Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2019.09.50 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2019.09.50

H. A. G. Houghton, Christina M. Kreinecker, R. F. MacLachlan, C. J. Smith, The Principal Pauline Epistles: A Collation of Old Latin Witnesses. New Testament Tools, Studies and Documents, Volume 59.   Leiden:  Brill, 2019.  Pp. xi, 442.  ISBN 9789004315990.  €145,00.  

Reviewed by Kevin Künzl​, Technische Universität Dresden​ (

Open Access

Upon opening The Principal Pauline Epistles, the reader is greeted with an illustration of the apostle Paul taken from a manuscript. This image serves as a logo for the project COMPAUL (The Earliest Commentaries on Paul as Sources for Biblical Texts),out of which the volume under review arose. COMPAUL was active between 2011 and 2016 at the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing (University of Birmingham). It was funded by a Starting Grant awarded to Hugh Houghton by the European Research Council. Hence, this book—like all the project’s publications—is available via open access.

As the title of the book indicates, Houghton and his team—consisting of Christina Kreinecker, Rosalind MacLachlan, and Catherine Smith—offer a collation of Old Latin witnesses of the four major Pauline Epistles: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, and Galatians. The scholarly value of this undertaking can hardly be overstated given that the Vetus Latina Institute in Beuron has so far only been able to provide introductory volumes to Romans and 1 Corinthians.1 When we can expect the actual editions is entirely unclear.2 Therefore, as of 2019, The Principal Pauline Epistles is the best and most convenient way for scholars to get reliable and in-depth access to the Old Latin textual evidence for these writings. The editors hope that their work “[…] may eventually serve as the basis for the full Vetus Latina editions for these four letters, as well as an interim point of reference for Latin sources in editions of the Greek New Testament” (p. 2). Although this statement makes sense from a long-term perspective, calling The Principal Pauline Epistles an “interim point of reference” is to understate its quality and scope.

The book begins with a concise introduction (pp. 1–10) divided into five short subsections detailing its concept and methodology. The first part gives general remarks on the Latin tradition of the Pauline Epistles and expresses awareness of the problems that are inherent to the simplified dichotomy between an Old Latin and a Vulgate tradition (pp. 1–2). Despite its problematic aspects, the editors conclude that the label ‘Old Latin’ is still a “useful shorthand” to designate non-Vulgate readings and readings that can be traced back to before the 5th century. Establishing the Old Latin text in contrast to the Vulgate is a principle throughout the book. Regarding the selection of witnesses (pp. 2–5), Houghton and his team made use of the Vetus Latina Institute’s register of biblical manuscripts3, as well as the introductory volumes mentioned above. They identified 25 biblical manuscripts or manuscript fragments as featuring the relevant letters and having at least some Old Latin affiliation. It is positive that the editors went for a broad approach here, “for the sake of completeness” (p. 3), which led them to include biblical manuscripts with relatively few discernable Old Latin influences, too. But since only few Latin manuscripts predate the Middle Ages, commentaries and testimonia are important additional bodies of evidence for the pre-Vulgate text tradition. Hence, Houghton et al. examined the six original Latin commentaries dating to the 4th and 5th centuries as well as two commentaries translated from Greek at around the same time—accounting to a total of nine commentaries used as textual witnesses. On Galatians: Marius Victorinus, Jerome, and Theodor of Mopsuestia. On Romans: Origen/Rufinus. On Romans and Galatians: Augustine. On all four principal letters: the Ambrosiaster, Pelagius, Cassiodorus’ brief Complexiones, and the anonymous ‘Budapest Commentary.’ This witness, however, is referred to with the siglum VL 89 and treated like continuous biblical manuscript throughout the book. With regard to collections of testimonia, the editors evaluated Ad Quirinum and Ad Fortunatum, both by Cyprian, Augustine’s Speculum quis ignorat, and another Speculum of unknown authorship (Ps.-Augustine). They rightly conclude that these sources “present most if not all the surviving Old Latin evidence for the continuous-text tradition of the four principle Pauline Epistles.” (p. 4) Source-wise, the only unfortunate (but understandable) shortcoming is the neglection of prologues and capitula. This is, however, recognized by the editors themselves (p. 5).

Concerning methodology (pp. 5–7), it is noteworthy that Houghton et al. offer electronic transcriptions of all their source material. The biblical manuscripts were mostly transcribed from digital images of various quality (depending on whether manuscripts were natively digitized or if the images represent microfiche etc.), at times supplemented by facsimile editions. The transcriptions feature a high degree of detail including abbreviations, punctuation, corrections and glosses. After transcribing, all files were converted into XML according to the TEI (quasi-)standard and made freely available online ( This practice not only allows for a high degree of transparency, but it also assures the reusability of the data for future projects. The same high standards were also employed in the collation process, which has been conducted and recorded meticulously using up-to-date digital solutions. For the commentaries and testimonia, Houghton and his team largely relied on existing critical editions to keep the project feasible. In the section ‘List of Witnesses’ (pp. 11–26), they give some general information on each biblical manuscript used in the collation, such as date, content, and the respective transcription basis. There are always hyperlinks to digital images and/or bibliographical references included in these descriptions, which facilitates access for interested readers. At times there is also some noteworthy additional information given, e.g. on relevant lacunae, layout features, or on the historical background of a manuscript. For instance, in the case of VL 77 (Codex Boernerianus, Dresden, Sächsische Landesbibliothek A.145b) the reader is informed that because the codex suffered severe water damage in World War II, Houghton and his team also turn to a pre war facsimile edition for transcribing. Each manuscript receives individual credit and the information is well researched and concise.

The presentation of the material (justified on pp. 7–9) is realized in the form of a negative apparatus given verse by verse and variant by variant against the text of the standard Stuttgart Vulgate.4 This presentational format is good for users who are looking for small variations of words and verses. Researchers interested in larger variation unites (such as the different endings of Romans), however, may not be as happy with the verse-by-verse presentation since it makes getting an overview of such larger blocks more difficult. The transcriptions’ level of detail has been lowered for reasons of economy, for instance by adjusting the spelling to the Vulgate and ignoring abbreviations. Every reading that has been normalized is noted via printing the respective siglum in italics. Hence, the reader always knows whether it might make sense to go online and check the corresponding transcription for full data. Other typographical features serve a similar purpose: Angled brackets signal only partly preserved readings, and parentheses show that the actual reading of the manuscript is erroneous but has been judged to be a witness to the respective reading. In combination with the online supplement, these practices offer a lot of transparency and let readers make informed choices about how deep they want to dig into the source material. Fittingly, the selection of variants follows the lead of the Editio Critica Maior and notes all readings that can be grammatically interpreted within a given verse even if their sense is unclear.

The book’s appendix comprises a concordance of different conventions of sigla. A guide through the jungle of differing conventions used in the field is welcome and makes a researcher’s life much easier. One could complain, however, that the abbreviations used for the different conventions are not explained (especially the perhaps less well-known ones: PPE [Principal Pauline Epistles?], CLA [Codices Latini Antiquiores], and TM [Trismegistos]). Another concordance of sigla, which may be used to complement this one, can be found in Houghton’s The Latin New Testament. 5

Other than that, there is little to criticize about this book: Concept and methodology are explained precisely, the execution is solid throughout, the inclusion XML transcriptions as online supplements is state-of-the-art and hopefully becomes a standard for future editing project in Classics. This reviewer has only a few very minor gripes. There are two small inconsistencies concerning the witnesses used in the collation. First, the introduction (p. 2) reads as if the manuscripts VL 82 and VL 85 were relevant witnesses. This is not the case, however, since neither of them contains any of the four principal Pauline letters. Consequently, these manuscripts are not featured in the rest of the book. The mention of them in the introduction can therefore be misleading. Second, the back of the book inaccurately gives 26 manuscripts and ten early commentaries as the sources of the collation. But depending on how the anonymous ‘Budapest Commentary’ is classified, the actual number comes to a total of 24 or 25 biblical manuscripts and eight or nine commentaries. I am not sure how this inconsistency emerged. And lastly, there is a technical point of criticism that comes as a small compatibility issue: When trying to access the XML transcriptions online with Google Chrome (ver. 75.0.3770.100), the reviewer only received a blank screen. With Mozilla Firefox, however, everything worked fine.

Overall, Houghton, Kreinecker, MacLachlan, and Smith deal proficiently with a crucial desideratum in New Testament textual criticism. The Principal Pauline Epistles allows for convenient access to the Old Latin tradition of Paul’s major epistles. Thus, the book is a must use tool for any scholar who delves into this field: at least until a fully-fledged Vetus Latina edition is finally realized—and this might take a while.


1.   Eymann, Hugo S. (ed.). Epistula ad Romanos: Einleitung. Vetus Latina, Volume 21/1. Freiburg: Herder, 1996; Fröhlich, Uwe (ed.). Epistula ad Corinthios I: Einleitung. Vetus Latina, Volume 22,1–3. Freiburg: Herder, 1995–1998.
2.   The latest Arbeitsbericht published by the Vetus Latina Institute in 2017 gives the information that Houghton unsuccessfully applied for an edition of Galatians in 2016. Later that year, he became the Executive Editor for the Pauline Epistles in the IGNTP project, hence he seems to be focussing on the Greek tradition now (Arbeitsbericht Vetus Latina Institute 2016/17).
3.   Gryson, Roger. Altlateinische Handschriften/Manuscrits vieux latins. Première partie: Mss 1–275. Vetus Latina, Volume 1/2a. Freiburg: Herder, 1999.
4.   Weber, Robert, Roger Gryson (ed.). Biblia sacra: Iuxta Vulgatam versionem. 5th edition. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2007.
5.   Houghton, Hugh A. G. The Latin New Testament: A Guide to Its Early History, Texts, and Manuscripts. Oxford: University Press, 2016. ​

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