Monday, May 30, 2011

W. L. Richards' review of K.D. Clarke's "Textual Optimism"

Richards in 2002 offered a review of Clarke's book (avail. on the internet in .pdf). 

Textual Optimism: a Critique of the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament

What is good about the review is that it gives a good summary of the contents and position of Clarke's book:
"The basic thesis of Clarke’s evaluation of the upgrading of “certainty” in the rating of variants by the editors in UBS 4 over the three previous editions is not only overly optimistic, as the title of his book suggests, but also is methodologically inconsistent and devoid of delineated criteria for making these optimistic judgments.
As a background to his investigation of the ratings within the United Bible Societies Greek New Testament (UBS), Clarke provides in chapter 1 a helpful overview of the textual tradition behind the four editions, beginning with the contributions of Westcott and Hort and continuing with key developments since their time. Of particular value is the specific information lying behind each of the four UBS editions as well as helpful information as to how the UBS text and the Nestle-Aland text eventually ended up being the same. Clarke tabulates in two columns some important differences that remain between the UBS and Nestle-Aland critical editions (68-9).
In chapter 2 the author focuses on the differences of the rating in UBS 4 as compared to the first three editions, providing many charts (drawn from several appendices) showing the number of modifications in UBS 4 with the previous editions. The massive amount of statistical data bears out Clarke’s contention that UBS 4 represents the text of the Greek NT as far “more certain” than the previous editions. H is first ch art, for example, shows that UBS 4 has approximately four times as many A readings as were given in the previous UBS editions (514 to 136 or less). Correspondingly, UBS 4 shows a significant decrease in the number of C and D readings: 27 percent of the total in UBS 4 as compared to 58 percent in UBS 3 ( the first two ed itions differ slightly form UBS 3 ).
This results in the number of B read ings rem aining nearly the same in all four editions, and this is to be expected, for while ma ny of the form er B readings have been elevated to A status in UBS 4 , many of the former C and D readings have also been elevated, leaving us with approximately the same number of B readings. But whereas the percentage of B readings is the same, the readings com prising the new totals are quite d iffere nt. What used to be a four-step rating system (A-D) has now become a three-step system (the D rating now makes up just one percent in the UBS4 as compared to nine percent in the previous editions (91).
Clarke repeatedly asks why the UBS4 editors did not account for these major shifts toward certainty, holding that the explanation given in the introduction to the fourth edition for the changes is insufficient. But more, he believes that the shifts were made as a result of flawed methods and logic.  Major proof for this comes in his analysis of the only two texts in UBS 4 that were given a three-step upgrade (D to A): Luke 19:25 and Acts 2:44. His point is that if the committee could make such a major upgrade in these two places where, upon analysis, Clarke concludes they should not have, how can we trust their judgments elsewhere? (155 fn and 1 76).
(As a matter of interest to me, for years I felt that the ratings in UBS 1-3 were often too cautious, frequently making my own upgrades in the classroom, and, interestingly, doing so on precisely the same grou nds used by Clarke to draw his negative conclu sions about the optim ism of the editors of UBS4 , namely, “the recognized principles of New Testament textual criticism” [14].)
The questions raised by Clarke are important apart from the fact that one may not agree completely with his conclusions."
(excerpted from Richards, Book Review)


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