Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"Scribe" or "Copyist"?

In light of recent studies that demonstrate how users/readers of texts were much more typically the ones who introduced changes to the texts, rather than the copyists who generally aimed to copy their exemplar with fidelity, Larry Hurtado proposes that text-critics drop the term “scribe.” In this way, Hurtado urges for less emphasis on “scribes” and “scribal purposes/changes/tendencies”, and more allowance for the role of readers/users.

Do you agree with Hurtado's proposal to drop the term "scribe" and simply use "copyist"? Answer the poll in the right sidebar.

Update: Results of the poll: Yes 18 (33%); No 29 (53%); I don't know 7 (12%). Total votes 54.


Wieland Willker said...

As Hurtado says, it depends on what you understand a scribe to be.
A scribe *can* be someone who is learned in the scriptures.
A scribe can be a copyist.
A copyist can be a scribe.

What's in a name?

Mike Gantt said...

I don't know that dropping the term "scribe" is warranted, but it is certainly helpful to welcome the term "copyist" for those contexts where it is clearly more appropriate.

The White Man said...

The right sidebar is showing the Sisters of Sinai video.

Drew Longacre said...

The way the paragraph is phrased seems to present a false dichotomy. "Copyist" and "user" may not be mutually exclusive categories. Perhaps a "scribe" can be both.

Nazaroo said...

"scribe" does seem like a loaded term for ordinary modern readers to interpret. It sounds like a profession, and often was, but as Mr. Willker points out, it can have connotations of "rabbi"/teacher. Just the rareness of the word in English usage gives it an air of mystery which suggests something beyond the straightforward "copyist".

"copyist" is a no-nonsense word that describes the basic function in context. It seems to be the best term as a default, implying no more than the necessary.

"editor" also is thoroughly modern and transparent, implying more than "copyist".

Dr. Hurtado has good reason to suggest adopting "copyist", but there may be contexts in which "scribe" actually does the right job: for instance, with copies of the Torah or Tanakh in Hebrew.
Using "scribe" for all NT cases seems to imply more than is warranted.


Tommy Wasserman said...

White man: "The right sidebar is showing the Sisters of Sinai video."

Can you specify what you mean. This does not happen in my webbrowser.

James E. Snapp, Jr. said...

I prefer the term "copyist" to the term "scribe." In NTTC-writings the two terms are virtually interchangeable but one never knows who the reader is going to be, and if the reader is a novice then there's a chance that he will bring to the text a preconception that a "scribe" is an ally of the Pharisees, having read about the "scribes and Pharisees" repeatedly in the Gospels.

So if, instead of speaking to be understood, one speaks to not be misunderstood, I think "copyist" is the better term. On the other hand, the novice should not stay a novice and if he studies the subject he will have to get acquainted with the jargon, including terms such as "scribal habits," "scribal tendencies," "Scribe A," etc.

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.

The White Man said...

Tommy Wasserman:
Can you specify what you mean. This does not happen in my webbrowser.

Sure enough, it was a Firefox problem.

G.W. Schwendner said...

What adjective will take the place of scribal? What is the advantage of replacing "scribal error" with "copying error" or "scribal habits" with "habits of copyists"?

Timo Flink said...

G.W., probably the fact that not all copyist were scribes. Some readers may have made copies for themselves and others (with all kinds of blunders). Unless we call everyone, who copies a manuscript text or a portion of it a scribe, a copyist may be a better term.

Peter M. Head said...

I'm not sure that the studies he mentions really support the initial statement. Even if the evidence did support it I can't see that much s gained by altering the nomenclature.

maurice a robinson said...

PMH: Even if the evidence did support it I can't see that much is gained by altering the nomenclature.

Just like with the uncial/majuscule or umlaut/distigme situations? (I couldn't resist).

James E. Snapp, Jr. said...


Glad to see you posting! I hope you are feeling better! Prayers are with you for a strong recovery.

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.