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On Being a Textual “Geek”

March 29, 2011

In the course of researching for an essay for publication, I’ve been perusing a little-known/used volume over the last few days:  Richard C. Nevius, The Divine Names in the Gospels (“Studies & Documents,” 30; Salt Lake City:  University of Utah Press, 1967).  I give a couple of quotations that I thought might be of amusement and/or interest:

First, a memorable quotation by Nevius (p. 5) of a passage from an adventure novel by Michael Innes, From London Far (p. 8): 

“The practical and everyday advantages of the exacting science known as Textual Criticism are admittedly few.  To ponder the inaccuracies of long-dead scribes and thus penetrate through a corrupted text to the pristine meaning of a yet longer-dead orator or grammarian is a way of life not likely to be appealing to the actively inclined.”    Innes’ novel also features a Scottish (sea) Captain Maxwell who diligently reads Kenyon’s Handbook to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, and probes with great interest the intricacies of the Codex Sinaiticus.  Great stuff!

As to the more serious results that Nevius offers, consider the following (p. 89), in summation of his investigation of manuscripts of the Gospels: 

“No portion of the text is more vulnerable to theological or pietistic considerations than the text of the Nomina Sacra.  Yet the evidence of tampering or alteration, with the exceptions noted, is so rare as to cause some surprise.  Whatever else may be said of the problems connected with the Divine Names, it must be said that as a criterion of the way in which scribes handle the text, the scribes come off better than expected.”

(Unfortunately, Nevius’ book is now difficult to find, and is not included in Google Books.  But Innes’ novel is!)

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One Comment
  1. And From London Far is mentioned by James Royse in his book on scribal habits in New Testament papyri

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