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The Future of Electronic Synopses

I have been making frequent use of Gospel synopses lately, and looking at the different electronic versions available. Most Bible software packages include a number of them, with the added plus that one can view the biblical texts in different versions and even languages. This is very convenient and highly flexible. However, with the release of the long-waited critical apparatus found in Nestle-Aland's 27th edition of the Novum Testamentum Graece later this year (see more info here), a whole new set of possibilities opens up.

Mark Goodacre, on page 101 of his book The Synoptic Problem. A Way Through the Maze. London-New York: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001, writes the following:

Perhaps, one day, someone will invent an electronic synopsis that enables one to view not just critical texts of Matthew, Mark and Luke in parallel but also different texts of each of the Gospel, layered on top of one another.

That day may be closer than we think. Mark's words appear in the context of the relevance of Markan Priority for text-critical studies of the Synoptic Gospels, and he mentions specifically one example, found in Mark 1:41 (the story of the Leper), where Codex Bezae (D) shows a most striking reading. Now, as critical apparatuses become available in electronic format, I hope we'll be able to take advantage of that fact and go at least one or two steps further. Ideally, I'd like to be able to reconstruct each one of the main witnesses (uncials, papyri and so on), and display them in parallel columns. This would be extremely useful for text-critical issues (of which, I must say, I'm very fond of). In other words, one should be able to search for all the variant readings of any of the witnesses consistently cited in the Gospels, say B (03), for example, and build a whole B - Vaticanus - column alongside the standard critical text, Textus Receptus, Alexandrinus or whatever. These readings would have to be inserted at the appropriate point in the text, while the rest would read the same as the base text. This would match exactly the table that appears after Mark Goodacre's quote above (in Greek, of course!) What I am envisioning here in abstract terms (i.e., with no reference to any future incarnation of the critical apparatus) may require a little extra tagging and some programming, but it would be a fantastic tool. For years, we were all eager to have digital apparatuses, but not just for the sake of reading them on-screen (which is okay, but not enough, IMO). We wanted to do things with it that we cannot currently do at all (or which would require an inordinate amount of time and effort). It seems to me that electronic-based resources must have some added-value features over its printed counterparts, and thus change the way we approach our study and exegesis of the texts.

I hope Bible software companies who happen to license the apparatus will think about some creative ways to work with it along these lines. I'm not hundred percent sure what Mark was hinting at in his book back in 2001 is the same I've tried to explain now briefly, but it surely sounds very similar to me. So, that would make two of us! Anyone else?>


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