Evangelical Textual Criticism

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Wettstein on the Shorter Reading

if it was far more often the case (because there were many more compelling factors) that something was added than that something was omitted, then it follows that it is much more plausible that something has been added in one ms than that something has been omitted in the other. I can see really only two reasons for omission: carelessness, which occurs particularly in cases of homoioteleuton; and ignorance, when the scribe, because he did not understand an unfamiliar word, believed that it could be completely omitted without even bothering to weigh up arguments on either side. And it ought to be the case that the effects of both of these factors are restricted to a few mss and to a few passages. For additions, on the other hand, there were far more frequent opportunities: seeing that marginal glosses were at a later stage introduced into the text; that certain words which according to the usage of the church lectionary stood at the beginning or end of the reading in order to express the meaning more fully were added to the text; seeing that (this is by far the most common tendency) one Gospel was supplemented from another Gospel which described the same event a little more fully, or that one passage of Paul was supplemented by the addition of material from a parallel passage.


  1. This is an interesting, though a little bit sweeping, statement. Could you, please, supply some examples from mss or ms studies that flesh out your case. E.g., how many marginal glosses are found in early mss that are of an early enough date (up to 500) to give us a sensible sketch? A related question: What do you make of Royse's study on "Scribal Habits"? As far as I recall his evidence is in favour of the longer reading, because most of the early papyri exhibit a tendency towards carelessness, i.e. they loose words.

  2. A nice citation, of course; but you might have indicated its source: Wettstein's 1751-1752 Novum Testamentum, II, p. 863 (I do not know whether it occurs in his 1730 Prolegomena as well). Is the translation yours?

  3. As noted by Jan the text is directly Wettstein. Well done for giving the pagination. The ET comes from a forthcoming* book on the history of NT textual criticism (which will have extensive ETs from Bengel, Wettstein, Griesbach and Lachmann on method).

    Hence some of Ulrich's comments are a bit tricky to answer (since I am not Wettstein). And they raise the most critical question of all about the traditional 'canons' of NT text criticism. The 'canons' were formed on the basis of the study of the later rather than the earlier manuscripts (without any controlled study of 'scribal habits', but on the basis of extensive first-hand experience with lots of manuscripts among scholars from Erasmus onwards). So the question is to what extent the earlier evidence relating to scribal habits (examined esp. by Royse, building on Colwell and with some support from Head) might require different rules for the earlier period.
    One of Royse's main points was precisely that the early scribal habits exhibited a general tendency to omit words; hence don't prefer the shorter reading.


    J.R. ROYSE, Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri (ThD, Graduate Theological Union; UMI 1981); a summary was published: J. R. ROYSE, "Scribal Habits in the Transmission of New Testament Texts", The Critical Study of Sacred Texts (ed. W.D. O’FLAHERTY) (Berkeley 1979) 139-161; more generally: J.R. ROYSE, "Scribal Tendencies in the Transmission of the Text", The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research. Essays on the Status Quaestionis. Festschrift B.M. Metzger (eds. B.D. EHRMAN – M.W. HOLMES) (SD 46; Grand Rapids 1995) 239-252.

    Head, "Some Observations on Early Papyri of the Synoptic Gospels, especially concerning the ‘Scribal Habits’" Biblica 71 (1990) 240–247.

    Head, "The Habits of New Testament Copyists
    Singular Readings in the Early Fragmentary Papyri of John" Biblica 85 (2004) 399-408
    Online: http://www.bsw.org/?l=71851&a=Ani12.html

  4. By the way,

    There has often been talk about the publication of Royse's thesis in a monograph series, but nothing has ever appeared. When I met him in 2001 he was talking about it as something that was going to happen, I wonder if anyone knows any more.


  5. Wieland Willker just posted a note on the textualcriticism email group that Royse's book was scheduled to be published in December:

    Scribal Habits In Early Greek New Testament Papyri
    (Studies and Documents) (Paperback)
    by James R. Royse
    List Price: $125.00
    Price: $78.75
    Paperback: 944 pages
    Publisher: Not Avail (December 30, 2005)
    Language: English
    ISBN: 0802809685