2016, an interesting text-critical thesis was proposed in Harvard
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.
theory has been getting some attention;
in 2018, Candida Moss (of Notre Dame University) concluded an
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.”
July of 2019, Elizabeth Schrader, the thesis-writer, made an appearance at the Religion for Breakfast
promoting the theory.
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
to demonstrate that
Martha is not an addition to the Gospel of John, one needs to do the following:
● explain the unusual readings
● explain why
the names are always changing in John 11:5.
why there’s only one sister in so much early artwork.
why there is not similar confusion involving the names of Mary and Martha in
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
● THE UNUSUAL READINGS IN JOHN 11:1-3
IN PAPYRUS 66
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.
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 Μαρι
ας and replacing
it with the letter theta
, so as to
This kind of mistake is not particularly
unusual for this copyist; he made at least 15
of dittography (writing twice what should be written once)
in the text of John.
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
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
, 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
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.
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.
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
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 DIFFERENT ORDERS OF NAMES IN JOHN
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
ἠγάπα δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς τὴν Μάρθαν καὶ
τὴν ἀδελφὴν αὐτῆς καὶ τὸν Λάζαρον.
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
543, 565, 828, and others), the members of which share other textual features,
such as unusual placements of the pericope adulterae
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.”
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.
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.
● THE RESURRECTION OF
LAZARUS IN EARLY CHRISTIAN ARTWORK
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
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
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
, 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
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?
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.
● THE STABILITY OF
NAMES IN LUKE 10:38-42
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.
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.
● THE TEXT OF JOHN
11:1 IN CODEX ALEXANDRINUS
In Codex Alexandrinus
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.
copyist initially wrote out this verse, however, he made another, more
significant mistake (which was detected by the researcher Cowper
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
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.
● IS “ΑΥΤΗ” IN JOHN 11:4 A DATIVE FEMININE SINGULAR?
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.”
copyist of P66 wasn’t the only scribe to do so.
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
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
translator of the Latin text in the Old Latin Codex Carotensis (VL
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.
● WHO SERVES SUPPER
IN JOHN 12:2?
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.
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?
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.
[In the first posting of this post, I had the words απεστιλεν and απεστιλαν mixed up. My bad.]