Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Codex Sinaiticus and the Ending of Mark

            In the sixteenth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, between verses 8 and 9, the English Standard Version has a prominent heading-note:  “(SOME OF THE EARLIEST MANUSCRIPTS DO NOT INCLUDE 16:9-20).”  Some other versions contain a similar note at this point, and most of them are similarly vague.  The ESV also has a long footnote which begins, “Some manuscripts end the book with 16:8; others include verses 9–20 immediately after verse 8.”  This is spectacularly inaccurate:  the number of Greek manuscripts which include Mark 16:9-20 is over 1,600; the number of Greek manuscripts in which the text of Mark clearly ends at the end of verse 8, followed by nothing but the closing-title, is exactly two.    
          Among major translations, only the New King James Version uses precise language in its note about Mark 16:9-20:  “Verses 9-20 are bracketed in NU-Text as not original.  They are lacking in Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, although nearly all other manuscripts of Mark contain them.”  (“NU” in this footnote stands for the Nestle-Aland/United Bible Societies compilation, which very heavily favors the Alexandrian Text.) 
            Even the NKJV’s footnote, however, tells only part of the story.  The patristic writer Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons (or Lyon – ancient Lugdunum), writing around 184, specifically quoted Mark 16:19 in Against Heresies, Book Three, chapter 10.  This shows that the passage was in the text of the Gospel of Mark in manuscripts used by Irenaeus over a century before either Vaticanus or Sinaiticus were made.  Irenaeus’ contemporary Tatian utilized Mark 16:9-20 in his Diatessaron, too, and Justin Martyr almost certainly borrowed language from Mark 16:20 in chapter 45 of his First Apology, around 160.  Granting that detailed information cannot be expected of footnotes, it is unacceptable to put fourth-century manuscripts in the spotlight while keeping second-century patristic evidence in the shadows.
            But today, the early and widespread patristic evidence that supports Mark 16:9-20  is not my focus.  Instead, I want to look at the unusual features that we find in Codex Sinaiticus with a focused lens, setting aside the warped lens through which two Greek manuscripts appear as “Some” and 1,600 manuscripts appear as “others.”            
            The first thing to notice about the pages of Codex Sinaiticus on which the Gospel of Mark concludes is that they are replacement-pages.  They were not written by the same copyist who wrote the text on the surrounding pages.  Instead, the text on these four pages was written by the diorthotes, or proof-reader, of the manuscript, while it was still in production. 
Columns 9, 10, 11, and 12 of the cancel-sheet
in Codex Sinaiticus
The second thing to notice is the remarkable inconsistency in the rates of letters-per-column on these replacement-pages.  Like the other pages of Codex Sinaiticus in the Gospels, these four pages are formatted so as to have four columns per page, and 48 lines per column.  Columns 1-10 contain text from Mark 14:54-16:8, and columns 11-16 contain text from Luke 1:1-56.  The main copyist tended to write about 635 words per column.  Thus, the 16 columns of the pages that he wrote – the pages which the diorthotes removed and replaced – had room for 10,160 letters, if written at the copyist’s normal rate.  The text of Mark 14:54-16:8 on the replaced pages probably consisted of 5,698 letters.  Divided into columns of 635 letters each, the copyist would thus reach the end of Mark 16:8 just before reaching the end of the ninth column. 
          In the replacement-pages, however, the text of Mark 16:8 does not end near the bottom of column nine.  It ends in column ten – even though the diorthotes probably wrote 84 fewer letters of Mark than what the main copyist had written on the replaced pages.  This raises a question:  why did the diorthotes make the text of Mark 16 extend into column 10, instead of finishing it in column nine?
A comparison of the rate of letters-per-column
shows a significant decrease in columns 5-9,
and a drastic increase in columns 11-16.
To answer that question, we must examine the columns of Luke 1:1-76 that the diorthotes wrote on the replacement-pages.  A simple count of the number of letters in each column of text demonstrated the extensive variation in the rate of letters-per-column.  

Before proceeding further, it may be worth pointing out the following:  Mark 16:9-20 contains 971 letters (depending on textual variants).  Even if the main copyist had accidentally skipped the same 106 letters that the diorthotes skipped in 15:47-16:1, the remaining 886 letters would not fit into the remaining space after 16:8 (which would have a normal capacity of 662 letters) in columns nine and ten.  Thus, whatever motivated the diorthotes to replace the four pages that the main copyist produced, it was not because those pages contained Mark 16:9-20. 
(If one wanted to write Mark 14:64-16:20 in columns 1-10, the resultant average rate of letters per column in columns 1-10 would jump to 667 letters per column.  Such script-compression is technically possible:  an average rate of letters per column of 673 is observed in columns 11-16 in the cancel-sheet.  But the main copyist, unlike the diorthotes, had no reason to suddenly compress his script.)

           Now let’s turn our attention to the columns in the replacement-pages that contain text from the Gospel of Luke.  If the main copyist had accidentally repeated a large chunk of text, and the diorthotes made the replacement-pages in order to remove the repeated lines, this would require the corrector to fill the space with fewer letters than the original pages had contained.  But what we see in columns 11-16 is a staggering increase in the rate of letters-per-line.  Instead of 635 letters per column, we see here in Luke an average rate of 691 letters per column.  If we work from the premise that the text of Luke began at the top of column 11 in the replaced pages, then the diorthotes made the replacement-pages in order to correct a large omission that the main copyist had committed. 
            With that premise in place, it looks as if a section of text consisting of over 330 letters was absent from the main copyist’s text of Luke 1:1-56.  Probably the main copyist accidentally skipped from either the beginning of Luke 1:34 to the beginning of 1:38 (losing, in the process, 311 letters).  (An alternative is that he skipped from the beginning of Luke 1:5 to the beginning of Luke 1:8, thus losing 319 letters, but this would almost require that he was not thinking at all about what he was writing.)  Without those 311 letters, the text of Luke 1:1-56 that is on the replacement-pages consists of 3,835 letters occupying six columns, which yields 639 letters per column – well within the  copyist’s natural range of variation.      
            What if, instead, the main copyist began the text of Luke 1 at the top of column 10?  In that case, it would appear that the main copyist accidentally repeated a large portion of text in Luke 1.  If we add to 4,146 letters an additional 311 letters, caused by the repetition of verses 34-37, we reach a total of 4,475 letters occupying seven columns of text.  Divided into seven, this yields (again) 639 letters per column – well within the copyist’s natural range of variation.     
The replacement-pages consist of a single
sheet of parchment, folded in the middle.
           So:  while we can discern that the creation of the replacement-places was due to a problem in the text of Luke 1:1-56a, a definitive reconstruction of the format of the text on the replaced pages is not easy to make, because a reconstruction involving an omission in a text in which Luke 1 began at the top of column 11, and a reconstruction involving a repetition in a text in which Luke 1 began at the top of column 10, are both feasible.  These competing possibilities, however, should not obscure the observation that in neither reconstruction is Mark 16:9-20 present on the replaced pages. 

            The remarkable range of variation in the diorthotes’ rate of letters per column in the cancel-sheet tells a little story about how the text on these pages was written – and this may imply something interesting about the ending of the Gospel of Mark.  Instead of beginning at Mk. 14:54, the diorthotes realized that the main challenge he faced would be to format the text in such a way that the final line of the final column ended exactly where final line of the final column of the replaced pages ended.  With this in mind, he began the replacement-pages by writing Luke 1:1 at the top of column 11.  (This was a practical precautionary step, inasmuch as in the event that his attempt was unsuccessful, he would have thus saved himself the trouble of writing out the text of Mark 14:54-16:8 only to have to start the whole thing over.) 
            Only after he had carefully succeeded in cramming Luke 1:1-56a into six columns did the diorthotes begin to write Mark 14:54b at the top of column 1.  He wrote columns 1-3 without any unusual deviation from the usual rate of letters per column (635, 650, and 639).  In column 4, he accidentally reverted to the use of the lettering-compression he had used when writing the text of Luke 1:1-56; this is why there are 707 letters in column 4.  Then, realizing what he had done, he compensated by slightly stretching out his lettering in columns 5, 6, 7, and 8.  But after accidentally skipping most of Mark 16:1, he still did not have enough text to reach column 10, even writing at a rate of 600 letters per column (30 letters less than usual). 
          The diorthotes could have simply written the rest of chapter 16, up to verse 8, in his normal lettering, and thus finished Mark in column 9, with a blank column between the end of Mark and the beginning of Luke.  But he made a conscious decision not to do that.  Instead, he stretched out his lettering even more, so as to write only 552 letters in column 9.  Thus he had 37 letters remaining to place in column 10. 
With all these things in the equation, let’s again approach the question:  why didn’t the diorthotes finish Mark 16:8 in column 9, and thus leave a blank column before the beginning of Luke?  Why did he stretch out his lettering (and write Jesus’ name in Mark 16:6 in its full, uncontracted form) so as to make his lettering reach the tenth column? 
          Conceivably, a strong sense of aesthetics motivated the diorthotes to avoid leaving blank columns between books in the same genre (genres such as Poetry, Minor Prophets, Gospels, Epistles).  In Codex Sinaiticus, a book usually begins at the top of the column which immediately follows the previous book, unless a new genre is being introduced.  Four columns (a single page) are blank after the Gospel of John.  Six columns separate the end of Philemon from the beginning of Acts.  A blank column separates the end of Acts and the beginning of James. 
This pattern, however, was not kept with complete consistency.  There is no blank column between Jude and Revelation, and there is no blank column between Revelation and the Epistle of Barnabas, although there is a blank column between the end of the Epistle of Barnabas and the beginning of the Shepherd of Hermas.  And in the Old Testament portion of Codex Sinaiticus, after the end of the book of Judith, the first column of the next page is blank, followed by the beginning of First Maccabees at the top of column 2.
          That last detail is particularly instructive, because the diorthotes served as copyist for the book of Tobit and Judith.  Apparently, another copyist (Scribe A) had finished a section which concluded at the end of Esther in the second column of a page.  The same copyist had also made a section containing First Maccabees, beginning in the second column of a page.  The diorthotes faced the task of writing the contents of Tobit and Judith in another section to be placed between the two already-written sections, beginning where the other copyist had left off.  After completing Tobit and most of Judith, he realized (as Dirk Jongkind has noted) that he didn’t have enough text to reach the column next to the beginning of First Maccabees.  For this reason, he resorted to stretching out his lettering (in much the same method that is seen in Mark 16:2-7) and wrote one or two fewer lines per column.  His efforts, however, were still not sufficient, and that is why a blank column precedes First Maccabees.  It is a “seam,” so to speak – merely a side-effect of a quirk that occurred in the production of the manuscript.
          Besides a desire to insert blank space only between books of different genres, something else seems to have motivated the diorthotes to take drastic action to avoid leaving a blank column between Mark and Luke:  a determination to avoid leaving a feature which could be considered memorial-space for the absent twelve verses.  Occasionally, copyists encountered readings in their exemplars which lacked material that the copyists recollected from another manuscript they had encountered; they copied the text of the exemplar but left blank space – memorial-space – to express the thought that something was missing. 
          Perhaps the best-known example of this occurs in Codex Vaticanus.  In this manuscript, the copyists never left blank space between books, except between the Old and New Testament, and at two production-seams (once where the format shifts from three-columns-per-page to two-columns-per-page, leaving a large gap, and once (at the end of Tobit) where the work of one copyist ends and another copyist’s work begins), and in one other place:  the end of Mark, where, after the copyist wrote 16:8, the closing-title appears below it, and the next column is blank.  In addition, if a copyist were to erase the closing-title, and insert Mark 16:9-20 after 16:8 using the same script-compression technique seen in Sinaiticus in Luke 1:1-56, all twelve verses would neatly fit into the remaining space.      
A digital image of the last page of Mark in Codex
Vaticanus, with memorial-space for verses 9-20,
is at the Vatican Library's website
          A second example occurs in Codex Regius (L, 019) after John 7:52, where the copyist left some blank space, including an entire blank column, before writing 8:12.  The copyist thus expressed his awareness of the existence of John 7:53-8:11.  This blank space in Codex L is not nearly sufficient for the absent 12 verses (or even for 8:3-11), but it nevertheless demonstrates the copyist’s knowledge of the existence of the passage.  (The apparatus in the 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece lists “L*vid” as a witness for the inclusion of John 7:53-8:11, and “Lc” as a witness for non-inclusion, even though it is obvious that the manuscript never contained these verses.)
          The diorthotes of Codex Sinaiticus may have realized that if he did not stretch his lettering so as to be able to put some text in column 10, he would run the risk that the resultant blank column would be interpreted as memorial-space.”  The possibility cannot be ruled out that his exemplar concluded Mark’s text in column 9 and left column 10 as memorial-space in a format similar to that of Codex Vaticanus.  The diorthotes of Sinaiticus apparently staunchly rejected Mark 16:9-20:  not only did he stretch the text of Mark 16:2-8, which prevented any future readers from interpreting a blank column as memorial-space, but he practically turned his arabesque-design following Mark 16:8 – a design which was usually much less ornate – into a fence, emphatically spread across the column, before the closing-title.  (I recommend using the zoom-feature at the Codex Sinaiticus website to see this feature in detail.)  
            The diorthotes’ embellished arabesque was noticed in the 1800’s by several researchers, including John Gwynn and George Salmon.  The arabesque-designs that the diorthotes drew at the end of Tobit, at the end of Judith, and at the end of First Thessalonians (where he had made another cancel-sheet) are much simpler than the one that follows Mark 16:8.  Salmon drew the conclusion that “The scribe who recopied the leaf betrays that he had his mind full of the thought that the Gospel must be made to end with efobounto gar, and took pains that no one should add more.”
George Salmon (1819-1904) -
New Testament scholar,
mathematician, and chess player.
            In 1883, John Gwynn wrote, “As regards the omission of the verses of S. Mk. xvi. 9-20, it is not correct to assert that Cod. À betrays no sign of consciousness of their existence.  For the last line of ver. 8, containing only the letters TOGAR, has the rest of the space (more than half the width of the column) filled up with a minute and elaborate “arabesque” executed with the pen in ink and vermilion, nothing like which occurs anywhere else in the whole MS. (O.T. or N.T.).”       
             No other reason comes to mind to explain why the diorthotes enlarged and embellished his arabesque-design here, and only here.  Salmon’s deduction appears to be correct:  the mind of the diorthotes was full of the thought that Mark should end at the end of 16:8.  This implies that the diorthotes was aware of at least one other way in which the Gospel of Mark concluded. 
            Which ending did the diorthotes reject:  verses 9-20, or the Shorter Ending, or both?  When we consider that Codex Sinaiticus was almost certainly produced at Caesarea, the answer is clear:  the diorthotes was aware of, and rejected, verses 9-20. 
            Now let’s pause and consider something that was written by Eusebius, who was bishop of Caesarea in the early 300’s.  In his composition Ad Marinum, Eusebius addressed a question:  “How do you harmonize Matthew’s statement that Jesus’ resurrection was “late on the Sabbath” with Mark’s statement that it occurred “early in the morning on the first day of the week”? 
            In the course of his answer, Eusebius mentioned that there were two ways to resolve the perceived discrepancy:  one person might say that the passage in Mark (beginning at 16:9) is not in every manuscript, or is not in the accurate manuscripts, or is hardly found in any of them, or is present in some copies but not in all of them, and is therefore superfluous, especially considering that it might seem to contradict the other accounts.  But – Eusebius continued – someone else, reluctant to dismiss anything he finds written in the Gospels, may accept both accounts instead of picking and choosing between them.  Granting this premise, the way to resolve the perceived difficulty is to simply read the phrase in Mark with a comma:  as “Having risen, early in the morning on the first day of the week He appeared to Mary Magdalene.”  This is in agreement with what John says.  The meaning is not that Christ’s resurrection was “early in the morning,” but that this is the time when He appeared to Mary, afterwards.
            Twice more in Ad Marinum, Eusebius utilizes Mark 16:9.  At one point Eusebius mentions a theory that there were two women named Mary Magdalene, and points out that one of them would be “the one of whom it is stated in Mark, in some copies, that he had cast seven demons out of her.”   In the course of answering another question, Eusebius again mentions the theory that there were two Mary Magdalenes, and mentions that the Mary Magdalene mentioned by John would be the same person from whom, according to Mark, he had cast out seven demons.  In this third utilization of Mark 16:9, Eusebius did not bother to mention anything about manuscripts.  
            While what Eusebius says in Ad Marinum throws a hot informative light upon the various wax commentaries which misrepresent Eusebius’ statements about the ending of Mark, his comments are instructive for the question at hand because of what he does not say.  Eusebius displays no awareness whatsoever of the existence of the Shorter Ending. 
            If we take the evidence that Codex Sinaiticus was produced at Caesarea c. 350 (perhaps under the supervision of Acacius) alongside the evidence that the Shorter Ending was not known at Caesarea in the early 300’s, then we may conclude that the ending of Mark 16 rejected by the diorthotes of Codex Sinaiticus was verses 9-20. 
            This would be consistent with what may be deduced from a comparison of the treatment given to Mark 16:9-20 in Ad Marinum and in the Eusebian Canons.  When Eusebius wrote Ad Marinum, he was comfortable with the inclusion of the passage and went through two verbose paragraphs to explain to Marinus how Mark 16:9 should be read and how the opening sentence should be pronounced.  By the time he developed the Eusebian Canons and Sections, though, Eusebius had decided not to include the passage.  It would not be surprising if Acacius, bishop of Caesarea from 339 to 365, inherited the latter view and enforced it when he oversaw the production of new parchment manuscripts, including Codex Sinaiticus, based on old papyrus copies which were wearing out.  (Jerome, in Lives of Illustrious Men  see chapters 98 and 113 – and in Epistle 141, Ad Marcellam), mentions that Acacius and his successor Euzious engaged in this enterprise.  Jerome did not specify that Acacius and Euzois preserved the texts of exemplars of books of the Bible, but it seems highly probable, and would explain the use of a Western copy as a secondary exemplar in John 1:1-7:38 of Codex Sinaiticus – and not just any Western copy, but one with some affinities to the text used by the Gnostic heretic Heracleon, which had been cited by Origen in his response against Heracleon.)       
            The thing to see here, regarding the ending of Mark, is that when we take a close look at the two Greek manuscripts in which the text of Mark clearly stops at 16:8, with nothing afterwards except the closing-title, one of them (Vaticanus) expresses the copyist’s awareness of the absent 12 verses by the addition of memorial-space, and in the other one (Sinaiticus), the last chapter of Mark is written on replacement-pages by a copyist who probably indicates his own awareness of, and rejection of, the absent 12 verses via his script-expansion (avoiding a blank column) and arabesque-enhancement.  
           These extra details should be kept in mind when reading Bible-footnotes about Mark 16:9-20 which frame the manuscript-evidence in vague terms without mentioning the patristic evidence.  

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Blood Moons, Signs of the End, and Two Small Textual Variants

          This coming weekend, a lunar eclipse will occur, bringing to an end (I hope) the speculation that a recent series of four lunar eclipses, of which this one will be the fourth, has a special significance as a sign of the end-times.  The view that these particular lunar eclipses may be portents of the end of the world was developed by Mark Biltz, who recently expressed his ideas in a book, Blood Moons: Decoding the Imminent Heavenly Signs.  Biltz’s theory was expanded and popularized by John Hagee, a preacher in Texas, in his book, Four Blood Moons: Something Is About To Change.  In my view, both Biltz (who seems to be affiliated with the highly problematic "Hebrew Roots Movement") and Hagee should apologize to their readers for severely overstating the importance of these lunar eclipses.  (For a lucid review of Hagees views about the “blood moons” see the brief two-part article prepared by Christian astrophysicist Hugh Ross.)
          There is little that textual criticism can offer to discourage poorly grounded theories about signs of the end-times – but little is more than nothing, so let’s take a look at two passages from two prophecies in the New Testament that involve both the moon and the end of the world:  Matthew 24 (paralleled in Mark 13 and Luke 21) and Revelation 6.  Both of these prophetic chapters involve scenes which bring to mind the wording of Joel 3:15:  “The sun and moon will grow dark, and the stars will diminish their brightness.”  And in their descriptions of signs of the end of the world, they both contain small textual variants.
          In Matthew 24:7, after famines are mentioned, almost all of the Greek manuscripts include the words “and pestilences,” or “and plagues.”  However, in most of the newer translations – the ESV, NIV and NLT – there is no reference to pestilences or plagues at all in Matthew 24:7.  The HCSB does not mention them in the text either, but a footnote says, “Other manuscripts add epidemics.”  This gives readers a very one-sided and incomplete impression of how strongly the Greek manuscript-evidence favors the inclusion of και λοιμοι (“and pestilences”).
          In the apparatus of the fourth edition of the UBS Greek New Testament, only five manuscripts are cited as support for the non-inclusion of λοιμοι:  Sinaiticus (À), Vaticanus (B), Bezae (D), Basiliensis (E), and the minuscule 892.  However, only two of those manuscripts (E and 892) have precisely the text that is in UBS4:  Bezae has a spelling-variation, Vaticanus has a spelling-variation, and Sinaiticus puts earthquakes before famines (besides having two spelling-variations).  Furthermore, in Codex E, the short text has been corrected; the words και λοιμοι are written in uncial-script in the margin, and a mark shows where they should be placed in the text (after λιμοι).
          As an alternative to the position that the exact form of the text of Matthew 24:7 is preserved in no uncials except E (in which the absent και λοιμοι is in the margin, apparently added by the copyist himself), and in no minuscules except 892, I propose that και λοιμοι is part of the original text, and that it was accidentally lost when an early copyist’s line of sight drifted from the final letters of λοιμοι to the final letters of λιμοι.  The similarity of the words λοιμοι and λιμοι and the recurrence of –αι at the end of εσονται and at the end of και in this verse also contributed to the omission.
          Besides exhibiting how the Alexandrian Text was shortened by early scribes (not, in this case, due to any mischievousness, but because of negligence), this little variant illustrates – contrary to the claims of some researchers – that the translators of the KJV paid close attention to the Greek text instead of just reproducing the work of Tyndale and other earlier translators.  
          In Tyndale’s 1534 English New Testament, this verse refers to “pestilence, honger and erth quakes.”  Likewise in the 1557 Geneva Bible, Jesus stated in Matthew 24:7, “There shal be “pestilence, honger, and earthquakes,” that is, λοιμοι και λιμοι και σεισμοι instead of λιμοι και λοιμοι και σεισμοι.  This word-order is supported by the Vulgate, and by Codex W (which was unknown to modern researchers until the early 1900’s) and by Codex L (which was cited in the notes of Stephanus’ 1550 edition of the Textus Receptus).  Erasmus' 1516 text read the Greek equivalent of "famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes."  So did the text compiled by Theodore Beza.  The King James Version’s translators made their English translation fit the Greek text of Matthew 24:7 precisely, adjusting the word-order and expressing the conjunctions. 
          So when looking for signs of the end, remember Jesus’ words of caution first:  “Take heed that no man deceive you.”  In and of themselves, the arrivals of false prophets and false teachers and false messiahs are nothing special.  In and of themselves, wars do not signal the end-times.  Nor do famines and pestilences and earthquakes in various places.  These things come and go.
          Now let’s look into Revelation 6:12, where John describes the vision of the sixth seal:  “I looked when he opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black like sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood.”
          When Erasmus initially compiled the book of Revelation, he had one manuscript, which had been entrusted to his temporary care by Johann Reuchlin, a fellow scholar (who was also the uncle of Philip Melanchthon, a very influential Reformer).  This manuscript used to be known as 1r (not to be confused with 1, an important Gospels-manuscript).  For some time its location was unknown.  When it resurfaced in 1861, researcher Franz Delitzsch realized that it was the same manuscript that Erasmus had used.  As Erasmus had stated in his annotations on the text, this manuscript had undergone some damage, and for that reason, it was missing the last six verses of the final chapter.
          Reuchlin’s manuscript has been given a new identification-number:  2814.  It was produced in the 1100’s, and contains not only the Greek text of Revelation but also the commentary on Revelation written by Andrew of Caesarea (the Caesarea in Cappadocia, not the one in Israel) in the year 610.  Like 82 other Greek copies of Revelation, it contains not only the text of Revelation but also the text of Andrew of Caesarea’s commentary.  (Fifteen other manuscripts of Revelation, while lacking the full commentary, feature extracts from Andrew’s work.)
          In the Majority Text compiled by Hodges and Farstad, and in the Byzantine Text compiled by Robinson and Pierpont, the Greek word ολη (“whole”) follows the Greek word σεληνη (“moon”).  Apparently a copyist skipped this word when his line of sight drifted from the final letter of σεληνη to the final letter of ολη.  Not only does the majority-text of Revelation include the word ολη here, but so does Codex A, and so does the Nestle-Aland compilation.  If one considers this combination of testimony to be trustworthy, then one may conclude that the original text of Revelation 6:12 included a small emphasis – not just the moon turned to blood, but the whole moon – which was lacking in the Textus Receptus.  The effect of this difference is, however, extremely small. 
          Those wishing to investigate such details further may consult Herman Hoskier’s 1929 book Concerning the Text of the Apocalypse, in which he collated every Greek manuscript of Revelation that was known to him, and also separated the manuscripts into groups and sub-groups according to shared distinctive readings.   
(It should be noted, as a point of caution, that on page XXXVIII of his introduction, Hoskier stated that “for what it may be worth,” he had included in the apparatus a reading (in Rev. 21:4) that was claimed to have been obtained via a séance-like spirit-channeling-session in 1856.  The basis for this appears to have been nothing more than a book written by Baron Guldenstubbe in French in 1857.  I suspect that Hoskier regarded this as merely a curiosity, but included it in his apparatus in order to maintain with absolute veracity his claim to have collated every Greek manuscript that testified about the text of Revelation.)

          One additional little thought occurs to me when thinking about eclipses.  The technical term for what happens when the sun, earth, and moon align (either in a solar eclipse, or in a lunar eclipse) is “syzygy,” which has a Greek root.  A similar word occurs in Philippians 4:3, where Paul refers to his true “yoke-fellow” – Συζυγε.  Some commentators (and the creators of a few English paraphrases) have theorized that this might not be an adjective, but a proper name, Syzygus (otherwise unknown).  May we all be yoke-fellows of one another, and of Christ – ready to serve Him, and ready to meet Him, as He said in Matthew 24:44:  “Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”  

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Revelation 13:18 and the Number of the Beast

          One of the most well-known textual variants in the book of Revelation occurs in 13:18:  “Here is wisdom.  Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man.  His number is” – and that’s where the variant-unit occurs.  Almost all Greek manuscripts of Revelation have exakosioi exhkonta ex, that is, six hundred + sixty + six, for a total of 666.  However, in Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus (C, 04), produced in the 400’s, the number of the beast is, instead, exakosioi deka ex, that is, six hundred + ten + six, for a total of 616.
           To understand Revelation 13:18, it is helpful to know Greek isopsephy, or gematria – the ancient method of writing numerals in the Roman Empire in the first century.  The 24 letters of the Greek alphabet, plus three obsolete letters (for 6, 90, and 900), were arranged in an array of ones, tens, and hundreds, so as to facilitate the representation of any quantity from 1 to 999.  Thus every combination of letters in every word could be said to have a numerical value.  Jesus’ name in Greek, for example, consisted of the letters iota, eta, sigma, omicron, upsilon, and sigma, and thus has a numerical value of 888 (10 + 8 + 200 + 70 + 400 + 200).  The Greek word for “Lord,” Κυριος, has a numerical value of 800 (20 + 400 +100 +10 + 70 + 200).
          Papyrus 115 (a collection of extremely mutilated fragments, produced c. 250) is one of the earliest manuscripts of this portion of the book of Revelation.  Its text of Revelation 13:18 is unique:  it has what appears to be the reading 616 (written in Greek numerals, that is, Greek letters with horizontal lines above them to show that they are intended to be understood as numerals), preceded by the letter h which, standing alone, is the Greek word “or,” which may indicate that in the preceding part of the line, the manuscripts may have combined both readings, so as to read “666 or 616.”
Part of P115:  "or 616."
           Papyrus 47 (produced in the 200’s) is another very early manuscript of Revelation.  Its text of 13:18 contains the usual reading expressed in numerals:  chi (600) + xi (60) + stau (6).  (The obsolete letter stau is also known stigma, or as digamma when written in a different form resembling the capital English letter F.) 
          Although P47 and P115 were probably both produced less than 200 years after the book of Revelation was written, there is earlier evidence for the existence of manuscripts with the reading “666” and for manuscripts with the reading “616.”  Irenaeus, bishop of Lugdunum (Lyons) in what is now southeast France, commented on Revelation 13:18 in Against Heresies, Book 5, chapters 29-30.   In chapter 30, as Irenaeus focuses on the meaning of the number of the beast, he mentions that six-hundred-and-sixty-six is the number that is “found in all the most approved and ancient copies,” and he states that “those men who saw John face to face” have testified to its genuineness. 
P47 (Replica):  666 (in the middle of line 4).
          Irenaeus continued with a long note in which he mentioned the alternate-reading 616 and declared it to be a corruption:  “I do not know how it is that some have erred following the ordinary mode of speech, and have vitiated the middle number in the name, deducting the amount of fifty from it, so that instead of six decads they will have it that there is but one.  [I am inclined to think that this occurred through the fault of the copyists, as is wont to happen, since numbers also are expressed by letters; so that the Greek letter which expresses the number sixty was easily expanded into the letter Iota of the Greeks.]  Others then received this reading without examination; some in their simplicity, and upon their own responsibility, making use of this number expressing one decad; while some, in their inexperience, have ventured to seek out a name which should contain the erroneous and spurious number.” (The bracketed portion is not in the Greek text preserved by Eusebius of Caesarea, and is probably an interpolation.)

          How exactly does one get from ΧΞϜ to ΧΙϜ?  That is, how could a copyist confuse the letters Ξ and Ι?  One can only guess.  A careless mistake by an inattentive or hurried copyist is not impossible.  Perhaps the copyist of a very early copy, writing by dictation, heard his supervisor pronounce the letters individually, and wrote ΧΙ as the name of the first character, misheard the second character as if it were the first one again, and then wrote the stau, or stigma.  
           Another possibility is that a copyist, thinking that he had deciphered the meaning of John’s statement, and that the leader of the beast was Nero, or someone with a Nero-like character, adjusted the number to make that identification a little easier to perceive.  The Dead Sea Scrolls scholar Edward Cook explained this idea at his blog in 2006:  if one utilizes a Hebrew, rather than Greek, form of isopsephy, then the total numerical value of the letters in “Neron Caesar” is 666.  (This Hebrew form of Nero’s name appears in a scroll that was produced during the reign of Nero himself.)  A slight simplification – dropping the final Nun – simultaneously dropped 50 from the numerical value of the name, thus arriving at the alternative total of 616.
            Yet another possibility is that an early interpreter of Revelation identified the Antichrist as one of the Roman emperors, or as the Emperorship in a collective sense.  The letters in the name Gaios Kaisar (that is, Caligula, who was emperor in 37-41) add up to 616, and, as Adolph Deissmann pointed out, so do the letters in the Greek words for “divine Caesar” – Kaisar Theos
           In the period after Nero’s death there was a concern that Nero might not be completely dead, and that he would revive and return to power after gathering an army from the east, particularly Parthia.  This idea was promoted in the second century by one of the unknown authors of the Sibylline Oracles, who wrote (referring to Nero), “The reprobate man shall disappear, and afterwards he shall return, equaling himself with God, but his pretensions God shall refute.”  This idea was shared by the unknown author of the Ascension of Isaiah (in its Christianized edition).  In the 200’s, Commodianus (in Instructions #41) also stated that in the end-times, “Nero shall have been raised from the underworld.”  This idea was also promoted in the late 200’s by Victorinus of Pettau, who wrote a commentary on Revelation.  Referring to Rev. 13:3, Victorinus wrote that John “speaks of Nero.  For it is plain that when the cavalry sent by the senate was pursuing him, he himself cut his throat.  This man, therefore, resuscitated, God will send as a worthy king to those who deserve him.”  
           Augustine (in his book City of God, Book 20, chapter 19) mentioned that some of his contemporaries (in the early 400’s) imagined that Nero was still alive, diabolically endowed with longevity and vigor, waiting for the opportunity to rise to power.  Augustine regarded such a view as an audacious presumption.
           In the early Middle Ages (specifically, in the 700’s) Beatus of Liebana recycled much of Victorinus’ commentary, and likewise affirmed that the seven kings mentioned in 17:11 were seven Roman Emperors (starting with Nero).  Beatus seems to have maintained that Nero was a model, or “pre-figure,” of the Antichrist.   

          Irenaeus seems to have been completely unaware of any proposed connection between Nero and the Antichrist.  Instead, Irenaeus understood the “number of the beast” to be the numerical value of the Greek letters in the name of the Antichrist.  (The numerical value of the name “Neron” is 1,005, or 955 without the final N, which eliminates him from consideration if one limits oneself to Greek isopsephy, which seems reasonable considering that the book of Revelation was written in Greek.)   Although Irenaeus insisted that no one should insist on a specific identification – on the grounds that if God had wanted the name, rather than the number, to be known, it would have been stated plainly – he ventured a few guesses, using the usual Greek isopsephy, mentioning “Lateinos” and “Euanthas” but favoring “Teitan” as his best guess. 
          “Lateinos” may be understood as “the Latins,” i.e., the Romans, whose empire Irenaeus recognized as the fourth kingdom envisioned by Daniel.  “Teitan” is another way to spell “Titan,” which Irenaeus explains as the name of a tyrant (possibly alluding to the emperor Titus), and as an ancient name used by pagans to identify the sun-god.  However, Irenaeus offered no explanation for the name “Euanthas.”   Beatus (whose comments we will revisit shortly) had this word in mind when he stated that one of the seven names of the Antichrist is “Evantas, which is called ‘serpent’ in Latin, for the one who deceived Eve first.” 
           A different theory about the origin of the term “Euanthas” was offered in 1915 by F. H. Colson in a brief article in the Journal of Theological Studies.  Colson proposed that “Euanthas” is the result of an attempt to translate the Latin name of Gessius Florus, the last Roman procurator of Judea (in A.D. 64-66), into a Greek equivalent.  Florus’ tyrannical behavior provoked the First Jewish Revolt; he seized temple-donations and crucified protesters.  If this is the source of the name Euanthas, then it may echo an early understanding of Revelation 13 as a description of past, rather than exclusively future, events.       
           Medieval commentators on the book of Revelation proposed several other names and descriptions of the Antichrist based on the numerical values of the letters in his name.  Primasius, an African bishop who lived in the 500’s, proposed the names “Antemos” and “Arnoume,” which mean “Contrary to honor” and “I deny” – the latter being the words which Christians, when tested by persecutors, were tempted to say in order to deny Christ. 
           Andrew of Caesarea, and/or Oecumenius (it is not entirely clear which writer used the other writer’s work around the year 600) calculated the numerical values of some descriptive names or titles:  Lampetis and Benediktos and Palaibaskanos (“ancient sorcerer”) and O Niketes (“The Conqueror” or “Victorious One”) and Kakos Hodegos (“foul leader”) and Amnos Adikos (“unrighteous lamb”) each adds up to 666.
           Beatus, relying on earlier writers, listed seven names for the Antichrist, in light of the statement in Revelation 13:1 which states that the beast in the vision had seven heads, “and on his heads was a blasphemous name.”  In some manuscripts of Revelation in which the text is accompanied by Beatus’ commentary, there are full-page charts and tables listing the names assigned to the Antichrist, and illustrating the numerical values of their letters.  The names and their meanings are listed are as follows:  

Morgan MS 1079 contains a good example of
Beatus' chart of the names of the Antichrist.
Evantas – (From Irenaeus) Either “serpent,” or a translation of the name Florus, the Roman procurator who incited the First Jewish Revolt.  (5+400+1+50+9+1+200 = 666)
Damnatos – he who causes condemnation.  (4+1+40+50+1+300+70+200 = 666)
Antemos – he who abstains from wine.  (1+50+300+5+40+70+200 = 666) 
Genserikos – This name, from the commentary of Victorinus of Pettau (who was martyred in the Diocletian persecution), described simply as another name for the Antichrist in Gothic.  One might be forgiven for thinking that it is an interpolation, inasmuch as about 150 years after Victorinus, there was a historical figure named Genseric, king of the Vandals, who sacked the city of Rome in 455.  (The name Gensērikos does happen to add up to 666:  3 + 5 + 50 + 200 + 8 + 100 + 10 + 20 + 70 + 200.) 
Antichristos – (self-explanatory) 
Teitan – (from Irenaeus) Titan
Diclux – (from Victorinus) A Latin name (with Latin numerical values:  D+I+C+L+V+X = 666) based on the identification of Teitan as the sun:  “Say ‘light,’” meaning that the Antichrist will imitate the devil who masquerades as an angel of light.

A list of the names of Antichrist,
from B.L. Add. MS 11695
(The Silos Apocalypse)
          From the second century onward, Revelation 13:18 has been understood as a reference to the numerical value of the letters in the name of the Antichrist.  Although the number 616 has some early support, Irenaeus’ testimony in favor of 666 has tremendous weight:  not only is he the earliest writer to comment on the verse, but he specifically states that he consulted ancient manuscripts – ancient in the 180’s! – to confirm that they did indeed have the number 666.  Therefore, the reading “666” should confidently be regarded as the original text. 
           The exact identification of the name with the numerical value of 666 remains unknown.  It may be as helpful to know what this number does not represent as it is to know the name on which it is based.  The number has no necessary connection to microchips, its second digit (the Greek letter xi) is not “the symbol of the snake” as alleged recently by Hank Hanegraaff, it has nothing to do with the logo of an energy drink, and if you happen to make a purchase for $6.66 there is no reason to panic.  For the first generation of Christians who read the book of Revelation, the text was a source of encouragement to faithfully refuse to deny Christ, even when the Roman government was demanding that they worship the emperor and thus obtain a libellus, an official certificate stating that its bearer had sacrificed to the image of the emperor (or to his patron deities).  Faithfulness, rather than exhaustive knowledge of future events, was what John desired to instill in his readers. 

A libellus from
the reign of Decius.
          It is commendable for students of the Scriptures to investigate the things therein which appear less than perfectly clear, such as the identity of the person whose name has the value of 666, but it is also commendable, considering the explorations that others have already made into the subject, to acknowledge that it is wiser to avoid being dogmatically and insistently wrong, than to have confidence in a particular solution simply for the sake of appearing confident.  Whatever name is represented by that number, the name that we should bear is the name of Jesus Christ.  In our deeds and in our words and in our study, and in every circumstance, let us faithfully affirm that we belong to Jesus Christ.  As Peter wrote in First Peter 4:16:  “If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God because of that name.”       

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Matthew 5:44 - Love Your Enemies

           The words of Christ in Matthew 5:44 have echoed through the centuries as one of most remarkable and most difficult of all His teachings:  Love your enemies.  The contents of the middle of the verse, however, have been drawn into question due to differences in the Greek manuscripts of the Gospel of Matthew and in the some of the early versions of the Gospels.
            Over 1,300 manuscripts of Matthew support the Byzantine text of this verse, which is conveyed with equal precision by the 2005 Robinson-Pierpont 2005 Byzantine Textform, the Hodges-Farstad Majority Text, and Wilbur Pickering’s compilation of the family-35 text.  The Textus Receptus has slightly different wording for the phrase “to those who hate you” (its minor variant is supported by 18 manuscripts, including minuscule 2 which was used by Erasmus) but it does not have an impact on translation.    
            The Alexandrian Text of Mt. 5:44 is significantly shorter than the Byzantine Text.  The major uncials Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, along with manuscripts 1, 22, 205, 1582, and a few others, do not have the Greek text that is represented in English by the statements, “Bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you,” in the middle of the verse, and the phrase “who despitefully use you and” near the end.  Advocates of the short Alexandrian reading typically explain the longer Byzantine reading as a harmonization in the text of Matthew, drawn from the parallel-passage in Luke 6:27-28.  Bruce Metzger’s comments in his Textual Commentary are representative:  “Later witnesses enrich the text by incorporating clauses from the parallel account in Lk 6.27-28.”

Matthew 5:44 and the surrounding verses in Codex Bezae (D)
            Metzger’s statement has two problems.  First, it is not just “Later witnesses” that have the longer reading:  Codex Bezae and Codex W disagree with the Alexandrian text.  (Codex A is not extant until Matthew chapter 25.)  John Chrysostom (c. 400) repeatedly quoted the verse with the Byzantine reading.  The Gothic version (made around 350) and the Peshitta (the Syriac version made no later than the late 300’s) also support the Byzantine reading of Matthew 5:44.  Secondly, when we look at the parallel-passage in the Byzantine Text of Luke 6:27-28, the order of phrases in Matthew is not the same as the order in Luke.  In addition, at the end of Lk. 6:28, the text has not been harmonized to Mt. 5:44.  
          The harmonization-theory requires a strange kind of harmonizer:  one whose goal was to make the Gospel-passages agree, but who reversed the phrases from Luke 6 in the course of inserting them into Matthew 5 – thus making the word-order disagree – and who declined to add a phrase from Matthew into the text of Luke (although this could be easily done) to accomplish a fuller harmonization.     
            Another explanation is more credible.  In a science fiction story by the late Robert Heinlein, a character states, “You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity.”  Something similar should be said to the textual critics who insist on positing harmonizations and theologically motivated alterations to the text where a variation is capable of being explained as accidental.  In the case at hand, the Alexandrian reading of Mt. 5:44 can be explained as the result of a common scribal accident:  parablepsis, the skipping of text as a result of homoeoarcton (the recurrence of the same, or similar, series of letters at the beginning of words) or homoeoteleuton (the recurrence of the same, or similar, series of letters at the ends of words) or both.        
The Byzantine text of Matthew 5:44
+ a sleepy, line-skipping copyist
= the Alexandrian text of Mt. 5:44
            If, instead of assuming that the Alexandrian reading is correct and looking for ways to defend it, one starts with the Byzantine reading and looks for ways to account for the origins of its rivals, it is not difficult to see that the phrase in the middle of Matthew 5:44 that does not appear in the Alexandrian Text could accidentally be lost via parablepsis, when a copyist’s line of sight drifted from umwn to kai, skipping the words in between.  Similarly, near the end of the verse, scribal inattentiveness accounts for the loss of the Greek phrase that means “despitefully use you and.”          
            An additional factor favors the Byzantine reading of Mt. 5:44.  Many researchers who study the Synoptic Problem (this is not a “problem” in the usual sense of the word; in this context it refers to the question, “What is the literary relationship between Matthew, Mark, and Luke?”) have concluded that Matthew and Luke shared a source known as Q (“Q” stands for Quelle, the German word for “source”), which consisted mostly of Jesus’ sayings, accompanied by some context-supplying narrative.  Such a document may be the “Logia,” or Sayings, which, according to Papias, Matthew prepared in Hebrew (or Aramaic).  If it is granted that Matthew and Luke each possessed a source-document in which Jesus told His disciples to love their enemies, do good to those who hate them, bless those who curse them, and pray for those who despitefully mistreat them and persecute them, then, if the Alexandrian reading of Matthew 5:44 is correct, either (a) Matthew omitted two perfectly clear and edifying phrases that were in his source-document, or (b) Luke arbitrarily expanded a perfectly clear statement in his source-document.  The adoption of the Byzantine reading of Matthew 5:44 nullifies both conclusions and offers a simpler explanation of both author’s treatment of their source-material.      
Mt. 5:44 was recently featured in
the movie "Do You Believe?".
            In this case – as is so often the case in the Gospels – the Alexandrian reading is not just shorter; the longer rival Byzantine reading accounts for its existence as an accidentally shortened reading.  And although the Alexandrian reading has early support, it is only slightly earlier than much more widespread support for the Byzantine reading.  The Byzantine reading of Matthew 5:44 should therefore be regarded as original.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Ancient Manuscripts Are Not Necessarily More Reliable

          One of the canons of New Testament textual criticism – the guidelines that textual critics employ to decide contests between rival readings – is that a reading supported by early attestation is more likely to be original than a reading supported exclusively by recent attestation.  Unfortunately this qualified statement has been oversimplified as “prefer the older reading,” as if the older a manuscript is, the better its text must be.  Age is a result of survival, and several factors – none of which has much to do with the quality of a manuscript’s text – contribute to survival.

(1)  Survival depends on climate-conditions.  In parts of Egypt, the humidity-level is remarkably gentle to papyrus, the material from which the earliest manuscripts of New Testament books were made.  Elsewhere, papyrus naturally rots away, but in Egypt papyrus can survive for centuries.  Almost all of the extant papyrus manuscripts of the New Testament that were made before the fall of the Roman Empire, and for which a provenance is known, have come from Egypt – particularly from the site of the ancient city of Oxyrhynchus.  Thus a consultation of the oldest manuscripts is congruent to an appeal to manuscripts that were found in Egypt.  We wouldn’t take seriously a proposal such as “prefer the northernmost reading,” or “prefer the southernmost reading,” but when we say, “Prefer the oldest reading,” it is almost like saying, “Prefer the reading found in the driest climate,” because climate-conditions have a lot to do with how long papyrus manuscripts survive. 
Diocletian (emperor in 284-305)
ordered that Christians must hand
over their copies of Scripture,
or else be killed. 
(2)  Survival depends on treatment.  During the Roman persecution carried out in the reign of Emperor Diocletian, Christian manuscripts were targeted for destruction.   That factor goes a long way toward explaining why we have so few non-fragmentary New Testament manuscripts from before the early 300’s:  New Testament books tended to last longer in areas where they were kept out of the reach of Roman persecutors.  Christians’ constant use of a manuscript could slowly destroy a manuscript as effectively as Roman persecutors’ methods.  Cumulative incidental damage – especially the loss of pages and parts of pages, and damage due to moisture – is a major reason why many manuscripts are incomplete.  Just as those who work constantly in mines tend to have shorter lifespans than members of the royal family, manuscripts that were used daily in personal study and in church-services tended to wear out faster than manuscripts that were status symbols touched only on special occasions.

            A manuscript-owner might answer the question, “How should I treat an old and worn-out manuscript?” in different ways.  If the text on the old manuscript had become too difficult to read, or if some of its pages had been damaged or lost, the owner might retire the manuscript, placing it in a room that served the purpose of a genizah – a place for old damaged manuscripts to decay.  Or, if the text was still legible and complete, he might arrange for a new copy to be made, based on the old manuscript – perhaps several new copies.  After that, the owner might reason that the best thing to do with the old manuscript would be to recycle its parchment pages by scraping off the writing and using the newly blank pages as material from which to make a new book, or part of a new book.  Such manuscripts made of recycled pages are called palimpsests.  The chances that a Greek manuscript might end up as a palimpsest tended to increase when and where the use of Greek decreased.  

On this page of 0250, Greek text from John 12
is visible underneath the Syriac text. 
Part of Codex Climaci Rescriptus (0250, an important manuscript which was recently added to the Green Collection) consists of recycled parchment from a Greek Gospels-manuscript; the parchment was recycled as part of a volume of two treatises written in Syriac.  Codex Guelferbytanus A (024, or Pe, from the 500’s) and Codex Guelferbytanus B (026, or Q, from the 400’s) have also survived as palimpsests; their pages were recycled as part of a copy of a Latin composition, Isidore of Seville’s Etymologies      

(3)  Survival depends on format.  The least-used manuscripts tend to be the ones that last the longest.  Most readers of New Testament books in antiquity tended to prefer relatively smaller copies instead of large, bulky manuscripts.  This is one reason why, although there are over 5,000 Greek New Testament manuscripts, only about 70 of them are pandects, single-volume manuscripts containing text from all 27 New Testament books.  It’s also a reason why we have hardly any scrolls of New Testament books:  a scroll is harder to use than a codex, particularly if one is attempting to consult parallel Gospel-accounts using a single manuscript.  In addition, if a manuscript was written in a script that its owner considered obsolete, or which was simply less legible than a newly developed script, the owner might consider that to be a sufficient reason to have the old manuscript replicated in the new script and then be relegated to a genizah.  
Pages from the Rossano Gospels (042) -
written in gold and silver ink
on purple-dyed parchment.
          And, if a manuscript’s text was accompanied by illustrations, ornamentations, marginalia, etc., the manuscript might be cherished above a contemporary non-illustrated, non-ornamented manuscript.  Another consideration that falls into the format-category is the innate quality of the materials of which the manuscript consists:  a manuscript that consisted of high-quality parchment, written with low-acidity ink, carefully bound within a protective cover, would tend to last longer than a manuscript in which all these qualities were lacking.  Similarly, a manuscript enhanced with uniquely valuable features – such as being written with gold and silver ink on purple-dyed parchment, or placed in jeweled covers – would tend to be treated differently from a manuscript written in ordinary ink on ordinary parchment with an ordinary cover.
(4)  Survival depends on content.  If a New Testament manuscript’s text is known to be anomalous, then its owner, instead of correcting the anomalous features, might set it aside as a curiosity – and thus allow it to survive longer than normal manuscripts.  (Such a mindset is exhibited in Codex Vaticanus, in which, in a famous note alongside Hebrews 1:3, someone wrote a rebuke of someone else who had corrected an error in the text.)  And, if a manuscript contained not only the text of a New Testament book or books, but also commentary-material, it might be cherished more than a fellow-manuscript which contained only the New Testament text, inasmuch as the commentary-material was harder to replace than the main text.           

(5)  Survival depends on status.  A manuscript believed to have a historical connection to a famous saint would tend to be more highly valued than its fellow-manuscripts, and thus it would tend to be preserved longer.  Some manuscripts have colophons (notes that describe the manuscript’s production, sometimes supplying the name of the copyist and the date when the manuscript was finished) which associate the manuscript, or its exemplar, with the martyr Pamphilus, or with another scholarly saint, or with a particularly respected source of exemplars, as is the case with the manuscripts that contain the Jerusalem Colophon.  Manuscripts associated with saints and/or holy shrines, or which were produced or bequeathed to commemorate special events (such as treaties), tended to be on the “In case of fire, rescue this one first” list, so to speak.  In some cases, a manuscript could obtain a measure of special status in its post-production period, when its blank pages were used to record contracts and the liberation of slaves – just as today, in some attics, old Bibles may be found which were kept not for the sake of the Biblical text alone but also – perhaps especially – because of the records of the marriages, births, and deaths written in the opening pages.
None of the five factors that facilitated manuscript-preservation – climate-conditions, treatment, format, content, and status – guarantee the quality of a manuscript’s text.  Textual quality can vary even within a single manuscript.  For example, in Codex Sinaiticus – the fourth-century Bible that is sometimes referred to by some of its owners as “The World’s Oldest Bible” – the quality of the text of John 1:1-8:38 is different from the rest of the manuscript’s Gospels-text.  Although most of Codex Sinaiticus’ Gospels-text is Alexandrian, in John’s first eight chapters, it has a “Western” character instead, implying that the exemplar of this codex (or of some ancestor-manuscript) had lost this portion of its text, and a copyist had to resort to a different exemplar.  (In this case, the supplemental exemplar had some readings which agree with the text of John that was used by the early heretic Heracleon.)  Also in Codex Sinaiticus, although its Gospels-text is considered very valuable, its text of Revelation is considered inferior; in the course of the 20 verses that constitute the first chapter of Revelation, the compilers of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece reject the readings in Codex Sinaiticus 42 times, even though it is the earliest complete manuscript of Revelation.  (In comparison, the Byzantine Text disagrees with the Nestle-Aland text in Revelation 1 only 17 times.)    
            Codex Washingtoniensis (032, or W) – the most important Gospels-manuscript in the Western Hemisphere – is another example:  W’s text of Matthew is distinctly Byzantine, and the text is also Byzantine in Luke 8:13 to the end of Luke’s Gospel, but in Luke 1:1-8:12, and in John 5:12 to the end of John’s Gospel, the text of Codex W is mainly Alexandrian.  In the first four chapters of Mark, the text of W tends to align with the “Western” text, but then in chapter 5 the character of the text shifts, and loosely aligns with Papyrus 45 (currently the earliest verified manuscript containing text from the Gospel of Mark) more than with any other witness.  And in John 1:1-5:12, Codex W contains supplemental pages, that is, pages that were made sometime after the initial production of the manuscript, to replace pages that had been lost; the text in the supplemental portion is somewhat Alexandrian. 
            It is as if somewhere in Codex W’s ancestry, a copyist visited a Christian library or monastery that had been attacked by Roman persecutors who had torn up the Christians’ manuscripts, and the visitor had attempted to salvage the texts of the surviving fragments by copying selections from them into a single volume.  Whatever the case may be, Codex W displays text from four different transmission-lines. The quality of its text thus varies, but the production-date (except for the supplemental quire in John) is the same for every section.

            Far more than a manuscript’s age, what determines the quality of a manuscript’s text is the carefulness with which it, and its ancestors, were produced.  Two manuscripts with the same age may represent texts of very different quality, and very different degrees of closeness to the autograph.  To illustrate, let’s picture two hypothetical scenarios.
            First, suppose that somewhere in the Roman Empire in the 100’s, a copyist obtained access to the autograph of the Epistle of Jude.  Let’s call this preacher January.  January takes his manuscript and copies it, thus producing Copy A.  A month later, he gives Copy A to his friend February, who preaches at a congregation nearby.  February also makes a copy (Copy B).  A month later, February gives his copy to his friend March, who makes a copy (Copy C).  A month later, March keeps Copy B and gives Copy C to his fellow-minister April, who – one month later – makes a copy (Copy D), keeps Copy C, and gives Copy D to another preacher, named May.  And this cycle of events continues for a year.      
Thus, in terms of age, the twelfth copy is one year older than the first copy – but the twelfth copy is eleven copying-generations away from the autograph.  December’s text is a text that has been copied eleven times.

            Now let’s consider a different scenario.  Suppose, again, that somewhere in the Roman Empire in the 100’s, January the Copyist obtained access to the autograph of the Epistle of Jude, and made a copy of it.  One month later, he gave the autograph to his friend February.  One month after that, February made a copy for himself and gave the autograph to his friend March, who – one month later – made a copy, and then gave the autograph to his friend April, and so forth; this cycle of events continued for a year.  

Again, in terms of age, the twelfth copy is one year older than the first copy – but the twelfth copy is one generation away from the autograph.  What matters is not the age of a copy, but its proximity, in terms of copying-generations, to the autograph.  Or to put it another way: the reason why age matters is that the age of a manuscript is suggestive of the number of copying-generations between it and the autograph. 

But even proximity is no guarantee of the accuracy of a manuscript’s text.  Proximity matters more than age, but what matters more than proximity is the accuracy with which copyists did their work.  Picture two transmission-streams:  one in which copyists did their work accurately, and another in which the copyists were inattentive and sloppy.  If sloppily-copied manuscripts were made for four generations, the fourth-generation copy would be less accurate than the eighth-generation copy from a transmission-stream in which each manuscript was produced with meticulous accuracy. 

 All this should be kept in mind when we consider the degrees of importance of manuscripts with different ages.  This observation is not the exclusive property of those who consider relatively late Byzantine manuscripts to merit the attention of textual critics; even the compilers of the Nestle-Aland text implicitly acknowledged that late manuscripts may contain high-quality contents when they designated minuscule 1881 (from the 1300’s) as a “consistently cited witness of the first order,” while giving scant attention to significantly older witnesses. 

Age alone is a very generalized and inexact gauge of the accuracy of a manuscript’s text and its resultant importance.  After all, most textual critics regard a compilation of the New Testament printed in their lifetimes as a better representative of the original text than the most ancient extant manuscripts.