Friday, September 30, 2005

Linguist Friend writes: RECUERDOS DE ALCALA

The New Testament is sometimes an object of negative
feelings or ambivalence to modern liberals, more rarely of active interest, but
most who have spent much time on the Greek New Testament know that the modern
editions have in their distant background the figure of the Renaissance
humanist Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536), whose first edition of the Greek NT
appeared in Basel in 1516.

Recently, however, one of my undergraduate acoustics
students took my breath away (no, not that way). She came into the lab
wearing a sweat-shirt from the University of Alcala (de Henares) in Spain, a city located a little east of Madrid. Borrowed and inauthentic sweatshirts, of course, are
routine, but on questioning, not only had she studied at the Spanish university
in question, but she also was generally aware of its significance in the
history of scholarship. The point is that the printing of the first, Alcala,
edition of the Greek New Testament, the fifth volume of the Complutensian (the
Latin name for Alcala is Complutum) edition of the Bible in the original
tongues and with translations, was concluded on Jan. 10, 1514, two years before
the publication of Erasmus’s edition. Kurt and Barbara Aland (KA: 1915-1994)
give it about ten lines in their contemporary Text of the New Testament,
but it deserves more. This neglect is recent: Bruce Metzger’s Text of the NT
gives it respectable coverage, and the great Textkritik des Neuen Testaments
(II, 1902) of the Leipzig scholar Caspar Rene Gregory (1846-1917, born in
Philadelphia and killed on grave-registration duty in the German army in a war
even deadlier and stupider than any now in progress) gives it much fuller
attention, while we owe the late Victorian scholar F.H.A.Scrivener (1813-1891)
a careful study of its NT Greek text, aside from others to be noted

The Alcala edition of the Greek NT was edited by a
foursome of scholars. The work was at least nominally headed by the classical
scholar Jacobus Lopez de Stunica (Astuniga), together with Fernando Nunez de
Guzman, Demetrius Ducas from Crete, and Antonio from Lebrija near Seville. The Greek text and the Latin Vulgate text were presented side by side on each
page. The last of the five Old Testament volumes (1-4, 6) was completed on July
10, 1517. The OT included Hebrew, Septuagint, and Vulgate texts, and the
Pentateuch had an Aramaic paraphrase with a Latin translation printed at the
foot of the page. The edition was approved by Pope Leo X on March 22, 1520, but
it was not available for purchase until 1522. The price in Rome at that time
was 14 ducats, according to an early source cited by Gregory. It is usually
stated that only 600 copies of the set were produced. A second edition was
published in 1569 by Plantin in Antwerp, and in the nineteenth century the work
was reprinted several times.

The identification of the Greek manuscript sources
used for the Alcala edition is virtually limited to observed partial
resemblances to known texts as noted by Mill, Scrivener, and F. Delitsch, while
those manuscripts used by Erasmus are at least partly known and sometimes still
bear his written instructions to the printer. According to Scrivener’s
collation, the Alcala edition deviated from the standard Elzevier edition of the
Greek NT of 1624, a descendant of Erasmus’s edition, in 2777 passages. Now we
see why the Alcala text had very limited critical influence. Its textual
sources were unknown, and it deviated in many readings from the standard, more
available, and much less expensive Basel edition, which had a six years’ head
start to make its mark.

But, an issue not touched on in usual discussions
of this edition is, why did it happen? It is generally recognized that the
enterprise was sponsored by the Archbishop of Toledo, Cardinal Francisco
Ximenez (or: Jimenez) de Cisneros (1437-1517). Ximenes was at times in his
later years the real ruler of Castile. The project was undertaken in 1502 in
honor of the birth of the future emperor Charles V (1500-1558), who sent Ximenes
into retirement as soon as he came to Asturias in 1517; Ximenez died
immediately in circumstances that arouse suspicions of poison. In many
respects, the organization of the Alcala edition provides a much stronger model
for modern scholarship than did the work of Erasmus, basically a one-man
operation which as he said was precipitated rather than edited in the course of
the Basel printer Johannes Froben’s successful effort to beat the Alcala
edition to publication and market. Ximenes had undertaken the edition at his
own expense, organizing a group of scholars to carry it out; the cost is said
to have eventually amounted to some half a million ducats. The modern value
of the ducat is irrelevant; if one makes the modest assumption that the 14
ducats which the set cost in Rome were the equivalent of about $ 300 for 6
volumes, then the project cost about $ 11 million dollars, and that may be an

Although it is stated in the preface and dedication
of the work that manuscripts used were loaned by Pope Leo X from the Vatican library, Leo became Pope only in 1513, when the work must have been at an advanced
stage. It must have previously depended on other manuscript sources which have
not been identified. It is tempting to think that it would have changed the
course of scholarly history if the great fourth–century uncial manuscript Codex
Vaticanus (B) of the Greek Bible had been among the manuscripts loaned by the
Vatican (it appears in the Vatican Library’s catalogs at least since 1481), but
it is unlikely that its text-critical superiority would have been recognized
among the flood of late readings which were current in the Greek NT manuscripts
available at the time. Ximenes also founded at his own expense the University of Alcala de Henares (founded 1500, opened 1508), recruiting outstanding faculty
from Bologna, Salamanca, and Paris, thus creating an institutional context for
his Bible project.

The reader who has experience with early Greek
printed books will be struck that the typography of the Complutensian New
Testament does not follow the practice of most early Greek editions, which
apply combinations of letters (ligatures) nearly as extensively as the
minuscule manuscripts on which the early printings were based. For this and
other reasons its Greek text appears more typographically modern and is more
clearly readable than many printings which are chronologically later. Metzger
has useful notes on this aspect of the work. Frederic Kenyon stated that
Erasmus made use of the Alcala edition in his own definitive edition of the
Greek NT of 1527, especially in the Apocalypse, for which the single manuscript
source he had originally used had been deficient. Kenyon regarded the Alcala
edition as “the parent of the textual criticism of the printed Bible.”

The Bible project of Ximenez pointed the way that
has become standard for such major projects in the modern age. He provided
funding, an institutional context, a cadre of scholarly co-workers, access to
source materials, and a time frame free from pressures to go to market with an
unready product. Erasmus would have been lucky to work in this situation, but
refused an invitation to do so when it was offered. One may doubt that he would
have tolerated the ethos of contemporary Spain. On the other hand, the
dependence of the Alcala Bible project on the resources and generosity of a
single benefactor pointed backward; it has been a positive step for science and
scholarship to acquire institutional sponsorship.

“Out of the mouth of infants and nurslings you
have prepared praise” (Ps. 8.3, LXX). Don’t ignore what it says on your
students’ sweatshirts, although it should not always be taken seriously.

Linguist Friend

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