Williams, P. J. Early Syriac Translation Technique and the Textual Criticism of the Greek Gospels. Texts and Studies. Third Series. Vol. 2. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias, 2004. Pp. ix + 339. ISBN 1-59333-096-0. US $65.
1. In this monograph, which stands as entry two in the third series of Texts and Studies, edited by D. C. Parker and D. G. K. Taylor, P. J. Williams provides a thorough analysis of early Syriac translation technique and its importance for the textual criticism of the Greek Gospels. Williams' thesis is that the critical editions of the New Testament are far too confident in their citations of Syriac witnesses (Old Syriac and Peshitta) for textual variants occurring in the Greek Gospels. When Syriac translation technique is taken into consideration, it becomes clear that the Syriac evidence for Greek variants is frequently far more ambiguous than is usually assumed. Thus, Williams argues that Syriac witnesses need to disappear from critical editions in many places where it cannot be established with certainty whether or not a Syriac reading really attests a specific Greek variant.
2. To support his thesis, Williams provides, over the course of six chapters, an in-depth analysis of Syriac translation technique. He considers the use of proper nouns, common nouns, and pronouns (chapter 2), articles and particles (chapter 3), issues of nominal and verbal agreement along with interchange of active and passive tenses (chapter 4), issues of word order (chapter 5), words for speech (chapter 6), and a few miscellaneous issues (chapter 7). In chapter 8, Williams sets out his conclusions and finishes with three appendices. Appendix 1 outlines brief rules for the use of Syriac in New Testament textual criticism. Appendix 2 provides a list of suggested emendations to the apparatus of NA27. Appendix 3 highlights some agreements between Syriac witnesses and Codex Bezae for which a non-genetic relationship might be possible. Here Williams asserts that agreements between Syriac texts and Codex Bezae may not always be the result of the Syriac following a Greek text like Bezae. Rather, such agreements may be the result of Syriac translation technique. This argument, of course, has the effect of reducing the amount of textual evidence usually presented to establish the link between Codex Bezae and the Syriac tradition, a potentially important result. Finally, the volume concludes with a brief bibliography and indices.
3. Williams has produced a volume of detailed research that appears successfully to defend his thesis. When we look more closely at recurring patterns of translation style in early Syriac witnesses, it is easy to see that the agreement of a Syriac witness with a particular variant occurring in a Greek manuscript may in many places be due to Syriac translation style and does not presuppose a Greek Vorlage behind the Syriac in agreement with the other Greek manuscript witnesses. Of course, this does not mean that Syriac translation technique will always be the explanation, but Williams, while admitting this, prefers to err on the side of caution. Undoubtedly, many of Williams' recommendations for emendation of the apparatus of NA27 are valid, based on the analysis he provides.
4. A larger question centers on the audience for this book. Williams has effectively demonstrated that when it comes to relatively minor variants in Greek like addition or deletion of the definite article, differences in word order, and use of active or passive tense, the Syriac Gospels may not be reliable witnesses in support of a Greek reading. And for those scholars who work to recreate the actual wording of the original Greek text of the Gospels, Williams' monograph will be a very useful tool for evaluating the Syriac evidence found in the apparatus of critical editions of the New Testament. Even Williams admits that the importance of his work can be seen as "granting further grounds for decreasing stress on some versional witnesses for establishing certain specific types of minutiae of the wording of the original text" (287). Yet, he continues, "The versions remain as vital as ever for many larger variants, and naturally where they give unambiguous testimony about more minor variants they should be used as they always have been" (287). So, by Williams' own admission, his work will likely have relevance to only that very small cadre of textual critics whose chief concern is with the verbatim reconstruction of the original Greek Gospels, a cadre that appears to be getting smaller all the time as textual criticism's emphasis shifts more in the direction of viewing textual data as evidence for the dynamic nature of the text of the New Testament and not primarily as data for the reconstruction of a hypothetical original text.
5. Williams' monograph is well researched, clearly presented, and convincing in its major argument. But given the way the discipline of New Testament textual criticism is evolving, the relevance of this monograph for the majority of textual critics remains open to question.
Robert F. Shedinger Assistant Professor of Religion Luther College