Friday, September 24, 2021

Hebrew Scribes at the End of the Line

Composing a text by hand demands an awareness of certain details that we can ignore when using a word processor. One of these details is if the next written word corresponds to the available space. At times, the space didn’t for Hebrew scribes, and when this happened, they had several ways to navigate this situation. Let’s review some of these. For more information on these practices, see Tov’s discussion in chapters 4 and 5 of his book Scribal Practices. This list depends on and derives in part from his helpful discussions.

First, scribes could utilize the margin to finish the word. This practice is not uncommon. Here is a portion of column 2 of 1QIsaa illustrating this practice.

Second, a scribe could fill in the remaining line with space fillers. The scribe of 1QIsaa resorts to using dots in 1QIsaa Col 3:6.


Third, a scribe at times began a word at the end of a line but didn’t finish it. Instead, the word was written in full at the beginning of the next line. Here is an example from 1QIsaa Col 2:11.


Fourth, it is possible that the scribe of 1QIsaa began a word and simply failed to finish it. See 1QIsaa Col 6:3.


Fifth, a scribe might begin a word at the end of the line and complete it on the next line. Tov states that this was a practice of scrolls written in paleo-Hebrew. 11Q1 Col 3:5, 6, 7 are examples of this.


Sixth, a scribe might resort to a smaller “font-size” to fit the word in the available space. See 1QIsaa Col 16:30 (the first line in the photo below).

Seventh, a scribe might write part of the word above the line. Here are some examples from 4QPsx.


Eighth, a scribe might cram words together leaving little space between the words. This tendency is common in 4QPsx and here in 1QIsaa Col 16:24.

Ninth, a scribe might leave bigger spaces between letters as here in 4QDeuth 1:5–7. Tov labels this device “proportional” spacing. 


These pictures were taken from photos found at the Leon Levy DSS Digital Library and the DSS Digital Project.

Monday, September 20, 2021

More NT Textual Criticism Guest Lecture Videos


I’m teaching NTTC again at the seminary and that means having guest lecturers visit to share their work. The first two videos are now up at the TCI YouTube channel. If you subscribe there, you’ll get new videos when they’re posted. Thanks to Mike and Edgar for letting me share these.

Ebojo on P46 and the Pastoral Epistles


Holmes on Editing and Translating the NT for Church and Academy

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Richard Porson’s Famous Handwriting

Although he published little, the Cambridge classicist Richard Porson (1759–1808) is best known for his insight into Greek meter, accentuation, and orthography. He was apparently skeptical of Granville Sharp’s rule about the use of the Greek article that has been so important to New Testament studies. he was even suspected by some of having written a tract against it under the pseudonym “Gregory Blunt” (pun intended). More popularly, he was known for “an astonishing memory, a turn for satire and badinage, beautiful penmanship, personal slovenliness, and alcoholism” (Naiditch, xxi). But Porson denied having written it and his biographer agrees (Watson, 267270). His greatest legacy, as far as I am concerned, is his Greek handwriting that was turned into what I consider the best Greek typeface ever designed in Britain. 

The original characters were cut by Richard Austin and cast by Caslon and Catherwood. Austin was paid 22 pounds and 7 shillings. It was first used in 1809 in E. D. Clarke’s Greek Marbles brought from the shores of the Euxine. Its simplicity and lack of ligatures made it easy to read so that it was quickly copied and by the mid 19th century it was “almost universal in Britain” (Bowman, 2). You can see it in all sorts of books from Metzger’s Lexical Aids to Westcott and Hort’s GNT to Loeb Classical Library. One reviewer at the time compared the new type to the “disgustingly luxuriant” types of Bodoni and said that, in contrast, “the eye of the scholar now peruses, with a satisfaction bordering on delight, the porsonic type” (Bowman, 2). 

Porson’s Book Notes from c. 1800 (source)

Porson’s handwriting

The original type specimen from Cambridge University Press (from Bowman)

It was also used for the early editions of the UBS Greek New Testament but this changed—to Metzger’s chagrin. He says that he was not happy about the change to the “less attractive and harder to read [type] than the beautiful Porson font of Greek type that I had recommended for the earlier editions” (Reminiscences, 73). Kurt Aland admits as much in the intro to the NA26 (p. 43*) when he says “the font used [for NA26] is certainly lacking in the simplicity and clarity of that used for The Greek New Testament.” Given its ties to Cambridge, I tried to get the THGNT editors to use it but they went with Adobe Text instead (not a bad choice).

Westcott and Hort’s GNT (1881)

You can download a digital version of Porson from the Greek Font Society.

Further reading

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

GA 048 and the Text of Ephesians 5:22


Some years ago, I wrote a blog post on the text of Ephesians 5:22. There I suggested that the neglected longer reading (ὑποτασσέσθωσαν) seemed to me to be the more difficult reading while noting a simple transcriptional explanation for the shorter reading.

Since then, I have fleshed out my argument in much more detail and the result is a new article in NTS. (For those without access, here’s the pre-pub version.) If my textual argument is sound, the upshot is a resolution to the longstanding debate about where Paul starts his instructions to the household. Beginning with the RSV, English translations started to reflect the uncertainty by putting paragraph breaks before 5.21 or before both 5.21 and 5.22 (NEB, NIV1984, NRSV, NCV, etc.) while some still put one only before 5.22 (NKJV, NASB, ESV, NET). Commentators, of course, also disagree and the issue has become a lighting rod for debates about Paul and gender.

As part of my work on this variant, I revisited the text of 048 (Vat. Gr. 2061). 048 is a palimpsest with a fifth-century undertext from Acts and Paul. Given its early date, it’s quite important and is consistently cited in NA28. However, it is not cited at Eph 5.22. My guess is that this is because the last major collation of 048, done by Dale Heath in 1965 from photographic plates, says the text is illegible at this point. Well, I gave it a crack using the images at the VMR and some Photoshop adjustments and I’m pretty sure that this fifth-century witness has ὑποτασσέσθωσαν. Not surprisingly, it also has a new paragraph at 5.22 too. 

You can see my attempt to reconstruct the text and judge how I did. Red letters are ones I’m pretty confident about and blue are ones where I really can’t be sure about.

Because I didn’t have color images or MSI, I included 048 with “vid” in my article. So, here is my formal appeal for the Vatican to digitize this early manuscript using MSI and for someone to write a fresh dissertation on it. Even without new photos, I think there’s quite a bit more text to be deciphered than what Heath was able to if someone is willing to work at it.


Christian spotted that the Vatican now has color photos that weren’t there when I worked on this last. They seem to use UV light. Posted below is a close shot of the color image with some heightened contrast. I only had a little time to spare today. Anon also alerted me to the IGNTP transcriptions that I didn’t know about. They disagree with my reconstruction so be sure to check that out too.

fol. 300r

Monday, September 13, 2021

MOTB Early Printed Books Curator

Museum of the Bible is advertising a curatorial position with specializations relevant to the early Renaissance. Applicants should be proficient in German and Latin. PhD preferred. Located in Washington, DC.

Associate Curator of Early Modern Bibles and Printed Books

Ozoliņš: Observations on ESV Old Testament Translation Notes


The following is a guest post from Kaspars Ozoliņš who has a PhD from UCLA in Indo-European linguistics and currently works as a Research Associate at Tyndale House in Cambridge.

Translation notes are a time-honoured tradition in biblical translation. Here, for example, is an excerpt from the preface “To the Reader” of the 1611 KJV:

[I]t hath pleaſed God in his divine prouidence, heere and there to ſcatter wordes and ſentences of that difficultie and doubtfulneſſe, not in doctrinall points that concerne ſaluation, (for in ſuch it hath beene uouched that the ſcriptures are plaine) but in matters of leſſe momentNow in ſuch a caſe, doth not a margine do well to admoniſh the Reader to ſeeke further, and not to conclude or dogmatize upon this or that peremptorily?They that are wiſe, had rather haue their judgements at libertie in differences of readings, then to be captiuated to one, when it may be the other.

Translation notes are in fact a very useful tool for expanding and clarifying particular words and passages, given the many complications involved in transferring the meaning of ancient texts written in languages generally unfamiliar to the reader. The NET version excels at this, containing no fewer than 60,932 translation notes. But such an abundance of information raises an important question. What are the intended audience(s) for such notes, and therefore, what kind of information ought to be included?

This question is especially germane to notes of a text-critical nature. Naturally, the academic or pastor will consult standard critical editions of the biblical text for information about variant readings for a given passage. So it would seem that text-critical notes in an English Bible are not aimed at such an individual, at least not directly. On the other hand, what purpose could be fulfilled by supplying a layperson with variant manuscript and versional readings?

Of course, the obvious answer is that some variants ultimately make a difference, especially when dealing with an inspired text. To that end, anyone engaging with the biblical text should take at least some interest in important variant readings. Text-critical notes in translated versions should be a kind of bare-bones apparatus presenting the most important variant readings which are exegetically significant and difficult to evaluate (i.e., valuable and viable).

Friday, September 03, 2021

Codex 28 at Mark 1:1


Here is an image of Codex 28 at Mark 1:1 that came to my attention tonight via the new ECM. It seems to be a witness both to the shorter reading and to the fact that nomina sacra are easily skipped—even when only one letter is shared. I suspect Peter (Head) and Tommy remember this manuscript.