Monday, November 08, 2010

The Esther Scroll, POxy 4443


When I looked the other day at the way paragraphs were indicated in Greek biblical manuscripts, I was struck again by the apparent anachronistic way in which POxy 4443 indicates a paragraph: ekthesis + paragraphos + enlarged initial letter.
There used to be a time when the combination of such features was deemed to be indicative of a 5th century date. The Esther scroll is dated to the late first / early second century AD.
So how come that in manuscripts of the New Testament we only find the combination of these three features 300 years later? Chance?


  1. Dirk, I am doing some research on the BM Ms. Or 7594, a Coptic MS containing Deuteronomy, Acts and Jonah, and there is at least one example there of the combination of ekthesis + paragraphos + enlarged initial letter, although the initial large letter is only slightly larger. This MS is dated to c. 275-325 CE.

    Also, in the edition of the above MS, there is a transcription of BM Ms. Oriental 6803 (Revelation), and there is a clear example of all three there as well. I think this manuscript is dated to the 3rd century, though I am not positive. There are a few pictures in the edition by E.A. Wallis Budge.

    Are you interested in the occurrences of this phenomenon only in Greek manuscripts?

  2. Are you raising the possibility that NT ms's previously dated to "300 years later" in fact might have a provenance in the 1st and early 2nd century? I have no expertise at all in this area, but am curious. Thanks.

  3. Bob, No I am not arguing for any redating. It is just that supportive arguments used in the past and which were based on ideas of a certain evolutionary development of such features are not that strong (notwithstanding the fact that I see the combination of the three much more often in later than in earlier manuscripts within the Christian tradition).

  4. Did you get a chance, Dirk, to take a look at the Coptic MSS that contain all three features (mentioned above)?

  5. Larry Hurtado (Univ of Edinburgh)11/10/2010 10:59 am

    Hmm. The Nahal Hever Greek Minor Prophets scroll (rather indisputably lst-2nd cent BCE) has enlarged initial letters, ekthesis, etc. Thus, these may be particularly early in *Jewish* Greek MSS, and then adopted practices in early Christian ones. In any case, the practice is indisutably early.

  6. Thanks Larry!

    Peter Parsons has noted this feature in the MS you referred to and comments in DJD VIII (1990), 23f:

    "...the use of enlarged initials at line-beginning (hands A and B) and phrase-beginning (hand A) and (set out in the margin) to mark a new section (hand A) gives this manuscript a documentary look. ... The fact is itself remarkable. Early Christian books show the same characteristic; copies of the Greek classics do not. It has therefore been tempting to argue that the texts of the Early Church stood closer to the world of business than to that of literature, and to draw conclusions about the social milieu in which the texts circulated or the esteem in which they were held. Now we see the same thing in a Jewish manuscript of pre-Christian date. This may suggest that the Christians inherited the practice, rather than inventing it; the problem remains, why Greek-speaking Jews should have adopted it in the first place."

  7. Larry Hurtado (Univ of Edinburgh)11/10/2010 11:40 am

    Here's a query I have: In the Qumran Hebrew biblical MSS (e.g., the great Isaiah scroll), we have word-separation (by use of enlarged spaces). But in Jewish Greek biblical MSS of the same period, we don't. What to make of this, I'm not sure. Word-separation was practiced in Greek in pre-Hellenistic time, but was consistently *not* practiced in the Roman period. So, it appears that Jews followed this aspect of Greek practice in Greek MSS and another practice in Hebrew MSS.

  8. Larry, I cannot answer that question. Maybe there is an answer in Tov's studies of scribal practices and approaches in DSS, volumes which are available in the public domain. I will blog that link in a new blogpost.

  9. As to why the Hebrew has word separation in the Roman period, but the Greek does not...

    This is just a guess:

    The Hebrew has more ambiguity then the Greek when scrunched together.

    Since the Hebrew of the period had only consonants (except for a few periodic 'defective' vowels). It was more important to separate the words to reduce that ambiguity.

    Since the Greek was consistently written with the vowels, there are fewer occurrences of things like the classic English 'IAMNOWHERE'.

    I thought that at one point the Hebrew as written scriptio continua, though, which means it was really a social decision rather on based on factors. (like the change from word breaks - no breaks -word breaks in Greek).


  10. The answer to the question as to why Hebrew has spaces and Greek does not is related to the way speech was presented on a leaf/page/stele...

    Mistakenly called writing in scripto continuo, Greek was written by "breathings," the number of syllables that could be said in one breath. Hence, the narrow columns of Greek Biblical MSS. On exceptionally wide column writings, such as Aristotles Constitutions, there are spaces between the "breathings."

    Hebrew was written in duration notation, i.e., syllabic units were ligatured. Within words, there are small spaces between ligatured units. In sentences, there is more space between "word" units. Such notation is practiced in, among many others, the Arad inscriptions and among the DSS. For instance, duration notation can be seen on the Exodus fragments.

    Nor is duration notation an
    invention of the Israelites. Syllabic ligatures already appear in early cuneiform.