Usually, when a textual critic encounters a manuscript, it’s taken for granted that its text was written down by a single copyist. But this is not always the case, especially with large manuscripts. In Codex Sinaiticus, for example, “Scribe A” is the moniker given to the scribe who copied the New Testament – but the diorthōtēs (proof-reader/supervisor) who oversaw the production of the manuscript, and who was probably responsible for selecting the exemplars upon which it was based, also contributed three cancel-sheets, forming a total of 12 pages of the manuscript. (The diorthōtēs also wrote the opening verses of Revelation.) Each cancel-sheet consists of a double-sided parchment page connected to another double-sided parchment page. Scribe D’s cancel-sheets contain
(1) Matthew 16:9-18:12 (front and back),
(2) Matthew 24:36-26:6 (front and back),
(3) Mark 14:54-16:8 and Luke 1:1-56 (front and back and front and back),
(4) First Thessalonians 2:14-First Thessalonians 5:28, (front and back) and
(5) Hebrews 4:16-8:1 (front and back).
The intrusion of a different scribe upon the work of another scribe at these points, replacing the main scribe’s work, is not indicated in the textual apparatus of the Nestle-Aland and UBS compilations.
What elicited the introduction of these cancel-sheets? Did the main copyist make a bad haplographic error, skipping a passage so big that the page he copied could not be salvaged? Had he made a huge dittographic mistake, writing a large portion of text twice?
Dr. Peter Head, in his 2008 article The Gospel of Mark in Codex Sinaiticus: Textual and Reception-Historical Considerations at TC-Journal, wrote, “We cannot know what was wrong with the original work of Scribe A at these points.” Let’s test that claim. We may not be able to know with certainty what elicited the removal of Sinaiticus’ initial pages, to the same extent that we know that diamonds are hard, but we can make some relevant deductions by looking in the cancel-sheets for evidence that Scribe D was supplying text that had been skipped by the first scribe, or that Scribe D was removing text that had been written twice by the first scribe. Probably nothing was drastically wrong on at least half of the replaced pages – but each folio had to be accepted as a unit.
The first step toward gaining some idea as to what elicited Sinaiticus’ cancel-sheets is to simply count the letters on each page, upon each of which the text is arranged in four columns. Then we can compare the amounts of letters on these pages to the amounts of letters typical of Scribe D (who also wrote the text in Codex Sinaiticus in Genesis, Tobit, the first part of Psalms, etc.).
An often-overlooked resource is particularly helpful here. In 1961, T.B. Smith completed the publication of Contributions to the Statistical Study of Codex Sinaiticus, which contained the research of his father-in-law Christian Tisdall (1878-1951). Tisdall’s work included an appendix in which he listed the letter-counts of each column in the New Testament portion of the manuscript. Using Tisdall’s data, here are the letter-counts for the replacement-pages. I have identified the cancel-pages by numbers (1,2,3,3,5,6), and by letters (r,v, representing recto and verse) for each individual page:
1r (Mt. 16:9-17:10) = Q75-f.2r):
1v (Mt. 17:10-18:12) = Q75-f.2v): 2,531 letters
2v (Mt. 25:21-26:6) = Q75-f.7v): 2,624 letters
3r (Mk. 14:54-15:16) = Q77-f.4r): 2,614 letters
3v (Mk. 15:16-16:1) = Q77-f.4v): 2,617 letters
4r (Mk. 16:2-Lk. 1:18) = Q77-f.5r): 1,960 letters
4v (Lk. 1:18-Lk. 1:56) = Q77-f.5v): 2,792 letters
5v (I Thess. 4:13-5:28) = Q85-f.3v): 1,940 letters
6r (Hebrews 4:16-6:18) = Q85-f.6r): 92] 2,551 letters
6v (Hebrews 6:18-8:1) = Q85-f.6v): 93] 2,482 letters
|Mt. 25:44 in Sinaiticus|
The second cancel-sheet has several consecutive columns of the text of Luke with a number of letters greatly exceeding the usual rate: the text in columns 11-16 of the cancel-sheet is written at an average rate of 691 letters per column. The main scribe had probably skipped a large segment of text; either consisting of 311 letters (by jumping from Εἶπεν δὲ Μαριὰμ at the beginning of v. 34 to Εἶπεν δὲ Μαριὰμ at the beginning of v. 38) or consisting of 319 letters (by jumping from Ἐγένετο at the beginning of v. 5 to the Ἐγένετο at the beginning of v. 8). The diorthōtēs had to compress his lettering quite thoroughly to fit the passage that had been skipped by the main scribe.
On the third cancel-sheet, the rate of letters-per-page on the second set of pages looks ordinary. The rate of letters-per-page is only slightly higher on the first page (containing I Thess. 2:14-4:13). The rate of letters-per-page is significantly lower on the second page (containing I Thess. 4:13-5:28): it hold just 1,940 letters. This is due mainly to the end of I Thessalonians in the fourth column, followed by the closing title, after which the rest of the column is blank. A blunder of the main scribe probably affected the portion of text on this page, but its nature cannot be determined.