The Editio Critica Maior (ECM)
Today more than 5500 manuscripts of the Greek New Testament are known. Between them, they contain a great number of textual variations. We cannot expect to find the “original text” of a New Testament writing in any one manuscript.
All known manuscripts have been recorded and catalogued by the INTF which owns microfilms or photos of more than 90% of them. A digitisation of the holdings and new digital colour images of the most important texts are due to follow. Even if new manuscripts still continue to be found the work of collecting the material has essentially been accomplished, primarily in the course of the manuscript research travels of the INTF staff.
First of all a test passage sampling programme was implemented. It discarded the homogeneous texts that form the bulk of the tradition of the High Middle Ages, as is well known. The results were documented in the series “Text und Textwert”. After discarding these texts, the material that is of relevance for the textual history primarily of the first millennium is now available: Apart from the manuscripts of this period it also encompasses those numerous later ones that reflect older textual history. The actual editing process could begin.
Expanding the textual basis
Since only few manuscripts from Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages have survived, it is indispensable to include additional sources. Therefore, the quotations from the New Testament by Christian authors of the period and the old translations of the text especially into Latin, Coptic, and Syriac have to be consulted. For the Coptic and Syriac tradition the INTF even has to carry out fundamental research without which the Editio Critica Maior would not be possible.
Complete analysis of relevant material
In a continuing process, each of the great number of remaining manuscripts relevant for the textual history are subjected to a complete textual comparison (full collation). The results are entered into databases, thus enabling, for the first time, the computer based analysis of the entire material. In this process, the extraction of genealogical data is of special importance because they shed light on the textual history and in particular its beginnings. Thus, the specific problems of the given textual tradition emerge clearly.
The particular difficulty and a new methodological approach
Apart from fragments with only small amounts of text not two of the manuscripts contain an identical text. At the end of the textual history a text form was dominant which is indeed transmitted in manuscripts with relatively few variants; yet, the further one goes back in the textual history, the more the texts differ from each other. Among the oldest strata of a textual tradition, in particular, the differences are quite considerable.
In addition to the substantial variations of the texts there is the problem that they are highly contaminated, i.e. the scribes have always incorporated readings which were not part of their master copy, but which they knew from other manuscripts. This complicates the genealogical analysis radically. Conventional methods are inadequate in dealing with contaminated traditions. Therefore a new method (Coherence-Based Genealogical Method) had to be developed by means of which genealogical connections can be detected even in extensive contaminated material.
It can be expected that the knowledge of the entire material and a method adequate to the scope and status of the material will lead to a new notion of the textual history, better than the previous ones which were based on a more limited knowledge of the sources. The 'initial text' of the tradition, so important for exegesis, must then be reconstructed again accordingly. Even where this process does not lead to a change of the established text, the justification for the reconstructed text will differ markedly from conventional argumentations, resorting primarily to the survey of the entire textual tradition. The analyses carried out recently on the Catholic Letters have demonstrated this very clearly.
Publication of the Editio Critica Maior (ECM)
While the evidence from the Coptic and Syriac traditions is compiled in sub-projects of the ECM at Münster, the INTF will utilize the skills of external competent researchers within other parts of the ECM. The documentation of the Old Latin tradition in the Acts volume of ECM, for instance, will make use of results achieved by the research project "New Testament textual research - The Old Latin Actus Apostolorum", directed by Wilhelm Blümer in Mainz.