Monday, January 3, 2011

Hort on Homoeoteleuton & Codex B

 Although Hort wrote hundreds of convoluted pages in support of his favorite MSS, א and B, he was undoubtedly clever enough to avoid going too far, too often in many of his arguments.  As a result, he presents surprisingly lucid discussions on many occasions, sometimes as a necessary concession.

In one place, Hort is remarkably instructive on the subject of homoeoteleuton:
312.  When the singular readings of B are examined for the purpose here explained, it is found that on the one hand the scribe reached by no means a high standard of accuracy, and on the other his slips are not proportionally numerous or bad.  Like most transcribers, he occasionally omits necessary portions of text because his eye returned to the exemplar at the wrong place. 
As the longer portions of text so omitted consist usually either of 12 to 14 letters or of multiples of the same, his exemplar was doubtless written in lines of this length.
Often, but not always, an obvious cause of omission may be found in homoeoteleuton, the beginning or ending of consecutive portions of text with the same combinations of letters or of words. Reduplications due to the same cause likewise also occur, but more rarely. 
More characteristic than these commonest of lapses is a tendency to double a single short word, syllable, or letter, or to drop one of two similar consecutive short words, syllables, or letters." 
(Hort, Introduction, ¶ 312, p. 234)

This paragraph informs us on many levels.  Hort concedes the following:

 The Scribe of B

(1)  The scribe of B is not very accurate, and makes plenty of mistakes.

(2)  Often the singular omissions of B are simple homoeoteleuton errors.

(3)  Many singular omissions lacking homoeoteleuton features are caused by the very same error, namely, eye-skips.

(4)  The singular omissions of B are mainly accidental haplographic errors.

(5)  The scribe omits text more often than he adds text (i.e., dittography).

(6)  The omissions are numerous enough to characterize the scribe as undistinctive and these lapses are among the commonest errors.

(7)  These errors are consistent enough to determine the probable column-width of the scribe's immediate exemplar, namely, 12-14 letters per column.

(8)  What really IS distinctive of the scribe of B is his own frequent habit omitting or duplicating even shorter portions of text, on the size of words, syllables, letters. (Hort immediately gives 13 examples.)

Hort is also very adamant and certain that the singular omissions are indeed accidents, and not alleged 'tendencies' or conscious habits of deliberate editing:
"313. ... A current supposition, ....that the scribe of B was peculiarly addicted to arbitrary omissions, we believe to be entirely unfounded, ..." (Hort ibid. p. 234)

Of particular importance in the list above, are (3) and (5), which speak volumes about the real nature of the omissions in both   א/B.

And (7), while it cannot be accredited to Hort (in fact, we believe Rendel Harris originated this kind of analyis: see our Harris Article) is equally important to our study of the ancestors of the ancestor of   א/B.

Procedurally, Hort was quite right to set aside non-singular omissions in characterizing the scribe of B (e.g., ignore omissions shared with א and other manuscripts), since these are likely to be errors from previous scribes, and not the final copyist of B. (cf. ¶ 314,  ibid. p. 235).   

Yet for our purposes, there is no need nor reason to set them aside at all.  They may not characterize the scribe of B, but they certainly characterize the scribes of previous copies in the chain prior to the common ancestor of  א/B

As we have noted, if singular readings can be classified on the basis of their physical features, (i.e., homoeoteleuton, & random omissions), and they can even be used to determine the column-width of exemplars, then obviously so can non-singular readings, provided the results are assigned to the right ancestor in a plausible transmission history.   There is no logical reason to treat them differently than singular readings, or assign different causes. 

Hort avoided this discussion, since his quest to construct the oldest possible text overrode his caution regarding the value of those old readings.  Hort did not openly discuss the possibility of homoeoteleuton in the 70  א/B omissions which have those very features, as this would have not only disqualified them and exposed the flaw in his own plan for textual reconstruction, but it would have weakened severely the credibility of the other 130 omissions as candidates for the original text as well.

In closing, Hort contrasts the omissions in the Western text, which he concedes may be deliberate and conscious, with the omissions of B as follows:
"¶ 314.  ...If however a like scrutiny is applied to important words or clauses, such as are sometimes dropped in the Western texts for the sake of apparent directness or simplicity, we find no traces whatever of a similar tendency in B.  
Omissions due to clerical error, and especially to homoeoteleuton, naturally take place sometimes without destruction of sense: and all the analogies suggest that this is the real cause of the very few substantial omissions in B which could possibly be referred to a love of abbreviation.    As far as readings of any interest are concerned, we believe the text of B to be as free from [deliberate] curtailment as that of any other important document."
(Hort, p. 237).
Thus again, Hort insists that singular omissions, (and omissions generally), if demonstrated, are in virtually all cases accidental errors, not deliberate edits.  This is an important point, for it paints a consistent picture not only of singular errors (those which belong to B itself), but also of non-singular omissions, which on the very same basis have probably arisen from the very same transcriptional causes, in other earlier exemplars. 


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