Friday, November 29, 2019

Scribal Harmonisation as clue to Religious Identity?

Back in 2008 I noted the following:
elsewhere in this conference we have debated the question as to whether the scribes of early Christian manuscripts were Christians or not. The singular readings and scribal habits could contribute to this debate. Royse, for example, argues that the scribe of P66 is certainly a Christian (J.R. Royse, Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri (NTTSD 36; Leiden: Brill, 2008, 501); on the basis of the harmonisations to parallel passages elsewhere in the NT (as well as the use of nomina sacra and the staurogram). This could be extended similarly to the other papyri discussed here: P45 has harmonisations to parallels in other (canonical) gospels 8 times in the singular readings; P46 has harmonisations to the LXX (2X), and from 1 Cor 11.24a to the parallel gospel text of the words of institution (Matt 26.26); P47 has a harmonization to Luke 4.33 at Rev 14.15; P72 has 7 harmonisations to remote parallels (in Col, Heb, Rev etc.); P75 has 5 singular readings which harmonise the text to remote (NT) parallels. This data suggests that the scribes have a general awareness of other NT texts, which suggests they were probably active participants in the life of the church.
(From Juan Hernández Jr, Peter M. Head, Dirk Jongkind, and James R. Royse, Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri: Papers from the 2008 SBL Panel Review Session)

Has anyone been thinking about this?


  1. Hi Peter. Scribal harmonisations could have been made by a Christian marking up the manuscript. He/she could then pass the manuscript to a non-Christian scribe. How often are harmonisations made by a second hand?

    The sexist corruptions of the manuscripts suggest that someone was invested in the text. Again, how can we know whether it was the copyist or someone marking up the manuscript?

    How can we know that the scribe of P46, for example, was a Christian? Perhaps he was a pagan and one of his predecessors was a Christian.

    Can we learn anything from small gaps between words that indicate how a copyist understood the sense of a text?

    If nomina sacra were often misunderstood, this might point towards non-Christian scribes. Has anyone done a study on misinterpretation of nomina sacra? I know of only perhaps two cases where meaning changed because a nomen sacrum was misunderstood. However, as I mentioned before, the early manuscripts use the nomina sacra indiscriminately (for evil spirits and pagan gods for example). Does this suggest that at least some of the copyists were non-Christians with a disinterest in the correct use of the nomina sacra, or were the words considered sacred regardless of the referent? Manuscripts after Vaticanus are more discriminating in their use of the nomina sacra. Could this be because the copyists were Christian at that time?

  2. I hear there is a DPhil student in Oxford interested in the significance of gospel scribal harmonizations... Let's talk when you're back in Oxford!

  3. Dr. Head,

    Thank you for this! What an interesting panel and transcript.

    Although my heart pulls at me to address the notorious canon of Griesbach and the subsequent remarks concerning it. I shall instead focus on another interesting and important point.

    Royse states:

    "Second, as already noted, Jongkind wonders about the value of the summaries. But let me say something about Jongkind’s particular example of a scribal habit: “that a transposition can be explained best by assuming that initially the scribe forgot a word, noticed this, and inserted it somewhat belatedly at the first possible opportunity.” This does seem to me to be an important point (although I would replace “forgot” by “omitted”), and I believe that one can often see this habit at work in various manuscripts. Perhaps I should have emphasized it more...Perhaps some day I will say more on this topic, but in the meantime I encourage others to investigate this tendency in these six papyri and in other manuscripts."

    Indeed, and this is not always recognized--or properly extrapolated.
    In my own personal experience, a substantial amount of these instances (transposition) are undoubtedly the result of homoeoteleuton or homoeoarcton. Although, one will be hard pressed to find HT or HA mentioned in connection with anything but standard omissions. Even so, the fact remains: HT and HA (and to a lesser degree homoeomeson) are the most obvious cause of very many instances of transposition, as well as some instances of dittography and other phenomena. -MMR

    1. P.S. "(and to a lesser degree homoeomeson)" should be taken in connection with "dittography and other phenomena", as opposed to "transposition".