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Can a Singular Medieval Reading Ever Be Significant?

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  • James Snapp, Jr.
    Dear Eddie Mishoe: EM: What if there were two new variants found within [a newly- discovered MS from the 1100 s] that have no other attestation within the
    Message 1 of 4 , Oct 3, 2008
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      Dear Eddie Mishoe:

      EM: "What if there were two new variants found within [a newly-
      discovered MS from the 1100's] that have no other attestation within
      the existing manuscript evidence. What would the value of that new
      variant be (in light of the fact that it is a singular reading at
      this point)?"

      The value of a singular reading in a 12th-century MS would depend on
      several factors. I will list five:

      (a) The viability of the variant. If it is merely an obvious
      scribal error (such as an omission which is readily attributable to
      parablepsis), or quirky orthography, it would hardly have any value
      at all. (This probably eliminates over 99% of the singular readings
      in all 12th-century MSS.)

      (b) The value of the surrounding text. A sensible singular reading
      in a medieval MS with a text that frequently agrees with the
      Alexandrian Text, or with the "Western" Text, (or, in the Gospels,
      with A-versus-Maj), would be much more interesting to most textual
      critics than a sensible and viable singular reading in a medieval MS
      with a thoroughly Byzantine Text.

      (c) The pedigree of the MS, in cases where this can be verified by a
      colophon. A 12th-century MS may be suspected of having a family-tree
      which is taller than the family-tree of a 10th-century MS or an 8th-
      century MS or a 6th-century MS. But suppose a colophon in a 12-
      century MS says something like, "This is a copy of an ancient
      manuscript that was made by Abec, the lowly monk, during the reign of
      Governor Defeg," and we can determine from other sources that Defeg
      governed in Heijekel in the 500's. =Kapow!= Suddenly our 12th-
      century MS attests to a 6th-century text! There are some
      qualifications to consider in such a case: the copyist might not
      have copied his exemplar altogether faithfully, for instance. But if
      a medieval MS has such a colophon, its status is raised considerably -
      - and the potential value of its sensible, viable singular readings
      will be raised proportionately. (Unfortunately this sort of pedigree-
      determination does not happen often. But it does
      happen.)

      (d) The aesthetic appeal of the singular reading. Some textual
      critics strongly suspect that some passages in the NT text
      contain "primitive corruptions," which is a way of saying that none
      of the extant variants at those points is actually the original
      text. Some textual critics have offered calculated guesses --
      conjectural emendations -- about what the original text was in those
      passages. If a 12th-century MS were to agree with a well-known
      conjectural emendation, it would possess an inherent aesthetic
      appeal. For instance, if a 12th-century MS of First Peter
      read "Enoch" at 3:19, it would instantly be significant. Or if a
      12th-century MS of Colossians read, at 2:18, AIWRA KENEMBATEUWN, it
      would be instantly significant. There are some qualifications here;
      the significance of this reading at Col. 2:18 would be increased if
      the surrounding text of the MS containing it were good (some
      agreements with P46 would help!) and if it could be shown that the
      copyist did not have a habit of freely adjusting the text or mis-
      dividing words or confusing O and W. Such considerations
      notwithstanding, if a singular reading in a 12th-century MS
      vindicates a conjectural emendation, the reading almost automatically
      becomes noteworthy, even though it might not be significant enough to
      include in a textual apparatus.

      A singular Greek reading may also gain aesthetic appeal if it echoes
      the form of a passage cited by a patristic writer in a form which is
      not extant in any Greek witnesses. For instance, if a 12th-century
      Greek manuscript read "He who was born" in John 1:13, that would be
      significant. (That would not be 100% singular, since it has
      patristic and (very limited) versional support, but it seems to fit
      within your description of the hypothetical discovery of a reading
      without other attestation within the existing /manuscript/
      evidence.) Again, it would be more highly esteemed if the
      surrounding text were of high quality, if the MS had a verifiably
      good pedigree, and if it could be shown that the scribe was not
      reckless -- and, especially/paramountly, if the singular reading
      explains the origin of its rivals!

      (e) The singular reading's similarity to rare variants. For
      instance, if a 12th-century MS of Matthew had something similar to
      the interpolation found in D in Mt. 20:28, but with singular
      orthography, singular transpositions, and a smattering of singular
      vocabulary, the reading as a whole would be automatically noteworthy,
      even though its truly singular elements might not be.

      All five of those considerations should be in play. I don't know of
      any actual singular reading in any actual 12th-century MS that has a
      sustainable claim to embody the original text.

      On a related point, the idea that a MS from the 1100's can be
      casually dismissed as having no real value because of its date is
      spectacularly wrong. Late MSS can contain early texts. Just think
      about the early readings in MSS such as 579, 700, 1241, 1582, and
      1739, or the text of Acts in Old Latin g (Gigas, from the 14th
      century). Let me cite an example: the reading ELQETW TO PNEUMA
      SOU TO hAGION EF' hHMAS KAI KAQARISATW hHMAS in Luke 11:2 is
      found in MS 700 (dated to the 1000's). It is also found, with some
      variations, in MS 162, which is dated to the 12th century (1153, to
      be precise). This variant (which is significant, even though it is
      not original) is mentioned by Tertullian! In these two medieval MSS,
      a variant that was known to Tertullian is embedded. So at Luke 11:2,
      these two medieval MSS are echoes of a voice that spoke in the late
      second and early third centuries. Whenever a MS is newly discovered,
      the possibility exists that it might contain many such early
      readings. We have to examine the MS and discover its contents first;
      only *after* that step is taken can an estimate be made of its value
      as a witness. If we were to judge the value of a text solely by the
      age of the material on which it is written, we would have to regard
      the latest edition of the N-A text as the most worthless text of
      all. Obviously that would be bad.

      Yours in Christ,

      James Snapp, Jr.
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