Monday, August 14, 2017

Tregelles and Tyndale House contra mundum: Reconsidering the Text of Rev 5:9

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It is common knowledge that, at at several places in the book of Revelation, the main text of our standard Handausgabe (i.e. Nestle-Aland, 28th ed.) follows a singular reading of Codex Alexandrinus (GA 02; LDAB 3481). In principle, this is not inadmissible: a reading that is singular now needn’t have been so 1,500 years ago. Generally, though, some might find singular readings prima facie suspect, especially if they can be adequately accounted for on internal grounds.

Now, for quite some time I’ve been fascinated about ways in which various facets of the copying process affect the rise of variant readings. At one level, copying seems like a simple and rather straightforward procedure: dip, look back (at the exemplar), write (a unit of text, whatever its length), look back, complete a line and start a new one, write, look back, write, look back, start a new column, write, look back, dip ... you get the idea. Seemingly uneventful. Or is it? All one need do is to browse through a few pages of Louis Havet’s Manuel de critique verbale appliquée aux textes latins (Paris: Hachette, 1911) to see that, in between these few rudimentary processes, all manner of things may occur which can make it to our apparatus critici as variant readings.

One such reading occurs at Rev 5:9. The main text of NA28 reads as follows:

καὶ ᾄδουσιν ᾠδὴν καινὴν λέγοντες· ἄξιος εἶ λαβεῖν τὸ βιβλίον καὶ ἀνοῖξαι τὰς σφραγῖδας αὐτοῦ, ὅτι ἐσφάγης καὶ ἠγόρασας  τῷ θεῷ ἐν τῷ αἵματί σου ἐκ πάσης φυλῆς καὶ γλώσσης καὶ λαοῦ καὶ ἔθνους.

The only one variation-unit recorded for this verse concerns the addition/omission and the placement of ἡμᾶς. All the Greek witnesses but 02 contain ἡμᾶς before or after τῷ θεῷ. On the one hand, I could see why the editors would prefer the omission here, as the first-person pronoun makes for a somewhat awkward transition to v. 10 (καὶ ἐποίησας αὐτοὺς κτλ.). Personally, however, I find this explanation unimpressive. To begin with, the scribe of 02 may have followed the same logic and so drop the pronoun under the influence of the ensuing context (a very common scribal tendency). Another possible scenario has to do with the aforementioned mechanics of the scribal process. Given that the last line of a column 1 on the given page 02 ends with τω θ̅ω̅, it seems quite likely (to my mind at least) that the pronoun may have been dropped accidentally as the scribe was traversing to another column (again, a well-documented tendency).


In short, I think we’d better print here what is a better-attested and more difficult reading whose origin is not easily accounted for by a scribal error. If you’re interested to read about this in greater detail, see my recent note: ‘“And You Purchased [Whom?]”: Reconsidering the Text of Rev 5,9’, ZNW 108 (2017) 306–12.

P.S. If you don’t have access to the article and/or don’t read footnotes, you’ll miss that, amongst NT editions, there are two that do not favour the singular reading of 02 at this point, namely Tregelles and the forthcoming Tyndale House Edition of the Greek New Testament (THEGNT).

16 comments :

  1. Thanks for the book plug. Is there anything available in English that you would recommend to make the same point?

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    1. Hey, I would recommend various perceptive discussions in Dirk Jongkind's book on Sinaiticus (he deals a fair bit with line-endings in particular, and I think he's spot on); Royse has some sections on physical aspects of copying (although he doesn't invoke these too much, save for the said line endings); there's an article by J. Vroom in JSOT (2016) which deals with cognitive aspects of copying; Parkes' 'Their Hands before Our Eyes' has some relevant sections; and I try to do a bit of this in my thesis (published in NTTSD, 2017) in the chapter on singular readings and re-inking.

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    2. Alas, how could I forget? Peter Head and Michael Warren, 'Re-Inking the Pen', NTS 1997; Peter Head 'Some Observations on Various Features of Scribe D’ in the recent SInaiticus book.

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  2. "Amongst NT editions, there are two that do not favour the singular reading of 02 at this point, namely Tregelles and the forthcoming Tyndale House Edition of the Greek New Testament (THEGNT)."


    Only those two?????

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    1. Yes, based on my meagre search. I wasn't counting the MT and TR eds, for obvious reasons.

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    2. I am curious as to what reasons are "obvious", given that those editions -- the MT/Byz in particular, being based on a far larger amount of data than the limited TR support -- reflect a general consensus among the MSS of Revelation as well as your own conclusion?

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    3. The NA appendix "Textuum Differentiae" indicates that Soden, Vogels and Bover also read as 01 against 02, while Merk includes the word in brackets.

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    4. Thanks for this helpful correction of my rather embarrassing oversight—but it's always easier accidentally to omit than to add, isn't it :)

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    5. P.S. Very few people would cite Von Soden's edition (or even Vogels'), however, in order to instance a critical decision for the main text ;)

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  3. The 'obvious' reason is that the reading of 02 could never have possibly made it to a MT theory-based main text by the sheer virtue of its singularity, nicht wahr?

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  4. There seems to be an argument that if a word is found in more than one position, e.g. before or after a certain word, this makes the variant attesting its omission more probable. Did you come across this argument for this variation unit in question? Personally, I don't find this argument to be particularly probative.

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    1. Not, I didn't. And I'm with you in not finding this line of reasoning convincing, esp. in view of very widely attested scribal tendency of accidentally dropping short words (Cf. A. Dain, Les Manuscripts [Paris 1949] 45). Moreover, one could easily see why a pronoun such as ημας could have been written earlier because the scribe had falsely retained the wording of the exemplar, because it suited better his perception of the information structure, or simply because he got ahead of himself whilst copying.

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  5. Well, this is good news to someone who has been holding forth on this very point for well over a decade, for exactly the reasons put forth by Hoskier in the 19th century and only now somehow found to be reasonable. But Alexandrinus is not *quite* contra mundum here; Hoskier reports omission of the pronoun in Ethiopic manuscripts, and that a Greek manuscript he calls 44 reads ἡμῶν (which demonstrates my contention that there is hardly a single word of the NT text secure in every one of the extant Greek manuscripts that should contain it--perhaps Tommy could list some words from Jude, or Maurice from the PA, that have wholly escaped this tendency). Also, the list of printed Greek texts that put ἡμᾶς in brackets includes that of William Kelly, 1860 (his apparatus includes Hoskier's evidence above).

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    1. I have a footnote about the versional evidence in the article (the citation of Ethiopic is in my view not very telling). ημων is in fact read by more than one MS (Hoskier cites some 6), but that didn't really concern the argument of my article (even if it indirectly supports it).

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