THE PERIPHERAL TEXT!
(also known as: Western Text; Syro-Latin Text)

Western/Peripheral Text is the earliest!

by Yuri Kuchinsky

[as posted to various discussion groups in September 2002; edited in August 2003]


Greetings, all,

In a recent discussion, someone asked me about the Western Text. So here's my brief analysis of this subject. Although this analysis is rather brief, it took me many years to do all the research that was necessary in order to make some sense of these matters.

(For those who are completely new to this area, among all of our surviving old manuscripts of the gospels, there are 3 major text-types, or families of texts -- Western, Alexandrian, and Byzantine. Alexandrian gospel text is what most Christians read in their Bibles today, and the Byzantine text is basically the KJV.)

So here's my article.

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WESTERN TEXT?

In my view, when all is said and done, these matters are really quite simple; far more simple, in fact, than our professional TC fuddy-duddies would like to admit. Western text is the earliest!

We don't really need any big and convoluted explanations here. My philosophy in such cases is, If the explanation for some new theory is longer than one page, it's not even worth bothering about it...

So here's what I've written about this already in my Six Big Fallacies article,

"Six Big Fallacies of NT Studies",
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/loisy/message/5850

[quote]

NT Textual Criticism is something else -- there's a House of Mirrors for you...

Every single Father of the Church before 200 CE is citing his gospels according to the Western text. All the earliest Semitic-language MSS, the Old Syriac, belong to Western text (as well as the Gospel of Thomas). In fact, in Syria, with its most ancient Christian tradition, it was all Western text until the 5th century!

And yet, by some strange miracle, all the modern Bibles are Alexandrian text -- which, clearly, was just a rather late Egyptian text; a local text that cannot even be found anywhere outside of Egypt. (In contrast, Western text is found very early everywhere in the Christian world.) Conclusion? NT Textual Criticism is all Smoke and Mirrors.

[unquote]

So this quote should provide a good starting point for us, because it kind of puts the whole thing in a nutshell. What I will do now is simply expand on it a bit.

Here's the basic definition of "Western text". It is the text that is mostly represented by our Old Latin MSS, the Greek Codex Bezae, the Old Syriac Aramaic MSS, as well as by the Diatessaron. Clearly this is a closely related and very ancient textual family.

At the same time, I'm not so very happy with this name, itself, "Western text". Because, in actual fact, and very importantly, this text is also widely attested for us in the East, in places like Syria and Armenia. Thus, a much better name for it, in my view, would be "the Peripheral text". [Indeed, this name would take into account the fact that this type of a gospel text has managed to survive to our time mostly around the periphery of the old Roman Empire -- rather than in the more central places, where the authority of the Church to control NT text was the greatest.]

So here we have two basic arguments for the priority of our Peripheral text.
 

1. PATRISTIC CITATIONS

As I say, every single Church Father before 200 CE, or soon after, is citing his gospels according to the Peripheral text. You name them, Justin, Tatian, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian, Hippolytus -- all of these. So how can all this evidence be disregarded?

Also, these writers happen to come to us from all sorts of places around the old Roman Empire. Which, or course, brings us to the next point.
 

2. WIDE GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTION

It seems like everywhere we look in the Christian world, the earliest gospel texts always appear as Western/Peripheral type. Of course "Western text" was so named originally because this was long known as the earliest attested text in Western Europe. We're talking numerous Old Latin or "Itala" MSS here, and they are found everywhere in Europe, from Italy all the way up to Britain. And North Africa, as well, attests the same text-type for its earliest gospel texts. So these things were already known even before the 19th century.

And then, in the second half of the 19th century, the discovery of the Old Syriac gospels was made, and -- lo and behold -- it was the same old "Western text" all over again. Then, the works of Ephrem the Syrian also became known to scholarship, and again it's the same "Western text". So then why is it still known officially as "Western text", when in fact, as it now turns out, this was the main gospel text of Syria, where Christianity had spread before anywhere else outside of Israel?

We also have Armenia and Georgia, far in the East, and, again, we find "Western text" there, as well, as the earliest attested text.

Now, even if taken in isolation, each of these two arguments should already be sufficient in and of itself to establish the priority of our Peripheral text. But the two of them taken together should establish this beyond any reasonable doubt.
 

THE SITUATION IN EGYPT

So what about Egypt then? This, of course, is the only place where Alexandrian Greek text can be found reasonably early. Thus, a logical conclusion follows that this was probably just a local Egyptian text... But when exactly did it first emerge there?

Again, let's take a look at the Patristic citations. And what we find is that even Clement of Alexandria, himself, this quintessential Alexandrian Father of the Church, is still citing his gospels predominantly according to the Peripheral text! (This was already established by F. G. Kenyon long ago.)

Somewhat later on, in the citations from Origen, we begin to see more Alexandrian readings emerging but, still, the texts that he's citing are quite mixed, and they still contain plenty of Western/Peripheral readings.

Thus, based on all this evidence, our high and mighty Alexandrian text -- this modern day "Textus Receptus" -- was merely a late Egyptian production, as developed some time around the time of Origen, or soon after.

So these are the simple conclusions, based on plenty of hard textual evidence. What's there that might still be unclear? It's only those who have eyes but cannot see that can try to pretend they still don't know how to put all this evidence together...
 

THE DECLINE OF TC

And now, let's take a brief look at what is still considered as "officially unknown" by our mainstream Textual Critics. These are the things that they, themselves, will admit that they don't really know how to put together -- and this list should be highly revealing.

1. What about the stemma of the earliest gospel MSS? (The stemma is a detailed chart showing the lines of dependence among various MSS, i.e. beginning from the earliest and down to the latest.)

So, if they don't have the stemma, this means that they don't really have anything... Thus, they, themselves, admit that they have no idea how the MSS that they claim are the earliest might relate to each other. (And yet, the stemma of the Byzantine MSS had already been established long ago -- because they are not so early!)

2. While (if pressed hard enough) most professional Text Critics will admit that the Peripheral text is indeed very early, they have no idea how, where, or when it originated. Not even a clue! To them, this still remains a Big Dark Mystery...

3. But the same thing exactly also applies to their Alexandrian Greek text, their beloved. While from time to time they might make some noises that this is the "original gospel text", they have not a clue why it's only found in Egypt, and why it's only found there so relatively late... Could it be that Jesus was in fact an Egyptian Greek, and that he left a powerful and highly secret underground Christian organisation there after his death? So then this would explain the origin and the "early date" of our hallowed Alexandrian Textus Receptus? (Just kidding!)

So these are the things that they don't know. No wonder -- with this bunch of Keystone Cops on the case, it looks like these things will remain Deeply Mysterious for some time to come yet...

As it is, our modern-day Textual Criticism is merely a shadow of its more distinguished past. The few scholars who still work in this field today are merely the Epigones -- pale imitators of their more illustrious predecessors. All they do is just tinker here and there with a few tiny details of their hallowed "eclectic text" -- which description is mostly just a smoke-screen for Alexandrian text, plain and simple. In fact, their "eclectic text" still remains 99.5% equivalent to the same old Alexandrian text, as constructed by their 19th century predecessors (like Westcott and Hort) -- these big textual revolutionaries who somehow managed to dislodge KJV/Byzantine text from its previous high position. (But, myself, I happen to think that the Byzantine text, with all its faults, can still be seen as superior to Alexandrian!)

So the only real debate that is still happening in TC today is between these mainstream Alexandrian-drones and the more traditionalist Byzantine-drones about which of their two texts is "the original text". Which, to my mind, is not so different from a "debate" between two drunks in a bar about which one of them owns the Brooklyn Bridge.

Best regards,

Yuri.

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