Reviews of

Simply Come Copying

In Alan Taylor Farnes, Early Christianity, Manuscript Studies, Manuscripts, Matthew Burks, Mohr Siebeck, New Testament, Scribal habits, Textual Criticism on November 13, 2019 at 4:00 pm


2019.11.15 | Alan Taylor Farnes. Simply Come Copying: Direct Copies as Test Cases in the Quest for Scribal Habits. WUNT II 481. Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2019. XV + 253 pp. ISBN 978-3-16-156981-4.

Review by Matthew Burks, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Alan Taylor Farnes currently teaches adjunctly at Brigham Young University. He completed his doctoral degree at the University of Birmingham in 2017. Also, Dr. Farnes holds a master’s degree from Duke University and a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University. This work is the published form of his dissertation titled “Scribal Habits in Selected New Testament Manuscripts, Including Those with Surviving Exemplars.”

A major method of study in the field of textual criticism is the singular reading method. The idea follows that singular readings, as compared to a certain base text or texts (depending on the type of study text critics will use Nestle-Aland and UBS editions, as well as older critical Greek texts: Textus Receptus, Westcott-Hort’s Greek text, Wettstein, Majority Text, and others), offer glimpses of the social context of the scribe producing the manuscript. First introduced as unique readings by Colwell and Tune,[1] the method is not without its critiques.[2] James Royse used Colwell and Tune’s singular reading method in his work on scribal habits.[3] Royse’s 2008 work on scribal habits among papyri challenges a traditionally held canon of textual criticism: lectio brevior potior. Royse shows from the data that the scribe among early papyri that he studied omitted text rather than added text. Thus, this finding roundly challenges the idea that the shorter reading is more likely to be original. While Royse’s work was well-received, a flaw of the work was the lack of an extant Vorlagen for the papyri studied. Since major papyri manuscripts lack extant exemplars, Farnes attempted to test Royse’s conclusions on manuscripts with known exemplars.  Furthermore, Farnes uses the Abschriftmethod to assess Royse’s theory.

Chapter one of the book details the need for Farnes’ study and shows a selected state of research focusing on ascertaining scribal habits. Farnes details Royse’s work on singular readings, interacting with the method and giving the major critiques of the method. Moreover, Farnes echoes Royse’s challenge of the common textual criticism canon of preferring the shorter reading. Royse is following up on studies from Colwell. Farnes then discusses further studies on singular readings by B. Aland and P. Malik. Aland suggests each reading that departs from the Nestle-Aland text should account for whether singular or attested by many. However, this assumption holds the NA text to a level almost synonymous with the “original text.” Malik’s work on P47 shows the need to study the manuscript in all of its codicological detail, and not only the text (i.e., just the words within the document) of the manuscript when thinking through singular readings.

These areas of weakness in the singular readings method led Farnes to the practice of  studying manuscripts with known exemplars, or Abschriften (Chapter Two). An Abschrift is “a manuscript that has shown to have an extant and identified Vorlage” (p. 24). In other words, an Abschrift is the copy of another manuscript, and the Vorlage is the exemplar of the copy. Farnes finds twenty-three manuscripts that fit these definitions: 0319 and 0320 as copies of 06; 205 as a copy of 2886; and 821 as a copy of 0141. Currently, 0319 is the earliest known Abschrift dating to the ninth century. Farnes lists reasons why all the Abschriften were chosen on page 24. Furthermore, Farnes details a selected state of research on previous use of the Abschriften method. Moreover, Farnes details six questions that one can ask of a manuscript to assess whether a certain manuscript is an Abschrift. On pages 43–44, Farnes asks the followings questions: Do the manuscripts…(1) Share a high percentage of textual agreement, (2) share a good number of peculiar dual agreements, (3) historical considerations, (4) paleographical considerations, (5) corrections, (6) codicological concerns. Farnes used available transcriptions from the IGNTP in John on manuscripts 2886, 205, 0141, and 821. He studied 205 and 2886 and P127 in person. The other manuscripts were studied through images available online.

Chapters Three through Six discuss the scribal habits of P127, the Abschriften of 06, 205, and 821. Each chapter briefly discusses the manuscript in focus followed by the scribal habits of each manuscript. The scribal habits are shown through the correction, orthographic readings, additions, omissions, transpositions, insignificant readings, nonsense singulars, and a few other headings. Each chapter concludes with specific conclusions from the scribal habits noted in each manuscript.

Chapter Seven concludes the work. Farnes summarizes his material and highlights the major points of the study. An interesting finding of Farnes’ study is a confirmation of Royse’s conclusion that the shorter reading is not always to be preferred. However, Farnes notes, “if, as Royse argues, scribes on the whole omit more than they add, which my research in our limited test passages of a small number of later scribes does not reject, then how does the Greek New Testament tradition grow as a whole?” (p. 188). Moreover, Farnes finds that scribes became more careful with the text as the centuries progressed through history. Farnes combines his data with Royse’s data to view scribal habits from the third to sixteenth centuries. The general trend for Farnes’ limited study was that the overall error rates among scribes decreased over time. In other words, “the text became more stable as time went on” (p. 200). However, the cause of these increasing stability is more difficult to pinpoint. In comparing the singular readings method to the Abschrift method, Farnes shows that the singular readings method shows the general trend among manuscripts; however, the Abschrift method is more exact in revealing the proper scribal habits of the manuscript studied. Farnes finds the working assumption of the CBGM that scribes copied their manuscript with fidelity to be sound. A final major point of Farnes’ finding is the influence of the patron on the editorial process. Farnes highlights the role of Cardinal Bessarion in the production and transmission of 205 and 2886. Thus, when someone studies a manuscript and finds a point of variation, one must question the influence of the patron onto the production of the manuscript. Farnes suggests, at each point of variation, one must consider three individuals from the editorial process—the patron, a reader, or the scribe (p. 208).

Farnes’ work is of great importance in highlighting both the textual stability seen throughout the years, as well as, scribes’ fidelity to copy the text. Also, an interesting note to ponder for the text critic is the conclusion that scribes without a good knowledge of Greek tended to copy the Greek text better than a scribe with better knowledge of Greek (see also Elijah Hixson’s work with a similar conclusion). Two notes of critique are necessary. The first critique is the inclusion of P127 into the text of the work. Farnes reasoning for including the manuscript is to use Royse’s method and can interact with the conclusions. Yet the information from studying the manuscript feels out of place for a study on Abschriften. Farnes no doubt benefitted from practicing Royse’s method; however, its inclusion in the book as a separate chapter feels out of place. Finally, the last critique is the use of test passages. Farnes does not mention how he chose test passages from the manuscripts studied. He only mentions that test passages were used among all the manuscripts. Moreover, in this same vein, I would disagree with Farnes’ use of other transcriptions in the data collection process. I suggest Farnes should have transcribed and collated the manuscripts studied first, then compared other transcriptions at points of question. These minor critiques aside, Farnes produces a solid piece of scholarship that is important for all text critics and the like to ponder. More work needs to be done, as Farnes notes, on Abschriften than has been in the past. Furthermore, the important conclusions on lectio brevior potior and patrons in the editorial process must be recognized by text critics as they do text critical work. Farnes does well in testing Royse’s conclusions and drawing out relevant data to prove his own conclusions.

Matthew Burks
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
matthew.h.burks [at]

[1] E. C. Colwell with Ernest W. Tune, Method in Classifying and Evaluating Variant Readings (New Testament Tools, Studies and Documents, vol. 9; Leiden: Brill, 1969).

[2] See Farnes’ critique of the method in chapter one of this work.

[3] James R. Royse, Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri (NTTSD 36; Leiden: Brill, 2008).

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