Sunday, December 26, 2010

Ancestors of Aleph/B: Mark Revisited

We posted our analysis of the omissions common to Aleph/B in Mark previously here:
We continue that discussion with a look at the actual formats which generated them, and where we tentatively place them in the textual history with the following diagram:

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If we compare our findings of probable column widths in terms of characters per line with actual manuscripts from the same and earlier periods, we find a startling, but not really surprising agreement.

We may list a few of the more important manuscripts and their column-widths below:

P66  -  (225 A.D.)   23-27 characters per line, typically  25-26.  (left & right justified)
P75  -  (250 A.D.)  28-31 cpl, with the average being 27-30 cpl. (left & right justified)
W     -  (5th cent.)  28-30 cpl, with the average being 28-29 cpl.  (left & right justified)
A      -  (4th cent.) 19-27 cpl, but rigorously 20 cpl exactly for most lines. (left & right justified)
     -  (4th-5th.) 12-38 cpl, with lines fluctuating wildly, but on average 25-28 for a full line.
B      -  (4th cent.) 16-19 cpl,   consistently 16-17 for majority of lines. (left & right justified)
א       -    (Aleph, 4th) 10-15 cpl with a fairly tight average of 16-17 cpl.   (left & right justified)

Codex A:   Remarkably, just as we found an unusual number of omissions in Mark having an exactly 20 chars in length, so we find in Codex Alexandrinus not only a 20 cpl line length, but one rigidly enforced throughout the codex.  This surviving manuscript indicates that this was indeed a standard or popular format in some quarters, with its own rules.  Even with Aleph/B we don't see the letter count so strictly enforced as with Codex A.  Yet this two-column format most likely predates the 3 and 4 column formats that became popular in the late 4th century.  The general trend was to go narrower for readability and error reduction.  Codex A is probably a copy of an early 4th century text, made in the same format as the master.

P66 , P75, and W show the earlier, more primitive format of a single wide column.  This very style led to a large number of errors, and columns were deliberately narrowed in the early 3rd century to combat this problem.   It is easy to imagine an early Caesarean or Egyptian copy of Mark with such a wide format, perhaps slightly narrower, such as we suspect caused the errors grouped with the 'First Ancestor' of Aleph/B.

Codex B's three column format must have been popular in its time, but of course most manuscripts from the late 3rd and early 4th century have been lost or destroyed.   This was possibly a reduction from the format of Sinaiticus,  with a reversion to 3 columns and 15-17 cpl.  Since the largest number of omissions are multiples of this length, we must suspect a similar format in an ancestor of the nearest ancestor to Aleph/B.   These errors, while obviously prior to the divergence of these two texts, cannot then be much older than the time the final common ancestor was produced.

Codex Aleph is important, for it shows that many of the Great Bibles of the 4th century must have had this very narrow, 4-column format.    Such a manuscript again was likely to have been in the copying-line between the early copies of Mark and the last common ancestor of Aleph/B.    This again dates the errors of this length to this intermediary period when 3 and 4 column narrow formats were popular. 

It should be noted that  Aleph and B are hardly the first manuscripts to have been written in 3 or 4 columns, and their own near-ancestors must have had similar formats.  While the texts chosen by the copyists appear to have been old, and eclectically selected, the gospels seem to have come from the same 'nearest common ancestor', that fathered the majority of omissions shared by Aleph and B.

We can see from a comparison of the grouped readings with similar line-lengths, that each matches very closely with known manuscript-formats circulating from the late 2nd to the late 3rd century.   This suggests quite rightly that while many of the omissions in Aleph/B are perhaps more ancient than Aleph and B themselves (even by 100 years or more), they can hardly be older than the formats that generated them.

There is nothing requiring the proposed order of formats in our chart above to be fixed, other than basic probability, and the known development of same.  It is possible that one or two formats in the chain could have been reversed in their historical sequence.   The outcome would have been the same, only the dates of the omissions would be shifted and interchanged by a few decades. 

At the same time, without any good reason to change the sequence, we might as well stick with the most probable order.   When we come to merge our reconstructions for each Gospel in the Alexandrian stream of transmission,   It will be prudent to keep this order unless further evidence suggests otherwise.


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