Tuesday, December 09, 2008

5. To Touch or Not to Touch: Lepsius on John 20:17

This is the fifth instalment of the series on conjectures in the Nestle editions. See the sidebar for earlier posts.

In the Biblical Studies Carnaval XXXVI, Jim West says that the text-critical matter presented in the previous instalment of this series (Camerarius on John 19:29), is “really fascinating stuff ..., but not for the faint of heart”. Well then, it gets even worse today (for the faint-of-heart, that is), for today’s conjecture, if accepted, would render obsolete beautiful paintings such as this one by Titian. (Not that art ceases to be art when it is discovered to be based on textual misunderstandings - perhaps a nice idea for a new series.)

In John 20:17, the risen Jesus says to Mary Magdalene: “Touch me not (μή μου ἅπτου); for I am not yet ascended to my Father” (KJV). At the surface, the connection between the two phrases seems to be awkward, especially because of the word ‘for’ (γάρ). The current Nestle edition (NA27), as did NA26, records a conjecture by ‘Lipsius’, ἅπτου μου instead of μή μου ἅπτου. That is, Jesus asks (commands) Mary to touch him, apparently while it is still possible!

Somewhat surprisingly, earlier Nestle editions, from N13 to NA25, give ‘Lepsius’, not ‘Lipsius’ as the author of this conjecture, and ‘Lepsius’ turns out to be correct. So, in your copy of NA27, please take a pencil (not a ballpoint pen) and correct the ‘i’ into an ‘e’ (or strike the entire conjecture, see below; or supply a different author, see below). The error was easily made, for there is a conjecture by Lipsius recorded on Luke 16:17.1

As customary in this series, let us go to the sources and ask who Lepsius was and what he proposed.

Lepsius and his conjecture
Johannes Lepsius (1858-1926) was the son of Carl Richard Lepsius, a famous Egyptologist. The son was a missionary; he is especially known for his work for the Armenian cause.

From 1898 to 1911 he edited a journal, Das Reich Christi. It is in this journal that his conjecture can be found, in a series of articles on John’s gospel.2 First some context, therefore, derived from these articles.

In general, Lepsius’ approach must be characterised as harmonistic, that is, he tries to reconcile the differences between the resurrection stories as found in the four New Testament gospels. He follows for instance the idea according to which ‘Galilee’ in the resurrection stories in Mark and Matthew is actually found on the Mount of Olives.

In his remarks on Mary Magdalen in John 20, one also detects an interest related to harmonisation, namely to consider the story not as fiction (or narrative elaboration of a rather vague tradition), but as eyewitness report, with a reasoning that I do not entirely understand:
... entweder war der Verfasser Augenzeuge oder ein Romanschriftsteller ersten Ranges. Die unmittelbare sittliche Empfindung entscheidet für das erstere. (p. 31)

Perhaps someone can explain what ‘unmittelbare sittliche Empfindung’ is exactly, but I fail to see how such directness can be a criterion for historical authenticity.

The conjecture itself is introduced in rather simple terms, but theses words contain some surprises for those who know the conjecture only from secondary sources (the Nestle apparatus):
Daß in den Worten: Rühre mich (nicht) an – das “nicht” als Dittographie (im aramäischen Grundtexte des Evangeliums) zu streichen und “Rühre mich an” zu lesen ist, legt schon der Vergleich mit Joh. 20,19 [sic; probably John 20:20 is meant]; 20,27; Luk. 24,39-40 nahe. Alle Gründe, die die Kommentare für das noli me tangere geltend machen, offenbaren nur die Verlegenheit der Ausleger. (p. 31)

The last remark is to the point: the commentators betray many difficulties in explaining the verse in particular and the meaning of ‘Do not touch me’ in particular. All commentators tend to regard their solution as definitive, but the multiplicity of solutions, in this case, is telling.3

Lepsius’ conjecture is a literary one, that is, prompted by the comparison with other texts. Had Lepsius only referred to John 20:20 and 20:27, his would be a valid, if debatable, argument. With the inclusion of Luke 24, however, his harmonistic interest makes itself to be felt again. Such an approach almost automatically disqualifies the resulting conjecture, just as harmonistic variants, other things being equal, are not considered as original.

Even more problematic than the harmonistic approach is another aspect of Lepsius’ method, if it can be called thus. He appeals, albeit between brackets, to an original Aramaic source or version of the Gospel. Such conjectures, however, are not conjectures on the Greek text. Lepsius assumes a dittography in the original Aramaic, not even a dittography in an Aramaic copy or a translation error made when the Greek text was prepared.

There is no reference, and no elaboration on the Aramaic words Lepsius has in mind. If one (unscholarly) takes the Peshitta wording as a starting point, a dittography seems not very likely.

In general, I do not find such translation hypotheses very convincing, and the methods used for them are shaky, but I know that nineteenth- and twentieth-century research is full of such theories. In Lepsius’ case, the Aramaic source theory is not applied in order to better understand linguistic and other idiosyncrasies of John’s gospel, but to take away an inconcinnity as perceived by him.

In any case, Lepsius does not assume an error in the Greek transmission. Therefore, his opinion on this text does not belong to the realm of textual criticism, but to source criticism. Interesting though it may be, with Lepsius’ argumentation it has no place in the Nestle-Aland apparatus.

Yet the conjecture can perhaps remain in the apparatus, as an apt reminder of the exegetical difficulties of this verse, but if so, a different author should be indicated: Christoph Gotthelf Gersdorf (1763-1834). This German pastor wrote a single influential book (and even only vol. I of it), namely Beiträge zur Sprach-Characteristik der Schriftsteller des Neuen Testaments. Eine Sammlung meist neuer Bemerkungen, Erster Theil, Leipzig, Weidmann, 1816. Gersdorf is mentioned in older German commentaries (though mostly without a proper reference), making it somewhat strange that only Lepsius’ name appears in the Nestle editions.

Moreover, Gersdorf’s proposal clearly differs from Lepsius’, for it really qualifies as a conjecture (found in the long footnote on pp. 79-80 of the xxxvi+579-page book). His reasoning is as follows (in my words). Exegetically, the verse is both strange in itself, and odd compared with John 20:27. Textcritically, the concurrence of the variant readings μή μου ἅπτου, μὴ ἅπτου μου and even the difficult μὴ ἅπτου may suggest that an original μου ἅπτου was miscopied as μὴ ἅπτου, to which subsequently μου was supplied in two different ways, as ἅπτου evidently needs an object. One can also imagine ‘orthodox’ and ‘heterodox’ corruption alike, for a text in which the risen Jesus asks a woman to touch him may not be to everyone’s taste. Finally, from a psychological point of view, one would more readily imagine fear to be the first reaction of someone confronted with a friend who is risen from the dead.4

Other conjectures
There are other conjectures known to the same words, the most popular of which is μὴ πτόου (‘don’t be terrified!’), addressing precisely the psychological point made by Gersdorf. However this post is already getting too long. Once again, it feels like I have only scratched the surface of this intriguing verse.

1. Lipsius, in this case, is the nineteenth-century theologian Richard Adelbert Lipsius, not the sixteenth-century classical scholar Justus Lipsius.
2. See ‘Das Johannes-Evangelium. I. Der Text’, in Das Reich Christi 5 (1902), issues 2-5 (February-May), and ‘Die Auferstehungsberichte’, in issues 7-8 (July-August). From the latter, a separate publication exists, entitled Reden und Abhandlungen von Johannes Lepsius. 4. Die Auferstehungsberichte, Berlin, Reich Christi-Verlag, 1902, which will be quoted here.
3. Lepsius may have had Bernard Weiss’ commentary (KEK II, 81893) in mind. There, I easily count 12 different opinions mentioned in the footnotes on pp. 611-612, which makes at least 13 together with Weiss’ own solution, and all that more than a century ago.
4. Compare Gersdorf’s own words (pp. 79-80 footnote): ‘Für μη μου ἁπτου hat aber B. (Vat. 1209.) μη ἁπτου μου, und Mt. B. (b. Wetst. auch D. codd. lat.?) bloss μη ἁπτου. Durch diese Weglassung oder Versetzung des μου, das, wenn ἁπτου echt ist, nie gefehlt haben kann, dürfte man vielleicht auf die Vermuthung geführt werden, dass die Negation μη in diesem μου auf eine oder die andere Weise bereits früherhin ihren Ursprung fand, und es anfänglich bloss hiess: ἁπτου μου, oder auch μου ἁπτου, das aber mit der Heiligkeit des Erstandenen nicht ganz verträglich schien, und den Freunden des Docetismus anstössig seyn mochte. Denn wenn gleich v. 16. Μαρια eine freundliche Zusprache des Herrn und sanfte Ankündigung seiner Persönlichkeit war; so wird doch gewiss Maria ihr Ραββουνι jetzt, bei einer so unerwarteten Totenerscheinung (v. 15.), nur mit Graus und Schrecken, gleich einem Angstschrei, erwiedert, und sich wahrscheinlich mehr entfernt als genähert haben. Auch scheint v. 16. στραφεισα, und v. 14. ἐστραφη εἰς τα ὀπισω eher an die Flucht als an eine Annäherung zu erinnern, und v. 5. οὐ μεντοι εἰσηλθεν (vgl. v. 11.) offenbar an ihre Furchtsamkeit, so dass aus dem Munde Jesu zunächst zu erwarten war: “fürchte dich nicht, tritt näher, rühre mich an; ich bin noch derselbe und in eurer Mitte; habe mich noch nicht zu meinem Vater erheben!” (vgl. Luc. 24,37-40.).’ For the reading μὴ ἅπτου, Gersdorf depends on Griesbach's edition; Griesbach in turn refers to Matthaei for it (hence ‘Mt’).

Monday, December 08, 2008

Exit Live Search Books - Enter Internet Archive

In a previous post, I mentioned a number of NTTC (and OTTC) books found on Microsoft’s Live Search Books. The service, however, was discontinued in May 2008. The Wikipedia page on MSN states that it "integrated into regular web search", but this standard phrase appears to be incorrect (also the page on LSB itself).

Fortunately, many of LSB’s out-of-copyright books are now found on the Internet Archive, the best known part of which is the Wayback Machine. The books are available in different formats. For important books, I would recommend to download a copy on your own computer. There are just too many examples of websites taken down or crashed servers. The following list contains the examples given in the previous post mentioned above. As many people do not use the DjVU format, I will provide a link to the PDF alongside the reference to the archive page itself. In many cases, other copies are available (marked with +).

* Friedrich Blass, Philology of the Gospels (1898). (pdf) (+).
* Charles Fox Burney, The Aramaic Origin of the Fourth Gospel (1922). (pdf) (+)
* Frederick Field, Origenis Hexaplorum quae supersunt ... (1875) vol. 1. (pdf)
* Frederick Field, Origenis Hexaplorum quae supersunt ... (1875) vol. 2. (pdf)
* Frederick Field, Notes on the Translation of the New Testament (1899). (pdf) (+)
* Caspar Rene Gregory, Canon and Text of the New Testament (1907). (pdf)
* James Rendel Harris, Biblical Fragments from Mount Sinai (1890). (pdf)
* James Rendel Harris, Codex Bezae (1891). (pdf)
* George Milligan, Here & There Among the Papyri (1922). (pdf)
* [Eberhard Nestle], Η ΚΑΙΝΗ ΔΙΑΘΗΚΗ. Text with Critical Apparatus [Nestle text with TR and RV variants] (1904). (pdf)
* James Hardy Ropes, The Text of Acts (The Beginnings of Christianity I.3) (1926). (pdf)
* Philip Schaff, A Companion to the Greek Testament and the English Version (1883). (pdf) (+)
* Frederick Henry Ambrose Scrivener, Contributions to the Criticism of the Greek New Testament (1859). (pdf) (+)
* Frederick Henry Ambrose Scrivener, Six Lectures on the Text of the New Testament and the Ancient Manuscripts Which Contain It (1875). (pdf)
* Frederick Henry Ambrose Scrivener, A Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament for the Use of Biblical Students. Vol. I (41894). (pdf)
* Alexander Souter, The Text and Canon of the New Testament (1913). (pdf) (+)
* Henry Barclay Swete, The Old Testament in Greek vol. 1 (31901) (pdf); vol. 2 (21896) (pdf); vol. 3 (31905) (pdf). ((+))
* Samuel Prideaux Tregelles, An Account of the Printed Text of the Greek New Testament (1854). (pdf) (+)
* Thomas Hunter Weir, A Short History of the Hebrew Text of the Old Testament (1899). (pdf) (+)

Happy hunting!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Manuscripts in Cyberspace - the Virtual Manuscript Room

Suppose you can study the textual complexities of a New Testament verse in an attractive and easy-to-use web-interface, with access to an exhaustive critical edition, which for a start lists all manuscripts together with all readings in this verse (and, as far as I am concerned, even the scholarly conjectures in a different layer, editorial choices and whatever). And what is more, for any manuscript listed you have access to a digital image of the page with the verse you are studying, just one mouse click away. Wouldn’t this be heaven on earth for the textual scholar? Tommy Wasserman could have done his dissertation in one year or less ...

This heaven may well be realised, at least for the New Testament, in the not-too-distant future. Eschatology in the process of realisation. I cannot demonstrate how it will be (it is the future, remember), but I can tell something about a small, essential step being taken right now. It is time then to already learn a new acronym: VMR, the Virtual Manuscript Room, for that is where the manuscripts will be - for as we all know, virtual is just as real as real itself, only different.

As far as every virtual reality has a foothold in our everyday space-time continuum, this one is located in a country known as Germany, more precisely in Münster, at the INTF. The project is managed by Ulrich Schmid and Martin Faßnacht, two persons I know to exist - Ulrich even speaks Dutch.

To begin with, the VMR addresses a very important problem that hampers efficient interaction with the wealth of digital images coming available on the internet: lack of indexes. Normally one does not only want the images, but also to easily find a given passage. It is of course much more, but in its most simple form, the VMR index contains a list of pages with their internet address and contents. Thanks to that index, the VMR promises to be the ideal intermediary between any form of information that uses verse references and the web-based images themselves.

The index can (and will) contain more than just the textual contents; it also records illuminations, decorations, canon tables, kephalaia lists, etc. Some images may not show the manuscript itself, but its binding, or a scale (or the gloved fingers of a Google collaborator). This can be indicated as well. The screenshot here shows the interface I am using right now, as a beta tester, to provide the index information for the Codex Boreelianus (F 09) of the Gospels.

Not much eye candy here, except for the fancy colours, but the interface is effective enough.

A popup-window can be opened with the web-image of the page you are indexing. In this case I am at the beginning of Mark. As said, the indexing allows (demands) me to draw attention to the decoration (the head piece) here.

More important than the interface, of course, is the underlying database technology (MySQL), and the model adopted to describe and index the manuscripts in a unique and complete way. All this guarantees the (re)useability of the data.

Wouldn’t this indexing job be a nice pass-time for a talented undergraduate, as it is just looking up some verse references and filling in some numbers, after all? Partly yes, but mostly no. In the first place, one always underestimates how much background knowledge is taken for granted. How do you know that something is special when you hardly know what is normal? More in particular, part of the beta testing process is to find out how to handle the unexpected. One example is the indexing of pages which are incomplete. And the Boreelianus, a two-column manuscript, definitively has its share of torn and cut pages, in many different ways. The few days of working with the project allowed me once again to realise how useful beta testing can be. It is all a matter of finetuning and making explicit aims, limitations and working procedures.

Once the VMR is up and running, with the data entered by collaborators all over the world, it should become really easy to answer questions such as "how many complete manuscripts of Mark’s gospel are there?" or "which manuscripts contain Rom 1:1-7?". I am convinced that the data, all together, will give textual scholars research possibilities not thought of previously.

The VMR, in my view, would not have to be limited to manuscripts (what’s in a name?). Alongside manuscript study, the history of the printed text and of textual criticism as a scholarly discipline deserves some attention as well. So why not include important editions such as Tischendorf’s Editio Octava? By the way, the TC Ebind site, which contains images of the entire scanned edition, is down at the moment, but I hope it will be back online before long.

Are there possible problems? Of course, and certainly more than I can think of. A first difficulty has to do with the lack of stability of the internet. As the VMR database contains references to images anywhere, it will certainly require frequent maintenance. Another problem may be lack of direct access to images on the web. In many cases, for instance, images are hidden behind (inside, that is) intricate web interfaces which do not allow so-called "deep linking".

Another important issue, from a scholarly point of view, may be data suffocation. Of course we need the data, with speedy access to all we want, but we should keep in mind that wealth of information does not necessarily make us better textual critics. With everything visible at arm’s length, we are almost bound not to have a "grand view". Nothing will replace the hard and intense labour of actually working with the data, but the VMR promises to make our time even more well-spent.

Thanks to Ulrich Schmid and Martin Faßnacht for permitting me to blog on the VMR project while it is still in beta.

Some information on the VMR can be found on the projects page of the INTF website. Stay tuned there for developments. A call for collaboration was issued in December 2007 on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog.