I've been thinking about redaction criticism. As we all know redaction criticism operates upon the difficulties in the text--the disjoints, the contradictions, the awkward transitions, etc.--seeing these as evidence of redactional activity. This necessarily supposes that more difficult passages are typically secondary to less difficult passages. This is an interesting supposition because it is virtually the opposite of that supposed by textual critics, who suppose that less difficult passages are typically secondary to more difficult passages. The textual critic supposes that editors reduce textual difficulty whereas the redaction critic supposes that editors introduce textual difficulties.
Redaction criticism tends not to go back to the manuscript tradition but rather to work with critical editions, such as the NA28. The difficulty though is that the NA28 has been generated by textual critics, who are operating with the above-mentioned tendency to prefer more difficult readings to less difficult ones. This creates a critical edition in which potential difficulties are maximized. Since the redaction critic adopts the opposite principle, that difficult readings are more likely secondary, the appearance of widespread redaction is also maximized. This however is to a large extent the artifact of a conceptual difficulty, namely the contradictory understandings of an editor's work adopted by textual and redaction critics.
Let us imagine then that textual and redaction critics adopted identical understandings of an editor's work. What would result if the textual critic agreed with the redaction critic, thus judging textual difficulties to typically be secondary rather than primary? In that case we would have a critical edition with fewer difficulties and thus evince less evidence of redaction. What would result if the redaction critic agreed with the textual critic, thus judging textual difficulties to typically be primary rather than secondary? In that case we would have a critical edition with greater numbers of difficulties and thus evince less evidence of redaction. Put otherwise redaction criticism would be greatly vitiated if its understanding of the work of the editor coincided with that of textual criticism.
This is of course not to deny the work of redactors in generating ancient texts. It is to suspect that perhaps we have a bit too much confidence in our ability to detect such work in the texts themselves. Insofar as historical Jesus studies have for the better part of a century, since the advent of form criticism, operated with a felt need to distinguish between traditional (read: non-redactional) and redactional material this has potential significance for that area. If our capacity to detect redaction is vitiated then so too is our capacity to distinguish non-redaction. Of course this ceases to be a problem the moment that we realize that historiography is not a literary analysis and that the question of redaction is largely a sideshow in the work of historical Jesus studies.