Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Reviews of Houghton and 4th century MS production

H. A. G. Houghton. Augustine’s Text of John. Patristic Citations and Latin Gospel Manuscripts. Oxford: OUP, 2008. (13.8×21.6), 424 p. ISBN 978-0-19-954592-6. Hardback.

The first review we quote below gives us some enlightening gems of information rarely discussed in TC circles, as to practices and options regarding book production and Scripture care and stewardship;

J. Cornelia Linde  

"The following chapter, ‘The Use of the Bible and the Production of Books in the Time of Augustine’, is an insightful and, again, well documented discussion of the production and diffusion of biblical texts in Augustine’s time, based for the most part on examples from Augustine’s writings.
Houghton points out several noteworthy facts. So, for instance, that manuscripts of Scripture were on sale on the open market, and that churches had their own copyists and secretaries, who would usually produce books to order (p. 24) by sending a scribe in situ to transcribe a text. A side aspect, yet all the same fascinating, was the description of how minutes at council proceedings were produced by stenographers, then copied and signed by the participants (p. 28). In addition, Hugh provides some insight into questions of liturgy in churches around the year 400, especially with regard to the role of the lectores, who were responsible for both their church’s scriptural books, which they usually kept at home (p. 22), and reading the lecture at mass. A point that was not addressed by Houghton is that the lectores (p. 22, n. 2) were often children and the consequences resulting from this fact for their role. Houghton does not mention their age and whether we can assume that children were entrusted with manuscripts and their safekeeping."

First Review quoted above  <- - Click here.

The second review discusses Augustine's use of Old Latin texts and his later adoption of Jerome's Vulgate, as well as quotations from memory.  The discussion is rather complex but persistence pays off in understanding some of the difficult features of any analysis of patristic sources.

Discussion of Patristic Citation  <- - Click here.

The author himself responds to these reviews with a wonderful discussion about how ancient writers like Augustine determined their texts:

"The nature of the Old Latin Bible
Cornelia asked several times about the versions of the Bible Augustine used and which texts had official sanction. Part of this is to do with the nature of the earliest Latin translations: Augustine claims in De doctrina christiana that, as I translate, anyone “who believed himself to have a modicum of ability in both [Latin and Greek] … hazarded his own translation”. In reality, surviving Old Latin versions are a lot more consistent than is often claimed, and, what we seem to have are successive revisions of a limited number of early translations.
Yet the concept of versions is bound up in the wider issue of using early manuscripts for the text of the Bible. Every manuscript is different, and therefore every Bible is different. For example, a Christian community might have been using scriptural codices which did not include the story of the woman taken in adultery, or claimed that Barnabas, not Barabbas, was set free instead of Jesus, or even had that famous alternative reading in the Ten Commandments “Thou shalt commit adultery”. This would not have made any difference to the way the manuscript was used in the liturgy, or revered as sacred scripture. Clearly, more obvious copying errors would usually have been corrected pretty quickly, but plenty have been left to stand! Augustine’s comparison of manuscripts was a standard preliminary stage in working with a text [see page 18 on reading practices in antiquity], just like modern scholars should ascertain whether they are using a current edition of a work, or whether there is a corrected second edition or important subsequent material which needs to be taken into consideration.
In fact, I suspect that modern attitudes to “the Bible” even after the invention of printing are not so different to those in the time of Augustine. ...Even if you take a printed Latin Vulgate or an edition of the Greek text as your archetypical “Bible”, you still have to specify which edition. None are entirely identical, and among modern translations – as with the Old Latin tradition – it can be very difficult to specify when a text is sufficiently different that it constitutes a new version rather than a variant form or light revision of an earlier version.
In the light of this, I would like to suggest that authority is co-located in an overall concept of Scripture and the individual exemplars which one uses for one’s text. When Augustine says “it is written in the Bible”, how would he prove it? In the same way as he challenges his opponents in the dialogues, by inviting them to bring him a manuscript with that reading [e.g. Contra Faustum (p.18-19)]. And if they could, he then goes on to outline his text-critical criteria for evaluating that witness: how old is the manuscript? Is it accurate elsewhere? How does it correspond to Greek manuscripts?"

Author's Response  <- - - Click Here.


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