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Book review: Parker, D. C., An Introduction to the New Testament Manuscripts and their Texts Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Pp. xxx + 368.

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Book review: Parker, D. C., An Introduction to the New Testament Manuscripts and their Texts Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Pp. xxx + 368.
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  This review was published by RBL  2009 by the Society of Biblical Literature. For more information on obtaining asubscription to RBL, please visit http://www.bookreviews.org/subscribe.asp. RBL 08/2009 Parker, D. C.  An Introduction to the New Testament Manuscriptsand their Texts Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Pp.xxx + 368. Hardcover. $34.99. ISBN 0521719895.Matteo GrossoUniversity of TorinoTorino, Italy Despite the chronic gap encountered by textual critics in assuring a broad diffusion to theachievements reached in their field, it is becoming clearer and clearer to specialists of cognate disciplines that in recent years the study of the New Testament manuscripttradition underwent a number of changes that reshaped it significantly. Take thedevelopment of digital technologies: as a matter of fact, within the main area of religiousstudies, it is hard to imagine a field that the use of the computer potentially impacted in acomparable way. Nevertheless, these transformations did not regard merely technologicalimprovements. On an epistemic point of view, in fact, this discipline has been redirectingits main goal by progressively shifting from its traditional, Panglossian purpose (therecover of a supposed “srcinal” text) to the analysis and description of the textual history of single books and passages (i.e., the account for the changing in their wording), a task that encompasses an impressive amount of interest in historical, exegetical, hermeneuticalissues. Add the ongoing discoveries of early papyri and the publication of new resourcesthat were not available to previous generations of experts, and it will be plainly manifesthow compelling is the need, for students, teachers, and researchers, to rely on up-to-datereference tools. As a matter of fact, the excellent introductions provided by the field’sleading scholars in the last decades, which were still appropriate ten or fifteen years ago,  This review was published by RBL  2009 by the Society of Biblical Literature. For more information on obtaining asubscription to RBL, please visit http://www.bookreviews.org/subscribe.asp. even retaining their indubitable validity in a number of topics, fail to reach the essentialaspects that define what it is the practice of textual criticism today  .Such a crucial need has now been filled by David C. Parker with this comprehensive andinnovative book. Indeed, an exclusive feature of this work lies in its merging of amethodical, scientifically well-grounded treatment of the subject with the high degree of srcinality granted by its approach. Such a distinctiveness is noticeable even from certainexterior characteristics. First, Parker does not burden this volume with a final bibliography and footnotes: instead, he provides the necessary information on secondary literature inapposite paragraphs printed in the body of the text in a smaller font. Each time, the readercan either go through, scan, or skip them; in none of these cases is the flow of the textinterrupted. Nevertheless, a final index of names and subjects helps one to find thebibliographical indications presented in these paragraphs. Second, the fifty-one suppliedplates are placed separately on a website, with the indubitable advantage of providing thereader with a large set of colorful, digital, quality pictures of srcinal documents, withoutthe cost of the book being increased. However, the most srcinal features of this work pertain to its content. Certainly, this is not a handbook of New Testament textualcriticism as such a genre has been traditionally conceived. Being rather  An Introduction tothe New Testament Manuscripts and Their Texts from a certain point of view, it offersmuch more: it starts from the specific treatment of the actual tradents of the New Testament text (the manuscripts), then covers the principal problems of the discipline. Itis not just a matter of internal organization: the priority bestowed by the author to themanuscripts is palpable all through the book. Coherent with Westcott and Hort’s goldenrule, according to which “Knowledge of documents should precede final judgment uponreadings,” which Parker states in capital letters as early as page 2, his approach grants aspecial focus on the artifacts that carry the New Testament texts and the many ways todeal with them. In doing so, he effectively avoids the always impending danger of overlooking the fact that the text of the New Testament, as reconstructed in the variouscritical editions in use, is an abstract entity, while it existed (and exists) concretely inmany different forms.This volume is divided into three parts: (1) “The Documents”; (2) “Textual Criticism andEditions”; and (3) “The Sections of the New Testament.” Part 1 is specifically devoted tothe manuscripts, considered as physical documents; after providing an overview on the various forms the Christian books took over the centuries and an introduction topaleography, Parker offers a detailed presentation of the scientific tools and resources forthe study of Greek, Latin, Syriac, Coptic, and plurilingual New Testament manuscripts.Notoriously, it is not an easy task for neophytes to familiarize themselves with tools suchas Aland’s Liste , Elliott’s Bibliography  , Text und Textwert  and so on, but Parker is brilliantin explaining their correct use and in highlighting their potential value. An entire chapter  This review was published by RBL  2009 by the Society of Biblical Literature. For more information on obtaining asubscription to RBL, please visit http://www.bookreviews.org/subscribe.asp. is devoted to the practical skills one must develop in the study of ancient codices: here theauthor is prodigal of technical advice on the various stages of the job, embracing the visitto a library, how to describe a manuscript, and how to make a collation or an electronictranscription. The last chapter of this section introduces the reader to the study of othergroups of witnesses to the New Testament text: the so-called “indirect tradition” or thepatristic quotations; the old versions (with sketches on Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian,Georgian, Ethiopic, Arabic, Slavonic, Gothic, and other versions); and other kinds of support (as talismans and inscriptions).Part 2 addresses pivotal aspects of New Testament textual criticism’s actual practice. As inthe previous section, the approach is an experiential one: critical topics, such as thedelineation of the transcriptional process, its circumstances, and the logic it obeys, areaddressed through the exposition of specific test cases and practical examples, often drivenfrom the author’s direct experience. In this way, more than once the reader can have thesensation of glimpsing his desk. One chapter is devoted to a survey of the evolution of thepractice of textual criticism, from the Lachmannian stemmatic to the Coherence-BasedGenealogical Method and other important theories that marked the history of thediscipline over the last two hundred years. Then a particular focus is granted to the oftenunnoticed implications that textual criticism produces for history, exegesis, and theology.The subsequent chapter deals with the main tools of everyday use for scholars, namely, theeditions of New Testament texts. First, a historical point of view is adopted, attentive tothe multifold criteria followed by the editors for their presentation of the text and the variant readings; then the principal print editions are covered, as well as the electronicones, while suggesting how to practically benefit from their use.If, generally speaking, the category itself of “New Testament” is a problematic one, underdifferent perspectives, on the philological ground the study of the textual history of thedocuments this corpus includes must necessarily face the fact that the majority of ancientmanuscripts contained only a portion of those books, grouped as Gospels, or Paul’sLetters, and so on. Thus, the third part of the volume is subdivided into four chapters, eachdevoted to a section of the New Testament: Revelation; the Pauline corpus; the Acts withthe Catholic Epistles; and the Gospels. For each section a detailed account of the witnessand the specific problems their study presents is provided, as well as a number of examplesthat illustrate the complexity of the textual criticism practice applied to different New Testament books and the skills it requires. A brief chapter with the author’s final remarksconcludes the volume.The particular features of Parker’s Introduction to the New Testament Manuscripts and Their Texts allow a profitable use of it on different grounds; even if some will not agreeon the treatment of single topics, trained researchers will find in this book an impressive  This review was published by RBL  2009 by the Society of Biblical Literature. For more information on obtaining asubscription to RBL, please visit http://www.bookreviews.org/subscribe.asp. amount of useful and up-to-date information. On the other hand, those taking their firststeps in this thorny field will unquestionably take advantage of this volume either as atextbook or as a reference tool. It is unlikely that, while reading it, they will not becaptured by the deep fascination for manuscripts its author transmits in every single page;that, perhaps, is the best lesson he gives.
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