Reviews of

Scribal Habits in Sixth-Century Greek Purple Codices

In Brill, Codicology, Elijah Hixson, Manuscript Studies, Manuscripts, Matthew Burks, Scribal culture, Scribal habits, Textual Criticism on March 5, 2021 at 3:30 pm

2021.3.7 | Elijah Hixson. Scribal Habits in Sixth-Century Greek Purple Codices. NTTSD 61. Leiden: Brill, 2019. ISBN: 978-90-04-39990-7. 

Review by Matthew Burks, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Currently, Dr. Elijah Hixson works as a Research Associate at the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. Previously, Hixson was a Research Associate for Dirk Jongkind at Tyndale House at Cambridge University in the UK. Dr. Hixson earned his doctorate at the University of Edinburgh under the supervision of Drs. Paul Foster and Larry Hurtado. Hixson’s two-volume thesis was turned into this monograph for Brill. He has also co-edited with Dr. Peter Gurry, Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism which was published in 2019. Hixson has authored several articles in the field of textual criticism. 

Hixson provides seven chapters in this work on three purple, Greek manuscripts: Codex Purpureus Petropolitanus (N 022), Codex Sinopensis (O 023), and The Rossano Gospels (Σ 042). Chapters one and seven are the standard introduction, which includes descriptions of the manuscripts and a state of research, and conclusion, which summarizes the work and leaves the reader with questions to ponder. Chapter two may provide the most interesting part of the work. In this chapter, Hixson traces a history of the singular readings method followed by a critique of the method. Hixson then proposes his type of singular readings method. Chapter three highlights important features from all three manuscripts studied. Hixson offers some conclusions about each scribe of the manuscript. The scribe of 022 corrected many insignificant readings but preserved the text well. Moreover, Hixson speculates that the scribe of 022 was a young scribe who could write fairly small letters in the margins and had a contemporary scribe correct the manuscript after the work was completed. Moreover, this scribe was more likely to edit readings and substitute text rather than any other type of significant change to the text. Moreover, this scribe was more likely to edit readings and substitute text rather than any other type of significant change to the text. The scribe of 023 was the best of the three scribes but seemed to be more concerned with the manuscript appearing pleasant aesthetically. However, this scribe added text to the manuscript the least. The scribe of 042 was the biggest editor of the three scribes. Again, Hixson speculates that the scribe of 042 was older, possibly at the end of her or his career, confident in the work and changes that were made. The largest type of change this scribe would make was substitutions and harmonizations. Chapters four, five, and six look at each manuscript, respectively. Hixson discusses the singular readings in each manuscript and their implications for the method. 

Hixson’s most valuable contribution may have been his work in interacting with the singular readings method. Possibly viewed within the field of textual criticism as one of the best methods to view scribal habits, Hixson does well in showing major flaws with the method. His four major points against the singular readings method are its comprehensiveness, impracticability, the actual definition of singular, and the uncertainty of scribal activity. Hixson quotes Barbara Aland, Kyoung Shik Min, Edgar Ebojo, and a few others in raising these necessary points for critiquing the method. For this study of the three purple codices, Hixson uses a modified approach to singular readings. First, Hixson discerns the singular readings for each manuscript in Matthew, then reconstructs a hypothetical Vorlage. Hixson then compares how each manuscript may or may not deviate from the reconstructed Vorlage. Then, he compares the findings of the two to offer further critiques on the method. Ultimately, Hixson shows that the singular readings method, as often discussed by Colwell and Royse, may not show an accurate picture of a scribe’s actual habits when transcribing a manuscript. Hixson states six observations on the singular readings method in the conclusion (pp. 256–57) and states that “the singular readings method is incapable of identifying editorial changes” (p. 257). This may be the most salient point against the method. Furthermore, Hixson makes these conclusions even more clear finally of his study: “In the cases of 022, 023 and 042, singular readings do not give an accurate picture of scribal habits, at least not with respect to the actual copyists whose handwriting survives on the pages we have examined” (p. 269). 

Relevant to manuscript studies, Hixson’s work becomes a valuable guide for understanding a manuscript. The state of research on each manuscript as its own item, as well as a group of manuscripts, is excellent. Furthermore, his reconstructed Vorlage provides a helpful method for analyzing the potential habits of scribes. (This is particularly helpful in my own research on GA 69 and its place in Family 13.) Hixson’s attention to detail regarding scribal activity within each manuscript is a helpful goal in completing a manuscript study. Furthermore, as a lover of charts, tables, and appendices, Hixson’s work abounds with detailed information about the scribes, correctors, marginalia, et. al

As a young student in the field of textual criticism, one is left wondering about the ebb and flow of methodologies in the larger field. What Hixson has shown in this study, I believe, is that a healthy dose of skepticism will greatly benefit methodology. James Royse’s work (Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri) on singular readings has become ubiquitous in challenging previously held dictums in the field of textual criticism (i.e., lectio brevior portior). Yet Hixson’s healthy dose of skepticism further points out the possible misleading potential for scribal tendencies, especially when viewed through the lens of singular readings. Healthy debate is necessary for refining methodology in any field. Moreover, another famous desiderium for the field of textual criticism comes from Westcott and Hort: “knowledge of documents should precede final judgement upon readings.”[1] Hixson provides an excellent response to Westcott and Hort’s statement; the field of textual criticism is the better for an increased knowledge obtained on the sixty-century Greek purple codices.

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

[1] B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort, Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1988 reprint; New York: Harper and Brothers, 1882 original), 31.

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