Wednesday, January 09, 2008

James Royse's Scribal Habits Finally Here

Finally, a copy of James R. Royse's Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri (NTTSD 36;Leiden: Brill, 2007) has arrived in the mail. Just like the dissertation from 1981 on which it is based it is a massive work – xxx + 1058 pages!

Cited from the preface:

"I must regret that, despite many acts of encouragement, there has been this delay [26 years!] in preparing the work for publication. . . . I am honored and pleased that the present volume has been accepted as the intial work in the new series [New Testament Tools, Studies and Documents; eds. Eldon J. Epp & Bart D. Ehrman]. . . It [the publishing process] would have moved even more quickly had I not felt the need, once again, to attempt to take account of relevant publications, and thus to revise the work still further. But such revision must come to an end at some point, and I trust that the current position is auspicious. . . . For publication I have retained the basic form of the dissertation, but have thoroughly revised the content throughout. This revision has included checking yet again the evidence of the six papyri studied, as well as the citations in the critical editions utilized here. Some errors in the dissertation are here silently corrected, while more often discussions are extended to take account of subsequent publications. While the main lines of argument in the dissertation remain, the evidence and the conclusions based on it have often been revised. . . . Thus, without at all wishing to disavow the dissertation, I intend this publication to supersede it. . . . I have attempted to take account of the works specifically devoted to the six papyri or to the topic of scribal habits; yet even within such limits I would not wish to claim completeness."

In order to get some impression on this last point I just checked the index of modern authors and noted that there are nineteen references to two of my works on P72. When I went through them quickly I saw that Royse has certainly interacted with and made good use of them. (However, when I later checked my own name in the bibliography, I see that poor "Wiefel, Wolfgang" has been misplaced within my entry.)

This was already a standard work before the revision, and it will certainly continue to be so for many years to come. In my first impression, there is a huge amount of new material including discussions particularly in the footnotes, for example there are 470 notes in the chapter on P45; 866 on P46; 188 on P47; 752 on P66; 364 on P72; and 455 on P75, and there are chapters on other subjects as well.

Finally, from the preface again:

"This work is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Jack Finegan [Royse's supervisor]. As noted earlier, it was while studying and discussing New Testament textual criticism with him that the plan for this work was first developed, and my work on it was first encouraged."


  1. Thanks Tommy,
    Shall we organise some sort of chapter-by-chapter discussion of this?

  2. Okay, I can of course volunteer for the chapter on P72, since that is the MS I have worked in detail with (and Royse discusses with me in that chapter).

    The book, however, is just out and very very expensive ($360 I think). I got a complimentary copy to review for Svensk Exegetisk Årsbok (SEÅ).

  3. Pete,

    I just got nostalgic – I remember that my first reply to you ever on the old TC-list was giving you the reference to Royse's work on scribal habits (you were writing an article on that subject).

  4. Would this have been a reference to it as 'forthcoming' sometime in the 1990s?

  5. Does Royse come to any conclusions about scribal habits that he feels is applicable pretty much across the board to the papyrus MSS he studied?

    I see on web page with a description of the book that Royse finds - just as Colwell did - that scribes tend to omit rather than add, though I wonder whether omissions or additions were corrected more. If the answer is the former, or it comes out a wash, shouldn't the shorter reading canon be abandoned once and for all? And how different will our NT look if we revise it without this canon?

  6. $360??? ok, I can forget it then :)

  7. Does anyone know if its been confirmed that Eerdmans is publishing a paperback edition for less?

  8. PH: "Would this have been a reference to it as 'forthcoming' sometime in the 1990s?"

    I think it was references to his dissertation and to his article on Scribal Habits in the Text of the NT in Contemporary Research. I was probably around 2000. I think I joined the list 1998.

  9. "Does Royse come to any conclusions about scribal habits that he feels is applicable pretty much across the board to the papyrus MSS he studied?"

    I haven't read the book yet, but I don't expect there will be much change as to the general conclusions; like the observation about omissions you refer to, that "the general tendency during the early period of textual transmission was to omit," so that "other things equal one should prefer the longer reading."

    A further interesting question is whether such omissions were accidental or intentional. I am now reading Kyong Shick Min's study, Die früheste Überlieferung des Matthäusevangeliums (bis zum 3./4. JH.) (ANTF 34; Berlin/New York: De Gruyter, 2005) of early papyrus witnesses to Matthew's Gospel. I am halfway thru, and I have just today read the chapter on P37. The MS contains Mt 26:19-37 and 26:37-52. There are 11 omissions (in a collation against the "Ausgangstext" in NA27), ten of which are "kleine Omissionen." Min concludes "Bei Omissionen ist auch bemerkenswert, dass sie mehr als doppelt so häufig vorkommen wie Additionen, was bei alten Papyri üblich ist. Omissionen weisen im Allgemeinen auf unbewusste Flüchtigkeit bzw. Nachlässigkeit hin. Denn ein Schreiber, der verändern will, wird sich kaum die Mühe machen, den anderen Sinn nur durch Omissionen herbeizuführen. Omissionen sind das Ergebnis eines schnellen Schreibflusses eines Schreibers" (p. 97).

    So, the scribes were quicker in the early days :-)

  10. The principle lectio brevior lectio potior, all things being equal, is trustworthy. This is a highly nuanced principle. Those favoring MSS that many times have the longer readings should not abandon the canon, and should apply the canon critically, e.g., MSS or groups of MSS that are prone to omission, if such can be proven, are not protected by the canon. Neither are shorter readings to be preferred when they have been reasonably caused by homoioteleuton, harmonization, attraction, deletion of tautology or repetition, or that which is otherwise unnecessary to keep the sense simple and precise, including articles, pronouns, and prepositions.

  11. "The principle lectio brevior lectio potior, all things being equal, is trustworthy."

    And apparently, not susceptible to disproof.

    "This is a highly nuanced principle."

    Too nuanced, with too many caveats, to be of any value. It is past time it was retired.

  12. "In science, when theory and facts conflict, given a large enough body of reliable facts, theory loses, and we must come up with something new."
    –Michael Tomasello, Ph.D.
    Director, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology