Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Apocalypse in Codex Alexandrinus: Exegetical Reasoning and Singular Readings in New Testament Greek Manuscripts

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Apocalypse in Codex Alexandrinus: Exegetical Reasoning and Singular Readings in New Testament Greek Manuscripts

Article excerpt

Textual scholars have long recognized that the wording of their manuscripts contain residues of scribal practices and attitudes. The popular caricature of the scribe as automaton, aiming only at the flawless reproduction of an antegraph, is wholly inappropriate in light of the textual evidence provided by the early Greek manuscript record of the New Testament. Evidence suggests that copyists were also, at times, careful readers who altered the wording of their Vorlagen to convey more explicitly a work's meaning (deep structure).1 For these reasons, textual history functions as a medium for reception history, and actively so. Recently, scholarly interest in the reception of Revelation within its own textual history, focusing primarily on textual variation that appears to be theologically motivated, has intensified.2 One emphasis of this trend is on the role of singular readings3 in reception, primarily for their potential to illuminate the theological positions of scribes.4 While singular readings provide useful data for multiple areas of exploration, an underdeveloped area of inquiry is the possibility that particular singular readings were influenced by external scriptural traditions (predominantly the OG/LXX) and/or the scribe's awareness of allusions to these traditions. If certain singular readings represent scribal awareness of the broader scriptural tradition, then the study of these readings, and of textual variation in the New Testament more generally, provides evidence for the reading practices of ancient tradents, a layer of evidence that speaks to the social realities of textual transmission and attitudes toward the scriptural text.5 The aim of this article is to examine the possibilities and boundaries of the reception of the OG/LXX in the textual history of the New Testament by examining the text of the book of Revelation in Codex Alexandrinus (A02) as an example. I ask two questions: (1) Do selected singular readings in Apoc. A02 (of which there are eighty-four) suggest the scribe's awareness of antecedent scriptural traditions? (2) If so, how is this awareness manifested in the wording of the manuscript?6

I closely examine two singular readings in Apoc. A02 as test cases, emphasizing instances where textual alterations betray an awareness of references to the OG/ LXX embedded within Revelation.7 It is likely that the scribe was aware of the text of writings in the OG/LXX tradition, and it is surprising that external influences on textual variation have not yet been explored in greater detail-particularly since the Apocalypse is notoriously allusive.8 The reuse of scriptural wording in Revelation suggests concrete relationships with antecedent texts, especially to scribes well versed in the wording of antecedent traditions.

The following examples provide numerous platforms for further discussion. First, this analysis identifies an underappreciated external pressure that shaped the textual history of the book of Revelation: allusion to scriptural traditions already embedded in the composition. Second, it provides information about the producer of Apoc. A02, elucidating the scribe's reading and transcribing practices. If we are able to better understand the scribe's performance (the mechanics and social settings of text production), we can more fully comprehend the textual anomalies present in the copy, which leads to a more comprehensive appreciation of the forces that created textual variation in Christian antiquity.9


Singular readings are not always the result of intentional cognitive processes; therefore, care must be taken to avoid the assumption of scribal intention where it does not exist. Five distinct but interrelated underlying motivations/mechanics give rise to particular presentations of singular readings.

First, singular readings may reflect the reading in the initial copy or Urtext.10 In this case, the reading was corrupted at an early stage and subsequently transmitted, in one or multiple alternative forms, by the majority of the manuscript tradition. …

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