Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Variants affecting carols

Can anyone cite instances where unusual variant readings have affected Christmas carols?

More on Christmas variants.


  1. The idea that the MAGOI at Matthew 2:1 were kings is reflected in this well known hymn by John H. Hopkins, Jr. 1857

    We three kings of Orient are;
    Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
    Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
    Following yonder star.


    O star of wonder, star of light,
    Star with royal beauty bright,
    Westward leading, still proceeding,
    Guide us to thy perfect light.

    Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain
    Gold I bring to crown Him again,
    King forever, ceasing never,
    Over us all to reign.


    Frankincense to offer have I;
    Incense owns a Deity nigh;
    Prayer and praising, voices raising,
    Worshipping God on high.


    Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
    Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
    Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
    Sealed in the stone cold tomb.


    Glorious now behold Him arise;
    King and God and sacrifice;
    Alleluia, Alleluia,
    Sounds through the earth and skies.


  2. Not so sure the variant is "unusual", but obviously the Lk 2:14 Byz EUDOKIA affects the following carol in a manner that the NA27/UBS4 EUDOKIAS would not:

    "It came upon the midnight clear,
    That glorious song of old,
    From angels bending near the earth,
    To touch their harps of gold:
    "Peace on the earth, goodwill to men
    From heavens all gracious King!"
    The world in solemn stillness lay
    To hear the angels sing."

  3. Yo will find a similar verse, matching the same variant MA Robinson mentioned, in the famous Christmas Oratorium by Johann Sebastian Bach (a must for every lover of music, especially in these days!).

  4. Don't forget also Handel's Messiah, section 17, where the chorus sings:

    "Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, good will towards men." (Luke 2: 14)

    Quite likely there are yet more instances involving this particular variant.

  5. 1. The variant at Luke 2:14 relates to now famous Hebraisms
    bne-restonxa 1QHa 19:12;
    `ose restono 4Q171 f1_2,ii5;
    anshe-ratson 'men of will/pleasure' 4Q418 f81;
    et al.;
    and an Aramaism 4Q545f4,18 'man of [his] will/pleasure.
    The ignorance of these Hebrew idioms within Greek has apparently caused confusion within the textual history.

    2. One may attribute the reading 'silent night' to the reading in an equally famous, earlier midrashic source "... no crying he makes ...".
    No crying would make for a still night.

  6. Randall Buth said...
    "1. The variant at Luke 2:14 relates to now famous Hebraisms"

    Yes, and the Hebraisms were unknown at the time of Westcott & Hort, which made them put EUDOKIA in the margin, because EUDOKIAS seemed too difficult, almost impossible. When the construction was eventually discovered in the DSS, it became evident that EUDOKIAS was the lectio difficilior.

    T. Baarda wrote a superb study of this textual problem somewhere. Otherwise, a professor from my seminary in Lund, Birger Olsson, published a reception-critical study of the verse in the NTS a while ago.

    And, the textual problem in this verse has not just "affected" subsequent carols; the verse itself belongs to the very first Christmas carol!

  7. Thank you for the W-H note. I just looked at Swanson and saw quite a collection of hands around the reading ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας
    B א A D W (p45 and p75 are not extant for these verses)

    It is nice to be reminded of scribal traditions that preserved readings that they couldn't have understood, but preserved them anyway. Sort of like an unintended Christmas present for those who like to read ancient texts.

  8. Some think the little-known Codex Fabforus is responsible for this extra verse of the We Three Kings carol:

    We four Beatles of Liverpool are
    John in a taxi
    George in a car
    Paul on a bicycle, licking an icicle
    Following Ringo Starr.

    It has been claimed that this verse is a prophecy of the order of death of the Fab Four, and so far, this has proved to be true.

  9. Randall and Tommy, surely `ose restono is not only a DSS reading unknown to Westcott and Hort.עשׂה רְצוֹנוֹ `sh retsono and variants is found in the Hebrew Bible, Ezra 10:11, Psalm 40:9, 103:21, 143:10 (references taken from BDB), and the exact phrase you mention is at 103:21 although referring to angels rather than humans.

  10. PK:
    "Randall and Tommy, surely `ose restono is not only a DSS reading unknown to Westcott and Hort"

    In spite of the strong external evidence in favor of EUDOKIAS, Westcott and Hort hesitated because of the syntactical difficulties involved. They discuss the passage at length in their appendix "Notes on Select Readings," 52-56. In fact, they did suspect a Hebraism, which had been suggested by Mill to whom they refer: "Mill supplied the true key to the expression by calling it a Hebraism."

    Apparently, however, they did not find the evidence entirely convincing since they put EUDOKIA in the margin mainly because of the difficulty of the phrase. I suspect the judgment would have been differently had they had access to the evidence from the DSS.

  11. Adding to the revival of this old thread of comments:

    Zech 14.20 "In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, 'Jingle all the way'."

  12. A recent discovered fragment of the gospel of Thomas has been discovered:

    Ο Baron είχε Snoopy νεκρός στο στόχαστρό του
    Έφτασε για τη σκανδάλη για να το σηκώσει σφιχτά
    Γιατί δεν είχε πυροβολήσει, καλά, δεν ξέρουμε ποτέ
    Ή μήπως ήταν οι καμπάνες από την παρακάτω χωριό.

    Some take Baron and Snoopy are recent scribal ammendments. However, as they are they are the harder reading, they could be taken as original.

    Others have argued that this is a fake, of a same order of the gnostic fragment, as it is written in a too modern dialect for the supposed date of writing.

    Added to this is another problem with this text are the cultural references that suggest a more modern setting than the Gospel of Thomas.

    However, as the Gospel of Thomas is not canon, blows a hole into the whole discussion. Some may argue that you could fly biplane through gaps in the authenticity of this fragment.

  13. Peter W,
    Surely Luke 2:14 takes first place, as others have already mentioned; it influenced the lyrics to "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" and "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear." I discuss that variant-unit at http://www.thetextofthegospels.com/2015/08/luke-214-peace-on-earth-goodwill-to-men.html .

    The only other carol that conceivably involves a textual variant that comes to mind at the moment is "The First Noel," which seems to allude to Acts 20:28 in the sixth verse --
    Then let us all with one accord
    sing praises to our heavenly Lord
    who hath made heav'n and earth of naught,
    and with his blood mankind hath bought."

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. Not exactly a Christmas carol, but the Hallelujah Chorus is often sung at Christmas as part of Handel's Messiah. Words in the middle are based on Rev 11.15. Stephanus, the TR, a couple dozen Greek minuscules (acc. to Hoskier), and early English Bibles (Tyn, Cov, Bishops, Geneva, KJV) have "kingdoms" (αι βασιλειαι) in the plural. Critical editions based predominantly on Alex mss and the Byz-Maj have "kingdom" (η βασιλεια) in the singular. Charles Jennens (and thus Handel himself) have it written in the singular (see British Library photo of folio 102r at http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=r.m.20.f.2_fs001r). Luther also had the plural. It's always puzzled me how Jennens and Handel ended up with the singular in 1741, when I'm not aware of English Bibles (or the Book of Common Prayer) reading the singular "kingdom" in Rev 11.15. Anyone know any history on the wording of this variant as to how it is rendered in the Hallelujah Chorus?

    1. Good catch, Jeff. I wonder if that was a change introduced by Jennens himself almost without thinking.

    2. Handel wrote some Latin songs, so is it not likely that he also read the Latin Vulgate (which has singular there) as well as whatever English Bibles he read?

    3. This is rather important, in my opinion, because textual critics tend to overstate their grasp of the situation, with such sage comments as "there is no likely reason why a scribe would make this change." Here we can't even think of a good reason why Handel or Jennens would make the change to singular when we KNOW that the reading before them in 1741 was plural. Who are we to claim to read the minds of unnamed scribes copying unknown manuscripts a millennium earlier?

  15. Since Jennens wrote the words the influence would have been on him rather than Handel—but Jennens certainly could have been influenced by the Latin which he certainly would have been familiar with. Since the second kingdom(s) is not in the Greek at all, either in the TR or in the NA text, he may have felt more liberty to alter, as indeed (by a repetition) he does in the next line.