How do we recover the earliest text of the New Testament?

houghton-315

Using digital editing tools to provide new insights into one of the most abundant textual traditions.

Hugh Houghton University of Birmingham.                
ORCID ID icon 0000-0002-0558-8400

Catherine Smith, University of Birmingham.                
ORCID ID icon 0000-0002-2530-9229

The Greek New Testament is one of the most extensively attested writings from antiquity, preserved in over 5,000 manuscripts and numerous early translations and quotations.

In order to create an edition of the New Testament for use by students, pastors and translators, editors need to examine these sources, present the surviving evidence and decide which form of text is most likely to be the earliest.

The advent of computers has changed the way that such editions are made. Instead of producing long lists of variant readings (known as ‘collations’), editors now make a full electronic transcription of the text of each selected manuscript. This makes it much easier to match each reading to the original document. With the increasing availability of high-resolution digital images of manuscripts on the internet, users can cross-check the reading of each witness with a photograph of the corresponding page to gain a better understanding of its context.

Digital tools also enable editors to handle larger quantities of textual data than ever before. Algorithms can assist with comparing the text of all the  witnesses and determining how they relate to each other. This has led to a new tool to assist with identifying the earliest form of text, known as the Coherence Based Genealogical Method.

This article describes the digital tools and workflow developed for the most comprehensive edition ever of the Greek New Testament, the Editio Critica Maior. This is currently being created by teams in Birmingham, Münster, Wuppertal and elsewhere. The creation of a Workspace for Collaborative Editing enables them to share tools and standards as well as making digital material freely available online.

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