Monday, January 25, 2010

Putting the Distigmai in Their Place: Payne Strikes Back pt. 3

This is the third part of the series in which Payne responds to Peter Head's recent SBL presentation "Putting the Distigmai in Their Place." For background, read previous parts here and here.

(Editors note: At one point, I had major difficulties with the siglum א followed by 2 in html so finally I had to rewrite to "Aleph2".)



Head argues that on “at least five occasions we find that the presence of the small numbers seems to have caused a displacement” of distigmai from its normal position on the left side of one of the first five columns of the open codex to a position on its right side. For various reasons listed just before the conclusion of this paper, including four apricot color distigmai on the right of columns where there are no other marginalia on the left, I argue that simply being on the right is not a clear indication of displacement.

Head’s first instance regards the ΛΓ number at 1240 C 23 (Matt 6:1). The NA27 notes that the last five letters on this line, δικαι, are replaced by ελεημ in manuscripts L W Z Θ f 13 33 �� f k syp.h mae. The endings of both words are identical with the letters beginning the next line, οσυνην, so the difference is clearly at the end of the line. This explains the position of this distigme on the right side of this line.

Head’s second instance regards the small number ΛΔ at 1241 A 7 (Matt 6:5). The NA27 notes that the last three letters of this line, σθε, are omitted in manuscripts א* D L W Θ f 13 33 �� k q sys.p.h, so the distigme on the right side is ideally positioned to indicate this textual variant.

Head’s third instance regards the small number ΝϚ (Head calls the stigma[1] a digamma) at 1245 B 6 (Matt 9:13). The NA27 notes that just before the last short word in this line (τοτε) manuscripts C L Θ 0281 f 13 g1 sys.hmg sa mae bopt add after “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” the words “to repentance.” Again, the known variant is near the right hand side of this line, which explains the position of the distigme on the right of this line.

Not only do all three of these examples have a significant variant at or very near the right hand side of the line, manuscripts L Θ f 13 �� include all three of these variants, and all three occur between Matt 6:1 and 9:13, within six pages, so might easily have come from a single manuscript. Their common sources and corresponding notation on the right of each line, where these variants occur, increase the probability that these are the textual variants that are noted by these distigmai. Furthermore, a single scribe noting variants in the same manuscript all in this short span of text is more likely to place distigmai on the right side of each of these lines of text than if the variants had been from different manuscripts compared at different times from different parts of the NT. Consequently, none of these three either in isolation or together constitute clear evidence that the small numbers affected the position of any of these distigmai.

Head’s fourth example is the small number ΡΝΘ at 1274 C 41. Since there is no distigme anywhere near the small number ΡΝΘ, I presume Head refers to the distigme on the right hand side of 1273 B 41 (at Matt 12:59) as being placed there to avoid overlapping the bleed through of this number. There is, however, room for a distigme on the left side of this line without touching this number even if the distigme is given the same generous separation from the text that it now has on the right hand side of the line. The NA27 lists no variant on this line, either on the left or the right side of it, so gives no guidance in this instance.

Head’s final example regards the small number ΟΓ at 1496 B 10 (Eph 4:17). If the scribe who penned this distigme had positioned it the same distance from the text on the left side of column B as it is currently on the right, there would have been more space between it and the small number than between it and the text. Consequently, it cannot be properly assumed that it was positioned on the right side of the column in order to avoid interference with the small number. The more likely reason for its position on the right side of the column, then, is that the variant being noted was on the right side of the line, just as extant variants show to be likely in the three other comparable instances just noted. The NA27 lists no variant on this line, either on the left or the right side of it, so gives no guidance in this instance.

Head asserts, “[T]here is no evidence for the distigmai interfering with any” small number. His assertion is contradicted by the position of the small number ε at 1278 B 12, which is significantly farther left than any of the small numbers between two columns of text throughout Matthew or Mark. The obvious reason for this is to avoid intruding on the distigme[2] to its right. This constitutes clear evidence that a distigme affected the position of a small number. In contrast, Head has identified no unambiguous evidence of a small number affecting the position of a distigme. Consequently, at least this one distigme should be regarded as written earlier than this small number. Since head dates the small numbers early, “perhaps fifth century,” this distigme contradicts Head’s thesis that all distigmai were written in the sixteenth century. Because of their sequential nature, the small numbers should be regarded as a unified system, even though many of them have been rewritten later after a large number partially obscured the original small number.[3] This rewriting of so many small numbers around large numbers proves that these repositioned small numbers were written after the large numbers, which Head states were “added at a much later date.” Thus, not all small numbers are from approximately the same date. Since this is true even for such a unified system, how much more should it be true of distigmai. The evidence that the distigme at 1278 B 12 was written prior to the adjacent small number ε indicates that this distigme was written at least a millennium before Head says all distigmai were written.


Head alleges “that the large numbers are earlier than the distigmai … because distigmai appear sometimes inside and sometimes outside the large numbers.” Whenever distigmai appear inside large numbers, however, they are in a normal distigme position, so this shows no interference.[4] The only instance Head cites of a distigme on the outside of a large number, 1455 B 31, also shares other signs of not being original.[5] It is above the top of the following text line, which is highly unusual.[6] It is farther from text than usual. The left dot is higher than the right dot, which in itself would not be conclusive, but it is paired with two dots also above the top of that line of text but on its right side, over a square with a dot on each side, which is without parallel regarding any apricot distigme, and, as far as I have observed, with any distigme. Consequently, I agree with Head that this distigme should be dated after the large numbers.

Head also alleges “that the large numbers are earlier than the distigmai … because on two occasions distigmai are placed in the right hand margin at places where large numbers occupy their normal location in the left hand margin.” His second example, however, is not legitimate since the distigme is on 1482 C 10, the line above the large number. Furthermore, there is also a distigme in its normal position on the left side of 1482 C 10, proving that its position does not interfere with this large number. Head’s other example, the placement of the distigme on the right side of 1407 B 20 is not conclusive for three reasons. First, if it were on the left side of the text with the same amount of separation from the text that it currently has on the right it would not touch the large number, so the large number does not necessitate this position on the right. Second, if it indicates the textual variant noted in the NA27 of the �� reading that substitutes προσλαβόμενοι[vii] for ζηλώσαντες on 1407 B 20 it may be on the right since προσλαβομε is in the Vaticanus text at the very end of the immediately following line B 21, so the position on the right helps to identify the variant. Third, four apricot color ink distigmai are on the right side of a column without any interference from another symbol, so positioning on the right is always a weak indicator of secondary influence.[8]

Head asserts, “[T]here is no evidence for the distigmai interfering with any” large number. In fact, however, there is evidence that distigmai interfere with large numbers. The large number at 1486 C 20 (2 Cor 12:11) is positioned to the left of the distigme even though the bar that goes over it, which identifies it as a number, also extends over the distigme. In every other instance of a large number from the beginning of 1 Corinthians all the way to the end of the surviving uncial text of Vaticanus in Hebrews, the overbar is always directly over each large number, never extending out this far beyond the number.[9]The only other instance of a bar extending to the right of a large number theta like this, 1416 C 17 at Acts 23:1, also extends over an addition in the margin, suggesting that in both instances it is the additional material in the margin that attracted the extension of the bar beyond the large number theta. This is further evidence that the distigme at 1486 C 22 is more likely to have affected the positioning of this large number than vice versa.

Another instance where a large number’s position appears to accommodate for the presence of a distigme is at 1508 C 5, where the tail of the large number at 1504 C 3 extends to its left where there is a distigme in a normal position to its right.[10]

Consequently, although there is one instance (1455 B 31) where a variety of evidence points to this particular distigmai being written after a large number, in other cases a large number appears to have been written so as to avoid overlapping an already existing distigme. Thus, as regards large numbers, Head has overstated the evidence for and ignored evidence against his generalization that “the distigmai appear secondary.”

Head appeals to six other marginalia that he alleges to confirm “that the distigmai are late additions to the margins of Codex Vaticanus,” but none of them give clear support for this, whereas several provide evidence against his thesis. First, he states that the liturgical note symbolizing αρχη, at 1409 C 11 interferes with a distigme at 1409 C 10 and a similar symbol at 1471 A 6 interferes with the distigme at 1471 A 4. Both distigmai, however, are in a typical distigme position. The distigme at 1471 A 4 is two lines above the liturgical note, which is far too far from it for the liturgical note to affect its position. The distigme at 1409 C 11 is actually farther left than the distigme just two lines above it, whereas if its scribe had positioned it to avoid interference with the liturgical note, it would have been farther right like the preceding distigme. Furthermore, the χ at 1471 C 10 is positioned as usual[xi] above the slanted ρ in αρ, whereas the χ at 1409 C 10 is midway between the two letters αρ. This indicates that the χ at 1409 C 10 was adjusted left to avoid overlapping the distigme. This provides evidence that it was written after the distigme, the opposite of Head’s contention. Head’s own evidence, carefully examined, in this case undermines his thesis.

Second, Head appeals to “marginal notes normally taken to signal pious approval of the contents of the passage” as interfering with the position of a distigme at 1408 B 9, 1416 C,[12] and 1426 C,[13] but none of these distigmai is moved out of a normal distigme position, as would have to be the case to show avoidance of the marginal symbol. Consequently, they provide no clear support for Head’s thesis.

Third, Head states, “In one significant passage, a dittography has resulted in the same passage being copied out twice. The distigme is placed only against the second, re-inked passage, suggesting the distigme was placed after the re-inking (dated by Tischendorf to the tenth or eleventh century).” It appears, however, that this dittography was noted at the time of the original production of Vaticanus, for each line of the duplicated text is surrounded by small raised parentheses that appear from the millennial reproduction to match the apricot color of the original ink of Vaticanus. These marks clearly guided the re-inker to retrace only over the text not marked as duplicate text. The scribe who wrote this distigme at 1479 B 39 naturally did the same. Consequently, the text after the distigme is the more appropriate text to receive a distigme, and as such, this instance should not be appealed to as evidence that its distigme is late. Since, however, the dark chocolate brown color and intensity of the ink of the re-inking appears to be a perfect match for the adjacent distigme, this does constitute evidence that the distigme (to be more precise, probably its re-inking) should be dated at the same time as the re-inking, which is incompatible with Head’s thesis that all Vaticanus distigmai were written in the 16th century.

Fourth, Head states, “the famous marginal comment at Heb 1.3 seems to have caused the displacement of an [sic] distigme to the right hand margin.” The position of this distigme on the right side of the margin of 1512 B 17 is naturally explained, however, by the textual variant noted in the NA27 of the insertion of ημων just four letters from the end of this line in Aleph2 D1 H 33 1881. Not only is there room for a distigme on the left without interfering with the marginal comment, positioning of distigmai on the right side of a line is a weak indicator or of non-originality in any case, as argued in the final paragraph before the conclusion to this paper. Willker, asking why this distigme is on the right side, judiciously states, “Nobody knows for sure.”[14] Head, however, draws a conclusion not only about this distigme, but that “the distigmai … are later than a thirteen-century marginal comment.”

Fifth, Head states, “on one occasion an [sic] distigme seems to be placed in order to avoid interference with a large initial letter.” Presumably,[15] he refers to the distigme on the right side of 1277 C 3 (Mark 1:1) or the right side of 1443 C 3 (Jude 1), but both are by the far right column of the open codex, where distigmai are normally on the right hand side. In any event, the last word of 1277 C 3, τω, is replaced with τοις in manuscripts A W f13 �� vgms syh (bomss); Irlat, and the end of the last line of 1443 C 3, ηγα[πη] is replaced in P �� with ηγια[ς] according to the NA27, so position after the end of the line should be expected. Head may, however, refer to two very faint dots at 1499 A 3, but Willker is probably right to regard this as a mirror impression from 1498 C 3.[16] Both pairs of dots have the same orientation, the outer dot being lower than the inner dot, their location on the page appears appropriate for making this mirror impression, and the NA27 lists no textual variant on this line. Or Head may refer to the smudge mark between 1502 C 1-2 or the two faint dots at 1506 C 2, but both of these are merely ink that bled through from the other side of the vellum. None of these provides any evidence of a distigme being placed to avoid interference with a large initial letter.

Sixth, following Curt Niccum,[17] Head states that the distigmai “are later than the fifteenth-century minuscule text of Hebrews” based on “the presence of at least one distigme on the fifteenth century minuscule page.” Skeat is probably correct that the minuscule leaves appended to Vaticanus replaced damaged uncial leaves.[18] On the first page of the minuscule text there is only one distigme by its first column (1519 A 12 by Heb 9:18–19), two much smaller, non-horizontal, raised dots of undetermined purpose by its second column (1519 B 12 by Heb 10:1) and also a chapter break symbol shaped like a square root sign at the beginning of Hebrews 10 (1519 B 8). Both the distigme and chapter symbol (e.g., 1518 B 5, 1517 A 40 and C 6, and 1516 B 30) mimic the form of these symbols in the preceding uncial text of Vaticanus, and both occur in the minuscule text only here.

The simplest explanation for this is that, in order to preserve these markings, a scribe copied both of these symbols from the damaged uncial leaf into their corresponding positions in the first minuscule page that replaced it.[19] Niccum objects that if a scribe had copied these symbols from a torn leaf, he also would have copied other original markings such as paragraph bars.[20] He assumes that paragraph bars were on whatever then remained of this damaged uncial page. This is a precarious assumption since there is only one such bar in the previous complete uncial page, and all three distinctive features occur in a one-inch-by-four-inch portion of that page (4 of the 110 square inches of a full page). It is also doubtful that someone like de Sepulveda, with the scholarly care and observant eye necessary to document textual variants, would not only mark up this very ancient manuscript but would continue to note textual variants even after the change from uncial to the obviously different and later minuscule text. My explanation following Skeat, however, accounts for this naturally just as it explains the chapter symbol and the ambiguous dots, namely that they were copied from the damaged uncial leaf into corresponding positions in the minuscule text. In contrast, Head’s thesis provides no explanation for the chapter symbol.

Furthermore, the text where the only distigme occurs in the minuscule text was the standard reading at the time it was written and so would probably not have been marked as a variant reading then. My text of Erasmus’s Greek NT has the identical text that is in the minuscule text of Vaticanus next to this distigme, so it appears that Erasmus’s Greek text would not account for this distigme in any event.

In sum, none of the examples Head adduces from these six other categories of marginalia clearly supports his thesis, but two clearly undermine his thesis, several exemplify inattentive analysis of the data, and others raise questions that his thesis does not answer.


[1] Chris Hopkins, Nusmismatica Font Project, includes photographs of four coins embossed with a stigma from the time of Christ. He states, “G. F. Hill differentiates Digamma ϝ and Stigma ϛ, and tells us the ϛ was used only as a numeral… The terminology confusion between Digamma ϝ and Stigma ϛ appears to be caused by their common numeric value and that ϛ supplanted ϝ. Digamma ϝ was used as both letter and number until its eventual disappearance. I have not seen Digamma ϝ used on coins in its numeric sense.” Cf. George Francis Hill, Ancient Greek and Roman Coins: A Handbook (Chicago: Argonaut, 1964; first published in 1899 as A Handbook of Greek and Roman Coins), p. 215. Herbert Weir Smyth, Greek Grammar (Rev. by Gordon M. Messing; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1956), p. 8 notes that the digamma presumably fell into disuse about the time Athens adopted the Ionic alphabet in 403 B.C., but it disappeared gradually, and was used in Boeotia as late as 200 B.C.

[2] It should be regarded a distigme given Head’s broad definition, but its orientation is not as horizontal as most distigmai, though only slightly more than the apricot color distigme at 1351 A 6 (cf. below, n. 70), and its dots are closer together than most, though not as close as the apricot color distigme at 1308 B 27.

[3] 1387 C 13-14, 1388 B 18, 1394 B 37, 1399 B 18, 1401 A 18-19, 1414 A 27, 1418 B 13, 1424 C 2-3, 1427 C 40, 1431 C 25, 1433 C 11, 1457 C1, 1465 B 19, 1466 A 28, 1467 C 6, 1471 B 20, 1474 B 5, 1478 C 10, 1495 C 20, 1508 C 3, 1511 B 21, 1513 C 10.

[4] 1426 B 38 (contrast the farther extension of the overbar in small number Β at 1438 C 10 and 1442 C 18, which would have interfered with the distigme at 1426 B 38 if that overbar had extended to the right similarly), 1486 C 20, 1508 C 5 (only the tail of the large number at 1508 C 3 extends as far as the distigme, but even it does not come close to the distigme), 1449 A 35 (its position might be construed as affected by the large number, but it is clearly separated from the large number, and this distigme is the same distance from text as the next distigme at 1449 B 11. Furthermore, if the scribe had written this distigme at 1449 B 11 after the large number, one would expect it to be at the more usual mid-character height, since that position would have provided more separation from the bar under the number.

[5] Cf. the criteria listed just before the conclusion of this paper.

[6] Only one apricot color distigme has both dots above the line of text. Cf. item 8 and n. 73 in the description of the range of apricot color distigmai characteristics prior to this paper’s conclusion.

[7] The OdysseaUBSU font edited by Philip B. Payne is used throughout this paper to represent standard Greek text. It is available at 20% discount from by writing “Marginalia referral” in the special instructions window near the bottom of the order form.

[8] Cf. the final paragraph before the conclusion of this paper.

[9] Some of them come much nearer text than this one, e.g. the first one preceding it (1483 C 9, where the large number is within 2 mm of text) and the third one preceding it (1481 C 33, where the large number is within 1.4 mm of text).

[10] Contrast the more typical tail positions of the large numbers at 1481 C 33, 1482 C 11, 1483 C 9, 1485 A 24, 1486 C 20, 1488 A 22, 1491 B 14-15, 1497 B 30, 1513 C 10, 1515 A 6.

[11] The χ is also positioned predominantly over the slanted ρ at 1404 A 18, 1405 A 35, 1406 A 28, 1407 A 39, 1408 A 26 and even on the right side of it at 1388 C 19. Only when the ρ is vertical, as at 1393 A 27 (right side) and 1394 B 31 is the χ more likely to be centered between the αρ, and even when it is vertical it may be more over the ρ, as at 1384 C 39 and 1393 C 41, or directly over the ρ at 1396 B 8 (right side).

[12] There are distigmai at lines 8 and 27, but neither is near another mark. Perhaps Head means 1416 B 16 or 25, but they both bleed through from the other side of the vellum.

[13] There are distigmai at lines 11 and 32, but both are in a normal distigme position. Perhaps Head refers to the overlapping of the distigme and the faint sweeping stroke at 1426 C 32, but since both are in their standard positions, it is unclear which was written first.

[14] Wieland Willker, “Codex Vaticanus Graece 1209, B/03: The Umlauts: A textcritical complaint” at

[15] Neither draft of Head’s paper identifies which location he intends, nor has he not answered my email requesting that he identify it.

[16] Willker, calls it an “imprint.”

[17] Curt Niccum, “The Voice of the Manuscripts on the Silence of Women: The External Evidence for 1 Cor 14.34–5,” NTS 43 (1997): 242-55. For a detailed critique of Niccum’s argument, see Payne, Man and Woman, 235-40.

[18] T. C. Skeat, “The Codex Vaticanus in the Fifteenth Century,” JTS 35 (1984): 454–65.

[19] This fits Skeat’s understanding that the minuscule leaves appended to Vaticanus probably replaced damages uncial leaves, “The Codex Vaticanus,” 454-65.

[20] Niccum, “Voice,” 245.


Peter M. Head said...

I am glad that when I gave my presentation at SBL each one of my brief points was supported by three images of the evidence so that the audience could see the issues. I have been debating whether to keep the photos for the published version but I think it is probably a great deal simpler to provide images.