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Beyond What Is Written: Erasmus and Beza as Conjectural Critics of the New Testament.

Jan Krans. Beyond What Is Written: Erasmus and Beza as Conjectural Critics of the New Testament.

New Testament Tools and Studies 35. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2006. viii + 384 pp. index. append. illus. bibl. $173. ISBN: 90-04-15286-5.

Although written from the perspective of a New Testament scholar rather than a Renaissance and Reformation historian, the present work will be welcomed by the latter for its discussion of textual conjecture to throw an interesting light on how New Testament criticism functioned in the sixteenth century. Krans has found that conjectures were not always faithfully transmitted, the concentration on commonly known conjectures only scratches the surface, and to understand and evaluate conjectures, we must go back to the sources: that is, editions and commentaries in which they were first proposed. Recent scholars of the New Testament have treated conjectures in complete isolation from their authors and context, concentrating on the intrinsic value of conjectures proposed. Krans suggests that it is more fruitful to view each conjecture as product of the given critic's interaction with the text. He has chosen Erasmus and Beza as pioneers of New Testament textual criticism. One of the strong points of Krans's work is that he considers not just the bare Greek text but also Erasmus's and Beza's annotations on it and their Latin versions and he examines the whole in relation to the Vulgate, which acted as text of reference for both the scholars.

The first part of the work that deals with Erasmus, more familiar to Krans than Beza, is undoubtedly the most original and the most convincing. Like others before him, Krans thinks that Erasmus failed to observe the fundamental divergence between the Byzantine Greek and Vulgate texts. However, he also shows that Erasmus, despite his basic conviction that the Greek text is the source of truth, did not worship it blindly and increasingly relativized its importance as against the Vulgate in later editions of his New Testament. A detailed and helpful analysis of Erasmus's conjectures and retroversions from the Vulgate to the Greek leads Krans to reject the received view, noting that Erasmus made sparing use of conjecture partly because of method and partly because of ideology. Erasmus was far more interested in variant readings than he was in conjecture. Claiming basically that the Greek was the pure source of truth, there was no point overrelativizing it by resorting to conjecture. Erasmus was no Lachmann. He took the basic Greek text for granted and only resorted to textual criticism in cases of difficulty. Despite these methodological limitations (from our century's point of view) and despite his knowledge of only a limited number of Greek manuscripts and his deficient grasp of finer points of Greek grammar, Erasmus was the first to point out certain textual problems that have remained unresolved.

While his appreciation of the exact nature of Erasmus's contribution to New Testament studies is extremely well-balanced and founded on original research, Krans's analysis of Beza's contribution, while still useful, is more perfunctory. Furthermore, he overestimates the theological and ecclesiastical nature of Beza's undertaking while underestimating Erasmus's preoccupation with the New Testament as the text that reveals Christ more clearly than any other and while paying no attention to Erasmus's overt affirmation that the biblical languages are those of the Holy Spirit. Even so, Krans is quite right in spotting the difference of perspective in the two scholars' approaches, noting that Erasmus's Latin translation was the result of a comparison between the Greek text and the Vulgate whereas Beza's Latin translation was primarily intended to correct the translations of Erasmus and especially Castellio. It would have been helpful to point out here that Castellio considered the biblical languages as a purely human phenomenon, which Erasmus did not, and that it is Castellio's position that largely accounts for Beza's dogmatism and his insistence on biblical Greek (and Hebrew) as the language actually spoken by the Holy Spirit. Castellio produced a Latin Bible but no Greek or Hebrew text; his threat, as Krans notes, accounts for the fact that Beza showed greater interest in the Latin than in the Greek text. The section devoted by Krans to Beza's use of Codex Bezae and Codex Claromontanus is based on secondary sources and would have gained much from the author taking the trouble to examine Beza's copy of his 1565 New Testament with Beza's manuscript annotations, which reveals his way of using sources. In this instance they point up the extent and limits of Beza's conservatism and throw a light on his interest in Greek variants, showing it to be greater than Krans allows for, while being firmly held in check by ecclesiastical and dogmatic constraints.

Naturally, given his aims and his conviction that the Greek he was translating was the Greek spoken by the Holy Spirit, Krans points out that Beza was even more reluctant to introduce conjectures than Erasmus. And as devoting attention to the Greek text would have played into the hands of Castellio and his supporters, he did not innovate in matters of textual criticism. Moreover, it has been known for some time that Beza was a better theologian than he was a philologist and he was very happy to collaborate with philologists such as Pithou in his biblical and patristic editorial enterprises. One of the many interesting questions that Krans's work implicitly raises is whether, despite some evident similarities between them, it is legitimate to compare Beza with Erasmus given their respective contexts.

These slight criticisms apart, Krans's book contains an enormous amount of solid information on versions, previous scholarship, and methodological issues. These qualities together with the light it throws on the relationship between the Greek and the Latin text of the New Testament in the sixteenth century make it an important work to be recommended to textual critics and historians alike.


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Author:Backus, Irena
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2007
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Beyond what is written; Erasmus and Beza as conjectural critics of the New Testament.

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