Friday, August 19, 2011

E. Mitchell (1896) and Royse (2008) on homoeoteleuton

Because of the sometimes shocking lack of skill exhibited by 19th century textual critics in being able to recognize rather compelling homoeoteleuton (h.t.) errors, one gets the impression that they were wholly ignorant of them, or else had no real grasp of how to go about finding and positively identifying them.

We suspect that there is some kernel of truth to the overwhelming incompetence of textual critics, particularly in the period between 1830 to 1880, encompassing the labours of Lachmann, Tregelles, Tischendorf, Alford & Hort. 

In particular, the many apologists and promoters of the 'new text-critical methods' seem perpetually unable to comprehend the ramifications of their own words.  It appears that they readily lifted explanations and descriptions of the text-critical process (repeatedly), and yet failed to see the consequences of their own statements.

Another case in point here is Edward Mitchell, author of The Critical Handbook of the Greek NT (Harper, 1896).  This is again not a true handbook at all, for it does not train, equip, or even introduce the actual methods of TC in a way that would enable someone to reliably practice it.   Instead it is a reassuring promotional introduction to the popular (by the 1890s) views of Lachmann, Tregelles, Tischendorf and Hort.   Although providing several pages on TC methods, it lacks even proper illustrations of popular canons.

It also misleads badly as to the applicability of various rules.  When Mitchell turns to various TC problems, we find the following seemingly reasonable and sensible statement:
" para. 9The Nature of Various Readings

Since no manuscripts are extant which date earlier than the 4th century, it is obvious that all now existing are the result of transcriptions from previous copies, and are liable to such variations and imperfections as are incident to all copies...
3.  Frequently a clause is lost by what is called homoeoteleuton (Grk: ομοιοτελευτον), where two clauses happen to end with the same word, and the transcriber's eye passes from one to the other.  Omissions from this cause occur in the Sinaitic MS in the New Testament - according to Scrivener, no fewer than one 115 times - though many of them are supplied by a later hand."
Clearly Mitchell shows himself well aware of the potential problem of h.t. errors in even the most ancient manuscripts, like Aleph  and B.   Yet, happily and uncritically following the claims of Lachmann, Tregelles, and Hort, Mitchell sees no conflict at all between this observation (above) and his third Textual-Critical Canon (p. 122 fwd):
"3.  We may next mentions the canon of Griesbach, Brevior lectio praeferenda est verbosiori, 'The briefer reading must be preferred to the longer.'   The reasonableness of this rule results from the tendency of scribes to incorporate marginal notes or fuller parallel passages, or to amplify OT quotations.  And yet it must be modified by the consideration that words and clauses are sometimes omitted to remove difficulties (see Bengel's canon, 2. above), or through Homoeoteleuton. [!!]"

It is glaringly obvious that Mitchell has no clue about the ramifications of his statements here, or else he is engaging in some kind of deception.

First of all, he misquotes Griesbach, for Griesbach's 'canon' is actually much larger and more complex than stated here.  This is because it was originally given with many limitations and explanations which reveal its unsuitableness and inapplicability to most Variation Units.   This has been noted and expounded by others, including Royse, recently:

Royse on Griesbach's canon  < - - Click here.

Secondly, If his words above are to have any connection to reality, then Hort's text and the whole methodology of elevating "Prefer the Shorter Reading" to a universal canon must be rejected as naive and unrealistic.

The question remains, whether popularizers like Mitchell (and the promoters of the Revised Version etc.) were just dutifully copying what real textual critics had written, or they really understood what they were saying, and thus were engaging in a kind of Orwellian 'newspeak'.


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