Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Wikipedia is still bad: Notes on Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus

About this time last year I wrote a blog about the wikipedia page concerning Codex Alexandrinus, under the heading How Bad Is Wikipedia? Codex Alexandrinus as a Test Case.

My general conclusion was fairly negative:
“Wikipedia is quite bad. Facts are wrong, correct facts are placed in the wrong context, incorrect conclusions are drawn. ...  The best and most recent scholarship is cited the least. Evidence is not routinely provided. And the overall style is dreadful.”
Well, recently (in fact yesterday) I led a seminar on the NT manuscript C or 04 (Codex Ephraimi Rescriptus), and I happened to have a look at wikipedia again. Oh dear. This page also has plenty of problems - wikipediea obviously hasn’t really get a lot better in the last year. And this time I went all the way to the end and I found 20 problems, approximately half of which are either completely wrong or seriously misleading. See what you think.

1. Opening Sentence: “Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus (Paris, National Library of France, Greek 9; Gregory-Aland no. C or 04, von Soden δ 3) is an early 5th century Greek manuscript of the Bible, the last in the group of the four great uncial manuscripts (see Codex Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus and Vaticanus).”
Three problems with this sentence: i) the use of the word “early” for the date in the fifth century. By way of introduction it would be better to simply say ‘fifth century’ which is widely agreed. The possibility of narrowing down the range could be dealt with later (with evidence or argument). ii) and iii) the description of this as ‘the last in the group’. It is not clear what the word ‘last’ refers to here. If it is a dating issue, then it is unclear why C should be regarded as later than A (esp. if it is thought to be ‘early 5th century’ of course). It was not the last to be discovered or published. It is only ‘last’ in the alphabetical arrangement, but that means nothing. Further the sense in which the four great Greek Bible manuscripts are a ‘group’ is also not clear. It would be better to keep it simple: ‘one of the four Greek Bible manuscripts which survive from the fourth and fifth centuries’.

2. Second paragraph: “The manuscript received its name as a codex in which Greek translations of Ephraem the Syrian‘s treatises were written over (“rescriptus”) a former text that had been washed off its vellum pages, thus forming a palimpsest.[1] The later text was produced in the 12th century. The effacement of the original text was incomplete, for beneath the text of Ephraem are the remains of what was once a complete Bible, containing both the Old Testament and the New.”
These sentences are just too clunky and inelegant. 

3. “There are only 209 leaves of the codex surviving, of which 145 belong to the New Testament and 64 to the Old Testament.”
Well it is true that 209 leaves survived up to the time of Tischendorf and are reflected in his published text; and this is a bit geeky, but in fact only 208 leaves are extant in the volume currently in the BN - there is one missing (and Tischendorf was the last person to hold it).

4. “The nomina sacra are abbreviated in an unusual way: ΙΗΣ for Ἰησοῦς (Jesus), IHY for Ἰησοῦ (of Jesus), XPΣ for Χριστὸς (Christ), ΧPY for Χριστοῦ (of Christ), ΠΑP for Πατήρ (Father), and ΣTH for Σταυρωθῇ (crucify).”
This is completely wrong. The footnote reference is to Gregory’s discussion of Codex Bezae. 

5. “The text of the Gospels is divided according to κεφαλαια (chapters), but their τιτλοι (titles of chapters) are not placed in the upper margin of the page as in Codex Alexandrinus. A list of their τιτλοι (tables of contents) preceded each Gospel.”
The difficulty here is partly linguistic and partly relates to the incomplete nature of the surviving evidence. Firstly it is not right to say that “the text of the Gospels is divided according to ...” The problem here is the word “divided”, the ennumeration of the kephalaia does not divide or even disturb the text of the gospels. It is a marginal system of ennumeration. Further it looks like the parenthetical italicised terms are translating the Greek words cited, but that doesn’t work with the third of these which is merely an equivalent for the whole phrase (a list of titloi = a table of contents). Further only two of the lists survives - so one should inject a note of caution: ‘based on the presence of the list of titloi preceding Luke’s Gospel and John’s Gospel it is reasonable to think that similar lists would have preceded each Gospel’. Finally, although no titloi are visible in the upper margins it is not to my mind certain that none were ever placed in the upper margin, since it is normal to have some orientation in the upper margins. Two possibilities would be worth considering, either that the material in the upper margin was written in red ink and so very thoroughly erased (like the first verse/s of each NT book); or that the pages were trimmed down when the book was rebound in the twelfth century [this in fact was Tischendorf’s view].

6. “The text of the Gospels is divided into small Ammonian Sections, whose numbers are given at the margin, with references to the Eusebian Canons (written below Ammonian Section numbers).”
Here again the term “divided” is not helpful. More substantially there is a question about the the presence of the two numbers in C. Only the upper number (the so-called Ammonian Section) is visible, and only these numbers are represented in Tischendorf’s transcription. Since Eusebius specifically mentions that the second number, the Eusebian Canon number, should be written in red ink; and since it appears that the red ink was well washed off in this manuscript, then it is possible that the Eusebian Canons were marked. But no one has ever seen them.

7. “The Pericope Adulterae (John 7:53–8:11) is omitted; though the pericope is located on the lost two leaves (John 7:3–8:34), by counting the lines it can be proved that it was not in the book – there is not room for it (as in Codex Alexandrinus).”
This should be stated in terms of probability rather than provenness, as indeed Metzger does in the Textual Commentary that is cited: ‘highly probable’.
8. “The text of Mark 16:9–20 was included to the codex, though it was located on the lost leaves; by counting the lines it can be proved that it was in the work.
Other than the basic affirmation all the rest is completely wrong. Mark 16.9-20 is included in the text of Mark in this codex, there is no need to count anything. It is all there on folio 148r.
9. The list of lacunae. Two problems: a) surely it is more helpful to offer a list of passages which are present in the manuscript rather than a list of what is not present; b) the current list includes many passages that were present in red ink and have been more thoroughly erased than the main text in black ink. So it would be helpful to treat this, when extant, a bit differently from passages that are merely missing.

10. Text-type section
Obviously this is a difficult aspect of this manuscript, but this could be made clearer. Especially the referent of “it” is often not clear. E.g. in the following sentence one would be forgiven for thinking that Westcott-Hort (and von Soden) are addressing the textual character of Luke’s gospel in particular (which they are not): “In Luke its textual character is unclear. Westcott-Hort classified it as mixed; Hermann von Soden classified it as in the Alexandrian text-type.” It is also not quite correct to say that Westcott and Hort “classified” the textual character of the manuscript as “mixed” (it approximates to their view, but makes it sound more technical than it was). 

11. “Interpolations”, “Some corrections”,Selected textual variants” and “Some other textual variants”
Since ‘interpolations’ are textual variants, we have three different categories for the same thing. Simplest to have a list of ‘Some textual variants’ and another list of ‘some corrections’. Of course some consideration as to why these are chosen to be listed and on what basis would be helpful.

12. History: “The manuscript was probably written in Egypt (or Palestine)[5] before the middle of the fifth century.”
Firstly there is an error in the inclusion of ‘or Palestine’ at this point, since that is not what Gregory says. Secondly, whether it was ‘probably written in Egypt’ is doubtful. Better to say that Tischendorf suggested Egypt and no one has made a serious counter proposal.Thirdly, this ‘before the middle of the fifth century’ (or as previously ‘early fifth’) is in Gregory, but there really is not much by way of evidence, and most authorities seem to have been happy with a simple ‘fifth century’.
 13. “It was written by at least two scribes; according to Tischendorf, there were three scribes (A, B, C).”
Aside from the fact that this sentence barely makes sense, it is also wrong. Tischendorf discerned two scribes: one for the OT, one for the NT. Others (including Lyon) have suggested the possibility of a third scribal hand.

14. “The first corrector (C1) worked in scriptorium, while the second corrector (C2) worked in Palestine in the sixth century.”
This makes it all sound so definite. No one knows where (or indeed when) C2 worked. Tischendorf suggested Palestine, Syria or Asia Minor (just places in between Alexandria and Constantinople). 
15. “At that time, the manuscript was probably housed in the Caesarea library, a famous theological library in ancient times
This is completely bogus. The cited reference makes no such claim.
16. “Jean Boivin, a French scholar, ...”
He was in charge of the Royal Library, so he was more than just any old French scholar.

17. “Because Tischendorf worked by eye alone, his deciphering of the palimpsest’s text was less than perfect.
This is a rather odd statement. Of course it was not perfect, but the logic does not follow and judging by the paucity of Lyon’s corrections Tischendorf’s transcription was excellent.
18. Re Lyon: “This was also an imperfect work.”
This sort of comment (and the citation where it is made) is not particularly helpful. It makes it sound like it was a poor piece of work, which it was not.

19. “According to Edward Miller (1886) codices “B and probably א were procured under the dark gloom of Asian ascendency; A and C in the light of the most intellectual period of the early Church” (B – Vaticanus, א – Sinaiticus, A – Alexandrinus, C – Ephraemi Rescriptus).
And the relevance of this is what exactly?
20. “According to Frederic Kenyon “the original manuscript contained the whole Greek Bible,...””
Strictly speaking this is true (i.e. Kenyon did say that). But the problem is that three or four times in this discussion we’ve been told that originally C comprised the whole OT; but no one has thought to notice that while the remains of the NT cover the whole breadth of the NT, from the OT we only have a few of the poetic works of the LXX.


  1. So if we actually wanted an up-to-date description of Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus with references to the relevant secondary literature, where should we look?

  2. Lyon's PhD (1956) and article in NTS (1958-59).

  3. Replies
    1. David Parker has a very useful page on it in ABD vol. 1.1073f. Probably the best general short statement.

  4. Why not just edit the wikipedia article yourself with the corrections you have set out here?

    I recall a survey by Nature journal some years ago comparing Wikipedia science articles with those in Encyclopedia Britannica and finding them comparable quality and accuracy. But because some errors were noted in EB, EB threatened to sue Nature for their publication while Wikipedia responded to details of errors by simply fixing them on the spot.

  5. It seems to be a waste of time to change the Wikipedia articles to reflect correct information as they are often altered back to their original state.

    1. Because its run by the rabid adherents to Alexandrian priority. In other words, the people who buy into you guys's so-called scholarship. They're just trying to defend your own position with lies is all.

    2. Is that right? I hadn't noticed that so much. Anyway, although I appreciate the careful apostrophe in "guys's"; the members of this blog do not all accept the so-called scholarship of Alexandrian priority. So you'd be better of just ranting.

  6. #9 is also significant because listing the lacunae instead of the extant text doesn't indicate where text is transposed (e.g., in Rev 7-11).

  7. Any chance you could conduct the same kind of critique on the treatment of Mark 16:9-20 given by, say, Stein, or Geisler, or the NET's notes?

  8. Peter,
    I just finished editing the Wikipedia article on Codex C, making adjustments in accord with most of your comments. How does it appear now?

    1. I think you did a good job. Let's see how long it stays this way.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. When you see something wrong on Wikipedia, you're supposed to correct it. That's part of the point of Wikipedia. (Even if ignorant idiots edit the Wikipedia article back to its erroneous state, it's not a reason not to try to correct the information.)

  11. It is easy to criticize the undeniable inaccuracies or plain errors of the Wikipedia, but we can not forget that, for better or for worse, that is the first (and sometimes the only) approach that the public has about this issues. And certainly, the rules are not so arcane or complicated for those who know how to use a word processor.

    Due to the above, I kindly request that the specialists of these issues help us (as a public media), to correct those mistakes, or the need of update that information; I also kindle suggest the evangelical textual criticism blogspot, or this media, as a means of communication.

    Anyway, in consideration of what was said in the blog recently, the referred page has been edited by James E. Snapp, and I will look to bring these changes to the version in Spanish of that article.

  12. I am not against wikipedia. In critiquing a page in detail I learn a lot of stuff. And indeed I am all for improving it, as I have done occasionally. But given the importance of wikipedia, it is also important to think about and understand the types of systemic problems that can arise through the wiki concept. So, for example, the collocation of two individually correct statements into an incorrect (or misleading) combination. The predominance of older (online) secondary sources. The lack of primary evidence. The lack of appropriate scholarly caution. The inclusion of completely erroneous information.

    1. Re: "The inclusion of completely erroneous information" --

      You mean like the thoroughly erroneous "translation" of Codex Sinaiticus at the Codex Sinaiticus website??

    2. Well that is an interesting study by way of contrast - a well funded fully scholarly web-site that is frozen in time at 2009 so doesn't get up-dated or have improvements etc. Comapred with a constantly up-datable wiki.

      And yes the ET there is not a translation of Sinaiticus in particular is it.

  13. Also I should add that it may be easy to criticise wikipedia in a general sort of way; but it is not so easy to do a point-by-point analysis and check the cited sources.

  14. "but in fact only 208 leaves are extant in the volume currently in the BN - there is one missing (and Tischendorf was the last person to hold it)."

    Are you sure about this? I think that I can remember that it was this particular leave that was depicted as image in Tischendorf's published transcript of the text. Therefore it may be someone in the printing house who last held it ...

    1. Well yes, that could be. Only Tischendorf did have a habit of cutting out pages. The other possibility I was wondering about is whether it could be that in one of the published books, the actual manuscript was included rather than the facsimile page. That would be a fun discovery!!!

  15. 'one of the four Greek Bible manuscripts which survive from the fourth and fifth centuries'

    Actually, there are considerably more than four; but only four of considerable size and preservation.

    1. only four survive as Greek Bible manuscripts though (don't they?). Greek Bible = OT & NT

    2. That's a rather odd definition for 'Greek Bible', isn't it? Typically we're quite happy to definite 'Greek Bible' as including either OT or NT.

    3. Really, oh well, never mind.