Bulletin of Biblical Research (BBR) 25.1 (2015), 25-37.
"Given that there is no evidence that early Christian scribal practices differed from pagan practices, we may rightly ask whether early Christian writings, such as the autographs and first copies of the books that eventually would be recognized as canonical Scripture, also remained in use for 100 years or more."
The use of the term "autographs," or rather the unexamined assumptions that underlie its use, deserves scrutiny. It might mean a sort of signed first edition, or at least a "fair copy," or else a working copy, a draft version, identified by the number of alternative word choices, some words crossed out, others written above etc. as in the case P. Oxy. vii 1015 (image of a diplomatic transcript below) or P. Koeln vi 245.
E.G. Turner, GMAW2 no. 50
Probably Evans is thinking of autograph to mean "fair copy" and further, assumes that textual variety stem from secondary copies made from this original one. This in any case the simplest assumption: the closer you are, the clearer the view.
If we understand "autograph" to mean a working version, or rough draft,or a revised copy, tit might be that some of the multiplicity of variants, and the textual variety found in secondary copies might stem not from scribal caprice, lapsus calami etc., but from the author's writing process itself.
Now, it might seem obvious that the best copy, representing the author's "last and best thoughts" on his subject. But not necessarily. Take for example Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. We have two drafts, one which is assumed to be his script, so to speak (the Nicolay version); the other (Hay version) is probably an attempt to revise his remarks. We have two main versions of transcripts made at the event and published in newspapers, one of which is assumed to be verbatim, or nearly verbatim (Hale's transcript). Beyond this, there are several fair copies written by Lincoln himself.
A plethora of variation, major and minor, result, as can be seen in the critical edition below. I should note that the base text I use is the Nicolay version, considered to be Lincoln's "script" for the speech.
In short, what Lincoln intended to say (Nicolay version) differs from what he said, through extemporization, as when he transforms, "This we may in all propriety do" to "It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this," (note 7) or by accident, as when he appears to have said "beyond our power " rather than "beyond our poor power" (note 10).
The last known revised copy by Lincoln, the "Bliss Copy," (prepared for the Baltimore Sanitary Fair of 1864) became what is now considered the standard text only with planning and dedication of the Lincoln Memorial (1911-1922).
In a May 5, 1909, letter, Robert (sc. Lincoln) said, "The Baltimore Fair [Bliss] version represents my father's last and best thought as to the address, and the corrections in it were legitimate for the author, and I think there is no doubt they improve the version as written out for Col. Hay,-and as I said to you before, I earnestly hope that the Baltimore Fair version will be used."73Subsequently, a Senate committee was given the responsibility:
Jared Peatman. The Long Shadow of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address (Kindle Locations 1317-1319). Kindle Edition.
On February 20, 1913, the U.S.Senate adopted a joint resolution stating, "Protests having been made that there are many different versions of Lincoln's Gettysburg speech, which it is proposed to inscribe on the Lincoln Memorial to be built [in Washington, D.C.], the Senate adopted Senator Root's joint resolution to-day, authorizing a committee to report the correct version." ("Seek Lincoln's Own Words," New York Times, February 21, 1913, 6.)
Jared Peatman. The Long Shadow of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address (Kindle Location 2794). Kindle Edition.So the standard text was 50 years in coming, before which the variation among the copies and the newspaper accounts were not considered a problem. It was only after the speech became institutionalized, included in The McGuffey Reader of 1889 (no 79, p. 266), which prints "beyond our power to add or detract" (note 10 above), and carved in stone in Washington that careful consideration was given to the details of the text.
There are some obvious points in the NT transmission that might have come from variation in authorial versions: the long and short versions of Acts, or the position of the letter of recommendation for Phoebe in Romans, for example.
Let me summarize by saying, if one thinks that if we had the autograph version of John's Gospel, say, that legend has it was kept by the church at Ephesus into the third century, we would still require textual criticism to adjudicate between variants.
As a coda, let me say that sometimes the author's scholarship is faulty. On p. 32, referring to the above mentioned legend, he writes:
There is yet another testimony in which a NT autograph is mentioned. In a Paschal treatise, of which only fragments are extant, Peter, Bishop of Alexandria (died in A.D. 311), is remembered to have said the following:
Now it was the preparation [cf. John 19:14, 31], about the third hour [cf. Mark 15:25], as the accurate books have it, and the autograph copy itself of the evangelist John, which up to this day has by divine grace been preserved in the most holy church of Ephesus, and is there adored by the faithful. (frag. 5.2) note 34
The note attached to this fr. in the 1869 edition of the work cited above refers the reader to Andreas Gallandi (Gallandius), Ex Chronico Paschale, p.179 d, Venice 1729). This work, of course, is not in Latin, but Greek, and the text in question can be found in TLG, which contains Dindorf's edition, Chronicon Paschale (Bonn 1832).[J. B. H. Hawkins, “Fragments from the Writings of Peter,” in The Ante-Nicene Fathers (ed. A. Roberts and J. Donaldson; 10 vols., Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1898) 6:283. The original Greek treatise survives only in Latin quotations.]
ὥρα ἦν ὡσεὶ τρίτη, καθὼς τὰ ἀκριβῆ βιβλία περιέχει,Finally, let me disown a reference to an article of mine: in note 15, p 27 the author writes:
αὐτό τε τὸ ἰδιόχειρον τοῦ εὐαγγελιστοῦ Ἰωάννου,
ὅπερ μέχρι νῦν πεφύλακται χάριτι θεοῦ ἐν τῇ Ἐφεσίων
ἁγιωτάτῃ ἐκκλησίᾳ καὶ ὑπὸ τῶν πιστῶν ἐκεῖσε προσκυνεῖται.
Schwendner, “A Fragmentary Psalter from Karanis and Its Context,” 127. Schwendner discusses two texts that originated in the third/fourth centuries that apparently were reinked toward the end of the fifth century.I am not sure what he had in mind. I don't discuss reinking at all in that article, to which I am in Prof. Evan's debt for publishing, btw, and have only once, in an online paper concerning the so called "Gospel of Jesus Wife."