Monday, March 25, 2013

Random Copyist Omissions

When dealing with manuscripts, the phenomenon of parablepsis is commonly recognized. Copyists often left out words, phrases, and even longer strings of text when their eyes accidentally skipped from one word or phrase to another with a similar sequence of letters, inadvertently omitting the intervening text. Anyone who has read standard handbooks on textual criticism in any field will be familiar with the terms parablepsis, homoioarcheton, and homoioteleuton, which are used to describe this. These errors are relatively frequent and easy to spot.

But one thing I do not recall ever reading about is the apparently random omission of words or phrases. Not all accidental omissions are obviated by clear visual triggers. Sometimes words were just missed without any apparent cause. My recent work with 4QExod-c has yielded a few good examples to look at.

5 31 (Ex 8:8)

ויצא משה ואהרן מעם̇ פ̇ר̇ע֯ה ו̇יצעק משה֯ אל יהוה̇
 And Moses and Aaron exited from before {Pharaoh}. And Moses cried out to the LORD.

Here the scribe accidentally omitted the word Pharaoh, which was secondarily added (apparently by a second hand, according to Sanderson). There is no obvious visual cause for the omission, but the shorter text is nonsensical (the meaning "people" would not be appropriate here). The scribe simply missed the word.

32 i 7 (Ex 12:37)

ויסעו בני ישראל מרעמסס סכתה כש̇ש {א֗} מאו̇ת אלף ר̇גלי ה̇גברים  
 And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six {thou-} hundred thousand footmen.

Here the scribe accidentally skipped the word hundred, and began to write the following word thousand, which would put the number of Israelite footmen at 6000, rather than 600,000! This would have provided a convenient text-critical explanation of the large numbers of Exodus, except that the scribe realized his mistake and erased the א, replacing it with the correct text. If he had not done so, textual critics would have had a very hard time explaining this reading, since there are no obvious triggers for parablepsis.

37 2 (Ex ?:?)

ויבא משה ואהרן אל פרעה ולא שמע 
 So entered Moses {and Aaron to} Pharaoh, but he did not listen.

This example is difficult, because it is hard to figure out what is going on. Sanderson reconstructs the text as above, but she cannot place the fragment in any known text of Exodus. Alternatively, perhaps the first verb was וידבר he spoke? If either of these verbs is reconstructed, the primary text is left non-sensical, since it lacks not only Moses' collaborator, but also the preposition connecting Moses to Pharaoh. A secondary correction (possibly the original scribe, according to Sanderson) added both Aaron and the requisite preposition. Whatever the context of this fragment, the preserved text of the main line seems to be impossible, and yet it has no obvious visual trigger.

This is a very select group of examples, but it does prove the point that such apparently random omissions do occur. In fact, in 4QExod-c, they are nearly as common as omissions with clear visual triggers. Another possible fruitful avenue to consider could be transpositions, which are often thought to have occurred largely when a copyist accidentally skipped the first word or phrase and inserted it later. The main point to draw from this discussion is this: not every shorter reading should be preferred, even if there is no obvious visual trigger for parablepsis. Scribes sometimes made mistakes that leave no clear evidence of their cause, and we must be careful not to adopt these readings in our critical texts.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

3rd University of Birmingham Biblical Studies Postgraduate Day Conference Call for Papers

On behalf of the organizing committee, I am proud to announce that we will be hosting the 3rd University of Birmingham Biblical Studies Postgraduate Day Conference on 3 July 2013 in Birmingham, UK. This conference is aimed at postgraduate researchers from across the UK. Our theme this year will be "Unity and Diversity in Text and Tradition," which promises to spark many lively discussions. We are now accepting paper proposals of no more than 300 words. Please e-mail me your paper proposals no later than 15 April 2013.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Online Greek Paleography Resource

Christian Askeland has pointed out a helpful resource for Greek paleography. PapPal has a databank of images of dated Greek papyri for help in dating undated manuscripts.