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5. THE MYTH OF ERASMUS’ “BACK TRANSLATING”
The text-critical attack on the Textus Receptus involved a diversion and a feint. The diversion was to direct attention away from the real basis of the Textus Receptus, which is the magnificent 1550 folio edition of Robert Éstienne, Robertus Stephanus, of the royal Press in Paris. It was hard to discredit this great scholar-printer or his sources, the latter being principally a set of fifteen very ancient and correct manuscripts obtained from the Library of the King of France himself. Stephanus emphasized their excellence. The great Reformation scholar Beza put his seal of approval on these sources, as well as on the editorial methods of Stephanus and the editions resulting from them. The manuscripts were returned to the Royal Library once the work was finished, but, like those used by the Complutensian team, have since “gone missing”. The havoc wrought can be illustrated by the fact that in the locus classicus of I John 5. 7 even Stephanus’ different set of manuscripts with a variant reading (seven manuscripts omitting only the words “in heaven” in that verse) are no longer to be found anywhere in the world, — in fact, no such reading is attested in any extant manuscript whatsoever, — quite apart from the more numerous and more correct manuscripts which Stephanus followed in the main body of the text, and which, on account of their antiquity, according to his own testimony, were worthy almost of “adoration”. Since the early printed editions are equivalent in every respect to manuscript authorities, all these employed by Stephanus should be added, by the by, to the list of witnesses in respect of any given Greek reading in the New Testament. The hostile theological Doctors of the Sorbonne were already demanding from Stephanus detailed information about the manuscripts he used to print his Bibles before his enforced flight to Geneva, and three hundred years of book-burning, expurgation and indexing thereafter by opponents of the Reformation have ensured their consignment to oblivion. It is disingenuous for critics of the Textus Receptus after the Counter Reformation’s continent-wide and centuries-long censorial fury to demand the production of these manuscripts before they accept the authenticity of Stephanus’ work: his Bibles, for example, were specifically targeted in the Prohibitory and Expurgatory Index of the Roman ecclesiastical authorities for over two hundred years after his decease. Due in part, then, to an inability to diminish the credit of Stephanus’ sources, and in part to the nobility of Stephanus’ own character, and the boldness of his Christian witness on behalf of the Lutheran Reformation (for which he suffered persecution and personal loss), the text-critics found it more convenient to concentrate their fire on the text published in several editions over twenty years and more preceding Stephanus by the Renaissance scholar Erasmus. Erasmus was a pioneer in the field, but succeeded in defining and identifying the genuine Byzantine text which had been mangled over the Medieval period by correctors accommodating it to Jerome’s Vulgate. His text, settled over five editions, from 1516 through 1535, agreed remarkably with the text of Stephanus 1550. We thus have two independent witnesses to the correctness of the Textus Receptus, though the palm goes to Stephanus’ edition, in view of the superior quality of his sources. The text-critical diversion was to claim the Textus Receptus published by Stephanus was little more than a reprinting of the earlier text of Erasmus. Additionally, Erasmus, like all pioneers, had to overcome formidable obstacles to achieve his aims. His struggle to identify the correct Greek text, and the textual blind alleys and byways he was compelled the meanwhile to negotiate, left him open to attack. The text-critical feint was to misinterpret statements made by Erasmus in the process of that struggle as indicators that Erasmus acted nefariously in his production of the Greek Testament.
The idea that the great Renaissance scholar Erasmus should be guilty of “back translating” from Latin to Greek, and thus of “inventing” an ancient Greek text of the New Testament, is so ludicrous it might be thought no modern scholar could entertain it. But a whole generation of text critics have espoused precisely this belief, in a spirit quite the opposite to that of a true critic.
The myth of Erasmus’ “back translating” goes hand in hand with the legend that he included the “Three Heavenly Witnesses” of I John 5. 7 in his third edition of the Greek New Testament, only when forced to do so against his better judgment. We shall deal with the legend first. Supposedly Erasmus had made a public promise to insert the passage referring to the “Three Heavenly Witnesses”, if any scholar could find a single Greek manuscript containing it. On being presented with a “British” manuscript, which, unbeknown to him, had been forged to include the reading especially to meet his challenge “back translated” from the Latin, Erasmus reluctantly inserted it, and only because he had given his word. This legend has been debunked by modern Erasmus researchers. It resulted from a misconstruction of Erasmus’ Latin combined with a confusion of different events: 1) Erasmus claimed in reply to a critic named Lee, that if he had found a single Greek text containing what he described, significantly, as the “missing” (Latin aberat, minus) passage at I John 5. 7, he would have included it in his first two editions; 2) Erasmus added, that he had not been negligent, as he had been accused of being by Lee, in omitting the passage, and his proof would be in the outcome of this challenge: that Lee should provide him with a single Greek manuscript containing it, and then, additionally, prove that Erasmus could have had access to it; it should be noted here Lee claimed Erasmus would “certainly” have found such Greek manuscripts, if had looked thoroughly, which implies several were known to Lee; 3) Erasmus on a later occasion was in receipt of a Greek manuscript of “British” origin, which included the passage, but Erasmus suspected this particular manuscript was not only of relatively recent date, but may also have been “back translated”, in parts of its text, from the Vulgate Latin, as he knew had been a practice in prior times. Still it supplied the passage in Greek, and his doubts about the quality of the manuscript as a whole did not outweigh the necessity to supply what he accepted, without question, to be “missing” at this place in the Greek text, so Erasmus inserted it from the reading contained in the British manuscript. The particular form of the passage in Erasmus’ third edition (1522) and other citations of his from the adjacent verses of the Epistle of John, are identical to that found in a “British” manuscript, located in Dublin Trinity College, Codex Montfortianus of the 15th or early 16th century, and it is presumed by most authorities this was Erasmus’ “British” source. In light of the accusation that the “British” manuscript was produced “on order” to confute Erasmus, it should be noted that Codex Montfortianus, though of no great textual worth otherwise (as Erasmus, in that case, perceived), has a unique combination of readings which are not found in any other source, and is unlikely, therefore, to have been produced merely to provide Erasmus with the Greek text of the “Three Heavenly Witnesses”. If that had been its purpose, it would have been of a more typical type throughout.
This was not the end of the story. By the time Erasmus brought out his fourth edition, there was a better Greek text available to him than he had found in the “British” manuscript. That was the Greek Testament published by the official sanction of the Roman Catholic Church itself as a principal part of the Complutensian Polyglot Bible of Cardinal Ximenes of Alcala in Spain. In the postscript at the end of the Apocalypse this work is dated to 10th January 1514, though it was not made available to the public till 1522. The Greek text therefore predates Erasmus’ first edition. It is a text of the Byzantine type, and well produced. The manuscripts containing the Greek Testament were obtained by the Complutensian editors from the Papal Library, but have since, unhappily, been lost track of. According to the preface they were the “oldest and most correct copies” (exemplaria vetustissima et emendatissima). Amongst them was a “Rhodian” manuscript often referred to by the principal editor Stunica and by Erasmus. The Complutensian text included the “Three Heavenly Witnesses”, and Erasmus modified his final and approved text of I John 5. 7 from that source, though the only textual difference between the improved and the earlier version was the addition from the Complutensian text of the Greek definite article for “the” Father, “the” Word and “the” Holy Spirit.
In one other respect Erasmus, wisely, did not follow the Complutensian, and that was in the omission in the Complutensian of the very last phrase in I John 5. 8, “and these three agree in one [Gk. eis to ‘en]” (referring to the spirit, the water and the blood), and in the transfer in the Complutensian of the identical Greek phrase eis to ‘en, as though it meant are “one” (unum sunt), when it truly means “agree in one”, to verse 7, with reference to the Father, Word and Holy Spirit. There in verse 7 it stood in the Complutensian instead of the authentic Greek ‘en, simply, which does mean are “one”, as in Erasmus’ reading from the “British” manuscript. The Complutensian editors were good enough to provide a marginal note to this passage, showing what they had done and why, but Erasmus ignored it. It will not surprise the reader to discover the omission and related transfer arose because of the textual corruption of Jerome’s Vulgate. Jerome’s Latin text omitted the “Three Heavenly Witnesses”, but it also stated that the earthly witnesses, spirit, water and blood, “are one” (“unum sunt” in Fuldensis and Amiatinus), instead of the correct “agree in one”, according with the Greek eis to ‘en. The purpose of this alteration shines through: by omitting the “Three Heavenly Witnesses” Jerome’s text reflected the Artemonite denial that the heavenly Spirit of God was distinct from the human spirit in Jesus, then by declaring the spirit, water and blood actually to be “one”, that is, one in substance, the three earthly material elements were proven to be, not three different substances, but a single divine substance which merely “appeared” (dokeo) to be three. In his own day Jerome, along with his bishop Damasus, was accused of Sabellianism (Jerome, Epistolae XV. 3, ad Damasum, Migne PL XXII. col. 356). Jerome rejected the charge, and truly he was not, strictly speaking, a Sabellian: he was a Callistian, — though the difference between the Noetian doctrine of Callistus, bishop of the First Church of Rome in the first quarter of the third century AD, and that of the guru Sabellius, a member of Callistus’ congregation, was hard to define, even for the acute Hippolytus, who knew both heretics personally. Indeed, Jerome’s doctrine included the belief, according to the very words of Jerome himself (ibid. 4, col. 357) in refuting the charge of heresy, that “all created things besides only appear to be, and are not … God alone who is eternal, who has no beginning, truly bears the denomination ‘being’.1” This is the Noetian/Sabellian belief precisely. Hence, of course, the three substances of spirit, water and blood, amongst the rest, were only three in appearance, and, in actuality, one divine essence. The Docetist (Sabellian) heresy enshrined in Jerome’s text was thereby confirmed.
The sequence of events consequent upon Jerome’s emendation is easily explained. When, in the course of the Medieval period, the “Three Heavenly Witnesses” were re-inserted in some Latin copies from Old Latin texts, and were correctly described as being “one” (“unum sunt”), the Greek was “back translated” to read identically in both clauses eis to ‘en, since the Latin read the same now in both clauses (“unum sunt”). Properly, of course, the Greek eis to ‘en does not mean “are one”, but “agree in one”. Thus the belief could arise, or be established, based on the understanding that Latin “unum sunt” (“are one”) is the same as the Greek eis to ‘en (one in agreement), that the Father, Word and Holy Spirit “are one” only by agreement, or that the unity of the Trinity is not one of substance, but of consent. The omission of the final clause in I John 5. 8 is common in Latin texts of the later Medieval period, and reflects the decision of an ecclesiastical Council, the Fourth Lateran of AD 1215. For dogmatic reasons, in order to counter the doctrine of Abbot Joachim that the Trinity was indeed merely a unity of consent, rather than of substance, the phrase was struck from Latin copies in relation to the spirit, water and blood. Joachim had unwittingly exposed the heresy lurking behind the Vulgate’s Latin: three different material substances could never be described as “one in substance” (except by a Docetist heretic), therefore they could not be said to “be one” (“unum sunt”), nor in Greek eis to ‘en, which was incorrectly understood to mean “are one”, on the basis of the common Latin reading. Thomas Aquinas’ solution was that this final clause in I John 5. 8 was not extant in the true copies, and that it was said Arians had inserted it to subvert the doctrine of the Trinity. The note to this effect was included in the Complutensian margin. After the Fourth Lateran Council, the final phrase in I John 5. 8 was commonly excised from the text. Of course, this whole procedure demonstrates the lack of respect for the Holy Scriptures characteristic of the Roman Church throughout the Middle Ages. Their dogma was not based on Scripture, Scripture was altered to suit dogma. It is precisely the method followed by Jerome already in the fourth century. It also demonstrates why individual texts alone, no matter how old, are not sufficient to determine the true Scriptural reading. An historical understanding of the methods adopted by the transmitters of the text is necessary to avoid textual error.
In conclusion, it can be deduced from Erasmus’ use of the word “missing” with reference to the “Three Heavenly Witnesses” in his correspondence with Lee, then from his inclusion of that passage in a particular form, though from a poorer quality source, in the third, and his retention of it, in the very slightly improved form, and with the support of the widely accepted Complutensian text, in every subsequent edition of the New Testament, that the mature, and considered, opinion of this brilliant Renaissance scholar, was that the passage itself was authentic. If the recalcitrant critic should determine to fix on Erasmus’ suspicion of “back translating” from the Latin Vulgate in the “British” manuscript, and then conclude the “Three Heavenly Witnesses” had been “back translated” from the Latin Vulgate, too, it should be pointed out, Jerome’s original Latin Vulgate, as proven by Codex Amiatinus and Codex Fuldensis, did not include the “Three Heavenly Witnesses” at all! Thus, there was nothing originally to “back translate” from. Or rather, there existed in Medieval times a multitude of Latin texts which combined, in a thoroughly confused way, passages “corrected” to accord with Jerome’s Vulgate, with uncorrected passages retained from the Old Latin (pre-Vulgate) versions. Some of these Old Latin readings accurately represented the original Apostolic text. It was from this confused textual tradition that the later editions of the Vulgate were concocted and passed off as the “official Vulgate Latin”. The commonly accepted Vulgate of Erasmus’ day was one such, and it included the “Three Heavenly Witnesses”, preserving, in this instance, completely contrary to the original system of the Latin Vulgate authorized by Jerome himself, the pre-Nicean authentic Greek text. So, if the “Three Heavenly Witnesses” had been “back translated” from the Vulgate, as these critics insinuate (but for which process no proof, by the nature of it, can ever be forthcoming), then the result was a reversion merely to the primitive and authentic Greek text.
But this argument only holds good in relation to the earlier insertion in Erasmus’ third edition, which was obtained from the “British” manuscript, and that assumed (with the emphasis on assumed) to be Codex Montfortianus. It has no bearing whatsoever on the Complutensian reading which Erasmus used to produce his final and approved text. That was available for publishing before Erasmus brought out his first edition, and was the text officially sanctioned by the Roman ecclesiastical authorities. No one could accuse the Complutensian editors of “back translating” to confound Erasmus. That has not restrained the more fanatical upholders of Codex Vaticanus and the “Alexandrian” text type, however, who have spotted “back-translations” on every textual corner, and in the Complutensian, whenever the reading has not suited them. Critics of Erasmus here are stuck between a rock and a hard place. If they wish to assert the Complutensian reading was “back translated” to prove Erasmus’ first edition defective, they have to accept, of course, that it was printed after Erasmus’ first edition, and that, in turn, would confirm Erasmus was the first to print a Greek Testament. If they wish to deprive Erasmus of that honor, they have to assume the date 1514 on the Complutensian means it was printed then, and was therefore the first printed edition, though not offered to the public till later (c. 1522), and in that case they cannot accuse it of containing a reading manufactured to embarrass Erasmus.
Setting these ridiculous and uncritical animosities aside, we can say certainly that the Complutensian editors cherished no love for their Greek text, which they looked at askance in comparison to the Vulgate Latin text. The Greek column was, as they saw it, a “crucified thief” hanging alongside the “Savior”, that is, the Latin Vulgate, column. Their attitude is understandable, though wrong-headed, given its Byzantine, and therefore anti-Vulgate, flavor. They happily and clearly marked where it differed from the Latin, and had no interest in manufacturing “back translations” to make the columns match.
As regards the “Three Heavenly Witnesses” in the Textus Receptus, the accusation of “back translating” is a dead issue. The Textus Receptus is based squarely on the editions printed by the great Renaissance scholar-printer, Robertus Stephanus, which agreed in this section with Erasmus’ final, fourth and fifth, editions, and had the support of the Complutensian. The same text was later largely reproduced by the Elzevirs. Stephanus had a whole range of valuable manuscripts from the Royal Library in Paris containing the same reading as in Erasmus’ latest editions, as well as a few (which he rejected), omitting only the words “in heaven” in I John 5. 7.
We shall find by and by a double standard is applied in the matter of “back translating”. When the question is of the “Three Heavenly Witnesses” then “back translating” is assumed as a matter of course by the modern “critic”, who concentrates his fire on Erasmus’ second-rate “Britsh” manuscript and ignores the damning fact that Erasmus’ final text had the support of the Complutensian: this was approved by the highest authorities in the Roman Catholic system, and amongst them vociferous critics of Erasmus. But when it comes to the actual practice of “back translating” adopted in the Medieval period by scribes who altered the Greek Byzantine text to accord with the corrupt Latin Vulgate, the modern “critic” as assuredly asserts it is a figment of the imagination.
From all this we can see clearly what Erasmus’ view was of “back translating” from the Latin. It should have struck Erasmus’ critics that if he had, in fact, ever indulged in the practice himself, then he could simply have “back translated” the missing text of the “Three Heavenly Witnesses”. There was no need to search out a Greek codex containing the reading. With a few strokes of his pen the troublesome hiatus would have been filled. The time and effort Erasmus exhausted in procuring this and those other texts missing in the Greek manuscripts initially available to him, prove his fidelity in adhering to the Byzantine Greek text as attested in the “oldest and most correct copies”.
The myth of Erasmus’ own “back translating” from Latin into Greek must have a particular historical context, therefore, to explain its genesis. That, too, was the heated debate which followed Erasmus’ publishing of his first edition of the Byzantine Greek text of the New Testament. Erasmus’ learned opponent Sepulveda objected to Erasmus’ failure to use Codex Vaticanus in the publishing of his text. (For the relevant correspondence see Sepulvedae Opera, Madrid, 1780, Letters of Erasmus and Sepulveda, 1534.) Erasmus responded that he had good reason to reject Vaticanus. Greek manuscripts in the West had been known to be emended (“back translated”) by reference to the Latin. Erasmus claimed that when Greek Orthodox Christians were admitted into the Latin communion at the Florentine Council in AD 1439, included in the articles of settlement was the stipulation that their Greek Bibles had to be “corrected” to match the Latin Vulgate. Sepulveda replied, he had seen no such article, that is, in writing, and Erasmus countered that his information was from the highest source, that he had been given the information verbally by Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall of Durham, England, who had assured him such was the case, whether or no the disgraceful procedure was incorporated in the official account of the pact. Sepulveda himself admitted as “probable” at least one such emendation of the Greek to conform to the Latin. (Letter of Sepulveda in Erasmi Opera, iii. col. 1762.) It is interesting to note here, Erasmus implicitly associated Codex Vaticanus with the practice of “back translating”, and that may well be because he was aware of its compatibility with the Vulgate, and of the admission of the Vulgate’s author that he “corrected” Greek manuscripts to match the Latin text. It is obvious, in the light of this disputation, that over-zealous defenders of the Vulgate had a vested interest in throwing at Erasmus some of his own dirt.
The myth of Erasmus’ “back translating” is based on a misconstruction (to put it in the kindest possible light) of statements made by Erasmus in his Apologia addressed to Stunica of the Complutensian team, in his Annotations to the Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation, and in his replies to the criticisms of Lee. Erasmus used an expression in the course of his Apologia addressed to Stunica which was misunderstood by the eighteenth-century Pietist Bengel (one of the two leading lights of Pietism at that time, the other being Zinzendorf), and the misunderstanding encouraged Bengel to give less credit than deserved to Erasmus’ work on the Book of Revelation. This was a springboard for Bengel’s own critical work on the text, which was of particular interest to him as a student of Biblical prophecy. Semler took up Bengel’s initiatives in the text-critical field, and Griesbach followed on from Semler. Griesbach at the end of the eighteenth century produced a critical text and a critical theory which provided the model for the nineteenth-century assault on the Textus Receptus. Bengel himself was a conscientious scholar, though prone to fits of erratic exegesis, like his prediction, based on an idiosyncratic interpretation of chronological statements in the Book of Revelation, that Christ would return on 18th June 1836! This should warn us to beware of novel theories broached by Bengel and to examine with more than normal diligence statements made by him in support of such theories. Bengel’s criticism of Erasmus’ textual work on the Book of Revelation falls in this bracket.
Bengel (Bengelius, Apparatus Criticus ad Novum Testamentum, 2nd ed., Burkius, 1763, p. 495) read in Erasmus’ Apologia addressed to Stunica the following passage: “In Apocalypsi non suppetebat nobis nisi vnicum exemplar, sed vetustissimum, quod nobis exhibuit eximius ille litterarum heros Ioh. Reuchlinus.” This means: “For the Book of Revelation only [non … nisi] one copy was immediately available to us (or, served our purpose), but that was a very ancient one, which John Reuchlin, that illustrious hero of the literary sciences provided for our perusal.” Erasmus says here he had a single Greek manuscript for the Book of Revelation immediately available (suppetebat, i.e. “at hand”), or, alternatively, suited to the purpose for which it was required (suppetebat = sufficiebat, “be suitable, sufficient”), and that was provided to him by Reuchlin. In his Apologia addressed to Lee (Antwerp 1520, infra) Erasmus repeats this assertion, but there makes clear that occasion was when he was absent from Basle specifically for the purpose of consulting Reuchlin’s manuscript: then he had only this manuscript ready to hand, or, uniquely suited to requirements (“quod tum nobis erat vnicum”, i.e. the manuscript “which at that time [tum] was the only one [sc. available] to us, or, uniquely suited our requirements”, using the identical word “vnicum” for “only one, unique” as in Bengel’s citation), but in Basle he had others available to him, and he was able also to fetch readings from elsewhere. The “copies” (plural) which Erasmus had for the Book of Revelation are mentioned several times by him, as will be shown in the account following. Unfortunately Bengel mistook the meaning as: “No more than one copy was ever available to us.” As well as ignoring the historical context of Erasmus’ statement, Bengel’s understanding discounted the alternative interpretation of the word “suppetebat”, viz. “suited to the required purpose”, which is as natural semantically as the first. He concluded, quite wrongly, and in opposition to what Erasmus actually says, that Erasmus only ever had this single codex of Reuchlin to provide him with the complete Greek text of the Book of Revelation for his first edition.
By mistaking the meaning of Erasmus in this phrase, Bengel opened a Pandora’s box of questions and anomalies in respect of Erasmus’ readings in the Book of Revelation. (Id., ibid., p. 496, 500.) For example, since Reuchlin’s codex was defective at the end, and missed off the last few phrases of the text, where did Erasmus procure the Greek text for those last few phrases in his first edition? Also, if Erasmus only had the single codex of Reuchlin, how does his text of the Book of Revelation differ occasionally as between his first, second and third editions? One possibility, Bengel speculated, was that readings from the unpublished Complutensian had somehow found their way to Erasmus, another was that he used conjectural emendation, a third was that the Reuchlin manuscript (which Bengel had searched for, but failed to locate) contained marginal glosses which had sometimes been received into Erasmus’ text. At Revelation 2. 3, 5. 14, 17. 4 (8?) and 22. 11, Bengel suspected that the Reuchlin manuscript was defective, through deterioration and wear, and that Erasmus had therefore supplied the deficiencies from the Latin manuscripts. The Reuchlin codex was rediscovered by Delitzsch in the middle of the nineteenth century and Bengel’s speculations about its quality and marginal glosses shown to be mistaken. The missing verses at the end of the Book of Revelation mentioned by Erasmus were, however, as he said, missing, through the loss of the final page.
Occasionally (id., ibid., p. 500) Bengel spoke more definitely of Erasmus’ use of the Vulgate as the basis for his text in a few passages in the Book of Revelation, as if he had “back translated” from the Latin where Reuchlin’s text failed him, but he had not actually discounted the other possibilities (id., ibid., p. 496). The effect of Bengel’s criticism, though founded on false premises, was that it allowed him a certain latitude in selecting readings in the Book of Revelation differing from those of the Textus Receptus, on the authority of which he might formulate his idiosyncratic prophetic exegesis. Bengel’s misunderstanding of the phrase in Erasmus’ Apologia was copied unwittingly by later scholars, e.g. by Wetstein at the beginning of the eighteenth century and Michaelis at its end (Introduction to the New Testament, trans. Marsh from 4th German ed., 2nd ed. 1802, vol. II. pt. I, p. 312f.), and was thus passed on as “received wisdom” to nineteenth-century writers like Tregelles. The tendency to diminish the number of Erasmus’ Greek authorities became more pronounced the deeper Bengel’s mistake entrenched itself in the text-critical consensus. Statements of Erasmus like the one found in the introductory Apologia to his fifth edition that, just as Valla used seven “bonae fidei” Greek codices (book-form manuscripts), so he used “four” such codices for his first edition, and more for his later editions, were seized on and misconstrued, to convey the impression that these were the sum total of the Greek texts he had available. Erasmus states more than once, as demonstrated infra, that he had several “copies” (“exemplars”) of even the scarcest text, the Apocalypse. For the latter, in at least one instance, he identifies his source: viz. the unpublished Aldine edition in Venice, which was based on manuscripts differing, in parts, from those drawn on by Erasmus for his first edition. In that instance a reading was obtained, on Erasmus’ instructions, by his co-editors in Basle, either in person, or by correspondence, from the Aldus printers. The exemplars mentioned by Erasmus were most probably, therefore, either his own copies of the “oldest and most correct” manuscripts, or those of his illustrious co-editors, supplementing the four original documents referred to supra. An example of the former is Erasmus’ “revised copy” (recognitum exemplar) of the text of the Apocalypse obtained from the Reuchlin codex which he sent to Basle to his co-editors, along with the instructions to procure from the Aldine edition the one reading he was missing.
Tregelles differed from most of the critics who preceded him in his overarching concern to reimpose the Vulgate-like textual readings of Codex Vaticanus and other manuscripts of the “Alexandrian” text-type in the academic halls of Protestant England, which had up to then faithfully upheld the authenticity of Erasmus’ text. The single misunderstanding of Erasmus’ Latin by Bengel became a plethora of misreadings by Tregelles. The important part played by Tregelles in regard to the re-establishment of the readings rejected by Erasmus is pointed out in his obituary from the Independent newspaper, 1 July 1875: “He2 did far more than any other writer3 to overcome the blind and unreasoning prejudice4 which existed in England in favor of the textus receptus, and which prized the inaccurate and uncritical5 edition of Scholz on account of its demerits. The change of opinion on this subject in conservative England within the last thirty years is marvellous, amounting almost to a revolution. The language indulged in by Bloomfield in the preface to his Greek Testament, about the “temerity” of Griesbach, and “his perpetual and, for the most part, needless cancellings and alterations of all kinds,” would now sound very strange, unless perhaps from Dr. Burgon or some kindred spirit. Though the treatises of Prof. Porter and Dr. Davidson, the works of the Rev. T. S. Green, the articles of Prof. Westcott and Mr. Hort, and the later editions of Alford’s Greek Testament have contributed to this result, yet to Dr. Tregelles the credit of effecting the change is pre-eminently due.6”
A classic example of Tregelles’ destructive criticism is his treatment of Erasmus’ statement about the missing phrases at the end of Reuchlin’s codex. Erasmus’ own words are as follows (Annotationes in ed. 1516, p. 675): “Although at the end of this book,7 I found a few words in our texts, which were missing in the Greek exemplars, those in the end we supplied on the basis of Latin (texts).” Erasmus’ Latin reads : Quamque in calce huius libri, nonnulla uerba reperi apud nostros, quae aberant in Graecis exemplaribus, ea tamen ex latinis adiecimus. This absurdly was taken by Wetstein at the beginning of the eighteenth century, and subsequently by Tregelles, to mean that the missing words at the end of Erasmus’ Greek text of the Book of Revelation were BACK TRANSLATED FROM THE LATIN VULGATE BY ERASMUS, BECAUSE SUPPOSEDLY HE HAD NO OTHER COPY OF THE GREEK TEXT OF REVELATION THAN THE CODEX HE BORROWED FROM REUCHLIN. This is the reverse of what Erasmus is saying. He refers right from the start to the Greek EXEMPLARS (plural) which he had access to, and this proves he had more than Reuchlin’s codex. One of many confirmations Erasmus consulted a number of Greek manuscripts of the Book of Revelation before publishing his first edition is provided on that same page of his Annotationes, where he observes: “In the Greek book-form manuscripts8 which I have seen, the title was not ‘of John the Evangelist’, but ‘of John the Theologos.’” Now, these Greek copies, he went on to say, did not have a few words in them at the end of the Book of Revelation, which were found in “our” texts, meaning in the Latin-language texts in common use in ecclesiastical circles in the West, and, more specifically, in Erasmus’ editorial circle; however, “we”, that is, Erasmus himself and his editorial companions, supplied those same missing Greek words on the basis of the Latin. Note that “our” (meaning, “available to us Western editors”) is contrasted with “I” (meaning Erasmus himself), “I found in our texts …” etc.; and “our” is contrasted with “Latin”. Erasmus does not say he found words absent in the “Greek”, but present in “our”, copies, which “he” then supplied from “our” copies (which is what he would have said if he had “back translated”), but he says “we” (that is, he and his co-editors) supplied the missing Greek words “ex latinis”. The last phrase could mean (a) “from [ex] Latin (texts)”, or (b) “on the basis of [ex] Latin (texts)”, or (c) “working from [ex] Latin (texts)”, with the word “texts” in each case understood, or alternatively (d) “from the Latins”, meaning from Western, or more specifically, Italian sources, “Latin” being a common literary term for Italian. As in sense (a) Erasmus could be understood to have “back translated” from Latin to Greek, Lee accused him of doing precisely that. Erasmus’ repulsion at monkish “back translating” from Latin to Greek explains the outrage he directed at Lee (“Os impudens! Impudent mouth!”) in response to his unwarranted accusation. He says (Opera, ix, 1706, col. 150): “Not content with that, he [Lee] accused me of an impious crime9 … that in the end of the Book of Revelation I added a small number of words in a Greek codex from our Latin copies”. Erasmus, of course, in this respect, should be considered innocent, until, and unless, conclusively proven guilty. He promised ibid. to reply to the accusation in his response to Lee’s note CCXLIII, and that is where we find Erasmus’ own explanation of the phrase “ex latinis” in the Annotationes (Opera, ix, 1706, AD CCXLIII, col. 246, and see in full infra): Erasmus and his co-editors filled the missing Greek at Revelation 22. 19 temporarily with the Latin, awaiting the procurement of a Greek copy containing the missing verse. He said he included this fact in his notes (“Annotationes”), so that the reader would know what had been done, and this, it is to be understood, is what we find printed in the Annotationes to the 1516 edition. Evidently Erasmus meant “ex latinis” in senses (b) or (c) supra. In his Apologia addressed to Lee printed at Antwerp in 1520 (cited in full infra), this editorial process is explained in greater detail: Erasmus instructed his co-editors to obtain the missing Greek reading from the Venetian press run by the family and friends of Aldus, which had access to a range of Greek manuscripts not immediately available to him. In the mean time he wrote down in the copy forwarded to his co-editors the Latin passage which the Greek was intended to replace. They did as they were instructed. Venice being in Italy, sense (d) supra can be included in the range of possibility: that the missing Greek was supplied “from the Latins”, that is, from Italian sources. If Erasmus’ original note to his co-editors read something like “supply the Greek from the Aldine printers ‘ex latinis’”, it may have been unclear to the editors themselves, and to the printer of the remark in the Annotationes of the 1516 edition as published, precisely which meaning was intended by Erasmus: whether “working back from the Latin with which I have temporarily filled the lacuna, and providing the Greek equivalent”, or “from the Latins, i.e. from the Italians”. Either way, the missing Greek was supplied from the Venetian printers’ Greek texts, as Erasmus instructed. In reply to a flurry of accusations by Lee that Erasmus was guilty further of accommodating the Greek to the Latin, contrary to his own principles, Erasmus pointed out (ibid.) that the procedure resorted to here, — filling a perceived gap in the Greek text, — was necessary because of the unique manuscript tradition of the oft-disputed Apocalypse, as it was not in the better attested Gospels and Epistles; additionally, the Apocalypse, by its simple style and its orderly narration, made this omission, the final flourish at its end, and therefore easily lost in transmission, obvious. Erasmus’ statement in this connection (ibid.) that he and his co-editors “were not about to venture to do in the Gospels or in the Apostolic Epistles what we did here”, has likewise been misinterpreted, by those ignorant of the text-critical motive, as an admission of guilt on his part with respect to the editorial procedure just described, when it is simply a statement of fact.
Wetstein went one step further than Bengel in his criticism of Erasmus. In addition to copying Bengel’s mistake about Erasmus’ access to the single manuscript of Reuchlin, Wetstein misinterpreted the two detailed passages of Erasmus in the latter’s responses to Lee concerning the last few verses of the Book of Revelation, which are referred to briefly in the preceding paragraph. In the first passage Erasmus noted that a single verse, or a “few words” (verba perpauca), as he put it, were missing in the Greek, and that verse was Revelation 22. 19. Here, clearly Erasmus was referring to the Greek copies (plural) he had access to, including, but not limited to, the Reuchlin manuscript. Since Revelation 22. 19 in the original condemns anyone who “takes away” from the words of the book, one might think suspicion would fall initially on Latin scribes for having deliberately omitted the verse in their Greek texts, in order to cast doubt on the orthodoxy of the Greek copies. However, Erasmus thought scribal error was to blame, through “homeoteleuton”, that is, that the scribe saw “this book” at the end of a line in verse 18 and wrongly skipped over the intervening phrases to recommence his copying at the next occurrence of “this book” in verse 19. As he said, this was a common source of scribal omissions in the medieval manuscripts. Erasmus went on to say that in the process of editing his text of the Greek Testament he supplied the missing words from “our Latin copies” (meaning the Latin texts available to Erasmus and his co-editors, which contained the verse) and marked what he had done in the accompanying annotations, leaving a gap in the Greek which could be filled when a Greek copy with the missing verse was found. As we shall see in the second quotation infra, the missing Greek text was inserted by Erasmus’ fellow-editors before the text was published. Wetstein ridiculously misinterpreted this quite correct editorial procedure as an admission by Erasmus that he “back translated” from the Latin in his published Greek Testament.
Erasmus’ words are as follows, first in Latin, then in translation (Wetstein, Prolegomena in Novum Testamentum, 1764, p. 331f., citing Erasmus “contra Leum §. 243” = Opera, ix, 1706, AD CCXLIII, col. 246):
“Quoniam Graecis nunquam magnopere placuit liber Apocalypseos, rarus habetur apud illos. Itaque quum cuperemus nihil abesse nostrae Editione, aegre extorsimus ab Inclyto viro Ioanne Capnione vestustissimum Codicem, Commentarium habentem in hoc opus. Ex eo contextus verba describenda curavimus. In calce vero scribarum incuria deerant haec: Et si quis diminuerit de verbis libri Prophetiae huius, auferet Deus partem eius de libro Vitae et de Civitate sancta, et de his, quae scripta sunt in isto libro. Sensimus autem scribam per eam occasionem errasse, quod quum bis ponatur in isto libro, ille ad posterius oculos deflexerit, relictis quae sunt in medio. Siquidem ad nullum lapidem frequentius impingunt librarii. Dubium non erat, quin essent omissa, et erant perpauca. Proinde nos, ne hiaret lacuna, ex nostris Latinis supplevimus Graeca, Quod ipsum tamen non noluimus latere lectorem, fassi in Annotationibus, quid a nobis esset factum, vt si quid dissiderent verba nostra ab his, quae posuisset autor huius operis, lector nactus exemplar restituerit.”
Translation: “Because the Book of Revelation never particularly suited the Greeks, it is rarely found among them. And so, since we were desirous that our Edition10 should be remiss in no respect, with considerable effort we extorted out of that Illustrious man John Capnio11 a very ancient codex, which contained a Commentary to this work. From that we could ensure the words that belong together were correctly transcribed. But at the end12 the following words were missing by a scribal error: ‘And if anyone shall take away from the words of the prophecy of this book, God shall take his part out of the book of Life and from the Holy City, and from those things which are written in this book.’ But our impression was that a scribe had made a mistake in that instance, since, as the words ‘in this book’ occur twice, his eyes passed involuntarily over to the latter occurrence, thus omitting the phrases in between. And indeed, book-writers make no mistake more frequently than this. There was no doubt these words had been omitted by error, and that their number was small. Therefore, to avoid a gap in the text, we made good the Greek from our Latin copies. But since we did not want this to escape the notice of the reader, we made mention of what we had done in the annotations, so that if our words differed in any way from those which the author of this work originally set down here, the reader once having procured a copy would be able to restore the original.”
Erasmus incidentally notices here “words that belong together” (contextus verba) could be discovered using the commentary in the Reuchlin manuscript. The interweaving of the Biblical text and the commentary has been imagined by Erasmus’ critics as a hindrance to the procurement of the true reading (as if words of the commentary could be, and were, mistaken for Biblical text by Erasmus), when, in fact, this was the reason he particularly valued it: for if, by some scribal error, the wording of the text of Revelation itself had become corrupt, the interwoven commentary would ensure, by its discursive description, what the original reading should have been. Erasmus shows us how he used it to his advantage in the passage of the Book of Revelation concerning the church of Ephesus (Rev. 2. 3). As reproduced in the Reuchlin codex, the text read ebaptisas, “thou hast baptized”, when the commentary in the same codex showed no reference to baptism. Hence Erasmus suspected, correctly, a scribal error, though he was not able to restore the correct reading in his first edition. In addition, as proven when Reuchlin’s codex was rediscovered by Delitzsch in the mid-nineteenth century, the commentary was ascribed in that codex to Hippolytus c. AD 200. That is why Erasmus valued it highly, as it could be presumed to reflect the exegesis of the pre-Nicene sub-Apostolic fathers of the school of St. John himself, the author of the Book of Revelation, Hippolytus being the disciple of Irenaeus, Irenaeus of Polycarp and Polycarp of St. John. Though the commentary was reworked by Andreas and Arethas in much later times, there seems to good reason to doubt its being, indeed, in its most basic and original form, the work of Hippolytus.
Wetstein went on to quote the other passage from Erasmus’ Apologia addressed to Lee (cited as “Antwerp 1520”) in which Erasmus talked about the same missing portion of the Greek text at the end of the Book of Revelation. This passage detailed how, when he was absent from Basle, and had only the text of Reuchlin available to him, Erasmus was still not able to supply the missing verse in the Greek, because Reuchlin’s text omitted several “verses” at the end of the Book of Revelation. He then sent a copy edited from Reuchlin’s Greek text to his editorial companions, in such a way that the Greek could be inserted in the proper place, and telling his editors that they should supply this missing Greek from the “Aldine edition”. Here Erasmus was referring to the Greek Testament being prepared at that time by the family and friends of the printer Aldus in Venice. This Aldine text was not published till 1518, one complete year and more after Erasmus’ first edition of 1516, but it had been in preparation for several years prior. It was based, in part, on manuscripts differing from those used by Erasmus. In this case, clearly, Erasmus had information that the Aldine edition contained the missing verse, and, indeed, in the 1518 Aldine edition, as eventually published, Revelation 22. 19 is identical to the wording in Erasmus’ first edition. In view of the speed with which Erasmus is known to have arranged for the printing of his first edition, it is probable the missing Greek reading was conveyed to Erasmus’ co-editors in Basle by letter from Venice. We now know where Erasmus obtained his Greek text for the single verse which was missing in his other Greek copies and which was absent (with a whole set of verses) in the Reuchlin codex because of the missing last page: Erasmus’ co-workers procured it from the Aldine Greek Testament in its unpublished form. There were accompanying annotations in the editorial process, telling the reader the Latin was a temporary expedient. This whole section was similarly misinterpreted by Wetstein, and in addition to presuming Erasmus “back translated” from the Latin in his first edition as published, he additionally, though less importantly, saw a contradiction between the “few words” of the single verse missing, according to the first quotation, and the several “verses” mentioned in the second, though Erasmus was talking about different episodes: the first related to the Greek codices (plural) referred to constantly by Erasmus, which omitted the single verse cited here, and the second to the unique Reuchlin codex, which omitted all the last few verses. Of course, the confusion existed only in Wetstein’s mind, and resulted from his swallowing the original lie that Erasmus had access to no more than a single manuscript.
Again Erasmus’ own words in Latin are followed by a translation (Wetstein ibid., p. 332, citing Erasmus’ Apologia ad Leum, Antwerp, 1520 [no page numbers]):
“In calce Apocalypsis in exemplari, quod tum nobis erat vnicum, nam is liber apud Graecos rarum est inuentu, deerat unus atque alter versus. Eos nos addidimus secuti Latinos codices. Et erant eiusmodi, vt ex his, quae praecesserant, possent reponi. Cum igitur Basileam mitterem recognitum exemplar, scripsi amicis, vt ex editione Aldina restituerent eum locum. Nam mihi nondum emtum erat hoc opus. Id ita, vt iussi, factum est.”
Translation: “At the end of the Book of Revelation, in the copy which on that occasion was the only one available to us (for that book is rarely found amongst the Greeks), more than one verse was missing. Those we added following the Latin codices. And it was done in such a way, that they could be restored to their rightful place following those that preceded. When therefore I sent off a revised copy to Basle, I wrote my companions that they should restore that passage from the Aldine edition. For that work was not yet in my possession. It was done precisely as I ordered.”
Erasmus refers in both these citations to the fact he supplied the gap initially from Latin codices, awaiting the procurement of the Aldine Greek text. These passages were written by way of reply to the unwarranted accusation of Lee, that Erasmus’ reference to “supplying” the missing words from “Latin” manuscripts in his Annotationes meant he was guilty of the very “back translating” he condemned. Erasmus thus clarified the very brief statement in the Annotationes. If any of his co-editors had mentioned the temporary Latin expedient, it could have been seized on unjustly by his enemies as evidence of “back translating”. By describing his editorial procedure minutely, Erasmus may have hoped to dispel any doubts arising from that ambiguity.
It should be said here Wetstein, like Bengel, had reasons of his own for questioning the authenticity of the text published by Erasmus. Wetstein held Socinian (“Arian”) beliefs, opposed to the doctrine of the divinity of Christ. These would naturally lead him to reject readings in the Received Text supportive of that same doctrine. According to Wetstein himself it was his visit to Bentley in England which inspired Bentley to reject Erasmus’ text in favor of a Vulgate-like text. Bentley’s theories met with stiff opposition in eighteenth-century England, and Wetstein fell into disfavor likewise on the Continent when his Socinian sympathies became known.
The following are quotations from Tregelles in the nineteenth century, showing how he seized on Bengel’s speculation, like Wetstein had done in the eighteenth, and turned it, in his case, into the prevailing text-critical myth, the very cornerstone of the nineteenth-century assault on the Textus Receptus, that Erasmus “back translated” from the Latin. (My emphases in italics.) Be it noted this is the same Tregelles who resisted vociferously Erasmus’ claim that Greek manuscripts had been emended deliberately to agree with the Latin. I quote (An Account of the Printed Text of the Greek New Testament, London, 1854, p. 21):
“For the Apocalypse he13 had but one mutilated MS., borrowed from Reuchlin, in which the text and commentary were intermixed almost unintelligibly. And thus he used here and there the Latin Vulgate for his guide, retranslating into Greek as well as he could. This was the case with regard to the last six verses, which from the mutilated condition of his MS. were wholly wanting.”
My comments: The total fallacy of these assertions has been demonstrated supra. Notice Tregelles in this instance does not cite Erasmus’ own Latin, as he does in the two cases infra, perhaps because Erasmus’ use of the plural “exemplaribus” (“copies”) in his very description of how he compared the readings in several Greek codices with the fuller Latin texts at the end of the Apocalypse, shows quite clearly, to any unbiased mind, he had more than Reuchlin’s Greek codex available to him. If that is the true reason for Tregelles’ failure to cite Erasmus verbatim, then he must be judged malicious, rather than merely ignorant, in his scathing attack. The improbability that Tregelles misunderstood the import of Erasmus’ Latin in the two cases infra referred to as “proof”, points inevitably in the same direction, though it is at odds with Tregelles’ habitual posture, which was that of a fervent defender of the inspired original text, as he imagined it, underlying our present copies. Tregelles’ tainted account has been adopted uncritically, in view of the reputation he enjoyed, even by scholars of a more conservative persuasion, who otherwise would be deemed supporters of the Textus Receptus.
To continue the quotation from Tregelles (ibid.): “In other places, also, he14 used the Latin Vulgate to supply what he supposed to be deficient in his MSS., in the same manner in which the Complutensian editors had done, only with greater frequency ….
(Ibid. p. 23:) “In proof that Erasmus at times used the Vulgate to amend his Greek MSS., where he thought them defective, we need only turn to his annotations for proof. Thus, Acts ix. 5, 6, we find in the annotations: “Durum est tibi.) In graecis codicibus id non additur hoc loco, cum mox sequatur, Surge; sed aliquanto inferius, cum narratur haec res.”15 And yet in his text there is the full passage, answering to the Latin,16 skleron soi pros kentra laktizein: tremon te kai thambon, eipen, kurie ti me theleis poiesai? kai o kurios pros auton, anastethi,17 instead of the simple reading alla anastethi.18”
My comments: Tregelles fails to translate Erasmus’ Latin, which he takes to be “proof” that Erasmus back translated from the Latin Vulgate, but the Latin means literally: “It is hard for thee) In the Greek book-form manuscripts that is not added, which follows presently, Arise; but it appears a little further on, when the narrative gets round to it.” What Erasmus is commenting on is the account of the conversion of Paul, or Saul, — as he was known at the time, — where Jesus appeared in a supernatural light, and said to Paul, “I am Jesus Whom you persecute. It is hard for you (Paul) to kick against the pricks. Trembling and amazed, he (Paul) said, Lord, what would You have me do? And the Lord said to him, Arise, and go into the city [Damascus] and it will be told you what you must do.” What Erasmus is saying is that the Greek book-form manuscripts he had access to did not have the phrase “Arise etc …” immediately following the phrase “I am Jesus Whom you persecute”, but a little later on, with intervening phrases, “It is hard for you … Trembling and amazed etc. …”, following the one and preceding the other. That is all. Erasmus, in other words, knew of texts which omitted the intervening phrases, and he is noting his Greek copies included them, and therefore he retained them. And that clearly is the true reading, because otherwise we would have a nonsensical juxtaposition: “I am Jesus whom you persecute. But Arise, go into the city, etc. ….”, so much as to say, “Yes you are persecuting me, but, never mind, Saul, go into Damascus and I shall tell you can do for me in future”! Tregelles turns Erasmus’ meaning completely around and, astonishingly, takes him to be saying that his Greek copies did not include the whole of the passage following the phrase “I am Jesus Whom you persecute”, namely, the combination of phrases “It is hard for you …. etc., through, Trembling and shaking etc., …” all the way to “Arise etc. …”, and that therefore he back translated the required Greek from the Latin Vulgate! The whole transaction is a fantasy. Actually, Erasmus makes no mention of Latin here in any context, and he may be referring to Greek texts, or texts in some other language, or quoted by ancient authors, which omitted the intervening phrases. That the Vulgate happened to coincide in this instance with the Greek texts of Erasmus is an irrelevance. Tregelles presumes, and it can be only because he wants to presume, Erasmus back translated.
Continuing the quotation from Tregelles (ibid.): “Again, on Acts viii. 37, the note is, “Dixit autem Philippus, Si credis &c.) et usque ad eum locum. Et jussit stare currum, non reperi in Graeco codice, quanquam arbitror omissum librariorum incuria. Nam et haec in quodam codice graeco asscripta reperi sed in margine.”19 And this verse, little as is its claim to be considered part of Holy Scripture, was inserted by Erasmus, as being supposed to have been incorrectly omitted in his MSS.; and from his edition, this and similar passages have been perpetuated, just as if they were undoubtedly genuine.”
My comments: Again Tregelles invents a “back translation” when Erasmus is talking about something else. Erasmus says this passage was omitted in “the Greek book-form manuscript” (singular) that is, the one he had been following principally up to that point (because it is known, and widely acknowledged, he had more than one for Acts), but he “also” found it written “at this place” (asscripta means literally “written at”, that is, as the context shows “written at this place”) in one book-form manuscript “in the margin”. His use of the word “also” at the beginning of the last sentence, shows he had “also” found it in at least one other Greek manuscript, and there in the body of the text. Tregelles’ fantasy dissolves in the face of what Erasmus actually says, but here, too, Tregelles fails to provide a translation of Erasmus’ Latin and the reader is left to presume he has fairly represented Erasmus’ sense. A casual reading of the Latin, along with Tregelles’ confident assertions, might give some credibility to his myth in the mind of a careless student, but since the two Latin passages supra alone are quoted as “proof” for Tregelles’ belittling of Erasmus’ remarkable achievement, the Latin should certainly have been examined more closely by the scholars, and in some cases, great scholars, who blindly followed Tregelles’ destructive criticism.
Tregelles rounds off his textual assassination of Erasmus by lavishly praising the Complutensian text produced by Cardinal Ximenes as a foil (ibid.): “In such cases, we repeatedly find the Complutensian editors, in spite of their reverence for the Vulgate, give the Greek as they found it in their copies; although from their mode of editing they must have been very well aware of the difference between it and the Latin by the side; where, in fact, they fill up the Greek column in such a manner as to make the variation conspicuous. In such places, if the Complutensian text had ever acquired a place in common use, the many who now uphold what they read, traditionally, just because they are accustomed to it, would have been as strenuous in repudiating words as spurious, as they now are in defending them as genuine.”
When Reuchlin’s codex was discovered by Delitzsch in the middle of the 19th century, one might have expected the conjectures built on the myth that this was Erasmus’ sole authority for the Apocalypse to be exposed for the fantasies they were. That was not to be. On the contrary, Delitzsch fell into the mold of the ax-wielding, Erasmus-bashing, anti-Textus-Receptus, pseudo-rationalist text-critic made fashionable by Tregelles. The two formed a kind of text-critical alliance, the sole purpose of which, so far as is evidenced by the meager information published immediately following the discovery, was to do down Erasmus’ use of Reuchlin’s codex. In view of its historical importance, a professional edition of the text is the least they might have provided, but a few cursory notes were all, in the event, that were offered to the public. In these, however, no opportunity was lost to take a swipe at Erasmus. Delitzsch’s obscurantism in his treatment of Erasmus’ editorial work is remarkable. It is reminiscent of Tregelles’ attitude, reflected in the citations given supra, though the tone has shifted from that of illustration and demonstration to that of confident assertion and undeniable fact. More than once Delitzsch contradicts the plain statements of Erasmus that he employed several copies (plural) of the Apocalypse, and insists he had only Reuchlin’s codex. Delitzsch’s treatment is found in Handschriftliche Funde, Heft 1, Leipzig 1861. He marks points of interest in the Reuchlin codex vis-à-vis Erasmus’ text. Straightaway, at Revelation 1. 2, Delitzsch quotes Erasmus’ comment that he found a small passage in the “Greek codices20” that was not in the Latin copies, yet he refuses to accept the statement on the face of it, since Erasmus, he assumes as a matter of course, “only had Reuchlin’s codex”. He therefore imagines Erasmus must be referring here, indirectly, to the Greek manuscripts used by Valla, whose commentary with notes was highly prized by Erasmus. Again, on Revelation 1. 7, Erasmus observes in his 1527 edition: “This is the reading in the Greek copies21 ‘kings and priests’.22 Also the Spanish copy had ‘kingdom’ for ‘kings’23”. On this very straightforward statement Delitzsch comments, without ado, “The Graeca exemplaria24 are simply the Reuchlin Codex”! Another blank refusal to accept Erasmus’ factual assertion that he used several Greek copies for the Apocalypse. Similarly, on Revelation 10. 2, Delitzsch remarks: “Biblaridion25 ‘Little book’ … In later editions of the Annotationes, Erasmus says, not so frankly as he was accustomed,26 ‘Certain27 had biblaridion.’” On this innocent assertion, Delitzsch makes the expected comment: “These quidam28 are simply the Reuchlin Codex”. The pontifications of Delitzsch quoted here are aside from the derogatory remarks scattered throughout on Erasmus’ methods and motives, and the wholly illusory aspersions further cast on him in the extensive notes to Revelation 22. 16ff., where he is imagined, of course, to have “back translated” from the Latin Vulgate. A less impartial and text-critically neutral tour-de-force it would be difficult to imagine.
1 Latin essentia = Greek hypostasis = “being”.
3 My emphasis.
6 My emphasis.
7 Viz. the Book of Revelation.
8 My emphasis.
9 My emphasis.
10 I.e. Erasmus’ first edition of the Greek text.
12 Of the Book of Revelation.
14 That is, Erasmus.
15 Erasmus’ Latin means literally: “It is hard for thee) In the Greek book-form manuscripts that is not added, which follows presently, Arise; but it appears a little further on, when the narrative gets round to it.”
16 The following italicized passages are in Greek script in Tregelles.
17 Which means: “[Jesus speaking] It is hard for you [Paul] to kick against the pricks. And trembling and amazed, he [Paul] said, Lord, what would You have me to do? And the Lord said to him, Arise.”
18 Which means “But arise”.
19 Erasmus’ Latin means: “Now Philip said, If you believe, etc.) and so forth to that place in the text ‘And he commanded the chariot to stand still’ I did not find in the Greek book-form manuscript, although I think it was omitted through a scribal slip. For I found this also written at this place in a certain Greek book-form manuscript, but in the margin.”
20 Plural, my emphasis.
21 Plural, my emphasis.
22 In Greek script.
23 In Greek script.
24 “Greek copies.”
25 In Greek script, instead of Bibliaridion, both meaning “little book”.
27 Latin quidam, in the plural number, viz. copies.
28 ‘Certain’ viz. copies.