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How Scribes Copy

How do scribes copy the text of the New Testament? In a variety of ways: some copied by dictation, some copied it for personal use, some were professional scribes; some copied it well, some less so.

However, we can learn a few things about how scribes copied the text from looking at the pattern of their errors. Below is a table with the results for the additions and omissions among the singular readings in Andrew Wilson's study. The table not only shows the numbers of singular additions and omissions per word-length, but it also shows information about a number of other different types scribal errors. In particular, it gives information about scribal leaps, forward and backwards in the text. 

  • Ditt stands for Dittography (where a scribe repeats letters or words - i.e. the scribe goes backward in the text and repeats material he has already copied),
  • Harm stands for an addition that involves a Harmonisation to another passage elsewhere in the Bible
  • HT stands for Homoioteleuton (where a scribe jumps forward in the text to a word with a similar ending to the one he is copying),
  • HA stands for Homoioarcton (where the scribe jumps forward to a word that starts with similar letters),
  • HA/T stands for a case where the scribe jumps forward to a place in the text where both HT and HA occur
  • HA/T-1 stands for cases of HT or HA where there is only a 1-letter similarity in word endings or commencements.
  • HA/T% stands for the percentage of omissions that could be attributed to parablepsis
  • Word-Length  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21+ 31+
    Add Total 769 167 67 28 13 7 7 2 5 3 3 3 1 3 1 3 0 0 1 0 2 3
    (Harm) 81 42 27 12 3 4 3 0 3 1 1 2 1 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 2 2
    (Ditt) 53 20 5 7 3 0 2 0 1 2 2 1 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
    (Add) 635 105 35 9 7 3 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 2 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 1
    Omit Total 1143 246 90 54 34 32 20 18 21 6 5 6 1 5 1 6 2 3 4 3 8 4
    (HT) 95 32 16 17 13 9 12 4 12 2 3 4 0 2 1 5 1 2 1 1 6 0
    (HT-1) 131 32 3 1 5 2 2 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
    (HA) 9 15 15 7 2 7 1 4 1 1 1 0 0 1 0 1 0 1 2 0 0 2
    (HA-1) 53 17 5 1 0 1 0 2 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 1
    (HA/T) 6 3 2 4 1 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
    (Omit) 849 147 49 24 13 13 3 7 6 2 1 2 1 2 0 0 1 0 0 2 0 1
    HA/T% 26 40 46 56 62 59 85 61 71 67 80 67 0 60 100 100 50 100 100 33 87 100

     

  • A Few Observations

  • Firstly, scribal leaps forward (HT and HA) greatly outnumber scribal leaps backward (Dittography).

  • Secondly, homoioteleuton greatly outnumbers homoioarcton.

  • Thirdly, many cases of HT or HA consisted of only 1 letter.

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