Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Myth of Tenacity

            On page 78 of The King James Only Controversy, author James White states:   “Once a variant reading appears in a manuscript, it doesn’t simply go away.  It gets copied and ends up in other manuscripts.”  To support this statement, White appealed to Kurt & Barbara Aland’s similar statement:  “Once a variant or a new reading enters the tradition it refuses to disappear, persisting (if only in a few manuscripts) and perpetuating itself through the centuries.  One of the most striking traits of the New Testament textual tradition is its tenacity.” – Aland & Aland, The Text of the New Testament, p. 56.
            Aland & Aland, however, only provided three examples of this “tenacity” – and two of the three are very poorly attested among later Greek manuscripts.  Their first example is the abrupt ending of the Gospel of Mark (i.e., the ending at 16:8); among extant Greek manuscripts, it is supported by exactly one later copy (304).  In addition, 304’s text of Mark is 90% Byzantine; there is a very real possibility that 304’s exemplar contained Mark 16:9-20; like 2386 and 1420 (both of which used to be cited – erroneously – as support for the abrupt ending), 304’s support for the abrupt ending of Mark may turn out to be merely a quirk. 
            What about Aland & Aland’s other two demonstrations of tenacity?  They are found in Matthew 13:57 and Mark 1:16:
            Regarding Matthew 13:57:  Aland and Aland point out that whereas some manuscripts (B D Θ 33 700) simply present Jesus saying that a prophet is without honor in [his] homeland (πατριδι), and some manuscripts (À f13) present Jesus saying that a prophet is without honor in his own homeland (ἰδία πατριδι), and some manuscripts (L Byz K N W) present Jesus saying that a prophet is without honor in his homeland (πατριδι αὐτοῦ), the scribe of Codex C conflated two readings, so as to write ἰδία πατριδι αὐτοῦ.  “This is typical,” Aland and Aland say – “a scribe familiar with both readings will combine them, reasoning that by preserving both texts the right text will be preserved.”
            The obvious problem with the Alands’ proposal is that Codex C’s reading in this passage is anything but “typical;” C’s reading is singular – that is, it is the only Greek manuscript that has this reading!  Far from being “tenacious,” this reading burst into existence with the scribe of C, and then went extinct.  We may have here a tenacious page of parchment, but not a tenacious reading.
            The example in Mark 1:16 is better, where it can be argued that the majority reading is a combination, or conflation, of the reading in Codex A (του Σίμωνος) and the reading in Codex D G W Θ and the Textus Receptus (αὐτου), producing the longer reading αὐτου του Σίμωνος.  Although a counter-argument can be made, let’s step back at this point and survey the evidence that has been collected to illustrate the proposal that once a reading (whether part of the original text, or the creation of a scribe) appears in a manuscript, it does not go away:
            ● The presence of the abrupt ending of Mark in minuscule 304.
            ● The reading ἰδία πατριδι αὐτοῦ in Codex C (a singular reading), and
            ● The reading αὐτου του Σίμωνος in the Byzantine Text of Mark 1:16.  

            Now consider the mass of evidence against the concept of tenacity:  the hundreds of singular readings that appears in ancient manuscripts, but of which there is no trace in later manuscripts.  How many such readings are there?  Greg Paulson wrote his 2013 thesis on singular readings in the codices Vaticanus (B), Sinaiticus (À), Bezae (D), Ephraemi Rescriptus (C), and Washingtonianus (W) in the Gospel of Matthew, and he mentioned how many singular readings – i.e., readings that do not recur in any other Greek manuscript – each one of these codices has in its text of Matthew.  Paulson’s data:
            Vaticanus:  97.
            Sinaiticus:  Scribe A:  163. 
            Bezae:  259.
            Ephraemi Rescriptus:  75
            Washingtonianus:  112.

            I emphasize that these numbers – showing that five important early manuscripts combine to produce a total of 706 singular readings – only take the text of Matthew into consideration.  If one were to extrapolate, so as to maintain a proportion of 25 singular readings per chapter of the Gospels, then we could reasonably expect that a study of all the singular readings in these five manuscripts throughout the four Gospels would total about 2,225.  Well, there we would have 1,500 non-tenacious readings – never seen before or after the one time they appear – versus the three submitted by Aland & Aland.  Suppose that two-thirds of these were nonsense-readings which scribes could reasonably be expected to regard as mistakes.  That would leave 500 non-tenacious, non-nonsense readings, just in the Gospels, just in these five manuscripts.
            And what if we consider some earlier manuscripts?   A single quotation from James Royse (from p. 246 of Scribal Tendencies in the Transmission of the Text of the New Testament, chapter 15 of The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research, © 1995 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Ehrman and Holmes, editors) may serve to tell us:  Royse provides a chart which conveys that Papyrus 45 has 222 significant singular readings; Papyrus 46 has 471 significant singular readings; Papyrus 47 has 51 significant singular readings; Papyrus 66 has 107 significant singular readings; Papyrus 72 has 98 significant singular readings; Papyrus 75 has 119 significant singular readings.  (In a footnote, Royse helpfully defines “significant singular readings” as “those singular readings that remain after exclusion of nonsense-readings and orthographic variants.”)  
            Hundreds of readings refute the Alands’ claim about tenacity.  (Over a thousand in just six papyri.)  There is no evidence that these readings were ever perpetuated after they entered the transmission-stream precisely once.  Here the case might rest, Q.E.D. 
            But let’s also consider a few peripheral pieces of evidence.             
            Origen and Luke 1:46.  Bruce Metzger pointed out (in his essay References in Origen to Variant Readings) that Origen, in his commentary on Matthew, mentioned that in some copies, the Magnificat is said to be sung by Mary, while according to other copies, Elizabeth is the singer.  Presently, no Greek manuscripts say that Elizabeth was the singer. 
            Tertullian and John 1:13.  All Greek manuscripts of John 1 support the use of a plural in this verse, so as to understand it as a generalization about all genuine believers.  Tertullian, however, seems to have been convinced that the original reading here was singular, and that Valentinian heretics were responsible for changing it to a plural form.  (Denis S. Kulandaisamy has written a 300-page book on this little subject.)   
            Epiphanius and Matthew 2:11.  The apologist Epiphanius of Salamis, in the late 300s, mentioned that the wise men opened their “wallets” (πήρας), and noted that some manuscripts – like all Greek manuscripts extant today – referred instead to their “treasures” (θησαυροὺς).  No known manuscript today has the reading πήρας.  
            Jerome, Isidore, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and Ephesians 5:14.  Several significant patristic writers drew attention to a textual variant in Ephesians 5:14, where instead of “And Christ will shine on you,” some manuscripts in their day read “And Christ will touch you.”  John Chrysostom seems to have alluded to this variant, too, although he did not go into detail about it.  If it is extant in any Greek manuscripts, there is no mention of them in the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece. 
            Origen and Matthew 4:17.  Origen says plainly that some manuscripts do not have the word “Repent” in this verse.  All of our Greek manuscripts, however, presently support the inclusion of “Repent” in this verse; only in the Old Syriac copies and in the Old Latin Codex Bobbiensis is it missing.     
            Jerome and Matthew 13:35.  Jerome firmly asserts that all of the ancient copies state that these things were done to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Asaph.  No manuscripts of Matthew today have this reading, and Jerome mentions that by his own time, the text had been altered; one alteration had yielded the erroneous reading “Isaiah the prophet.” 
            If you take in hand Amy Donaldson’s two-part dissertation Explicit References to New Testament Variant Readings Among Greek and Latin Church Fathers, you will find details about these readings, and others, which were cited by early patristic writers but which now are never or only rarely found.
            Finally, the myth of tenacity is not only refuted by empirical evidence; it is rendered superfluous by logic.  For if a reading were to enter the transmission-stream, and then fall into oblivion, and the manuscript containing it did not survive, and no one referred to it in patristic writings, how would we know?  Even if we did not have the empirical evidence that thoroughly refutes the theory of tenacity, the theory could only ever be an assumption, not a verifiable thing.

(Readers are invited to double-check the data in this post.)


The White Man said...

"The apologist Epiphanius of Salamis, in the late 300s, mentioned that the wise men opened their “wallets” (πήρας), and noted that some manuscripts – like all Greek manuscripts extant today – referred instead to their “treasures” (θησαυροὺς). No known manuscript today has the reading πήρας."
So when Dan Wallace says that in the early centuries, the Majority Text wasn't Byzantine, he may as well also admit that it wasn't what's above OR below the line on the page of his GNT either.

Joey McCollum said...

I transcribed Ephesians in GA 606 (with commentary by Theodoret) for the IGNTP some time ago, and I found that it preserves some unusual readings in both the text and commentary. At Eph 5:14, the text has the reading επιφαυσεις του χυ, while the commentary says, ενια δε των αντιγραφων επιφαυσει σοι ο χς εχει ("but some of the copies have επιφαυσει σοι ο χς"). In other manuscripts with Theodoret's commentary, the text is conformed to the common reading, but Theodoret's comment is left unchanged.

Perhaps more importantly, the first hand of GA 06 (another one I transcribed for the same project) preserves the reading επιψαυσεις του χυ, although a later hand using darker ink filled out the psi to look like a phi. It's a shame the NA28 apparatus doesn't mention it.

James Snapp said...

Joey McCollum,
Interesting details there. Thanks.