Torching of the Text?
A dubious argument in favor of the received text commented upon, with several objections thereto readily discarded.
In his article, Kurschner continues to perpetuate a fundamental misunderstanding of the textual scenario, writing: "In a recent article, I explained the historical facts that before the fourth century there were no distinct Byzantine readings in any Greek MSS of the papyri, majuscules, and other versions as well that would give for us a suggestion that the Byzantine textual family (or text-type) existed during that time."
Notice that the way this is worded, two possible views of the alleged historical facts are possible: first, that there are early Byzantine readings, but just not enough to suggest an early Byzantine textual family, and second that there are no early Byzantine readings, and thus no reason to suppose an early Byzantine textual family.
Mr. Kurschner continues, however, thereby eliminating the ambiguity: "Further, the 800-pound gorilla is that there are no Byzantine texts or distinct readings used in the voluminous writings of any early church fathers for the first 300 years of church history!" And there Mr. Kurschner is plainly wrong. The facts are against him.
Kurchner claims that no distinctively Byzantine readings are found in early texts. Rather than just assert that he is incorrect, I will refer the reader to Barbara Aland's "New Testament Textual Criticism, Exegesis and Early Church History: a discussion of methods," pages 16-17, and to the references cited therein, including Kurt Aland and B.M. Metzger, whose fame in the modern textual community should silence any fan of modern textual criticism. The following website, without citation, identifies some particular papyri that are alleged to contain Byzantine readings, if one would rather forgo buying a book.
Nevertheless, the generally accepted fact is that are early distinctive Byzantine readings, unless one automatically denies that a reading is distinctively Byzantine if it is found in any manuscript outside the Byzantine text-type.
Accordingly, the 800 lb. gorilla turns on its creator. If the absence of such readings was supposed to disprove the early presence of the Byzantine text-form, so much more does the verified presence of them rebut that argument.
But Mr. Kurschner is not content to stop there. He continues: "The Ante-Nicene fathers cited all the text-types, except the Byzantine." Considering that Mr. Kurschner got the issue of manuscript support wrong, I would like to see Mr. Kurschner's evidence for this claim, before accepting it as fact. It is somewhat similar to Hort's claim (although as I recall, Hort merely asserted that they failed to quote distinctive Byzantine readings). In any event, as we know, few of the writings of the Ante-Nicene fathers have been preserved, the authenticity of many of the Ante-Nicean fathers' writings are in question, and (the autographs of the Ante-Nicean Fathers having perished, and in some case even the original language copies have perished as well) the Ante-Nicean Fathers are also beset by various textual critical issues in themselves. I wonder whether Mr. Kurschner believes that the extent copies of any of the Ante-Nicean Fathers date from before the 9th century, and - if so - which ones and how many?
Mr. Kurschner continues on even further, stating: "I have responded with asking if the Byzantine text was so "highly valuable that they wore out," then why do we find all of the early church fathers for 300 years using other texts such as the Alexandrian text-type, mix-types, etc., but absolutely no Byzantine texts?"
There are two responses: first "distinct" Byzantine readings are much fewer than Byzantine readings in general. There is plenty of evidence of Byzantine readings in the early church fathers, just not evidence of the "distinct" Byzantine readings. Second, the number of early church father writings is relatively small, is not well preserved, and is not necessarily authentic or representative.
Furthermore, they were highly valuable to scribes who devoted themselves to copying, not to the "fathers" who devoted themselves to teaching. It's not like the "fathers" could log on to Amazon.com (R) and download a copy of the Byzantine text-form to their Palm Pilots (R). They had to work with what they had, and - in some cases - may have had to work from memory.
Mr. Kurschner then concludes: "There is no evidence that anyone possessed or used this phantom “popular” and “highly valued” Byzantine text because it was a conflation after the turn of the fourth century." One supposes that Mr. Kurschner concludes that there were autographs of the New Testament, without any of them surviving to the present, yet his argument could be used with equal force to assert their non-existence. None of the early church fathers quote from a pure original text, and none of the manuscripts show any evidence of belonging to a family of error-free copies of the originals. Are then the autographs phantoms? Are they non-existent because direct evidence of them is absent? Of course not. Mr. Kurschner's argument is a logically fallacious appeal to the absence of evidence. It is an argument from silence.
Mr. Kurschner recognizes that there is explanation for the absence of early manuscripts (in the Byzantine textual family) besides the "worn-out" explanation, and that is the "intentional scribal destruction" theory.
Mr. Kurschner states: "another explanation for the silence of Byzantine readings have been offered: After a scribe made a copy of a manuscript, he "destroyed" the exemplar." This is not a particularly strong alternative explanation, for various reasons, several of which Mr. Kurschner states. The explanation seems to be based itself on the absence of parent texts for any of the early texts. In other words, nowhere do we find both a parent and its child (at least as far as we know). Even if that fact is so, it is weak support for the intentional destruction hypothesis.
There is some further basis in the fact that sacred items that had become unusably worn were sometimes cremated when they could not be washed. Accordingly, it would be unsurprising that such a practice could have been applied to very old manuscripts, a sort of Korvokian death-with-dignity for the early manuscripts at the hands of their keepers.
Mr. Kurshner provides 8 attempted resposes to this argument.
Mr. Kurschner's first argument states that the result would be only one copy per manuscript. However, Mr. Kurschner notes that sometimes there were scriptoriums with several copyists copying at once from a single manuscript. This argument is flawed, because if the alleged practice of burning the document was done after the copying was complete, since the multiple scribes were copying in parallel, the original would be destroyed when the scriptorium finished its parallel copies.
Mr. Kurschner's second argument states that if this practice were followed, there would always only be one copy of the Bible. However, as noted above, multiple parallel copies alleviates this difficulty to the alleged practice.
Mr. Kurschner's third argument is more persuasive, which is that there is no historical documentation for its practice, and no obvious reason to make such a practice standard. I agree with Mr. Kurschner and would add that one reason for doing so would be to conceal omissions and/or insertions (i.e. to intentionally corrupt the text). If such texts were in the Byzantine family, the family would fall under harsh scrutiny.
Mr. Kurschner's fourth argument is that manuscripts were very expensive, and it would have been very costly to engage in such a practice. This is also a sound argument and weighs against intentional destruction. I would add that we see evidence of the reuse of old parchments, writing be removed by sponge (or other techniques) and new writing placed on top.
Mr. Kurschner's fifth argument is not entirely cogent: it asks which scribes were destroying documents, and then states that it was not the orthodox fathers, a fact that is utterly aside from the question. No one supposes that any of the ante-Nicean fathers were copyists.
Mr. Kurchner's sixth argument is that early Christian Scribes would not "dare think about destroying God's Word" in view of the warning against adding or subtracting to God's word in the book of Revelation. The idea that burning a copy (or even an autograph) would be within the scope of Revelation's warning seems superstitious and unsupported by exegesis. That warning would encourage the scribes to copy accurately, but it would say nothing to them about the parchment being available as kindling or a spill. One wonders whether Mr. Kurschner personally believes that discarding a worn out Bible subjects one to being blotted out of the book of life. I would find that hard to believe. Why then attribute such superstitious nonsense to the early scribes?
Mr. Kurschner's seventh argument is more of a question plus a hypothesis. He asks why there are so many copies of the Byzantine textual family after 350 a.d. and none before. He posits that the explanation may be that the practice of burning the original died out around then. A simpler explanation is that in a time of less persecution, preparing multiple copies in parallel became easier, and simple geometry took over.
Mr. Kurschner's eighth argument is "Lastly, it is special pleading to argue that only scribes who copied Byzantine texts destroyed their texts, and the scribes who copied other non-Byzantine text-types did not, since they have early attestation." This argument, however, is not quite correct. There is no need to further plead anything with regard to copies of the non-Byzantine text-type manuscripts. The answer is that those manuscripts are rejects that were not copied, consequently not burnt, and therefore their presence indicates their untrustworthiness in the eyes of the early church, or at best that they never fell into the hands of copyists. Nevertheless, the whole mechanism of copy and burn appears to be special pleading (at least to me), because of the absence of historical documentation of the procedure, and the lack of motive by reputable scribes sufficient to outweigh to the economic incentive to preserve the manuscripts as long as possible.
Mr. Kurschner concludes: "All of this brings us back to the 800-pound gorilla sitting on the KJVO's desk: There are no distinct Byzantine readings in the writings of the Ante-Nicence fathers of the first 300 years of church history, not to mention any early versions testifying to it as well." Of course, I'm not KJVO, so if this gorilla exists, it is not sitting on my desk. But if it were, I'd question its weight. It is an argument from silence - pure and simple. It weighs little, because it could easily be overturned if we were to find a single cache of a half dozen ancient Byzantine text-form manuscripts that were reliably dated to the second century.
Mr. Kurschner goes on to explain that the explanation for the absence of Byzantine text-form manuscripts is that there was conflation in the manuscript collection in the Byzantine region around 400 and that the rest of the world stopped using Greek around that same time, thereby permitting the errant manuscripts to preponderate. Mr. Kurschner concludes that the Alexandrian text-form is therefore the superior Greek text. Leaving aside the lack of historical documentation that conflation occurred in the Byzantine region at that time, Mr. Kurschner's claim is puzzling for a few reasons. With a few exceptions, the ancient versions other than Greek did not follow the Alexandrian text-form. Thus, the explanation does not match the evidence, and should be discarded.