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Friday, 20 August 2010

Part IV, Dislocations: Numbers 10 and John 7: Is 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 an interpolation?


Several scholars have voiced their opinion that the dislocation of 1 Corinthians 14:35-36 to the end of the chapter in manuscripts of the Western or Latin text-type proves it to be an interpolation from an earlier marginal note. In the two previous articles in this series, we have shown this to be a distinct possibility from a text-critical perspective. But we've also shown that the fact of a passage's dislocation does not in and of itself prove it to be spurious. In the case of Joshua 21:36-37, what appeared to be an interpolation from the margin--dislocated in some manuscripts--was in fact a reconstruction or restitution of a passage originally lost through parablepsis--a process recognized by its inclusion in the text of all English Bibles in print today. There are many alleged cases of dislocations in the Scripture; we shall look at a representative sample in today's study.

The Masoretes actually recognized that there were dislocations in their copies of the Scripture, and carefully noted them. The best known of these is the passage known to us as Numbers 10:35-36 (what is it about all these 2-verse interpolations being within three verses of the thirty-third?). Here it is, in the KJV:
35 And it came to pass, when the ark set forward, that Moses said, Rise up, LORD, and let thine enemies be scattered; and let them that hate thee flee before thee. 36 And when it rested, he said, Return, O LORD, unto the many thousands of Israel.
According to the Talmud, the scribes marked this section of text with dots to show that it did not originally belong there. One rabbi suggested that it was a pericope brought into the text from a scroll of its own. Interestingly, no extant manuscript of the Torah shows dots in this section; instead, it is marked off with brackets (known anciently as sigma/antisigma or nunim m'nuzarot).

The Masoretes appeared not to know of any other position for this pericope in the text, but if we look outside the corpus of Hebrew manuscripts, we find it in another position in the LXX--albeit only one verse higher up the page, preceding rather than following verse 34, which reads:
And the cloud of the LORD was upon them by day, when they went out of the camp.
Here we see an acknowledged interpolation, supported by a version, quite evidently having been moved into the text from the margin, and thus finding a home at two adjacent locations. And for what it's worth, I prefer it's location in the LXX; it seems to fit a little better there. But what does it matter? The point is that no English Bibles are being marked with this verse in brackets to show that it wasn't part of the original text of Numbers. Although known to be an interpolation, there it sits, without so much as a footnote.

The most famous dislocation in the New Testament is the Pericope Adulterae--the story of the woman taken in adultery. The pericope actually begins with the last verse of John chapter 7, with the actual story commencing in 8:3 and running to the end of verse 11. An excellent overview of the manuscript evidence can be found at this website, so I'll not go into it here. But note especially the following:

225, 1128 post Jo 7:36
al17 post Jo 8:12
2691 post Jo 8:14a
981 post Jo 8:20
geomss post Jo 7:44

The likelihood that this was a marginal note brought into the text by many different scribes can be seen by the variety of locations to which it was brought, all within a few verses of its location in the majority of manuscripts, between 7:52 and 8:12. And indeed, that is the only logical place to put it. Since the pericope provides a transition between the private scene in the chambers of the Sanhedrin of 7:45-52 and the public scene in the Temple courtyard of 8:12-58,  its location anywhere else breaks up the structure of the overall passage.

Now, this pericope gets a very different treatment on the pages of our English Bibles than does the one in Numbers 10. Like the rabbins of old, today's scholars believe this pericope to have been introduced from a separate scroll after the composition of John's gospel had been completed. But rather than just bowing to tradition and leaving it in the text unmolested, as did the editors of the King James Version, and as they themselves do in Numbers 10, they must needs set it off from the text with some comment such as, "The earliest and most reliable manuscripts do not contain this passage." This tautological expression does little to inspire confidence either in the translators, or in their translation.

But how did the Pericope Adulterae find its way into the majority of Johannine manuscripts? Well, we can be pretty sure how it got into ms#1071: it appears to have been copied into the text by the scribe from a manuscript unrelated to his exemplar. Why, we ask, would a scribe reject all the errant readings of ms #05 save one, copying all 12 of its verses that were missing from his favoured exemplar? It can only be that some process had resulted in these verses being missing from the entire Alexandrian family of manuscripts, and others besides. Sure it is that some scribes lamented their loss: manuscripts #019 and #037 leave a blank space for it, as if in hope that the scribes could someday find a copy of it with which to fill out their deficient text. But in retaining the Pericope, the Western textual family served as the off-site backup from which manuscripts of the other text families could refresh their textual database.

[UPDATE MAY 2015] I had to remove a dead link from the preceding paragraph, and along with it we must discard the theory it represented. I've had a chance to examine the reading of 1071 in this passage, and it is, as so many are, unique. What is more likely is that when, in the fifth century, this passage was added to the Greek Lectionary as the passage to be read aloud on the Feast Day of Ste. Pelagia, many scribes hustled to insert it back into the manuscripts from which it had been omitted. The haste with which this was done could well have contributed to the wide variety of readings. Now, back to the original post:

Of course we still want to know, was the Pericope Adulterae present in the gospel of John when it was first published? Textual criticism can't really answer that question, but it can state probabilities. And this is where theology enters the picture. Some people's theology requires that everything now in their Bible must have been put there by the original Author. So for them, there is no question of interpolations. Any passages alleged to be interpolations must have been dropped from the original text, only to be brought back in by the providence of God. This philosophy cannot be disproved, but it does a woefully poor job of accounting for interpolations like that found in 2 Kings 9:4, as discussed previously.

Others take a more cautious approach, believing it possible, based on Revelation 22:18-19, for words to be added to or removed from the original text of Scripture. Their goal is to so search out the evidence as to be able to reasonably determine which has happened, and where--and, as much as is possible, to reconstruct the text as it once was. This is obviously the approach taken by the King James Version editors in incorporating Joshua 21:36-37 into their text, despite its deliberate absence in the text of the Massoretes. And the approach taken by a number of scribes who incorporated the Pericope Adulterae into their texts, even though it was missing from their primary exemplar (more recently discovered examples of this are 1049, 1220, and 2661, all with a PA copied from 021).

So, how about 1 Corinthians 14:34-35? The textual evidence for interpolation here is roughly equivalent to that of Numbers 10:35-36: present in all original language copies, but with some marks of doubt, and dislocation in versional manuscripts. Were the marks of doubt left there by unbelieving scribes without faith in the preservation of God's word? Is it a passage that was originally present, but removed for theological reasons? Or, more like the interpolation in 2 Kings 9:4, is its presence in the text the result of a well-meaning scribe and a series of subsequent misunderstandings?

We shall endeavor to answer that question in our final post of this series. But first, we address the issue of Variants.

April 2014:
The following quote was discovered on the Internet, and mentions as typical a scenario for which there is a single known extant example, the 10th century Minuscule 2414, which has the PA written in the bottom margin in a much later hand. Speaking of the Pericope Adulterae, Euthymius Zigabenus of Constantinople wrote in the early 12th century,
It is necessary to know that from there until ‘Then, again, Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world,”’ among the accurate copies is neither found nor obelized. Wherefore these words appear written alongside the text and as an addition; and the proof of this is that Chrysostom does not remember them at all.
Note, he was writing from the center of the Byzantine world, and he knew of ancient copies that had the PA written in the margin.

UPDATE APRIL 2016: In the half-decade since I wrote this series, the science of textual criticism has advanced rapidly. I would not write the above if I were writing today, but will leave it up for its historical value. I suggest the interested reader look into what has been recently published on the Pericope Adulterae, showing that its absence in several hundred manuscripts, and dislocation in others, is a direct result of its unusual usage in two competing lexical readings.

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