Friday, 1 May 2015

Eric Scherbenske: Origen, Manuscript Variation, and a Lacking Gospel Harmony

In his Commentary on Matthew, where he discusses Jesus’ injunction to the rich young man in Matthew 19:16-22 (Comm. Matt. 15.14, [GCS 40 385,7-390,35]), Origen enumerates the scribal errors that led to discrepant narratives in the gospels. Origen then compares this problem to that of various Hebrew Bible translations, a problem of diversity that he managed by composing the Hexapla. Following these statements about the Hexapla, Origen says that he did not dare to undertake a similar project with the New Testament as he did with the Old for fear of recriminations—a statement usually understood as a reluctance to issue an edition of the New Testament. I suggest that another, but not mutually exclusive, interpretation is that Origen was referencing a reticence to produce a gospel harmony in parallel columns as he had done with the Hexapla. The most famous invention to deal with divergent gospel passages in antiquity was Eusebius’s gospel canons. But Eusebius notes in his letter to Carpianus that he was preceded by Ammonius of Alexandria, who had earlier attempted to resolve gospel discrepancies apparently by producing an ancient synopsis with the Gospels in parallel columns. Ammonius’s harmony thus may provide a precedent and possible source for Origen’s statement here. Origen’s claim that he remained hesitant to treat the New Testament as the Old more likely refers to a gospel synopsis rather than a critical edition, even if the latter may have been a constituent element.

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