Thursday, June 04, 2009

SBL Boston, Book Review of James Royse Scribal Habits in Early Greek NT Papyri, pt. 7

This is my last post of the series on the SBL 2008 book review session SBL24-129 in which James Royse's recent monograph Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri (NTTSD 36; Brill, 2008) was reviewed. The series concludes with Royse's response to Dirk Jongkind. For earlier posts in this series, see below.

Royse responds to Jongkind

Finally, Dirk Jongkind:

Jongkind has pointed to some specific features that could bear improvement. Some of his points are matters of style and presentation, and I am probably not the best judge of what is good or bad there. But I would like to respond briefly on a couple of points.

First, let me confess that I like footnotes. In the works of others, footnotes are often among my favorite parts. And, for what it is worth, some of my favorite parts of this book are in the footnotes. During the writing, as I pursued various paths of enquiry, I often thought of the comment of Herman Melville in Billy Budd (Chapter 4): “In this matter of writing, resolve as one may to keep to the main road, some bypaths have an enticement not readily to be withstood.” Of course, I may have given in too often to such enticement, and perhaps for the sake of clarity and explanation I should have cited Melville’s comment in a footnote.

Second, as already noted, Jongkind wonders about the value of the summaries. But let me say something about Jongkind’s particular example of a scribal habit: “that a transposition can be explained best by assuming that initially the scribe forgot a word, noticed this, and inserted it somewhat belatedly at the first possible opportunity.” This does seem to me to be an important point (although I would replace “forgot” by “omitted”), and I believe that one can often see this habit at work in various manuscripts. Perhaps I should have emphasized it more. But it does not seem to me to be “hidden in the commentary” (as Jongkind says). It is mentioned in the text in the discussion of the transpositions of each of the six papyri. And at each of those places there are—dare I say?—footnotes that will lead the reader down a bypath to find in Supplementary Note 9 (pp. 755–56) that this observation was made by Colwell and even earlier by Havet, Hoskier, and others. Of course, more could have been said. Perhaps some day I will say more on this topic, but in the meantime I encourage others to investigate this tendency in these six papyri and in other manuscripts. Many other tendencies deserve more extended treatment. After all, I attempted only a “partial fulfillment” (as I say on p. 101) of the goal of a commentary on the singular readings of these papyri.

Third, I appreciate Jongkind’s comments on my use (or lack thereof) of the interesting and important essay by Junack. And I will concede that more could have been done with this issue of whether a scribe is copying by letters, by syllables, by words, or by some larger units. I appealed to the distinction as made by Colwell on occasion, but did not collect systematic data or attempt to draw the data together into some overall perspective. I would encourage others to do so. However, I would say that (a) my chief interest was “about the type of errors we find,” and that (b) trying to say anything more seems to me to run the risk of attempting to gain insight into the psychology of the scribe. And this latter task is very difficult, to say the least. I believe that we can see that a scribe tends to omit syllables, let us say, and that that “type of error” can inform our evaluation of the scribe’s readings. I would hesitate to say much more. However, at least one could attempt to determine what general patterns there are with respect to letters, syllables, and so on, in a scribe’s errors. And my own attempts there were not systematic.

Fourth, with respect to Jongkind’s discussion of isolated textual traditions, let me say that, in my opinion, the primary purpose of studying the scribal habits of manuscripts is to sharpen or revise our analysis of readings. This happens on different levels. At the first level, we can hope to find that a particular manuscript displays specific tendencies in its errors, and we can then use those tendencies in our assessment of the value of that manuscript at some particular variation unit. For example, if we find (as I believe we do) that P46 tends to omit portions of the text by a leap from the same to the same, then P46’s support for a reading that can be so explained may be, to that extent, discounted. That is, we will find it more likely that P46 created that shorter reading, and thus less likely that that shorter reading goes back to the exemplar of P46. For such an inquiry the singular readings provide, I believe, the best evidence for the scribe’s tendencies. And then at the second level, we can hope to generalize on the tendencies found in specific witnesses. That is what happens in the canons of internal criticism. If we find (as I believe we do) that scribes in general tend to omit portions of the text by a leap from the same to the same, then we may reject readings that could have arisen in such a way. Now, my general point about isolated traditions was that, for such purposes, whether we have the work of one scribe or the combined work of several scribes is irrelevant for the assessment of readings.

However, I completely agree with Jongkind’s summary comment that it is much more likely that we do not have such “complex scribes” in the New Testament tradition. In fact, though, Jongkind’s work on Codex Sinaiticus (pp. 144–47) provides one apparent example in the Septuagint: we have there a passage from 1 Chronicles, namely 9:27–19:17, inserted into 2 Esdras. Jongkind notes that this insertion is unique to Codex Sinaiticus, but that there is no sign of correction. What he then (reasonably enough, as it seems to me) infers is that the exemplar of Codex Sinaiticus (i.e., the exemplar at this point of the Septuagint) had the same insertion, and was used for both the initial transcription and the earliest stage of correcting activity. If this is so, we can see a little isolated tradition, consisting of that exemplar and Codex Sinaiticus. But, as Jongkind notes, the textual evidence for 1 Chronicles is comparatively weak, as Brooke and McLean cite only 25 manuscripts. And certainly the breadth and complexity of the manuscript tradition of the New Testament make such isolated traditions much less likely.

Fifth, I turn to Jongkind’s discussion of the shorter reading. Here of course I did attempt to integrate the results for the six papyri, and to say something about the implications those results have for the canon of preferring the shorter reading. Jongkind is correct in reminding us that Griesbach’s first canon is a much more nuanced, and much more complicated, piece of advice than the principle of simply preferring the shorter reading. Indeed, I suspect that the nuances and the complications are precisely what have caused it to be replaced in many subsequent lists of canons by simpler and more direct principles. That is, perhaps everyone will agree with Hort that “scribes were moved by a much greater variety of impulse than is usually supposed” (cited in chapter 1, footnote 35). Nevertheless, having a canon of criticism that tells us that scribes do this, and also that, and then sometimes something else except when they are doing some other thing, true as it may be, may not really provide much guidance in choosing among readings.

Ultimately, editors of the text and most critics of the text want to make choices of some kind or other. And for that purpose simple, direct principles are the most useful. For example: “Prefer the reading of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus.” “Prefer the reading that is not harmonized.” “Prefer the shorter reading.” Those are the sorts of principles that inform most modern texts. Indeed, we have on record in Metzger’s Textual Commentary the principles used to construct, or at least to justify, our current “standard” text in Nestle-Aland. And we see there nothing like Griesbach’s first canon. Moreover, it is not all that often that one sees even in the totality of discussion of a variation unit such disparate points that Griesbach combines. Of course, most variation units receive no discussion at all. But the ones that do often involve the conflict of two or three principles. The shorter reading is not supported by B and א and friends, or the reading of B and א agrees with a parallel. Under those circumstances the editors have to balance principles. But if one has to balance the sorts of things that Griesbach tries to balance in his first canon, one may give up in despair at ever reaching a decision. (Of course, such considerations do not show that Griesbach’s canon is false.)

Finally, I should note that Jongkind’s own study of Codex Sinaiticus has provided yet further evidence that early scribes tended to omit rather than to add. This adds to my conviction that the preference for the shorter reading is fundamentally mistaken. And I wonder if there is, or really ever was, any evidence at all that scribes tended to add. In any case, there is increasing evidence, from the work of Hernández on Revelation, of Head on the early less extensive papyri, and of Jongkind on Codex Sinaiticus, that omission was more common than addition, and thus that the scribal tendency underlying the preference for the shorter reading is illusory.

Of course, we have here an overall tendency. Within that tendency there may still be plenty of additions, as we see in these six papyri, which could account for Jongkind’s observation that “traditions tend to grow over the course of centuries” (p. 4). Also, the text may have been affected not only by the changes introduced by scribes but also, as Jongkind notes, by the efforts of revisers, redactors, and editors. As extreme examples, we may think of the ways that Matthew and Luke, at least on the two-document hypothesis, handled the text of Mark. Clearly, their overall tendency was to expand. But that tendency to expand did not prevent Matthew and Luke from omitting on occasion, as at Mark 1:32, where each adopts one clause of a redundancy in Mark, or Mark 4:26–29, the parable of the seed growing secretly, where each of Matthew and Luke chooses to omit the passage entirely. Now, I would not wish to define precisely the difference between copying activity and editorial activity, although, like other things, we usually know them when we see them. And thus we distinguish the scribe of P46 or P66 from Matthew or Luke or Origen. But within the transmission of the New Testament (or the Septuagint or the Masoretic Text) there are many factors at work, and surely we cannot expect to explain the complications that we find by appeal to anything other than complex, sometimes conflicting, tendencies. However, despite such qualifications, I believe the evidence strongly supports the view that early scribes of the New Testament tended to shorten the text. And that is, if not the entire story, at least an important part of the story.

Again, I thank all of the panelists for their insightful and stimulating remarks.

Earlier posts in this series:

Part 1: Juan Hernández' presentation

Part 2: Royse responds to Hernández

Parts 3-4: Haines-Eitzen's review and Royse's response

Part 5: Peter Head's review and Royse's response

Part 6: Dirk Jongkind's review


  1. Andrew Wilson6/04/2009 1:50 pm

    Thanks Tommy for devoting so much effort to this particular book review series - Royse's work deserves it.

    The man is an exemplary scholar (cautious, careful, critical when he needs to be, non-conjectural, not polically correct) and, as this response shows, an absolute gentleman too.

  2. Andrew Wilson6/04/2009 1:54 pm

    Look at that! I accidentally omitted a syllable

  3. AW: "The man is an exemplary scholar (cautious, careful, critical when he needs to be, non-conjectural, not polically correct) and, as this response shows, an absolute gentleman too."

    That is how I have come to know him too.

    BTW, he has sent me his full response and we will upload it to TC files. I hope to also make available the full reviews by PMH and DJ, and perhaps KHE too so they can be read, not just my "on-the-spot summaries."

    I also think his work deserves that.