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Hull’s New Book on NT Textual Criticism

December 31, 2010

At the big Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting I picked up a copy of a brand new book that will be of interest esp. to serious NT students (budding NT scholars) and others with a serious interest in NT textual criticism:  Robert F. Hull Jr., The Story of the New Testament Text:  Movers, Materials, Motives, Methods, and Models (Atlanta:  Society of Biblical Literature, 2010).

The book is specifically directed to those who are not text critics, and it largely does an admirable job of conveying accessibly and accurately the fascinating (to me) field of NT textual criticism.  It’s much more user-friendly than most of the standard “introductions” to the subject.  Hull introduces key scholars of past and present, key manuscripts, and developments in theories and methods.  Most importantly (to my mind), he correctly conveys the sense of dynamic developments in the field.  It has to be stated clearly:  NT Textual Criticism is today more exciting than at any previous time in the last century.

In a very quick reading of it, I spotted only a very small number of errors:  e.g., contra p. 120,  since my published study,  Codex W in Mark is no longer seen as reflecting an early stage of the so-called “Caesarean” text.  Cf. L. W. Hurtado, Text-Critical Methodology and the Pre-Caesarean Text (Eerdmans, 1981).  And contra p. 185, the tau-rho device used in some early Christian manuscripts as part of an abbreviation of the Greek words for “cross” and “crucify” is not “uniquely Christian” but a distinctively Christian use of a device previously used (e.g., as a symbol for “thirty” or “three”).  See my book, The Earliest Christian Artifacts (135-54), and/or read my essay, “The Staurogram” on the “Essays, etc” page of this blog site.

But such minor slips do not give me any hesitation in recommending the book for anyone willing to give Hull a chance to show how interesting NT textual criticism is.

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  1. As Larry said: nothing is more relevant than a deep acquaintance with the manuscripts in question.

    It’s rather naive to suggest a preference for “historians,” whatever is meant by that. Any scholar of Christian history would be utterly deficient as a historian if s/he only engaged what Christians did, while getting absolutely zero training in Christian thought — by which I mean a religion degree. Such a theoretical scholar would be severely handicapped, not advantaged.

    While history is about gathering evidence of actions that took place, there’s more to it than that. It’s also about learning to read in between the lines of the evidence (the more ancient the time period, the more this is so). Yet one cannot read between the lines without engaging the way people think. And, a scholar not trained in Christian religious thought would not be competent to conjecture the way Christians behave. Such a scholar would be unable to truly analyze the evidence in the context of the way Christians think.

    Also, the New Testament is a unique corpus of literature. A historian skilled in reading Roman legal and financial documents, for instance, would not automatically be competent in NT studies. If those documents get tampered with, it would be for very different reasons. Also, the NT is a fully limited set of documents from a narrow time period. New NT books won’t suddenly surface, though new Roman legal documents might. The best people to get in the heads of the scribes who handled NT documents are the people who actually have an interest in the documents in question.

    The NT is unique enough to legitimately have its own degree field. Get over your snobbishness.

  2. Robert Hull permalink


    Thanks much for recommending my book, The Story of the New Testament Text. You picked up precisely the sense I was trying to convey to non-specialists: NT textual criticism is neither static nor dull, but is a dynamic and even exciting enterprise, with plenty of room for young scholars. Thanks, too, for picking up the two errors you mentioned (there are others!). On Codex W and the Caesarean text, I do qualify my comment somewhat on 120 by referring to “conventional categories.” Furthermore, on 137 I point to the disintegration of the Caesarean text (should have referenced your study of Codex W as contributing to that disintegration. Finally, on 142 I describe Codex W as “inaccurately labeled by some as Caesarean.” About the tau-rho as “uniquely Christian” (185), that was simply an egregious blunder, especially since I had not only read your studies, but McNamee as well. Again, thanks for the recommendation.

    Bob Hull

  3. Thanks for pointing out this book!

  4. Hello Larry,

    I think that the religion industry is driven a great deal by supernaturalism, so I am trying to more and more turn to folks with degrees in history, not with folks with some kind of religion degree. there is a trend in the religion industry for professionals to even hide if they are supernaturalists or not. With that being the case, it is virtually impossible to rely on much coming out of the industry.

    So as I say, I am simply looking to the history industry. I just wondered if you were aware of good intros to text criticism done by anyone with an actual history degree.


    • Rich, I’ll try to be kind, but I have to say that I find your comments astonishingly ill-informed. I don’t know what “religion industry” people you’re drawing your impressions from, but they can’t be any serious scholars in the field that I inhabit. E.g., the standard introductions to NT textual criticism (such as the Metzger-Ehrman volume, or the Alands’ volume) make no appeal to “supernaturalism” in their analysis of issues.
      Your comments reflect both an unfair and ill-informed slur on the scholarly integrity of NT scholarship and also a curiously naive view of “the history industry” (as if simply by labelling oneself as a historian one becomes “objective” and disinterested).
      I repeat what any scholar in any field will say: Scholars publish their works and other scholars with competence assess them. And believe me, that critical assessment is no easy ride! It’s pretty damned difficult to get by with bluffing, errors, skewed arguments, etc. in any of the circles of professional NT scholars.

  5. Hello Larry,

    Is this the guy? Seems to have; M.Div. Emmanuel School of Religion, Ph.D. Princeton Theological Seminary. Do you know of any folks that have done books on an intro to Textual Criticism that have degrees in history, rather than some kind of religion degree? I am trying to gather new contacts of folks with history degrees that do work in the Christian history field.


    • Uh, what’s the problem with people writing books on a field for which they’re trained and in which they have a strong interest? Scholars write books, and other scholars are competent to assess them. My book, The Earliest Christian Artifacts has been reviewed by NT scholars and those who focus in papyrology (e.g., Roger Bagnall’s review in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review). What counts is what competent scholars think of a book, not whether the PhD was in “history” or NT or . . . whatever.
      There are introductions to textual criticism for scholars in classical literature, in English Literature (i.e., pre-printing press era), etc., and scholars in NT textual criticism engage them. But nothing is more important than a deep acquaintance with the actual manuscripts in question. So, e.g., a scholar focusing in classical texts wouldn’t thereby be competent to make comments about the state of NT materials, unless she/he took the time to mug up on the subject.

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