Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Many Ancestors of Aleph/B

With all the many discussions of a 'common ancestor' for Aleph/B, one can be pardoned for beginning to believe there actually was such a thing, in the manner described.

Here we present for the first time a realistic picture of the Ancestor(s) of Aleph and B:

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The first problem that confronts us is that Aleph and B are whole Bibles, each having a rather full set of NT books. 

These NT books of course originated from diverse sources.   More importantly for the purposes of Textual Criticism, each of these books had its own textual history and a long period of separate circulation as independent works.

Then came an equally long period, in which the Gospels were collected into a single manuscript, probably post-Marcion (c. 200 A.D.).   Likewise, the letters of Paul circulated first separately, then were early gathered into a collection, which, with a few later additions, also circulated separately for a long time.   Also, it seems likely that Luke/Acts were originally circulated together, then split up, with Luke being gathered with the other Gospels, and Acts being collected with the Catholic Epistles (James, Peter, John etc.).   Revelation seems to have had the longest independent circulation.

Finally, these collections were gathered into a single volume (a New Testament) for the use of churches, sometime in the early 4th century, and that seems to be where Sinaiticus (Aleph) and Vaticanus (B) originate.

Hort himself acknowledged that a single "common ancestor" for Aleph/B was actually an artificial construct, meant more as a convenience in discussing common readings, than as an actual single ancestor:
 "Whatever be the mutual relation of א and B, each of them separately (א in the apocalypse excepted), is be in fact essentially a text of the 2nd century or early 3rd century.  This fact, which is independent of the coincidences of אB, so that it would remain true of  א if B were unknown, and of B if א were unknown, suggest the most natural explanation of their coincidences.   They are the extreme antiquity of the common original from which ...the two MSS have diverged, the date of which cannot be later than the early...2nd century.   ...So high an antiquity would of course be impossible if it were necessary to suppose that the 'common original' was a single archetypal MS comprising all the books as they now stand.    But, ...there is reason to suspect that the great MSS of the Christian empire were directly or indirectly transcribed from smaller exemplars which contained only portions of the NT; so that the general term 'common original', which we have used for the sake of simplicity, must in strictness be understood to denote the several common originals of the different books or groups of books."
(Hort, Introduction, ¶ 301., p. 222-223). 

Many Ancestors:

We know then for a fact that Aleph and B did not have a single ancient ancestor, but several. 

It is acknowledged for instance that the book of Revelation in Sinaiticus is unlike any other version.
 "The Apocalypse in codex Sinaiticus is a striking example of a fourth-century text that differs substantially from modern critical editions. It exhibits dozens of differences at key points, reflecting the concerns, interests, and idiosyncrasies of its earliest copyists and readers. Taken as a whole, Sinaiticus’s text of Revelation may constitute one of our earliest Christian commentaries on the book, disclosing its fourth-century milieu and anticipating the later concerns of Oecumenius and Andrew of Caesarea." (Juan Hernandez Jr., 2009)
   In John 1:1-8:38  (the first 8 chapters) Codex Sinaiticus differs from Vaticanus and all other Alexandrian manuscripts. It is in closer agreement with Codex Bezae (D) in supporting the Western Text-type.  Vaticanus on the other hand, offers a version of the Western Text-type for the Pauline Epistles.

This means that for various books, or collections of books, the two manuscripts have completely different ancestors. (at least three ancestors are involved in just the three sections mentioned).

Common Readings:

On the other hand, the agreements, especially the 'agreements in error', that is unique agreements between Aleph/B against almost all other authorities, does indeed seem to point to common sources. 

This is no surprise in fact, when we know that the Four Gospels began to be collected together and produced as a single book,  beginning sometime in the early 3rd century.   It must have been after this time, that most of the common readings (especially the errors, unusual minority readings) between Aleph and B arose. 

There are however several possible sources for the agreements between Aleph and B, and they must all be carefully considered in any given case:
(a)   readings common to the original copies.  These would be expected to be rather common readings also found elsewhere,  particularly in independent lines of transmission, such as other text-types.

(b)   readings (errors) which arose by coincidence because of an unfortunate feature built into the text, such as multiple instances of homoeoteleuton from varying layouts.

(c)   readings consciously modified by editors attempting to correct or improve the text, including spelling conventions and grammar corrections,  and especially omissions of parts of speech and phrases perceived to be ambiguous, wordy or clumsy.

(d)   readings deliberately chosen among already available variants, popular or preferred readings involving theological or doctrinal issues, or historical perceptions.

(e)    readings due to a mistake or selection made in a previous common ancestor.   Many readings may well be the results of accumulated errors in a common transmission-line.

Striking Differences:

There are also however, many differences between Aleph and B, even within books that are assumed to have a common ancestor (e.g. the Gospels);  Hoskier for instance enumerated some 3036 differences between Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. 

Those who promote the text of Aleph/B draw attention to these differences and claim that this proves the 'ancestor' of Aleph/B goes back "several generations", perhaps as many as "ten" (this however is probably exaggerated).  The purpose of this notice is to drive back the proposed date of this 'ancestor' to the 2nd century:
"..their common ancestor must have been copied several generations before. ... Aleph and B are distant cousins from long after their common ancestor, which itself must go back several generations. Indeed, when they agree, their common reading usually is from the early 2nd century." (Wallace, Komoszewski, Sawyer, Reinventing Jesus (Kregel, 2006) p. 78. 
 However, like the common readings, these differences may also have multiple causes, some of the most obvious being:
(a)   mistakes by the scribes themselves who made Aleph and B.  Each of these (two or more) scribes must have contributed many errors to both manuscripts.  Singular readings are the prime suspects.

(b)    differences in policy or preference regarding grammatical constructions, or how to handle suspicious readings in the master-copy.

(c)   the work of correctors, who may not have left clear traces of their work.  In particular, B has been overwritten and re-inked throughout, and Sinaiticus suffers from the hands of at least 10 correctors.

(d)   inherited differences from previous generations of copying separating either manuscript from the common ancestor or master-copy.

(e)   differing usage of cross-references or secondary sources used for textual comparison.  Both manuscirpts show signs of editorial activity of various kinds in the compilation of their texts.  
From all this, and each possible cause involves real variants, it is clear that neither similarities nor differences can be easily categorized as to how they arose, or dated as to when.  

 Three Important Eras:

Nonetheless, a natural and straightforward procedure presents itself, namely considering the three stages of transmission,
(1)  First EraSeparate Works  -  Individual and independent circulation of the NT books, and the differences arising from varying circumstances between them in their transmission.

(2)   Second Era:   Early Collections  -  Circulation of the groups of books as collections,  and the features they would then share, and the errors arising from this format.

(3)  Third EraWhole NT Volumes  -  Circulation of the groups as complete copies of the NT, and the features and errors arising in this period.

It should be clear that the common readings shared between Aleph and B must belong to the first two periods of transmission, while the readings in which they differ will likely have arisen in the third period of transmission. 

We strongly doubt that "ten generations" of errors can be identified among the differences between these two manuscripts,  and prefer to identify the date of the nearest 'common ancestor' independently, based upon what is known about when these collections were popularized.   It is reasonable then, to date the nearest common ancestor of Aleph/B to about the beginning  or middle of the 3rd century, when it is known that such collections of the Gospels circulated, as P75 demonstrates.  

Consequently, we assign common readings between Aleph/B to this time and earlier, when they would have come together to form a common text spanning all four gospels.

Differences between Aleph and B we will primarily assign to the period from about 250 A.D. (c. P75) to 320 A.D.  (the inside date of manufacture for Aleph/B).

We have already analyzed the pre-history for Mark and Matthew (see our previous posts on this), and shown it to be quite different for each book, as expected.  On the other hand, we can also combine our findings, and propose that there was a common ancestor in the line after the gospels were gathered into a collection, in which the columns were about 15 characters per line.   This narrow width suggests that the copy that generated this large group of shared errors spanning Mark and Matthew was rather recent, since narrow columns were a practice that came much later than the time of P75.    The final result of this analysis will naturally date this large group of errors to this late period, namely the late 3rd century.

We will post a list shortly.


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