Thursday, August 17, 2023

Parablepsis to the Rescue in Jude 12


Jude 12 has an above average number of variants in it. But one in particular is quite striking. It’s the addition of the words γογγυσταὶ μεμψίμοιροι κατὰ τὰς ἐπιθυμίας αὐτῶν πορευόμενοι (“grumblers, malcontents, following their own desires”). This longer reading is found in 01*, 04C, 1270, 1297, 1827, and some Coptic witnesses at the end of v. 11 and must come from v. 16. How did it get here? Probably by dittography caused by the presence of οὗτοί εἰσιν in both verses. But that is a long way for an eye to skip as seen in Codex Sinaiticus.

The red lines mark the shared verbiage in v. 12 and v. 16 (οὗτοί εἰσιν).

Is it really possible that a scribe’s eye skipped that far? I doubt it. Thankfully, Tommy Wasserman’s dissertation cites J. Rendel Harris who provides a better explanation. He suggests that the mistake happened when the two verses were on the same level in parallel columns. The scribe’s eye jumped, not just from one verse to the other, but from one column to the other. The longer reading wasn’t always corrected, in part, because as Tommy notes, it fits pretty well in v. 12 given the reference to Korah’s rebellion in v. 11 and the grumbling that was a key part of it (cf. Num 16.11; 17.6 etc.).

All this is well and good. It explains how the scribe got off track. What it doesn’t answer is how he got back on. How does a scribe go from jumping columns like this and not leave out everything in between (vv. 12–15) as a result? A mistake that big would not have gone unnoticed and therefore would not have survived like it has in the tradition. What gives?

At this point, the corrector in Sinaiticus may offer a clue. Just after the addition (marked as such), we find another correction in the small addition of οἱ out in the margin before ἐν ταῖς κτλ. 

The article οἱ has been added in the margin in 01

Sure enough, the other three Greek manuscripts with the longer reading also lack the article οἱ after the addition (04 is not extant at this point per ECM). Since those are the same last two letters in the addition (πορευόμενοι), might it be possible that, having skipped to the wrong verse, the scribe’s eye now skipped back to the right one thanks to the letters -οι? From there, he carried on with the rest of v. 12, missing only the οἱ. This would explain why his mistake went completely unnoticed and how he managed to skip from v. 12 to v. 16 without leaving out everything in between. In short, he managed to get himself back on track without ever having realized he left it. 

If so, then we have a rather fun case where one parablepsis led to a lengthy addition and a second parablepsis kept it from leading to a much larger omission—while the combination kept the scribe from noticing he made either mistake.



  1. So this is basically a doubly conjectural explanation.

  2. Tommy Wasserman8/18/2023 3:31 pm

    I haven’t looked at this for many years but from the top of my head I can say that the agreement between attesting mss must be very old because this is a major rewriting which is very unlikely to be independently created several times in the transmission, so I think all the attestations go back to a major mistake by one scribe. This is the starting point of the reasoning. The next step is to find an explanation how this could happen, and there I apparently referred to Rendell Harris’ proposal.

  3. Could this same phenomena occur by the scribe skipping a page? I have seen huge segments of text skipped over resulting in a multi verse omission. Then on the next page the scribe picks up at the beginning of the omitted text and continues on without skipping a beat. Then, when the scribe reaches the section that had already been copied before it is simply recopied and the duplicated text that is out of order (from the previous omission) is not marked for deletion. This all occurred at page transition ls so I had thought that perhaps this had happened during a page transition. It looks like when the scribe changed pages they had lost their place and recopied the text without even realizing the duplication and the previous omission. I would have to hunt through my notes to find the specific manuscript and example.

  4. Richard Fellows8/18/2023 5:50 pm

    16a may have come to mind when a reader started reading verse 12, since both verses start with the same two words. Since 16a fits the context after verse 11, the reader may have assumed that there had been an omission and (s)he may have added (from memory) the words from 16a that he assumed were missing from verse 12.

    1. Or a copyist may have had 2 John 16a in his memory and he may have written it out after reading the first two words of verse 12, without bothering to check his exemplar. Some such misapplication of memory seems more likely to me than a very long skip of the eye.