Textual Evidence

Colwell on
Scribal Habits

Excerpt from: E.C. Colwell, "Method in Evaluating Scribal Habits: A study of P45, P66, P75", Studies in Methodology in TC of the NT, (Eerdmans, 1969)

Page Index

Colwell on Scribal Habits: - Haplography:
    Modern Conjectural Changes - and early scribal habits
    Classifying Readings - the correct approach
    The Most Common Errors - Haplography
    Character of Each MS - P45, P66, P75
    Footnotes - observations courtesy of Nazaroo

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Colwell on

Taken from:
E.C. Colwell,
"Method in Evaluating Scribal Habits: A study of P45, P66, P75",
Studies in Methodology in TC of the NT, (Eerdmans 1969)

Headings have been added for clarity and navigation purposes.

Colwell on Scribal Habits

A study of P45, P66, P75

Conjectural Changes and Scribal Habits

"In the last generation we have depreciated [devalued] external evidence of documents [MSS.] and have appreciated [raised the importance of] the internal evidence of readings; but we have blithely assumed that we were rejecting "conjectural emendation" if our conjectures were supported by some manuscripts.

"We need to recognize that the editing of an eclectic text rests upon conjectures. If these conjectures are to be soundly based, they must rest upon transcriptional probability [copyist errors] as well as intrinsic probability [authors' habits].

"If the conjectures as to transcriptional probability are to be soundly based, they must rest upon a knowledge of scribal habits."

"A careful study of what scribes actually did, with a resultant catalogue of readings produced by scribes, is essential for textual criticism." (p. 107)

"The present chapter is an initial step toward meeting the needs which have been mentioned. Its primary purpose is to increase skill in the evaluation of an individual scribe's habits, and thus to increase skill in the evaluation of that manuscript. Also its purpose is to gain knowledge of of the habits of scribes in general - of the processes of corruption - and thus to increase skill in the evaluation of readings. "

Singular Readings in Each Manuscript

"The singular readings of P45, P66, and P75 constitute the material for this study. ...this study is restricted to singular readings on the assumption that these readings are the creation of the scribe." (p. 108)

"P66 has 482,
P45 has 275,
P75 has 257 singular readings (not counting) itacisms." (p. 111)

Correct Method for Classification of Readings

"The primary classification of these readings must be based upon their genesis [i.e. what caused them] - not upon formal descriptive categories, nor upon the presence or absence of intention, nor upon the bodily organ responsible for error..."

"...readings were [formerly] classified ...as (a) omission, (b) addition, (c) transposition, or (d) substitution. When classifcation...is based upon these descriptive categories, the student has tacitly assumed knowledge of the original text...not yet attained."

"To speak of omissions, transpositions and the like does not help us to understand the habits of scribes. ... To base a primary classification of readings upon the presence or absence of intention is to anticipate the establishment of probabilities which must be established other ways.

There is always the risk of reading deliberate intention into unintended error." (p. 109-110)

The Most Common Errors: Haplography

"How shall we begin a classification of of the Singular Readings of the manuscripts based upon the nature of the origin of the readings?

Dain in his invaluable manual states that the most frequent scribal errors are:

(1) the leap from the same to the same (homoeoteleuton and homoeoarcton) and,

(2) the omission of short words.

- A. Dain, Les Manuscrits (Paris, 1940), pp. 43 ff

"Our scribes have a worse than average record:

The leap from same to the same is a familiar phenomenon to all students of manuscripts. It is really the case of the misplaced scribe. The scribe loses his place, looks around and finds the same word, or at least the same syllable or letter, and starts from there.

If he looks ahead to find his place, the result is a gap in the text. If he looks back, the result is a text twice written (dittography).

A special case of a gap caused by the leap is that where a word, or at least a syllable or a letter, is repeated immediately in the text. The writing of only one of these (haplography) causes the loss of the other.

P66 has 54 leaps forward, and 22 backward; 18 of the forward leaps are haplography.

P75 has 27 leaps forward, and 10 backward.

P45 has 16 leaps forward, and 2 backward.

From this it is clear that the scribe looking for his lost place looked ahead three times as often as he looked back. In other words, the loss of position usually resulted in the loss of text, an omission." (p. 112)

Summary: Character of Each Manuscript - P45, P66, P75

"In P75 the text that is produced can be explained in all its variants as the result of a single force, namely the disciplined scribe who writes with the intention of being careful and accurate. There is no evidence of revision of his work by anyone else, or in fact of any real revision, or check. Only one out of five of his singular readings (including nonsense readings) is corrected. The control had been drilled into the scribe before he started writing.

"P45 gives the impression of a scribe who writes without any intention of exactly reproducing his source. He writes with great freedom - harmonizing, smoothing out, substituting almost whimsically. Here again there is no evidence whatever of control by a second party (fewer than three singular readings per hundred are corrected), nor in fact of external controls of any kind.

"P66 seems to reflect a scribe working with the intention of making a good copy, falling into careless errors, particularly the error of dropping a letter, syllable, a word, or even a phrase where it is doubled, but also under the control of some other person, or second standard, so that the corrections which are made are ususally corrections to a reading read by a number of other witnesses. Nine out of ten of the nonsense readings are corrected, and two out of three of all his singular readings. In short, P66 gives the impression of being the product of a scriptorium, i.e., a publishing house. It shows the supervision of a foreman, or of a scribe turned proofreader."

"In summary, P75 and P66 represent a controlled tradition; P45 represents an uncontrolled tradition. P75 and P45 are, according to their own standards, careful workmen. P66 is careless and ineffective - although he is the only calligrapher of the three. He uses up his care, his concern, in the production of beautiful letters." (p. 117-118)

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Colwell worked throughout the 1970s, finally analyzing in careful detail the scribal habits of the papyri. This was something that should have been done 50 years earlier, BEFORE these manuscripts were used to make serious alterations to the Bible.

"P75 has 27 leaps forward, and 10 backward. "

That is, in a mere 14 chapters, P75 commits HAPLOGRAPHY 27 times, all by himself! (Colwell identifies these cases WITHOUT assuming the TR is correct.)

When P75 makes a haplography error, he omits text 75% of the time! If this is a fair example of the most careful Egyptian scribe, it gives us a very enlightening picture of what must have happened to the text in the pre-history of transmission before the earliest extant MSS.

The other omissions of P75, which are copied by Aleph and B are also almost certainly simple cases of similar scribal boo-boos.

"In short, P66 gives the impression of being the product of a scriptorium, i.e., a publishing house."

- Possibly a professional copying center, and not the production of a Christian scribe at all.

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