Friday, March 25, 2011

What Causes LARGE Omissions?

Back in the 19th century, maverick textual critics were not afraid to confront the two biggest textual variants in the NT, namely Mark's Ending (Mk 16:9-20) and the Pericope de Adultera (Jn 7:53-8:11).   It was considered essential in those days to investigate them and have a position on such important matters.   Nowadays, flying a holding-pattern is the norm and critics rarely come in to land on either side of any issue.  Its hard to get anything except the standard Metzger quote when inquiring about either passage.

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.

Click to Enlarge: Backbutton to return

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:
Click to Enlarge
  Any one of these common scenarios could have caused the initial omission, and subsequently also have caused suspicion to fall upon either passage, as confused copyists noted the absence of the verses.

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.


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