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Earliest Corrections in Codex Sinaiticus

March 14, 2014

The latest issue of The Bulletin of the American Society of Payrologists includes a valuable study (by Peter Malik) of the earliest corrections in Codex Sinaiticus, as evidenced in the Gospel of Mark:  Peter Malik, “The Earliest Corrections in Codex Sinaiticus:  A Test Case From the Gospel of Mark,” Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 50 (2013):  207-54.

Malik identifies two key scribes in the text of Mark in Sinaiticus, whom he labels “Scribe A” and “Scribe D,” and gives detailed analysis of the nature of their respective corrections in the text.

So, for example, Malik identifies corrections made “in scribendo” (i.e., made in the process of copying the text), and those made subsequently.  Those corrections ascribed to Scribe A and made “in scribendo” tend heavily to correct “nonsensical” readings accidentally made by the scribe.  “Scribe A’s tendency to create nonsensical readings has been well documented, and it seems that precisely these readings also caught his attention during the copying process to a greater extent than other errors” (p. 249).

Malik also shows that the correcting process was far from thorough.  Instead, even in corrections made after the Markan text was copied, “the overall impression is that of a rather hasty, almost cursory proofing of the text with an exemplar” (p. 251).

Interestingly, he detects only five corrections made toward a manuscript other than the one copied, all of these corrections from Scribe D.  He can find no clear pattern of textual affinity in the corrections (p. 252).

In his conclusion he states, “Regading the earliest corrections in Sinaiticus, we must conclude that they reflect a genuine attempt of scribes to free their work from error. Just as in copying, however, their quality was not always adequate to carry out this intention fully, and most errors were left uncorrected [although the errors in question are all rather small things, such as accidental omission of one or two words].  Moreover, we have detected no signs of theologically motivated revision in Mark of Sinaiticus. . . . Thus, at least in this respect the scribes of Sinaiticus may be viewed as disciplined, though imprecise.” (p. 254).

Malik’s study seems precise, his conclusions carefully based and sound.  And the article is a model, especially perhaps for other emergent scholars

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  1. Dr. Hurtado,
    Have you seen my small essay on the cancel-sheet in Sinaiticus at the end of Mark? It’s in the files at the NT Textual Criticism group at Facebook, free to download. In it I explain that the copyist (D) intentionally avoided leaving a blank space between Mark 16:8 and Luke 1:1. This could feasibly be considered theologically motivated.

    • No, James, I haven’t seen your essay, and don’t “do” Facebook (probably one of nine people on the planet). But, even if you think that Mark 16:9-20 was intentionally left out, I fail to see how the material adds/detracts anything theologically significant.

  2. Steve Walach permalink

    “…Moreover, we have detected no signs of theologically motivated revision in Mark of Sinaiticus. . . ”

    Does Peter Malik’s recent study of Sinaiticus in any way affect the debate over Mark 16: 9-20?

    • Hmm. Not really. “Mark 16:9-20” isn’t in Sinaiticus. In any case, it’s hard to see that the material makes any difference to any basic theological point. It affects the narrative line of Mark (giving it what many obviously regarded a more “suitable” ending), but otherwise . . .

      • Donald Jacobs permalink

        The longer ending states that Jesus appeared in different “forms”, which is surely relevant to the nature of Jesus’ claimed resurrection in early Christianity.

      • Donald: I presume that you refer to v.12, “After this he appeared in anothe form to two of them as they were walking into the country,” which is an obvious allusion to the narrative in Luke 24 where Jesus appears to the two on the road to Emmaus, but is not recognized. I.e., there’s nothing new in Mark 16:12, for the Lukan narrative has him appearing in such a way that he isn’t recognized. The more important matter is that both passages affirm Jesus’ resurrection, the crucial/central item of early belief, at least in the form(s) of early believers that became “proto-orthodox” Christianity.

  3. Peter Malik permalink

    Thanks for your kind words about this little work, prof. Hurtado. It was works such as your “The Earliest Christian Artifacts” that really sparkled my interest in early Christian manuscripts in the first place!


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