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A Scribal Solution to a Problematic Measurement in the Apocalypse

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 March 2010

Juan Hernández Jr
Bethel University, 3900 Bethel Drive, St. Paul, MN 55112-6999 email:


Orthographic variation within the manuscripts of the Greek NT is seldom a cause célèbre beyond the ranks of diehard textual critics. Even among these most will concede that orthographic irregularities amount to little more than evidence of scribal incompetency or inconsistency in their spelling practices. To find the same word both spelled correctly and misspelled within a single manuscript by the same scribe is not uncommon. It approaches the norm. The critical editions of our Greek NTs have therefore opted, on good grounds, to exclude textual variants displaying non-standardized spelling. To include them would make it impossible for anyone to use the critical apparatuses in a meaningful way. The deluge of senseless errors would drown out variants of demonstrable textual significance.

Short Study
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2010

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1 For a dated, but still indispensable treatment of orthographic variation in Greek papyri in antiquity, see Gignac, Francis Thomas, A Grammar of the Greek Papyri of the Roman and Byzantine Periods (2 vols.; Milan: Istituto Editoriale Cisalpino, 1975)Google Scholar. For discussions of orthographic variation in specific NT manuscripts, see Parker, D. C., Codex Bezae: An Early Christian Manuscript and its Text (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University, 1992) 107–11CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Hernández, Juan Jr, Scribal Habits and Theological Influences in the Apocalypse: The Singular Readings of Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus and Ephraemi (WUNT 2/218; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006), 60–2, 103–4, 138–40Google Scholar; Jongkind, Dirk, Scribal Habits of Codex Sinaiticus (ed. Parker, D. C. and Taylor, D. G. K.; TS 3/5; Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias, 2007) 90–4, 147–50, 170–2, 204–5, 223–5Google Scholar; Royse, James R., Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri (ed. Ehrman, Bart D. and Epp, Eldon Jay; NTTSD 36; Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2008) 119–20, 244–54, 370–2, 490–2, 570–7, 647–51Google Scholar.

2 This is particularly true of the ει > ι variation. Case in point is the phrase ὡς μελι in codex Sinaiticus, which is spelled according to lexical standard in Rev 10:9, but rendered ὡς μέλει a few lines later in Rev 10.10. See Tischendorf, A. F. C., Novum Testamentum Sinaiticum cum Epistula Barnabae et Fragmentis Pastoris (2 vols.; Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1863) 2.130Google Scholar.

3 Not only are such readings excluded from the apparatus, but misspellings are standardized in the text of the critical editions of the Greek NT.

4 Tischendorf, Novum Testamentum Sinaiticum, 2.134.

5 In both NA27 and UBS4.

6 I add the accent to indicate that I am now talking about the actual word χιλός and not the itacism for χεῖλος. Words with itacistic spelling are not accented in this paper.

7 And therefore appropriately judged ‘per incuriam’ by Tischendorf. See Novum Testamentum Graece (3 vols.; Leipzig, 8th ed. 1884–94) 2.1033.

8 The only attested spelling error for τεῖχος in this manuscript is the ει > ι switch. Τεῖχος is spelled τιχος in Rev 21.12, 14 (Tischendorf, Novum Testamentum Sinaiticum, 2.134) and τείχους is spelled τιχους in Acts 9.25; 2 Cor 11.33; Rev 21.18, 19 (Tischendorf, Novum Testamentum Sinaiticum, 2.105*, 79, 134). Only twice is the word spelled according to lexical standards: τεῖχη in Heb 11.30 (Tischendorf, Novum Testamentum Sinaiticum, 2.93*) and τεῖχος in Rev 21.15 (Tischendorf, Novum Testamentum Sinaiticum, 2.134*). Weiss argues that the switch from τεῖχος to χιλος could not have arisen on the basis of a similarity of sounds: ‘Aber es finden sich auch hier Verschreibungen, zu denen die Lautähnlichkeit kaum Anlass gab, wie die…χιλος statt τειχος…’ (Weiss, Die Johannes-Apokalypse: Textkritische Untersuchungen und Textherstellung [TU 7/1; Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1891] 61). While Weiss is no doubt correct in this judgment, he offers no explanation for the origin or function of the variant.

9 These include: νκ > κγ (1 × ); νχ > γχ (1 × ); νκ > γκ (1 × ); νγ > γγ (1 × ); ζ > σ (1 × ); θ > τ (1 × ); ξ > σ (1 × ); ζ > δ (1 × ); δ > ζ (1 × ). See Hernández, Scribal Habits and Theological Influences, 60–2.

10 By ‘scribe’ I refer only to scribe A, who transcribed the text of the Apocalypse with the exception of its first 34 ½ lines (Rev 1.1–5, up to and including the word νεκρῶν). Scribe A also copied the rest of the NT, except for its ‘cancel-leaves’ and the last 8 lines of John's Gospel (See Milne, H. J. M. and Skeat, T. C., Scribes and Correctors of the Codex Sinaiticus [Oxford: Oxford University, 1938], 18)Google Scholar. This allows us to track orthographic variations transmitted by the scribe over a large swath of material. As for the ει > ι variation, these are too numerous to itemize. Examples in Revelation include: εχις > ἔχεις (2.3); αποκθανιν > ἀποκθανεῖν (3.2), etc. See Tischendorf, Novum Testamentum Sinaiticum, 2.126–7.

11 Tischendorf, Novum Testamentum Sinaiticum, 1.9, 22*.

12 Tischendorf, Novum Testamentum Sinaiticum, 2.63, 121.

13 Tischendorf, Novum Testamentum Sinaiticum, 2.93*.

14 Tischendorf, Novum Testamentum Sinaiticum, 2.73*, 94*.

15 LSJ, 1982.

16 The antecedent of the personal pronoun in the phrase τὸ χεῖλος αὐτῆς is ἡ πόλις in Rev 21.16.

17 For one of the more recent, comprehensive discussions of wall dimensions in antiquity and its relationship to Rev 21.17, see Aune, David E., Revelation 17–22 (WBC 52c; Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998) 1162–3Google Scholar. The issue here, of course, is not what the Seer attempted to communicate in his original composition, but what a scribe or early reader might have understood (or misunderstood) upon reading the passage. The conspicuous appearance of χεῖλος in codex Sinaiticus appears to indicate an interpretative problem with the wall's dimensions.

18 Rev 21.9–22.5 is clearly modeled after Ezek 40–48, exhibiting many of the same words and themes. See Aune, Revelation 17–22, 1162.

19 Scharfstein, Sol, The Book of Haftarot for Shabbat, Festivals and Fast Days: An Easy to Read Commentary and Translation (New York: Ktav, 2007) 149Google Scholar.

20 As such, the city's ‘ledge’ could be a synecdoche for a ledge on the city's wall. Of course, it is also possible—as suggested to me by D. C. Parker—that the variant's insertion might not have even made literal sense to the person who made it. The reader might have picked up on the weird calculation, found a phrase in Ezekiel that fit the context and used it without a very clear sense of what the ‘shelf’ might be.

21 As noted in Tischendorf, Novum Testamentum Sinaiticum, 1.lxxvi.

22 Despite Colwell's call for omitting singular readings from the critical apparatus and restricting them to specialized studies (see Colwell, E. C., ‘Method in Evaluating Scribal Habits: P45, P66, P75Studies in Methodology in Textual Criticism of the New Testament [ed. Metzger, Bruce M.; NTTS 9; Leiden: Brill, 1969] 123)Google Scholar, NA27 includes a number of codex Sinaiticus' singular readings in its apparatus of the text of Revelation. This may be due to the Apocalypse's idiosyncratic textual history relative to the rest of the NT. The Apocalypse's comparatively meager textual support requires the inclusion of readings that might have been excluded in works with better attestation. In the first chapter of the book of Revelation, NA27 includes the following singular readings in its apparatus: ἁγίοις (1.1); the omission of αὐτόν (1.7); the omission of καὶ εἰς Σάρδεις (1.11) and μέσον (1.13). More are found throughout the rest of the apparatus. The inclusion of χεῖλος in the apparatus of Rev 21.17 would not be a departure from the well-established practice of the editors of NA27.

23 Hernández, Scribal Habits and Theological Influences in the Apocalypse, 76–82.

24 For example, there is no hint of a problem in the commentaries of Apringus of Beja, Oecumenius, Primasius and Andrew of Caesarea, all of whom interpret Rev 21.17 in a non-literal manner. (See Weinrich, William C., Revelation [ed. Oden, Thomas C.; ACCS 12; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2005] 371–2Google Scholar; Schmid, Josef, Der Apokalypse-Kommentar des Andreas von Kaisareia [Munich: Zink, 1955] 242, ll. 19–21)Google Scholar. However, early Christian sources also indicate that a literal reading of the Apocalypse posed a challenge for some, as indicated in the complaints of Eusebius of Caesarea (Hist. eccl. 3.39.11–13). The introduction of the variant χεῖλος may be a vestige of an early, literal reading of the Apocalypse.

25 On distinguishing between the various stages in the process of literary production/reproduction of manuscripts in antiquity, see Schmid, Ulrich, ‘Scribes and Variants: Sociology and Typology’, Textual Variation: Theological and Social Tendencies? (ed. Houghton, H. A. G. and Parker, D. C.; TS 3/6; Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias, 2008) 123Google Scholar. See also, in the same volume, Dirk Jongkind, ‘Singular Readings in Sinaiticus: The Possible, The Impossible, and the Nature of Copying’ and D. C. Parker, ‘Scribal Tendencies and the Mechanics of Book Production’, 35–54, 173–84.

26 On the challenges of distinguishing between editorial variants and readers' notes, see Schmid, ‘Scribes and Variants’, 16–23.