Thursday, November 8, 2018

Lessons from GA 2437

            Practically every manuscript of the Gospels is textually interesting in some way.  Today, let’s take a look at the medieval minuscule 2437 – the oldest New Testament manuscript in South America – and see what we can learn from its contents.  2437 is a Gospels-manuscript from the 1000s or 1100s.  It is damaged; the text of Matthew 1:1-9:16 is absent, and so are the pages that contained John 17:14-18:2.  It was prepared for reading in church-services, as is indicated by the presence of marks delineating the beginnings and ends of lections embedded within the text.  Its text is Byzantine with some minor deviations, plus one major one. Page-views of all extant pages of this manuscript can be viewed, fully indexed, at the website of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts.  (Some pages are out of order.)  A PDF of the manuscript is also available online, from the National Library of Brasil.    

            What can we learn from this manuscript?

            One thing we can learn from 2437 is that it is potentially very helpful to have digital reproductions of manuscripts.  This manuscript is housed in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and there was recently a terrible fire at the National Museum in which over three-fourths of the 20 milllion items in the museum’s collections were lost.  Fortunately 2437 was housed elsewhere in Rio de Janeiro (at the National Library), but the tragic fire nearby serves as a reminder that digital  reproductions can ensure that the manuscript-evidence is disaster-proof.    
Another thing we can learn from 2437 is that many Byzantine manuscripts of the Gospels contain some liturgical expansions.  Exhibit A in this regard is in Luke 14:24.  The main text of the Robinson-Pierpont Byzantine Textform contains an extra phrase at the end of Luke 14:24:  “for many are called, but few are chosen” – the same words found in Matthew 22:14.  A hyphen in the margin of RP2005 conveys that this phrase is not in a significant portion of Byzantine manuscripts.  The Textus Receptus does not have this phrase in Luke 14:24, and thus the KJV and NKJV do not have it either.  The family-35 archetype reconstructed by Wilbur Pickering does not have it; neither does the Hodges-Farstad Majority Text (1982). 
2437 provides evidence of how this phrase entered the text of Luke 14:24:  it was used as a liturgical flourish at the end of a lection.  The main text of Luke 14:24 in 2437 does not contain the phrase, but it is written in the margin – in red, as part of the lectionary apparatus, instructing the lector about how to finish the lection. A similar marginal note appears in Codex S, also in red:  “for many are called.”  This illustrates how this phrase entered the text – not just in relatively young manuscripts, but also in earlier manuscripts such as Codex Y (034), from the 800s.  
Codex Macedonianus' text has absorbed
the flourish found in the margin of 2437
A takeaway from this should be that when we find short phrases in some manuscripts that are absent from other manuscripts, we should ask if the phrase appears at the end of a lection, and if it could be used as a concluding flourish for a lection – and if the answers are“Yes,” then that is a strong indication of the origin of the phrase.  It ought to be noted that this accretion is supported by family-13 manuscripts, indicating that the form of text in family-13 is essentially a text that was prepared as a sort of liturgical hybrid:  a Gospels-text edited to facilitate the needs of lectors.
Similarly, 2437 shows how accretions occasionally slipped into the text at the beginnings of lections.  In Luke 7:31, the Byzantine Text does not have the phrase “And the Lord said,” but the Textus Receptus does.  These words originated not with Saint Luke but as an incipit, or introductory phrase for lection-reading, which can be seen in 2437, in red (as part of the lectionary apparatus) in an abbreviated form, between Luke 7:30 and 7:31.
Luke 7:30-32 in 2437.
A third lesson from 2437 is that even the most ordinary-seeming manuscript can have surprising and unusual readings.  Taking in hand the UBS Greek New Testament, and turning to Matthew 22-27, there are hardly any contests in the textual apparatus in which 2437 does not agree with the Byzantine text.  Exceptions, however, include a variant-unit in 24:31, where 2437 agrees with the unusual reading in Codex Bezae (and 1241 and the Vulgate and most Old Latin witnesses) – the equivalent of “with a trumpet and a loud voice” instead of “with a great voice of a trumpet.”  
Even more remarkable is a variant in Matthew 27:49, where 2437 agrees (mostly) with the fourth-century Alexandrian codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus (and Codex Regius) by including a statement at the end of the verse that someone came and took a spear and pierced His side, and water and blood came out.  In Codex Vaticanus the reading is as follows:  αλλος δε λαβων λογχην ενυξεν αυτου την πλευραν και εξηλθεν ϋδωρ και αιμα.
Someone tried to erase three lines written
by the scribe of 2437 in Matthew 27:49.
            2437 is one of thirty-five Greek manuscripts which have (or had) this unusual reading in Matthew 27:49.  (See Dirk Jongkind’s data for a complete list.)  In addition to those witnesses, the testimony of Codex Y should not be overlooked; while it does not have this variant in its text, it has a red wavy obelus (~ with a dot above and below the ~ ) between the end of Matthew 27:49 and the beginning of 27:50; the same symbol appears in the inner margin.            
This reading is remarkable for several reasons.  Perhaps the paramount reason is that although it is supported by two manuscripts (Vaticanus and Sinaiticus) that are often referred to as our “most reliable” manuscripts, if it were to be included in the text, it would form a contradiction with the parallel-passage in John 19 by stating that Jesus was pierced before He died; John’s account specifies that Jesus’ body was pierced, and that blood and water flowed from the wound, after He was dead.   
It is no surprise that there is no footnote about this reading in the Christian Standard Bible and the English Standard Bible, for their publishers probably did not want to bear the burden of telling their evangelical customers that if their two “oldest and most reliable” manuscripts were consistently followed – the two manuscripts which steered the compilation of their base-text to a large extent – their text would not be inerrant.    
            Another reason why this reading is interesting is that Severus of Antioch, a patristic writer in the first half of the 500s, commented about it in his Epistle 107, written to Thomas, another bishop.  In his younger days, Severus had studied in Alexandria, Egypt, and this may explain why he was aware of this reading, about which he wrote along these lines:
            “The holy evangelist John, and no one else, recorded that our Lord Jesus Christ was pierced in the side with a lance by a soldier, after He gave up the ghost, and blood and water came forth from it in a miraculous manner.  But certain persons have clearly falsified the Gospel of Matthew and inserted this very passage, when the contrary is the fact, in order to show that it was while He was alive that the soldier pierced His side with the spear, and afterwards He gave up the ghost.”
            Severus continues on this subject for several paragraphs, mentioning at one point that the question about whether this passage belongs in Matthew or not was resolved via a consultation of a copy of the Gospel of Matthew – perhaps the autograph is intended to be meant – which was (according to Severus) found in the tomb of Saint Barnabas; this volume, stored in the royal palace in Constantinople, was examined and found to not contain the passage in Matthew. 
            Severus proceeds to raise a question about John Chrysostom’s treatment of Matthew 27:49-50 in Chrysostom’s Homily 88 on Matthew, a text which is still extant.  Chrysostom (c. 400) cited Matthew 27:49 and included the reading about another coming to Jesus and piercing His side with a spear – but then Chrysostom affirmed that Jesus was dead when he was struck.  No wonder Severus was puzzled.
            More of Severus’ comments, and some additional information about this variant, can be found in Wieland Willker’s Textual Commentary on the Greek Gospels.  One point worth special notice is that Eusebius of Caesarea included John 19:34 in the tenth list of passages in his Canon Tables, and the tenth list was reserved for material found in only one Gospel – which clearly implies that Eusebius did not find the passage about Jesus being struck with a spear anywhere but in the Gospel of John.  (This reduces the plausibility of the theory that Eusebius was directly involved with the production of Vaticanus and/or Sinaiticus.)
            In 2437, the text of the Alexandrian reading occupied three lines when the manuscript was produced, but the text there has been erased.  Enough traces of the writing have survived, however, not only to confirm that it is the same variant, but that in 2437, the phrase ended with “blood and water” (as in John 19:34) rather than “water and blood.”  
            Hort, one of the scholars who prepared the 1881 revised text, studied this reading, and called it a corruption, but he favored agreements of Vaticanus and Sinaiticus so much that he kept it in the main text, within double-brackets.  Hort categorized this reading – or rather, the non-inclusion of this reading – as a “Western Non-interpolation” – that is, as an interpolation found in all early forms of text except the Western Text.  Thanks largely to the discovery of Papyrus 75, the collection of verses and phrases in Luke 24 which Hort considered spurious – favoring the shorter Western variants at those points (some of which were also missing in the Revised Standard Version) have been restored to the text.  This reading in Matthew, however, has not been adopted, and it is rare to find a modern version that even mentions it in a footnote (the NRSV and the NET being two exceptions.)  The recently published Tyndale House edition of the Greek New Testament does not acknowledge its existence at all.
An annotation in the margin of minuscule 72,
alongside Matthew 27:48-50.
            John Burgon also gave this reading some attention, and the results of his research can be found in Appendix H of his 1871 book The Last Twelve Verses of Mark.  He concluded that the variant is probably an extract from Tatian’s Diatessaron (a continuous combination of the four Gospels, produced in the 170s).  Evidence for this position may be found in a margin-note in manuscript 72 which states that “In the Gospel account, according to a report of Diodorus and Tatian and assorted other holy fathers, this is also there:  “Another came with a spear and pierced His side, and there came forth water and blood.”  This is also said by Chrysostom.”
            Another possibility exists.  Just as some marginal notes in 2437 related to liturgical Scripture-reading are formatted as part of the text in other manuscripts, the phrase “And another came with a spear and pierced His side, and there came forth water and blood” may have stood as a marginal note in an early lector’s copy – not with the intention that the phrase should be added after Matthew 27:49, but as a signal to the lector that in the annual Scripture-readings on Good Friday, the lector was to turn to the excerpt in John in which this occurred – that is, the lector was to stop reading from Matthew 27 at this point, and continue the narrative by turning to John 19:31-35 (or 19:31-37).
            In other words, this variant originated as the equivalent of an early chapter-title in the margin, rather than as something intended to be inserted in the text.  The surprising thing is not that it entered the Alexandrian Text (in much the same way that the accretions in Luke 14:24 and 14:31 entered many Byzantine copies), but that it was replicated in some Old Latin copies (echoed by extant Latin copies such as the Garland of Howth, the Book of Mulling, the Book of Armagh, and the Book of Kells (all with the word-order “water and blood” at the end), in the Middle Egyptian version, and in over two dozen Byzantine manuscripts such as 2437.    
            In closing, I wish to briefly delve into what may seem to be a tangential subject:  lection-divisions in the closing chapters of the Gospel of John.   If this allows readers to decipher the marginalia which appears in 2437 in those chapters, in addition to illustrating a theory about the possible origin of the variant in Matthew 27:49, this scenic detour will be time well spent. 
            The Byzantine chapters in John are much fewer than in the other three Gospels, being only 18 in number (or 19, with the story of the adulteress listed as a chapter).  The last chapter begins at John 19:38, and the next-to-last chapter begins at 15:26.  But one also finds marks and marginal notes designating smaller segments of the text:  lections which were read especially at Eastertime.  In 2437, in addition to faint marks identifying John 15:26 as the beginning of chapter 17, and John 19:38 as the beginning of chapter 18, there are designations for the beginnings of lections (or portions of lections) at the following points:

● in John 16:2, where the mark ⁜ appears (= lection for the Tuesday of the seventh week after Easter),
● before John 16:15 (= lection for the Wednesday of the seventh week after Easter),
● in John 16:23 (= lection for the Thursday of the seventh week after Easter),
● in 17:1 (= lection for the seventh Sunday after Easter),
● at the beginning of 18:28 (= first segment of the Gospels-lection for the ninth hour of Good Friday),
●  at 19:20 (= lection for the second hour of Good Friday),
● 19:25 – archou (“Resume”) (= first segment of the lection for the ninth hour of Good Friday),
● 19:31 – archou (“Resume”).  (= second segment of the lection for the ninth hour of Good Friday),
● 19:38 (= the beginning of chapter 18, and the fourth in a series of lections (Matthew 27:1-38 + Luke 23:39-43 + Matthew 27:39-54 + John 19:31-37 + Matthew 27:55-61 + First Corinthians 1:18-2:1) in the liturgy for Good Friday).
            The arrangement of the series of lections in the liturgy for Good Friday – in which John 19:31-37 is flanked by passages from Matthew 27 – probably resembles, approximately, the kind of liturgical arrangement which was expressed in the marginal note that found its way into an ancestor of 2437.  (It could feasibly have been modeled on Tatian’s Diatessaron, which would explain, at least in part, the annotation in 72.)  Such a note could not possibly reach Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, the Middle Egyptian version (as represented by Codex Schøyen 2650, from the 300s), the copies mentioned by Severus, several important Latin Gospels-manuscripts, and the ancestor of over two dozen Byzantine manuscripts (such as 2437) unless somewhere in their ancestry their texts were all influenced by the early introduction of the same (or very similar) notations which expressed the arrangement of text-segments to be read on Good Friday.  This implies that at some point in the 100s, or the early 200s at the latest, a reading-cycle for major Christian feast-days existed; its influence was widespread, and, where it was not understood by copyists, it was capable of impacting the Gospels-text.


Readers are encouraged to explore the embedded links for additional resources.

No comments: