Saturday, January 15, 2011

Dr. Maurice Robinson on homoeoteleuton in Aleph/B

The following was posted by "HoLogos" at the Bible Version Discussion Board, in response to some debating there (01/14/2011).  He quotes an email communication from Dr. Maurice Robinson as follows:

 Dr. Maurice Robinson occasionally sends me emails in response to things I post.  He said this:

 Re:  Dr. Maurice A. Robinson, "In Search of the Alexandrian Archetype: Observations from a Byzantine-Priority Perspective." In Christian-B. Amphoux and J. Keith Elliott, eds., The New Testament Text in Early Christianity: Proceedings of the Lille Colloquium, July 2000. Histoire du Texte Biblique 6. Lausanne: Éditions du Zèbre, 2003, 45-67.
Dr. Robinson said:
"The thrust of this article was that the Greek archetype MS that formed the basis for a probable Alexandrian recension was already defective, containing numerous instances of homoioteleuton omission in which the resultant reading yet "made sense." A large number of such putative homoioteleuton omissions was cited therein, some of which, I suppose, would match "Nazaroo's" own listed claims, although no particular claim based on questionable guesswork regarding line length was made therein.

However -- and this is probably important -- I would not agree with "Nazaroo" in relation to such a wholesale level of "sensible" homoioteleuton errors as he appears to claim. Were his supposition correct, the Alexandrian revisers would seem to have chosen one of the worst possible MSS on which to base their recension (and yes, I do consider the Alexandrian text to be the product of a recension, presumably created as a scholarly production intended to serve as a base for an ecclesiastical translation into Coptic); this simply would fly counter to their purpose.

In contrast, I suggest only that the chosen base exemplar did possess a number of "sensible" readings resulting from homoioteleuton. However, the remaining "shorter readings" characteristic of that texttype I presume to have arisen from the scholarly recensional process in general, likely with a primary interest in eliminating whatever were considered secondary expansions of the "Western" variety, wherein a number of otherwise "Byzantine" readings were equally eliminated in the process. The fact that many of these recensional "shorter readings" might happen to possess similar beginnings, endings or mid-portions (homoioarcton, homoioteleuton, and in some cases homoiomeson) would become more of a coincidence and a by-product of recension rather than any real error of omission per se.

Basically, my contention is that "Nazaroo" greatly overstates his case, which if correct would posit the worst possible MS as the chosen basis for the Alexandrian recension, which makes no sense, assuming the scholarly rationality of the Alexandrian revisers. Thus, the claims of "Nazaroo" end up minimizing the actual act of recension in favor of unbridled accidental omission. With this I simply would not concur (nor do I care to enter into discussion with anonymous or otherwise unknown internet posters regarding such a matter).
- Dr. Maurice Robinson"
 I thank both Dr. Robinson for offering his opinion regarding this question, and HoLogos for kindly posting it for review.

Dr. Robinson's position is perfectly respectable, and must be given serious weight because of his obvious longstanding knowledge, experience, and expertise in this field.   He is certainly not obliged to accept every instance of apparent homoeoteleuton that we have proposed as being absolutely certain as to its actual cause, nor is he obliged to embrace the longer text as always being the original reading.

To clarify our own position, we ourselves are not claiming absolute certainty regarding how these variants arose, or as to the original reading in every case.   Our argument rests on the necessary consideration of the weight of probability in favor of the majority of Variation Units which have undisputed homoeoteleuton features being in fact homoeoteleuton errors.

To simplify the argument, if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and waddles like a duck, it is not always, but usually always, is in fact a duck.   Most homoeoteleuton featured Variation Units probably originated from homoeoteleuton errors.

This is not to say that the textual history froze at that point, or that subsequent attempts at correction or conscious editing did not take place, further complicating the history of transmission.  Obviously, once variants arose and were noticed, people made efforts to fix the text and eliminate likely errors.  That they did not always make the right choice is a given.

The main point is that methodologically speaking, the reasonable course is to accept VUs with homoeoteleuton characteristics as homoeoteleuton errors, unless there can be shown some other overriding reason to posit another origin for the variations.  Thus the relevant TC Canon that could conceivably change a judgment of homoeoteleuton into something else would be the following:

The Reading that Explains the Others

1. That reading is to be preferred which seems to have suggested the others, or out of which it is most easy to suppose that the others would arise.
(W. Milligan, The Words of the NT, 1873)

I believe Dr. Robinson concurs with this idea, for he is suggesting that some of the Variation Units with homoeoteleuton features are not homoeoteleuton errors, but rather a result of conscious editing by Alexandrian editors in the process of making an 'Alexandrian recension'.   He says,
 "the remaining 'shorter readings' [still having homoeoteleuton features] ...I presume to have arisen from the scholarly recensional process..,"
Dr. Robinson also seems to make clear that this was perhaps not a single 'recension' at one point in time, but an ongoing process, perhaps part of the natural correction and editing policies apparently carried on in Alexandria over a relatively long period.

Dr. Robinson also suggests a conscious and deliberate process, for he says about this process that it was "likely" carried on,
"... with a primary interest in eliminating whatever were considered secondary expansions of the 'Western' variety..."
It must be noted that Dr. Robinson is not speaking only of Variation Units with homoeoteleuton features, but is also including other omissions in the discussion.  For he says,
"many of these recensional "shorter readings" might happen to possess similar beginnings, endings or mid-portions"...
That is, some Variation Units arising from the Alexandrian "scholarly recensional process" don't necessarily have these features.

The situation is this:  there are some 200+ omissions of whole/half verses in the Alexandrian text.  Of these, over 80 cases have homoeoteleuton features (about 40% of Variation Units).

The first question then becomes simply, how many of the 80 homoeoteleuton featured cases are in fact actually deliberate edits by the Alexandrian recensionists (i.e. the homoeoteleuton features are a coincidence)?

The second question that arises is just as important.  If we re-categorize some of these cases as deliberate edits omitting perceived 'Western expansions', as Dr. Robinson suggests, then we have to concede that these longer readings must be older than the Alexandrian readings arising from the editing process. You have to first have a reading in order to remove it.  If we mark these 'Western' readings as 2nd century, then the Alexandrian editing process must have been happening after the 'Western' text was already circulating.

One keen observation must be made here.  In either case (h.t., or deliberate edit), the Alexandrian reading remains secondary in both timing and credibility.
At least some of the Alexandrian deletions will be erroneous, and the older 'Western' readings will be original.   Which ones?  We can't simply choose on the basis of the questionable reputation of Alexandrian editors.  Each Western candidate and its Alexandrian alternative must be weighed on its own merits, including other attestation.

Alexandrian Omissions (200+)
homoeoteleuton features (40%) other unknown causes
real h.t. editing real mistakes
real h.t. bad edits good edits good edits bad edits real mistakes

The chart above shows the breakdown of cases.   Some textual critics believe that most variants are accidental, while others believe that most variants are a result of deliberate editing.  To determine such questions, a deep analysis of scribal habits and editing habits is needed.

In any case, we see the Law of Diminishing Returns at work. Some editing activity will be in error.  Dr. Robinson has already suggested that some omissions are a result of an editing policy based on personal judgment of early Alexandrian editors.  If so, some of those variant readings will indeed be new innovations, and not simply a result of editors choosing between already existing readings.  In other words, some edits must be inventive fictions, and not correct selections of the original text.

The success of the Alexandrian editors in spotting and correcting 'Western' expansions will in part be based on whether there actually were very many in the first place.  Were there really nearly 200 insertions?  Or did the Alexandrian editors get overzealous in 'purging' and 'improving' the text?

But if as Dr. Robinson says, these edits were accumulated over a significant period of time in an ongoing process, obviously a fair number of them will be relatively 'late' in the Alexandrian stream and therefore also secondary.

And if the Alexandrians were quite capable of accumulating omissions arising from deliberate edits over time, including many with homoeoteleuton features, the very same 'correction' procedures they used will likely  accumulate real homoeoteleuton errors that look like 'good Alexandrian edits', since they appear the same.  Real edits with homoeoteleuton features were left alone, and mistakes would have been left alone too.

In other words, from the very features found in the Alexandrian text and the explanations offered, The Alexandrian 'editing process' was intrinsically prone to accumulating accidental omissions alongside edits.  Their method of editing and correction introduced significant errors over time.

From this it is plain that even if some of the homoeoteleuton cases have been incorrectly identified, and are actually deliberate edits, the end result can still be the same.  Some are not original readings, and should not be brought back into the critical text. Some significant portion of homoeoteleuton cases must be acknowledged to be false readings, whether they are homoeoteleuton or not.

It is not enough to point out that some cases might not be homoeoteleuton after all:
(1)  Some reliable sieve method must be actually developed that can successfully distinguish between true and false homoeoteleuton cases.

(2)  Some additional method must be developed that can successfully distinguish between 'good edits' and mistaken edits in the Alexandrian textual stream.


Now lets move onto Dr. Robinson's second point:
"Basically, my contention is that Nazaroo greatly overstates his case, which if correct would posit the worst possible MS as the chosen basis for the Alexandrian recension, which makes no sense, assuming the scholarly rationality of the Alexandrian revisers."
The doctor is quite right:

(1) This would make no sense, if we assume scholarly competence of the Alexandrian revisers.

But the problem is deeper even than this.  No one has demonstrated any 'formal' Alexandrian recension at all.  The Alexandrian texts show a broad diversity and suggest a constantly changing text as a result of an extended process over time, as Dr. Robinson has acknowledged.

It is not then correct to talk of a single 'recension' at all, even in the form of an ongoing 'process'.  It is more reasonable  suggest rather a general 'tendency' of Alexandrian copyists/correctors/editors, or perhaps even a case could be made for a conscious 'policy' regarding conciseness of text or literary style.   But that is as far as we can go.

And if this is the case, then the Alexandrian 'editors' can hardly be relied upon to preserve the original text, or be hailed as "rational scholars" engaging in reliable textual criticism.  This is a naive anachronism, a fool's hope and a pipe-dream.

The evidence suggests rather that the Alexandrian textual stream suffered from a glaring lack of control over the text, and a resultant ongoing accumulation of errors.  The 'Alexandrian technique' was significantly flawed, and over time resulted in significant damage to the text.

What the Alexandrian textual evidence offers is not a source for 'lost original readings', but a life-lesson in the consequences of poor copying/correcting practices.

(2) The claim would also seem to make no sense, if the Alexandrians had access to good copies, or had a choice of copies, or knew the nature of the copies they had before using them.

But it is quite reasonable to pose several explanations for the poor state of the Alexandrian text.

(a) There is no reason to suppose that they would have the best copies at the very early stages, in Egyptian outposts.  It is likely that like all outposts and satellite churches operating underground, they would have to settle for whatever copies were made, by amateur copyists.

(b) There is no reason to suppose they would have a choice of copies.  They would not be offered a 'salad bar' of copies, from which to choose.  Any new church or underground location in a new city would be given a text, period.  They would be lucky to get a single copy for use in making more.  It is unlikely that they even had a complete NT corpus in the first 50-100 years at most locations.

(c)  There is no reason to suppose they would know a good copy from a bad one.  The contents of the various NT books and letters would not be known in detail, or memorized, until organized public church reading was fully established, which took centuries to spread across the empire.

(d) Procedures of accurate copying and correction took centuries to develop.  The issue of text and canon arose long after copies of every quality had spread throughout the empire.

For these reasons, it is quite plausible that the early history of the text generally suffered the most variation and error, and it is easy to see how poor copies temporarily spawned bad lines of textual transmission.

(e) The Alexandrian and Egyptian centers of copying and community did not spring up instantly with a "scholarly recensional process" in place, and rational editors following clear scientific principles of textual correction and restoration working.  Such talent and method must have developed slowly, if at all.

The "scholarly recensional process" that Dr. Robinson speaks of simply did not exist in the first few centuries, and if it existed at all, it would have been most developed in the 4th century in Antioch and Rome, not Alexandria.

(3) The Claim still makes perfect sense, even if the Alexandrians did have good copies of the text(s) as their starting point and basis. 

We have to add just one more critically important caveat to Dr. Robinson's objection on this point:

Dr. Robinson:

"his case, which if correct would posit the worst possible MS as the chosen basis for the Alexandrian recension, which makes no sense.."
But this is actually not true at all, and it is Dr. Robinson's objection that actually makes no sense.    Our model actually assumes that the text the Alexandrians started with was remarkably good, and similar to the Byzantine text.  But it was the Alexandrians who corrupted this text through accumulated omissions (accidental or otherwise).   My contribution here refers to those omissions with homoeoteleuton features, but Mr. Scrivener's contribution to the account takes up omissions without such features.   In either case however, the longer readings are assumed to be the original readings, and whether they were omitted accidentally or as a result of deliberate editing is unimportant. 

The important point is that the omissions are errors, and the missing text is original, and therefore the starting basis or 'seed' text used by the Alexandrians was in all likelihood actually quite good.  It was Alexandrian copying practices over a significant period of time which corrupted the text, not the choice of starting-text.   To miss this is to miss the whole account of the textual history we are proposing.

Secondly, we can be very specific about exactly what part of the process resulted in the accumulation of errors.  The Alexandrians simply didn't aggressively hunt for and correct homoeoteleuton errors, because they simply weren't aware of their frequency.   This would only be something which would become a concern after texts began to show wild variations in readings, namely in the time of Origen, (c. 200-250 A.D.) and later. 

Scribal copying practices were only properly tightened up when the problem became severe enough to attract attention.   It is already quite clear that Alexandrian scribes and correctors did not correct omissions that possessed the features of homoeoteleuton, because the Alexandrian texts are rife with such omissions.

Whether or not the Alexandrians had lists of accepted omissions or simply badly chosen master-copies used for correction is moot.  The fact is, by whatever primitive or inadequate correction techniques or policies that were in place in the first 2 or 3 centuries, omissions accumulated and were perpetuated.   This methodology also allowed real homoeoteleuton errors to accumulate as well, because these would have appeared identical to other Alexandrian 'edits'. 

We can make two plain and rather indisputable observations about Alexandrian copying practices:
(a) In the first century or two, homoeoteleuton errors were not aggressively hunted down and corrected, and there was probably only a rudimentary correction process in place, or virtually none at all.

(b) In later Alexandrian practice, either techniques or policy allowed already accumulated omissions to remain, and also allowed more to accumulate.  

In the end, the Alexandrians actually did rather quickly end up with "the worst possible MS(S) as the chosen basis for the Alexandrian recension" and this sadly makes perfect sense, contra Dr. Robinson.


Finally, we must also turn to the other omissions (some 120 cases) where there is no apparent homoeoteleuton feature to be found.

If we accept Dr. Robinson's view, these are mostly deliberate edits by Alexandrian correctors and editors.   This is hardly a recommendation.  But what if there is a simpler and more obvious explanation for these omissions?

What if, as Mr. Scrivener has proposed (and presented plausible evidence of), these are also largely mere haplography errors by copyists?

There are several aspects in favor of such an interpretation.

(1) The 'edits' as a group don't really make any rational sense.  They don't follow theological lines, or historical lines, or even consistent grammatical lines.  The best that can be shown is that some appear to be verbally redundant. But many are not.  Just as some omissions lack homoeoteleuton features, some omissions lack any sign of deliberate editing.

(2) When we acknowledge that most scribes are mere copyists, not 'editors' or theologians, we must also acknowledge that most of the omissions they generate are indeed simple errors of haplography, even when they don't always present homoeoteleuton features.  Mistakes are mistakes, and we should not expect every mistake to have a reconstructable explanation.

(3) The omissions have every sign of a long, random process of accumulation and change.  The idea of a sustained effort at deliberate editing of the text following a single policy is artificial and lacks evidence, whereas we know the texts were copied, and copied by all too error-prone copyists.

(4) The evidence of accidental omission must be seriously considered.  Large numbers of coincidences regarding line-length must be adequately accounted for according to known copying habits and formats of early texts.  Just ignoring this evidence to favor a theory of 'deliberate editing' is not scientific or sensible.

The question of how many omissions are deliberate edits, and how many are simple uncaught errors must be deeply analyzed case by case, and the results collected, before any general claims are made about what percentages are involved.



  1. I wanted to respond to one point made there regarding the question of the number of accidental vs. deliberate (theological) changes supposed to have been made in the Alexandrian text.

    (Dr. Robinson claimed that most of the omissions, both h.t. and non-h.t. under question were deliberate edits, rather than accidents, as a counter-claim to Nazaroo's count. So the homoeoteleuton features were mere coincidences in some large or at least significant number of cases.)

    Here is a quote from Everett Harrison, (1971):

    "Re: Doctrinal Alterations: There is considerable divergence of opinion on this matter. Are there places where the text has been changed in the interest of doctrinal viewpoint? E.C. Colwell goes so far as to say, "The majority of the variant readings in the NT were created for theological or dogmatic reasons." He surely cannot mean by this the actual majority, for the vast majority are devoid of all theological significance, being matters of orthography, synonyms, easily confused words, etc. A recent work by C.S.C. Williams, Alterations to the Text of the Synoptic Gospels and Acts (1951), deals with this problem. Even if all his contentions are admitted, the amount of such alteration is not great."

    - E.F. Harrison, Introduction to the NT,(Eerdmans, 1971) p.86.

    Harrison is doubtless right about Colwell's sloppy claim here. Most variants are indeed accidental or at least grammatical, not deliberate theological edits at all.

    The question that remains is, what about the specific 200 omissions in the WH text? Are the majority of those accidental or deliberate?

    If 40% of them have homoeoteleuton features, then 60% don't. But that doesn't mean that the majority of non-h.t. omissions are deliberate.

    I have shown some serious evidence that exposes the patterns of line-length, which is spread across both groups of readings (ht. and non ht.).

    Colwell himself showed that (significant) singular readings are mostly accidental haplography omissions across all early MSS. But there is no reason not to extend such results to non-singular readings, since these are often simply errors that were not caught until they were copied for a few generations and proliferated.

    We should apply what we know about immediate scribal habits (1st generation errors) to more distant variants (2nd/3rd generation errors). There is no good reason not to assume that the immediate predecessors of extant scribal work did not have the very same common faults.


  2. I'd like to address the question as to whether or not a text that was known to be defective could have been used as an exemplar for the Alexandrian Uncials 01 and 03. The point to be addressed is something that could be called The Emperor's Clothes Syndrome. In the original story, men alleging themselves to be tailors are accepted as experts, thus their opinion is never questioned.
    This happens a lot, especially in academia. People will refuse to believe evidence that is staring them in the face, all on account of an expert's ipse dixit. Thus, if Alexandria had a reputation for authoritative bishops, and these bishops were using a text that had been handed down to them from authoritative bishops of earlier ages, no one would dare question the authority of the text being handed down. If they then went on to notice that the text had a lot of minuses, they would be forced to conclude that these omissions had been the result of deliberate and authoritative action some time in the past. Thus the omissions would continue to perpetuate themselves, despite the evidence, until someone finally had the courage (or naivety) to point out that the Emperor was naked.

  3. I like your scenario:

    It seems plausible that lower-ranked scribes would have a hard time questioning a suspicious master-text, especially if it had a reputation, for instance being a copy made by Origen or some other beloved 'star'.


  4. Hi Folks,

    One basic point is puzzling to me.

    Professor Maurice Robinson, in my experience, has been much more in favor of accidental scribal faux pas as the basis for variants like John 1:18, and Mark 7:19 and others (he also had a fav example, which I do not remember offhand, generally they were small scribal changes rather than the omission-addition question. I would venture that 1 Timothy 3;16 would be another example).

    Some of these are variants that have even been doctrinal battlegrounds (making deliberate tampering more feasible).

    And we know textcrits like to engage in what James White calls "mind-reading", sometimes even taking opposite scribal tendency positions on the same textual evidence (a point made by Maurice Robinson as well).

    Note: an accidental initial error can lead to variants that are decided with doctrine in mind, so there are mixed case scenarios, an important point often bypassed.

    Now here, in this discussion .. Prof. Robinson seems to be taking the opposite position, and I am trying to understand if that is based on:

    a) the particular subset or

    b) a modification of position, or

    c) the fact that the response was done through a type of 2nd-hand manner, reporting his views by a somewhat hostile (to Nazaroo's studies) intermediary forum.

    It would be nice if Professor Robinson, a gentleman and a scholar, would engage in direct discussions on such questions, and not go through a board not known for forthrightness and clarity.

    Steven Avery
    Queens, NY