Electronic Textual Editing: Electronic religious texts: the Gospel of John [D.C. Parker]
This survey must begin with essential questions of definition. How is one to define ‘religious’ texts? It has been claimed that Marxism is a religion. If the case were accepted, would an electronic edition of Das Kapital: or of The Communist Manifesto come within the scope of this study? Again, there are texts from the Graeco-Roman world which are regarded as ‘classical’ or ‘philosophical’ rather than religious, perhaps because they represent faiths no longer practised. Should electronic editions of such texts be counted as editions of religious texts? The solution accepted here is a matter-of-fact one. For the purposes of this survey, those texts will be included which belong to the tradition of contemporary faith communities.
There then arises a second problem of definition. If all religious texts were to be included, the topic would be impossibly wide, since it would—for example—include two thousand years of Christian theological writing, and yet longer traditions in the case of some other faiths. Again, the solution is pragmatic, and accepts the common assumption about what constitutes a religious text. This study will be restricted to those texts which a faith holds in particular esteem as revealed or inspired or sacred. The general definition of ‘sacred books’ is itself one to be handled somewhat cautiously, for several reasons. In the first place, different faiths (and the same faith at different times or in different places) have had and have very different views of what is ‘revealed’ or ‘inspired’ or ‘sacred’. In the second, books are used in many ways and have varying functions in different groups and places. The concept of ‘holy books’, so popular in a certain kind of study of comparative religions, and popularised for a generation in teaching children, should be treated with extreme caution. To describe the Torah and Christian Bible and Qu'ran as the ‘holy books’ of Judaism and Christianity and Islam is to overlook the vastly differing functions of these texts within these three faiths, and the vastly differing attitudes to their authority. It as meaningful as comparing apples, oranges and bananas because they are all fruit, or Australian Rules football, croquet and rowing because they are all sports.
Having raised these points, it is necessary to refer to the particularly tender susceptibilities which may surround sacred texts. High honour is sometimes accorded, not only to the concept of a particular text, such as the Qu'ran or Torah or Gospels, but to individual physical copies. Thus, for example, the copy of the Torah in a synagogue will be one that has been copied by hand, on the ancient medium of a parchment roll, according to very strict standards of accuracy. It will be stored in a special receptacle and handled with especial care. When it is worn out it will not be thrown away as a thing of no worth. While this process is one that applies to copies produced for the very specific purpose of use in worship, it is not unlikely to influence attitudes to scholarly editing and, indeed, to scholarly editions. Positively, it has bred the highest standards of intimate knowledge, care and attention to details. Negatively, it may lead to hostility to alternative forms of the text, and in particular to the challenge that electronic editions offer to traditional concepts of textual authority. It may even be the case that the discussion of problems of textual transmission and of text-critical issues will be completely suppressed in the interests of a claim for the unconditional authority of a particular form of text. The stakes in the introduction of electronic textual editing are, in the case of texts held in the greatest esteem by believers, extremely high, not only within particular faiths, but in inter-faith dialogue, and in encounters between the world's cultures. Incompatibility of textual theory is not the least significant aspect of the clash of cultures in the contemporary world, and disagreement over the value of the electronic text has the potential to provide a new source of discord, as well as the potential to bring about unexpected rapprochements.
The study of attitudes to electronic texts by particular groups should not focus solely on sacred texts, but should include wider attitudes to electronic media. A model survey of Islam is provided by Gary Bunt in his book Virtually Islamic: . Such a wider awareness is in fact inevitable, since on the whole one is only able to glean information about electronic scholarly editions by finding what is available more generally. In the field of world faiths, Bunt provides an invaluable print resource (Good Web Guide); for New Testament resources, the reader is directed to Dr Mark Goodacre's NewTestamentGateway.com. 1 What swiftly becomes apparent is that while plenty of materials are available on the web, there is a dearth of electronic scholarly editions. There are plenty of scholarly editions that have been digitized (or at any rate images of such editions), but there are not many editions conceived as electronic scholarly editions. The reasons for this have some similarities to the reasons why other electronically available corpora are not electronic scholarly editions conceived de novo. In the case of some texts, there is no tradition of scholarly editing according to the terms of reference of this volume. Two possible reasons for this represent two extreme points of view. The one extreme is that, as has already been indicated, there is in some groups a rejection that the sacred text has any textual problems, so that there is in their view no scholarly editing to be done. The other extreme is that there is no anxiety about textual problems, but an acceptance of variation as either neutral or even a positive phenomenon. If multiple text forms have happily co-existed in a particular culture, one should not expect a desire for a critical edition from within.
What emerges as a consistent theme in this survey so far is that there are no consistent themes. The title of this paper is 'Case studies: religious texts'. But it has transpired that it is not possible to take any case study as representative. For the belief systems, the scholarly traditions, and indeed the transmission histories of the sacred texts of the world are so diverse as to defy any attempt to find any representative types. It would, moreover, be the worst kind of religious imperialism to present any one set of views and experiences as a blueprint, or as in any way normative. Even within the Christian tradition, there is a wonderfully rich variety of attitudes to texts and of textual histories. The New Testament itself contains texts and groups of texts with quite distinct textual histories and uses. The Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Pauline corpus, the Catholic epistles and the Book of Revelation all began life separately and had differing fates along the way before they were united into ‘the New Testament’. 2 In terms of the original brief of this survey, then, the attempt had better be abandoned at this point. What follows is therefore not a case study, not a description of a typical foray into producing an electronic scholarly edition of a typical sacred text. It is a description of a particular set of forays, which may be of interest (or not) as an analogy, or a dreadful warning, of interest to editors of other kinds of text. 3 There is in fact no particular reason why the analogy need be with the editing of other religious texts. New Testament textual editing since the Renaissance has lived in close association with western textual scholarship, shaping and being shaped, and the experiences here described may be as informative to the editor of other texts within the western tradition as to those working with texts from quite different cultures and traditions.
The example which I take is the Gospel of John. In order to understand the electronic editing which will be described, a brief introductory survey is desirable. This text is somewhat different from the other three canonical Gospels (known as the synoptists) for, while they exhibit close agreements in order and wording that point to a relationship of literary dependence, John is different both in the style of its composition and in its contents. Its presentation of the central figure is more stylised and presents his teaching in extensive discourses which are markedly different from sayings presented by the synoptists, which (even when they are combined into groups) are characteristically short and pithy. Because of its distinctive characteristics, there is far less harmonisation of the text to that of the other Gospels than there is between those three, although there are still notable features. Textual variation consists in differing interpretative forms of passages, of assimilation within the text (phrases and sentences are frequently very repeated in similar but not identical ways) and in readings due to orthographical and morphological developments in the Greek language. There are also several significant additions, most notably the story of the woman (7.53-8.11) and the angel at the pool (5.3-4).
The oldest witness is a tiny fragment dated to the second quarter of the second century. 4 There are two reasonably extensive manuscripts from the period 175-225. The oldest complete manuscript dates from a date at or shortly before the middle of the fourth century. There is thus a shortage of copies dating to the crucial first century of the text's existence, the period when it was at its most volatile. 5 There has thus been debate in modern scholarship as to the goal of a critical edition. Karl Lachmann, generally viewed as the editor of the first scientific edition of the New Testament produced an edition that represented the oldest and best witnesses, of the fourth and fifth centuries, and in particular (especially for the Gospels) the Codex Vaticanus. 6 Subsequent editions have built on his example. The evidence of the papyri is too recent to have had a strong influence on a scholarly edition. 7
While there are not many early copies, there are plenty of copies altogether. The database of manuscripts of the Principio project lists 1,841 Greek MSS containing some or all of the Gospel of John. The vast majority of these (all but about 60) date from the ninth century onwards. With some notable exceptions, they represent the various sub-types of the Byzantine text, that is, the text-type that was in use in the Byzantine Empire and which, in a somewhat bizarre form, found its way into print via Erasmus' Greek New Testament of 1516 and became the ‘Received Text’ which lay behind the King James Version. This Received Text dominated until the nineteenth century, continues as the form of text known in Greek Orthodoxy, and is still revered in some western circles as alone representing the divinely-inspired word. The Byzantine manuscripts share a very similar text compared to their differences from the earliest witnesses (there are, for example, probably fewer than 30 differences between them in John 18 which define group membership). In addition, the text was copied in the Byzantine period as lectionaries, that is with passages ordered according to the lectionary rather than in continuous form. The lectionaries number approximately two thousand. Almost all are Byzantine, and their value is as witnesses to this stage of the text, and not to it oldest forms. Nor is the complexity of the evidence exhausted by the number of Greek manuscripts. The Gospel was early translated into other languages, and of these two are of great importance in reconstructing the oldest recoverable forms of the text—the Old Syriac and the Old Latin. The former survives in two manuscripts, the latter in considerably more. Before they can be used in editing the text, they need to be edited themselves, and all variations likely to be the creation of a translator rather than the reading of their Greek Vorlage screened out. Once this is done, we have evidence of forms of the text dating from the second century. Other early versions of significance for reconstructing the history of the text include four later versions of the Syriac, the Coptic (versions in a number of dialects), Georgian, Armenian, Ethiopic, Gothic (dependent on the Latin), and Old Slavonic. Finally, early Christian writers cited the gospel, sometimes at length, in commentaries (of which the most valuable is that of Origen, written in the early third century), sometimes more briefly or loosely. Before a citation can be considered valuable as a witness to the text known to a writer, it must be carefully examined in context, since the writer may have adapted the biblical text, particularly either by changing opening phrases, in order to improve the sense, or else in bringing out what he believed to be the most important point. In addition, the textual tradition of that writer must itself be examined, in order to discover whether the text of the citation has been altered (the process of 'Vulgatisation', adopting a citation to the form best known to a copyist, is well-attested). A further problem is that there may be no critical edition of the writer: the task, for example, of editing the fifth-century writer John Chrysostom, whose extensive works are said to survive in an estimated ten thousand manuscripts is formidable, and for the most part we remain dependent on the three-hundred-year-old edition of Bernard de Montfaucon.
It will thus be seen that the textual tradition of the Gospel of John and thus the task of editing it is one that involves study of an extensive Greek manuscript tradition that lasted for 1,500 years, of a number of early translations, and of early Christian writers. It has been as scholars have explored libraries and collected data that the full magnitude of the task has become evident. The ‘gold standard’ of editions remains Tischendorf's Editio Octava Critica Maior: of 1869-72. This contained what was for its day a comprehensive apparatus criticus. Matching it in the twentieth century proved a formidable task. From the middle of the century onwards, only two groups were making any attempt towards it. One was the Institut für Neutestamentliche Textforschung (INTF) in the University of Münster. The Institut's long-term goal has always been an Editio Critica Maior, and the first fascicles have now appeared. Both in conception and in execution, it has set new standards in critical editing, and its principles should be studied by every editor. The other was the International Greek New Testament Project (IGNTP), which has produced an extensive two-volume apparatus criticus to the Gospel of Luke, completed in 1987. Since 1987, the Project has been at work on the Gospel of John.
The International Greek New Testament Project decided to break the formidable task of editing the Gospel of John into smaller stages of production. The first stage was the publication of transcriptions and apparatus criticus and plates of the papyri. 8 This decision in a sense anticipated our current digital activity. We made our transcriptions and apparatus separately. But it was clear that what was needed was a production method that brought the two together, by making it possible to generate an apparatus from transcriptions. But what we were trying to do was to provide the user with the evidence on the basis of which we had constructed the apparatus—the transcriptions—as well as the evidence on the basis of which we had produced the transcriptions—photographs of the papyri. The goal was transparency at as many points as possible, so that the user was as little in the editor's power as possible.
Since 1995, the IGNTP has been repeating the papyrus edition for the fragmentary majuscule manuscripts. From 2000, this task was one part of The Principio Project, in which a team of researchers tackled various of the stages which will lead ultimately to a critical edition of the Gospel of John. But this time, using Peter Robinson's Collate and Anastasia programmes, we have produced a digital edition of these, containing transcriptions and apparatus. 9 Indeed, we have gone further, and produced transcriptions of all the majuscule manuscripts—approximately 60 witnesses. These interim steps are stages in the collection of the materials for making a critical edition of the Gospel of John. A series of separately funded projects will see the final gathering of the other materials.
Collate was originally conceived and created for the editing of The Canterbury Tales. One interesting aspect of using it on a quite different textual tradition has been the discovery that various modifications had to be made: in the first place, the number of witnesses that it could collate had to be increased dramatically (for Chaucer, there is a maximum of fifty-seven). In the second place, it turned out that Greek Gospel manuscripts show a far higher degree of correction than Chaucerian manuscripts. As a result, the way in which corrections are tagged has had to be developed.
The fact that Collate works by the making of transcriptions fundamentally affects the way in which editor and user view the edition. In the first place, the user has a check on the way in which the materials are presented in an apparatus. In the second, the editor's attention is shifted away from textual variation as a series of short differences, to textual variation as multiple copies. In the third, the manuscript as an artefact comes back into its own. We have adopted tagging procedures (building on what had already been done with Collate and working in partnership with the INTF) which allow a digital reconstruction of the lay-out of a manuscript. In the days of collating, one tended to focus only on the clearest way of presenting variations from the collating base. In transcribing, the textual variation is seen within the framework of recreating the scribe's procedure of copying the manuscript
The difficulty is to find ways of grouping them and selecting the manuscripts which would best represent the groups in a critical edition. Since the middle of the last century, there has been a steady interest in possible methodologies. The IGNTP has used the Claremont Profile Method. This consist of taking three sample chapters, collating a sample of MSS in order to determine the significant group readings, drawing a profile of readings for each group, and then noting the readings of each manuscript in the selected readings. The resulting profile will show to which group it belongs. In two ways the CPM is now out of date. The first is that its creators, Wisse and McReynolds, drew up their profiles using pencil and paper. We now use databases. The second follows on. The selection of group readings near the beginning of the process may have prejudged the group characteristics. We are able, very easily, to produce complete transcriptions of the witnesses which will allow us to determine the groups on the basis of all the evidence.
Rather than profile three chapters, we are taking only one, Chapter 18. We profile the earlier part of the Gospel by using the database of variants in 153 Teststellen in John 1-10 created in Münster. the INTF methodology is to take a sample of significant readings spread throughout a text, and to collect the readings of all manuscripts in those passages. The results are then analysed, principally by comparing the oldest text-form with that of the Byzantine majority, with the purpose of finding those witnesses which support the majority in less than 90 percent of the test readings. INTF will produce its analysis of the 153 test passages, and IGNTP will use the same methodology in test passages John 18. We will thus be able to compare the results of the two methods. In a study of their comparative findings for the Gospel of Luke, I demonstrated that the IGNTP and INTF methods are closer than has sometimes been assumed, and may complement each other very satisfactorily (Parker “Comparison.” ). The use of the methods for exactly the same materials in John will provide a much better basis for comparison.
In the Principio Project we used Collate to produce our transcriptions. In all, we have 1,147 transcriptions of John 18 in Collate. The IGNTP's other transcriptions are in a programme called Manuscript, devised in the late eighties by Bruce Morrill for the North American Committee. For profiling, the two sets have been merged into a single database
I should here describe the level of detail in our John 18 transcriptions of minuscules. We do not record page or column or line breaks. We do record all variations, corrections, nomina sacra and spelling variations, including movable-nu but excluding iota adscript,. 10 Not all of this will be of value in grouping manuscripts, but the data will be of interest to other groups. The result is a publication that we had not previously anticipated, which we hope will prove novel: a collection of such variants in a thousand manuscripts, with every orthographical aberration and every error that a scribe managed to make will be a resource which—we hope—will be put to uses that have not yet been devised. 11
But the main outcome of these transcriptions will be a merged database of variant readings in John 18. The passage contains 800 words of the 16,000 of the Fourth Gospel, and thus represents 5% of the total text. As well as profiling according to the Claremont Method, we should be able to perform other tests. For example, finding MSS with identical texts. The database will also be made available to the Stemma Group, for whom such a large population of manuscripts will be a valuable specimen. 12
One of the problems with the editing of the New Testament text, as with any other text, has been the fact that each editor or group of editors has had to go to work afresh. As standards have changed and methods developed, so collations have needed to be repeated. Even where a reliable published collation has existed, the work of placing it within an apparatus has had to be done afresh. We hope that one of the major advances of the electronic transcription will be that editorial work can become cumulative. Our transcriptions can be improved and enhanced and made more accurate by future researchers, and the apparatus based upon them can be modified rather than rebuilt from scratch. This assumes, of course, that our transcriptions will be readable by future generations. We have no way of knowing that. The most we can do is to put as many safeguards in place as we can think of.
The electronic text is affecting the editing of the Gospel of John in another important respect. It has been comparatively hard for separate projects to share results, because they are presented in such different ways, so that the benefits have scarcely outweighed the problems, and have required total agreement on almost all aspects of the undertaking. But the use of agreed computer methodologies makes it possible for separate projects to work together without losing their identity. Thus, IGNTP and INTF have been able to agree on certain common objectives, to their mutual benefit, without losing their individuality. This balance is important, for if everyone ended up doing things exactly the same way, textual editing would be greatly impoverished. There is no single right way of doing things, and we do not want to lose any of the good practices that we have. The partnership between INTF and IGNTP is based on the use of Collate, and a shared set of rules for marking and tagging. There is still room for differences of opinion and presentation, since the publication package associated with Collate, Anastasia, will ignore or alter formats as it (she?) sees fit. Interesting differences in presupposition come to light in agreeing and modifying these rules, and have provided a far better context for debate and advancement than would have been available in purely theoretical discussions.
Partnership has been affected in other ways as well. The Principio Project team spent most of its existence living in different parts of the world, while of course able to share views and data as though they were in the same room. On the other hand, electronic editing has caused a few problems with the team of volunteers, consisting of academics and clergy and others, who have traditionally provided a significant portion of the IGNTP's collations of manuscripts. Giving such a volunteer a microfilm or a set of pictures, a copy of the collating base and a set of rules is straightforward. It is not practicable to provide a computer and software and to train the same volunteer in the use of it. Apart from the logistics of the operation, Collate transcriptions need to be created fairly consistently, and the tagging of variants even within a small team needs to be monitored by continuing discussion, to maintain the necessary degree of consistency.
The project that has been described here is a part of a major scholarly edition which will not be available for some time. By contrast, INTF is at work on an electronic edition that promises to have an instant effect. Reference has already been made to the most widely-used hand-edition of the Greek New Testament, the Novum Testamentum Graece: , familiarly known from the names of its two longest-serving editors and its current edition as Nestle-Aland 27. The next edition of Nestle-Aland, announced at the International Society of Biblical Literature Congress in Berlin, July 2002 and at Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas in Durham UK, August 2002, will be a hybrid edition. 13 The traditional blue-bound volume will not disappear. But there will in addition be a CD-ROM containing an electronic version of the printed text, and full transcriptions of over 20 of the principal Greek manuscripts. The provision of digital images of these witnesses is also being considered. The text and apparatus and transcriptions will be linked. The transcriptions will be produced within Collate. Such a tool has the potential fundamentally to alter the way in which users of the Novum Testamentum Graece (virtually all academics and students, as well as preachers and lay people with the skills to use it) understand the oldest documents of Christianity. It is hard to doubt that there will be significant implications for future use and understandings of the text which will shape both understandings of the tradition and the further developments of the tradition.
As has already been indicated, the production of an edition that includes the versional and patristic evidence provides the editor with a formidable set of problems. With regard to the versions, one of the most elegant solutions hitherto has been provided by the polyglots, such as the Complutensian (printed 1514, published 1522), the Antwerp (also known as Plantin's, 1571-3) and Walton's (1655-7). This last edition printed the Gospels in Greek, two Latin versions, Syriac, Ethiopic, Arabic and Persian, with a literal Latin translation of the four oriental versions. Walton thus provided the user with information at several different levels. We might describe this today as the closest thing then available to hyperlinks. This method is especially admirable, because it has this superiority over the practice of including the versional evidence within an apparatus to the Greek text, that it provides the versions on their own terms as evidence rather than as interpretation. The electronic text may provide ways of replicating the polyglot without encountering the typographical challenges traditionally associated with it. There are already publications which use the opportunities of tagging and hyperlinks to cross-reference texts in several languages. Relevant for the study of John is the Leiden Armenian Lexical Textbase. 14
Electronic editing is also leading to a re-evaluation of methodologies in citing patristic evidence. 15 So far as the Gospel of John is concerned, the problem is encountered at its most intractable in the editing of the Old Latin evidence. The Old Latin versions are those which in their creation predate the fresh translations and revisions which (even though they are not all his doing) became part of Jerome's Vulgate. For most of the Bible, they survive more strongly in the forms of text cited by early Christian writers than as manuscripts. The situation is somewhat different with regard to the Gospels, where the manuscript tradition is better represented (there are approximately several dozen witnesses of John). However, the patristic testimony remains of great significance, and is voluminous. The editorial task consists of gathering and sifting thousands (an estimated twenty thousand) citations, and grouping them in order to determine and recover the extant text-types. The formidable task of editing the Old Latin has been the task of the Vetus Latina Institut, Beuron, Germany, for over half a century. The Johannine fascicles have been entrusted to a group working in Birmingham. The first stage, the Verbum project, concentrating on the manuscripts, began in 2002. The use of electronic editing in this project is of interest here for two reasons. The first is that (again using Collate) the citations will be treated as manuscripts, with each work containing one or more quotations being a separate transcription. The outcome will be the ability to analyse it as a database, and to produce one or more apparatus critici in which (in an electronic format) different kinds of evidence made be made visible or hidden according to the requirements of the user. The second is that one problem of handling the mass of data which has traditionally been a problem for the Vetus Latina series may be overcome. A number of databases of Latin patristic texts are available, and it would be interesting to provide an interface between such a corpus and the Vetus Latina edition. The biblical citations, rather than being taken out of context and as it were pinned to the exhibition board, could be placed back into their context, making it possible for the user to come to an independent judgement concerning the use made by the editors in claiming it as support for a particular text-form or reading. As has already been stated, this is important in studying this type of evidence, because there are reasons why it must be used with caution. The preferred solution is inserting a link between the Vetus Latina edition and the text of the author, providing access to the citation's context and textual variation. The result will be a far more critically advanced tool than can be attained with a print edition.
Experience has provided one other important benefit from electronic textual editing: the opportunity to use the same raw data (transcriptions) in more than one way. This has led to the Byzantine Text Project. The task here is to provide a critical edition of the Byzantine text of John. 16 Working in association with the Principio Project, but independently, the Byzantine Project has shared and augmented its transcriptions of witnesses. But the outputs of the two projects are completely different in scope and format. This opportunity to use the same materials towards quite different goals would not be so easily attainable in producing printed editions.
Electronic editing has thus provided an exciting context for the work I have been describing. It is of course not always plain sailing. In particular, one comes up time and again against the fact that neither printing nor electronic formats can begin to represent the wealth of data provided on a manuscript page. 17 Part of the excitement and challenge of making electronic editions lies in looking for ways in which the inflexibility of the rules by which the computer works can be (to personify it) outwitted so that one is able to slip in additional information. At the same time, this inflexibility without a doubt improves one's skills as a textual critic, in that difficulties in deciphering manuscripts and readings have to be analysed and described with the utmost scientific care. This new kind of discipline can only be good for textual studies.
There is no doubt that we live in exciting times for textual editing. The way that we do it, and the way we conceive the task has changed dramatically in the past ten years. As a result, we are now able to analyse afresh the nature of past achievements, the goals ahead, and the very character of the manuscripts with which our work begins.
The creation of electronic forms of the sacred text is not a merely technical or superficial matter. It is also one which will influence the very concept of 'sacred text', and of such a text's role within the community which uses it. The way in which the witness transcription is made the main component within Collate moves the emphasis from a single, authoritative text to the variety of texts which have been authoritative at different points within the tradition. 18 The effect of the electronic edition on the place of sacred texts within the world's faiths, and on the relationships between them, will be a significant strand in future cultural developments.