Monday, March 26, 2018

New Contributor: Elijah Hixson

When I first started learning about textual criticism at seminary, textual criticism was not much more than one lecture on Romans 5:1 in intermediate Greek, and if you were lucky, an introductory course that was only taught once every few years. I had to wait a few years for the introductory course. My intermediate Greek professor pointed me to Metzger and Ehrman’s Text of the New Testament. After that, I found this blog and never stopped reading it. It was like drinking from a fire hose at first, but I am deeply thankful for all the posts and comments here over the years that have helped make me who I am. It is an honour to be a contributor to this blog.

I recently finished my PhD at the University of Edinburgh under Paul Foster. James Snapp recently interviewed me about this research over at his blog, The Text of the Gospels, but I will give a summary of my research and results here. Like Alan Taylor Farnes, I too decided to test the “singular readings method”. Whereas Farnes did that with Abschriften, I took a closer look at the sixth-century purple codices 022, 023 and 042. Because these three manuscripts were copied from the same exemplar, I reconstructed the text of their exemplar in Matthew’s Gospel where that was possible.

Now, I know that scholars like Royse, Hernández and just about everyone else who uses the method are careful to qualify it—singular readings really tell us about the “complex scribe” not the actual scribe. Still, after a lengthy discussion of the matter, Royse concludes that the singulars are probably due to the actual scribe in most of the cases. His words are:
In what follows, consequently, I will speak of a manuscript’s “scribe” in the ordinary way, that is, meaning the person who actually wrote the manuscript. Discussions of the scribe’s handwriting or corrections, for instance, will obviously refer to this one person. And most of the singulars should, without doubt, be attributed to this person. (p. 55)
In nuce, singular readings hypothetically could be from anyone, but they’re probably the work of the actual person who made the manuscript. If anything, singular readings tell us about the activity of the person who made the manuscript with some contamination from previous scribes in the line of transmission back to the archetype.

But is that really true?

By focusing on singular readings, one could include inherited readings from the exemplar and exclude non-singular readings created by the scribe. Those possibilities allow errors on both sides of the data. I set out to test the method in a three-tiered approach.

First, I went to all the places in Matthew where 022, 023 and 042 are all extant and compared orthography (ει/ι and αι/ε interchanges), unit delimitation, kephalaia and titloi, the Eusebian apparatus and textual changes. This comparison allowed me to build a preliminary profile of each scribe to help resolve issues reconstructing the exemplar later one where only two of the three manuscripts were extant. For example, the scribe of 023 is incredible and makes very few changes, but the scribe of 042 has a noticeable tendency to harmonise Matthew to Markan parallels. Therefore, if only 023 and 042 are extant—and they differ—, and one of the possibilities is that 023 preserves the text of the exemplar and 042 harmonises to Mark, then that is probably what happened (as opposed to 042 preserving the text of the exemplar and 023 making the change).

Second, I analysed the singular and family readings of each manuscript (readings unique to these three manuscripts). I did this to include “inherited singulars”. Of course, the inherited readings aren’t singular in my cases, but that is only because we have more than one copy of the exemplar. Stated alternatively for 022, I studied the singular readings of 022 as we would count them if 023 and 042 never existed. This modification best replicates the situation for any other early manuscript, like the early papyri studied by Royse.

Third, I reconstructed the 022-023-042 exemplar, analysed the changes each scribe made to the text and compared these numbers with what I got from the modified singular readings method.

The results? An analysis of singular (and family) readings of 022, 023 and 042 does not give accurate conclusions about the scribes who made them. In fact, if you add up the total number of singular and family readings from the three manuscripts, about two-thirds of them are inherited readings, not scribal creations. If you add up the total number of scribal changes in all three manuscripts, about two-thirds of them are non-singular. Instead of getting the habits of the actual scribe with a bit of contamination from the complex scribe, with the purple codices, the unique readings tell us more about the “habits” of the complex scribe with a bit of contamination from the person who actually wrote the words. I wonder if even that is accurate because of how many non-singular scribal changes went unnoticed.

Even though the method doesn’t “work” with 022, 023 and 042, it still might tell us something about scribal habits in the early manuscripts. Several of the changes I saw were instances in which scribes aligned the text to what would become the majority reading, and I don’t think that would be the case for the early papyri—certainly not as much. I’m not saying to throw the method out. It still tells us how manuscripts are unique, even if in these three instances it fails to tell us about scribes.

In the end, the project was a lot of fun. I learned a lot about three sixth-century witnesses to Matthew’s Gospel and their scribes. The manuscripts themselves are gorgeous—they were a good choice of manuscripts to spend 3.5 years looking at. I also highly recommend Byzantine manuscripts to people looking for thesis topics. Even though I am not a Byzantine prioritist myself (though I have the highest respect for our Silver-Haired Assassin), it is exciting to notice new things by working with manuscripts that have been largely neglected since their discovery and initial publication.


  1. Welcome on board, Eiljah, and thanks for what you share with us in your first blogpost! We look forward to reading many more of them, and I feel confident that you will yourself inspire people, some of which may be drawn into the field in the future, like yourself!

  2. Thanks for giving us a nice summary of your fascinating dissertation Elijah. I am glad to see you as a member of the ETC blog and look forward to future posts.

  3. Similar dissertation possibilities exist even among the minuscules. E.g., the scribal habits perceived among or derived from the common exemplar of the various MSS copied by Theodore of Studium or known to have descended therefrom; similarly, the various MSS copied by George Hermonymous from his common exemplar. Any takers?

  4. I did something similiar with F and G. In that case there was little contamination form the Majority text. I think it's because there were limited copies of Paul in Greek floating around Europe in the 9th century (possibly only D and the exemplar for F and G), so the scribes knew nothing but the exemplars in front of them.

  5. Congratulations! I'm interested to delve more into the details at some point, dv.

  6. Congratulations, Elijah! I'm looking forward to reading your contributions.

  7. Peter Gurry describes Elijah elsewhere as "an expert in all manuscripts purple". Does the level of expertise extend to One-eyed, One-horned, Flying Purple People Eaters (Sheb Wooley) or to Jeremiah Peabody's Polyunsaturated Quick-Dissolving Fast-Acting Pleasant-Tasting Green and Purple Pills (Ray Stevens)? If so, he would be an expert in All Things Purple.

  8. Paolo Trovato3/30/2018 9:38 pm

    Hi Elijah.

    I am very interested in the problem of "codices descripti", that is, copied from extant exemplars. May I ask you on which ground we can say that codices 022, 023 and 042 were copied from the same exemplar"? Of course I understand that they are sixth-century MSS, very huge and purple, but in theory there could be a number of "interpositi" between them and their subarchetype. Thanks

    1. Hi Paolo,

      I'm so sorry for the delay in my reply.

      There are a number of unique readings shared by 022, 023 and 042 that are not found in any other manuscripts—not even Codex Beratinus-1 (043), which is a textually-related purple codex from the same era. It is probably more of a cousin than a sibling. Additionally, there are two places that I think could be explained by a mistake in the exemplar, though one of them is in Mark (so it only pertains to 022 and 042). There, 042 has πν(ευμ)α αλαλον corrected to πν(ευμ)α λαλον (or perhaps πν(ευμ) αλαλον), and 022 has πν(ευμ)α ααλον corrected to πν(ευμ)α αλαλον. The ways each scribe dealt with the correction fit with the observed tendency that 042 is good at getting the sense of the passage but sometimes makes "incorrect" corrections, and 022 is good at copying difficult places letter-for-letter (I know, I know, Dain, Junack, and Jongkind on letter-for-letter copying) but is careful to go back and make sure everything is correct.

      Additionally, each codex has at least one feature that makes it unlikely to be the exemplar for the other two. I do argue that out in the thesis, but the cumulative evidence satisfies me on it, and my examiners were convinced. It is too much to type out here, but I would be happy to send you what I have written if you would like to know more.

    2. Paolo Trovato4/05/2018 9:14 pm

      Thank you so much, Elijah, for your information. Indeed I am looking for codices descripti desperately.

      In our case, there is no doubt that the 3 purple MSS are part of a very narrow and peculiar subset. But with a loss rate about, say, 85% or 90%, it seems likely that in the old times the same subset was made of 30 MSS. (our 3 MSS are the only survivors: “rari nantes in gurgite vasto”), and, if I understand well, we can not prove that they are copies of each other. We can not prove it unless you know phisical features of the exemplar (e.g. a damaged folio) that produce omissions / alterations / etc. in the others (In which case we would have a quite convincing filiation).
      The best treatment in English of the problem is, to my knowledge, Michael D. Reeve, Eliminatio codicum descriptorum: a methodological problem, in Manuscripts and Methods, Roma, Edizioni di storia e letteratura, 2011.

  9. Sorry to be 4 years late to this discussion, Elijah. You have shown that the scribes were not responsible for most of the singulars in their manuscripts. I am wondering if we should go further and absolve the scribes of the siblings of responsibility for at least some of their differences. If the exemplar has some corrections, the scribes might make different decisions about how to interpret those corrections and whether to ignore them. An interesting example: D06 Rom 1:31 has ἀσπόνδους added to the margin with a dotted obelos to indicate that it should be inserted before ἀνελεήμονος. However, a copy of D06, 319, has ἀσπόνδους written after ἀνελεήμονος, presumably because the scribe failed to understand the dotted obelos.

    I looked at only a few of the variants that you discuss in your thesis and notice two that may suggest the influence of corrections in the exemplar. You make the astute observation that 042 has an incomplete dittography at Matt 14:05, and that the correction was made much later because wet ink came off on the opposite page. Why did the scribe not correct the dittography as soon as he/she realized it? All is explained, I think, if the dittography was made by the scribe of the exemplar and was corrected with words in the margin and dots above the repeated words. The scribe of 042 could have copied the first hand of the exemplar and then found the problem when proof reading his/her completed text. Or something like that.

    You explain that at Matt 13:51 042 wrote ταυτα παντα, but 022 wrote παντα ταυτα, even after starting with a τ before converting it to a π. 022 gets it wrong, even after reflection, and this could be a sign that the exemplar was ambiguous concerning the order of these two words. Perhaps the exemplar had omitted ταυτα by an eye skip and perhaps the word was added into the margin with ambiguity about where it belonged.

    Has anyone done a study of transpositions arising from misplaced or misinterpreted corrections? Have we been too quick to blame in scribendo corrected leaps? I suppose that a copyist might need to erase a portion of the text written after the leap and write the leaped words over it. I don't remember Royse's book referring to any such cases (which would be good evidence of leaps corrected in scribendo) but I may have missed some.