Friday, February 16, 2018

Worshipping Weird Things in Rev 14:9

One of the treats of working on the ECM is the sheer exposure to a wide array of manuscripts from a variety of periods. Normally, you’re simply assigned manuscripts you’d be working on, not necessarily on the basis of your preference. Coming from more of a papyrological background myself, I don’t think I would have looked at most manuscripts that I’ve had to deal with over the past 8 months or so. But in most cases it’s been fun and very enriching.

Most recently, I enjoyed working through GA 69, a 15th-century minuscule manuscript housed, of all places, in Leicestershire Record Office, Leicester. (But let us not be derailed by a reference to the city of Sir David Attenborough.) GA 69 is a rare instance of a Greek manuscript that contains the entire New Testament, though with a few lacunae. In Revelation, its text may be broadly classified as belonging to the ‘Koine’ group (siglum 𝔐K) in NA28). As such, then, 69 will yield few surprises if you’re acquainted with this type of text. Until, that is, you get to Rev 14:9.

In this passage, the third angel flying in midheaven pronounces the promise of a bitter drink of the ‘wine of God’s wrath’ to the worshippers of the beast. At least that’s what one would expect based on the their Nestle-Aland text, which (rightly) follows the majority of witnesses in reading το θηριον.
The only variant reading cited NA28 apparatus is offered by Codex Alexandrinus, which, oddly, reads θυσιαστηριον. Thus, the angel pronounces God’s wrath on all the worshippers of the ‘tabernacle and its image’ and those who receives the mark on their foreheads or hands. The reading θυσιαστηριον, as Weiss suggested, is most likely to be a ‘pure scribal error’, possibly occasioned by the phonetic and/or visual similarity (Die Johannes-Apokalypse [TU 7.1; Leipzig, 1891], 60). The closest occurrence of the word is at Rev 14:18, which might be a bit too far to have triggered a harmonisation to the immediate context. Incidentally, Hernández classifies this reading as ‘nonsense in context’ (Scribal Habits [WUNT II.218; Tübingen, 2006], 106), which I could see on exegetical grounds, even though it wouldn’t fly with the ECM where nonsense readings are defined rather more strictly.

But Alexandrinus is not the only manuscript where weird things receive divine honours. In the aforementioned GA 69, we read that the cup of God’s wrath is to be drunk by anyone who worships the ‘cup (ποτηριον) and its image’:

(Note that this reading is not to be found in the apparatus critics of NA28, because 69 is not one of the relatively few ‘consistently cited witnesses’.) Interestingly, 69 slightly re-structures the flow of the sentence too, such that there is a minor break, signified by a raised dot, between the ending of v. 9 and v. 10: ει τις προσκυνει το ποτηριον και την εικονα αυτου, λαμβανει χαραγμα επι του μετωπου, η επι την χειρα αυτου· (punctuation original). Thus, v. 9b outlines the first consequence of worshipping the cup and its image, namely receipt of the mark on the worshipper’s forehead or his hand. V. 10 then adds the unwelcome drink of the wine of the divine wrath.

What may have occasioned this variant reading? Unlike with Alexandrinus, I think here we have really good grounds for a  (probably inadvertent) harmonisation to the immediate context. The closes occurrence of ποτηριον is in v. 10; and I wonder, too, whether the idea of ‘drinking’ in v. 10 couldn’t have reinforced this confusion in the moment of copying. That this is an error and not some sort of clever exegesis or allusion to pagan libations seems clear from the fact that the manuscript has the standard reading θηριον in v. 11.

The ultimate sense of the passage, despite these little oddities in transmission, remains the same, however: whatever the object—be it the beast, the tabernacle, or the cup (which is, by analogy, pertinent during the Olympic season)—it ain’t worth worshipping it!

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