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Review of The Latin New Testament

H.A.G. Houghton. The Latin New Testament: A Guide to its Early History, Texts, and Manuscripts. Oxford: Oxford, 2016. xx + 366 pp. + 16 images. Hb. £25.

H.A.G. Houghton is Reader in New Testament Textual Scholarship at the University of Birmingham, where he is also Deputy Director of the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing. The University of Birmingham is at present one of — if not the — most important center for the textual criticism of the Bible in the United Kingdom. This establishes Houghton as one of the most experienced and authoritative voices on the subject with which this book is concerned.

As the back cover points out, “Latin is the language in which the New Testament was copied, read, and studied for over a millennium.” As such, looking at these manuscripts is important not only for their textual and ecclesial significance, but because of the insight they provide into how early translators understood the biblical texts as well as into early book technologies and transmission.

However, despite the importance of these texts, Houghton points out in his preface that much of the information regarding the Latin New Testament (LNT) manuscripts available to a wide audience is too far out of date to be of much use. Thus, Houghton recognized the need for a new, comprehensive volume that provides the history of the Latin New Testament. Furthermore, Houghton notes that, “almost all publications on the New Testament continue to employ an outdated set of sigla for Latin manuscripts,” a problem that he hopes to rectify (p. vii).

The book consists of three parts. Part I provides the history of the LNT and consists of five chapters which give the history of the LNT “from earliest times until the late Middle Ages” (p. 1). Chapter one addresses the first Latin Bibles through the end of the 3rd c. Chapter two covers from the beginning of the 4th c. until the beginning of the Vulgate. Chapter three focuses on the competing texts of the 5th to the 7th c. Chapter four highlights the role of Bede in Northumbria as well as the role of monasteries in the 8th and 9th c. Finally chapter five address biblical scholarship and heresy (eg., the Cathars of southern France) since the 10th c. These chapters bring into sharper focus the complexity of biblical transmission, a fact that has become increasingly recognized. The LNT did not appear on the scene in a single, universally accepted form. Rather, the extant Latin manuscripts are a part of a complex textual history that spanned millennia and vast geographical regions.

Part II introduces the reader to the texts of the LNT. Chapter six introduces the reader to the standard scholarly editions of the LNT from Sabatier to the Vulgate. Next, chapter seven discusses the ways in which the LNT witnesses to the Greek tradition which lies behind it. This aspect of LNT study is one of the key aspects of textual criticism for the Greek New Testament. Finally, part II concludes with a summary of Latin manuscripts according to their content (Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, Pauline Epistles, Catholic Epistles, and Revelation).

Part III introduces the manuscripts of the LNT. Chapter nine discusses matters of book technology and scribal habits such as the materials used in the production of Latin manuscripts and Bibles, Script, punctuation, and decoration. Chapter ten concludes the main content of the book with a catalogue of the LNT manuscripts of the Vetus Latina Register, the Stuttgart Vulgate and the Oxford Vulgate.

Houghton also includes three very helpful appendices. Appendix 1 contains concordances of the manuscript sigla for the Old Latin and Vulate traditions. Appendix 2 contains the additional manuscripts cited in the Vetus Latina Latina editions and Appendix 3 lists additional Gospel manuscripts.

Houghton has produced a magisterial piece of scholarship and has done so in a way that is sure to benefit scholars and students alike. He has given a wide audience a clear introduction to the history and significance of the LNT as well as an invaluable reference text for the manuscripts of the LNT. As an introduction, the book is clear and concise; as a reference work, it is easy to navigate and decipher. Houghton has, without a doubt, produced a standard work for the present period of textual criticism which is taking place with renewed vigor.

If this were not enough, Houghton has also committed to providing corrections and updates (ie., manuscript photographs, bibliography, etc.) to his work though his website. This element, a product of our digital age, ensures that this text will remain relevant for years to come. The present reviewer commends this text to anyone in New Testament studies who would benefit from a deeper understanding of these invaluable textual witnesses to the New Testament.

– Stephen D. Campbell, Durham University

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