Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Lies about Erasmus' Greek New Testament, or: The Wonders of Wikipedia.

You may have heard that Wikipedia is not to be trusted. This is generally true. The most recent post on this from the blogs I usually read is by Peter Head at the ETC blog from a couple months ago. Of course, that post deals with Wikipedia's shortcomings in regard to a NT text critical issue.

But it is also clear that Wikipedia provides a very helpful entry point to research on a number of topics. I was surprised at how helpful the article on Erasmus' New Testament is, containing details on the seven manuscripts used by Erasmus, and several paragraphs on each of the editions of the work. (On the other hand, the article on the Complutensian Polyglot is not so great.) This entry on Erasmus' New Testament is, in fact, more helpful in a number of areas, and apparently more accurate, than some of the standard or popular works on the NT text published by major scholars.

The two main points I remember learning, reading, and (alas!) teaching in regard to Erasmus' New Testament is that (1) he was in a race against the editors of the Complutensian Polyglot to produce the first published Greek New Testament, and (2) he endured great criticism for omitting the Comma Johanneum in his first two editions, which prompted him to make the rash bet that should anyone show him a Greek manuscript containing the passage, he would insert it in a subsequent edition; when a manuscript was produced for the purpose, Erasmus begrudgingly kept his word. The Wikipedia entry indicates that the second of these points is groundless, and it points the way toward learning that the first point also merits careful scrutiny.

The corrections to these traditional stories about Eramsus' edition are based on the work of Henk Jan de Jonge, especially this article on the Comma Johanneum (ETL, 1980) and this article on Erasmus' aims with his edition (JTS, 1984). You read that correctly: these articles were published in major journals over thirty years ago, but somehow their findings have not filtered in to the standard accounts of the history of the printed text of the NT. [I have not seen Andrew J. Brown's recent edition of Erasmus' New Testament, but judging by Jerry Lund's RBL review, it would add considerably to my understanding of all of these issues.]

For now, I'll just point out how Wikipedia is so much more valuable than the standard books in regard to the story about the Comma Johanneum.

Erasmus and the Comma Johanneum

De Jonge's article from 1980 cites the second edition (1968) of Metzger's handbook on NT text criticism as representative, but he shows that the story about the bet is standard fare for such books. The problem is that de Jonge could not find the story anywhere in Erasmus, nor in any book on Erasmus' New Testament until T.H. Horne's 1818 volume (see this edition from 1825, p. 127 with n. 2). Thence it became the standard story.

De Jonge's supposes this story to arise from a misinterpretation of two passages in Erasmus' defense (1520) of his New Testament against the criticisms of Edward Lee. The following are the two passages as translated by de Jonge in his article (pp. 385, 386):

If a single manuscript had come into my hands in which stood what we read (sc. in the Latin Vulgate) then I would certainly have used it to fill in what was missing in the other manuscripts I had. Because that did not happen, I have taken the only course which was permissible, that is, I have indicated (sc. in the Annotationes) what was missing from the Greek manuscripts.

What sort of indolence is that, if I did not consult the manuscripts which I could not manage to have? At least, I collected as many as I could. Let Lee produce a Greek manuscript in which is written the words lacking in my edition, and let him prove that I had access to this manuscript, and then let him accuse me of indolence.

Neither of these passages speaks of a bet, or even promises to include the disputed passage if a manuscript can be found which includes it. De Jonge emphasizes that there is no story about the bet for several hundred more years.

This article by de Jonge led Metzger to a more cautious approach in the third edition of his handbook (1992). The fourth edition (2005), in which Bart Ehrman's name appears with Metzger's on the title page, contains this account:
In an unguarded moment, Erasmus may have promised that he would insert the Comma Johanneum, as it is called, in future editions if a single Greek manuscript could be found that contained the passage. (p. 146)
At this point, Metzger/Erhman include a footnote: "It should, however, be noted that Henk Jan de Jonge, a specialist in Erasmian studies, could find no explicit evidence that supports this frequently made assertion concerning a specific promise made by Erasmus," and then they cite his 1980 article. This caution is commendable, even if it did not quite make it into the text but is reserved for the note. But then the text continues:
At length, such a copy was found--or was made to order! As it now appears, the Greek manuscript had probably been written in Oxford about 1520 by a Franciscan friar named Froy (or Roy), who took the disputed words from the Latin Vulgate. Erasmus inserted the passage in his third edition (1522), but in a lengthy footnote that was included in his volume of annotations, he intimated his suspicion that the manuscript had been prepared expressly in order to confute him. (pp. 146–47)
Most of these ideas are doubtful. For the assertion that the manuscript was copied in 1520 by a Franciscan friar named Froy or Roy, Metzger/Ehrman rely on Harris' 1887 argument to this effect (pp. 46–53), an argument approved also by de Jonge (art. cit., 386), but now (apparently) called into question by Brown's edition of Erasmus (basing myself on Lund's review, as I don't have access to Brown's edition right now). Incidentally, the manuscript is minuscule 61. As to whether Erasmus suspected forgery, de Jonge's article again argues that this opinion is groundless in the works of Erasmus (386–89). What Erasmus does say in his comment on the passage--in regard to his inclusion of the passage based on what he could see to be a recent manuscript--is this: "Although I suspect this manuscript, too, to have been revised after the manuscripts of the Latin world" (trans. de Jonge p. 387).

[De Jonge says that Erasmus probably doubted the authenticity of the Comma Johanneum even after including it, but was willing to make the philological compromise for the sake of his larger aim.
The goal of Erasmus’ undertaking to imbue all Europe with a clear and simple gospel threatened to fail if Erasmus himself were tinged with any suspicion of unorthodoxy. For the sake of his ideal Erasmus chose to avoid any occasion for slander rather than persisting in philological accuracy and thus condemning himself to impotence. That was the reason why Erasmus included the Comma Johanneum even though he remained convinced that it did not belong to the original text of 1 John. (p. 385)]
Despite the caution shown in Metzger/Ehrman's handbook (in a footnote) in regard to the story of the bet, the same year (2005) Bart Ehrman published his popular account of NT TC, Misquoting Jesus. Ehrman includes the story--which he knows has no basis in the sources--without any hint that the story might be doubted:
As the story goes, Erasmus--possibly in an unguarded moment--agreed that he would insert the verse in a future edition of his Greek New Testament on one condition: that his opponents produce a Greek manuscript in which the verse could be found (finding it in Latin manuscripts was not enough). And so a Greek manuscript was produced. In fact, it was produced for the occasion. It appears that someone copied out the Greek text of the Epistles, and when he came tot he passage in question, he translated the Latin text into Greek, giving the Johannine Comma in its familiar, theologically useful form. The manuscript provided to Erasmus, in other words, was a sixteenth-century production, made to order. 
Despite his misgivings, Erasmus was true to his word and included the Johannine Comma in his next edition, and in all his subsequent editions. (pp. 81–82)
Another example (from across the theological spectrum from Ehrman): Stanley Porter has recently published a little book, How We Got the New Testament (2013). Throughout his chapter on the text of the NT, Porter seems to be relying on (among other sources) Metzger's second edition from 1968 (see 16n22), as he routinely cites this edition first, and then gives the corresponding page reference to the fourth edition (see, e.g., 36n85, n86, etc.). In his discussion of Erasmus, Porter relates the usual story about the bet in regard to the Comma Johanneum:
Erasmus--precipitously and unwisely, we now see--said that he would include these words (the so-called Johannine Comma) if they could be found in a single Greek manuscript. Lo and behold, such a manuscript appeared, now known as Gregory 61, held in the Trinity College Dublin library. It appears to have been written in 1520 in Oxford by someone named "Froy" or "Roy." Erasmus fulfilled his obligation and put the Johannine passage in his third edition of 1522, but with a footnote that indicated his doubts regarding its authenticity. 
Porter begins the story with a reference to Metzger (2d ed. and 4th ed., as per Porter's custom), and his account has obvious similarities to the story in Metzger. He apparently did not notice the footnote in Metzger's fourth edition, as he gives no hint that this story cannot be verified.

One last comment: it is strange for Porter to say that Erasmus included a footnote expressing doubts about minuscule 61. You can easily see Erasmus' third edition now, thanks to Google (see p. 522 for the Johannine Comma), and you can verify that there are no footnotes anywhere in the edition. Metzger expressly says that the footnote appears in the separate volume of Annotations.

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