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Editio Critica Maior: Acts Volumes

December 23, 2017

I am the happy and grateful recipient of the newly-published four-volume work on the text of Acts of the Apostles that forms part of the Editio Critica Maior (ECM) project based in the Institute for Text-Critical Research in the University of Muenster.  Published by the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, the online catalog entry is here.  At 268 Euros, it will likely be affordable mainly to libraries, but any library serving NT exegesis must acquire it, and scholars working on Acts must have access to it.

The first two volumes follow the pattern established in the earlier volume on the Catholic Epistles.  The top of each page has the text that the editors regard as closest to the “original” text (the preferred Muenster Institute term is “initial text”), and below each line of text are the variants, and below this the supporting witnesses for each of the variants.  The first volume (“Part 1.1”) covers Acts 1–14, and the second (“Part 1.2”) covers Acts 15–28.

The third volume (“Supplementary Material”) is a series of lists:  the sigla used in the edition, the Greek manuscripts cited, lacunae in Greek manuscripts, errors in Greek manuscripts, Patristic citations, “versions” (early translations) cited, and a brief commentary on versional attestations.

Probably the largest (and perhaps the toughest) problem in NT textual criticism concerns the text of the Acts of the Apostles.  In particular, what has often been called the “Western text” of Acts, the principal Greek witness being Codex Bezae (D), represents a text of Acts some 14% larger than the familiar text preferred in most critical editions and that is reflected in translations of the NT.  But the various other witnesses often linked with the “Western text” don’t actually exhibit very close agreement with one another when assessed using quantitative analysis.

So, over many years now, various scholars have proposed various theories.  One is that the “Western text” is one of the earliest (or perhaps the earliest) forms of Acts, but its transmission produced the lack of coherence among extant witnesses.  Another view is that the “Western text” (in the form that we see in Codex Bezae) was formed by a “redaction” at some point.  Still another view is that the “Western text” is a mirage, or, more precisely, that it isn’t really a coherent text-form.  Instead, in this theory, the various witnesses all reflect a comparatively “free” transmission practice that generated a body of textual variants, the fullest body of them represented in Codex Bezae.

In dealing with the text of Acts, therefore, the Muenster scholars had to engage this  problem in particular.  The fourth volume in this set, “Part 3:  Studies,” includes several essays devoted  to the “Western text” problem.  But, before we get to them, Klaus Wachtel offers a “text-critical commentary” on passages where the editors of the ECM reconstructed the “initial text” differently than in the Nestle-Aland 28th edition (= UBS 5th edition), and a discussion of “new” variants in Patristic citations (Nikolai Kiel), an analysis of quotations of Acts in the Gospel commentary of Fortunatus of Aquileia and in Augustine’s early anti-Manichean writings (Georg Gäbel), a discussion of the use of Coptic versions (Siegfried Richter and Katharina Schröder), and a study of a 6th century witness to the Gothic text of Acts (Carla Falluomini).

Then, come major studies concerned with the “Western text.”  Georg Gäbel leads off with a wide-ranging discussion of various approaches and theories.  He affirms the view that the “Western text” (or “D-text cluster”) was not an early form of the text of Acts, but, instead, was what he calls a “Bezan trajectory” (alluding to Codex Bezae), that is, a loose textual tradition that reflects a somewhat more “free” handling of the text of Acts than we have in witnesses such as Vaticanus.  It is interesting that he acknowledges that he has now shifted from his earlier view that there was a “redaction” that generated the Bezan-type text.  (Anytime a scholar changes his/her mind under the impact of evidence, it should be noted and celebrated!)  This 53-page and highly detailed study now demands the attention of any scholar addressing the text of Acts, and particularly scholars who have expressed views on the “Western text.”

Next comes a study of the relationship of the “Western text” of Acts and the “Byzantine tradition” (i.e., the witnesses to the tradition that led to the “textus receptus” of the Medieval period) by Klaus Wachtel.  He contends in forceful language, “the quest for the ‘Western text’ has failed,” and “the notion of a second century ‘Western text’ should be abandoned once and for all” (p. 147).  Thereafter, we have a (German-language) discussion by Holger Strutwolf of the text of Acts reflected in citations by Irenaeus.  Strutwolf concludes that Irenaeus isn’t a witness to a “Western text,” but instead to a certain freedom in citing and transmitting the text of Acts.

Gunnar Büsch considers whether a “Western text” is reflected in the citations of Acts by Chrysostom (some 3,500 Acts citations across his body of work!).  He complains that the textual history of Chrysostom’s homilies must be resolved before any definitive judgement can be made.  Nevertheless, he expresses doubts that Chrysostom really is a witness to a “Western text” of Acts.

Shorter studies of the “middle-Egyptian” textual tradition (Siegfried G. Richter) and the so-called “Harklean apparatus” of variants in the ECM conclude the volume.

A LOT of work has gone into the production of these volumes, for which all NT scholars must express admiration and gratitude.  The judgments reflected in the preferred “initial text” should be studied by anyone doing exegesis of Acts.  And the provocative essays in the final volume that address the “Western text” issue should (and certainly will) receive the close attention of NT textual critics in particular.


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  1. Jeff permalink

    Dr. Hurtado,

    Off topic question if that is okay. In OGOL chapter 3 you present Jewish sources that speak of Enoch’s and Moses’ exaltation and then you say, “I suggest that the exalted patriarchs served for some Jews as assurance of the eschatological reward for which they themselves hoped” (pg. 66). Do you mean by this that some Jews (before the time of Jesus) believed that Enoch and Moses had received their final immortal body when they went to heaven, i.e., the same body that the righteous would receive at the end times general resurrection?

    • The point I emphasize, Jeff, is the heavenly exaltation/vindication of these figures, not their bodies. Their exaltation as “chief agent”, I suggest, served to assure devout Jews of the time that their status with God was assured, and that they would receive the eschatological reward that they hoped for.

      • Jeff permalink

        Dr. Hurtado,

        Thanks for the clarification. I realize your interest in OGOL might not be the bodies of patriarchs, but I am curious your opinion about 2 Enoch 22:5-10 (which you address on pg. 55 in chapter 3) where Enoch is extracted from his earthly clothing and “put into the cloths of glory” and “became like one of the glorious ones, and there was no observable difference”. You seem reluctant to say that Enoch is being transformed into an angel here, but if not, what do you think is going on? Another seemingly accomplished scholar, Philip S. Alexander, says without hesitation that Enoch is here being transformed into an angel (pg. 104 at In addition to becoming an angelic figure, do you think this 2 Enoch passage may also intend that Enoch is getting his final immortal body, the same body that the righteous would receive at the end times general resurrection? If not, how can Enoch be an angel with his earthly mortal body?

      • It wasn’t my concern in OGOL to try to offer a category for Enoch’s heavenly body, but instead my focus was on his role/status. But 2 Enoch (and perhaps more explicitly 3Enoch) may well portray him as transformed into an angelic like being. The view of the resurrection body as resplendent and glorious and like angels is reflected in Jewish texts, and alluded to perhaps in Mark 12:26.

      • Jeff permalink

        Dr. Hurtado,

        I have an oddball question for you that I will completely understand if you do not want to answer it. I do not know what your faith position is with respect to Christian claims (I think you believe Jesus was literally raised from the dead), but you seem to know so dang much about the details of Jewish beliefs that informed Christian beliefs about Jesus (chief agents, bodies taken up to heaven and transformed, etc), I am curious to ask you: If Jesus’ body was somehow not available to Jesus’ followers after his crucifixion, and if you were to put a skeptic’s hat on, do you think you could plausibly account for the resurrection belief and all of the other beliefs that emerged about Jesus as simply part of a dynamic creative process by Jesus’ earliest followers and those that followed? There just seems an awful lot of similar material between Jewish beliefs and Christian beliefs. If anyone could connect all the dots into a plausible progression of beliefs that came about purely through natural means (no intervention from a deity), it would be you. I’m not asking you to do so; I’m just asking if your gut tells you that it could be done. If not, what are the top two or so things that you think are simply not plausibly explainable?

      • Jeff: The biggest difficulty in making the eruption of the conviction that God raised Jesus from death and exalted him to heavenly glory is that we have no evidence of any similar claim about the many prophets, would-be messiah figures, etc. It’s one thing to imagine that a hero from long ago (e.g.,Moses) has been exalted to heaven, and quite another to ascribe this to a near-contemporary of real/recent history.
        E.g., no such claims were made about John the Baptizer, even though he too was perceived by his followers as the divinely sent eschatological figure.
        Now the distinctiveness of early Christian claims doesn’t validate them. It just means that they do seem to be distinctive, and so not reducible to one example of a class of such phenomena.

  2. John Mitrosky permalink

    Here is a recent article that appeared in my inbox you might find interesting Larry. More to do with Mark than Acts, but I thought it might be nice to change subject. Happy New Year!


    • Thanks, John. Yes, Malik’s article is an interesting study of the nomina sacra in Vaticanus.

    • Donald Jacobs permalink

      I hope the author sorts out the wildly wrong percentages for “spirit”, “Israel” and “father”: has it already been published?

      • Donald: CAn you explain your complaint about maths?

      • Donald Jacobs permalink

        For each nomen sacrum the author gives the % contracted in Mark and in the NT as a whole. The figures for Christ (100% and 99.6%), God (100% and 99%), Jesus (97.5% and 99.4%), Lord (88.9% and 95.4%) all look fine.

        But for spirit 2 out of 20 is clearly 10% not the 0.09% given. And 9 out of 332 is around 3% not 0.03% as displayed.

        For Israel 1 out of 63 in the NT is not 0.016% as displayed.

        For father in the whole NT, 1 out of 397 is not 0.0025 as displayed (should be nearer to 0.25%)

        The author seems to have forgotten to times by 100, plus there is a weird thing going on where small errors such as between 0.1 and 0.09 has crept in.

      • Ah, yes. Quite correct. I hadn’t noticed the percentage figures, and only compared raw numbers quickly.

  3. I know this is unrelated to the topic here, but I wanted to see if you’d be willing to give your thoughts on this paper:

    It appeared in 2016 in a humanities journal called Digital Scholarship in the Humanities. The author obviously isn’t a historian of any sort, but apparently, he claims to have shown that large sections of Pliny’s letter to Trajan about the Christians are “interpolations” through his use of “stylometric analysis”. It sounds ridiculous to me, however, I thought I would request your thoughts on this.

  4. Donald Jacobs permalink

    I wonder if there’s any discussion of the large number of variants involving kyrios and its indistinct meaning in Acts that you have written about previously.

    • Donald: No discussion of the phenomenon as such. The ECM volumes do present rather fully evidence for the variants at those points that I discuss.

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