Friday, January 8, 2016

The Term "Textus Receptus" Doesn't Always Refer To The Bible

Not everyone has had the advantages I have. Before I became mixed up with all of these lunatics arguing about the Bible and Jesus and related things, I had already become somewhat familiar with Classical scholarship in general and the editors of ancient Latin in particular. Because of that, I was aware that people discussing the Bible use some terms as if they applied only to the Bible, while those terms actually have more broad uses.

There's the term "textus receptus," Latin for "received text." Some people are using this term to refer to several 16th-century printed editions of the Greek New Testament, and nothing else. But since well before the 16th century, the term "textus receptus" has referred to most familiar or generally-accepted form of any text, Biblical or not.

(And by the way, it is not true that the makers of the King James Version referred only to one of those 16th-century printed editions when preparing their version of the New Testament. I know it is not true, because they made many notes referring to differences between this "textus receptus" and various manuscripts.)

I think I've mentioned before on this blog that I've seen the term "Oxyrhynchus papyri" used to refer to ancient Biblical manuscripts on papyrus found at Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, as if those were the only papyri found at Oxyrhynchus, when in fact, out of the over 5000 Oxyrhynchus papyri published so far (out of more than 1 million excavated), only a small fraction have to do with Christianity in any way.

People often use the terms "textual transmission" (the process by which a text goes from the author to the reader) and "textual criticism" (examining the manuscripts and/or other evidence of a text and attempting to restore as nearly as possible the original text) as if they had only to do with the Bible, when actually they are applied to any and all texts, and very frequently to ancient non-Christian Latin and Greek texts, as well as Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Flaubert or whom have you.

The term "Codex Vaticanus" is widely used these days, it seems, to describe one Biblical manuscript, although the phrase "Codex Vaticanus" actually means nothing more than "manuscript in the Vatican Library," and there are lots and lots of manuscripts in the Vatican Library." A more proper designation for this particular Biblical manuscript is Vat. gr. #1209, Vatican Library Greek manuscript number 1209. You can see the phrase "Codex Vaticanus" applied to many other manuscripts in the writing of Classical scholars. But since there are so many manuscripts in the Vatican Library, these scholars generally provide a key at the beginning of each piece of such writing, giving a more precise definition of what they mean by "Codex Vaticanus" -- or, if the piece of writing refers to more than one manuscript from the Vatican Library, which is not at all usual, the key may inform the reader that throughout the text, for example, "M" will refer to Vatican Library Latin manuscript #3225, "P" will refer to Vatican Library Palatine Collection manuscript #1631, and so forth. M because the manuscript belonged to the Medici before the Vatican acquired it, P for Palatine. These examples are the abbreviations used by RAB Mynors in his edition of Vergil, published in 1969. He doesn't use the phrase "Codex Vaticanus" to refer to every manuscript of Vergil in the Vatican Library which he has used in the preparation of this edition, because 6 of the 21 manuscripts he used are from the Vatican Library.

The 27th edition of the Nestle/Aland Greek New Testament makes use of dozens if not hundreds of New Testament manuscripts from the Vatican Library (in addition to thousands of other New Testament manuscripts from elsewhere), and, since "Codex Vaticanus" means nothing more or less in Latin than "manuscript from the Vatican Library," the editors of that edition came up with a different abbreviation to refer to each one.

I don't know how often actual legitimate Biblical scholars use such terms as if they were never used outside of Biblical studies or in their literal Latin meanings, or whether this is just one more example of Wikipedia and TV shows about the Bible conspiring to make mankind more stupid. Some of the articles on Wiki having to do with textual transmission and textual criticism have recently been improved to more clearly indicate that this things do have a life apart from Biblical studies. (Years ago I used to make some corrections on Wiki myself, but I stopped because they weren't paying me enough.) A Google search for textus receptus might give you the impression that the term never meant anything other than those 16th-century printed editions of the Bible. (Btw, in Classical studies, "edition" is usually used to mean "printed edition," as opposed to "manuscript.") The sheer number of Web pages using the term "textus receptus" in this narrow sense drown out the others, unless you refine your search extensively. You have to search for something like "textus receptus" -bible -testament -gospel in order to get results indicating that this is not all just about the Bible.

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