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 |
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
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 καῦδα 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)
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.)