Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Consistency is Highly Overrated

Everyone who has worked a lot with the raw data of a manuscript knows that scribes seem to do many things on a whim, without any discernible rule. Editors of our modern text hate scribes for this and expect that the original that lies behind the manuscript tradition shows more consistency. But this is a dangerous attitude, since any imposed consistency may hide something more subtle in the language of the author - a notion of consistency is based on our understanding of the language rather than an attempt to reflect the manuscript tradition.

An example from the Gospel of Mark. Nine times we find the third person plural ‘they said’, ειπον / ειπαν. In NA26/27 it is spelled consistently ειπαν. In each of the nine cases there is manuscript support for ειπαν but in two cases this support is unusually slim, 11:6 and 16:8. In the latter ειπαν is only read by Bezae, all other witnesses read ειπον (nice to talk about Mark 16:8 without mentioning the ...).

What has happened here? Once we accept the external case for ειπον in 11:6 and 16:8 (and you guess correctly that this will be the reading of the Tyndale House edition), we see that of all nine cases of ‘they said’, these are the only two that are not followed by direct speech. It may be coincidence, it may be not. However, simply the possibility that such observations can be made now, is for me sufficient reason not to attempt too much orthographic consistency; there may be more going on than I understand at this moment.


  1. Interesting. Is this something that happens in other books as well? I see a dissertation topic for someone! I'd love to read it : )


  2. this article is similar to the discussion about the NT usage of Greek verbs, i.e. :ἐκχέω / ἐκχύν(ν)ω . See and read, for instance, Lk 11,50 and (comp. Mt 23,35). In Lk 11,50 we can observe interesting variants : εκκεχυμενον (P45, B, thus: NA28); εκχυνομενον P75; εκχυννομενον - ℵ,A. By the way, it is the same verb that we find in Rom 5,5. It's just amazing about the sophistication and a wide array of choices we can find in the holy texts. Therefore it's of the utmost importance to appreciate them trying to inculturate themselves into their original meanings.
    Good that you've noticed it therefore I like the useful conclusion: "there may be more going on than I understand at this moment."

  3. Thanks Dirk, it is an interesting specific example and a broader issue as well. Broadly the Nestle hand-edition tradition has simplified a range of issues in order to concentrate on compact, accurate and clear presentations of the state of the textual evidence. In general, with the exception of place names, this has meant, within the hand-editions, no great interest in orthography; and, in NA28, a step up in standardisation (e.g. re ALLA cf. ALL). But the alternative is not easily achieved if divergent spellings of words (including very common words) are all to be documented at each point of appearance within the apparatus. Would that really be possible in a printed hand-edition?

    1. This sort of variant is listed in the CNTTS Apparatus; so it should be possible to create a hand edition that evaluates them properly. What sort of notation they need in a hand edition apparatus is another question.

  4. EIPON is the reading I adopted in 11:6 and 16:8 in the Greek Uncial Archetype of Mark, as well.

  5. Would you then adopt ειπαν in Mt 27:49?

  6. I speak only three languages: one Germanic, another Romance and the other West Atlantic. In all of them, pronunciation of pronouns can vary for grammatical or syntactical reasons.