But every critic knows in his heart that the standard explanations and canons of TC simply cannot accommodate such gigantic variants. "Prefer the shorter reading." appears absurd next to something as monumental as Mark's Ending, for no mere copyist could have invented it. Describing John 7:53-8:11 as a "marginal gloss" is just ludicrous, when manuscripts don't even have margins that big.
Its no surprise then, that early critics gave their shot at a more plausible mechanism and account of the matter. Mark's Ending seems to be just about the size to fit on a lost last page. The so-called Western order Had Matthew, John, Luke and Mark last, making the ending the final page not only of a copy of Mark, but also of many a copy of the Four Gospels bound together.
As early as the 1880s, Rendel Harris posited the idea that the PA had slipped out of a quire in some early copy of John. He supposed that it was spread in four pieces, filling a small folded papyrus quire-sheet. But this need not be the only arrangement in an early papyrus that could have resulted in the lost text. It could also (perhaps with more likelihood) have covered both sides of a single folio, having been flexed or torn out of an early Gospel.
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Intriguingly, G. D. Bauscher in 2009 proposed a kind of homoeoarcton error, where two columns written in Syriac had begun with similar looking string of letters:
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It is easy to imagine how any initial error could have generated much deliberate interference later, and caused quite a complex history among at least a handful of early manuscripts, just as we seem to see now in the transmission record.