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The Telephone Game and
Textual Criticism

If you are interested in doing textual criticism, the Greek Bible is one of your best choices. The bulk of ancient books have very few surviving mss (ms=one manuscript: mss=multiple manuscripts). Often there is only one extant copy of a book, such as de Rerum Natura by Lucretius. The Greek Bible, on the other hand, has 5,800 surviving mss. The Vulgate has 10,000 surviving mss. The great number of mss create their own set of problems; critics have to find ways to wade through all the evidence. My textual criticism professor used to say that we needed to weigh the evidence, not count it. That is, if 1 ms introduces a mistake, and 999 copy it, then that is 1 witness to the reading, not 1,000. Hence the importance of grouping mss into families.

Our original text is the 1st edition of the 1611 KJV. For handwritten books, the text created by the author is called the autograph, which in Greek literally means written by oneself. We don't have autographs of any of the books in the Bible. What we have are copies and copies of copies.

There are 4 branches of mss witnesses of Greek Bible: the Alexandrian, the Caesarean, the Western, and the Byzantine. For our class, I set up two groups to make the copies. Imagine having only the last two copies made, one from each family, and trying to reconstruct the original KJV.

I have labelled our two groups "Family 1" (f01) and "Family 2" (f02). Each copy is numbered according to its order in the assignment (c01, c02, etc.). We have an advantage in knowing the relative relationship among our mss. In the image below from the United Bible Society's edition, you can see in the footnote that Biblical scholars have created such a numbering system for Biblical mss.

The comparison of various mss is called collation. I've collated a sample of them. I collated my copy with the original & found a couple of mistakes. Since there are errors in the copy used to create both families, it would be hard to get behind that to the autograph, at least based on mss evidence. That's how we get into "critical emendations," i.e., educated guesses about the original text. Such are the limits of textual criticism.

To some degree the mistakes that enter, they fall into predictable patterns based on who is making the copy and how. For instance, in some scriptoria, one monk would read the text, and several would copy it down. But they were prone to errors of the ear -- mistaking one vowel for a vowel that sounds the same. Copying by looking at one ms and writing another leads to errors of the eye. If two lines close to each other end with the same word, for example, you might skip down the the second line and leave out the ones in between.

The pattern of mistakes we made make our two families most like the Byzantine text type.

There is no 'V.'

By far the biggest creator of chaos in our game of telephone was due to a subtile shift in the English alphabet since the time of King James. I found out something about the alphabet in the King James era that I didn't know until now — there is no 'v.' Or maybe no 'u.' When you read Latin, some texts show 'u,' 'v,' 'i,' & 'j'. Some show 'u,' 'v,' & 'i,' and some just show 'u,' & 'i.' That's because originally 'i' and 'u' were like our 'y'; sometimes a consonant, sometimes a vowel. Likewide, in the English of the first edition of the KJV, there was only 'u.' Or maybe only 'v.' Sometimes it was a consonant; sometimes a vowel. The difference in shape was based upon the position in the word. At the beginning of word, it was printed 'v'; in the middle, 'u.' So you would "saue vp" rather than "save up."

Fall 2019 Class

The Exemplar

The Lord's Prayer
The Autograph (original text)

Family 1 — The Acton Family

f01c01 Acton MS

f01c02 Artero MS

f01c03 Brown MS

f01c04 Deville MS

f01c05 Diel MS

f01c06 Dodson MS

f01c07 Eisenhuth MS

f01c08 Evans MS

f01c09 Gilmore MS

f01c10 Green MS

Family 2 —Jones Family

f02c01 Jones MS

f02c01b Jones MS

f02c02 Landry MS

f02c03 Lindsay MS

f02c03 Marler MS

f02c03 McMillan MS

2018 Class

The Exemplars

The Autograph (original text)

The Oldest Extant Copy (the model for the other copies)

Family 1

f01c01 Becker MS

f01c02 Burns MS

f01c03 Christian MS

f01c04 Coliman MS

f01c05 Cotton MS

f01c06 Desai MS

f01c07 Eppinette MS

Family 2

f02c01 Harper MS

f02c03 Madison MS

f02c04 Manning MS

f02c05 Maroney MS

f02c07 Melançon MS

f02c10 Park MS

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