Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Types of Singular Errors in the Book of James

I recently finished working through all the singular readings in James according to the Editio Critica Maior (ECM). There are 1,245 of them according to my data. I picked James because it has the most manuscripts of all the books in the ECM of the Catholic Epistles.

One result from my data is the various types of changes that occur among the singular errors. Here “error” (Fehler) is any reading that didn’t make either logical or grammatical sense to the editors (p. 27*) and “singular” is defined relative to the Greek manuscripts in the ECM. There are 493 such singular errors (39.6% of all singulars).

Using the basic categories from Royse, the singular errors in James divide as follows:

As you can see, the vast majority are substitutions (84.5%). Unexpectedly, additions outnumber omissions almost 2:1 (9.6% vs. 5.0%). This is not true of singular readings as a whole in James where, as in Royse’s study, omissions outnumber additions. You could make an argument that singular errors provide us with greater “moral certainty” (to use Hort’s phrase) about their being scribally created than non-error singulars since nonsense is less likely to be copied than sense. But I find that there is a certain trade off in studying scribal change between the guarantee of purity in the data (“moral certainty”) and the volume of the data. At some point, more data that’s less pure is actually better (i.e., more representative) than less data that’s more pure. But more on that another time.

To give a flavor of some of these errors, here are the first two verses of James.

Error] correct reading Error # Address
δου] δουλος f 1.1/14
τη διαασπορα] τη διασπορα f1 1.1/26–28
φερη] χαιρειν f 1.1/30
χαριαν] χαραν f 1.2/4
πειρασμος] πειρασμοις f 1.2/14
περιπεση] περιπεσητε f1 1.2/16
περιπεσητω] περιπεσητε f2 1.2/16
ποικιλλοι] ποικιλοις f2 1.2/18

I should also note that I am counting cases of these changes such that if two words are replaced, this counts as one substitution. Likewise, a five word addition would count as one case of a “2+ addition.”

An interesting study would be to consider the non-singular errors alongside the singular errors to see if there are any patterns that might help explain why some were made more than once (assuming they are non-genetic). If anyone is interested, you can download the spreadsheet with all 493 singular errors.


  1. Very interesting, thanks for posting Peter.

  2. Peter G,

    (A simple list wasn't sufficient; had to use a pie chart, eh.)

    Did you detect any rogues? I.e., were there any MSS that seemed to have an unusually high number of singular readings?

  3. James, charts make everything better!

    But no, no rogues in my data because it didn’t allow for that kind of search. But Gerd Mink says of the 41 additional MSS included for James in the ECM that “Leaving small fragments out of consideration, we are dealing with 34 out of 41 witnesses that contribute 140 variants not attested otherwise. Of these, 132 are singular variants, of which 28 are in minuscule 38 and 25 are in minuscule 631! Most of them are due to forms that are easily confused like the first and second plural of the personal pronoun, the initial vowel of αυτ-/εαυτ- and the like” (“Coherence…,” in Textual History of the Greek NT, p. 147 n. 14).

  4. Peter Gurry,
    If there were rogues, how could one find out?
    Taking the data from Mink as a sample:
    Out of 132 singular variants, 53 are in just two MSS, leaving 79 singular variants in the other 32 MSS.

    My concern is that anomalies concentrated in a small fraction of MSS could be misconstrued statistically as if it is a general tendency.

  5. James, I see your point. Since I’m interested here in the transmission of James, any such “outliers” should count as much as the “non-outliers.” But it would be nice to know. The place to start, I suppose, is with the MSS mentioned by Mink.

    Also, note that the 132 singulars mentioned by Mink are those singulars contributed by the additional 41 MSS.