About last Friday or so I was sitting under my rock reading from Ehrman’s and Holmes’ Text of the New Testament: Essays on the Status Quaestionis, which happens to be about textual criticism. I am not making this up – it was chapter 17, Wasserman’s essay on criteria. So anyway, word filtered in that the Maxwell Institute had a new book collecting all the NT apocrypha and giving high quality pictures of the same, etc., etc.
And I thought to myself: This is good news! Textual criticism is concerned with the recovery of the oldest possible readings of ancient documents, including those of the Bible. It’s pretty important in Classics, as well. Before anybody can get their so-called higher criticism on, they have to have a text – the best one possible. And before the textual critics can work, they have to have the best possible copies (pictures or transcriptions) of the texts. Although I haven’t seen it, I suspect (hope) that’s what this latest book features.
Personally, I find textual criticism fascinating, but it is tedious, painstaking work and sometimes not everyone appreciates this the way they might. Rarely do the textual critics make pronouncements about Life, the Universe, and Everything but the exegetes who do are in reality indebted to textual critics.
However, what I really want to mention is this: In addition to providing us texts to work on, some aspects of textual criticism are also an excellent window into the world of early Christianity and into THE ASSUMPTIONS AND BIASES that are part of ours! Yep, I’ve moved on from Status Quaestionis and into Eldon J. Epps’ Junia: The First Woman Apostle. It’s a fascinating book, and quite accessible, too. I’m just a few pages in, but I’m enjoying it immensely.
Anyway, Epps is making the point that, with the 1927 edition of the critical Greek text of Romans 16, the female Junia became the male Junias. Why? According to one Hans Lietzmann, writing in 1906, the name must be male “because of the following statements” identifying the person as an apostle. Yep. Can’t be a woman because we KNOW that women can’t be apostles! And, it stayed that way until 1970 or so.
Why did it finally change? Ah, well, textual critics, of course, because the exegetes mentioned so far seem to have been quite satisfied about the whole thing! And there you have it: textual criticism as a means to social justice…