The Power of Point of View

Some Initial Comments on the Potential of Verbal Aspect and ‘Point of View’ Criticism for Text-Critical Analysis – WALLY V. CIRAFESI

text criticism 007One of the major resources for the crafting of point of view (POV) in the Greek of the New Testament is  the use of verbal aspect (VA). VA has been somewhat of a hot topic in Biblical Greek studies over the last twenty years or so, and a good number of scholars have contributed to the discussion, myself included. While the issues are complex, the most succinct definition of VA that I have seen to date is given by Constantine Campbell, who says “The simplest way to define aspect is as ‘viewpoint’” (Verbal Aspect, the Indicative Mood, and Narrative [New York: Peter Lang, 2007], 8). That is, authors use the Greek verbal system as a means to express their particular view on the occurrence of an event or process. For example, the Aorist tense-form expresses action envisioned by the author as complete (not completed) from an external POV, while the Present reflects action seen from the author’s internal POV as in-progress (see my Verbal Aspect in Synoptic Parallels [Leiden: Brill, 2013] for a large scale analysis of how VA contributions to narrative crafting and interpretation).

With this close relationship between VA and POV in mind, one area of New Testament research that VA theory (and thus POV criticism) has not penetrated is textual criticism. I believe that it can, and I have broached this topic in a forthcoming article in Filología Neotestamentaria. To this end, I wish to offer here just a few comments regarding the potential and limitations of POV and VA choice for textual analysis.

First, through choice of VA, POV could act as an indicator of internal evidence of a particular reading based on established POV patterns in a text. That is, if certain patterns of internal or external POV can be identified by highlighting patterns of VA usage, then these patterns can speak for or against the probability of a variant being original. Second, while currently I do not see any way that POV can explain the stemmatic origins of a variant, it does seem that POV, through analysis of VA choice, can explain the motivation and function of a variant within a text. For example, I have analyzed the variant reading ἐποιήσατε in Codex Bezae Matt 21:13//Mark 11:17 and suggested that the Bezen scribe has chosen (consciously or unconsciously) to reduce the POV and aspectual semantics of the verb ποιέω, from an internal POV (Present tense-form in Matt) and a stative POV (Perfect tense-form, Mark) to an external POV (Aorist). The textual effect of this choice is that Jesus’ pronouncement of judgment on those buying and selling in the temple is seen from an external POV and thus is emphasized less in the text of Bezae, since it stands in the background of Jesus’ speech frame. This observation does not stemmatically explain the origins of the variant, but it does have significant implications for proposals regarding the anti-Judaic bias of Codex Bezae, particularly as demonstrated by its version of the Markan temple cleansing episode.

There are clearly limitations to what POV can do in terms of textual-criticism. First, as noted above, POV, by its nature, will have to function as internal evidence only, unless criteria is developed for determining the stemmatic and diachronic priority of one POV over against another. In a recent SBL paper Stanley Porter attempted something along these lines, as he examined VA shifting as a possible inroads into Synoptic source-critical analysis. One of the interesting points he makes is that the tendency appears to be that the source text will use the more ‘highly marked’ aspectual forms (Present, Perfect), while the text using the source text will typically shift its VA downward toward the less marked form (Aorist). Admittedly, text-critical analysis is quite different than Synoptic source criticism and involves a whole different range of complexities. But the point can be made here that perhaps VA reduction (and thus POV altering and downshifting) could be further developed into a criterion for establishing a text’s stemmatic and diachronic priority. Second, VA and its associated POV is limited to choice of verb forms, while POV criticism as a whole is not. Thus, while my focus on VA is one avenue worth further investigation, it may be worth pursuing as well how other components of POV crafting can function in text-critical analysis.


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