Wednesday, January 26, 2011

more from Pieter Botha

I haven't read Pieter Botha before. I've done quite a bit of reading in oral traditional research and the gospels (including the gospel of Mark), so I've run into Botha's work on numerous occasions. But I've never read him before. So his essay, "'Publishing' a Gospel: Notes on Historical Constraints to Gospel Criticism" (see this post), has come as a very nice surprise. Here's yet another quote worth working through:
Incidentally, these practices remind us forcibly of the fluidity of all manuscript traditions in antiquity. What we would call an edition simply did not exist in antiquity; ἔκδοσις (usually translated with "publish") merely indicated the stage at which the author let a version out of his own hands. Copying was basically ad hoc, determined by innumerable factors and completely outside any formal control. It is impossible to speak of fixed traditions. . . . When we think about books in Greco-Roman antiquity, we should accept that single, final autographs probably never existed. In reality many participated and contributed to textual traditions endlessly in flux. (347; original emphases)

The phrase, "endlessly in flux," seems a bit exaggerated to me. But the point that writing a text did not fix the tradition is well taken. Too often, NT scholars talk about writing as the point at which a variable oral tradition becomes fixed; oral traditional scholars (both inside and outside biblical scholarship) have known for quite some time that written texts are only as stable as the cultural practices that facilitate their use.

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