Conjecture (textual criticism)

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Conjecture (conjectural emendation) is a critical reconstruction of the original reading of a clearly corrupt, contaminated, nonsensical or illegible textual fragment. Conjecture is one of the techniques of textual criticism used by philologists while commenting on or preparing editions of manuscripts (e.g. biblical or other ancient texts usually transmitted in medieval copies). Conjecture is far from being just an educated guess and it takes an experienced expert with a broad knowledge of the author of the text, period, language and style of the time. Conjecture requires a close study of the text in its cultural and historical context and must be preceded with a thorough analysis of all extant versions and readings of the given fragment. The knowledge of writing styles used by the scribes throughout the transmission stages is also essential. Conjectural emendation should be seen as a solution of the last resort and must be clearly indicated in the critical apparatus or in the text itself.


D. A. Waite

D. A. Waite wrote:

"How Bible-believing Christians can allow guesswork and conjecture to determine their Bible is beyond me" (DEFENDING THE KJB, p. 30).

Edward F. Hills

Edward F. Hills, erroniously assuming Revelation 16:5 was a conjecture said:

"Beza introduced a few conjectural emendations into his New Testament text" (KJV Defended, p. 208).

Jan Krans

Jan Krans claimed:

“There is a remarkable paradox in Beza’s editions: though he professes time and again not to change the text lightly out of mere conjecture, he offers at the same time an astonishingly high number of conjectures” (Beyond What is Written: Erasmus and Beza as Conjectural Critics of the New Testament, p. 247).

Krans maintained that Beza’s emendations “had not been based on a sound and consistent text-criticial method” (p. 198).

William McKane

William McKane asserted:

“Fulke’s defence of Beza’s arbitrariness in the cases of which Martin complains shakes one’s confidence in his judgment as a textual critic. There is no question of producing textual evidence to support Beza’s conjectures. These guesses were made by Beza in the hope that manuscript evidence would support them at some future date” (Selected Christian Hebraists, p. 92).

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