Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Irony of Samaria: Σαμαρεια / Σαμαρειτης in the Greek NT

The following is a short note, hopefully fun.
There are several ironies in the spelling of Σαμαρεια/Σαμαρια in our Greek texts.

Readers of United Bible Societies Greek text and the Nestle Aland text will be familiar with the following spellings:

Σαμάρεια (the place), and
Σαμαρίτης (a person of the place, male)
Σαμαρῖτις (a person of the place, female)

The spelling of the two forms is inconsistent, though the root will sound identical when read with a first century pronunciation.
[[ ει is correctly pronounced like the ι [i] vowel sound rather than the [e] sound (close to ey in 'they') that is often heard in academic circles.]]
But this inconsistency is only the first in a series.

The world turns upside down when Westcott and Hort are brought in. Westcott-Hort have:

Σαμάρια (the place) and
Σαμαρείτης (the person, male)
Σαμαρεῖτις (the person, female)

Not only are both WH and UBS/NA internally inconsistent, but they are the opposite of each other. That is a rather unexpected result.

Do the manuscript traditions support either of these inversions or provide a solution? On the surface one would not expect that WH and UBS/NA would come to such doubly inverted results without some good manuscript support. These can be checked rather quickly and fairly comprehensively today because of the books of Swanson, who records manuscript deviances on points like these.

(for the complete listing of the data from Swanson, please view my fuller note at Only the results and conclusions are presented here.)

The Results for Spelling the Place Name Samaria:

B is consistently -EI-, 10/11, corrected 11/11.
א is consistently -I-, 11/11.
p75 is consistently -EI-, 4/4
p45 is -EI-, 1/1
p66 is consistently -I-, 3/3
A is predominantly -EI-, 9/11 (Lk 17 and Ac 1.8 exceptional)
D is predominantly -I-, 9/10 (Lk 17 EI)
C is mixed, -EI- 4/10, -I- 6/10
E is predominantly -I-, 10/11 (Jn 4.7 -EI?-)
H is predominantly, -EI- 10/11 (A15 -I-)
W is consistently -I- 4/4.
Θ is consistently -I- 4/4.
Miniscules are predominantly -EI-,
though a few show a mixture
like 565 = -EI- 2/4 , -I- 2/4;
614 = -EI- 5/7 , -I- 2/7 ;
1175 = -EI-3/7 , -I- 4/7 .

The place name was spelled -ει- in the old Alexandrian (p75, B, A in Acts)
and in the Byzantine traditions.
Another Alexandrian spelling was -ι-, which is also the Western reading.

It appears that Westcott and Hort abandoned the spelling of B because it lined up with the Byzantine reading and because significant Alexandrian witnesses and the Western witness agreed. However, this looks different today, since p75 and p45 have joined B's spelling. WH should have paid more attention to Σαμαρεια in the six examples where the old Alexandrian manuscripts B and A agree in Acts.

This becomes more telling when the gentilic noun 'Samaritan' is investigated.

(for a complete listing of data from Swanson on Σαμαρειτις and Σαμαρειτης, please see

Results and Conclusions

The spelling for the gentilic Σαμαρειτης is a little more inconsistent than for the place name Σαμαρεια, but the same manuscripts are basically lining up with the same relationships.

B is consistently -EI- 9/9.
א is consistently -I- 8/8 (plus one correction of a lacuna with -EI-)
p45 is consistently -EI- 1/1
p75 is consistently -EI- 6/6
D is mixed -EI- 3/8, -I- 5/8. But still in the same direction of its 9/10 preference of Σαμαρια over Σαμαρεια.
W is consistently -I- 8/8.
A is predominantly -EI- 6/7 (Lk 9:52 -I-.) In Acts [Alexandrian] it is -EI- 1/1.
C is mixed -EI- 5/8, -I- 3/8. The three -I- are in Matt and Luke.
The Byzantine manuscripts are predominantly -EI-

How does one distill this?

There is no consistent evidence that would support either UBS/NA or WH ! Differentiating the vowel EI/I in the place name 'Samaria' from the gentilic name 'Samaritan', whichever flip-flop one chooses, appears to be an artificial introduction into the spelling tradition by both published critical texts. UBS/NA may be faulted for following the -I- traditions in the gentilic names Σαμαριτης and Σαμαριτις. The manuscripts that they were following for this tradition would have led them to choose the place name Σαμαρια as well. Likewise, Westcott and Hort should have stuck with their acknowledged preference of B and old Alexandrian witnesses. The papyri p75 and p45 have reinforced the spelling Σαμαρεια. But again, there is no consistent support for maintaining a distinction between Σαμαρια and Σαμαρειτης. The only old witness that moves a bit in that direction is D, Codex Bezae. But Bezae is hardly a reliable tradition, and it only scores 3/8 with Σαμαρειτης. One might also point to the mixed attestation of C, but it, too, is hardly a sterling example of a tight manuscript. It means that there are no manuscripts that consistently support either UBS/NA or Westcott-Hort.

But the manuscripts do support consistency. B, p75, A, and K are on one side (-ει-), and א, p66, and D (-ι-) on the other. Whatever the original authors may have written, the various ancient publishing houses seem to have passed on one tradition or another, though with occasional inconsistencies and some evidence of cross-contamination.

A final irony for this situation is the resulting spelling. The old Alexandrian and the Byzantine manuscripts share a bed here. Together, they both point to Σαμαρεια and Σαμαρειτης as the preferred forms for the Greek NT. The Byzantine text (Robinson-Pierpont) has this spelling right. Fortunately, a person can read both the WH and UBS/NA texts correctly when one is trained to hear the old language.

for an older ETC-blog discussion on 'why spelling matters' see:


  1. Surely a reason for UBS/NA to abandon Σαμάρια would be some aversion to proparoxytone accentuation with -ια endings.

  2. Maybe. Greek nouns ending in ια are normally related to an Ionic ιη and thus long ᾱ, blocking προπαροξυτονος. But such "ε, ι, ρ" rules don't affect later additions to the language. Note how later words like μάχαιρα 'sword' are allowed to be προπαροξύτονος. And more to the point, words like μαθήτρια, ending in -ριᾰ are considered normal, which fits Samaria, spelled either way.

  3. PS: I'm not arguing above in favor of W-H on Samaria -ριᾰ, though perhaps they thought it a harder reading.
    I side with p75, B, A and the Byz for Σαμάρεια Σαμαρείτης.

  4. More evidence that the overarching motivation for Westcott and Hort was their admitted animosity to the Traditional Text.

  5. I don't see this change as related to WH's antipathy toward the Byzantine readings, but basically a case of Hort's own over-emphasis on orthography (which severely frustrated Westcott, as noted in their various Life and Letters volumes).

    Hort discusses his reasons for the apparent inconsistency in a lengthy section of the Introduction and Appendix volume, 152-155. For the Samaria-related spellings in particular, Hort seemed to be swayed by the manner in which his favored MSS happened to fluctuate when in combination with other favored MSS, particularly when coupled with rules of accentuation as Pete Williams has mentioned.

    Hort specifically states that SAMAREITHS and SAMARITHS "vary in relative authority in different places, -EITHS being on the whole better attested in Jo Act than in Mt Lc" (154). So I don't think any Byzantine antipathy had much to do with it.

  6. thank you Maurice, this is helpful. And as I said, we have an extra perspective with p75 and p45 that Hort didn't have when evaluating his favorite manuscript.

    Are those Introduction and Appendix notes available for PDF download somewhere?

  7. The intro was available on

    but this useful resource is gone.
    The TC journal also is gone. I have heard that it will survive under the auspices of SBL.

    Anybody knows more?

  8. It has had a bit of a crash and a reconstruction, but is scheduled to return. Some of the most recent issue of TC is available ( It does raise some tricky issues about the permanence of the resource, or perhaps about the desirability of one or two mirror-sites to ensure availability during crashes.

  9. Google Books has the Introduction and Appendix volume:,M1

  10. RE: backup for

    Fortunately there is a backup site, The internet archive scans all the public web pages on the internet and archives them. The pages protected by passwords are not backed up (so you won't find the facsimile images there), but most of the test is there.

    The internet archive (also called the 'wayback machine') is available from Just type in the URL of the site you are looking for and it will bring up the pages.

    In the case in question, you can find the WH intro here:

    bob relyea

  11. Thank you, Relyea. The 'way-back-machine' worked. The text is readible, though it takes some careful reading to discern exactly what Hort was referring to when discussing variants. The Greek text was ASCII-ed by the OCR process, and not always in the same ways. Even ASCII material gets skewed, like when "B" is called "13" in the context of discussing manuscript "X" (which is alef א)

  12. I guess I'll have to visit a hard-copy library. The OCR scan did not include the Appendix and neither sections 152-155 nor pages 152-155 of the Introduction discussed Samareia.

  13. In the pages that Maurice kindly forwarded, it turns out that WH changed their accent with their spelling, as Σαμαρία. So listed in the Accordance version of WH that I use.
    Swanson had incorrectly listed WH at Σαμάρια.

  14. Considering the different dates of the NT writings, would different writers have used different orthographies? Along with this, assuming Markan priority, could the autographic texts of Matthew and Luke themselves have been inconsistent owing to their non-Markan material? Sounds to me like it's better to choose one spelling and standardize it throughout. Luckily in this case, the long-lasting Koine tradition consents with several early Alexandrians. We might as well prefer that standardization, as Buth has argued.