Contents: Introduction * The Autograph * The Archetype * Footnotes
It is customary to say, in performing textual criticism, that we seek the "original text." But what is the "original text"? Take, say, Shakespeare. Is the original text the manuscript he wrote? Or is it what the actors actually spoke when the plays were first performed?
Such problems occur throughout the field of textual criticism. We should always keep in mind what we are trying to reconstruct. Although we strive to recreate the autograph, the author's original writing, what we actually are working on is the archetype, the earliest common ancestor of all surviving copies.
"Autograph" is the accepted term for the original edition of a particular work, written or dictated by the author. It is the earliest copy from which all later copies are ultimately descended (note that it may not be the latest copy from which the manuscripts descend). Thus in most instances it is what the textual critic would like to reconstruct (there are exceptions -- as, e.g., when an author later edits his work). This is not always possible, however; in many cases, all we can reconstruct is the archetype.
It should be noted that not all documents have an autograph. As noted above; Shakespeare's plays probably don't, in a pure sense; there was no document that represented Shakespeare's "final draft." In the case of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde it is widely (though not universally) believed that Chaucer continued to make modifications to his manuscript even after the first copies had been made. Thus the autograph in that case was a moving target. There can also be "autographless" documents as a result of compilation. We see this with some commentaries, for instance. A father might write a commentary, leaving out the longer Biblical quotations, and hand it to a scribe to finish off. The scribe copies the text and inserts the Biblical quotations. So: The autograph of the commentary is the Father's original text, but the autograph of the quotations is Bible itself (or, in another way, the manuscript the copyist used to supply the quotations), and there is no actual autograph of the combined text. Nor is this complex process confined to commentaries; ancient histories often quoted sources verbatim at great length -- as Livy took over Polybius, or Josephus used the assorted sources at his disposal. Nor was it only ancient authors who did this; Holinshed and Shakespeare, e.g., both took large texts verbatim out of Hall.
By contrast, every extant manuscript -- of every writing ever made! -- traces back to an archetype. (Technically, this is true even of the original manuscript: It is its own archetype, and would be so treated in mathematical discussions of generations of copying.)
The archetype is the direct ancestor from which a particular group of copies is derived. For example, Dabs1 and Dabs2 are both copied from D/06 (Claromontanus), so D/06 is the archetype of the group D/06, Dabs1, Dabs2.
In most cases, of course, the archetype of a particular group is lost. We do not, e.g., have the archetype of Family 1 or Family 13, let alone such a vague thing as the Alexandrian Text (which may not even have an archetype; text-types are loose enough collections of readings that not all copies containing readings of the type may go back to a single original). For classical works, however, it is often possible to identify the archetype of some or all surviving copies. Arrian's Alexander, for instance, exists in about 40 copies. Every one of these has an obvious lacuna at the same point (in Book 8, the Indike). It so happens, however, that the manuscript Vienna hist. gr. 4 happens to be missing a leaf which corresponds exactly with the lacuna. Thus it is apparent that this manuscript is the archetype of all surviving copies. (There are even a few exceptional cases where it is possible to determine the archetype in cases where it is lost. All copies of Suetonius's Lives of the Twelve Caesars, for instance, lack the beginning of the life of Julius. From this and other evidence, including colophons and excerpts and cataloguing data, it is apparently possible to prove that all these copies go back to the lost Codex Fuldensis.)
There are instances where we can demonstrate the difference between autograph and archetype. An example is Chaucer's "Boece," derived from Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy. We have good knowledge of the Latin source, and also of French versions Chaucer consulted. Knowing that Chaucer rendered the Latin quite literally in most places, we can reconstruct his actual autograph with fair exactness. It can be shown that the archetype of the extant copies was simplified at many points.
It is possible to speak of an archetype for the New Testament text. It does not absolutely follow that this archetype is the Autograph. Consider the following stemma: stemma:
A | B | C | ------------------- | | | | D E F G
with all surviving copies being descendants of D, E, F, and G. In this case, the autograph is A, but the archetype is C. All surviving manuscripts are derived directly from C, with A several removes further back. It is worth noting that all textual criticism can directly reconstruct is the archetype C; A is beyond our direct reach, and any difference between A and C can only be reconstructed by means of emendation. (For further background on this process, see the article on Classical Textual Criticism).
Now it should be noted that we cannot construct the ancestry of any part of the New Testament in detail. But we can approximate it. Westcott and Hort, for instance, proposed the following sketch-stemma:
Autograph | --------------------- | | D E |\ /| | \ / | | \ / | | \ / | | \ / | | \ / | | \ / | | \ / | | \ / | | | | Alexandrian Byzantine Western Text Text Text
We should note, however, that we cannot by any means tell this stemma from the following:
Autograph | B | C | --------------------- | | D E |\ /| | \ / | | \ / | | \ / | | \ / | | \ / | | \ / | | \ / | | \ / | | | | Alexandrian Byzantine Western Text Text Text
Indeed, Westcott and Hort suspected the existence of some copies before prior to the earliest recoverable text, as they marked a handful of primitive errors in their text.
An additional complication is that the archetype of a particular New Testament work may differ recensionally from the autograph. This is perhaps best illustrated from the Pauline Epistles. At some very early point -- assuredly before the time of our earliest papyri -- most of Paul's letters were assembled into a collection. (Hebrews, of course, is an exception, and perhaps a few others such as the Pastorals. But most of the letters must have been collected by the mid-second century at the latest.) It is therefore perfectly possible -- perhaps even likely -- that this collection is the archetype, and that the individual letters are not even the source of the textual stream. So, e.g., Zuntz; on page 14 of The Text of the Epistles, he points out that Ignatius and Polycarp apparently knew a Pauline corpus, but the author of I Clement seemingly did not, and so concludes, "Thus A. D. ±100 is a probable date for the collection and publication of the Corpus Paulinum; that is, forty or fifty years after the Epistles were written. Here then, as in the tradition of all ancient authors, 'archetype' and 'original' are not identical."
Even if this is not the case, and the letters have individual archetypes, this does not mean that the archetype is a pure descendent of the autograph. Several documents are thought by at least some form critics to be composite. This is most evident in the case of 2 Corinthians, where many authorities believe that at least two letters have been used to produce the present document. Therefore, the earliest document entitled to the name "2 Corinthians" is not an autograph; it is the conflation we now have. Properly speaking, even if we could recover the complete texts of the component letters of 2 Corinthians, the portions not found in 2 Corinthians cannot be considered canonical.
We see another clear case, and even more complicated, case in the Hebrew Bible, in 1 Samuel 17-18, the story of David and Goliath and its aftermath. It will be obvious that two stories have been combined here: One in which David, Saul's courtier, volunteers to slay Goliath, the other in which David is unknown to Saul and comes out of nowhere to slay the giant and be taken on by Saul. The former story is a clear part of the continuous history of Saul; the latter is a folktale about David.
This is just literary analysis, but it has strong textual support: The Hebrew Bible has both stories -- but the Old Greek, as represented by Codex Vaticanus and others, has only the court history. Nor can this be credited simply to editorial work to eliminate doublets; the separation is too clean and clear. (Sorry, folks, but I study folklore, and it is.) Somehow, the Old Greek was taken from a copy of 1 Samuel into which the Hebrew folktale had never been incorporated.
So what is the true autograph? If we consider the Hebrew version canonical, then we're reconstructing a version redacted after the initial draft found in LXX.
We should note that it is not the task of the textual critic to disentangle the strands of 2 Corinthians or any other such work. The task of the textual critic is to reconstruct the archetype. If we are fortunate, this will prove to be identical with the autograph -- or, at least, so close as makes no difference. But it does not matter in practice whether the autograph and archetype are nearly identical or wildly different. We reconstruct the earliest available text. To go beyond that is the task of a different sort of critic. The textual critic should simply be aware that the archetype may not be the autograph -- and also to consider how the existence, e.g., of a Pauline collection, might affect the readings of a particular letter. It is quite possible that certain letters were altered to fit an anthology, just as certain passages were adapted to fit the lectionary.
Chances are that, in the New Testament, only Paul suffers from problem. The Acts and the Apocalypse, of course, were standalone documents, never incorparated into a corpus. The Catholic Epistles cannot have been assembled as a collection until quite late (this follows from their canonical history: 1 Peter and 1 John were universally acknowledged, but the other five were slow to achieve recognition, and became canonical in different areas at different times; note, for instance, that P72 contains 1 and 2 Peter and Jude, with non-canonical materials, but not 1"John, even though that book was certainly regarded as canonical by the time P72 was compiled, and Jude was still questionable). The gospels probably came together much earlier than the Catholic Epistles (clearly they were accepted as a collection by the third century, when P45 was written), but they also circulated widely as separate volumes. Thus, while a four-gospel collection may have exercised some influence, it was not the archetype.
On the other hand, every part of the New Testament may have suffered from the "which copy" problem. This is most obvious in Paul: He dictated at least some, and probably most, of his letters. It's also widely believed that he kept copies of these letters. Note what happened here, because it's a situation actually analogous to the situation in Shakespeare outlined in the footnote: Paul dictated a rough draft. Unless two scribes took it down simultaneously (in which case those two scribes would doubtless produce slightly different transcriptions), someone would then have to produce a copy of that dictated text, either for circulation or for Paul's file copy. This second copy would doubtless be neater, and might well include some corrections of Paul's errors. So which one did Paul send out? We don't know, though we'd suspect it was the "fair copy" rather than the original "foul" edition. But which is the autograph? And which formed the basis for the later canonical edition? There is no way to answer this.
Other New Testament authors weren't sending out letters, but they were presenting copies to patrons. Would Luke really write a gospel, and give it away without keeping a copy? It seems most unlikely. But which of those first two copies became The Gospel? And could the different traditions have cross-contaminated? The answer is not obvious. But it likely is important.
We note incidentally that classical scholars actually have a notation for distinguishing archetype and autograph. The autograph is denoted by some symbol (e.g. the autograph of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales is sometimes given the symbol O), and the archetype by that symbol followed by a ' (so the Canterbury Tales archetype was O', read -- at least in my circles -- as "O prime."). We also note that at least some scholars, both classical and NT, have not tried to go beyond the archetype (though they didn't really express it this way). Thus Lachmann tried to reconstruct "the text of the fourth century," as noted above, Westcott and Hort marked "primitive errors" -- readings where the original had been lost before the ancestors of all the main types.
1. In the case of Shakespeare and other Elizabethan dramatists, the question is even more complicated than these choices might make things appear. The relationship between original writing and original stage presentation could be extremely complex. The likely process of composition was as follows: Shakespeare would prepare a rough draft (the "foul papers"). This would certainly be full of corrections and revisions, and quite unusuable for production purposes. So someone -- perhaps Shakespeare himself, but perhaps not -- would produce a fair copy. The foul copy would go in some archive somewhere, in all its disorder. But the foul copy might be the last and only copy from Shakespeare's pen. (This is even more true of Shakespeare than of other Elizabethan dramatists, because there is evidence that his hand was hard to read.)
And the fair copy, even if written by Shakespeare, probably wouldn't be useful for dramatic purposes. There is good evidence that Shakespeare's work was sorely lacking in stage directions, for instance. He also used some rather peculiar and confusing spellings. So someone would have to convert the fair copy to an official prompt book. This, in addition to adding stage directions and such, might involve levelling of dialect, cleaning up of unacceptable language -- and, in at least some instances, clarification of errors. This stage of the production would not be under Shakespeare's direct control; the producer off the play would be in charge. But Shakespeare would be available for consultation, and might well be responsible for the revised language of any changes.
And it's thought that Shakespeare acted in at least some of his own plays, so he himself might have been involved in the give-and-take!
And this is before the play has even been put into production! After creation of the prompt book, additional changes might be made -- and, if the changes were cuts, the alterations might not appear in the prompt book. In addition, Shakespeare might not have much control over these; if the producer said, "we need to cut twenty minutes," he might be allowed to choose what was cut, but if a part called for an actor to do something he physically couldn't do (e.g., perhaps, jump a wall), then tough luck to the script.
So the question of what we should reconstruct is very real. The foul papers, the only copy known to have been entirely by Shakespeare? (We should note that this copy often contains errors which the author clearly did not intend -- e.g., characters whose stage directions are identified by the wrong name, as the infamous use of "Oldcastle" for "Falstaff" on occasion in Henry IV Part I.) The fair copy, which -- if by Shakespeare -- would undoubtedly have contained some additional corrections by the author? The prompt book, which is not in Shakespeare's hand and may contain corrections he did not make -- but which also contains material he did suggest, and which will have the full stage directions and proper identifications of the speakers? Or the production version?
And once we decide which to manuscript to target, we still have to sort through the materials. Some Shakespeare plays exist only in the printing of the so-called "First Folio" and editions taken from it. The plays in the folio are believed to derive from all sorts of sources, from Shakespeare's foul papers to the prompt book to editions produced by other printers.
Other plays exist also in individual quarto volumes. Some of these are "good" quartos, taken from sources similar to the folio. Others as "bad" quartos, taken from the memories of authors who had performed the plays, often misremembered and often cut by the producers. Yet they are the only line of evidence outside the folio edition, and may represent a more advanced state of the script.
Many other writings have suffered similar complications, and there is no reason to think Shakespeare, or the New Testament, is any way unique in this. The problem of what to reconstruct is very real. [back]