A Short Review of Hugh Houghton’s, “The Latin New Testament: A Guide to Its Early History, Texts, and Manuscripts”

Author: Hugh Houghton is Professor of New Testament Textual Scholarship at the University of Birmingham as well as Director of the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing (ITSEE). He was appointed in 2017 as one of the two general editors for the Pauline epistles in the Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior. He has also translated the Latin Commentary on the Gospels by Fortunatianus of Aquileia and written a monograph on Augustine’s Text of John (2008). (https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/staff/profiles/tr/houghton-hugh.aspx)

Purpose and thesis: Houghton’s purpose in writing is threefold: to thoroughly and concisely introduce the reader to the history of the Latin NT, to guide the researcher forward in the study of the Latin NT through available resources, and to provide a complete starting point (a hand-book of sorts) for orienting oneself to the text of the Latin NT.

Review: As the title suggests, Houghton structures his book in three main parts: History, Texts, and Manuscripts. The first part includes five chapters detailing the historical development of the Latin NT from its earliest stages to the era of the printed book. Houghton begins at the outset of chapter 1 admitting the unknown origin of the Latin NT but goes on to “piece together” a reliable and plausible account of its early history (3). He highlights the importance of Tertullian for the development of the text, including his influence on “Christian vocabulary” that remained in use even to the Vulgate translation in the fourth century (7). Houghton claims that the most plausible origin story of the Latin text is that it began as one translation that “underwent numerous revisions” thereafter (12). This is in contrast to the claim that the Latin NT began in several forms, perhaps dispersed geographically.

By far one of the most fruitful chapters is chapter 2 on the history and development of the Vulgate (specifically the Gospels) in the late-4th century. Houghton documents Jerome’s textual basis (probably text-type I) as being very close to the Old Latin form (33). He also notes the correspondence of Augustine’s Gospel quotations to that of Jerome’s text and notes the influence (and possible basis) of Pelagius on the text of the Pauline epistles (41). The mixed reception and adoption of Jerome’s text over the Old Latin and other recensions is set forth in chapter 3, along with further descriptions of particular commentators’, theologians’, and lectionary use of text-types. However, the shift from the Old Latin to the Vulgate took time and can be observed in the 6th-century writings of Pope Gregory the Great (60). In chapters 4 and 5 Houghton covers the Latin tradition in the Insular monasteries (e.g., Bede and Northumbria) and in continental Europe, especially Charlemagne’s influence on the stabilization and quality in the making of Gospel books (81). He also documents the Spanish penchant for pandects and the impact that the rediscovery of Greek had on the transmission and scholarly avoidance of the Latin NT text (110).

In Part 2 Houghton examines and explains the historical editions of the Latin NT and how to use them. This includes outdated but useful texts, such as Sabatier’s, and the modern Vetus Latina edition that includes the data from Bonifatius Fishcer’s earliest computer-based collations in the twentieth century. The data indicate “a remarkable stability in the Vulgate text of the Gospels up to the year 1000” (125). Houghton provides helpful data on the history of modern shift from the Clementine Vulgate to the Nova Vulgata in the Catholic Church and gives instructions on how to use the Latin evidence in Greek editions. He also provides an extremely helpful section on how to properly handle biblical quotations in early Christian writers (139). Chapters 6 and 7 are by far the most beneficial to the researcher in regard to practical helps for seeking and handling data, as both chapters advise the reader in the raw data from the editions and address the Latin text as a witness for performing Greek NT TC. Part 3 begins with chapter 9, which is a guide through the physical and codicological aspects of Latin MSS. Chapter 10 is an extremely helpful and comprehensive catalogue of Latin MSS separated into three main sections: Vetus Latina, Stuttgart Vulgate, and Oxford Vulgate. Each entry catalogs the manuscript’s holding information, origin (if known), website for viewing (if available), as well as textual and other information.

Houghton’s book is a comprehensive introduction to the Latin NT and an indispensable handbook for researching the Latin text. In that regard it is much like David Parker’s New Testament Manuscripts and Their Texts. One slight difficulty is in Houghton’s first mention of MSS throughout. At each initial mention of a particular MS, Houghton gives its sigla or call number by which it is referenced throughout the rest of the book (with some exceptions). This is an economic and typical way of referring to MSS, but it can be cumbersome for researchers who are unaccustomed to Latin sigla and call numbers (e.g., VL 109, Vgs I, CLE-R, etc.). However, these sigla and full explanations of the texts they represent are provided in a concordance in Appendix I. If a critique can be made against Houghton’s book, it would be that the author provides so much raw data that the book reads at times like a list of bullet points. However, the critique is overturned by the sheer amount of information that Houghton masterfully provides—information that a NT researcher would be foolish to ignore.

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