March 24, 2014

Constructive Misquotation in Antiquity

This is not a paraphrase, not a mistake, not an attempt to deceive, but but a purposeful and surgical adaptation that is both creative and deliberate, designed to update the language or to build upon (*modify) the original idea. This is what John Whittaker discussed in a 1989 paper subtitled "the Art of Misquotation" and although it was a paper on textual criticism I am surprised that the 32 citations found by Google Scholar seem to keep mainly within that same field. To me, Whittaker's research is primed for application in the study of how Matthew quotes Hebrew scripture.

From what I've read about midrash criticism and studies of NT intertextuality, this work should be a welcome addition to discussion in Gospel studies from a literary perspective. To illustrate why this is so, and since the book is difficult to find, here are some of my favorite excerpts from Chapter 3 of the conference papers' collected volume, Editing Greek and Latin Texts.
Had the major cause of misquotation been, as is commonly supposed, the difficulty of tracing a short passage in a papyrus roll... one could have anticipated an improvement in the quality of quotations in later antiquity [with the codex]. But is there any evidence of such improvement? (p.64) 
It was not a part of Plutarch's objective to preserve for posterity the fragments of texts which he quoted, but only to exploit them according to current literary convention. (p.65) 
The identification of quotations and allusions, both in and out of context, has been a sort of literary sport or intellectual exercise in many societies with a strong literary tradition. (p.66) 
The tragedian wrote [x]. Plato has reversed the sequence of the verbs, and has also attached the adverb... Both a knowledge of the original and a certain quickness of wit, enhanced by much practice, are called for before one can recognize, in flight as it were, the allusion. (p.66-7) 
[on a key text preserved in Eusebius:] Porphyry calls upon the gods to witness that he has added nothing to, nor subtracted anything from the *sentiments* which have been oracularly communicated... Porphyry goes on to list the various ways in which he has indeed revised the wording... corrected an erroneous reading... altered the text in the interest of clarity... completed a line in which the metre appeared defective... on occasion omitted what seemed irrelevant to his own purpose... In spite of all which alterations Porphyry goes on to swear that he has preserved intact the spirit of the Oracles... Nor does Eusebius offer any criticism of Porphyry's editorial principles... Theodoret, on the other hand, fastens upon this very passage of Porphyry, not for its editorial libertinism, but because of its implications for the Pythian Oracle... Theodoret has no word of criticism, however, for Porphyry's editorial procedure, which by his own standards he presumably found unexceptionable. (p.69-70) 
Josephus claims [cit.] that from the time of Artaxerxes onward no one had added, subtracted, or altered a word of sacred scripture, whilst Tertullian [cit.] implies that Gnostics had falsified scripture in precisely these three ways... (p.71) 
Reversals of word-order are a dominant feature of the style of the Didaskalikos, where they occur so thick and fast that they must be intentional and not the consequence of carelessness or defective memory. (p.72) 
Modification of word order is the most elementary fo the four categories of textual change. To modify the word-order is, in a sense, to make no change at all. Every word still stands intact. They simply follow each other in a new order, the very novelty of which, by flouting the expectation of the reader, strikes him more forcibly than would the familiar original. (p.73) 
it is an easy step from reversals in the order of words to reversal in the sequence of ideas... We may conclude that such modifications were not considered improper, even where in the case of alteration of the logical sequence, they might necessitate changes in the grammatical forms of words." (p.74-5) 
On the one hand, displacements of word-order are amongst the commonest of scribal errors, but on the other they are, as we have just seen, a common form of literary adaptation. (p.75) 
[cites examples of omission, reversal and substitution, which are] "products of conscious calculation... [with] no immediate relevance to the establishment of the text... Their utility lies rather in the scattered light they diffuse, indirectly and tantalizingly, upon a lost tradition of scholarship. They are of more immediate value to the history of ideas than to the history of texts. (p.78) 
we must bear in mind Porphyry's conception of his role as editor of the Oracles, and conclude that there was rarely any deliberate will to deceive, but rather a desire to restore to an author, or bring out more lucidly what one was convinced had been his original intent. (p.80) 
the commonest types of substitutions in his experience are "cognate terms and synonyms... compound verbs for simple verbs or vice versa... different compounds, variations in the degrees of comparison of adjectives and adverbs, the substitution of singular forms for plural or vice versa, or, more drastically, the substitution of cognate nouns or participles in place of verbs, or vice versa. The list might be easily extended. ...such phenomena crowd so copiously upon each other in [the Didaskalikos] that they cannot all be ascribed to the inattention or faulty memory of Alcinous. (p.83-4) 
The desire to modernize must have been a powerful force behind the substitution of cognates and synonyms. In some instances we can see that this was the case, in others we can only surmise that it was, since [we cannot] know with precision how the nuances of individual words shifted from century to century in the ancient world." (p.84-5) 
[After Whittaker shows how Alcinous (and Plutarch) frequently updated Platonic references with Peripatetic and/or Stoic terminology, he states:] "The evidence indicates that substitutions were an integral and intentional constituent of commentary and exposition." and "the natural consequence of changing trends in technical jargon and literary usage." But W also suspects "as in the case of other phenomena we have considered, the desire to put a personal mark upon the material one comments, expounds, or otherwise appropriates. (p.85)
substitutions expose the textual critic to potential danger... treating as genuine variant formulations that belong exclusively to the realm of interpretation and exposition. (p.86)

The meat of the argument is in the illustrations and examples, so there are many good reasons for interested parties to go procure the book for themselves. However, the copious liberty I just took may be necessary to convince Googling scholars that this material belongs in discussions of how the NT writers constructively misquote the OT/HB. Again, though Whittaker's focus was textual criticism (the whole title is "The Value of Indirect Tradition in the Establishment of Greek Philosophical Texts or the Art of Misquotation") it seems to me that his focus on the mechanics of misquotation should add a helpful amount of literary precision to studies that focus on midrash or intertextuality in the Gospels, especially Matthew.

The bottom line for my own study and interest is this. If misquotations exhibit creativity instead of inaccuracy, then we can analyze such texts not just to provide support in a war between critics and apologists, but (what is far more important) to gain insight into the sense of what nuance a creative writer/author was attempting to communicate... and how such writers/authors may have done so by deliberately introducing an incongruity into the recognized form of the quotation.

I'll close with the synopsis of Anthony Grafton, himself a contributor to the conference and its collected work, because it was his richly helpful and entertaining book The Footnote: A curious history which tipped me off to the study by John Whittaker. When I read this, I came out of my seat.
in ancient literary prose[,] the well-educated author cited texts from memory, not from books, often introducing a slight change to show that he had done so. [Citing Whittaker, natch]
Consider these things. Anon...

No comments:

Recent Posts
Recent Posts Widget
"If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient observation than to any other reason."

-- Isaac Newton