Tuesday, August 11, 2009

'God spoke to our fathers': Hebrews 1.1 (P12 and P46)

In Hebrews 1.1 there is an interesting variant cited in NA27: '... God spoke to OUR fathers in the prophets...'. The support for this reading is given as: P12vid.46c pc ar t v vgmss syp; Cllat (sorry, can't do superscripts). That is an interesting collection of witnesses which amounts to:
  • Two NT papyri (one apparently supporting this reading [hence vid], the other in a correction [hence c])
  • Some other Greek witnesses (unspecified, probably minuscules - since uncials would probably be cited if they agreed with P46; could be tracked down if necessary, but won't do that for now).
  • Three Old Latin witnesses: ar t v; some manuscripts of the Vulgate (number and identities unspecified);
  • The peshitta;
  • Clement [of Alexandria] somewhere preserved in a Latin translation.
The two NT papyri are both interesting. The first, P12, is not a NT manuscript at all. It is a Christian letter of the third century, with a citation from Heb 1.1 above the central of three columns. This is rather fragmentary, but here is a picture of the relevant portion:

This is a bit tricky and I'm not really sure there is much of the supposed HMWN visible here; but it is not a good photo so I suppose I'd be marginally inclined to believe that the original editors did see the letters they claimed (they certainly did not know this reading from any other manuscript - also
NTTranscripts agrees with the HM[W]N and disagrees with the final word suggesting, as one would expect, that they have looked at it carefully)). It would be nice to have a new picture with the papyrus properly flattened out and spaced correctly (maybe there is one somewhere?). The original editors (Grenfell & Hunt, P. Amherst III, 1900) read this as:


The correction in P46 is much clearer:


  1. It would be interesting to see a comprehensive textual study of the "marginally" added possessive pronouns, such as AUTOU in John 3:16,17. Aleph, for example, got it in v. 16 but not v. 17.

  2. When given the choice the Syriac witnesses often prefer to have 'our' with 'fathers', e.g. Acts 13:32; 22:3; 2 Peter 3:4. The latter case being particularly surprising because 2 Peter is not part of the original Peshitta, and therefore is generally thought to be a more 'literal' translation. The phenomenon of the addition of possessives to relational words (which I have written about somewhere in my Early Syriac Translation Technique) may be connected with the lack of a definite article in Syriac and may form one of the various ways that Syriac highlights definiteness. At any rate, though on balance I think that the Peshitta supports the pronoun in Hebrews 1:1 and in Acts 13:32, I wouldn't like to say that it certainly supports the pronoun in either case.

  3. I think that versions are very unreliable for attesting Greek pronouns when there is (1) a definite article and (2) a body part, family member or personal belonging. The Greek definite article in these situations often (by differentiating the noun) implies possession. Unless the translation is consistently formally equivalent (which none of the earliest versions are), functionally literal renderings will sometimes include possessives in these circumstances. Perhaps, the Latin Syriac or Coptic could be cited to support the omission of a possessive.

  4. Christian:

    I would suggest that the definite article in the GNT often functions as a possessive pronoun in many different passages, not limited to body parts or family or personal belongings. The definite article can function as a possessive pronoun in many other situations or contexts. Would you agree?

    Mitch L.

  5. I haven't checked but perhaps Tim Finney has some further information on this passage and the witnesses in his dissertation. He told me it is found at:


  6. Mitch,

    Context is crucial, and rules always have exceptions -- so yes this could happen elsewhere. IMO, these are the instances where the definite article/possession phenomenon is most suspicious in the versions (or the Coptic at least). My last category (personal belonging) is fairly broad, and probably could be stretched to cover most non-familial/non-body part instances of Greek articular possession. I would not want to take the categories too strictly -- e.g., I would put "disciple" into the familial category and "teaching" into the possession category. Is there another distinct scenario which you have in mind?