Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Mary, Martha, and John 11

            Back in 2016, an interesting text-critical thesis was proposed in Harvard Theological Review:   unusual readings in Papyrus 66, considered alongside textual variants in many other manuscripts, indicate that the character of Martha did not originally appear in the Gospel of John; she was inserted by a later writer who understood Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene to be the same person, and who wished to diminish the role of Mary Magdalene.
            Lately this theory has been getting some attention;  in 2018, Candida Moss (of Notre Dame University) concluded an article about it by stating, “for the first time there is a plausible scholarly argument for the idea that Mary Magdalene was written out of the Bible and the history books.”  And in July of 2019, Elizabeth Schrader, the thesis-writer, made an appearance at the Religion for Breakfast video-show, promoting the theory.
            Is Schrader’s main idea plausible, or has she misread the evidence?  She has misread the evidence, mainly by consistently misinterpreting scribal errors as if they have implications that they simply do not have.  This may be concisely demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt by undertaking the challenge that Schrader issued near the end of her Religion for Breakfast interview:  to demonstrate that Martha is not an addition to the Gospel of John, one needs to do the following:
            ● explain the unusual readings in P66.
            ● explain why the names are always changing in John 11:5. 
            ● explain why there’s only one sister in so much early artwork.
            ● explain why there is not similar confusion involving the names of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42.
            ● explain the reading of Codex Alexandrinus in John 11:1, where the name Mary is changed to Martha, and the verse ends by referring to his sister rather than her sister.

Let’s begin.


            The copyist who transcribed the text of P66 was not particularly competent.  Occasionally, he got ahead of himself and over-anticipated the text he was copying, somewhat it the same way that a typist, upon encountering the phrase “The quick brown fox jumped” at the end of a page, might continue to type “over the lazy dogs,” without bothering to turn the page – only to find a different phrase after the page is turned. 
            In John 11:1, the copyist of P66 initially wrote the Greek equivalent of “Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and Mary her sister.”  Then, realizing that he had written “Mary” twice,” he went back and corrected the text by erasing the letter iota in the second Μαριας and replacing it with the letter theta, so as to write Μαρθας.  This kind of mistake is not particularly unusual for this copyist; he made at least 15 other mistakes of dittography (writing twice what should be written once) in the text of John.  
            Apart from this careless one-letter mistake, the copyist of P66 initially wrote a normal text of John 11:1, identical to what is found in the Textus Receptus.  In verse 3, we find a reading in which, according to Schrader, “one named woman has been split into two unnamed women.”  After writing the Greek equivalent of “Sent, therefore,” (απεστιλεν ουν) the copyist initially wrote a name – either Μαριας  or Μαρθας – and continued on a little further, to the end of the line he was writing:  προς αυτον λεγουσα, that is, “to Him, saying.”  (Probably he also started the verse with και (and) and then declined to keep the word, but this does not figure into the subject at hand.)  At this point, the copyist of P66 realized that he had over-anticipated the text in his exemplar (perhaps when he finished writing λεγουσα, consulted his exemplar, and saw that it read λεγουσαι), went back, adjusted the endings of the verbs so to as to turn them into plurals (απεστιλαν and λεγουσαι), erased the name (which is why we’re not sure whether it was Μαριας  or Μαρθας , but I suspect it was Μαριας), and in the space where the name had been, wrote αι αδελφαι, that is, “the sisters.” 
            It could be said that one woman has been replaced with a reference to two woman – but to what extent is this saying anything more than that the copyist of P66 began verse 3 by assuming that it was about one woman, and then corrected his mistake?  If the presence of αι αδελφαι was the special property of an interpolated manuscript in the hands of the copyist of P66, then it certainly was well-travelled:  αι αδελφαι is the reading here in John 11:3 in Codex Vaticanus, and in Codex Sinaiticus; αι αδελφαι is the reading in Papyrus 45, and in Papyrus 75.  Likewise Origen, in his Commentary on John, VI:40, in the course of discussing a textual variant in John 1:28, mentions that John says that Bethany was the town of Lazarus, and of Martha and Mary.  If one consults Schrader’s data-tables in which the contents of many manuscripts are compared, it appears that αι αδελφαι is supported in every extant Greek manuscript in the list in which verse 3 appears – except P66, in which the copyist almost immediately fixed his mistake. 
            Schrader seems to consider problematic the inclusion of αυτης (her sister) at the end of John 11:1, arguing that the original text was αυτου.  However, by asserting that αυτου is the original reading, Schrader is arguing for a reading that originated as an expression of a tendency among some copyists (especially in Old Latin texts) to adjust the text in favor of the dominance of men – that is, in Codex A (from the 400s), 841 (from the 1400s), 1009 (from the 1200s), 1071 (from the 1100s), and in two medieval lectionaries, we see the effect of a scribal preference to refer to “his sister” instead of “her sister.”  In such a smattering of witnesses, the reading αυτου simply pops up; meanwhile in P66, P75, B, ℵ, K, L, M, S, W, Y, Δ, Θ, Π, 047, and so on, αυτης has ancient, abundant, and coherent support.
            To put it another way:  there is no genealogical connection between Codex A and the medieval minuscules 423, 841, 1009, 1071, and two lectionaries; the reading αυτου at the end of John 11:1 appears in these manuscripts not as something with ancient roots, but as something more like a weed that has sprouted from the minds of what a few copyists thought the text should say.              
            Before moving on to the next point, I should address a reading in the important medieval minuscule 157:  In John 11:1, the words και Μαρθας are absent.  Is this evidence that minuscule 157 echoes some ancient exemplar in which Martha did not appear in the narrative?  No; what has happened is that the preceding word Μαριας appears at the end of a line; the copyist lost his line of sight as he began the next line, shifting forward to the letters at the end of και Μαρθας.  Thus he accidentally skipped those two words – but their presence in his exemplar is obvious from the words that he wrote next:  της αδελφης αυτης (that is, her sister).  Schrader observes that 157 thus “nonsensically” applies a feminine pronoun to Lazarus, but it seems not to have registered that the obvious explanation of this nonsense-reading is that a simple scribal mistake has been made, rather than that a lost Martha-less form of John 11 is being attested.


            The text of John 11:5 in most Greek manuscripts says, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”  Whether one consults the UBS compilation or the Robinson-Pierpont Byzantine Textform, or Michael Holmes’ SBL-GNT, or even the Textus Receptus, they all agree:  ἠγάπα δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς τὴν Μάρθαν καὶ τὴν ἀδελφὴν αὐτῆς καὶ τὸν Λάζαρον.  The text of P66 is identical with the exception that Jesus’ name is contracted (as is typical in Greek manuscripts) and the word αὐτῆς is not in the text; however it is supplied in the margin.   
            An assortment of other manuscripts disagree, primarily because of two scribal tendencies:  (1)  the tendency to supply names, so as to make the text more explicit, and
(2)  the tendency to put Mary’s name first, so as to correspond to the order of names given when the characters are introduced in John 11:1.
            Under the influence of those two natural tendencies, some copyists rewrote the verse to say, “Now Jesus loved Mary and her sister Martha, and Lazarus.”  This may be considered the Caesarean form of the verse, attested in a special cluster of manuscripts (consisting mainly of Θ, f1, f13, 543, 565, 828, and others), the members of which share other textual features, such as unusual placements of the pericope adulterae (John 7:53-8:11).  
            A few other manuscripts list Martha first, but add Mary’s name, so as to say, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister Mary, and Lazarus.”  Schrader lists two medieval manuscripts – 2561 and 2680 – which support the form, “Now Jesus loved Mary and her sister and Lazarus,” thus putting Mary’s name in the place formerly occupied by Martha’s name.  
            What is not seen in any of these Greek manuscripts is a form of the text in which Martha is entirely absent.  Even in the few relatively late manuscripts in which her name does not appear in 11:5, she is referred to as Mary’s sister.  When the rival readings are analyzed, from the more explicit to the less specific, and from those harmonized to 11:1 to those less harmonized, the anomalies are easily sorted out and the usual, ordinary text is confirmed, and the flow from more specific to less specific, and from more harmonized to less harmonized, is generally matched by the flow from the  younger to the older witnesses.  In other words, the consistent picture shown by Greek manuscripts in John 11:5 is that the insertion of Mary’s name, and the transposition of Mary’s name to the front of the list, and the loss of Martha’s name, are late scribal adjustments, not echoes of an ancient exemplar.
            Furthermore, it is not accurate to say that the names in John 11:5 are “always changing.”  The verse is altered in the Caesarean Text, i.e., in select members of f1 and  f13.  But in most manuscripts (including P45, P75, ℵ, B, A, K, L, W) it is stable.  In all Greek manuscripts of John 11:5, the verse conveys that Jesus loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus, whether the names of all three individuals are supplied in this verse or not.


            In Schrader’s thesis, there is very little emphasis on artwork; her appeal to artwork in the Religion for Breakfast interview may be something that was just thrown in.  Nevertheless, it may be briefly considered:  artwork is art, and the degree of detail provided in a work of art is subject to the whims, abilities, and resources of the artist.  Artists have creative freedom which copyists do not.  A depiction of the resurrection of Lazarus in the Catacomb of the Giordani shows only Jesus and Lazarus.  Similarly in a mosaic on the wall of the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, made around 530, a scene depicts the raising of Lazarus without any females present.  Likewise the Murano Diptych, from the 400s-500s, depicts Jesus and Lazarus, but no women.  And at the Museo Pio-Cristiano at the Vatican, a scene on a sarcophagus-lid from the cemetery of Saint Agnes depicts the resurrection of Lazarus, but without anyone except Jesus and Lazarus. 
               Should we therefore assume that the artists of these four early works of art knew a form of John 11 in which Mary and Martha (and the crowd of mourners accompanying them) do not appear?  (Meanwhile The Jonah Sarcophagus depicts two women present at the raising of Lazarus.)  I think the point is already clear:  it would be absurd to treat ancient artwork as a means to answer the question at hand.


            Why, we are invited to ask, is there instability involving the names of Mary and Martha in John 11:1-12:2, but not in Luke 10:38-42, where the same two characters are depicted?  There are two very simple reasons why this is the case.  First, Luke 10:38-42 constitutes only five verses, in which Mary’s name appears twice and Martha’s name appears four times, and the two names never appear side-by-side; in contrast, John 11:1-12:2 constitutes 59 verses – or 46, if we exclude John 11:47-57, which is really a different scene – in which Mary’s name appears eight times and Martha’s name appears eight times, and both names appear in the same sentence twice (in v. 1 and v. 19).  The passage in Luke is one-eighth the length of the passage in John, and it provides very little opportunity to get the sisters’ names mixed up.
            The second reason is that while in John, each sister is described as a sister of Lazarus, and both sisters undertake similar actions (both say the same thing to Jesus, in John 11:21 and 11:32), in Luke their actions and attitudes form a stark contrast; Martha is busy, while Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet.  It is impossible not to see this contrast in the episode in Luke; it forms the foundation of the lesson that is intended to be conveyed.  Meanwhile, in John, the two sisters are described similarly, and say similar things.  There is a stark contrast between them in Luke which precludes confusion of the two individuals, whereas in John there is not.  

A hypothetical reconstruction
of the uncorrected text of John 11:1
in Codex A.  The manuscript is online.

In Codex Alexandrinus, the text that stands in the manuscript now says, “Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and Martha his sister,” differing from the usual text only by the presence of “his” (αυτου) instead of “her” (αυτης), a difference addressed already.  When the copyist initially wrote out this verse, however, he made another, more significant mistake (which was detected by the researcher Cowper in 1840). 
            Normally, the text of John 11:1 goes, Ἦν δέ τις ἀσθενῶν Λάζαρος ἀπὸ Βηθανίας, ἐκ τῆς κώμης Μαρίας καὶ Μάρθας τῆς ἀδελφῆς αὐτῆς – “Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.”  But besides shifting from αυτης to αυτου (and thus causing the text to refer to “his sister Martha”), the copyist of Codex A made a parableptic error, skipping from the letters –as at the end of Μαρίας to the same letters at the end of καὶ Μάρθας, thus skipping the two words καὶ Μάρθας.  A clever correction was made:  the word κώμης was erased, and then written in small letters at the end of the previous line, and the newly blank space was filled with the words Μαρίας καὶ Μάρθας. 
            That’s all there is to that scribal mistake and correction.  The other mistake in John 11:1 in Codex A – αυτου instead of αὐτῆς – was addressed in the first point.

            Although Schrader’s five-part challenge has been answered, there are two additional components of her thesis that I will address here. 


            This point is slightly technical:  should the word αυτη in 11:4 be understood as if it was meant to signify the person Jesus was addressing – causing the sentence to begin, “Upon hearing that, Jesus said to her” – or should it be understood (as most English translations render it) instead as a nominative term, causing the sentence to begin, “Upon hearing that, Jesus said, “This,” and so forth.   The copyist of P66 put a comma-like mark before αυτη, as if he perceived that the text could initially seem ambiguous without it, and wished to ensure that readers would understand the αυτη to mean “This” instead of “to her.”
            And the copyist of P66 wasn’t the only scribe to do so.  Codex Sinaiticus has a separating mark between ειπεν and αυτη.  In Codex Vaticanus, ειπεν ends a line, and some empty space is leftover, before αυτη begins the next line.   Jumping ahead several hundred years, the Elfleda Bond Goodspeed Gospels displays a separating dot between ειπεν and αυτη.  I am confident that many other copies share this feature, so as to elicit the understanding that “This sickness” was the intended meaning.  In some other manuscripts, such as 138 and 1321, the risk of ambiguity has been eliminated by moving αυτη to the other side of ἡ ἀσθένεια. (Schrader lists a total of 12 Greek manuscripts with this reading, and seems to consider each one as somehow problematic, but this is simply a clarifying transposition.)   Following this clever adjustment, some copyists conflated both placements; as a result, seven manuscripts Schrader has examined have αυτη both before, and after, ἡ ἀσθένεια.  (These, too, are counted as problematic by Schrader.)

            The translator of the Latin text in the Old Latin Codex Carotensis (VL 33) seems to have been at a disadvantage; his Greek exemplar(s) apparently did not have distinction-making marks or separation-spaces in this verse, and due to this ambiguity, this manuscript has the phrase “dixit ei,” that is, “said to her,” in John 11:4.  This is a symptom of a Latin translator’s confusion, however; it does not indicate that αυτη was meant to be understood this way. 


            In P66 – after Martha’s name has appeared in – John 12:2 begins not with the usual ἐποίησαν (“they made), but with the singular ἐποίησεν.  This is a very slight variation, probably elicited by a scribe’s desire to relieve readers of the burden of asking who “they” were; the resultant sense, with ἐποίησεν, is that Lazarus made a supper for Jesus.  Minuscules 295 and 841, Schrader has observed, share this reading.
            A little further along in the verse, P66 says that Martha served.  This is the reading of almost all manuscripts, whether early or late – but – but Schrader has observed that minuscules 27, 63, and 1194 have Mary’s name here, instead of Martha’s.  I leave it to readers to mull over the probabilities:  is this a simple effect of scribal inattentiveness, sparked by anticipation of Mary’s actions in the following verse, or do three Byzantine minuscules preserve the original reading, against all other Greek manuscripts?


            There is more material in Schrader’s thesis that I have not considered in this brief essay.  However, the major points have been covered, and her five-point challenge has been answered.  Although Schrader has collected many variant-readings in John 11 (which must have taken considerable work), a very large majority of the readings in question, and especially the variants at the core of her arguments, are the effects of scribal carelessness, or the effects of scribes’ desire to augment the clarity the text.   
            This tends to hollow out her claim that one in five of the Greek manuscripts she has examined displays some problem involving the character of Martha in John 11:1-12:2; the evidence points toward a different and unremarkable direction:  copyists were sometimes careless, and sometimes desired to augment the clarity of the text.  None of these textual variants suggests anything remotely resembling the massive interpolation that Schrader has proposed.

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

n the first posting of this post, I had the words απεστιλεν and απεστιλαν mixed up.  My bad.]


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