Friday, July 25, 2014

Why It Is Helpful to Include Accents in Transcripts

A real summer topic (with an apparatus error in NA28 thrown in for good measure). When transcribing a New Testament Greek manuscript for exercise, I encourage my students to include accentuation and breathing marks. Of course this slows things down considerably, and accents occur only occasionally in the earliest manuscripts. But they are a source of information and consequently help us in our understanding of scribal behaviour. Let me give you three reasons, each with an actual example.

1) Accents and breathings help us see how the scribe understood the text. Take for example P104 (P.Oxy. 4404), 2nd century.

Twice in Mt 21:35 a relative pronoun is provided with a spiritus asper, and I recall having seen a number of these in Sinaiticus (I think it was in John's gospel). It may be that relative pronouns such as ον were marked out to avoid confusing it with a word-final syllable. There is no doubt that P104 wanted to make things crystal clear.

2) It can help us avoid collation errors. A good example is Ψ(044) in Mk 10:12. The manuscript is cited by NA27/28 in support of the reading αυτη. And indeed these four letters do appear before απολυσασα:

But look at the accents, αὐτῆ ἀπολύσασα, which is not quite like the text αὐτὴ ἀπολύσασα. A second look at the manuscript reveals why. It is not the nominative but the dative we have here, ἠ ταύτην καὶ ἐν αὐτῆ ἀπολύσασα. (iota subscript not in manuscript; we would write αὐτῇ).

The reading itself is not completely clear to me, but certainly it is incorrect to cite Ψ(044) as direct support for the reading 'αὐτὴ'.

3) Accents can help us to think about the prehistory of certain corrected passages. Here is an example from X(033), Jn 1:32. The text in its corrected form gives καταβαίνoν.

The transcript of the IGNTP John project gives the nonsense form καταβαινυν as the original version. One could question this on space considerations alone. But attention to accents steer us in the right direction. Why καταβαίνον instead of the correct καταβαῖνον? I think this is because the scribe of X(033) originally wrote the masculine participle καταβαίνων (which fits the spacing much better), and correctly accented. The -ω- was later corrected to an -ο-, yet the accent remained untouched (Tregelles transcribed the manuscript here correct back in 1850).

These are only a few real-world examples; I am sure there are many more out there which have escaped notice. I don't think there is any excuse not to include accents and breathings by the first hand in transcriptions when these occur only sporadically (such as P104). Admittedly, there are practical considerations in favour of ignoring such signs, given where we are in transcribing the corpus of NT manuscripts. However, tools that we use for transcribing should at the very least have the option to include these accents and breathings.


  1. Hoskier throughout his Revelation collations was careful to note the accents (where present) in variant readings. As Dirk says, at times this can be valuable for understanding how a word was intended by the scribe to be interpreted.

  2. germanforneutestamentler.com7/26/2014 12:45 am

    Thanks for an illuminating post on accents Dirk! Best, Wayne

  3. « It is not the nominative but the dative we have here, ἠ ταύτην καὶ ἐν αὐτῆ ἀπολύσασα. »… Don’t you think we have actually here two scribal errors, that our copyist tried to correct in his own way ? « ἐπ᾽ αὐτήν » [επαυτην] was written or read “εταυτην”, and corrected “η ταυτην” (end of Mk 10:11), and « καὶ ἐὰν αὐτὴ ἀπολύσασα » [καιεαναυτηαπολυσασα], with its « εαν » read “ἐν” : that’s why our copyist thought that « αυτη » was a dative, and corrected it in, say, “αὐτῇ” !

    For me, Ψ (044) is an indirect support for the reading “αὐτὴ”.

    But now, nobody nor his dog and uncle can understand the meaning of « μοιχᾶται ἠ ταύτην καὶ ἐν αὐτῇ ἀπολύσασα τὸν ἄνδρα αὐτῆς »…

    Richard “Nice” Budelberger !…

  4. « « ἐπ᾽ αὐτήν » [επαυτην] was written or read “εταυτην”, and corrected “η ταυτην” (end of Mk 10:11) » : or was written or read “ειταυτην” (επ > ειτ), and “ει” corrected by “disitacism” into “η”…

    Richard Budelberger.

  5. How is one to discern between accents that are by the scribe copting the text, and those accents that are entered later by readers or scholars? Pr does ot matter? It seems like it would usually be impossible to discern.