Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Jongkind on Sinaiticus

A report on Dirk Jongkind's Cambridge PhD thesis, 'Studies in the Scribal Habits of Codex Sinaiticus' is in the Tyndale Bulletin 56.2 (2005) pp. 153-56. Jongkind has developed innovative ways of distinguishing between what the three scribes of Sinaiticus had in their exemplar and the habits of the scribes themselves.


  1. It would really be impressive if Jongkind could tell us how to distinguish between right- and left-handed scribes, as well as the occassional ambidextrous chap that appears in Papyrus 967.

  2. I reckon it should be possible to distinguish them, but only by pretty detailed reconstructions of the pen action required to produce the letters (following Cavallo's technique).
    I'd have to see some good examples to be persuaded, but it is just conceivable that left-handed scribes (being right-sided brainers) might have a different pattern of scribal habits than right-handed scribes.
    Another point worth considering is the social and practical pressure to write right-handed (or the process which selects right-handers as scribes), since left-handed scribes would tend to smudge fresh text with their wrist/forearm, while right-handed scribes rest on blank papyrus/vellum. [This applies to Greek; Hebrew scribes I believe could often have been left-handed.]

    I should say that I don't recall ever reading a discussion on this subject. Manuscript portraits of scribes and scholars (and evangelists) seem universally to depict right-handers.

    I found a Vindolanda Tablet which the editors thought may have beenproduced by a left-handed scribe (because of its quite exceptional layout):


    PS. Do you think Paul was left-handed?

  3. I've not seen the following:

    I. Spatharakis, The Left-handed Evangelist: A Contribution to Palaeologan Iconography (London, 1988).

  4. Perhaps this reference is the same as the picture of an evangelist with the 'pen' in the left hand that I once saw but whose details I did not memorize or write down.

  5. Pete,

    Probably the picture was reversed in production.

    At least we know your memory is not infallible.


  6. How about:

    I struggle to see the pen, but the description says it's in the left hand.


  7. Excellent try Pete,

    But in this case I think the description has got it wrong!

    It says (at the web page in previous comment):
    "On a single page from a gospel book, the illumination shows the evangelist Luke seated on a backless chair, reaching with his right arm toward the open book on a pedestal before him. ... He holds a quill pen in his left hand as he pauses to contemplate the text."

    But not only is there no pen to be seen in his left hand, it is not his right hand that reaches to the open book.
    It looks to me more like a pen in his right hand, held in such a way that he may be about to write.

    Anyway, I've emailed the MMA to get someone to have another look at the original.



  8. i came across this blog obviously late (but it was highlighted in the right hand column of the weblog). a couple of years ago at the Kunsthistorische Institut in Florence, Pete, i perused the book you mention.
    The Left-Handed Evangelist: A Contribution to Palaeologan Iconography

    by Ioannis Spatharakis
    my recollection is that the author surveys a period in late Byzantine art when portraits of the four evangelists were made by reversing the cartoon of the first two, Matthew and Mark, so that the next two Luke and John were mirror images of each other (and thus also left-handed). the argument was more supple than this, but this was a main point (being left handed myself and a Luke fan, the book caught my attention!).