|E. C. Colwell (source)|
Westcott and Hort and E. C. Colwell are often connected in discussions of singular readings as they should be. But it’s not often appreciated how Colwell inverted WH’s primary purpose for studying singular readings.
For WH, their main interest in singular readings was that their two prized manuscripts (01 and 03) often stood alone from the rest of the textual tradition as they knew it. Singular readings did give them access to the proclivities of 01 and 03 (a la Colwell), but this was not then aimed at elucidating transcriptional probability like it was for Colwell. Instead, this exercise was aimed squarely at determining which of 01 and 03’s singular readings had “a better title to consideration,” i.e., of being original (Intro, p. 233).
For Colwell, the study of singular readings is not only to “increase skill in the evaluation of that manuscript” (a la WH), but also “to gain knowledge of the habits of a scribe in general ... and thus to increase skill in the evaluation of readings.”* For Colwell, such a study was not aimed at identifying which singulars may claim originality. Rather, it was to give us access to those readings that we can be sure are the scribe’s rather than the author’s.
Thus, unlike WH, Colwell’s interest in singulars hinges entirely “on the assumption that these readings are the creation of the scribe.” As such, they give us access to the work of the scribe as opposed to the author. In this, Colwell has reversed WH for whom the study of singular readings was aimed precisely at identifying those singulars that are the work of the author rather than the scribe.
In other words, both recognize that singular readings can attune us to the scribe’s habits, but each uses this fact to focus on opposite sides of the scribe/author divide. WH are ultimately interested in authorial readings whereas Colwell is really interested in scribal readings. Obviously, this has to do with whether each thinks that singulars may be original. But the difference is still important especially as it comes to “skill in the evaluation of readings.” WH have their own view of how to best attain that and it has nothing to do with singular readings. But more on that another time.
*E. C. Colwell, “Method in Evaluating Scribal Habits: A Study of P45, P66, P75,” in Studies in Methodology in Textual Criticism of the New Testament, NTTS 9 (Leiden: Brill, 1969), 108.