Saturday, August 20, 2022

Distigmai (Umlauts) - Solving the Mystery

           In 1995, the existence of “umlauts” (the symbol ¨) in the margin of Codex Vaticanus was discovered by Philip Payne.  In 2009 the “¨” symbol was renamed “distigme” (so, one distigme, two distigmai).   Payne’s initial analysis of the distigmai and their locations showed that whoever put these previously unnoticed symbols ito Vaticanus’ margin had done so with the intention of  denoting textual variants in the lines of text that they accompany in the manuscript.  

          The date at which the distigmai were added to the margin of Vaticanus has been a question.   Payne has insisted that some of the umlauts are as old as the initial production of Vaticanus in the 300s.  Others – especially Curt Niccum and Peter Head – have argued instead that they are much later – originating with Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda (1494-1573), who mentioned in a letter to Erasmus that he had noted 365 readings in Codex Vaticanus.  Unfortunately we have almost no way of knowing what 365 readings these were.  (More on that shortly.)

          Peter Head’s case for the distigmai originating with Sepulveda is presented in two parts at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog in 2009 – Part One and Part Two.  Payne has defended his view in a series of verbose essays available at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog – Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, and Part Five. 

          One tell-tale sign that the distigmai – at least, some of the distigmai – were added centuries after the production of the manuscript is the existence of distigmai in the margin of Vaticanus’ supplemental pages (on which the text is written in minuscule).  A distigme can be observed, for example, in the leftmost margin of the first  supplemental page of Vaticanus in Hebrews, alongside line 12; another distigme appears alongside the second column alongside line 12; three horizontal dots also appear alongside Hebrews 11:11.  Of course the possibility cannot be ruled out that whoever made the supplemental pages for Hebrews in Vaticanus preserved the text, and the distigmai, from the now-non-extant pages of Vaticanus after they had suffered damage.  But this would require a scenario in which Codex Vaticanus’ original pages containing Hebrews 9:14-13:35 were intact up to the time when these minuscule pages were produced in the 1400s.   

          Distigmai, or symbols similar to distigmai, have also been found in Latin manuscripts.  Examples of the use of triple-dots and/or double-dots in manuscripts’ margins can be seen here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and elsewhere.  Distigmai-use may thus be more likely to be an arrow in the quiver, so to speak, of someone familiar with a Latin transmission-line – such as the Vulgate’s transmission-line – than of a scribe producing Codex Vaticanus in the 300s. 

          Now let’s look into exactly what Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda wrote about Vaticanus in 1533.  His letter to Erasmus is near the beginning of this book at Hathi Trust – also at Google Books – in Book 1 (Liber 1), Epistola IIII.  The relevant portion, beginning on page-view 30,  (beginning with Est enim Greecum exemplar antiquissimum) may be roughly translated as follows:

Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda  

          ”There is a very ancient Greek copy in the Vatican Library, in which both Testaments are written very carefully and accurately in majuscule letters, which is very different from the ordinary copies.  For after being informed by Stunica, I was anxious to look into the matter, and to compare  the books.  Now this copy is the most correct of all, as attested by its antiquity and by the diligence of the scribe, and by the fact that it agrees so much with our old translation. 

          “Regarding the latter, there can be no doubt that it was based on a very correct exemplar, and handed down to us by our elders.   Since therefore the other books should be emended and conformed to this copy, to make a standard [edition], you may see for yourself what should be done.  You should consider it demonstrated that when the common Greek edition differs from our old translation, it differs in ways which often match this copy in the Vatican also.  To show this, we have noted three hundred and sixty-five places of variation in the text.”

          This is, at least, the form in which Sepulveda’s letter (from 1533) was printed (in 1557).  But there was at least one individual intervening in the preparation of the 1557 book:  Francisco de Ledesma.  I think it is worth considering the possibility that Sepulveda, instead of writing about “three hundred and sixty-five” places in the text of Vaticanus that he informed Erasmus about - CCCLXV written in Roman numerals – wrote instead about seven hundred and sixty-five places - DCCLXV written in Roman numerals.  In which case, the number of readings which Sepulveda examined to see if Erasmus’ compilation or the Vulgate agreed with Codex Vaticanus would be approximately the same as the number of distigmai in the manuscript. 

          (An exact tally of distigmai in Codex Vaticanus is more difficult to make than one might think, because some symbols who may appear to be distigmai are imprints from the wet ink of a distigmai on the opposite page, and sometimes in the margin of the manuscript there are pairs of dots that might be merely the effects of accidental contact of a scribe’s pen to the parchment.  But 765 seems like a good estimate – as Philip Payne wrote, “Throughout the margins of the Vaticanus NT are approximately 765 pairs of dots resembling a dieresis or umlaut” in his “The Originality of Text-Critical Symbols in Codex Vaticanus.  Wieland Willker offers a "master list' of 801 distigmai here and a list of 48 imprints here.)

          Earlier I mentioned that we have almost no way of knowing what readings Sepulveda listed for Erasmus.  Almost.  But Scrivener reported (in Plain Introduction, ed. 4, p. 105 – the page-number varies in other editions) that Erasmus, in his 1535 Annotationes to Acts, cited the reading καδα in Acts 27:16 as supported by a manuscript in the Pontifical Library – and Codex Vaticanus (along with a corrector of Sinaiticus, a manuscript which was unknown to Erasmus) is the only Greek manuscript in which this reading is attested. 

Acts 27:16 in Vaticanus (replica)
(notice that the upsilon in hupodramontes
is not reinforced)
          Turning to Acts 27:16 in Codex Vaticanus, we observe that in the very last line of the third column, “ΚΑΥΔΑ” appears in the text, and a distigme is in the left margin alongside it.  This is strong evidence that here in Acts 27:16 we are looking at one of the readings that Sepulveda noted in the early 1500s – and since that is the case, we are probably looking at the means by which he signalled the differences between Codex Vaticanus and Erasmus’ manuscripts:  with a distigme.  [Update (Aug. 25):  Andrew Brown reports in a comment at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog about three other readings mentioned in Erasmus' 1535 Annotationes, at Mark 1:2, Luke 10:1, and Luke 23:46 - each of which is accompanied by a distigmai in Codex Vaticanus.]

          Additional evidence that the distigmai were added by Sepulveda in the 1500s (and not by a scribe in the 300s) may be found when we look at two distigmai specifically:  first, at the end of the Gospel of John in Codex Vaticanus, alongside the blank space that follows the end of John 21, there is a distigme in the left margin (appromimately 20 lines below the closing-title for the Gospel of John).   This makes sense as an indicator of the story of the adulteress in MS 1 (a manuscript which Erasmus used), in which the passage known to modern-day readers as John 7:53-8:11 has been transplanted to this location) but I cannot imagine why anyone in the 300s would put a distigme here. 

          Second, in First John 5:7 in Vaticanus, a three-horizontal-dot symbol – that is, a distigme with an extra dot – accompanies First John 5:7, one line above the line where the Comma Johanneum appeared in Erasmus’ text (but does not appear in the text of any Greek manuscripts until the late Middle Ages – specifically, in Greek manuscripts influenced by the Latin text of First John, where the reading originated).  (This appears in the middle column of the page, on the sixth line from the bottom.) Sepulveda would have been aware of this reading, due to Erasmus’ inclusion of it in his third edition (1522) of the Greek New Testament.  But it is extremely unlikely that a scribe of Vaticanus in the 300s would be aware of this variant.

          Also – as Head mentioned in 2009 – near the beginning of the book of Hebrews (on a page I examined here in 2017), a distigme appears to the right of the middle column.  It seems that this location was chosen for the distigme because the usual location (to the left side of the middle column) was already occupied by a scribal note – which means that this distigme cannot be earlier than that note.

          This should impact the claims of some writers (Dan Wallace, Mike Winger) who have apparently assumed that the distigmai are early components of Codex Vaticanus.   It may also impel a reassignment of the dating of the reinforcement of the lettering in Codex Vaticanus (no small project!) to a period contemporary with Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda.  (See four lines of unreinforced writing in the middle column of page 1483.)




Alexander Thomson said...

Excellent work, James! Thank you!

Sally Jo Shelton said...

James, Thank you for this helpful study and thanks for the helpful links. In your link to Cyprianus in the first "here" link, there are symbols/letters beside the distigma with an extra dot. Any idea what that might be? I will share this study with others. James Shelton

Richard Fellows said...

Thanks, James. Leaving aside the distigmai in Vaticanus, is 1 Cor 14:34-35 nevertheless an interpolation? What is your opinion? I fear that we have spent too long attacking Payne's arguments and avoided Fee's. How to explain the transposition?

Peter Gurry said...

Great work, James!

James Snapp Jr said...

Richard Fellows,
I do not think I Cor. 14:34-35 is an interpolation but I think Curt Niccum's and D.A. Carson's responses to Fee will have to do for today. Here they are.

D.A. Carson at

Curt Niccum at

James Snapp Jr said...

James Shelton,
<< In your link to Cyprianus in the first "here" link, there are symbols/letters beside the distigma with an extra dot. Any idea what that might be? >>

I haven't attempted to decipher them but I expect it would be easy to decipher for someone with the requisite familiarity with how Latin was written when the MS was made.

Btw, if you can track down Codex Vindobonensis 962 (described by H. L. Ramsey in "Our Oldest MSS of St. Cyprian, III: The Contents and Order of the Manuscripts L N P," JTS 3 (1902): 585-594) you will see some umlauts, and Greek in the margin. I had wanted to feature it in this blog-post, but, alas, I have forgotten how to find it since the time I looked at images of it online (I think) in 2008. (Tommy Wasserman reports about my report about it in 2008 at (alas, many of the links there are broken).

hefin said...

I would suggest spulveda was using Erasmus 4th edition comparing both Erasmus Greek with Vaticanus and Erasmus own translation with the Vulgate that Erasmus had supplied in the third column. I think in 1 Cor I have detected at least one distigma that corresponds to a Latin translation variant, and another that corresponds to a TR vs Complutensian reading where TR agrees with Vaticanus and places where Vaticanus and Erasmus disagree. Comparing all three columns of Erasmus 4 edition and Vaticanus plus Erasmus annotations in the same volume. Spulveda would be aware of Complutensian readings directly from Stunica.

Timothy N. Mitchell said...

Great article James! Extremely helpful and well argued.

Demian said...

The seeds of an overreliance on codex Vaticanus for textual criticism stood out to me in those 2 paragraphs in Sepulveda's letter. If I can rebuke him posthumously (assuming that he was the author of those marks in codex B)... Man, add those umlauts to Erasmus' manuscripts, not to the codex itself ;-)

Maurice A. Robinson said...

As I noted in parallel on the ETC blog:
One still has to contend with the observation from Payne and Canart in relation to scientific spectral analysis—particularly of unretouched umlauts in Vaticanus—that the ink of the umlauts precisely matches the unretouched ink of the original hand. I doubt Sepulveda or a late Renaissance scribe could have done that.

James Snapp Jr said...

Maurice A. Robinson,
<< the ink of the umlauts precisely matches the unretouched ink of the original hand >>

To which distigmai, specifically, do you refer?


Bob Relyea said...

RE: I Cor. 14:34-35

So it looks like the distigma is actually at 1 Cor. 14:33a. There is a paragraphing difference between Erasmus and almost all the manuscripts out there, including Vaticanus. With the evidence presented here that the other distigmai may actually be from Spulveda, it's highly likely that this distigma is also 16th century marking the difference in where the paragraph marker goes. There's an paper in last quarters JBL by Alesja Lavrinovica detailing the issues with 1 Cor 14:33a (JBP Volume 141, No 1. 2022 "The Syntactic Flexibility of 1 Corinthians 14:33b" pp 157-175.

This would significantly weaken Payne's argument that the 'peach' distigmai are different from the others, and more ancient.

A said...

Greetings! I was undecided whether to make such a comment or not .... I read both Payne's writing and Edward Miller's research on distigma and reading this blog inevitable questions arise for me to ask the promoter of this counter - '' theory '' on authenticity of the distigmas:
questions about the same letter:
1) .... To show this, we have noted three hundred and sixty-five places of variation in the text ...

this initial point raises two questions to me: how do you necessarily apply it to the distigma of writing, given that it actually speaks of annotations; and beyond that the distigmas are also in the old testament (Sepúlveda would have used the same method as the scribe in the old testament: very strange!, not to mention the ethical implications of retouching such an ancient and respected manuscript!); Then I would like to know what '' evidence '' the promoters of this theory bring to support the fact that Ledesma made a mistake in counting the '' annotations '' (note not double points!) From 365 to 765.

2) There are some studies published on the coloring of double dots and if I remember correctly at least 14 with the same color of the oldest writing: Sepúlveda would have varied the touch of the distigma (from annotations as it is written in the letter we pass to points, not even the use of double dots are implied in the context!) and would have used the same type of pen as the text ...

So ultimately I would ask:
1) '' proofs '' demonstrating Ledesma's error in counting the annotations

2) '' proofs '' that show that the annotations are actually the points and not the actual annotations; and how you use the same method of the writer in the margins of the old testament

3) how it is possible such a variation of color between the various distigmas by the alleged action of Sepúlveda

Michael C said...

Perhaps I’m missing something but if these distigmai are representing interpolation and/or contested texts why such a late review (i.e. Payne 1995) in modern textual criticism?

James Snapp Jr said...

Michael C.,
Mainly because I took my time strolling toward conclusions on the subject. :-)