Synopsis (Greek) ≠ Synopsis (English), does it?


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Synopsis (Greek) ≠ Synopsis (English), does it?

Jul 11, 8:13 pm


Apologies for what is going to be a really long post. It requires a lot of explanation for non-specialists. It's about various presentations of the New Testament which seem to be combined but which I would not consider to be one.

To understand this, you need to understand three basic terms for a Greek New Testament edition:

1. The text. This is the actual text of the New Testament, in Greek, which an editor has compiled, ideally from ancient manuscripts. Because the original manuscripts of the New Testament have been lost for thousands of years, all texts must be edited by comparing copies of copies of copies. This means that the texts compiled by various editors do not agree. There are about ten distinct texts of the Greek New Testament now floating around, edited by people such as Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort, Eberhardt Nestle, and Augustin Merk. The most important of these, today, are those known as the Textus Receptus, the Westcott and Hort edition, the "Early" Nestle Edition (editions 1-25), and United Bible Societies/"Recent" Nestle edition (Nestle editions 26-28 and counting, which ironically have nothing to do with Nestle).

To give you an idea of how much this matters, the Textus Receptus is about 2.5% longer than the Westcott and Hort edition. (Most modern scholars consider the Textus Receptus extremely corrupt, but fortunately that is not important here.)

2. The arrangement. New Testaments are rarely laid out just as text. There are marginalia found in many manuscripts, the books are in different orders in manuscripts, and some editions lay out parallels. The case which I will discuss is one which lays out parallels. Since not everyone agrees on what is parallel with what, the various "Gospel Parallels" books are, correctly, considered different works.

3. The apparatus. Because the there is no surviving original copyb of any book ofnthe Greek New Testament, just old manuscripts, a good edition of the GNT, such as the Merk or the Recent Nestle editions, will include not only an edited text but a list of places where the manuscripts disagree, so that the reader can know the basis on which the editor made the decision between readings -- and can choose to follow a different reading.

Keep those facts in mind. Now comes the chronology. :-)

In 1946, the English translation of the New Testament known as the Revised Standard Version (RSV) was published. The Old Testament would eventually be translated as well, and the New Testament revised, but the main point is that it was first published in 1946. The basis of this text was, more or less, the Early Nestle edition, but the editors freely chose a different Greek text where they thought the text Nestle printed was wrong.

In 1963, Kurt Aland published the first edition of his Greek Synopsis Quattuor Evangelorium. The text used was the Early Nestle edition, although a slightly more recent edition than that used by the RSV. Aland included a form of the apparatus used in the Nestle edition. The arrangement was, of course, a synopsis (parallel texts of the gospels in parallel columns) -- one which Aland himself devised. For what it's worth, it is substantially different from synopses such as those by Albert Huck.

At some point (1972? I don't have this particular book), Aland's arrangement was put into English as the Synopsis of the Four Gospels. However, the Synopsis was not a translation of Aland's text. It was a copy of the RSV arranged according to Aland's arrangement. What is more, it did not have Aland's apparatus. It had a separate apparatus, which compares the RSV with the Authorized (King James) translation, the (British) Revised Version of 1881, and its Americanized text, the American Standard Version of 1901, but made no mention of Greek manuscripts.

In 1975, the United Bible Societies published the third edition of their Greek New Testament. In 1979, Kurt Aland, who was one of the editors of the UBS text and who also was in charge of maintaining the Nestle text, threw out his "Early" Nestle text and apparatus, and, with the 26th edition of the Nestle text, created the "Recent" Nestle text, which also featured a dramatically revised (and vastly improved) apparatus.

In 1985, Aland went back and created the 13th edition of his Synopsis Quattuor Evangelorium. This too used the UBS3/Nestle26 text, but it used the arrangement of the old Synopsis, and it had yet another new apparatus (one that was flatly littered with typos, which were slowly eliminated in later editions, but that again is not the issue here). I frankly would say that the 13th edition of Synopsis Quattuor Evangelorium is a different book than the 12th, but publishers don't agree....

Having said all that, I find that LibraryThing is lumping the Aland Synopsis Quattuor Evangelorium with the Synopsis of the Four Gospels. Now I know that a translation into another language is considered to lump with the text in the original language. But here is the thing:

* Even in its first edition, the Synopsis of the Four Gospels was not a translation of the Synopsis Quattuor Evangelorium. It was an independent translation of a different text. And it had a different apparatus.

* Starting with the thirteenth edition, the Synopsis Quattuor Evangelorium no longer has the text or the apparatus that was used in the Synopsis of the Four Gospels. All that they still have in common is the arrangement.

The English and Greek Synopses have been published in parallel. There are also German versions of the Aland arrangement. But it seems to me that they meet the criteria for separate works. After all, the Greek editions of Merk, and Westcott and Hort, and such, are considered separate works, and they have different texts and apparatus but typically similar arrangements!

Disentangling this mess would be a horror, so I'm not going to start messing around until I hear what others think.

Jul 12, 7:01 am

I suspect the (un-)holy mess came about because non-specialists weren’t aware that B & C were revisions of A but B was not the same as C. Also, work-work relationships weren’t available at the time, and it’s all too easy to ignore disambiguation notices.

It might be a good idea to point to a relationship diagram showing how the different versions relate, especially was is and isn’t included, and, more importantly, what should be taken into account when a work should be split or combined.

Relating to my own experiences with RPG editions, my rule of thumb is whether the core rules remain the same and whether a character created in one edition is freely interchangeable with a character created in a different edition. All other inclusions are ‘fluff’.

Jul 12, 8:24 am

I decided long ago that trying to use LT for my Bibles just wasn't going to work.

Jul 12, 11:25 am

All of the long explanation isn't necessary. These are all translations of the same work, even if the original is lost, so they should all just be combined

Jul 12, 11:46 am

jjwilson (#4):

The Bible is generally accepted as an exception to the "all translations are combined" rule of thumb. I'd expect this to extend to subsets as well. As an atheist I'm staying well out of this entire area.

Jul 12, 2:45 pm

>3 MarthaJeanne: I decided long ago that trying to use LT for my Bibles just wasn't going to work.

It catalogs them perfectly well, it just can't figure out the relationships. :-) But this isn't really a Bible in the conventional sense; no one reads the Aland Greek Synopsis.

>4 jjwilson61: All of the long explanation isn't necessary. These are all translations of the same work, even if the original is lost, so they should all just be combined

This really is not the situation. As I said above, no one reads the Aland Synopsis. No one, in fact, reads most Greek editions. The Constantin von Tischendorf and Augustin Merk editions, for instance, had inferior texts; their only value is their apparatus. The International Greek New Testament project in fact deliberately adopted a text that they knew was wrong for the sole purpose of having their readers ignore it and use only the apparatus! Keeping the text but substantially changing the apparatus, from the standpoint of the purpose, should make it new book. Or even just adding or subtracting an apparatus.

>5 lorax: The Bible is generally accepted as an exception to the "all translations are combined" rule of thumb. I'd expect this to extend to subsets as well. As an atheist I'm staying well out of this entire area.

Just as an aside, my interest in this is not religious; it's in the area of textual criticism -- establishing what the author originally wrote. This will be true of most people who buy either Aland Synopsis, too; if they just want a Synopsis in English, Burton H. Throckmorton Jr.'s Gospel Parallels is cheaper and easier to use and just as good, and the Huck synopses was about as good if they wanted a Greek Synopsis. That's why the apparatus -- the readings of the manuscripts -- are what matter. I have the same problem with editions of Chaucer, where LT combines based on text when it should split based on everything else, except that the problem is even worse as applied to the New Testament!

FWIW, it is my opinion that the best text of the New Testament would be one edited by a non-Christian. No axe to grind. I've encountered far too many people who have told me things like "I believe in predestination, so the New Testament must read this." Me, I believe in editing the text -- whether the Bible, or the Iliad, or the Canterbury Tales -- based on the evidence, and prepare to duck and run....