Monday, December 30, 2019

Fact-checking Versional Support for the ECM and the textus receptus

It’s no secret that sometimes patristic citations and versions are used to make claims they don’t really support. I came across this issue the other day when I was looking at 2 Peter 3:10.

Coptic and the ECM at 2 Peter 3:10

The ECM (and the NA28 following) famously has a conjecture at 2 Peter 3:10, οὐχ εὑρεθήσεται. This reading is not found in any Greek manuscript, but the ECM claims some versional support: manuscripts of the Philoxenian Syriac, and among Coptic witnesses, the Sahidic and “Dialect V” (but V is cited videtur, so there is some potential uncertainty there). “Dialect V” is not one of the more well-attested Coptic dialects, so this citation seemed like the kind of thing I should look at more closely before citing it as supporting the conjecture. Just how many manuscripts were we talking about here?

Only one, it turns out (for this passage). P. Mich. 3520. And it’s damaged precisely at this part of 2 Peter 3:10.

The editio princeps gives the following transcription:

Source: Schenke, Hans-Martin, ed. (with Rodolphe Kasser) Papyrus Michigan 3520 und 6868(a), Ecclesiastes, Erster Johannesbrief und Zweiter Petrusbrief im fayumischen Dialekt. TUGAL 151. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2003.
And in German translation:

Source: same as above
Unless my Coptic is too rusty to be useful anymore, it looks to me like the ‘support’ for the οὐχ is coming from a reconstructed Ν in the lacuna on the last line, and my guess is that it’s a conjecture based on the Sahidic. It’s a bit speculative, but it doesn’t take much to imagine that the editors of P.Mich. 3520 thought “well since the Sahidic supports an underlying Greek οὐχ here, it’s probably the case that this lone manuscript of 2 Peter 3:10 in a different Coptic dialect does to.” Can we be this sure about a single-letter difference in a lacuna like this?

Maybe the reconstruction is correct, but maybe it isn’t. It’s not completely clear to me on the basis of P. Mich. 3520 that Dialect V should be cited as evidence of the ECM conjecture, οὐχ εὑρεθήσεται. It’s simply not extant for that part of the text.

[After I wrote all of that above, I noticed that Bart L.F. Kamphuis also addressed Dialect V’s ‘support’ for οὐχ εὑρεθήσεται in his recent monograph on conjectural emendation. Kamphuis makes the same point I make above and mentions that Christian Blumenthal makes the same point as well in his monograph on 2 Peter 3:10. I guess the moral of the story is to look things up before wasting time writing blogs about them?]

Ethiopic and the textus receptus at Rev. 16:5

The need to fact-check things like this brings to mind Rev. 16:5 in the textus receptus. Some editions of the textus receptus have ὁ ἐσόμενος there, and the KJV follows this reading, though not a single Greek manuscript (that isn’t itself a copy of a printed textus receptus) has it. This TR reading is a conjecture by Theodore Beza, plain and simple. The Amsterdam Database of New Testament Conjectural Emendation mentions that there is Ethiopic support, and I’ve seen Ethiopic support pop up in defenses of the KJV and Beza’s text as well.

That being said, the Ethiopic citation here just seems suspicious, for lack of a better word. It’s like Coptic Dialect V—the more obscure the reference, the fewer people there are who have (or even could have) looked at it more closely to verify it. How many text critics know Ethiopic and could check this? A few, I’m sure, but I certainly don’t. The Ethiopic ‘support’ at Rev. 16:5 seems to me to be exactly the sort of thing that needs to be verified by someone who knows Ethiopic before anybody puts any weight on the Ethiopic here.

I find two sources for the reference, and admittedly, I haven’t searched too hard. Hoskier cites it, but Hoskier seems to be dependent on Brian Walton’s London Polyglot, and his use of Ethiopic has not been immune from criticism. In an appendix to his dissertation that was not published in his monograph on scribal habits, James Royse wrote,
The cause of some of Hoskier’s errors is that Hoskier could not, as it appears, control the Ethiopic itself. For, as far as can be judged from his comments on P46 and his remarks in his work on Revelation, he depends on the Latin rendering of [the edition printed in Walton’s London Polyglot] and on Horner’s notes (and translation into English) in his edition of [the Sahidic]. (Royse’s dissertation, p. 718, n. 15)
Curt Niccum also has some severe criticism for Hoskier’s use of Ethiopic in his chapter, “Hoskier and his (Per)Version of the Ethiopic” in The Future of Textual Scholarship, writing that it “offers a case study for how not to mine the Ge’ez version for evidence of Greek readings” (p. 279).

If Hoskier was not the best for Ethiopic and was dependent on Walton, then that shifts everything back to Walton. Thankfully, here at Tyndale House, we have a copy of Walton’s London Polyglot in amazing condition.

The Latin translation of the Ethiopic does clearly translate the reading as et eris, which, if correct, certainly supports ὁ ἐσόμενος against ὁ ὅσιος:

Image credit: I took it myself at Tyndale House.
The Latin translation seems to have been made by Dudley Loftus. But how accurate is this translation? When I look it up, it doesn’t seem like Loftus’ translation was acclaimed for its accuracy. In 1934, James A. Montgomery wrote,
This Ethiopic text of the New Testament was republished by Brian Walton in the London Polyglot, the New Testament volume in 1657, and it is this form of the Ethiopic Testament that is generally known to scholars. The text was accompanied with a Latin translation, the first for that part of the Bible. Walton had as editors of this text Dudley Loftus of Dublin (1619-1695) and the distinguished Orientalist Edmund Castell, the latter revising the former’s work and seeing it through the press. But the new print was a degradation of the first one, and its Latin translation has been excoriated by scholars since Ludolf.
Earlier, F.H.A. Scrivener (the guy who put together the edition of the textus receptus that the Trinitarian Bible Society sells) said this about the reliability of the Ethiopic in the London Polyglot:

Source: Scrivener’s Plain Introduction, 3rd ed., p. 410 (thanks to Royse’s dissertation for pointing me to it).
Can any Ethiopic scholars shed some light on this? Does the Ethiopic in Walton’s Polyglot really support ὁ ἐσόμενος at Rev. 16:5, or is this one of those examples of “an unusually bad Latin translation” that should not be followed?

Here is the Ethiopic, according to Walton:

Image credit: Definitely not CSNTM. I mean, look at how skewed the photo is. Terrible. Still, I did the best I could do with my phone, the lighting that I had, and my desire not to damage a book that’s older than the country that issued my passport.
I should add that due to the holiday closures of libraries, I don’t currently have access to Josef Hofmann’s edition of Revelation in Ethiopic (and even if I did, I don’t know that it would help. I don’t know Ethiopic myself, or I wouldn’t be writing this post asking for help!).

In conclusion, here are my questions, if we have any readers who are competent in Ethiopic:
  1. Does the Ethiopic text printed in Walton’s London Polyglot support ὁ ἐσόμενος at Rev. 16:5 or not?
  2. Is the accompanying Latin translation correct, or is it not?
  3. Is there anything in Hofmann’s edition that could indicate that the Ethiopic could be cited in support of ὁ ἐσόμενος at Rev. 16:5?

Now that the CUL is open again, I was able to check out Hofmann's edition. Below is his entry for Rev. 16:5. I'm very sorry it's awkwardly huge, but I wanted to make sure the resolution would be sufficient.

Source: Josef Hofmann, ed. Die Äthiopische Übersetzung der Johannes-Apokalypse. CSCO 281; Scriptores Aethiopici 55, pp. 116–117.


  1. Nice work comparing the translations, Elijah. I look forward to reading updates by those who are competent in Ethiopic to give clarity on issues surrounding Rev. 16:5. (*p.s. good plug for TH.) And I appreciate the second photograph from Walton's Polyglot. Not having seen the London Polyglot, I was wondering if the first image you took yourself (at TH) was the Latin text with Ethiopic marginalia. The second image clears that up. A marvel indeed to have a copy of Walton's 6-volume London Polyglot on hand at TH.

  2. Although I realize that I am not part of the intended audience of this website, I read it with pleasure. But could you explain what a "conjecture" is, what makes it different from a variant. I guess it is a suggested variant, a variant not found in the manuscripts, but that would have been the variant in the autograph.

    1. A "conjecture" is an educated guess based on textual-critical methods, not supported by any extant Greek manuscript, but rather by manuscript evidence from other languages (versions)

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Generally conjectures aren't supported by versions either.

      In fact, if a variant does have the support of any witnesses at all, including versions, I wouldn't normally consider it a conjecture. If a variant that does have the support of a version is to be called a conjecture, then in my opinion, that label deserves some additional qualification in such a case.

  3. Here is Walton's volume V (NT):

  4. Dear M Hixson,

    The Latin translation of Walton's Ethiopic text "eris" is correct, If you can send me the critical edition of the Ethiopian Revelation, I will tell you if the text is the same than in Walton.

    With my best greetings,

    Jean-Louis Simonet

  5. Dear M. Hixson,

    Second thought about your question. The Ethiopic imperfect can also mean a present time, so that the verb wthl can mean "et eris" or "et es".

    With my bret greetings,

    J.-L. Simonet

  6. Hi Elijah,

    Very interesting post. I agree with J.-L. Simonet's comments. I wanted to add that in Rev 4:8, the Ethiopic reads: ዘሀሎ ወይሄሉ። (ze-helo we-yehelu) = "who was and who is/will be". There are just two verbs here. The first is a perfect 3ms with the relative pronoun, and the second is an imperfect 3ms. The first functions as the past tense ("who was"), and the second merely indicates an ongoing continuous state, presumably encompassing both "who is" and "who will be." Interestingly, Ethiopic could have replicated the ὁ ἐρχόμενος in 4:8 with ዘይመጽእ, (we-yemesa, "the one who is coming", 3ms) but the translator just chose to leave it out. Matthew 11:3 has the Greek participle ἐρχόμενος, and the Ethiopic translates it as ዘይመጽእ.

    Perhaps if the translator of 16:5 had wanted to emphasize the future tense (which would lead to the "et eris" translation in Latin), he would have used the verb መጽአ (to come) in the 2ms impf conjugation with the relative pronoun: ዘ + ተ + መጽእ = ዘተመጽእ (the one who is [you are] coming).

    This makes me think the Latin Translation "et es" rather than "et eris" would be more likely, although, technically speaking, either is possible.

  7. Thank you, Elijah, for the reference to the Amsterdam Database, and Jean-Louis and Jacob for the remarks on the Ethiopic.
    In the database, our remark on Beza’s conjecture (cj10561) is now "There is some versional evidence (such as the Ethiopic), but Beza could not know about this.” In the next instalment (next week, that is), I intend to change that into the following: “Sometimes reference is made to versional evidence, but such evidence never exactly reflects the conjecture. E.g. the Ethiopic (cf. Hoskier, who depends on Walton) does not have three elements, but only two (ዘሀሎከ ወትሄሉ ), the second of which can just as well reflect “who is.”” Would this be correct?
    Besides, It seems to me that the Ethiopic also does not so much omit ὁ ὅσιος, but transpose it, as ወራትዕ, to go with ጸድቅ. All in all, the translation seems too creative to be of any critical value.
    And indeed, it would be nice if someone could check Josef Hofmann, Die Äthiopische Übersetzung der Johannes-Apokalypse (CSCO 282, Scriptores Aethiopici 55–56).

  8. Thank you all for your replies, and I'm so sorry it has taken me a few days to respond. I have updated the post to include an image of Rev. 16:5 in Hofmann's edition.

    Anon, yes, by conjecture, I meant a reading that has no support from Greek manuscripts. That being said, there's probably a discussion word having (and I imagine it has already been had somewhere) about whether or not a reading is truly a conjecture if it has non-Greek support.

    M. Simonet and Jacob, Thank you both so much for your detailed comments.

    Jan, thank you so much for your comments. I have been finding the Amsterdam Database to be absolutely fascinating, and I love that you have included the actual remarks of those proposing conjectures.

    Thank you all again for your comments.

  9. Just wondering, but is it possible that Beza had access to manuscripts which we do not possess today? I mean, how many others have been lost to time? Just because there is no extant manuscript supporting Revelation 16:5 does not mean that there never was one. The same could be true for 2 Peter 3:10 I suppose, but this to me seems less likely.