I think I first came to see precisely why textual criticism could be so important my first semester in my PhD program, during a seminar I was taking that had almost nothing to do with the study of the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. It was an “exegesis” course (i.e. focused on interpretation) on the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke – studied, of course, in the Greek). My realization of the importance of text-critical issues was not even connected to my own research. It had to do with what a friend and colleague of mine had discovered.
For that seminar we had to make a class-presentation of our study of a passage in the Synoptics. My fellow-first-year student Mark Plunkett (who later went on to teach at Ohio Northern University before deciding to scrap the academic thing and become a gynecologist) (really!) was devoting his term paper to the prayer of Jesus before his arrest as found in the Gospel of Luke.
As many readers of this blog know, Luke had as one of his sources for his account of the life and death of Jesus the Gospel of Mark. It is very interesting, and highly enlightening (I then learned and have since emphasized repeatedly) to compare Luke with Mark in order to see how he changed his source in a story he took from him. This is called “redaction criticism,” the study of how a redactor (= editor) changed the text he was copying in producing his own account.
In Mark’s version of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (14:32-42), after his Last Supper and before the betrayal of Judas, we are told that Jesus was deeply troubled and distressed. Oddly enough, even though Luke got his story from Mark, he does not…
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