Tuesday, June 05, 2007

P. J. Williams Response to Perrin

Previous posts in this series:
In my review, I drew attention to some critical reviews of Nick Perrin's previous book, Thomas and Tatian, with which Perrin had not engaged in the current book. Perrin's response answered directly one of the reviews I had quoted from, by Peter Williams. I am grateful now to Peter Williams for the following response.

[Technical note: the response uses SPAtlantis (transliteration font) for the Syriac in Pete's comments, and the SP fonts for quotations from Nick's post (SPEdessa and SPAchmim). For some reason, SPAtlantis does not show up when I am viewing this post in Firefox but it does when I am viewing it in IE; but Firefox does show the other fonts. If you prefer, you can download this response as a PDF. Another good illustration of unicode being preferable, though I admit to ignorance about unicode Syriac fonts.]

Response to Nick Perrin

I am grateful that Nick has chosen to engage with my little review of his work in EJT.

I do indeed chide Perrin for arbitrariness in reconstruction and GT9-10 is a good example of this. We have two different Coptic words (pkah and pkosmos, normally rendered ‘earth’ and ‘world’ respectively), which most naturally are derived from two different Greek or Aramaic words. My point is that (lm) would be a more natural word to reconstruct behind Greek /Coptic kosmos in GT10. Even if the likelihood of )r() vs. (lm) were 50/50 (which it is not), Perrin would be choosing between possibilities in order to get a word play. He cites OS Luke 12:49a as proving his point and says ‘It seems to me rather hubristic – not to mention methodologically suspect – to try to improve on the word choice of the OS composer himself’. I am certainly not doing that. Rather, the OS supports my point: Greek ‘earth’ is rendered by Syriac ‘earth’, not by the word ‘world’. It is consistent with my position not his that speakers of Coptic, Greek and Syriac, and consequently translators between these languages, generally distinguished between the words ‘earth’ and ‘world’. However, I am open to the possibility that these words were sometimes interchanged if someone can adduce examples.
Before I leave off with Williams, we note that he is unhappy with my translating ptwma (body/flesh/corpse) with rSB (flesh): ‘similarly tendentious renderings from Coptic back to Syriac are 'corpse' rendered by 'flesh' (p. 106).’ The Coptic term has a wide range so there are other ways to go with the Syriac. But are there any Syriac options necessarily better than rSB (flesh)? Not in my mind.
I would reply that Coptic ptwma would most naturally represent Syriac sheladda (s6ld); cf. OS Matthew 14:12); or failing that pagra (pgr); cf. OS Matthew 24:28). ‘Corpse’ and ‘flesh’ are not the same thing.
NP: ‘A number of scholars, for example, feel that there is a Hebrew or Aramaic wordplay going on behind Matt. 7:6. Perhaps you feel – because there is no way of eliminating experimental bias in discerning semitic puns there – that such arguments are a priori unsustainable? I am not so prepared to send the likes of Dalman and Black packing.’
One of the problems for those who reconstruct Aramaic behind Greek (and other) texts is that they have relatively few ways of demonstrating Aramaic. Alleged word play and mistranslation are two of the most common. Thus, of necessity, they reconstruct a punning Jesus, and mistranslating evangelists. Even while we acknowledge success in their arguments, we also acknowledge that, given their mission, it would have been hard for them to have reached any other conclusion.
NP: ‘Finally, while there are errors in the book (I am painfully aware), and while I am not the Aramaicist that Williams is, and confess to my error of adding a y to )Ns (p. 105). One example does not constitute ‘scores of errors.’ Even if Jesus felt that one yod was of crucial importance (Matt. 5:18), Williams is going to need more than a misplaced yod to overturn my argument. (For the record, I had two Syriacists diligently serving on my dissertation committee – one being a leading Aramaicist / Syriacist – and they both expressed general satisfaction with the technical aspects of my argument, at least as far as the Syriac went.)’
I cannot comment on the committee’s competence in Aramaic, nor have I seen the thesis that they saw. I have only seen the published version. If you want an example of errors we could just focus on three pages from pp. 65 to 67, which deal with GT9-12.

p. 65.

1) )rmywn – delete n
2) b(wr) – I presume that b)r() was meant
3) fn. 37: beth lacks ligature with alaph

p. 66

4) )rmt wrongly written for )rmyt
5) b)r() used when b(lm) would be more natural
6) fn. 38 nuhra and nura described as ‘homophonous’

p. 67

7) First three Syriac words lack ligatures
8) zdyq should be in the emphatic state
9) fn. 40: ‘It is of added interest that in Syriac the phrase “from us” (… man) would hardly be distinguishable from the following vocable “who?” (… man). Thus the Syriac text would exhibit anadiplosis (the rhetorical device of beginning a sentence with the same sound that completed the previous sentence).’ Unfortunately ‘from us’ in Syriac is menan not man, which rather spoils things.

Points 5) and 9) are the only ones that significantly affect the argument. Now I am prepared to admit that it may be that my snobbery prevents me from seeing some of the better arguments in Perrin’s work since I am put off by the fact that most pages of his section on catchwords contain technical errors. However, Perrin does need to clean the presentation up, remove a number of spurious arguments and then present us with what remains. If he does not like my choice of pp. 65-67 and feels that I have not done him justice, perhaps he could suggest some other pages which he believes contain fewer errors.

P.J. Williams


Stephen C. Carlson said...

Thanks, Peter for this. I am grateful for your taking the time to go over Perrin's case in detail with particular attention to the Syriac.

That said, I'm not sure how point (5), Perrin's choice of b)r() instead of b(lm), "significantly affects the argument," however. Perrin, p. 65-66, also identifies a catchword connection in the Greek between ἐν τῇ γῇ and ἐπὶ τὸν κόσμον (and similarly for the Coptic). Using your admittedly superior choice of rendering for the Syriac merely puts it on par with the corresponding Greek in terms of counting catchwords. (For this reason, I would drop the example from Perrin's recapitulation of his findings on p. 160, on the other hand.)

Perhaps Perrin is wrong to make the connection for all three languages here. However, if the charge is true "[t]he author is thus selecting the words used in his retroversion in order to create catchwords," I don't think that this particular example is the best illustration of the criticism. There would still be a catchword connection on your retroversion.

This is not to say that Perrin did not err in other places. Your (9) may identify an instance where the Syriac catchword count is inflated by one (though supererogatory for the catchword hypothesis as there is another, trilingual, catchword connection between Thom 12 and 13). In addition, Joosten's review identifies some Syriac ghost words (e.g. p. 68, no. 50, n. 44), which I'd like to see more discussion about.

P J Williams said...

Stephen, thanks for your comment. I suppose that one might link 'earth' (GT9) with 'world' (GT10) by talking of 'catch concepts' rather than 'catchwords'. However, a catch concept would work with either a Greek or a Syriac Vorlage for Thomas.

The catchword between GT12 and GT13 may exist (as in the book of Proverbs there are catchwords in some places, but not in every place). However, here I have problem with the rendering rbn 'our great one' for Coptic nokj ehrai etjon 'great over us'.

I suppose I should admit that I still do not regard it as known that there ever was a Syriac/Aramaic Vorlage to Thomas and offer to attempt to knock down (or at least provide an alternative explanation for) the best example that anyone can find of a reading that requires an Aramaic Vorlage. I don't have time to do this for 10 examples, so it will have to be first come, first served, if anyone wants to take me up on the offer.

C. Lambeth said...

Dr. Goodacre,
You may not want to post this comment since it does not add to the conversation, but I noticed that the link titled, "Nick Perrin Responds," that is embedded in your October 5, 2007 entry, "PJ Williams Responds to Perrin" is no longer functioning. Would you please fix this link or add a new one that connects with the appropriate page(s)? Thank you so much.

-Corbin Lambeth

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Corbin. I've updated those links. In the old days, this blog was an extension of the NT Gateway, but I loosed it off a few years ago, and while the forwards worked for a while, they seem to have conked out again.