printed text.”

    Gurry: “‘Level of non-perpetuation’ sounds a lot like counting noses again, but we digress.

    Not really a digression, but an important point that should be considered when theorizing about the transmission of texts: something significant is involved when various transmission lines become narrowed, restricted, or virtually die out while other lines of transmission continue to be perpetuated (“number” and “noses” not being the primary issue).

    Gurry: “The reading of most editors would be supported by most extant MSS. Unless you stack the deck...”

    Again, this depends on who is counting what as viable variants that should be given serious consideration toward possible originality; plus, it can only deal with that 6% of the text and not be minimized by appeal to the 94% of the text where there is really no doubt as to the original reading. You can’t mix those apples and oranges.

    Gurry: “The more interesting and relevant question is whether reasoned eclectics get credit for ‘accepting’ the reading of the majority in all those places where their preferred reading agrees with the majority.

    Certainly. They clearly should be complimented for making various of what I consider “correct” decisions regarding the original or Ausgangstext within the 6% range of text subject to text-critical analysis — this even while I demur regarding the larger bulk of what I consider “incorrect” decisions within that same 6% of text.

    Gurry: “Asked another way, is the majority still a majority when it includes 01 and 03?”

    I really don’t get the point on this. The answer is obviously a truism, just as one can also ask whether the majority is still a majority when it does not include 01 and 03. Certainly a pro-Byzantine position does not depend on the specific support of non-Byzantine MSS (another obvious truism), so I’m not sure what you are claiming.

    Mitchell: “Just because a MS is not utilized in a critical edition does not mean that MS is not ‘valued’ in restoring the NT Text.”

    Since no one is saying that any particular MS or all existing MSS should be included in a critical apparatus, I fail to understand the claim. Is MS 1135 of the 15th century really of “value” for “restoring the NT text”? (It does have the PA present, so I like that, and Chris Keith would be happy that it reads κατεγραφεν at Jn 8.6 — but even that passage as it appears in that single MS has no real bearing or importance for establishing the original form of the text as opposed to merely preserving an otherwise well-known particular line of transmission).

    Like Wallace, I also consider “Byzantine era MSS as valuable conveyors of the NT text as well as significant cultural artifacts”, but this hardly means every such MS is “valued” in relation to the establishment of an original form of the text; so this is hardly an “all or nothing approach.” (I believe that what I am saying comports well with what Dr Trovato has stated regarding “dependent and independent” witnesses).

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  24. Screed part 2:

    Trovato: “I wonder whether ten or fifteen specially good and conservative Byzantine witnesses (plus the rich apparatuses of the most recent editions) could be a good control sample in order to provisionally review the elder witnesses.”

    Someone more versed in statistical analysis long ago told me that the level of overall Byzantine conformity would continue to increase and thereby be refined up until about 100 MSS had been considered; after that point, one would only see diminishing returns that would not seriously alter the basic consensus. Some time back (for the now-defunct “Majority Text Society” newsletter, I had an essay on “How many MSS” might be necessary to establish the Byzantine text (using a sample chapter in Acts as the test portion), and found that with only 13 Byzantine MSS — none particularly “good and conservative” — the basic Byzantine consensus within places of known variation would be approximately 98%; so this tends to confirm Dr Trovato’s observation on that point (and yes, the overall Byzantine consensus then can be utilized, as he noted, to “provisionally review the elder witnesses”, both Byzantine and non-Byzantine, I would presume).

    Gurry: “By what logic would anyone conclude from these numbers that they have therefore not adopted the text of the mass of manuscripts in the majority of cases? Nine times out of ten they follow the mass.”

    Again, the issue is how many times in the actually viable units have they “adopted the text of the mass of manuscripts” (and by “viable”, meaning those units that are considered by at least some scholars to be legitimate contenders for authorial authenticity — “I coulda been a contender” (Brando, On the Waterfront) of itself just doesn’t cut it when looking at “the text of the mass” of all possible MSS or in “the majority of cases”).

    Gurry: “unless your definition of what counts as ‘adoption’ begs the question in favor of your conclusion.”

    What else would “adoption” signify except preference as the putative original or base Ausgangstext reading? Do you have a different definition in mind?

    Darrell: “Wallace knows well that a large share of the 5,600 Greek manuscripts are not accessible for study, a problem the CSNTM is working hard to resolve.”

    And more power to CSNTM in this regard! But even if all existing MSS were collated and available at a particular unit of variation (think of the test passages in Text und Textwert), to what real degree does the support of, say, MS 791 (12th century) for omission of δευτεροπρωτω in Lk 6.1 affect the determination of the NA/UBS text, any more than the support by MS 792 (13th century) would affect the inclusion of such when establishing the Byzantine text?

    Borland point 1: Ehrman should be placed under point 2, since he does argue for the originality of some Byzantine readings, even some that Wachtel and Holmes would not favor.

    Borland point 3: Since most Byzantine readings are found among the various earlier witnesses, I don’t think the wording is what you want to suggest (which would imply only those so-called “distinctive” Byzantine readings that have no support from pre-4th century MSS, versions, or fathers); nor do I think Bengel, et al. would maintain such either.

    Gurry: “especially as many proponents of the Byz text tend to ignore views 2 and 3.”

    Not really, since we all know that eclectic praxis does support many Byzantine readings even amid the greater bulk of non-Byzantine readings otherwise favored.

    Trovato: “On the other hand, the supporters of position 4 should explain why almost all the variant readings of the early period witnesses against the Byz, are errors.”

    Indeed — and this is why a textual commentary on the Byzantine readings that attempts to show the non-Byzantine reading as secondary is a clear desideratum (I would not use the word “error” when not a plain and clear blunder).

    The screed is ended; go in peace.


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    1. MAR says, "Again, the issue is how many times in the actually viable units have they [reasoned eclectics] 'adopted the text of the mass of manuscripts.'"

      I completely agree. And I also agree that there is a way to define these viable units that makes reasoned eclectics guilty of your original charge. (Hence my thinking the discussion to be worth having, by the way.)

      What I was hoping this post would draw out, however, is that there are other, legitimate ways to define "viable units" that makes your charge false. Using the ECM variant units is one way since there the mass of MSS preserves the original text in 93% of variant units.

      The question to me is which way of defining "viable units" does more justice to the mass of MSS: your narrow definition or my broader one? I would submit that broader one does more justice to the mass and that it does so while avoiding your original complaint.

      I should think we can at least agree that saying that our majority of MSS is right 95% of the time is both true and not an idle boast. It is quite a good thing that most manuscripts agree most of the time. I am sure you agree.

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    2. Thank you for your thoughtful and detailed response Dr. Robinson. I enjoyed the lively discussion and have benefited greatly by the comments here.

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    3. Dr. Robinson,

      Is that "How many MSS" article you wrote still available somewhere I can access it? I'd be interested in seeing which sample MSS you chose for your study.

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    4. That paper was distributed in a Majority Text Society mailout, but not otherwise published. It will be included along with many other items in a volume of my collected essays and published articles that Daniel Mount is busily preparing (when such will appear is not known at this point).

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    5. Thanks! I'll be looking forward to it.

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  25. Paolo Trovato8/17/2017 9:16 pm

    Thanks, dr. Robinson, for the long review.
    Errors. A more uptodate term would be "innovations". Being an old man I consider them synonyms. (In Neo-Lachmannian textual criticism, in order to be useful errors or innovations, they must be substantive, significant ones, not mere spelling variants or the like)

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  26. Peter G,

    PG: “By what logic would anyone conclude from these numbers that they have therefore not adopted the text of the mass of manuscripts in the majority of cases? Nine times out of ten they follow the mass.”

    By the logic that focuses on contests that matter, specifically, contests between the Byzantine reading and readings in the main small cluster of MSS which display the Alexandrian Text, setting aside trivial contests in which one of the combatants, so to speak, is a sport rather than something representing of any sort of archetype or sub-archetype.

    You say that 9 out of 10 times the compilers follow “the mass,” i.e., Byz, but how much of that consists of following Byz //when it disagrees with the Alexandrian text?//

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    1. Thanks, James. This clarifies much about your approach and how controlling the Alexandrian text is for it.

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    2. Peter G,
      Still, I am curious: you say that 9 out of 10 times the compilers follow “the mass,” i.e., Byz, but how much of that consists of following Byz //when it disagrees with the Alexandrian text?//

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    3. James, for the issue at stake here, who cares? It's irrelevant. If reasoned eclectics follow most MSS 95% of the time, then the apologetic claim that having so many MSS matters is well founded.

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  27. Gurry: "legitimate ways to define “viable units” that makes your charge false. Using the ECM variant units is one way"

    Yet if prior to ECM no one previously had claimed such a wide-ranging amount of minor variation among mostly isolated MSS to be "viable", is not the ECM then the catalyst for having moved the goal posts? That was my contention from the first (and yes, I do think my definition of "Viable" actually does more justice to the wider field of NT textual criticism than a definition that so broadens the scope as to diminish those variant units that are of really significant importance). Otherwise, we definitely are in basic agreement as to the ca. 94% of the text where everyone concurs with the plain and clear "majority" reading that transcends most texttype or textual-cluster divisions.

    Trovato: "Innovations" for at least the sensible readings would be an acceptable term, leaving "errors" to the obvious scribal blunders (and, by the way, your work on the textual criticism of Inferno Canto XXXIV is highly appreciated as a useful model). And yes, we are both old men.

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  28. There are actually only around sixty extant manuscripts of the New Testament, and a handful more remnants that may have constituted manuscripts of the New Testament at the time they were copied.
    That is still a lot of copies, for a work the size of the New Testament. Take the Gettysburg Address for example. There are five autograph manuscripts of its 275 or so words (the exact number of which is subject to dispute), and although all of them can be considered useful for reconstructing the text, none of them agree with any other. Are we not to know, then, what Lincoln said on that day? No, we have a multitude of transcripts made by members of his audience, and from which thousands of copies were made into print. The oldest (two of them predating the speech itself) and most authoritative (one of which ends with Lincoln's signature) manuscripts are simply wrong, by their own testimony against each other, and it is the testimony of the mass of copies that provides the means to correct them.
    It's embarrassing to have a multitude of secondary copies prove the oldest and most authoritative to be in error. But if it is the actual text that is desired, the errant early authorities must be both rejected and corrected.

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  29. Does Ehrman ever give the Byz witness any value in preferring a reading, or does the Byz just _happen_ to preserve (in a secondary or tertiary way) the reading that he prefers on the primary grounds of patristic, versional, intrinsic excellence, etc. If the latter, then he is still under #1.

    Certainly the list's wording could be improved, but it was intended merely to suggest that the charge of "idle boast" only works best against those who hold to #1.

    The charge still _might_ have some force against those who hold to #2, if one could prove that they preferred the readings in, say, James 2:4 (KAI OU); 1 Pet 4:16 (MEREI) not at all because they were found in the Byz but always because of other reasons (e.g., their presence in non-Byz minuscules, in fathers, a CBGM algorithm, etc.). But how can one judge this unless the debater, in writings or in speech, specifically divulges such?

    There is perhaps another category, whether grouped under #3 or placed before it, such as might say that no ms or cluster of mss is to be preferred, but any reading, in whatever source it lies, could be original (Kilpatrick, Elliott, Bill Petersen).

    Rewording the list a bit:

    1. The Byz is completely secondary to the earlier (clusters of) mss and therefore of no value for restoring the original text (Hort, Ehrman, Alands, etc.).

    2. The Byz is secondary but nevertheless, due to widespread early contamination, occasionally contains some early and even original readings that may or may not have been preserved in the earlier (clusters of) mss (Wachtel, Holmes).

    3. The Byz, although it underwent corruption over time as did all clusters of mss, is still a legitimate witness to the early text and may contain many original readings that are less present or sometimes completely absent from pre-5th-cent. Greek mss (Bengel, Griesbach, Scholz, Sturz, etc.).

    4. The Byz represents the primary/earliest form from which all other mss in one way or another descended (Robinson).

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  30. Gurry: "If reasoned eclectics follow most MSS 95% of the time, then the apologetic claim that having so many MSS matters is well founded."

    Not really, since if that majority were suddenly to become non-extant, would not the reasoned eclectics still maintain their previous decisions based on their favored external witnesses and preferred application of internal criteria? To put it another way: how many eclectic decisions regarding preferred critical text readings were made primarily on the basis that the vast majority of MSS supported such?

    Borland: "Does Ehrman ever give the Byz witness any value in preferring a reading, or does the Byz just _happen_ to preserve (in a secondary or tertiary way) the reading that he prefers on the primary grounds of patristic, versional, intrinsic excellence, etc."

    This precisely reflects the thrust of my comment above. Even in readings where the critical text follows Byz, it is not doing so because of Byz, or because of the quantity of preserved materials, but because of their judgments regarding favored witnesses and preferred application of internal criteria.

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  31. Paolo Trovato8/18/2017 8:41 am

    I try to expose in Neo-Lachmannian terms some problems linked to the transmission of NT. I start from a quotation of Hort (Introduction, 2), which I owe to dr. Robinson: “With regard to the great bulk of the words of the New Testament, as of most ancient writings, there is no variation or other ground of doubt, and therefore no room for textual criticism”

    1)Indeed, as it happens in NT, many Western MSS tradition both of Classic and of medieval authors differ in a relevant way only in the 7%-10 % of the text. Thus we can find some “indicative errors” (Maas), that is, significant, subastintive innovations, only in that 7%-10 %.

    But this doesn’t mean that “there is no room for textual criticism”, because “every act of copying introduces fresh errors, the extant manuscripts differ among themselves and all differ from the lost original” (I quote from the late Weitzmann, but this is an obvious, non-controversial point).

    1 bis) In the time (T) between the original and the first lost copies the mere act of copying producted innovations, most of them irrelevant and/or polygenetic, but few very significant. In normal traditions, as a rule, some of these innovations affect all the extant copies: in the old terminology they are errors of the archetype. They are difficult to detect and can be corrected by conjecture only by well trained and clever editors able to explain the historical, cultural etc reason for correcting them. (Note that some of these innovations can be corrected, often in the margins, by educated readers / editors of the past. In these case we speak of “the partial obscuring of the archetype” or of a hyparchetype: Trovato Everything etc, § 3.7) .

    2) “Tradition almost never distributes itself equally among the various branches of the tree. Some branches are luxuriant, others slender and under-represented. Just as, according to certain popular writers on Darwinian evolution, the genes of well-adapted individuals tend to replace those of less well-endowed ones in the struggle for life, successful editions ( vulgate texts, whether manuscript or printed) put their stamp on taste and the book market, and spread rapidly, to the detriment of products considered to be of poor quality, outdated, or too idiosyncratic (for reasons having to do with their language, size, mise en page, etc.). In Italian the usual term for designating the vulgate text, the edition of a given text normally in circulation at a given time or in a given area, is the Latinism vulgata (from editio vulgata). Obviously, for fairly successful works several vulgatae, i.e. vulgate texts, can be distinguished. It is needless to say that the broad circulation of vulgate texts is in itself a powerful factor in their transmission to the later tradition. The most luxuriant branches of printed traditions suggest that from the sixteenth century on vulgatae follow one another at intervals of roughly ten to twenty years. When new vulgate texts meet public demand, the reproduction of earlier models becomes extremely rare.” (Trovato Everything etc, § 3.3)
    (first part)

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  32. Paolo Trovato8/18/2017 8:44 am

    Second part:


    3) “The existence and spread of successive waves of vulgate texts is not a mere erudite detail, but a mechanism that has a strong impact on the work of philologists, and especially on their stemmata. The gradual thinning out, over time, of the original branches of a genealogical tree invariably spares the most popular vulgatae. Without disregarding the many alternative explanations put forward so far […] which will help to complete our general picture of the factors at play, the prevalence of two-branched stemmata – that is, the frequent paring down of medieval and Renaissance traditions to only two branches – results, as the reader will remember, on the one hand from the high loss or decimation rate of manuscripts (which varies case by case, but is nevertheless always very high), on the other from the asymmetry usually observed between the various branches of transmission, some of which are represented by only one or two witnesses, others by bloated vulgatae (→ 3.3)” (Trovato, Everything, § 3.6).

    4) I only add that a factor for the popularity of a vulgate can be being up to date (e.g. no more written in majuscule, but in minuscule, with accents introduced by a modern editor etc) or being a more complete collection or being sponsored by official authorities in the community or all the 3 reasons together.

    Here I stop but I can’t help to notice interesting analogies between “normal” MSS traditions and the transmission of NT.

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  34. Peter Gurry,

    It's not irrelevant at all, inasmuch as if NA's agreements with Byz are also agreements with a small cluster of Alexandrian MSS, and if NA's disagreements with Byz are also agreements with a small cluster of Alexandrian MSS, then it is clear that one might has well not have Byz in the equation; the same compilation could be made without Byz.

    Almost. A small amount of readings in the General Epistles in NA28 agree with Byz and disagree with a small cluster of Alexandrian MSS. Thus, the "embarrassment of riches" as embodied by 85% of the MSS *is* a factor. One just needs to take that small number of adopted readings which agree with Byz while disagreeing with the small cluster of Alexandrian MSS, and compare it to the number of times the opposite kind of readings (i.e., readings which agree with the small cluster of Alexandrian MSS, and disagree with Byz) are adopted, and one can see how frequently the reading in 85% of the "embarassment of riches" is considered genuine rather than counterfeit.

    By my calculations (which don't take into account whatever non-Alexandrian readings were already adopted in the General Epistles in NA27) NA28 adopts a Byzantine reading 21 times when Byz and Alex disagree; meanwhile NA adopts an Alexandrian reading 272 times when Byz and Alex disagree.

    So it would appear that 85% of the MSS are considered incorrect 92% of the time, when Byz and Alex disagree.

    And thus it seems inconsistent to present the high quantity of Byzantine MSS as part of an "embarrassment of riches" as long as, in reality, their readings are being treated as pollutions to be filtered away in 92% of the cases in which Byz disagrees with Alex.

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    1. James, the same “compilation” could basically be made without the Alexandrian manuscripts. That’s my point. You keep ignoring the big picture.

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  35. Dr. Trovato,

    I agree with you that "supporters of position 4 should explain why almost all the variant readings of the early period witnesses against the Byz, are errors." Dr. Robinson also spoke to something he is working on in this regard. I have toyed with the Byzantine-priority hypothesis in a series of variation units from Matt chapters 1-7 here:

    http://tcgnt.blogspot.com

    But as you know, there is controversy over internal evidence: its importance, its objectivity vs. subjectivity, how far its "results" can be taken, etc. For example, in my blog experiment, over 100 sequential variations between Byz and NA27 in Matthew are examined, and internal arguments are presented in support of the Byz reading in every variation. But couldn't someone else do a similar experiment and present arguments in favor of the NA27 reading every time?

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    1. Paolo Trovato8/18/2017 3:39 pm

      Dear Dr. Borland
      many thanks for your post.
      Granted that, if I was in your place and in your colleagues’ place, my first need would be to try to establish a provisional stemma and you all seem rather to look for the right variant, I had a look to your data.
      I am afraid that morphological variant readings such as ειπον (ℵc B L R f1 33 pc) / ειπε (A D E G H K M N Q S U W Y Γ Δ Θ Λ Π Ψ Ω f13.35 565. 1424 Byz), or the presence / omission of ο Ιησου are almost useless in order to build a stemma. But things become quite different when we examine, e.g., “the more standard genitive absolute construction καταβάντος δὲ αὐτοῦ” and “the less common and perhaps to some less polished καταβάντι δὲ αὐτῷ in the dative case”. In such cases I would say that the less common and less polished reading is (or at least could be) the original and that the other witnesses introduce an innovation. If the same witnessed or most of them introduce a number of other likely innovations we can suspect that there is a special relationship among them, they probably form a group or a family.
      I understand that your task is enormous, difficult and delicate but (with Maas, Pasquali etc.) I think that too many polygenetic (weak) variants are less useful than few very relevant tendentially monogenetic ones. In other philological traditions there are typologies of variant readings that we must not use to build the stemma (e.g. Salemans 2000, Brandoli 2007). The choice among these polygenetical variants happens in a later phase of the work. Of course I don’t want to convert you all to Neo-Lachmannianism, but only to say that there are also different ways of approaching your problems
      .

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    2. Trovato: "'The less common and perhaps to some less polished καταβάντι δὲ αὐτῷ in the dative case'. In such cases I would say that the less common and less polished reading is (or at least could be) the original and that the other witnesses introduce an innovation.

      Since many of those "dative absolute" types of variation occur in the Byzantine text, while in the same passages the predominantly Alexandrian critical text reads the genitive absolute,this makes Dr Trovato's observation of more than passing interest.

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  36. Trovato” “The broad circulation of vulgate texts is in itself a powerful factor in their transmission to the later tradition. . . . The gradual thinning out, over time, of the original branches of a genealogical tree invariably spares the most popular vulgatae.”

    Precisely — and it is often overlooked that the vulgata amid the Byzantine line of transmission is clearly not monolithic, but highly diversified, broadly circulated, and also over time thinned out (consider von Soden’s Ka, K1, Ki, Kx, Kr, Kc etc.). Whether the
    “most popular” form of that vulgate is the transmissional line to follow (as opposed to seeking a general consensus among the various lines of transmission) is a separate theoretical matter.

    Trovato: “I only add that a factor for the popularity of a vulgate can be being up to date (e.g. no more written in majuscule, but in minuscule) . . . . I can’t help to notice interesting analogies between “normal” MSS traditions and the transmission of NT.”

    Indeed, I have long suggested (along with Lake, Blake, New; Reynolds/Wilson, Mioni et al.) that the transition from Greek uncial to minuscule script (to quote Mioni) “provoked the irreparable destruction of practically all codices in uncial, which were no longer recopied” — a situation that in itself has radically altered the geography and roadmap of textual transmission in a manner not yet appreciated by most NT textual scholars.

    Snapp: “if NA’s agreements with Byz are also agreements with a small cluster of Alexandrian MSS, and if NA’s disagreements with Byz are also agreements with a small cluster of Alexandrian MSS, then it is clear that one might has well not have Byz in the equation; the same compilation could be made without Byzantine.”

    Here Mr Snapp and I concur, although we differ on other matters.

    Borland: “But couldn’t someone else do a similar experiment and present arguments in favor of the NA27 reading every time?”

    The fact of course is that neither for the pro-Byzantine side nor the pro-critical text side has every variant unit been analyzed and defended on both internal and external grounds (and likely never will be, due to the sheer quantity of data involved). At best, we see varying degrees of selectivity in the variant units discussed, ranging from lower quantities (e.g., Metzger, Omanson) to higher (e.g., Willker, Comfort). Yet the limited explanations given at least provide an insight into the theory and methodology of the respective commentators and their preferred form of NT text, so they remain helpful even if not totally comprehensive.

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    1. Paolo Trovato8/18/2017 3:55 pm

      Thanks for your patience and tolerance with an intruder

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  37. This thread appears to be winding down, so I wish to thank the specialists who participated for their input into my learning. However, I still cannot get past my initial reaction when I read Peter's post (that reaction was 'Really??').

    We have read Peter and others trying to discount the objection on technical grounds, and Dr. Robinson and others re-affirm it on technical grounds. But this really is nothing more than the ongoing (healthy) debate over the usefulness of the Byzantine textform, and really need not have anything to do with DW's powerpoint slide.

    I just cannot get past the apparent silliness of the objection.

    This was a slide that was part of an Introduction to NT Textual Criticism course, and I believe DW also used this slide in some of his church conference presentations. His audience simply was not at a point of learning to be given all the details on what it means to use available manuscripts and the theories on the development of the early textforms and so forth. As it is, the objection smacks of someone taking a 1st year Greek professor to task for telling the 1st year student only that the Genitive Case is used to indicate possession, when in fact the 2nd year textbook outlines 33 different Genitive usages.

    In short, the objection holds Wallace accountable for something he has not expressly taught as part of the given presentation. My guess...and its only a guess...is that during this presentation, had a savvy first year student raised a hand and asked him about this objection, Dr. Wallace would have responded with his desire to see all Byzantine manuscripts digitized, and collated, so as to move toward a consensus on the Byzantine textform, and to add much to our learning and thereby have a positive effect on critical editions.

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    1. Darell, no one is claiming that Wallace doesn't value Byzantine manuscript at all. Of course he does. He loves manuscripts and finds all sorts of fascinating things about them as he digitizes them. CSNTM is doing great work—all agree on that. But that's not the issue. The issue is whether his apologetic presentation fits with his text-critical practice. The claim is that he values large numbers in one and doesn't in the other. Sorry if that wasn't clear.

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    2. You were very clear...I get what you are saying, and I am just saying the slide is taken out its teaching context when it is analyzed for more advanced text-critical theory and practice. And I am glad you opened the thread as the discussion has been fascinating, but it didn't need Wallace's slide for the discussion.

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    3. It seems to me that the primary apologetic misuse of the statement regarding the mere gross quantity of available data stems more from those who are not TC specialists, such as Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, and others.

      The misleading implication one gets from their writings seems to be that every one of the 5600+ MSS not only exist for every book and passage in the NT, but also that every one of those 5600+ MSS waqs utliized and was directly responsible for the establishment of the final form of the NT text.

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  38. Peter Gurry,

    PG: "The same “compilation” could basically be made without the Alexandrian manuscripts. That’s my point."

    That seems very unrealistic, unless "basically" is used as a blanket under which to smuggle 272 rejections of Byzantine readings in the General Epistles. One might adopt some of those 272 non-Byzantine readings on the basis of non-Byz, non-Alex support, but to assert that one can create the text of NA28 without consulting Alexandrian MSS seems obviously wrong.

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    1. Yeah, I consider 93% agreement with the ECM/NA28 text in the Catholics to count as pretty good especially when the closest witness to the NA initial text in the Catholics is 96% and the lowest is shy of 84%. If I could get 93% of the initial text from a group of MSS, I'd say those MSS are pretty darn good overall. And, of course, that's what the ECM editors think too.

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    2. And since we've now wandered from my original post, I'll save anything more for another venue.

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  39. Peter Gurry: "Can reasoned eclectics make any apologetic appeal to the abundance of our NT witnesses without being inconsistent? If so, how?" I'm inclined to say yes, for so large a number of MSS provides us with many opportunities to observe scribes strenuously emending the text in order to uphold ecclesiastical tradition, oppose heresy, remove apparent contradictions, and the like, yet very MSS (of any sort) seem to show such scribal meddling on any significant scale at all. Thus, the Christian apologist can show that it is unreasonable to assume that massive corruption of the NT has taken place, at least after the first few centuries (these early centuries can be addressed on analogy of the later ones and on other lines of argument).

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  40. “Embarrassment of Riches”—Part 1 of 2

    This has been an interesting discussion (which I just learned about from a friend) on the quantitative argument that I have used in public debates and lectures. I’ve read through the comments as of yesterday (and noticed, but did not read, a mass of comments posted just in the last 24 hours) and noted the objections to this argument. I think the thread can be grouped as follows:

    1. Peter Gurry calls me an apologist.
    2. Gurry mentions that both Ehrman and Robinson have argued against the quantitative argument for various reasons.
    3. The quantitative argument in isolation is weak and misleading. It’s not 5000+ MSS in any given place, and only 424 (Greek) MSS are from the eighth century or earlier.
    4. I am apparently speaking hypocritically when I invoke the numbers because most of these are Byzantine MSS and I presumably think the Byzantine text isn’t worth much. A good analogy would be that I consider the Byzantine witnesses to be counterfeit in thousands of places.

    I’m sure I’ve overlooked some of the arguments. But these are the major ones from what I can tell. My response:

    1. I’m an apologist? Peter, I’m insulted! Do you really want an apologist writing the foreword to your upcoming book? I may use apologetics but I am hardly an apologist.

    2. Ehrman has argued against the phrase “embarrassment of riches” because of the lateness of the MSS that comprise most of these riches. Robinson says something similar (point 3 above; dealt with below). Ironically, the phrase is a modification of a line in a book that Bart co-authored. On p. 51 of Metzger-Ehrman4, we read “In contrast with these figures [which deal with other Greco-Roman literature], the textual critic of the New Testament is embarrassed by the wealth of material [italics added].” This is the same thing that Metzger had written in his previous editions. So, if Ehrman claims some measure of authorship on this book (and there is no hint anywhere that the two authors disagree over any points, so far as I recall), then I am almost mimicking him on the quantitative argument. This brings us to point 3.

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  41. “Embarrassment of Riches”—Part 1 of 3 (can't do it in two parts)

    3. There are three parts to this objection: quantity, content, and date. That is, presumably I use the quantitative argument in isolation from other factors. Several suggested this based on the lone slide that Gurry displayed. But that is misleading. I never mention just the quantitative argument. (Thank you, Darrell, for pointing this out!) When I lecture on this topic I typically mention the number of MSS, the date of the earliest MSS, the fact that only a few contain the whole NT, the average number of pages, and the quality of the variants. It’s a lot to cover in a 45-minute lecture!

    Robinson critiques the quantitative argument by noting that there are only 424 extant (Greek) MSS of the NT before the ninth century. (Peter, I notice that you invited him to weigh in, but you didn’t invite me. ☹) There are, of course, also versions and fathers through those first eight centuries that make some contribution to our reconstruction of the text of the NT. But the point that Robinson is making is that the vast majority of MSS—coming in the ninth and later centuries—are fuller than the mostly fragmentary MSS of the earlier centuries. Again, I return to Metzger-Ehrman: “the work of many ancient authors has been preserved only in manuscripts that date from the Middle Ages… On the contrary, the time between the composition of the books of the New Testament and the earliest extant copies is relatively brief..” Thus, Metzger-Ehrman make a twofold argument: the quantity and date of the MSS of the NT are vastly more impressive than what we have for other ancient literature.

    By the fourth century we already have the complete NT, and it is duplicated over and over again through the first eight centuries. It’s true, only Aleph is a complete NT majuscule, but Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, Cantabrigiensis, Claromontanus, Washingtonianus, 019, 022, 042, 043, 047, etc., have substantial material. Among the papyri, there are over 550 leaves (over 1100 pages) of material, though most of these leaves are indeed fragmentary. Of the majuscules and lectionaries through the first eight centuries, we have well over 5000 leaves (about 11,000 pages). Of course, it is difficult to judge how much content these would have altogether by these mere numbers (I’ll work that out at a later date…), but 12,000 pages of text is nothing to sneeze at. Compared to other Greco-Roman literature, the NT stands head and shoulders above the rest both in quantity of MSS and date of the earliest ones. And we can argue that qualitatively it is superior to many literary remains of classical authors, as some have already pointed out.

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    1. Well, that was actually part 2 of 3. Sorry.

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    2. I was hoping that you'd weight in, thank you!

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  42. 4. I do not think the Byzantine text is worthless, nor do I think that it has only a confirmatory voice in textual decisions. There are times, though rare, in which I think the Byzantine witnesses virtually by themselves contain the autographic wording. Phil 1.14 is one of these: τον λογον λαλειν without θεου wedged in between is largely a Byzantine reading, though P46 agrees with it. (If I recall, the UBS editors raised this from a ‘D’ rating to a ‘B,’ probably due to Karavidopoulos’s influence.) And in Matt 24.36 I reject ουδε ο υιος as an early Alexandrian-Western interpolation (or, as Karavidopoulos put it, the Byzantine reading is an ‘eastern non-interpolation’). See my essay in Mike Holmes’s Festschrift, “The Son’s Ignorance in Matthew 24:36: An Exercise in Textual and Redaction Criticism,” pp. 182–209. Further, the verdict is still out regarding the Byzantine text since over 80% of all Greek NT MSS have almost nothing published on them except in various apparatuses; they still need published collations. The ECM on the Catholics is a great step in this direction. I fully agree with Robinson that complete collations of all existing MSS is a sine qua non for our discipline. CSNTM states that as one of our goals. Making digital images of the MSS is just the first step… Darrell Post’s thesis on 2907 is a great model on collation and the resultant implications.

    Regarding the ‘counterfeit’ argument, another way to put this is that, according to Robinson, since there is c. 94% agreement between the NA text and the Byzantine MSS, this would mean that from a reasoned eclectic position the Byzantines are only 6% counterfeit (to use the most pejorative and misleading term). To speak of ‘counterfeits’ is disingenuous because it is focusing only on the disagreements which, as Gurry, noted, are one million variants (Peter, is this a true estimate or just a guess (☺?)

    5. Finally, in lay presentations the major concern about the text of the NT has to do with theology. Can lay folks trust their text on the major doctrines that they thought were always part of the NT? Yes, they can. Even Ehrman would agree with this (see Misquoting Jesus, p. 252, paperback edition).

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  44. Sorry, had to delete the previous post to make a correction; I was considering only the blog comments in relation to the 424 MSS statistic (which I had not brought up in that portion)...

    However, I might also suggest in relation to the overall thrust of this discussion that -- even if all post-9th century MSS are excluded -- it would appear that a general consensus text compiled only from those 424 pre-9th century MSS (in whatever portions of scripture any of them happen to be extant) would still more likely approximate the text found among the later witnesses that comprise the Byzantine Textform than it would the text found within the various modern critical editions.

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