Messiness and Chaos; Judah Halevi

1. In my assigned reading of L.D. Reynolds and N.G. Wilson’s Scribes and Scholars today, I read the authors’ discussion of textual criticism. They referred to the stemmatic method, which aims to arrive at the “correct” reading of a text, the text as it was originally written down. The stemmatic method compares texts in order to determine which is correct (e.g., what’s the majority reading?). The assumption is that there’s an original text, which later scribes copied and mis-copied. The stemmatic method’s model is rather vertical, in that it usually assumes that a scribe is copying one text.

But things aren’t quite so simple, the authors contend, for there’s horizontal work going on. Scribes in ancient and medieval times did not always copy one text, for they compared different copies, and they put what they considered “good readings” and “interesting variants” into their manuscripts. You know the eclectic texts that some scholars love to criticize—the modern editions of an ancient text that draw from this manuscript and that manuscript, as the compiler sees fit? Well, there are some old manuscripts that do this, as well! Textual copying and transmission could be quite messy. How can we even arrive at an original text, with that kind of messiness in the equation?

Of course, I may be leaving some with the impression that we can’t know anything and that all is chaos. I doubt it’s that bleak. Ancient texts agree, and there are many cases when their disagreements are minor, concentrated in such areas as grammar and spelling. But then there are times when texts disagree on what they are saying. Reynolds and Wilson refer to manuscripts of Herodotus that edit out the dirty stuff! Can we say these are wrong because they’re minority manuscripts, or stray manuscripts? But even a conservative friend of mine said that the number of copies of a particular manuscript doesn’t mean it’s accurate, for a group can make a bunch of copies of a bad manuscript.

I’m back to chaos again! I can’t write myself out of it. Fortunately, there are plenty of scholars who don’t think everything is bleak (right?).

2. In Bringing the Hidden to Light, I read Raymond Scheindlin’s essay, “The Song of the Silent Dove: The Pilgrimage of Judah Halevi.” Judah Halevi was a Jewish thinker who lived in the eleventh-twelfth centuries. Two things stood out to me. First, Halevi regretted not learning more when he was younger, for, when he was older, he was busy being a doctor. Second, Halevi wrote beautiful poetry, but he didn’t believe that it adequately communicated what he wanted to say. In his mind, he was clumsy with words.

I identify with some of this (well, not the beautiful poet part).

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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