Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The 2014 Pericope Adulterae Symposium: Part 3: Knust: Against the Ecclesiastical Suppression Theory

Jennifer Knust, Wasserman’s co-author of some earlier work on the PA, directly challenged Punch’s theory of ecclesiastical suppression.  She reviewed some patristic statements which took non-Christians to task for (allegedly) altering the Scriptures.  This included a brief examination of the exchange between Origen and Julius Africanus regarding the question of the spuriousness of the book of Susanna.   Knust, like Wasserman, used a digital slideshow, which included, among other things, a picture of a page from Codex Marchalianus (displaying the use of asterisks and obeli for text-critical purposes (the same page, I think, that one can see at ) and a page from Codex Basiliensis (E, 07) showing the beginning of the PA with asterisks in the margin. 

Knust emphasized Origen’s statement (in Contra Celsum 2:27), “I do not know of people who have altered the Gospel apart from the Marcionites and the Valentinians.”  This, she argued, shows that early Christian copyists did not make large excisions.  Additional evidence cumulatively shows that editors of non-Biblical as well as Biblical texts, when their exemplars disagreed, did not remove passages that did not possess uniform support, but included them instead, accompanied by marks such as an asterisk or obelus. 

The general implication of all this is that the theory that Christian copyists deliberately omitted the PA is improbable.  Scribal squeamishness about the subject-matter of the PA would not have elicited its removal.  Had there been a question about its genuineness, scribes’ default reaction would have been to include the PA, accompanied by asterisks, which is what we see in a significant number of manuscripts in which the PA is included.  This implies that the reason the early manuscripts do not include the PA at all is because it was not in their ancestor-manuscripts.     

The PA is, however, early material.  Is it earlier than Origen?  Knust mentioned that there may be good reasons to think that Origen was aware of the story, even though Origen does not comment on it in his Commentary on John, one of which is that in his Homilies on Jeremiah (19:15), Origen seems to take for granted that stoning was the prescribed penalty for adultery, and he pictures an adulteress desiring that the Word would intervene for her so that she would be spared.


Some thoughts: 

A couple of points in Knust’s presentation were very questionable.  First, her claim that copyists did not make omissions would have been substantially shaken if one of her fellow panelists had pointed out Origen’s statement (in his Commentary on Matthew, 15:14) that “The differences in the Greek manuscripts have become great, either through the negligence of some copyists or through the perverse audacity of others,” who “in the process of checking, make additions or deletions as they please.”  That is a plain claim that copyists were doing exactly what Knust said they did not do.  Second, her theory that copyists treated New Testament texts in the same manner in which copyists treated the Iliad, or the Hexapla, adding asterisks or obeli alongside unstable passages, was posited rather demonstrated.

That asterisks were sometimes placed alongside passages in New Testament manuscripts to convey scribal doubt is not questioned.  What is questioned, specifically, is whether the asterisks that sometimes accompany the PA were intended to convey scribal doubt, or whether they served a completely different purpose.  The example that Knust provided of asterisks accompanying the PA was a digital slide of the beginning of the PA in Codex Basiliensis.  In the Q-&-A period after her presentation, we revisited that slide. 

The asterisks do not begin at the beginning of the PA.  They accompany 8:2-11.  The lectionary symbol that means “skip” appears at the beginning of 7:53.  Lectionary-symbols for “begin” (αρχη) accompany the beginning of 8:12 (in the text, and in the margin).  A cross has been added in the text within 8:12 immediately before εγω ειμι.  An “end” (τελος) symbol appears at the end of 8:12.  And, in the upper margin, in the same (though slightly smaller) uncial handwriting in which the main text is written, the lectionary-incipit is given for the lection for the fifth day of the fourth week after Easter (which = John 8:12-20); that explains the purpose of the cross before εγω ειμι:  after the lector had read the incipit, he was supposed to continue from that point.  All of which tends to indicate that the asterisks in Codex Basiliensis alongside John 8:2-11 were not intended to convey scribal doubt, but had something to do with the lectionary instead.    

Knust attempted to show that early copyists of the Gospels, when they encountered passages that were absent from some exemplars, athetized the dubious passage rather than remove it.  She did not present some readily available evidence that opposes that idea.  (And, one might ask, if copyists ordinarily included and athetized passages not found in all exemplars, why are the extant manuscripts not brimming with asterisks??)  She also attempted to show that the PA has been included and athetized, but the evidence she presented did not support that idea.  (One could also raise the question of whether copyists of any composition other than the Hexapla considered the act of athetizing a permanent solution, or a prelude to excision.  But an exploration of this subject would go beyond my purposes today.)      

(Small question:  Knust seemed to think that the non-inclusion of the PA was supported by the Eusebian Canons.  Can this really be confidently sustained?  Granting that the mutilated Canon-tables fragment analyzed by Nordenfalk implies that the PA was given its own section-number, is that necessary, or could the PA be considered part of a larger section in Canon 10?)

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