Saturday, February 23, 2008

The "Asceticism" of Alexandrian Witnesses

The other day I read a remark on the ending of Mark and the "asceticism" of B and Aleph by Streeter (The Four Gospels, 337):

"Since B Aleph were written in the fourth century, both the Longer and the Shorter Conclusions were already of great antiquity, and can hardly have been unknown to the scribes who wrote these MSS, and, for that matter, to a fairly long succession of MSS. from which they were copied. Incidentally I may be permitted to remark that an asceticism which could decline to accept either of these endings argues a fidelity to a text believed t obe more ancient and more authentic, which materially increases our general confidence in the textual tradition which these MSS. represent."

Another passage that comes to my mind is Matthew 6:9-13 - The Lord's prayer, and the absence in this textual tradition of a concluding doxology (of whatever kind) that was also of great antiquity and surely in liturgical use very early (cf. Didache 8.2, more remotely 2 Tim 4:18 - and various ancient liturgies). How great a temptation to add a doxology, or at least an AMEN - the prayer ends so abruptly with the "Deliver us from evil".

What other examples of major "textual temptations" can you think of?


  1. It may well be the case that the scribes of those codices knew about the longer readings. But might Streeter's labeling of their passing on the shorter reading as "asceticism" be getting a bit too close to mind reading on his part?

    How much do we really know about the process they followed, and the manuscripts they used? Might it not be the case that their versions of the passages you mention are what they are simply because those are the readings that were in the one manuscript that they (or an exemplar of theirs) had on hand, or were told to use, for those passages at the moment they were copying them?

    It is not necessarily the case that the projects that resulted in those great codices (admirable though they may be) followed modern canons of textual criticism or even had the same goals. And without more explicit knowledge about what manuscripts they used and how those manuscripts were chosen for their use, I hesitate to draw any conclusions about those things.

  2. Leaving aside comment on Streeter's opinions, I would add John 5:3b-4 to the list. It's obvious from reading the undisputed parts of the passage that the impotent man believed in the power of abruptly stirred waters to heal, but an actual explanation of how the waters were stirred, and when, seems to have been excluded from the text by scribes who must have known of its existence. How much of v.3b-4 should be excluded was the only question. v. 3b seemed innocuous enough, so it fared a little better than v.4, but the mss and their correctors are extrememly haphazard at which of the 2 parts of the story they omit. It has even been suggested that v. 4 was an independently circulating text--perhaps a notice pinned to the wall at the Pool of Bethesda.

  3. Another example in my mind would be Luke 23:34, with the saying of Jesus from the cross regarding the Father forgiving them being hard not to include in the text. Virtually any words attributed to Jesus that were not overly supportive of a non-orthodox position would likely have been very attractive to include so as not to be "against" preserving the words of Jesus.

  4. ER: "But might Streeter's labeling of their passing on the shorter reading as 'asceticism' be getting a bit too close to mind reading on his part?"

    I partly agree ... but we can see it as an asceticism of that textual strand, through a chain of scribes. My point is that the concluding doxology is very early and probably very influential since it is part of the liturgy, and by the fourth century probably almost universal (?) (although in different forms). The history of readings is partly a different thing from the history of manuscripts.

    It is more unlikely that a reading like the doxology would be excised once it was added, so my guess is that the several scribes standing in this stream of transmission resisted that temptation.

  5. I should add in relation to the "text-critical awareness" on the part of the scribe of Codex Vaticanus that:

    1) there is a major gap at the conclusion of Mark where one whole column (1303C) of the parchment is left blank. Other book divisions in the codex occupy considerably less space. This has been interpreted as an awareness of the Long ending (so e.g., Philip B. Payne);

    2) another indication of the scribe's interest in text-critical matters is of course the so-called Umlauts (if they are original). We find an Umlaut at the short conclusion of the Lord's Prayer (but not in John 5:3-4 or Luke 23:34). Read more on the topic here:

  6. Early on, the longer ending seems to be better known in the west (Irenaeus, Diatessaron?, D) and less known in the east... at least there's no evidence of it in the extant writings of Clement or Origen. Even Eusebius (Ad Marinum) who comes from the same relative time period of aleph and B states Mark ends at 16:8 in almost all the copies. It makes me wonder how well known was that longer ending in Egypt in the 4th century.

  7. The prolonged blank space after Mk. 16:8 in Codex B indicates the copyist's knowledge of 16:9-20 and possibly of the Short Ending also.

    Sinaiticus has a cancel-sheet at the end of Mark, containing Mk. 14:54-Lk. 1:56. The decorative design in Sinaiticus which follows 16:8 is uniquely emphatic. This probably sounds like a rather light piece of evidence. It did to me, too, for a while. But when you compare the decorative design in Aleph to all the others in Aleph (easily done by consulting the Plates in Milne & Skeat's "Scribes & Correctors of Codex Sinaiticus"), the deliberately emphatic nature of the decorative design in Aleph seems clear.

    Another detail: Scribe A of Vaticanus is probably the same individual as Scribe D of Aleph. They both use the ">" line-filler; they share orthography; they share the same decorative endpiece, etc. On that premise, the lack of Mk. 16:9-20 in Aleph probably reflects the copyist's confidence that the scribal tradition that was followed in his younger days (when he participated in the production of Vaticanus) was superior to others.

    As for "tempting" passages, it's difficult to say, because we don't know what would tempt a particular copyist. Harmonizations and title-expansions are a given. Probably the biggest temptation would be to repair the text of Mt. 27:49. Mk. 6:22 would be second.

    Btw, the Long Ending was known in the East to Aphrahat (337), and to the author of the main part of Doctrine of Addai(pre-217?), and to Wulfilas (pre-350), bishop of Antioch who made the Gothic Version, and, very damaged, in the Curetonian Syriac. In Egypt, it was known to Didymus the Blind (or the author of the "De Trinitate" text often attributed to Didymus) and the author of the Freer Logion. And it was used in "Apostolic Constitutions" a couple of times.

    (And, regarding the non-use of Mk. 16:9-20 by Clement of Alexandria and Origen (if Eusebius' "Ad Marinum" is not a recast work of Origen), it might be a good idea to count how many other 12-verse sections of Mark each of these authors is silent about, before concluding that such silence can be reliably used to indicate anything about the form of their texts of Mark.)

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.
    Minister, Curtisville Christian Church
    Tipton, Indiana (USA)

  8. An off-the-topic question for James Snapp (or anyone else who knows). You say "Scribe A of Vaticanus is probably the same individual as Scribe D of Aleph. They both use the ">" line-filler; they share orthography; they share the same decorative endpiece, etc." Are you saying that only these two scribes of the codices in question used the > line-filler? This ties in with another question I have. Has anyone done any work on the diples (> marks) in the margins which in Vaticanus (and in the first 4 chapters of Aleph) mark OT citations? Do these marks appear to belong to the original inscription of the codices? Thanks.

    C. E. Hill