Saturday, October 3, 2015

A Textual Mystery: The Case of the Adulteress and the Repeated Verse

          In a recent lecture given at the Escola Teológica Charles Spurgeon in Fortaleza, Brazil, Dr. Daniel Wallace encouraged his listeners to adopt and spread his view regarding John 7:53-8:11 (a passage known as the pericope adulterae, the segment about the adulteress) – the widely held view that these 12 verses are not part of the original text of the Gospel of John.    
Daniel Wallace, a professor at Dallas
Theological Seminary, delivering a lecture
at Escola Teologica Charles Spurgeon
in Brazil in early August 2015. 
          At several points in the lecture, Dr. Wallace – regarded by many as one of the leading New Testament textual critics in the USA – misrepresented the evidence.  For example, he claimed, “We don’t have any church fathers to comment on this passage until the tenth century,” and he stated that D, K, and Gamma are the only three uncials that have the passage. 
          Today I will not review the many patristic utilizations of John 7:53-8:11 by writers such as Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, Prosper of Aquitaine, Peter Chrysologus, and so forth.  (I have done that elsewhere already.)  Nor will I sift through the fifteen uncial manuscripts that contain at least part of the passage, or the 1,360 minuscules that contain the passage, or other witnesses such as the chapter-titles in Codex Fuldensis.  Instead I wish to clear up a little mystery regarding the format of the text in minuscule 115, which Dr. Wallace described in his lecture.
            At the 20:50 point of his lecture, Dr. Wallace mentioned that in minuscule 115, the pericope adulterae appears after John 8:12.  He proposed the following explanation for this:  “Here’s what I think happened:  the scribe who’s copying this manuscript out believed that the pericope adulterae was authentic.  And as he’s copying the manuscript in front of him, he copies John 7:52, and then John 8:12, and he goes, ‘Wait a minute!  What happened to the story of the woman caught in adultery?’  So he probably put that manuscript down, and found another manuscript in the monastery that had the story, and that’s what he then copied.  And so at the end of the pericope adulterae we have John 8:12 again, and then the rest of John’s Gospel continues.”
In manuscript 115, John 8:12 appears after John 7:52,
and after John 8:11, thus formatting the lection for

Pentecost as one uninterrupted segment of text.
            That is not remotely the reason why the copyist of 115 put John 8:12 in the text twice.  The repetition of John 8:12 – that is, its appearance in the text after John 7:52 and again after John 8:11 – reflects the influence of the Byzantine lection-cycle upon the text.  (A lection is a Scripture-passage selected to be read in a specific annual sequence, or on a specific annual occasion.)  In the Byzantine lection-cycle, the lection for Pentecost consisted of John 7:37-52 + 8:12; the final verse concluded the reading on a positive note.  The story about the adulteress, having its own distinct theme unrelated to Pentecost, was not read on that day; instead, John 8:3-11 was typically the lection for the Penitent Women (usually represented by Saint Pelagia), read on October 8.
In MS 476 on fol. 173r, John 8:12
is added in the margin beside the
end of 7:52, to finish the lection
for Pentecost.
          When a lector was not using a lectionary, but was reading, instead, from a copy of the four Gospels, he had to depend on the supplemental index of lections and upon marginalia to know what passage was to be read on what day.  Sometimes, medieval copyists made the lector’s job on Pentecost a little easier by adjusting the format of the passage that was to be read at Pentecost.  In MS 476, for example, after the manuscript was made, someone wrote John 8:12 in the margin where John 7:52 ends, so that the final verse of the Pentecost-lection could be read by the lector without any need to search for the verse in the next chapter.
          The copyist of minuscule 115 (or the copyist of 115’s exemplar, or some ancestor-copy of 115) took things one step further, and inserted John 8:12 directly into the text after 7:52, so that the entire lection could be read as one uninterrupted piece.  In minuscule 2751, the same phenomenon may be observed:  we see John 7:52, followed by 8:12, followed by 7:53-8:11, followed by 8:12.  According to Dr. Maurice Robinson’s collations of all Greek manuscripts of the pericope adulterae, this is also a feature of MSS 1050, 1349, and 2620.  No one was exclaiming, “Wait a minute.”  The inclusion of John 8:12 between John 7:52 and 7:53 was a practical way to ensure that the lector would easily complete the lection for Pentecost.
          Occasionally the usual lection-cycle was influenced by local adaptations.  In MS 449 (a two-volume manuscript; the Gospel of John is in the second volume), on fol. 116r, John7:52 ends at the end of a page.  Usually the lectionary apparatus (the lection-names and numbers, and symbols embedded in the text and/or in the margins, often accompanied by incipits, phrases to use when beginning to read a lection) would instruct the lector at this point to jump to the beginning of 8:12, by means of a hyperbale (“skip ahead”) symbol, typically written in red.      
The lectionary-based adaptation in MS 2751
resembles the format seen in MS 115
John 8:12 appears after 7:52, and after 8:11.
          In MS 449, however, the hyperbale symbol does not appear until after John 8:2, on the following page (which begins with 7:53).  That is not all:  before the hyperbale symbol, the text of 8:2 merges with the beginning of 8:12, so as to read, και πας ο λαος ηρχετο προς αυτον και καθισας εδιδασκεν αυτους λεγων εγω ειμι – that is, “and all the people came to him and, sitting down, he taught them, saying, ‘I am’” – and then the hyperbale symbol appears, instructing the lector to skip ahead to the arxou (“resume”) symbol on 117r, where 8:12 begins.          
          Apparently, in the lection-cycle where MS 449 was used, the Pentecost-lection included 7:53-8:2, so as to leave no material unused before the beginning of the lection for Saint Pelagia’s feast-day.
          (In case anyone is wondering, “Why would lectionary-influence cause 8:12 to be repeated instead of just being transplanted to follow John 7:52 in the passage assigned to be read on Pentecost?”, it should be noted that lections sometimes overlapped, and this is one such case:  John 8:12 concluded the lection for Pentecost, and also began the lection that was to be read on the fourth Thursday after Easter (typically identified in lectionary-related marginalia as Day 5 of Week 4); this lection consisted of John 8:12-20.)
MS 449, vol. 2, fol. 116v:  "hyperbale"
appears (in red) appears after John 8:2
(and part of 8:12) to instruct the lector
to skip ahead to 8:12
          Thus the mystery of the repeated occurrence of John 8:12 in MS 115 (and a few other manuscripts) is solved.  The factor that resolves this little puzzle – the influence of the lection-cycle – may suggest the resolution of some other mysteries that involve John 7:53-8:11:
           · If someone in an early church that used a basic lection-cycle (not a fully developed lection-series for every day of the year, but something limited mainly to Easter-time and other major holy days, including Pentecost) prepared a manuscript of the Gospels for a lector, with symbols intended to instruct the lector to skip from the end of John 7:52 to the beginning of John 8:12, and then such a copy was placed into the hands of a meticulous and mechanically-minded professional copyist who was unfamiliar with the lection-cycle, the copyist might misinterpret the symbols to mean that he, the copyist, ought to skip from the end of John 7:52 to the beginning of 8:12.  This would result in the instant loss of the 12 verses in between. 
          · If a manuscript were prepared in a locale where the Pentecost-lection included John 7:53-8:2, with symbols instructing the lector to skip from the end of 8:2 to the beginning of 8:12, and a professional copyist might misinterpret the symbols as if they were meant for him, the manuscript the copyist made would include John 7:53-8:2 but not 8:3-11.
          · Some copyists, in the course of preparing copies of the Gospels that they expected to be used for lection-reading, being aware of the difficulties that were caused for lectors by the presence of John 7:53-8:11 embedded in the Pentecost-lection, might simplify things by removing the whole section and placing it at the end of the Gospel of John.
          · Some copyists, in the course of preparing copies of the Gospels that they expected to be used for lection-reading, might take a more drastic step, and remove the passage from the Gospel of John so that the Pentecost-lection would be uninterrupted, and transplant the passage into Luke, at the end of chapter 21 – a location chosen not only because of the similarity between Luke 21:38 and John 8:2, but also because the lection for the annual feast-day for Saints Sergius and Bacchus, on October 7, consisted of Luke 21:12-19, and it was convenient to have the lection for the next day – October 8, the annual feast-day for Saint Pelagia – at the closest subsequent break in the narrative.           
            Forms of the text which would result from these four hypothetical scenarios all exist in the extant manuscripts: 
            · In approximately 270 Greek manuscripts, John 7:53-8:11 is not in the text of John at all.  (These manuscripts include the best representatives of the Alexandrian text.) 
            · In 18 manuscripts, John 7:53-8:2 follows 7:52, but verses 3-11 are absent.  (In minuscule 105 (Codex Ebnerianus), John 7:53-8:2 follows 7:52 in the text of John; John 8:3-11 was added after John chapter 21 by a medieval monk).  Evidence from the Aramaic lectionary (formerly known as the Palestinian Syriac lectionary) demonstrates that this arrangement was in use when the exemplars of its extant representatives were made. 
            · In three chief members of the family-1 group of manuscripts (1, 1582, and 2193), John 7:53-8:11 is not in chapters 7 and 8 of John, but is present after chapter 21.  A note in MSS 1 and 1582 states that the passage was found in an exemplar after the part that says, “Search and see that a prophet does not arise out of Galilee,” that is, after John 7:52.
            · In the group of manuscripts known as family 13, some manuscripts (13, 69, 124, 346, and others) have John 7:53-8:11 at the end of Luke 21.  

            The influence of the lection-cycle (in some cases, a simple series of selections for the major feast-days, and in other cases the substantially complete Byzantine lection-cycle) accounts for the unusual treatments of John 7:53-8:11 that are observed in the extant manuscripts of the Gospel of John.  (For example, it explains why the copyist of minuscule 225 placed John 7:53-8:11 before the passage that consists of the Pentecost-lection.) 
            One mystery that remains unexplained is the mysterious silence from many commentators (and professors) about the influence of the lection-cycle upon the text of John 7:53-8:11.  Commentators – especially commentators who endorse the Alexandrian text of the Gospels almost entirely – typically mention that many manuscripts do not have the passage – but they do not mention the relationships of these manuscripts, as if suddenly, one should count manuscripts instead of weigh them. 
          Commentators mention that in some manuscripts, the passage is accompanied by asterisks – but they only rarely mention that in 130 manuscripts, the asterisks accompany only John 8:3-11 – the lection for Saint Pelagia’s feast-day – and not John 7:53-8:2.  The commentators then describe the asterisks as expressions of scribal doubt, without even mentioning the possibility that the asterisks are merely part of the lectionary-related marginalia, intended (when alongside John 7:53-8:11) to convey that the passage should be skipped in the course of the Pentecost lection, or (when they accompany John 8:3-11 (with variations:  in Codex E the asterisks begin at 8:2; in MS 685 curvy lines appear, rather than asterisks)) to identify the lection to be read on Saint Pelagia’s feast-day. 
          Why does it seem that some commentators want their readers to see only some of the relevant evidence regarding John 7:53-8:11?  Why do some scholars, when discussing this passage, avoid mentioning that Jerome stated that he found it in many manuscripts, both Greek and Latin?  Why do scholars who advocate the Alexandrian text almost 100% seem so timid about allowing all the evidence to be displayed, and even more timid about allowing it to be seen in clear detail?
          Perhaps it is not such a mystery after all.  In any event, I think that researchers should refrain from proposing that the story about the adulteress should not be in the Bible until they have studied the evidence much more, and much more carefully, so as to be able to describe the relevant evidence thoroughly and accurately, and recognize the influence of the lection-cycle when it is right in front of their faces.  When they can do that, they might no longer want to make such a proposal.


John Podgorney said...

In his annotations in his *The Soveriegn Creator Has Spoken* Pickering shows how many MSS have a variant and the Alexandrian variant is used anyway. That is just sheer prejudice. I also noticed how Wallace sidestepped your remarks about his statement in a video. These guys are not intellectually honest. And solid work and research, James. I will read this several more times. Thanks.

Archepoimenfollower said...

Your explanation of the reason for the duplication is plausible but no more so than Dr. Wallace's! Both of you are conjecturing how something may have occurred! Neither one of you needs to dishonest for you to disagree. One of the disappointments that I have with the current interaction among those scholars who disagree about the priority of certain manuscripts or textual clusters is the unnecessary accusations that are made about scholars who take a different view! Can we not disagree as children of the King and still show kindness?


James Snapp Jr said...


I *am* being kind.

The explanation that I gave for the repetition of John 8:12 in MS 115 is a thousand times more plausible that the silly story that Dr. Wallace offered. I am confident that after taking the evidence into careful consideration, Dr. Wallace will agree that the repetition of John 8:12 in MS 115 is a lectionary-based format-adjustment, created so that both the Pentecost-lection and the lection for the Thursday of the fourth week after Easter would each form one uninterrupted block of text.

James Snapp, Jr.

Wayne said...

James, I want to get your book on this and study it further. I just read John chapter 8 this week in my Greek New Testament. It really blessed me. I know it's the truth!

Matthew M. Rose said...

Hi James,

What do you make of Δ (037)? There we have Jo.7:52, then the first 25% or so of 8:12, then a blank space that is almost large enough to fit the PA, (although it could fit John 8:2/3-11,) and then 8:12 again, and this time it's complete.

Since it's an old post, I understand if you don't want (or don't have time) to respond. Either way I'll check back in a few days. Thank you!