Editorial note: This review has been revised in response to a comment by W. Willker and a response by T. Finney (see TC-list archives for 2002/01/28 and 2002/01/30). The original version is here. The revision narrows the scope of paragraph 4 from all manuscripts of the OLG to "European" manuscripts alone.

Philip Burton. The Old Latin Gospels: A Study of their Texts and Language. Oxford Early Christian Studies. Ed. Gillian Clark and Andrew Louth. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Pp. xi + 232. US $74.00. ISBN 0-19-826988-9

1. This book adds significantly to knowledge of the Old Latin Gospels (OLG). Burton, whose doctoral dissertation was concerned with the same, addresses three questions: "How did the OLG come into being? What are the techniques employed by their translators? How far can they be used as sources for the development of post-classical Latin?"1 The book is accordingly divided into three parts: the textual history of the OLG, aspects of translation, and the OLG as linguistic documents. There is also an appendix dealing with Jerome's translation technique for the Vulgate.

2. Immediately after stating his aims, Burton makes clear that the book is not directly concerned with patristic citations and that it does not seek to identify which Greek text types stand behind the Latin traditions. He then sets the stage for what follows, discussing general terminology ("the term [Itala] is best avoided"2), the distinction between Old Latin and Vulgate texts, modern editions, and the identification of Greek variants underlying Latin readings. For convenience, citations are taken from J´┐Żlicher, Matzkow, and Aland3 rather than separate editions of the manuscripts, provided that any variations between the manuscripts are immaterial to the point under discussion.

3. Following the introduction are a catalogue and bibliography of the Old Latin manuscripts. The catalogue summarizes current opinion on the texts, classifying them into the traditional "African" and "European" camps and the recognized subgroups. Instead of the unique numbers assigned by the Institut Vetus-Latina, Burton uses the conventional sigla (lowercase roman letters) to identify the manuscripts because they are widely recognized and there is no danger of ambiguity when dealing with the Gospels alone. The information contained in this chapter makes the book indispensable to anyone setting out to study the OLG. Even so, the best is yet to come.

4. Do the OLG stem from one or many translations? Concentrating his attention on the "European" manuscripts, Burton addresses this question by considering: (1) variations in the rendering of Greek terms within each Gospel, (2) variations in the rendering of Greek terms between Gospels, and (3) passages where the OLG agree on readings that are rarely, if ever, found among Greek witnesses. Much of the examination is based on tables of the following style:


where numerals represent Latin renderings of the Greek term under examination.4 Given that the Latin renderings are synonymous, one's suspicions are raised when virtually all of the "European" manuscripts change their tune at the same point, such as 6:23 in this excerpt. Burton presents a number of examples of this phenomenon for the synoptic Gospels. He concludes that "the cumulative force of these instances is too strong to be ignored; there are too many instances which without resorting to special pleading can only be explained as the result of a common heritage."5 It is interesting to see that the same does not hold for the Gospel of John, where an equally close examination points to two traditions.

5. The book now turns to the translation technique of those responsible for the OLG. Burton challenges stereotypical views that the translators had a poor knowledge of Latin. He grants that the descriptions "literal" and "vulgar" are not inaccurate, but counsels against attributing these tendencies to an insufficient command of the language. Characteristically, a strong methodology is applied to produce a solid foundation from which informed statements rather than conjecture may follow.

6. A linguistic analysis that ranges over contextual sensitivity; derived forms; rare, literary, and technical terms; correspondence in terms relating to number and size; semantic extensions; calques; and loan words is employed in considering the extent to which the OLG can be classed as a "literal" translation. Burton points to a number of places that show the translators knew Latin well. This granted, their preference for a literal translation technique can be understood in an entirely different light: the same tendency is frequently evident elsewhere in the history of the Christian text and need not imply that the translator is unfamiliar with the target language.

7. In the third part, Burton investigates whether the translation deserves "the other stock epithet of the OLG in the secondary literature, namely 'vulgar'".6 An analysis of lexis, morphology, and syntax is used to locate the language of the OLG relative to vulgar (i.e. sub-literary) Latin and late Latin. Another possible category, Christian Sondersprache, is considered as well. The results challenge uncritical characterizations of the OLG as a collection of vulgarisms.7

8. Finally, an appendix applies some of the same linguistic tools to examine Jerome's translation technique. Burton draws attention to instances where Jerome chose more literal renditions than the OLG and concludes by suggesting that assessments of translation technique should be based on a close comparison of the texts themselves rather than statements about supposed editorial policies. This continues a theme that runs from the beginning: examination of texts should precede judgments upon them.

9. I can find little to fault this book. The reasoning is sober and there are very few errors;8 however, J. K. Elliott's name is misspelled in the list of references. The entire book strikes me as exemplary. In the classical style of New Testament textual criticism, much of its argument stems directly from the Latin and Greek. There are a number of quotations in German, French, and Spanish, none of which is translated. A bibliography and indexes of subjects, Latin words, scriptural references, and ancient works cited complete this most useful study of the Old Latin Gospels.


1 P. Burton, The Old Latin Gospels (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) 3.

2 Ibid. 6.

3 A. Jülicher, Itala; das neue Testament in altlateinischer Überlieferung. I; das Matthäus-Evangelium (1972). II; das Markus-Evangelium (1970). III; das Lukas-Evangelium (1976). IV; das Johannes-Evangelium (1963). (2nd edn rev. by W. Matzkow and K. Aland; Berlin: De Gruyter, 1963-76).

4 This format of tabulation is very useful as the starting point for other kinds of analysis as well; however, the utility of Burton's tables is reduced by his use of an asterisk to represent a "lacuna or probable variant reading". It would be better to reserve the asterisk for lacunae and indeterminate readings alone, using numerals for the other variants.

5 Burton, Old Latin Gospels, 61.

6 Ibid. 151.

7 Ibid. 171.

8 The only typographical error I found was "not" for "nor" in footnote 12 on page 38.

Tim Finney

© TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 2001.