Thursday, July 09, 2009

Sinaiticus as a Commentary on John's Apocalyse?

Sinaiticus as a Commentary on John's Apocalyse?

That's the issue raised at the Sinaiticus conference by Juan Hernández Jr. (Bethel University, St. Paul). Juan has been educating us about the text of John's Revelation for 3 or 4 years now. In this paper, he writes, "[The Apocalypse in Codex Sinaiticus] exhibits dozens of differences at key points, reflecting the concerns...of its earliest copyists and readers. Taken as a whole, Sinaiticus' text of Revelation may constitute one of our earliest Christian commentaries on the book..., anticipating the later concerns of Oecumenius and Andrew of Caesarea." He qualifies this claim to an extent, but reinforces it by concluding "[W]e can discern a concerted effort to elucidate the Apocalypse's message by scores of changes throughout."

Juan states that Sinaiticus differs substantially from modern critical editions. It is difficult to evaluate this claim without seeing the differences relative to other manuscripts. Could we say the same about any witness to Revelation? Which mss come closer to NA27? Compared with NA27, Juan cites Sinaiticus as having 182 additions and 389 omissions, with 207 word losses. Juxtaposing this data with the same data of other mss would help ascertain how substantially different Sinaiticus is from NA27, and whether the scribe of Sinaiticus really did make a concerted effort to alter the text.

As part of his thesis that the scribe of Sinaiticus deliberately altered the text, Juan argues that there is a number of theologically motivated variants: Jesus is the beginning of the church, not the beginning of creation (Rev 3:14); Jesus does not vomit (avoidance of base bodily functions, 3:16); both God and the Lamb are ascribed the blessings, honor and "glory of the Almighty" (instead of "and the power," 5:13); Jesus summons Jezebel, rather than throwing her (2:22); Jesus himself opens the door rather than any man (3:20).

Someone remarked that it might be significant that the corrector fixed all these variants (except the last one, involving the mere change of an eta to an omega.). If the corrector corrected these before it left the scriptorium or some time while the Christological issues were raging, then perhaps the charge that scribes deliberately altered texts for theological reasons is somewhat mitigated.

One also must ask if theological motivation really is the cause of alteration; perhaps, as might be the case with 3:20, the change was accidental, rather than arising from "intelligent design" (P.J. Williams' terminology). Moreover, as Tommy Wasserman argued in his SBL Rome paper in regard to theologically motivated alteration, one should ask if a given scribe was consistent in altering texts before ascribing motivation; Tommy demonstrated that this was not the case with many of Bart Ehrman's passages, and one wonders the same for Sinaiticus in Revelation.

Less spectactorily, Juan gave a helpful list of orthographical variations, nonsense readings, grammatical and contextual alterations, dittographic and haplographic reeadings, singular readings, etc. There was also an interesting list of alterations, possibly from liturgical interference.

Lacking expertise in many of these issues, I withhold judgment, except to say that it is a rather spectacular claim that the text of Sinaiticus reflects a "concerted effort" in its transmission history to improve "the Apocalypse's message" by incorporating "scores of changes throughout."

8 Comments:

Mike Holmes said...

Thanks, James, for the summary of Hernandez's presentation. I was struck by the juxtaposition of two consecutive paragraphs. In one, you raised Tommy Wasserman's question (from his Rome ISBL paper):
"in regard to theologically motivated alteration, one should ask if a given scribe was consistent in altering texts before ascribing motivation; Tommy demonstrated that this was not the case with many of Bart Ehrman's passages, and one wonders the same for Sinaiticus in Revelation."

Then in the very next paragraph, you note that "Juan gave a helpful list of orthographical variations, nonsense readings, grammatical and contextual alterations, dittographic and haplographic readings, singular readings, etc. There was also an interesting list of alterations, possibly from liturgical interference."

Here, I think, is Juan's answer to Tommy's question: Juan has documented in detail the characteristics of this specific scribe. In this particular case, what we gain from this sort of "less spectacular" sort of information is just the kind of data it takes to answer Tommy's question. In this particular case, it almost all points in a direction which significantly increases the probability of deliberate rather than accidental alteration of the text.

It was good of you to bring Tommy's important question to bear on Juan's topic. In this case, I think Juan anticipated and answered it--indeed, at the very time Tommy was presenting his paper in Rome, Juan was in his office gathering the information that answers it.

Mike Holmes said...

Thanks, James, for the summary of Hernandez's presentation. I was struck by the juxtaposition of two consecutive paragraphs. In one, you raised Tommy Wasserman's question (from his Rome ISBL paper):
"in regard to theologically motivated alteration, one should ask if a given scribe was consistent in altering texts before ascribing motivation; Tommy demonstrated that this was not the case with many of Bart Ehrman's passages, and one wonders the same for Sinaiticus in Revelation."

Then in the very next paragraph, you note that "Juan gave a helpful list of orthographical variations, nonsense readings, grammatical and contextual alterations, dittographic and haplographic readings, singular readings, etc. There was also an interesting list of alterations, possibly from liturgical interference."

Here, I think, is Juan's answer to Tommy's question: Juan has documented in detail the characteristics of this specific scribe. In this particular case, what we gain from this sort of "less spectacular" sort of information is just the kind of data it takes to answer Tommy's question. In this particular case, it almost all points in a direction which significantly increases the probability of deliberate rather than accidental alteration of the text.

It was good of you to bring Tommy's important question to bear on Juan's topic. In this case, I think Juan anticipated and answered it--indeed, at the very time Tommy was presenting his paper in Rome, Juan was in his office gathering the information that answers it.

Mike Holmes said...

Sorry for the double posting--my finger seems to have "stuttered" on my mouse--a much different sort of "scribal error" than we are accustomed to dealing with.

Tommy Wasserman said...

Thanks James and Mike. I think there was just too little time and knowledge for any of us present to be able to judge whether Juan has a good case. There were strikingly few examples of theologically motivated alteration after all considering all the variant passages. So in any case this is not a "commentary" on the Apocalypse in the sense we may think of a "commentary".

Moreover, some of the examples are clearly debatable. A change from KALW to BALW (or the other way around, I cannot remember now, sitting in my bed), could more easily be explained as originating from a simple misreading (or mishearing) on the part of the scribe. There is much more to be said about this topic, that is for sure. In any case, every single case of textual variation has the possibility of being unique and all possibilities should be scrutinized.

maurice a robinson said...

JL: it is a rather spectacular claim that the text of Sinaiticus reflects a "concerted effort" in its transmission history to improve "the Apocalypse's message" by incorporating "scores of changes throughout."

Not at all, since the same conclusion (including various instances of theological alteration) was reached independently in my 1982 PhD Dissertation, in which (as mentioned some time previously when Hernandez book first appeared) I characterized Sinaiticus' scribe of Revelation as "an editor to be reckoned with."

Thus, as Mike Holmes accurately noted, the work of the Sinaiticus scribe in Revelaiton "almost all points in a direction which significantly increases the probability of deliberate rather than accidental alteration of the text."

Daniel Buck said...

"Could we say the same about any witness to Revelation? Which mss come closer to NA27?"

As I understand it, NA27 comes closest to A 02 in Revelation, as well as just about anywhere else where Aleph and B don't agree and papyri are not available.

Tommy Wasserman said...

MAR: "Thus, as Mike Holmes accurately noted, the work of the Sinaiticus scribe in Revelaiton 'almost all points in a direction which significantly increases the probability of deliberate rather than accidental alteration of the text.'"

That is interesting. Of course one would expect the text of Revelation being less "controlled" than other sections, e.g. gospels. It does have a special transmission history.

However, there is another important point I would like to make, and that is the need for distinguishing between the motivation behind a variant when it first originates, whether deliberate or not, and the motivation of subsequent scribes, patristic authors and translators in the later transmission of the same variant where they have knowledge of textual variation.

Peter M. Head said...

I am not convinced that 'commentary' is the best word to describe the phenomena.