Tuesday, May 05, 2009

SBL Boston, Book Review of James Royse Scribal Habits in Early Greek NT Papyri, pt. 3-4

The next reviewer was Kim Haines-Eitzen (KHE).

In 1991 first year in graduate school, KHE discovered Royse’s work. She was not alone in her fascination for Greek New Testament manuscripts! If you want to pay attention to Hort’s dictum that knowledge of documents should precede judgment on readings, you must study Royse’s work which focuses on the starting point of textual criticism. To many of us Royse’s book is widely cited. His list of singular readings indicates those that are supposed to have been introduced by the scribe we study.

Then KHE turned to some specific papyri. After examining P45 on over 90 pages, Royse arrives at the “basic features of the copying by the scribe” (p. 197) which are as follows (here abbreviated): The scribe is concerned to produce a readable text, and is successful in reading this goal with virtually no correction. Thus, there are few nonsense readings, few corrections, and few obvious errrors. Secondly, the scribe has a marked tendencey to omit portions of the text. Thirdly, harmonization is a frequent cause of error, with harmonization to the immediate context being the most important type. Fourthly, stylistic and grammatical improvements are sometimes attempted. Finally, the scribe is rather rarely subject to certain errors of sight, perhaps also of hearing, of influences of similar forms, and simply of oversight. KHE then continued with P46. However, she questioned whether these brief summaries “help us get a sense of a scribe.”

In any case, P72 is most interesting to KHE. This scribe stands out as is evident in the described main features of the scribe (614): “Alone among our papyri P72 gives evidence of some theological purpose in the scribe’s creation of singulars: two singular readings and one asterisked reading appear to reflect the scribe’s belief that Christ was fully God.” KHE adds that the handwriting of this scribe is easily worst. She adds that this is perhaps why she is most sympathetic to this scribe (laughter). Royse thinks that it is tempting to conclude that theological changes came about not until 300 C.E.

[Additional comments by TW: In his monograph, Royse refers to Barbara Aland who relates the changes in P72 to the fact that it is very late among the early papyri and that it is part of a manuscript containing a Christian’s personal collection of writings. He also refers to other studies, including my own, that have shown interesting connections with the non-New Testament writings contained in the whole Bodmer Codex of which P72 is a part.

In any case, he says, “the contrast between these three readings and what we find elsewhere in our six papyri is striking and indicates how unusual such alteration must have been in the early period.” Royse further refers to Min who found no theologically intentional readings in the early Matthean papyri. Finally, he points to Hernández who examined Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus and Ephraemi Rescriptus in Revelation. He reports a few readings in the two former that are of Christological import, but no such readings in the latter. Interestingly, Hernandez himself told us in his presentation (now available for download in the sidebar) that his original plan was to write about this subject, before he found Royse’s dissertation!]

Anyway, KHE disagrees with Royse on this particular point, i.e., she thinks theological changes were introduced earlier on, but, as one of her concluding question (see below) implied, she thinks more research is necessary to bring clarity on this point. She did not develop this further but instead concluded by posing the following questions, as a kind of “where do we go from here”:

1) To what extent does the focus on singular readings push towards the text from the form, ie. the physical features. Could we not include the physical features (codicology, handwriting, etc) to situate the scribes.

2) Royse hints that the theological variants come in 300CE. but most of the textual variants in the tradition were already introduced. Where are we with theological variations?

3) Text-types: Royse refers to text-types, e.g., P72 is Alexandrian. KHE is disappointed with this terminology. How does it help us to understand the early papyri? [Here I may recommend reading the review of D.C. Parker’s book by Epp which focused on this issue].

Final conclusion: “We have still a lot to do.” See also Royse’s own suggestions for future research (737ff).

Royse responds:
Next, Kim Haines-Eitzen:

Both Haines-Eitzen and Jongkind draw attention to the brief summaries of scribal habits for each of the six papyri. Haines-Eitzen questions whether the summaries “help us get a sense of a scribe,” and Jongkind remarks that a one-page summary of scores of pages of analysis is not all that helpful. Of course, to provide extended “integrated reflection” (as Jongkind puts it) on the scribal habits would have been to risk expanding the book even more. But perhaps in such extended discussion I could have avoided some of the tensions (shall we say) in the summaries that Haines-Eitzen points out. Alternatively, perhaps it would have better simply to forego such summaries and let the analyses speak for themselves. At least that would have avoided the shortcomings, and omission is always so much more tempting than addition.

I turn to Haines-Eitzen’s concluding three points (or “questions”).

Point 1: I would concur that the physical features of manuscripts can be crucial. Haines-Eitzen, of course, has given much attention (in her provocative study, Guardians of Letters) to the peculiarities of P72 and of the codex of which it forms a part (or perhaps two parts, 1–2 Peter and Jude), giving careful attention to the curious features(scribal and otherwise) of the disparate texts joined there into this “third-century miscellany” (as she calls it), and arguing that it was the product of an early scribal network.

And Jongkind, in his recent work, The Scribal Habits of Codex Sinaiticus, creatively combines many aspects of that very complex manuscript, such as the arrangement of the quires, the nature of the paragraphing, the use of nomina sacra, and the scribal tendencies to produce certain sorts of variations, all sorted out among the three scribes and the various correctors. Here again, I would not wish to be seen as in any way claiming completeness or finality in my analysis, and I would welcome further and more comprehensive discussions.

Especially the codex to which P72 belongs seems, as Haines-Eitzen well observes, to be a different sort of physical object than the usual New Testament manuscript, and it would be natural that its unique properties should have implications for our understanding of its text and for our evaluation of its readings for purposes of textual criticism. I might refer further to the fascinating analysis of the “Bodmer Miscellaneous Codex” by Tommy Wasserman in chapter two of his recent The Epistle of Jude: Its Text and Transmission, which integrates codicological and textual considerations of this compilation.

Point 2: I would not wish to appear at all certain on such a complex topic as the theological corruptions of the text. But I would observe that it is (I believe)perfectly consistent to hold that dogmatic changes began to occur around 300 and that the majority of textual variants arose during the first three Christian centuries (that is, before 300). We have to keep in mind that the vast majority of textual variants do not involve (as it seems) theological corruption. So, while most textual variants may have arisen early, the comparatively few theological corruptions could have been late on the scene. Of course, others have thought to find theologically motivated readings in, say, P46. I have not been inclined to agree, but in any case the numbers of such readings would be, I believe, comparatively small; but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t exist.

Point 3: I used the term “textual type” in connection with the papyri with some hesitation (see, e.g., p. 15 n. 52). Of course, in calling, for example, P72Alexandrian, I was simply repeating what others have said, and while such terminology may be anachronistic for the early papyri or otherwise problematic, it seems to me to be useful shorthand for describing the textual relations. But I would hope that my investigation does not depend to any great degree on such characterizations.

In his response to KHE, Royse also mentioned some related points that Jongkind had made. However, I have not yet posted Jonkind's presentation. On the other hand, Royse had a separate more lucid response to Jongkind, so therefore I hope our readers will have forbearance with this little anachronism.

Earlier posts in this series:

Part 1: Juan Hernández' presentation

Part 2: Royse responds to Hernández


  1. Tommy,
    Keep on going. Soon we shall reach the end ... of the last SBL anyway.

  2. Yes, I have to finish this before SBL in Rome, otherwise things will get really confusing.

    I wonder if the great final should be the ETC blogdinner ...