Nida: Day 9

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Simon Crisp, "Is There an (Original) Text in this Class? Translation Studies, Biblical Text Criticism and the Quest for the Source Text"

Simon is the "Coordinator for Translation Standards and Scholarly Editions" for the United Bible Societies, and also works with the Nida Institute. He presented an excellent overview of the shift in textual criticism from the quest for the original text to a more nuanced understanding of multiple traditions, textual changes, and—perhaps—an "initial" text. Rather than supposing that the text is a fixed constant to be rendered with "fidelity" to the "original words," translators work within a shifting tradition to translate the "sense" or meaning of the text that they have chosen. Even Jerome in his famous letter (57) to Pammachius says that he renders the text "sense for sense and not word for word." Jerome says, "non verba in scripturis consideranda, sed sensus." Someone should engrave that on a plaque for the lobby of Crossway Books.

Whereas the Westcott Hort "eclectic" edition is titled "The New Testament in the Original Greek," textual scholars have now begun to speak of the "initial" text that stands behind the mountain of extant data. However, some texts existed from very early in multiple copies, and sometimes it is impossible to recover any plausible original.

To illustrate this point, Simon discussed David Parker's work on the 6 main forms of the Lord's Prayer (in the gospels, with and without the doxology, etc.). These forms are all likely to have had wide early circulation (Parker, Living Text of the Gospels). In his article, "Multivalence of the term 'Original Text' in New Testament Textual Criticism," Eldon Jap Epp argues that we may speak of "predecessor," "autographic," "canonical," and "interpretive" textual forms, each of which becomes a "new original" in its replacement of what came before.

One aspect of Simon's work (and Parker's) that I find to be incredibly helpful is his focus on actual manuscripts used by particular communities, rather than on abstract notions of "the Bible" or "the text." Really, what is the use of having an "authoritative" text that does not exist? Rather, our focus should be on the authoritative tradition, as negotiated within the church community. This of course raises questions of power, but not any more than does the creation of a hypothetical text by supposedly "neutral" textual critics.

One interesting resonance between textual criticism and contemporary tranlsation theory is through Rosemary Arrojo's model of a translated text as a "palimpset," a manuscript on which two or more texts have been written, each being more or less erased to see the others. This is related perhaps to the notion of translation as "rewriting," though it must be noted that the model of a palimpset manuscript raises the question of the essential relationship between the versions. The texts on a palimpset might have no relationship whatsoever, other than their sharing of the same physical object.