Monday, July 02, 2018

Précis: Ulrich Schmid's 2014 "The Diatessaron of Tatian"

A Précis of
Chapter six of Ehrman, Bart and Michael Holmes, Editors, 2014 The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis, Second Edition, Brill.

This volume is an updating and expansion on the first edition of 1995. The volume contains 28 articles to cover the current status of research on many basic areas in NT TC. The first 16 chapters survey the sources of the NT text available to us. The 12 chapters making up the second main part of the book focus on NTTC Theory and Method.

Précis by Joseph Abrahamson

“Chapter Five: The Diatessaron of Tatian.” by Ulrich B. Schmid, pp. 115-142

[Note: this chapter demonstrates how important it is to understand the philosophical and methodological assumptions of scholars in their fields. And it demonstrates how important it is to recognize when these assumptions and methods change and why. Using the term from Thomas Kuhn: A paradigm shift has recently taken place in this particular area of research. This shift in paradigm affects the nature of what is considered data, how that data can be used as evidence, the kinds of standards for arguments and evidence, as well as openness about methodologies. This is especially important for those who look at Textual Criticism as simply “lower criticism” with the assumption that as a field it has nothing to do with “higher criticism”]
In the first edition (1995) of this book William L. Petersen wrote the chapter covering the Diatessaron. He summarized scholarship on the topic from 1923 to that date. Petersen died in 2006. The period he surveyed saw many advances and changes in Diatessaronic scholarship. Schmid points out that the fifteen years since that publication have increased in data and insight to call for a paradigm shift. This new paradigm Schmid labels the new perspective on the Diatessaron, patterning the name after the new perspective on Paul in Pauline studies.

Argument for a Greek Original Text

Under what is the author calls the old perspective Petersen argued that the “Diatessaron was almost certainly composed in Syriac.” (115n5) Schmid in the new perspective argues for a Greek original.
“The bare mechanics of composing a gospel harmony appear to require sources and end product to be in one and the same language.”
For Schmid it “seems hardly conceivable to perform a close word-by-word harmonization from Greek gospel texts and a Syriac translation simultaneously, without at least one intermediate Greek harmony stage during the compositional process.

  • “There is no direct evidence” that “Syriac versions of the canonical Gospels already existed.”
  • If one supposes such Syriac versions did exist for Tatian, then: “What evidence is there that Tatian composed any of his works in a language other than Greek?
  • Tatian’s “apologetic discourse was performed in Greek”
  • “The existence of multiple gospel writings was an issue in attacks on Christianity (cf. Celsus in Origen, Contra Celsum 2,27)”
  • Schmid views it as unlikely “that Tatian would have missed the opportunity to write up a Greek gospel harmony to counter such attacks.”
  • He concludes that “Tatian could have translated and issued a version of the Diatessaron in Syriac, but likely after he had composed it in Greek.”(115f,n5)


The State of the Text of the Diatessaron

The “original text of the Diatessaron is lost” (116) and must be reconstructed “by working through a great number of sources that are considered to have come under the influence of the Diatessaron.”(116, italics mine) An overly ambitious ten month project began in 1997 by six scholars on over “a hundred manuscripts and sources” in a variety of languages. These scholars “started to pursue more modest projects on their own” with the goal of bringing these together. “A unifying feature of such projects was the focus on understanding the individual historical and cultural settings of these harmonies within medieval Christianity and their traceable lineages between each other, prior to utilizing them for the reconstruction of a lost late second-century gospel harmony.” Petersen’s death in 2006 was a great loss which meant that his advocacy for the old perspective is gone.

A Historical Critical Goal of Reconstruction

Taitian composed the Diatessaron in about the AD 160s-170s. His text would be a witness to the “gospels in the form they had at that time. Reconstruction of the Diatessaron’s text therefore provides the researcher with a ‘snapshot’ of the gospels as Tatian knew them in the mid-second century.”(116)
[Note: this should give the researcher some pause to consider how historical critical frameworks shape both the reconstruction of the Diatessaron and the weight such hypothetical reconstructions should carry with respect to conclusions or suggestions made about the development of the Gospel texts.]
From here Schmid organizes his chapter into three chronological periods: 1) The old perspective up to 1994, 2) scholarship from 1995 and on, and 3) explaining the nature and methodology of the new perspective.

The ‘Old Perspective’ on the Diatessaron

The old perspective grew out of a challenge to the previously accepted view that “Codex Fuldensis lies at the heart of the Western harmony tradition.”(119) Fuldensis (F) originated before mid-sixth century. It is a Latin ms which contains the whole NT, but the gospels are present as a harmony rather than individual books. “Victor of Capua, who commissioned the entire manuscript between 541 and 546 … concluded that it [the gospel harmony] was likely the work of Tatian.”(119) But it cannot be determined how much Victor “might have reworked the harmony’s text.”(120) While scholars agree that F is ultimately derived from Tatian’s Diatessaron it has many readings conforming to the Vulgate of Jerome which would date after AD 400. This renders F “most unsuitable for reconstructing the exact working of Tatian’s (lost) Diatessaron.”(120)

Scholars since the late nineteenth century have believed a western version of the Diatessaron existed. In the early twentieth century confidence grew that this version could be found by researching medieval harmonies in Dutch, German, and Italian. These scholars argued that supporting evidence were readings that were found to be the same as those in Old Latin texts or the then current view of an Eastern Diatessaron witness. These readings were not in F so they were not transmitted through F. And these readings were considered older than both the Vulgate and F. This was taken as evidence that these readings were closer to the original Diatessaron. In this way “Diatessaron scholarship developed the hypothesis of an Old Latin version of Tatian’s Diatessaron as old as pre-200 CE…”(120) From this grew the then “‘standard’ procedure in Diatessaronic studies: (1) screening vernacular gospel harmonies of quite late dates and differing types against Vulgate Codex Fuldensis in order to identify differences, and (2) finding parallels in remote branches of the gospel text tradition, preferably in what are considered to be Eastern Diatessaronic witnesses, to those differences from Codex Fuldensis.”(120f) This was at the heart of Petersen’s method in the old perspective.

This old perspective resulted in a paradox that even though F is the oldest witness in the West, the history of that tradition has been reconstructed based on manuscripts that “are seven hundred to eight hundred years younger than” F. (121) “As a result, even the crucial parts of the history of the Latin harmony tradition were compiled from the vernacular harmonies without bothering to study the largely unpublished Latin manuscripts still extant today.” (121)

Diatessaron Scholarship from 1995 Onward

Here Schmid discusses two areas of scholarship that are distinguished by whether they use Eastern sources or Western sources. These studies are significant both in what they treat and methodology. They represent the struggle of the paradigm shift from the old perspective to the new perspective.

First the Eastern.
1994 Tjize Baarda’s Essays on the Diatessaron used “Ephraem’s commentary on the Diatessaron wherever possible as the main point of reference.”(122) This differed from the two point method under the old paradigm.

In the 1990s a print debate took place between Jan Joosten and Robert F. Shedinger on Tatian’s use of the OT Peshitta. Joosten used only the Old Syriac and Peshitta gospels as his point of reference. Shedinger faulted him claiming that both Eastern and Western Diatessaron sources were necessary for such work. “[T]hat is, one must adopt the procedures employed by the proponents of the old perspective.” In 2001 Joosten followed Shedinger’s reproof, but “came up with even more evidence of his contention.” (122) Shedinger published his doctoral thesis that year restating his view. Petersen negatively reviewed Shedinger’s thesis while explicitly stating that he “endorses neither position.” At the heart of Petersen’s critique was “lexical insensitivity to polysemous words” (123) which did not necessarily reflect unique readings in translation. Out of this debate the problems of  methodology from the old perspective came into focus. In 2006 Giovanni Lenzi suggested a different historical development theory which has not gained wide acceptance. [Note: the nature of this debate and the sweeping revisions these make in the reconstruction of the Diatessaron and its hypothetical history should make exegetes much more cautious in their consideration of so-called Diatessaronic readings.] Schmid lists a handful of other studies that are significant in the methodological debate and the struggle between the old perspective and the emerging new perspective. One main shift in focus was that the old perspective tended to focus on how to establish individual readings while the emerging new perspective was struggling with how to establish the order of the sequences in the harmonies and their relationship to the Diatessaron. There is still disagreement over how much significance particular manuscripts and manuscript traditions should be given in reconstructing the Diatessaron.(124-6)

Western Sources
Schmid states that “the starting point for the emergence of the new perspective on the Diatessaron” was in 1999 in Queeste: Journal of the Medieval Literature in the Low Countries. The focus was on “one of the most prominent sources of the Western Diatessaron tradition,” the Liège Diatessaron. (126-127) This research demonstrated that the resources available in Medieval times, including the Glossa Ordinaria, could explain readings in this text which previously were “claimed to derive from the otherwise lost Old Latin harmony of the Diatessaron.” (127) A hypothetical Dutch Diatessaron was not needed to explain the relationship of the Liège Diatessaron to Jakob van Maerlant’s Rijmbijbel. The old perspective “tended to ignore the medieval background of the sources they were handling” but with this publication a new area of research opened up. (128) Schmid reports on a research project between 2002-2008 looking at the medieval background and context of the manuscripts to understand the Latin gospel harmony tradition.(128-131) In connection with research on the Liège Diatessaron Tjitze Baarda found that proof texts enlisted by Daniel Plooij to demonstrate Diatessaronic readings in the Liège Diatessaron did not, in fact, support the old perspective method or interpretations. Valentine Pakis examined the type of scholarly argumentation and rhetoric in Diatessaronic studies. In 2005 he pointed out that even with Petersen there were significant methodological and rhetorical prejudices. “By modeling himself [Petersen] so painstakingly on his teacher, he brought along the latter’s prejudices: that the work of Diatessaron scholars addresses the value of the Gospels, that the subject is arcane and unapproachable to the uninitiated, and that outsiders are unfit — unequipped — to question the hypotheses of the experts.”(132) A.A. den Hollander and U. Schmidt were able to demonstrate that for Codex Fuldensis  “alleged ‘unique readings in Diatessaronic witnesses’” could be found in the Glossa Ordinaria. This undercuts the claims of a hypothetical Diatessaronic source text. (132)

The New Perspective

In his final section Schmid recalls the beginnings of the new perspective in Diatessaronic studies in the 1970s with Johannes Rathofer, Bonifatius Fischer, and Cebus C. de Bruin. Their insights faced ridicule by the established old perspective scholars, while those same old perspective scholars had to (at times) concede that these upstarts might have had a point to make. Rathofer, in particular, had a large number of examples which could not be simply shrugged off. Two serious issues came to the front:

1) it was shown that Codex Fuldensis “was influenced by a ninth-century local gospel text of the separate gospels with no connection whatsoever to the harmonized tradition. The old perspective saw the harmony tradition as “a closed shop that never took aboard material from non-harmony traditions.” But not only was cross-pollination possible, it was demonstrable.

2) it has happened that under the old perspective that errors in printed editions have been pronounced as Tatianic readings. Peterson conceded this was indeed a huge methodological flaw. But he continued to work with the same methodology.

Reaction to these insights was odd: “even if some of the parallels” are proved false, the old perspective scholars claimed the new perspective scholars were required to prove every instance false before they would concede their method and assumptions were no longer adequate to the task.(132-135)

But the new perspective “has now produced a coherent framework for studying vernacular harmonies of thirteenth to fifteenth centuries” and their relationship, if any, to Codex Fuldensis. These provide “examples that are conspicuously effective for knocking down supposed parallels between Western vernacular and Eastern Diatessaronic sources. The new perspective has also shown that the “other tradition” in the West is not by necessity a hypothesized old Latin version of the Diatessaron. Rather, it has shown that most of these supposed Diatessaronic readings are easily derived from the “Glossa Ordinaria, parallel passages, and blends of local gospel texts from the separate Gospels.” (136)

The new perspective requires that scholars actually look at the manuscripts and understand them before the data in the manuscripts can be claimed as evidence for one point or another.

The new perspective does not claim there was never an Old Latin translation of the Diatessaron, but rather that the old perspective was not methodological sound and incorrectly considered certain data as evidence where that data was better explained in a different way.

Schmid closes by outlining hopeful directions, including: focusing on Eastern data to build up understanding of those texts; focusing on the issue of harmony sequence rather than individual text readings. “[T]he study of harmony-sequence aspects could provide a new basis for an appreciation of a common underlying tradition.(138)

The chapter is followed by a three page bibliography.

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