Textual Criticism Transformed – A Short Explanation of Key Terms

In a previous post, I described some of the research I carried out for my Master’s Thesis, Incorporating Syntax into Theories of Textual Criticism: Preliminaries Studies in the Judaean Desert Isaiah Scrolls. As the title of my thesis suggests, I focused on language and linguistics and their use in the field of textual criticism. Whereas orthography (the study of spelling), morphology (the study of word formation), and lexicography (word meaning) had received previous attention by text-critical scholars, I wanted to explore the relevance of syntax for the study of textual criticism. It was during my research that I stumbled on the field of New Philology or better known as Material Philology. I will discuss Material Philology in greater detail as we proceed. In this post, we need to think about some key terms.

Whereas the specialist of textual criticism, Hebrew Bible, or Septuagint will likely know the following terms, I want to ensure clear lines of communication to a broader audience.

Term: Critical Edition

A critical edition is the scholarly presentation of ancient artefacts. In general terms, a critical edition is the translation of an anterior culture’s artefacts into the media of another culture. Since there is generally more than one document or manuscript, a critical edition groups together multiple documents under an abstraction of the idea of “work.” Thus, a diplomatic text or an eclectic text is presented as the primary text along with an apparatus. The apparatus records variant readings from manuscripts of the work.

The following are examples of a critical edition (Red: Primary Text; Blue: Apparatus).

Karl Lachman’s Edition of Lucretius’ De rerum natura (published 1871)
Benjamin Kennicott’s Edition of the Hebrew Bible with Samaritan Pentateuch (published 1776)
Louis Ginzberg’s edition of the Prophets (published 1911)

Term: Artefact(s)

An artefact is an object made by human craftsmanship. This does not necessarily reference a manuscript, but we should certainly consider manuscripts as artefacts.

Term: Manuscript

An artefact produced by hand and not by the technology of a printing press.

Term: Document

A document is a written form of communication.

Term: Diplomatic Text

The primary text of an edition that is transcribed from a single manuscript (cf. Eclectic Text).

Term: Eclectic Text

The primary text of an edition that is reconstructed on the basis of the work (cf. diplomatic text).

Term: Lachmann Editorial Method

The Lachmann editorial method proceeds to analyse manuscripts on the basis of genetic epistemology. It assumes that the goal of textual criticism is to reconstruct an authorial text, on presumption that meaning is understood as authorial intention. To arrive at an author’s intended text, an editor will collect together manuscripts and compare them (collatio). Once the manuscripts are compared, the collation is examined (examinatio) so as to reconstruct recensions (recensio). Recensions are the means by which it is possible to regress to an archetype or Urtext. A crucial and determinative metaphor that drives Lachmann Editorial Methods is the tree. Once we remove the metaphor of a tree, we can see how different morphologies are possible for describing the relationship between one manuscript and another. I will unpack this in greater detail in future posts.

As we move forward in this series, the above terms will play an important role. In the next post, Textual Criticism Transformed: From A Stemma of Variants to a Network of Variances, I will introduce some key ideas from Data Science and Statistics, so that we can lop down Lachmann’s tree and look to find a spider’s web.

2 thoughts on “Textual Criticism Transformed – A Short Explanation of Key Terms”

  1. This is so helpful!
    I feel inclined to try to push back against one of your heuristic points– i am not certain, but I think I might still like the metaphor of a tree, only with an image that includes rhizomes and roots as well as trunk and branches.

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