Friday, April 4, 2008

Manuscript Month on Forbidden Gospels

In order to circulate more information about the manuscript tradition of the New Testament, I have decided to devote a series of posts in the month of April to this topic. I am frustrated as a scholar that we are operating with so little knowledge of a manuscript about what a gospel or a letter of Paul actually looked like in the first century. I have a love/hate with Nestle-Aland. Mostly I hate it because it makes us forget that we are not reading a manuscript that exists, but a modern composition.

Did you know that Erwin Nestle intended this to be the case? He wrote in the introduction to the 25th edition that his book was set up with the sigla and apparatus for those scholars "who want to concentrate on the text itself, without noticing the variations." He said that scholars "will easily get used to overlooking these signs."

Did you know that the Nestle-Aland edition is not a full critical edition? It doesn't contain all the textual variants. In fact, to my knowledge, we do not yet have an edition of the manuscripts with a full accounting of all the variants.

I understand that there is a project in Germany that is ongoing to solve some of this trouble. If any of you have further information about this project, or other publications, that are working to give a full account of the manuscripts, please let me know in the comments or by e-mail. Let's pass around this information this month, and get on top of what is going on in textual criticism these days!


MSH said...

Good topic choice. I have to take exception a bit to NA not being a critical edition - it is, since it makes MS judgments and lists variants - it just isn't an EXHAUSTIVE critical edition. You are correct about the GBS project. It aims to account for all MS witnesses from teh second century onward - see
There is a second project aiming to account for ALL variants of each book from every source. That work began with Reuben Swanson, and is now being carried on (still several years out) by Kent Clarke of Trinity Western University in Langley, BC. See

José Solano said...

A most fascinating and valuable topic and project. I understand there is a huge number of manuscripts but with today's technology the work should be quite doable.

Tony Burke said...

April, are you aware of the series New Testament Greek Manuscripts by Sheffield Academic Press? Each volume focuses on one gospel and provides the text of Luke with variants from a host of manuscripts and manuscript families line-by-line (i.e., a horizontal synopsis). I have the Luke volume and it is excellent.

Richard Edmondson said...

This is something I hadn't given much thought to. I even had to go to Wikipedia and look up "Nestle-Aland"--never had heard of it before. Given that I'm a light weight in this discussion (and probably am transcending the bounds of presumptiousness by even posting a comment) I will say that for me--as someone who has heard all his life "the Bible has been translated correctly"--the discovery that there are literally thousands of different variants out there, and that a great deal of subjectivity has gone into choosing which ones to use as a "critical text", is a pretty eyebrow-raising discovery.

April DeConick said...


I attempt to familiarize my college students with the manuscript tradition in my bible 100 course. You are right. It is an eyebrow-raising discovery!

Richard Edmondson said...

The more I learn, the more I realize I don't know. Sayings like "It's the Gospel truth" somehow become meaningless in all this. In my reading on Wikipedia, I even discovered that they've coined a term--"conjectural emendation." The only solution I can see is for Jesus to pay a second visit and clarify the record. That's assuming of course that we're worthy of a second chance at listening to what he has to say and trying to fathom it and get it right. Considering all he suffered, the way he died and everything, the fact that we couldn't even record his words correctly is pretty appalling when you think about it.