KARL LACHMANN [1793-1851]: How Was He a Foundational Contributor to New Testament Textual Studies?

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Karl Konrad Friedrich Wilhelm Lachmann (German: [ˈlaxman]; 1793 –1851) was a German philologist and textual scholar. He is particularly noted for his foundational contributions to the field of New Testament Textual Studies. In 1831, he published at Berlin his edition of the Greek text overthrowing the Textus Receptus. Ezra Abbot says of Lachmann, “He was the first to found a text wholly on ancient evidence; and his editions, to which his eminent reputation as a critic gave wide currency, especially in Germany, did much toward breaking down the superstitious reverence for the Textus Receptus.” (Schaff, Companion to the Greek Testament, 1883, 256-7)

Karl Lachmann was the first scholar fully to get out from under the influence of the Textus Receptus. He was a professor of ancient classical languages at Berlin University. In 1831, he published his edition of the Greek New Testament without any regard to the Textus Receptus. As Samuel MacAuley Jackson expressed it: Lachmann “was the first to found a text wholly on ancient evidence; and his editions, to which his eminent reputation as a critic gave wide currency, especially in Germany, did much toward breaking down the superstitious reverence for the textus receptus.”  Bruce Metzger had harsh words for the era of the Textus Receptus as well:

So superstitious has been the reverence accorded the Textus Receptus that in some cases attempts to criticize it or emend it have been regarded as akin to sacrilege. Yet its textual basis is essentially a handful of late and haphazardly collected minuscule manuscripts, and in a dozen passages its reading is supported by no known Greek witnesses. (Metzger and D 1964, 1968, 1992. 2006, 106)

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Subsequent to Lachmann came Friedrich Constantine von Tischendorf (1815-74), best known for his discovery of the famed fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus manuscript, the only Greek uncial manuscript containing the complete Greek New Testament. Tischendorf went further than any other textual scholar to edit and made accessible the evidence contained in leading as well as less important uncial manuscripts. Throughout the time that Tischendorf was making his valuable contributions to the field of textual criticism in Germany, another great scholar, Samuel Prideaux Tregelles (1813-75) in England made other valued contributions. Among them, he was able to establish his concept of “Comparative Criticism.” That is, the age of a text, such as Vaticanus 1209, may not necessarily be that of its manuscript (i.e. the material upon which the text was written), which was copied in 350 C.E., since the text may be a faithful copy of an earlier text, like the second-century P75. Both Tischendorf and Tregelles were determined defenders of divine inspiration of the Scriptures, which likely had much to do with the productivity of their labors. If you take an opportunity to read about the lengths to which Tischendorf went in his discovery of Codex Sinaiticus, you will be moved by his steadfastness and love for God’s Word.

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After two and a half centuries, in 1831 a German classical philologist and critic, Karl Lachmann, had the courage to publish an edition of the New Testament text he prepared from his examination of the manuscripts and variants, determining on a case-by-case basis what he believed the original reading was, never beholding to the Textus Receptus. However, he did not include his textual rules and principles in his critical text. He simple stated that these principles could be found in a theological journal. “Karl Lachmann, a classical philologist, produced a fresh text (in 1831) that presented the Greek New Testament of the fourth century.”[1]

The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible sums up Lachmann’s six textual criteria as follows:

  • Nothing is better attested than that in which all authorities agree.
  • The agreement has less weight if part of the authorities are silent or in any way defective.
  • The evidence for a reading, when it is that of witnesses of different regions, is greater than that of witnesses of some particular place, differing either from negligence or from set purpose.
  • The testimonies are to be regarded as doubtfully balanced when witnesses from widely separated regions stand opposed to others equally wide apart.
  • Readings are uncertain which occur habitually in different forms in different regions.
  • Readings are of weak authority which are not universally attested in the same region.[2]
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It was not Lachmann’s intention to restore the text of the New Testament back to the original, as he believed this to be impossible. Rather, his intention was to offer a text based solely on documentary evidence, setting aside any text that had been published prior to his, producing a text from the fourth century. Lachmann used no minuscule manuscripts, but instead, he based his text on the Alexandrian text-type, as well as the agreement of the Western authorities, namely, the Old Latin and Greek Western Uncials if the oldest Alexandrian authorities differed. He also used the testimonies of Irenaeus, Origen, Cyprian, Hilary, and Lucifer. As A. T. Robertson put it, Lachman wanted “to get away from the tyranny of the Textus Receptus.” Lachmann was correct in that he could not get back to the original, at least for the whole of the NT text, as he simply did not have the textual evidence that we have today, or even what Westcott and Hort had in 1881. Codex Sinaiticus had yet to be discovered, and Codex Vaticanus had yet to be photographed and edited. Moreover, he did not have the papyri that we have today.

Biography

Lachmann was born in Brunswick, in present-day Lower Saxony. He studied at Leipzig and Göttingen, devoting himself mainly to philological studies. In Göttingen, he founded a critical and philological society in 1811, in conjunction with Dissen, Schulze, and Bunsen.[3] In 1815, he joined the Prussian army as a volunteer chasseur and accompanied his detachment to Paris, but did not see active service. In 1816, he became an assistant master in the Friedrichswerder gymnasium at Berlin, and a Privatdozent at the university. The same summer he became one of the principal masters in the Friedrichs-Gymnasium of Königsberg, where he assisted his colleague, the Germanist Friedrich Karl Köpke, with his edition of Rudolf von Ems’ Barlaam und Josaphat (1818), and also assisted his friend in a contemplated edition of the works of Walther von der Vogelweide.

In January 1818, he became professor extraordinarius of classical philology in the University of Königsberg, and at the same time began to lecture on Old German grammar and the Middle High German poets. He devoted himself during the following seven years to an extraordinarily detailed study of those subjects, and in 1824, obtained a leave of absence in order to search the libraries of middle and south Germany for further materials.

In 1825, Lachmann was nominated extraordinary professor of classical and German philology at the Humboldt University, Berlin (ordinary professor 1827); in 1830, he was admitted a member of the Academy of Sciences. He died in Berlin.

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Importance In Scholarship

Lachmann is a figure of considerable importance in the history of German philology.[4]

Early in his career, Lachmann translated the first volume of P.E. Müller’s Sagabibliothek des skandinavischen Altertums (1816). In his “Habilitationsschrift” über die ursprungliche Gestalt des Gedichts von der Nibelungen Noth (1816), and in his review of Hagen’s Nibelungen and Benecke’s Bonerius, contributed in 1817 to the Jenaische Literaturzeitung, he had already laid down the rules of textual criticism and elucidated the phonetic and metrical principles of Middle High German in a manner which marked a distinct advance in that branch of investigation.

The rigidly scientific character of his method becomes increasingly apparent in the Auswahl aus den hochdeutschen Dichtern des dreizehnten Jahrhunderts (1820); in the edition of Hartmann’s Iwein (1827); in those of Walther von der Vogelweide (1827) and Wolfram von Eschenbach (1833); in the papers “Über das Hildebrandslied,” “Über althochdeutsche Betonung und Verskunst,” “Über den Eingang des Parzivals,” and “Über drei Bruchstücke niederrheinischer Gedichte” published in the Abhandlungen of the Berlin Academy; and in Der Nibelunge Not und die Klage (1826), which was followed by a critical commentary in 1836.

APOSTOLIC FATHERS APOSTOLIC FATHERS APOSTOLIC FATHERS

Lachmann’s Betrachtungen über Homer’s Iliad, first published in the Abhandlungen of the Berlin Academy in 1837 and 1841, in which he sought to show that the Iliad consists of eighteen independent “layers” variously enlarged and interpolated, had considerable influence on 19th century Homeric scholarship, although his views are no longer accepted.

His smaller edition of the New Testament appeared in 1831, the 3rd edition in 1846, and the larger second edition, in two volumes, between 1842 and 1850. The plan of Lachmann’s edition, which he explained in his Studia Krit. of 1830, is a modification of the unaccomplished project of Richard Bentley. Lachmann was the first major editor to break from the Textus Receptus, seeking to restore the most ancient reading current in manuscripts of the Alexandrian text-type, using the agreement of the Western authorities (Old Latin and Greek Western Uncials) as the main proof of antiquity of a reading where the oldest Alexandrian authorities differ.

APOSTOLIC FATHERS Lightfoot APOSTOLIC FATHERS Lightfoot APOSTOLIC FATHERS Lightfoot

Lachmann’s edition of Lucretius (1850), which was the principal occupation of his life from 1845, is perhaps his greatest achievement of scholarship. He demonstrated how the three main manuscripts all derived from one archetype, containing 302 pages of 26 lines to a page. Further, he was able to show that this archetype was a copy of a manuscript written in a minuscule hand, which was in turn a copy of a manuscript of the 4th or 5th centuries written in rustic capitals. To say his recreation of the text was accepted is anticlimactic; HAJ Munro characterized this accomplishment as “a work which will be a landmark for scholars as long as the Latin language continues to be studied.” Lachmann also edited Propertius (1816); Catullus (1829); Tibullus (1829); Genesius (1834); Terentianus Maurus (1836); Babrius (1845); Avianus (1845); Gaius (1841–1842); the Agrimensores Romani (1848–1852); and Lucilius (edited after his death by Vahlen, 1876). He also translated Shakespeare’s sonnets (1820) and Macbeth (1829).

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[1] (P. Comfort, Encountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography and Textual Criticism 2005, 294)

[2] Biographies of Textual Critics – SkyPoint,

http://www.skypoint.com/members/waltzmn/Bios.html (accessed June 10, 2016).

[3] Ripley, George; Dana, Charles A., eds. (1879). “Lachmann, Karl” . The American Cyclopædia.

Wilhelm Scherer (1883), “Lachmann, Karl”, Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB) (in German), 17, Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, pp. 471–481

[4] See Rudolf von Raumer, Geschichte der germanischen Philologie, 1870.

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