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Re-inking the Pen: Evidence from P. Oxy. 657 (P13) Concerning Unintentional Scribal Errors

  • P. M. Head (a1) and M. Warren (a1)

New Testament textual critics customarily discuss scribal errors under two headings: intentional errors and unintentional, accidental, or involuntary errors. Intentional errors are those made deliberately in order to improve or correct the text and involve corrections made to spelling or grammar, harmonisation to other passages (whether in the immediate context, in a parallel passage, or in an Old Testament source), and liturgical or theological enhancement. These might all be traced to the conscious activity of the scribe.1 Unintentional errors, on the other hand, can be distinguished (in theory at least) as arising not from conscious scribal activity but from involuntary mistakes of eye, ear, memory, judgment, pen or speech.2 These errors involve accidental additions, especially dittography (writing twice something that is only once in the exemplar), omissions, either by haplography (writing once something that is twice in the exemplar) or through homoioteleuton (a confusion due to similar endings of words or lines in the exemplar), or other sorts of confusions of letters or words.3

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1 For examples see Vaganay L. & Amphoux C.-B., An Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism (ET; Cambridge: CUP, 1991) 5761;Metzger B. M., The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration (New York & Oxford: OUP, 1968 2nd edition) 195206;Aland K. & B., The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism (ET; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987) 284–6.

2 These categories come from Robertson A. T., An Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1925) 150–5.

3 For examples see Vaganay & Amphoux, Introduction, 53–7;Metzger, Text, 186–95;Aland, Text, 277–82.

4 E.g. Vaganay & Amphoux, Introduction, 53 (on accidental omission due to distraction); Metzger, Text, 194 (on ‘stupid or sleepy scribes’). Jerome, Preface to the Vulgate Gospels (AD 383).

5 Aland, Text, 280. Cf. Quintilian's statement: fatigue will make us careless in writing’ (Quintilian Institutio Oratoria 10.3.27 –although here recomposition rather than copying).

6 Kenyon F. G., Books and Readers in Ancient Greece and Rome (Oxford: Clarendon, 1951, 2nd edition) 72 & 73 respectively.

7 Cf. Pliny: ‘reeds serve as pens for writing on paper (chartisque serviunt calami), especially Egyptian reeds owing to their kinship as it were with the papyrus; although the reeds of Cnidus and those that grow around the Anaetic lake in Asia are more esteemed’ (Nat. Hist. 16.64.157; from Loeb, ed. H. Rackham); cf. also Martial Ep. 14.38: ‘The land of Memphis gives reeds handy for writing. With reeds from other swamps let your roof be thatched’ (ET from Loeb, 1993; ed. D. R. Shackleton Bailey). Physical examples are common enough, e.g. British Museum GR 1906.10–22.18 (photograph in Gaur A., A History of Writing. Revised Edition [London: British Library, 1992] 52); BM Egyptian Ant. 38145–6 and 43048 (referred to by Cockle W. E. H., ‘Restoring and Conserving Papyri’, BICS 30 (1983) 147–65, see p. 150 n. 52); also see Avrin L., Scribes, Scripts and Books (London: British Library, 1991) 146 for plate of reed pens in Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

8 A first century account which includes ‘wax and stilus for the children’ (кηροῦ кαὶ γραϕείου παιδ(ῶν), P. Oxy. 736.16) supports the idea that the easy erasure of wax tablets would make them preferable for certain conditions, such as children learning to write.

9 For use by scribes in ‘biblical’ literature see Ps 44.2 LXX: the кάλαμος of a ready scribe; 3 Mace 4.20 speaks of τοὺς γπαϕιкοὺς кαλάμους (‘the pens used for writing’; cf. P. Grenf. 2.38.7: кάλαμοι γραϕιкοί); 3 John 13: πολλὰ εἶχον γράψαι σοι, άλλ’ οὺ θέλω διὰ μέλανος кαὶ кαλάμον σοι γράϕειν: here the μέλας, refers to black ink (cf. 2 Cor 3.3; 2 John 12) and кάλαμος to the reed-pen (elsewhere in the NT used of ‘reed’ in general: Matt 11.7//Luke 7.24; Matt 12.20; 27.29– 30//Mark 15.19; Matt 27.48//Mark 15.36; or of a reed ‘measuring staff’: Rev 11.1; 21.15f.; cf. Ezek 40.3 etc.).

10 Greenlee J. H., Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism (Grand Rapids: Eerd-mans, 1964) 23; cf. also Vaganay & Amphoux, Introduction, 7;Hatch W. H. P., The Principal Uncial Manuscripts of the New Testament (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1939) 13;Murphy-O'Connor J., Paul the Letter-Writer: His World, His Options, His Skills (Collegeville, Minnesota: M. Glazier/Liturgical, 1995) 2–3. See further Gardthausen V., Griechische Palaeo-graphie (2nd ed.; Leipzig, 19111913) 1.182ff.;Schubart W., Das Buck bei den Griechen und Römern (2nd ed.; Berlin & Leipzig: W. de Gruyter, 1921) 2832.

11 π]αρατέθειкα τῆι μητρὶ Фιλου[μέν]ηι τὸ βροχίον τοῦ μέλανος кαὶ τοὺς к[αλά]μους αὶ τὸ σμελίο[ν ὄ]πως λαкήσῃ τοὺς кαλάμονς γεγρ[αμ]μένους кαὶ τ[ὸν] τριβαкὸν… (The Oxyrhynchus Papyri vol. 2 [1899] 306–7;Olsson B., Papyrusbriefe aus der frühesten Römerzeit (Uppsala: Almquist & Wiksells, 1925) 95–6, who argued [with the support of Hunt] for λαкηση over against the editio princeps which read γαкηση).

12 Ink, pen and sponge all at 1 obol; see A. Boak E. R., Papyri from Tebtunis. Part 1 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1933) 98100 for discussion. For other references to reed-pens in accounts from the papyri see P. Oxy. 742 (2 BC – 1,000 bundles for 15 drachmae); P. Oxy. 521.21 (II AD) and P. Fouad 74.9 (IV AD) (кάλμον άντιοχήσιον). Phanias, in a dedicatory epigram for a certain Ascondas, refers to the following implements: the penknife (δοναкογλύϕον, lit: reed-cutter), the sponge for wiping pens, the ruler (кανόνισμα) for marking margins, the paper-weight that marks the place (?), the well-blackened ink-horn (τὸν εὐμέλανον βροχίδα), the tongs (or ‘compass’, кαρкίνος) for drawing circles, the pumice-stone (кίσηρις) for smoothing …’ (Greek Anthology 6.295; ET from Loeb, ed. W. R. Paton); cf. other lists of writing equipment in similar epigrams in Greek Anthology 6.62–5.

13 Quintilian Institutio Oratoria 10.3.31 (quoted from H. E. Butler's Loeb Edition). Cf. Demosthenes whose habit was to chew on his calamus thoughtfully while planning his composition (Plutarch Demosthenes 29).

14 Persius Flaccus, Satire 3.10–14, 19 (from Loeb; ed. G. G. Ramsay). We could compare Cicero's comment in a letter to his brother: ‘For this letter I shall use a good pen (calamo bono), well-mixed ink, and ivory-polished paper too. For you write that you could hardly read my last …’ Ep. Quint. Fratrem 2.15b.l (July 27 54 BC) (ET from Loeb ed. W. Glynn Williams).

15 Plate 10 in Turner E. G., Greek Manuscripts of the Ancient World. Second Edition Revised and Enlarged (ed. Parsons P. J.; BICS Supp 46; London: ICS, 1987) 35.

16 Ward-Perkins J. and Claridge A., Pompeii AD 79. Treasures from the Archaeological Museum, Naples with contributions from the Pompeii Antiquarium and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Boston, MA: Museum of Fine Arts, 1978) vol. 2.203 (NB bronze pen and ink well photographed on same page).

17 This connection is suggested by the imagery of Ps 45.1 and is attested in literature as diverse as Plato Phaedrus 61 (p. 276c); Quintilian (cited above); P. Oxy. 326 (cited above); P. Mich. 123 Verso X.8; 3 John 13; Synesius Epistolae 157 (c. AD 400).

18 A notable example is Codex Laudianus (E; 6th century) which exhibits a pattern of alternating darker and lighter letters. In this case the re-inking appears to have taken place as often as every four or five letters; see plate 22 in Metzger B. M., Manuscripts of the Greek Bible: An Introduction to Palaeography (New York & Oxford: OUP, 1981, corrected edition 1991) 96.

19 Editio princeps: Grenfell B. P. & Hunt A. S. (eds.), The Oxyrhynchus Papyri TV (London: Egypt Exploration Society, 1904) 3648 (hereafter = GH). For a survey of proposed dates see Aland K. (ed.), Reportorium der Griechischen Christlichen Papyri (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1976) 232. For another small portion of the same manuscript see Bartoletti V. & Norsa M., PSI Xll (1951) 209–10.

20 See Grenfell & Hunt, The Oxyrhynchus Papyri IV, 46–8 for notes on these corrections.

21 Gignac F. T., A Grammar of the Greek Papyri of the Roman and Byzantine Periods. Volume One. Phonology (Milan: Istituto Editoriale Cisalpino – La Goliardica, 1975) 191: many examples in both directions are cited on pp. 192–3.

22 Attridge H. W., A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989) 113.

23 This has been demonstrated in the case of Old Testament citations in Hebrews by Cadwallader A. H., ‘The Correction of the Text of Hebrews towards the LXX’, NT 34 (1992) 257–92, see note 40 on pp. 264–5 for discussion of this passage.

24 Westcott B. F. & Hort F. J. A., The New Testament in the Original Greek: Introduction (London: Macmillan & Co., 1881, 1896 reprint) 31. It is hoped that further study of P. Oxy 657 might contribute to our knowledge of its scribal characteristics and thus play a part in evaluating its witness to the NT text, especially in the singular reading discussed, but not resolved, above.

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