Oct 30, 2010
Michaelis on Conjecture
Excerpt for Review: J. Michaelis, Introduction to the NT, 2nd ed. Vol I. Part I., (London, 1802) ch.X, p.385 fwd
Michaelis on Conjecture:
On Conjectural Emendations of the Greek NT
The question, whether critical conjecture is applicable to the New Testament is not to be decided on theological grounds.
It is one of the most important, and at the same time one of the most disputed points in sacred criticism, whether what is called conjectura critica may be applied to the New Testament? or, in other words, whether in certain cases, and under certain restrictions, provided we use all due care and caution, we may reject the readings of all the manuscripts, versions, and fathers, and merely on a probable supposition admit a reading, that is supported by no written authority? and whether, if we proceed on these principles, we have any reason to expect, that we shall ever arrive at the truth?
Many men of learning, who undoubtedly deserve a place in the list of critics, are of opinion that conjectures are as allowable at present in the New Testament, as in the Classic Authors. Yet the greatest number of our divines considered them formerly as presumptuous, if not impious; but those very persons, who are so strenuously attached to the printed text, are not aware, as Westein has observed in his Prolegomena, that a very great number of readings, which they so zealously support, are nothing more than critical conjectures, advanced either by the ancient fathers, or by the modern editors of the Greek Testament in the 16th and 17th centuries.
These readings therefore must be immediately rejected, if critical conjecture is wholly inadmissible.
Now this questiion is purely critical, and if we would arrive at certainty, we must argue not on theological, but on critical grounds. The argument, which is drawn from the hypothesis, that divine providence would not permit the true reading in any text of the New Testament to be lost, feems very extraordinary, when we consider the persons who have applied it. For these very men make no scruple, in imitation of Gusset, to guess at the meaning of Hebrew words merely from the context, and thereby tacitly acknowledge that divine providence has not guarded against the necessity of conjecture in the Old Testament. Why therefore should they deny that the same liberty may be taken in the New?
I confess that I am not attached to Guffet's party, though it was formerly in great repute, since a man may easily conjecture, though possessed of little knowledge : and yet I cannot deny that there are several Hebrew words, of which the meaning cannot be ascertained with any degree of certainty.
[Note: the Hebrew words referred to here comprise mostly of a long list of fauna and flora, specific species of birds, beasts, and plants indigenous to the Middle East, for which modern science has probably yet to catalogue and classify. Typically, translators have substituted recognisable plants and animals, to give sense to the text.
There are also a few cases that involve other words that have fallen into obscurity with the death of classic Hebrew. Some of these have been either explained or conjectured about in the Talmud (c. 200 A.D.), the ancient Jewish commentaries collection.]
If divine providence therefore has permitted conjecture to be necessary in determining the meaning of words in the Old Testament, it cannot be inconsistent with the same providence, that conjectures should be made on the readings of the New Testament. Besides, no man can assert, that, because the true reading of any passage is no longer to be found, it is therefore totally lost, since the number of manuscripts of the Greek Testament, (not to mention other original documents) which have been actually collated, are trifling in comparison with the whole number that have been written; and a reading, which is now supported only by probable conjecture, may hereafter be confirmed by good authority.
Nor does it diminish the certainty of our faith, that some few passages of the New Testament have certain internal marks, which discover them to be not genuine, and which render it necessary to restore the true reading by critical conjecture. Our faith would then only be in danger, if the number of those passages was so very great, as to render the whole New Testament suspicious ; or if the principal, and distinguifhing doctrines of Christianity must be either added to, or taken from the sacred text, on no other authority than that of mere conjecture.
And it must be evident to every man, that the New Testament would be a very uncertain rule of life and manners, and indeed wholly unfit to be used as a standard of religion, if it were allowable, as is the practice of feveral Socinians, to apply critical conjecture in order to establish the tenets of our own party.
For instance, if, in order to free ourselves from a superstitious doctrine, on the suppofition that the Divinity of Christ is ungrounded, we were at liberty to change, without any authority,
θεος ην ο λογος (John 1:1) into θεου ...; or ο ων επι παντων θεος (Rom. 9:5) into ων ο επι παντων θεος, the Bible would become so very uncertain, that every man might believe, or disbelieve, as best suited his own principles.
Against critical conjectures of this kind, I shall in a subsequent section bring such arguments, as I think every candid and impartial Deist will acknowledge to be true.
But, if we assume not to ourselves the power of altering articles of religion, and confine our emendations to mere matters of criticism, if we alter, for instance, επειρασθησαν , (Hebrews 11:37) to επηρωθησαν , the grounds of our laith are by no means affected, nor have we really to fear any evil consequence.
Indeed, I am apprehensive that many divines, by a too great rigour on this subject, support the cause of the enemies of our religion, who insist that the admission of critical conjecture renders faith uncertain. For, though it will appear from the following section, that critical conjedure is not absolutely necessary for the establishing of the true text of the Greek Testament, yet there are passages in the Hebrew Bible, in which we cannot well dispense with it."
Conjectural Emendation (p. 388 fwd)
Critical Examination of this Question
In this section I will set aside all dogmatical arguments, - and examine the question in point in a purely critical manner.
In ancient writings, of which only one copy is extant, critical conjecture is indispensable. For it is not to be expected, that the copyist has nowhere made a mistake ; and the further he is removed from the age in which the author lived, the more copies in the meantime must have been taken, and of course the number of mistakes must have increased in proportion. Where there are errors therefore in this single copy, they can be corrected by no other means, than by critical conjecture. For this reason the first editors of ancient authors, at the time of the revival of learning, were obliged, where they had only a single manuscript, to make corrections in many cases according to probable conjecture : and though they have fallen sometimes into error, yet their editions would have been much less perfect, if they had not availed themselves of this liberty. Even in the present age we should add on the same principles, if we had the good fortune to discover a manuscript of those books of Livy, which are now wanting.
The necessity of critical conjecture remains the same, even where there are several manuscripts, if those manuscripts are only copies of one and the same more ancient manuscript : for those copies, with all their deviations from each other, represent to us only a single manuscript.
Both of these cases take place in regard to Tacitus, as Ernesti has shewn in the preface to that author, in the two first leaves of the sheet, that have the signature B. Critical conjecture therefore is absolutely necessary in the writings of Tacitus. Ernesti has several useful remarks on this subject, which I wish my readers would consult, because they would elucidate the fubject in question.
They are of Importance in the craiticism of the New Testament, provided any part of it comes under the above description.
If we have more than a single copy of any work, and those copies are transcripts of different and distinct manuscripts, the necessity of critical conjecture decreases in proportion to the number of copies : but it does not entirely vanish, unless the number of the manuscripts is very considerable. For an erroneous reading may have been so widely propagated, as to have found admission into many transcripts : and the true reading may be discoverable in none, some having one erroneous reading, others another.
We have no reason therefore to censure the critics of the 16th century, if in their editions of the Greek Testament they have sometimes departed from the readings of their manuscripts, and substituted in their stead such as were agreeable to probable conjecture.
Erasmus of Rotterdam, when he publishied his first edition of the Greek Testament, had very few manuscripts : of the Revelation, in particular, he had only one, and we cannot suppose therefore that he was in possession of all the genuine readings.
Luther likewise, in his translation of the New Testament, admitted critical conjefture, rendering Ταβιθα (Tabitha), (Acts 9:36). by 'Tabia', according to a supposition of Reuchlin. It is true that this conjecture was erroneous: but another alteration, which in his time was mere conjecture, or at best was only supported by the Vulgate, namely his translation of απαταις, (2 Pet. 2:13), as if it were αγαπαις, has been since confirmed by the authority of manuscripts. That Luther had actually seen manuscripts with this reading, as Saubert conjectures (Variae Sectiones, Matthaei, p.35-38), is very improbable, when we consider that in the place where he resided, no manuscripts were preserved, and the consultatlon of manuscripts was foreign to Luther's plan of study. This at least is certain, that he often applied critical conjectures in the Old Testament, which have been supported by no authority whatsoever.
After the publication of the editions of Erasmus, of the Complutensian edition, which was likewise taken from written copies, and that of Robert Stephens, with various readings from 15 manuscripts, the necessity of critical conjecture was considerably diminished; and more caution was requisite in the admission of a new reading, if, as the number of manuscripts increased, it could be found in none of them.
Yet the number of collated manuscripts was at that time fo small, in comparison with that which we have at present, the extracts were so few, and so imperfect, and the ancient versions, if we except the Latin, were so little known, that we have no right to censure an editor of that age, for assuming to himself the right of critical conjecture. If Colinaeus 1 therefore, and Beza 2 have inserted in the text of their editions, readings which they found in no manuscript, and which were supported only by critical conjecture, they were in very different circumstances from those in which we are at present: for we have not only ten times as many witnesses for or against a reading, as they had, but we have examined them with much greater accuracy ; and the assertion of Wetstein, that modern critics have the fame privilege as those of the 15th century, is not wholly agreeable to the truth. Nay, even that, which I should consider as allowable to Erasmus Schmid, 3 who collected the materials for his Greek Testament in the beginning of the 17th century, though it was not published before the year 1658, would be unwarrantable in a critic, who lived in the latter part of the 18th century.
1. See Wetstein's Prolegomena, p. 141.
2. ibid. p. 147.
3. ibid. p. 153.
For the probability, that critical conjecture alone can restore the true reading, decreases in the same proportion as our materials of criticism, or collections of various readings, increase. And since so many manuscripts, works of the fathers, and ancient versions made in distant countries, and in different periods, have been carefully collated ; since also those very ancient Latin versions, that vary fo considerably from each other, and were translated from very different Greek manuscripts, have been made known to the public, we might doubt whether critical conjecture ought not at present to be entirely rejected.
Yet the right of critical conjecture has been supported, even in the present age, by several warm, and even learned advocates. However they have not felt, and of course not answered the objection, which I have made in the preceding paragraph: they have too much attended to theological objections ; or they have too hastily drawn conclusions from principles, that are applicable only to writings of which there are but a few manuscripts, to the criticism of the New Testament, of which we have a very copious collection of various readings. The most celebrated advocate for the right of critical conjecfture is Wetstein, who has delivered his sentiments on this subject, p. 854 — 838. of the 2nd volume of his Greek Testament. He says, p. 255.
Quaero qua via is, cui codices alios consulere non licet, feire possit, quid aut a prima manu scriptum, aut postea immutatum sit, nisi ex ingenio, conjectura, etc.
(Now it is true, that if we had only one manuscript, or one edition of the Greek Testament, that critical conjecture would be admissible ; but Wetstein himself has taken care that we should not be in this situation. In his edition alone we can consult the readings of above 100 manuscripts ; and it is a matter of great doubt, whether in that case we are at liberty to alter the text from mere conjecture. All his arguments in favour of the contrary opinion, which I have not leisure at present to examine separately, are weakened at once by what has been said in the foregoing paragraphs. )
All things, however, considered, I would not undertake to banish conjecture entirely from the criticism of the New Testament. I feel very strongly the weight of one of Wetstein's proofs, though he has not given it the whole force of which it is capable. He says, p. 855. however inimical the clergy have been to the use of critical conjecture, they have not been able themselves to refrain from alterations in the sacred text, which are supported by no authority; and adds, "cum ventum ad verum eft, ratio morefque repugnant."
Now the practice of the ancient theologians, and fathers, which he alleges in support of his argument, does not appear to be of great weight ; for those ancient writers were not in possession of such a collection of various readings as we are. And yet there are certain passages in the Greek Testament, in which I can hardly refrain from the use of critical conjecture, in opposition to the authority of all our written documents ; some of which passages the reader will find in my Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews (e.g. Heb. 11:37, 12:25)
If it is asked, why I would admit in those cases the right of critical conjecture, in opposition to written authority? - I answer, because the text itself, after all the pains which have been bestowed on it, still feems to be sometimes faulty, or at least to be capable of an alteration, that would be more suitable to the context, and better adapted to the design of the writer.
For instance, I cannot read Rom. 8:2 without supposing that the Apostle wrote, ο γαρ μονος του πνευματος ΚΑΙ της ζωης εν Χρισω Ιησω ηλευθερωσε με απο του νομου της αμαρτιας και του θαναου , because the antithesis would be then complete, and a sense would be expressed that is suitable to the design of the Apostle. In short, it appears to me, that there are fome few passages in the New Testament, which, in the language of criticism are called loci affecti, passages, in which we have hitherto been able to derive no assistance, either from manuscripts, fathers, or versions, and which demand therefore the aid of critical conjecture.
It is true, that the great number of manuscripts brought from different and distant countries, together with the numerous ancient versions, may be alleged as a weighty argument against its admission : for it might be urged, that they would hardly be all erroneous in one and the same passage, and that one and the fame mistake should have been made in each is certainly not to be expected. But we must recollect, that not a single manuscript is now extant, that was written in the four first centuries, and that the ancient versions have not descended to us without alterations. It is likewise evident from the writings of the fathers, that many readings were in those times in the Greek manuscripts, which are at present to be found In none 1 or only In a very few 2; having been altered either by accident, or because they appeared to the transcrlbers to be obscure, or exceptionable. It is therefore not impossible that other readings, which have not been preserved in the works of the fathers, or in the Greek manuscripts, may have been equally lost ; and among them perhaps some that were genuine. Besides, It is not impossible that there are many important manuscripts of which we have no knowledge, and that a collation of those manuscripts might confirm the critical conjectures of the 18th century, in the same manner as many conjectures of the 16th century have been confirmed In the 18th, by the authority of manuscripts and ancient versions.
What I have said against critical conjecture, is not applicable in an equal degree to all the books of the New Testament, and not at all to the Revelation of St. John. For of some books we have fewer transcripts than of others, and of the Revelation we have the fewest of all. In this book therefore it is the most probable that the text sands in need of critical conjecture.
Likewise in other books of the New Testament, there are cases, in which it is difficult to refrain from using the same liberty.
1. For instance, ησους before Βαραββας Matt. 27:16-17. See ch. 6, sect. 2.
2. For instance, Jn. 1:18. ο μονογενης Θεος, a reading which we find in the quotations of the ancient fathers, and in the ancient versions, and which was probably the common reading in the first centuries. But at present it is found in only two manuscripts, namely, in the 8th of Stephens's manuscripts, and in one which belonged to Colbert. Yet it is a reading which conveys a good sense, and is agreeable to the other expressions used by St. John. The eternal Son of God, whom he had before called God, might not improperly be termed ο μονογενης Θεος. Though it is a bold expression, it is not contrary to the rules of the strictest grammar: and in the same manner as the Jews called the true God 'the first-born of the world' (Heb phrase here), and Christ himself is called ο πρωτοτοκος, Heb. 1:6. so might St. John have ventured to use the expression ο μονογενης Θεος.
The conjecture of Casaubon, that the reading of Luke 1:39 should be εις πολιν Ιουτα , and that of Valla, who proposed to read, Acts 9:7, θεωρουντες μεν το φως, μηδενα ακουοντες, are so probable, that I cannot avoid acceding to them. And the first editors of the Greek Testament so sensibly felt the impropriety of the reading υιος η βους, Luke 14:5 that they unanimously inserted ονος , though they found it in not a single manuscript. It is true that they had the authority of the Vulgate, but even there the alteration had probably been made from mere conjecture. 3
To what has been already observed on this subject, may be added a remark, which gives a new turn to the inquiry, and entitles us to the use of critical conjecture. Namely, it is probable, that all our manuscripts, and versions of the New Testament, were taken, not from the single copies of the Gospels and Epistles, which proceeded from the hands of the Apostles themselves, but from the collection, that was formed of the several parts of the New Testament. We are in the same situation, therefore, as that which I described above, in speaking of the works of Tacitus, nor would this situation be altered, even if, instead of 292 manuscripts, which I enumerated in the 6th section of the 8th chapter, we had above a thousand. For they would still be transcripts of one and the same copy : and if this copy had any errors, which it would be the highest presumption to deny, these errors must have been transmitted into every manuscript of the Greek Testament whatsoever, and these errors can be remedied only by the aid of critical conjecture. See the remarks which were made on the publication of the Greek Testament, ch. 6 §2. of this Introduction.
It appears then, that a collection of critical conjectures may be of great use in establishing the genuine text of the Greek Testament : and it is likewise attended with this particular advantage, that we are led by it to examine manuscripts, and other original documents, with greater accuracy, in order to see whether those readings, which had no other support than conjecture, may not be established by written authority? For we know from actual experience, that this has been the case with several readings : a conjecture of Laurentius Valla, relative to Acts 9:7 has been confirmed by the Ethiopic version: and having once proposed myself, in my public lectures, to read for , Gal.4:20, I was reminded that Griesbach had produced this reading from his Codex 66.
A collection of the kind, which I mentioned in the preceding paragraph, has been published by Bowyer, a learned printer in London. The first edition appeared in 1763, under the title, Conjectural Emendations on the New Testament, collected from various authors, and was added as a supplement to Bowyer's edition of the Greek Testament, in which the editor mentioned in the title-page only the initials of his name. The second edition was publilhed in 1772, with confiderable additions, which edition was translated into German by Professor Schulz, and much improved by the learned translator. The third edition, with flill greater improvements, was published in London in 1782. This is a work which is classical in its kind, and to which the remarks of future critics will probably be annexed.
3. One manuscript of the old Latin version has 'filius', others have 'afinus,' which last reading has been adopted in our present Vulgate, That it is an alteration from conjecture is the more probable, because the Codex Cantabrigiensis has another alteration, viz. προβατον, which is certainly mere conjecture.
Conjectures Examined for Propriety
The propriety of critiial conjecture considered a posteriore and from its application to particular examples.
The objections which may be made a priore to the use of critical conjecture, though they appear plausible on the first view, have been fully answered in the preceding section. But an examination of the various conjectures which have in different ages been proposed by men of the first eminence, and been almost universally adopted, will teach us to be very cautious how we apply it ourselves.
Of feveral hundreds, which Bowyer has produced, there is hardly one, which, after an impartial examination, will be found probable. Most of them are the result of hurry, ignorance, or at least a want of knowledge in matters which have been since placed in a clearer light ; and they have nothing else to recommend them but a quality, which is always to be suspected in the art of criticiim, that of being more easy and intelligible to common readers, and of being devoid of that roughness, which characterizes the genuine readings of the Greek Testament. On the other hand, it cannot be denied, that there are some few, which bear on them the marks of probability. The matter being thus circumstanced, it is evident, that too much care cannot be taken in the admission of critical conjectures into the text itself.
Where ancient critics have taken this liberty, modern critics contend that they have injured the text. I will therefore mention a few instances, that the reader may be able to judge for himself (The latter part of this section may be considered as an appendix to ch. 6 Sect. 11)
Of all the fathers, no one was so well qualified by his learning for making critical conjectures as Origen; and no one has ventured to go further. One of his conjectures relates to the following texts, Matt. 8:28. Mark 5:1, Luke 8:26, on which he writes as follows, in his Commentaries on St. John, Tom. VI.
"Whoever would perfectly understand the sacred writings, must not think that a minute attention to proper names is of no importance. For mistakes in proper names are to be found in the Greek manuscripts, of which the following is an example. It is related by the Evangelists, that the country, where the swine were driven by the devils into the sea, was the Land of the Gerasenes (χωρα των Γερασηνων ).
Now Gerasa, which is a city of Arabia, has neither lake nor sea near it : and it is impossible that the Evangelists, who were well acquainted with Palestine, could have made fo palpable a mistake. Some of the manuscripts have των Γαδαρηνων, but Gadara, which is a city in Judaea, is also at a distance from any lake, or sea. But Gergesa, which gives name to the country of the Gergesenes, is an ancient city on the lake of Tiberias ; and near to it there are steep rocks, which hang over the sea, where at this very day the place is shewn, from which the swine fell".
On this relation of Origen may be made the following remarks :
1. Origin confiders it as certain, that all the manuscripts, with which he was acquainted, were in some places erroneous.
2. It is his intention to confirm this opinion by an example, which to him appears to admit of no doubt. Yet this very example is an argument against Origen, and against the use of critical conjecture.
3. The reading Γεργεσηνων which is that of our common printed editions, he found in no manuscript ; for all his manuscripts, and that in all the three Gospels, had either Γερασηνων, or Γεδαρηνων. The reading, therefore, Γερασηνων, which is generally found in our manuscripts, can be ascribed to no other cause, than the conjecture of Origen.
4. His reason for rejecting Γεδαρηνων was, because there was no sea near Gadara, But this is not sufficient ground for rejecting the reading. For Gadara, which he places in Judaa, a name that he probably uses to signify all Palestine, was, according to the accounts of Josephus (Bell. Jud. Bk.4. ch.7. §3), the capital of Peraea; and from this town the whole of the adjacent country, as far as Galilee, was called Γαδαρις (Bell. Jud. bk.3 ch.3. §i). The country of Gadara, therefore, extended as far as the fea of Tiberias, into which the swine fell : and, as the Evangelists relate not that Christ came to Gadara, but only into the country of the Gadarenes, or, in other words, that he crossed the sea of Tiberias, and landed on the eastern shore, it is of no importance, whether there was a sea near Gadara itself, or not. Origen therefore might have permitted this reading, which he found in a few manuscripts, but which we have only in the Syriac version, to remain.
5. It is equally unimportant, whether there was a σea near the city Gerasa, which lay on the other side of the Jordan, near the river Jabbok : for the reading Γερασηνων does not imply that Christ came to the city Gerasa, but only to the country of the Gerasenes. Now it appears from the accounts of Josephus (Bell. Jud. Bk.1 ch.4 §8), that Gerasa was a large fortified town, and that it gave name to a certain district, in a part of which a fort was built of the name of Ragaba (απεθανεν εν τοις Γερασηνων οροις πολιο ρχων Ραγαβα φρουριον περα του Ιορδανε) Now Ragaba, or as it is written in Hebrew, Argob, was 15 Roman miles to the West of Gerasa : and Reland, in his Palaestina, p. 959. observes, that the land of the Gerasenes extended a great way to the Westward, a circumstance necessary for the understanding of the New Testament. It is not improbable, therefore, that the land of the Gerasenes bordered, in some places, on the lake of Gennesareth ; and it is not manifest that Γερασηνων, as Origen asserts, is absolutely a false reading. In fact, we have no concern with the city of Gerasa, in inquiring into a reading, which relates only to the country at large, which derived its name from the city. In Arabic, Gerih (Arab.), signifies the Land of Gilead. Sec the Supplementa ad Lex. Heb. Num. 42 1 .
6. The alteration of the text to Γερασηνων, Origen grounded on no other authority, than that a place near the city of Gergesa was still shewn, at that very time, where the swine fell into the sea. Now every one, who knows the impositions which have been practised on travellers through Palestine, in pointing out to them the scenes of actions recorded in the sacred writings, must wonder that so learned and so senfible a man as Origen, could alter the text of three Evangelists, merely on such a tradition.
7. Still further: it is possible, if not probable, that the name ot Gergesa did not exist in the time of Christ and his Apostles. This suspicion must certainly arise in the mind of every man, who has attentively read the works of Josephus. This hiftorian was perfeclly well acquainted with Galilee, and the whole country bordering on the Jordan, not only as being a Jew, but as having commanded a body of troops, with which he had traversed the country by night and by day; and yet it does not appear that he knew of any such land as that of the Gergesenes. In the first book of his Antiquities, ch.6. §2, after having mentioned the nations of Canaan, described in the tenth chapter of Genesis, he proceeds,
"but of the other seven, the Hetites, the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Gergesenes, the Eudaeans, the Sinites, and the Zemarites, we have nothing remaining, but their names, which exist in the sacred writings , because the Hebrews have raised their cities to the ground."
(I understand the words of Josephus as if stopped in the following manner,πλην των ονοματων εν ταις ιεραις βιβλοις, ουδεν εχομεν.)
Besides, it appears from Joshua 52:10. that the Gergesenes dwelt on this side the Jordan, not on the other side, where the event in question is recorded to have happened.
It is certain, therefore, that Origen had no solid reasons for altering the text, or for suppofing that the same error had crept into three different passages of the New Testament, and that this error was retained in all the Greek manuscripts, which he was able to procure. If it had been the true reading, it is hardly possible for it to have been expunged from three different Gospels.
I will mention another instance, which relates to Jn.1:28. Origen found, as he says, in almost all his manuscripts, or, if we may judge from what follows, in every one of them without exception (This at least was Wetstein's opinion, though the words of Origen do not necessarily imply it), this verse thus written, "these things were done in Bethany beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing."
But Origen rejected this reading for the following reason:
"As I have been in that country, in order to trace the footsteps of Christ and his Apostles, I am persuaded, that we ought not to read Bethany in this passage, but Bethabara. For Bethany, as the Evangelist himself relates, was the birthplace of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary, and only 15 stadia from Jerusalem i but the Jordan was at least, to speak in round numbers, 190 stadia from that city. Nor is there any city whatsoever of the name of Bethany near to that river. But there is a city of the name of Bethabara on the banks of the Jordan, where it is said, that John baptized."
Here again Origen grounds the reading, which he has substituted for Bethany, on no other authority than the relation of such persons as conduct travellers to the places in Palestine which are mentioned in the sacred writings. These persons either had no inclination to conduct Origen to the Bethany which lay on the other side of the Jordan, as the journey might have been attended with danger, on account of the tribes of wandering Arabs which infested that country ; or they were wholly ignorant of the place. Not to lose therefore their profits arising from conducting strangers, they shewed Bethabara to Origen, as the place where John baptized, and the learned father was credulous enough to believe them.
Now his objections to the common reading entirely vanish, as foon as we examine the text itself, and inquire into the real state of the case. Origen says that Bethany lay near Jerusalem, and therefore at a diftance from the Jordan. But it may be asked, whether there was not more than one city of that name ; and whether we must necessarily suppose that the city in question was the place where Lazarus resided? It appears even from the expression used by St. John, that, whether we read Bethany, or Bethabara, there was more than one city of the name, which he mentioned: for if any man fhould say, "these things were done at Frankfort on the Oder", every man, even without a knowledge of Germany, would conclude, that there was some other town of the same name, from which the former was distinguished by the addition of an epithet. In the same manner, when St. John speaks of Bethany beyond Jordan, we must suppose that there were two cities of that name, and that the city which he meant was different from that, which was situate on the mount of Olives.
But Origen says that there was no town of the name of Bethany on any part of the Jordan. Now we might reply, that Origen hardly visited all the towns on the banks of the Jordan, and that, like other pilgrims, he probably took the route which was pointed out by his guides; or that the wars between the Jews and the Romans had so desolated, and so altered the face of the country, that many towns might have existed in the time of John the Baptist, of which no traces remained in the days of Origen. But this answer is unnecessary, for the Evangelist uses a very indeterminate expression, he says that the place, where John baptized, was on the other side of the Jordan, an expression which by no means implies that the town lay on the banks of that river ; for it might have been situated either on the Jabbok, or on fome other stream considerabiy to the eastward, where John had a sufficient supply of water for the purpose of baptizing. The alteration, therefore, which was made by Origen was wholly without foundation.
Jerome, though he was a man of profound learning, changed Βεελζεβουλ , which he found in all his manuscripts, into Βεελζεβουβ , for no other reason than because he did not understand the common reading. That which he has substituted has been approved by feveral critics, has been adopted in the Vulgate, and thence transferred to Luther's translation ; but the alteration was wholly unnecessary, as the reading Βεελζεβουλ is highly applicable to the prince of the devils, as may be seen in the Supplementa ad Lex. Hebraica, Num. 268.
Luther adopted the conjecture of Reuchlin Ταβια for Ταβιθα , Acts 9:36. But at present no man would support it, who knows that Tabitha is a good Chaldee word, the status emphaticus of Tabia.
To mention only one more example of critical conjecture. Several critics have thought the following pasage, το γαρ Αγαρ Ζινα ορος εσιν εν τη Αραβια, Gal. 4:25 so very extraordinary, that they have attempted to alter it from mere conjecture, as may be seen in Bowyer's Critical Conjectures.
But no man, who knew that the Arabic word Hagar signified a rock (see: Supplementa ad Lex.Hebraica, p.498), could think of making an alteration in this passage : for it is obvious that το Αγαρ in the neuter cannot signify the woman Hagar, and St. Paul has not been guilty of a grammatical error, since the passage mufl be translated 'the word Hagar denotes mount Sinai in Arabia.'
This remark I made many years ago in my notes to the epistle to the Galatians : and the collector of the Conjectural Emendations has likewise a similar remark, it being his usual practice to mention those objections, which may be made to the proposed amendments. A conjecture of Dr. Semler, relative to the latter part of the epistle to the Romans, was noticed in the Gottingen Review for 1768, #30. and combated on the same ground, as Professor Schulz, who had not seen that number, has taken in his edition of Bowyer's Conjectures, p. 385 — 397. The agreement between the arguments used in both of those works is remarkable.
The foregoing specimens are sufficient to shew how unnecessary critical conjectures are in general in regard to the New Testament : and, as most of them are of the same stamp, it would be useless to produce any other examples.
Michaelis' Proposed Conjectural Emendations
Some critical conjectures proposed by the author
I have said above, that there are certain passsages in the New Testament, in which I can hardly refrain from venturing a critical conjecture. I will mention a few examples, because they may tend to illustrate the preceding sections ; and if, since the time that any one of them occurred to me, I have found reason to alter my opinion, I will add that this or that conjecture is unnecessary. The number of them is but small, because I have never fought for them, and have only noted those, which seemed to force themselves upon me.
In St. Matthew's Gospel I have only one, namely, Matt. 28:16 where I would read οι δε ενδεκα ΚΑΙ οι μαθηται. Likewise Triller's Conjecture, ιδου ειπεν υμιν for ιδου ειπον υμιν, verse 7. of the same chapter, is extremely probable. My reason for this opinion I have given in the History of the Resurrection, p. 118, 119. 324. But the first of these readings may possibly be ascribed to the negligence of the person who translated St. Matthew's Gospel.
Mark 14:69 η παιδισκη. This reading implies that it was the very same maid, who, verse 67. has accused Peter of being a companion of Christ ; and it contains an evident contradiction to Matt. 26:71. ειδεν αυτον αλλη. It may be asked then, whether παιδισκη was never written without the article, I will not appeal to the Ethiopic and Coptic versions, which have 'another maid,' because this reading might have been substituted, in order to avoid the above-mentioned contradiction. Likewise in the English version, though it was certainly made from an addition, in which η παιδισκη stood, has not 'the maid', but 'a maid'. The question is, whether my conjecture can be confirmed by the authority of no manuscript.
Mark 16:8. ουδενι ουδεν ειπον. Ought we not to read ουδεν ειπον? See the History of the Resurrection, p. 135.
Mark 16:14. ανακειμενοις αυτοις τοις ενδεκα. Has no manuscript ανακειμενοις αυτοις ΚΑΙ τοις ενδεκα? This reading would perfectly correspond to Luke 24:36.
Luke 6:29. απο του αιροντος σου το ιματιον και τον χιτωνα μη χωλυσης. Ought not the order ot these words to be inverted, and the passage written, απο του αιροντος σου τον χιτωνα και το ιματιον μη χωλυσης ? The position of χιτωνα and ιματιον would then correspond to their position, Matt. 5:40. and the passage could be more easily explained from the laws of the Jews, as I have shewn in the Mosaic Law, Sect 148. #3. But I acknowledge that the alteration is not absolutely necessary, for Christ might have used both of these expressions, and St. Matthew have observed that arrangement, which was most intelligible to a Jew, St Luke that which was most intelligible to a foreigner; or St Luke himself, for want of sufficient knowledge of the Jewish law (See The Mosaic Law, Vol.3. p.49-51), might have inverted these expressions, in which case the present reading must be ascribed, not to a copyist, but to the author himself.
Luke 9:10, The word αντουιρω [? ed.] seems to have been omitted after εις τοπον ερημον, "to a desert place, opposite to a city, which is called Bethsaida." See Mark 6:45.
Luke 11:36. This verse would be more intelligible, if we inserted the article το, and read ει ουν το σωμα σου ολον φωτεινον, μη εχον τι μερος σκοτεινον, φωτεινον ΤΟ ολον. (Or without the insertion of the article, if instead of holos, we read oleoi[?], the soul, or reason, for Suidas explains holos as synonymous to fremos and ygios.) The meaning of the passage would then be, "if in consequence of one perfect eye thy whole body is light, take care that the whole, that is, the whole man, body and soul, become light." The eyes give light to the body, but that, which Christ calls light, shall enlighten, or give true knowledge to the whole man.
Luke 12:15. οτι ουκ εν τω περισσευειν τινα η ζωη αυτου εστιν εκ των υπαρχοντων αυτω. It may be asked, whether St. Luke did not write - οτι ουκ εν τω περισσευειν τινα η ζωη αυτου εστιν, ΑΛΛ' εκ των υπαρχοντων αυτω, that is, "we live not from that which is superabundant, but from that, which we really enjoy, or from that which we employ in food, raiment, etc." See Horace's Satires, Book I, 1:45-64. Even without making an alteration in the text, we might give it the same sense, provided we inserted a comma after estin.
Luke 24:12. It seems to me that something is here wanting, relative to the appearance of Christ to Peter, which is recorded in 1st Cor. 15:5, and which St. Luke himself mentions, Lk. 24:24. My reason for this opinion is given in the History of the Resurrection, p.191-193.
John 6:21. ηθελον ουν αυτον λαβειν. This is a contradiction to the relation of the other Evangelists, who say Ihat the disciples aftually took Christ into the ship. Perhaps St. John wrote ηλθον ουν αυτον λαβειν. This conjecture would be allowed in profane writers, who had been eye-witnesses of the same fact; and no reason can be assigned why it should be refused to the sacred writers, when they appear to be at variance with each other.
John 17:10. δεδοξασμαι. Ought it not to be written δεδοξασομαι the paulo post futurum? The sense would then be "I shall soon be glorified through them:" for Christ was at that time not yet glorified in his Apostles.
[here follows a dozen more examples from Acts, Paul, James, Peter, John & Rev.]
If it be asked, whether any of the preceding conjectures have been confirmed by the authority of manuscripts? I answer - not one : though several of my pupils, particularly Mr. Treschow, have noted them down, and examined manuscripts on their literary travels for that very purpose. This is the more remarkable, because several conjectures, which I had made in the Hebrew Bible, have been since confirmed either by manuscripts, or ancient versions. It ought to serve as a warning to critics, not to be too forward in making conjectures in the New Testament: though it may be said on the other hand, that, if errata were in the copies which were used by the person, who collected the feveral parts into a volume, it would be impossible to find in any manuscript now extant a confirmation of our conjectures. But I would still recommend to every man of learning who has an opportunity of travelling, and of examining manuscripts of the Greek Testament, to take with him a list of such conjectures, as appear to be the most probable, and confust the passages, in order to see whether that which is at full hypothesis, cannot be confirmed by some authority.
I was formerly of opinion, that no books of the New Testament were so much in need of critical conjecture, as those written by St. Luke . but I have since abandoned that opinion, having observed that other parts of the New Testament, for instance the epistle to the Romans, are equally in need of emendation. Besides, St. Luke in those instances, where he differs from the other evangelists, may himself have committed mistakes, as he was not an eye-witness of the facts which he relates. and such examples we must not ascribe to a copyist. It is true, that the printed text of no book of the New Testament is so erroneous, and so interpolated, as that of the Acts of the Apostles, for instance Acts 8:37, 39, 9:5, etc., but these interpolations are not owing to the manuscripts, for they do not contain them, but they were inserted by Erasmus, chiefly on the authority of the [Latin] Vulgate; and what he interpolated has been faithfully copied by later editors. It may be also observed, that the original collector and editor of the books of the New Testament, had probably less correct manuscripts of some, than he had of others.
Of Theological Conjecture
Beside the critical conjectures, which I have described in the preceding sections of this chapter, there is another kind of conjecture, which can hardly be referred to the same class. It consists in altering the text of the sacred writings, according to the maxims adopted by any particular party, whether it be the ruling, or the persecutcd party, in the church.
This species of conjecture I would denote by the name of theological conjecture. Now a theologian, whose business is to form his whole system of faith and manners from the Bible, cannot with any propriety assume previously any system of theology, by which he may regulate the sacred text; but must adopt that text, which is confirmed by original documents, and thence deduce his theological system.
It is allowable to venture a conjecture in matters relating to history, to dates, or to names, for in these cases the Bible is not our only principium cognoscendi. But whoever alters the text in subjects, which relate to points of divinity, evidently presupposes a principium cognoscendi, that is prior to the Bible itself : and when we inquire into this principium cognoscendi, we find it to be nothing more than a set of principles, which this or that particular person has thought proper to adopt. If we ask, from what source they derive these principles? they answer, from reason.
Now I readily admit that reason is a principium cognoscendi prrior to revelation: but then I am of opinions that if a set of writings, which we suppose to have been revealed by the Deity, are really contradictory to found reason, we ought not to endeavour to reconcile them by inserting new readings without any critical authority, but at once reject those writings, as an improper standard of faith and manners. Even the writings of a false prophet might be new modelled, so as to make them consistent with the truth : and if these liberties are allowable in one case, they are allowable in others. We shall then have no good ground tor rejecting the Koran, because it contains principles contradictory to reason, but must likewise endeavour to rescue the works of Mohammed from the objections, which have been made to them, by altering the exceptionable passages. Besides, what we call reason, and by which we would new model the Bible, is frequently nothing more than some fashionable system of philosophy, which lasts only for a time, and appears so abfurd to those who live in later ages, that they find it difficult to comprehend how rational beings can have adopted fuch ridiculous notions.
The example of the Gnostics, who likewise attempted to model the Bible according to what they called reason, shews the truth of this observation more clearly, than any arguments which can be produced.
There is an infinite difference between the inserting of a reading into the text, without any authority whatsoever, in order to render it, as we suppose, more rational, and the preferring, of two readings which really exist, that which is most conformable to truth. The latter is not only consistent with equity, but with justice, in profane authors, as well as in the Bible ; since we ought always to presuppose, that a writer has rational principles, till the contrary has been shewn.
It will be objected perhaps by those who defend theological conjecture, that we ought never to lose sight of the analogia fidei. Now I will be candid enough to understand by these words, not the tenets of any particular sect or party, and will take the objection in the following sense, namely, that if two passages in the Bible contradict each other in matters of faith, the one must be altered. But how shall we determine, which of the two is to be altered?
For instance, if there is a real contradiction between Rom. 3:28. and James 2:24. shall we alter the text of St.Paul on the authority of St. James, or the text of St. James on the authority of St. Paul? In my opinion we should alter neither, but reject the whole as not coming from the Deity, if it be true that there are real contradictions, for it is upon this ground, that we condemn the Koran. But we must recollect, that not every apparent contradiction is a contradiction in reality: and, before we presume to make an alteration in the text, we must examine whether the passages, that are seemingly at variance, may not be reconciled by a proper explanation. On a cursory inspection there seems a manifest contradiction between the two above mentioned passages, Rom. 3:28 and James 2:24 ; yet we should act very absurdly, if we sought for a remedy in theological conjecture, since the whole contradiction vanishes, as soon as we reflect that St. Paul understands faith in Christ, St. James faith in the unity of the Godhead. (See the Introduction to the epistle of St. James in the 2nd part of this work.)
Perhaps it will be objected, that there are contradictions sometimes found in the Old Testament, between the books of the Chronicles and other historical books, and that no sensible critic makes any scruple to correct one from the other. But the two cases are not parallel; for there is a very wide difference between the alteration of a date, in which it is fo easy to make a mistake, and the alteration of a point of doctrine. And even in the former case, it is not so much critical conjecture, as an improvement on the Masoretic text founded on the authority of ancient versions and manuscripts, which still retain a great part of the antemaforetic text.
As critical conjectures have been principally made by those who, in the language of the church, are termed heretics, I will invent one or two examples of the same kind in the name of the orthodox, and ask those of the opposite party, whether they would admit them as lawful conjectures.
For instance, suppose I should alter οτι ο πατηρ μου μειζων μου εστι, John 14:28 to οτι ο πατηρ μου εστι / οτι ο πατηρ με ζων μεν εσιν, in order to be freed from a text that implies an inequality between the father and the son; or if I should read 1st Jn. 5:20 in the following manner, ουτος ο υιος εστιν ο αληθινος θεος, in order to shew more distinctly the Divinity of Christ; I think the heterodox would exclaim, "he is either extremely ignorant, or by having recourse to such miserable artifices acknowledges the badness of his own cause."
But the heterodox, as well as the orthodox, must appear before the impartial tribunal of criticism, where there is no respect to persons, and where it is not allowed for one party to take greater liberties than the other.
It is certainly possible that a book may be so very ancient, and the manuscripts have so many fpurious readings, that even points of doctrine may have been either lost, or perverted, and without any other hope of recovery, than the help of conjecture. But if this should happen to a work that contains a divine revelation, it would be a certain sign of its being obselete, and no longer to be used as a principium cognoscendh
The New Testament however is not in this situation, for we can judge of its readings with as much accuracy at present, as a thousand years ago.
I acknowledged in the section relative to critical conjecture, that the person who collected into a volume the several parts of the New Testament, probably made use of copies, that were not wholly free from mistakes; and that these miftakes would of course be transmitted into all the fubsequent copies. There may be erroneous readings therefore in the New Testament, which can be rectified by no manuscript whatsoever.
But this can hardly be the case with any text that relates to a point of doctrine: for, as this collection was published, while single copies of each individual book, especially of the epistles, were still in circulation, it is certain that, if in this edition of the Greek Testament any point of doctrine had been given erroneously, the text would have been rejected as spurious; or it would have given rise to a marginal note, though less important deviations were left unnoticed, and of these marginal notes some traces would still remain in the form of various readings. Besides, what is a very material circumstance in the present inquiry, the Christian church has been from the earliest ages divided into opposite parties ; and one party would surely have taken care to restore the ancient and genuine reading, wherever the other party had introduced a false one.
Nor let us forget that the alterations made by Marcion, who had travelled through many countries, and had inspected various manuscripts, are for the greatest part preserved at this very day. Now, as Marcion was much better qualified for theological conjecture than we are, and no man has applied the principle with less reserve, I think it would be presumption in the present age to mangle any passage, which he has spared.
Theological conjecture has been principally used by those, who were not members of the ruling church, by Marcion and his followers, by the Valentinians, by Lucian (See Mill's Prolegomena, § 306—340) etc. But the ancient fathers, though they were partial to their own doctrines, and of two readings preferred that which best suited their own purpose, do not appear to have invented new readings for the sake of propagating particular tenets.
It is true that Augustine in his 9th epistle to Jerome writes as follows :
"When any passage in the canonical books appears to be contrary to the truth, we must conclude either that the manuscript is faulty, the original falsely translated or the words of the translation falsely understood."
Now the two last inferences may be more readily admitted than the first; for the way to examine whether any manuscript is erroneous is not to compare the precepts, which it contains with other doctrines, but to collate its text with that of the other manuscripts.
But Augustine here speaks of Latin manuscripts, not of the Greek original ; manuscripts which had a very faulty and corrupt text.
I have acknowledged that many of the fathers, in their choice of different readings have acted partially, and have adopted those which suited their own party. But that has no connexion with the present inquiry, which relates to the invention of new readings, not to the choice of those which already exist. It cannot however be denied, that feveral orthodox transcribers have ventured to insert their own conjectures into the text : but in general they have not been admitted as genuine, and wherever they are found, it is the duty of every critic to erase them.
Several Socinians have applied theological conjecture to passages which clearly prove the Divinity of Christ ; of which I have given two instances at the end of the first section of this chapter ; the one relates to Jn 1:1, and was made by Crell, the other to Rom. 9:5. and was made by Schlichting & Crell.
But Wetstein, though no friend to the doctrine of our Church in regard to the Divinity of Christ, was too good a critic to admit either of these conjectures. Dr. Bahrdt goes a step further, and in his German translation of the New Testament has rendered Jn 1:1 as if the original was και θεος ην ΚΑΙ ο λογος , for which translation he has promised to assign his reasons in his intended commentary. If he attempts to explain the common text so as to give it that sense, he does the utmost violence to language : but if he means without any authority to insert ΚΑΙ in the text, as it is generally supposed, he gives an example of theological conjecture of the first magnitude.
The only plausible argument, which an advocate for theological conjecture might use, not so much indeed to convince himself of the justice of his cause, as to perplex his opponents, is the following; namely, that the New Testament has been so corrupted by the ruling party, which calls itself orthodox, that the genuine doctrine of Christ and his Apostles is no longer to be found in it.
But there is not the least room for a suspicion of this kind, as we have so great a number of manuscripts, versions, and ecclesiastical writings, in which the New Testament is quoted, of every age and country. And even those, whose religious principles are different from our own, contribute their share in proving the certainty of the New Testament. Even if we admit that the orthodox had made the attempt, and had endeavoured to annihilate those manuscripts, of which they disapproved, yet some copies would surely have escaped the flames : and those, who are called heretics, would hardly have made their translations from such manuscripts, as had been wantonly corrupted by their opponents. In the ancient Latin versions, that were made before the time of Jerome, fome traces would still remain of the passages, which the orthodox had erased. But, though in the old Latin versions we often find readings, that difier from the later vulgate, we never meet with passages which orthodox zeal could wish to expunge.
The passages, which afforded the mosft perplexity to the members of the ruling church, are still extant in manuscripts, versions, and editions of the New Testament; whereas the spurious passage 1st John 5:7, though the orthodox seem to think it of the utmoft importance, has never had the good fortune to find admittance into any ancient Greek manuscript, or ancient version, such as the Syriac, Ethiopic, Arabic, Coptic, Russian, and old Armenian, though later editors have taken the liberty to interpolate the passage in the printed editions of the Syriac and Russian.
If the orthodox have totally and irrecoverably corrupted the sacred text, whether original or translation ; if they have annihilated all the genuine manuscripts of the New Testament from the Indian to the Atlantic ocean, from the South of Egypt to the extremity of Britain, it must have been the work of an universal combination, and the bishops as well of the Parthian as of the Roman empire must have united, in order to execute so vast a project. But if this Ecumenical council had ever existed, which in itself is highly improbable, some traces of it would still remain in the annals of the church : for the orthodox themselves would have boasted in their writings of the meritorious act of having rescued the sacred text from the corruptions of heretics.
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