The Curious History Of The “Editor” In Biblical Criticism: A Review Of The Edited Bible, By John Van Seters (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2006) -- By: Clyde E. Billington

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 22:4 (Fall 2009)
Article: The Curious History Of The “Editor” In Biblical Criticism: A Review Of The Edited Bible, By John Van Seters (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2006)
Author: Clyde E. Billington


The Curious History Of The “Editor” In Biblical Criticism: A Review Of The Edited Bible, By John Van Seters (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2006)

Clyde E. Billington

Introduction

This new book by John Van Seters should have a revolutionary impact on the critical study of the Bible, particularly on the study of the Pentateuch/ Hexateuch in the OT Van Seters’ thesis is that the development of German higher criticism was based upon an anachronistic application to the Bible, and also to other ancient texts, of the historical examples of the editing methods used by late Renaissance scholars to prepare ancient texts for publication. Van Seters writes (p. 400):

The notion of the ancient editor was created out of an obvious anachronism and then developed in the interest of literary and text-critical theories, with the result that it has become devoid of all contact with reality.

During the Renaissance, various ancient Greek and Latin texts were rediscovered in the West, and as more and more ancient manuscripts were discovered, almost every ancient piece of literature was found to have numerous variant manuscript readings.

With the invention of the printing press ca. 1450, there was a frenetic attempt by publishers in Western Europe to print a definitive “textus receptus” edition of each piece of ancient literature. It was to scholars of the later Renaissance period that publishers gave the task of collecting, collating, editing, and redacting the variant readings found in the ancient manuscripts. In producing their “textus receptus” editions for publication, these late Renaissance scholars decided between variant readings, filled in perceived textual gaps, omitted repetitive words and lines, removed supposed interpolations, corrected the meter of poems, provided explanations, and at times added written material of their own. Non-original material was sometimes added to the earliest editions without even telling the reader. Erasmus’s “textus receptus” version of the Greek New Testament is a good example of this. Erasmus is known to have written Greek texts for a few NT verses which were found in the Latin Vulgate, but which were missing from the Greek manuscripts that he used.

Classical and biblical scholars in the 18th century anachronistically assumed that ancient scholars had also edited ancient classical and biblical texts; just as Renaissance scholars had done. However, Van Seters vehemently rejects this assumed similarity between Renaissance and ancient editors. He also attacks those modern scholars who base their textual theories on this assumed similarity. He writes in the introduction to his book (p. 23):

We will see that the “editors” of antiquity contributed nothing to ...

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