Some Book Notes

So I was poking around on Google books today and found two gems that might be of interest to those of you out there who are text-critically minded.

The first is entitled A Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament by Frederick Henry Scrivener. It contains a collation of the Complutensian Polyglot’s NT Greek text against Elzevir’s Textus Receptus of 1624. Handy. Somebody needs to digitize that.

The second is Tischendorf’s Origin of the Four Gospels. I have no idea if the book is any good, but the translator’s preface contains a brief biographical note about Tischendorf that I think I’ll quote here at length:

It was a pleasant, sunny morning in May of last year, when I called at the modest house in Leipzig where the world-renowned Professor Tischendorf makes his home. It lies in a quiet, pleasant part of the city, away from its narrow streets, with their tall, grim, gaunt, gray buildings, some of them centuries old, away from the quaint churches, the castellated and fantastic Rath Haus, or City Hall, as we should call it, away from the places which Bach, and Mendelssohn, and Goethe, and Dr. Faustus used to frequent, and in the new and cheerful streets of the New Town. For Leipzig grows like an American city; its ancient limits no longer hold it in, but it is shooting away into the country on all sides, and turning the battle-field where Napolean received his first great shock, into densely-built streets and squares. One would almost think that a paleographist like Tischendorf, a man whose life-work is the exhuming of lost and buries manuscripts and the making out of their contents, would choose for his home one of those old, weather-beaten, gaunt houses in the heart of the city; but when I saw the man, I could detect at a glance that it was not his nature to choose anything less free, pleasant, and cheery than those suburban streets, and their modern, sunny houses.

I did not venture to call upon this eminent man for the mere gratification of a natural curiosity, but for the purpose of ascertaining one or two facts which I needed for a note to Ritter’s work on the Holy Land, which I was then editing and translating. As Ritter had been a near and valued friend of Tischendorf, it was a matter of great satisfaction to the latter that an American had proposed to give to the people of England and the United States a version of the works of that great and excellent man; and no welcome could be more cordial than Tischendorf extended. He is by no means the old, smoke-dried, bad-mannered, garrulous, ill-dressed, and offensively dirty man, who often answers in Germany to the title of Professor. On the contrary, Tischendorf is a man looking young and florid, though probably hard upon sixty. I have seen many a man of forty whose face is more worn, and whose air is older, than that of this greatest of German scholars. Nor has he at all that shyness which a life in the study is almost sure to engender; he is free, open, genial, and has the manner of a gentleman who has traveled largely, and who is thoroughly familiar with society. And if there is more than a tinge of vanity in his talk, if he does not weary of speaking of his own works, his own exploits, his own hopes and purposes and successes, we only feel that he can not praise himself more than the world is glad to praise him, and that all the eulogies which he passes upon himself are no more hearty than those which all the great scholars of the age have lavished upon him.

Tischendorf, like all really great men, is as approachable as a child, and is not obliged to confine his conversation to learned subjects. He does not speak English at all, but will give his English or American visitor the choice of five languages, -- Greek, Latin, Italian, French, and German. In all of these he is at home, speaking the first four not in any stiff, pedantic way, but with grace and fluency. Yet he loves best his mother tongue, of course. In talking, his countenance lights up pleasantly, his style becomes sprightly, his action vivacious, he jumps up, runs across the room to fetch a book or document or curiosity, enters into his guest’s affairs, speaks warmly of friends, and evidently enjoys with great zest his foreign reputation. Of two Americans he spoke with great warmth, -- Prof. H. B. Smith of New York, and Prof. Day of New Haven. His relations with the great English scholars and divines are very intimate; and archbishops and deans and civil dignitaries of the highest rank are proud to enjoy the friendship of this great and genial German scholar.

Tischendorf gave me with his own lips the account, which in its printed form is so well known, of his discovery of the ancient Sinaitic Bible. He told me of his three separate journeys to the convent at the foot of Mount Sinai in search of ancient manuscripts; of the bringing to light, at his first visit, of large fragments of the Bible as well as of valuable apocryphal documents; of his discovery in 1853, at his second visit, of only eleven additional lines from the book of Genesis; of the obstacles in his way, the great liberality of the Russian government, the help afforded him by eminent princes, and the success which finally attended him, when, in the autumn of 1859, he was able to return from Cairo to St. Petersburg and lay the original manuscript of the Sinaitic Bible in the hands of the Emporer of Russia. It is one of the oldest written documents extant; dating back to the fourth century, about the time of the first Christian Emporer. No wonder that the night on which Tischendorf made this great discovery he was unable to sleep for joy, and danced in his room for very excitement.

Have any of my readers ever read Freytag’s masterly romance entitled "The Lost Manuscript"? It seems to me that he has embodied in this work, which is one of the finest products of German genius, very much of the feeling which such men as Tischendorf experience in pursuing such investigations, and in coming to such results as this. But more momentous by far in its relations to the human race is the search for an ancient Bible than for a lost Tacitus; the one the record of a nation’s decline and ruin, the other the promise of a world’s restoration!

During our interview, Prof. Tischendorf told me that he was then re-writing his work "When were our Gospels written?" making it a book for scholars instead of for popular readers, and enlarging it to three times its original size. He believed that both works were needed, in England and America no less than in Germany, and suggested to me to undertake the translation of the larger work. I promised to do so at my earliest leisure, and the result is now before the public. The name of the work I have ventured to change. In the German it bears the same title with the smaller sketch, "When were out Gospels written?" but fearing lest some should suppose that the two books are almost identical, merely different issues of the same work, it seemed no violence to give the treatise the name "Origin of the Four Gospels." The learned author has not succeeded in throwing his materials together in a way to attract hasty readers; his style is in this work rather heavy, hard, and disjointed; but great, invaluable facts are there; and there is no lack of a clear, well-poised, thoroughly guarded critical judgment, sound faith, and earnest purpose. If our Christian public at large have reason to be grateful for the publication of the little work of Tischendorf, our clergymen, theological students, and professors have no less cause to thank the great Leipzig scholar for furnishing them with this armory of bright, keen weapons to be employed in the overthrow of unbelief.

Tischendorf was an interesting fellow, perhaps the greatest textual critic of all time. If not, he’s definitely at the top of the list. Hope you enjoyed it.