Correctors and Corrections
Contents: Introduction *
Noteworthy Corrected Manuscripts *
The Significance of Corrections
Ancient scribes were at least as aware of scribal errors as
moderns. Since all manuscripts were copied individually, each
needed to be individually checked for errors. This process eventually
came to be standardized.
We don't know how or whether early manuscripts were corrected.
In a scriptorium, however, it was the practice that a manuscript
be checked as soon as it was finished. This was the task of the
literally "one who straightens," which we might loosely render as
"guy supposed to make this thing right." The diorthotes
was often a scribe specially trained to find and rectify mistakes,
though we often find a scribe acting as his own diorthotes.
The diorthotes was often the last scribe to work on
a manuscript. (This is particularly true of Byzantine manuscripts.)
But manuscripts represented a lot of expense and work; an owner might
be reluctant to discard a manuscript simply because its text did
not meet the tastes of the times. So we see many manuscripts,
including Sinaiticus and Bezae, repeatedly corrected to bring
them more in line with the Byzantine text.
Where a manuscript has been corrected, it is customary to
refer to the original reading with an asterisk. Thus D* in a
critical apparatus indicates that this reading is supported
by the original hand of D.
Conventions for the correctors have varied. The simplest
is to use additional asterisks to refer to the correctors. Thus,
if D* refers to the original hand of D, D** refers to the first
corrector, D*** to the second, etc.
The problems with this notation are obvious. If a manuscript
has many correctors, simply reading the apparatus is a chore.
(Quick! Which corrector is D*******?) In addition, there is an
æsthetic difficulty -- D**, despite the presence of
two asterisks, refers to the first corrector.
The solution was to use superscripts. So, instead of D**,
one would write Dc.
This is, of course, all very well where one corrector is
involved. But suppose there are two or three, or even more
(as sometimes happened)? In this case, the superscripts
were retained, but different symbols used.
In the past, correctors were often referred to by a superscript letter. So
referred to a reading from the first corrector of Sinaiticus, while
would refer to the second. It is now more normal to refer to correctors
by number, making
the first corrector,
the second, etc. If a manuscript had only a single corrector, of course,
the simple c notation is retained.
A distinction is sometimes made between "amateur" and
"professional" correctors. This is an unfortunate notation;
in the period after the split of the Roman Empire, professional scribes
were very nearly the only people who could read and write, and therefore
all correctors were professional. If we change the designations to
something like "systematic" and "casual," however,
the distinction is accurate. A systematic corrector is one who goes over
a section of text in detail, comparing it to some sort of exemplar. A
casual corrector is one who notices a variant or two, probably in the
course of reading, and makes some sort of correction. A casual corrector
will make only a few corrections in a manuscript, and may not be dignified
with a separate superscript number.
While we usually speak of correctors as working on the text of a
manuscript, there are a few instances of correctors working on the
artwork as well. An early Syriac bible known as the Rabbula Gospels,
for instance, has had many of the paintings retouched, presumably to
make them conform more nearly with the opinions and attitudes of the
The list below describes some of the more noteworthy corrected
manuscripts and the scribes who corrected them.
The following list describes most of the manuscripts which have
experienced noteworthy corrections.
- P66. P66 is, in terms of scribal accuracy,
one of the most poorly-written manuscripts known to us. Although it
contains only the gospel of John (and portions even of that have been
lost), it contains roughly 450 corrections! As Colwell comments
["Method in Evaluating Scribal Habits." now published
in E. C. Colwell, Studies in Methodology in Textual Criticism of the
New Testament; p. 121], "Wildness in copying is the
outstanding characteristic of P66." This means that
many of the corrections in the manuscript were early alterations
made to correct the scribe's own errors; Colwell [p. 118]
reports "P66 seems to reflect a scribe working with the
intention of making a good copy, falling into careless errors,
particularly the dropping of a letter, a syllable, a word, or even
a phrase where it is doubled, but also under the control of some other
person, or second standard, so that the corrections which are made
are usually corrections to a reading read by a number of other
witnesses. Nine out of ten of the nonsense readings are corrected,
and two out of three of all his singular readings." (It should
be noted that Colwell, p. 109, finds no fewer than 482 singular readings in
P66; this would imply that two-thirds of the corrections
in P66 correct singular readings -- an astonishing
proportion. Colwell also reports, p. 111, that "two out of five
[of P66's singular readings] are nonsense readings,"
leaving 289 "Sensible Singular Readings".)
It does appear that P66 was eventually corrected from
a different exemplar. The nature of this exemplar is difficult to
determine due simply to the mass of nonsense and singular readings
requiring correction. Nonetheless, the original text of P66
seems to have been Alexandrian, and the corrections do not seem to
have changed this much. (Various scholars have mentioned what they
regard as "Western" readings, but most are "Western"
only in the false sense "Non-Alexandrian;" many of these
readings appear to be simply scribal slips.)
- ℵ. Sinaiticus
is one of the most-corrected of all Biblical manuscripts; Tischendorf
lists nearly 15,000 alterations (some of them involving multiple changes
in the same place), and this is based only on the London portion
of the text. At this rate there would have been in excess of
25,000 corrections in the entire manuscript (Old and New Testaments).
It is believed that nine correctors (perhaps more) have worked on the
manuscript (though not all engaged in the New Testament),
dating from the time it was written to perhaps the twelfth century.
For reasons of simplicity, however, a rather more limited
set of sigla has been used for these correctors:
The current Nestle-Aland edition has simplified this notation;
now subsumed under the symbol
ℵ1; all the
correctors now appear in the guise of
the handful of corrections of
are placed under the symbol
is contemporary with the scribe, or nearly (i.e. fourth century).
This corrector made a relatively slight number of changes, not
all of them in the direction of the Byzantine text (e.g. this
corrector apparently marked Luke 22:43-44 for deletion). Hort, e.g., thought
the readings of this scribe to be of value nearly equal to the
original readings of the text. Tischendorf believed this copyist
was one of the original copyists of the manuscript, specifically, the scribe D who
wrote a few random leaves of the New Testament
(probably to correct pages he felt incurably flawed).
dates probably from the fifth/sixth century. This corrector made many
changes in the first few chapters of Matthew (generally bringing
it closer to the Byzantine text), but did very little other work.
actually refers to a large group of scribes (perhaps five) who worked
in the seventh century and made the large majority of the corrections
in the manuscript. Often they cannot be reliably distinguished.
The most important (and probably the first) of these
is known as
who did a great deal to conform the manuscript to the Byzantine text
(and not infrequently undid the work of
The next phase of corrections, labelled
may perhaps have been the work of three scribes, who added a
few more Byzantine readings. In addition, the symbols
is sometimes used to refer to a scribe who worked primarily if not
exclusively on the Old Testament (his corrections, in fact, seem
to be confined to 1 Kingdoms-Esther), commenting that he was working
from a Pamphilian manuscript, while
refer to two minor correctors from late in the seventh century; many of
their changes are in the Apocalypse. We may ignore
this symbol is not generally used.
refers to the last known corrector, who made a few alterations (Tischendorf
reportedly lists only three) in the twelfth century.
- B. The corrections in B are, in a sense, far less significant than
those in the preceding manuscripts. There are corrections, but they
do not fundamentally change the manuscript's text-type. But in another
sense, they affect the entire text of the manuscript.
Traditionally B has been regarded as having three correctors:
B1, contemporary with the original writing; B2,
of about the sixth century, and B3, probably of the
ninth or tenth century. (A few later corrections are also found.)
B3 is the most important of these correctors, as
this scribe retraced the entire manuscript (except for a handful
of words and phrases he regarded as spurious). This scribe added
accents, breathings, and punctuation at the same time. Presumably
he made some reference to another manuscript during the process (since
he did make some few textual changes), but the changes are slight.
The primary effect of the retracing was to ruin the beauty of the
In the Nestle-Aland text, the readings of the correctors B1
are labelled B1, while those of B3 are labelled
- C. Codex C is, of course, a palimpsest, which makes it even harder than
usual to assess its correctors. The fullest study of the correctors of
C was made by Tischendorf, but of course this was done before ultraviolet
photography and other modern techniques were available. Robert W. Lyon
offered corrections to Tischendorf, but even these are regarded as inadequate.
Thus the only fully current information is that offered by the apparatus
to the current Nestle-Aland edition -- which is accurate but of course
not complete. So all the information here must be considered tentative.
Traditionally, C is listed as having had three correctors: C1
(Ca), C2 (Cb), and C3 (Cc).
C1 is the symbol used for the diorthotes. However, there
are no readings which can be attributed with certainty to this corrector,
and many scholars omit this hypothetical scribe from the list.
The existence of C2 and C3 can hardly be denied,
however, as each made some hundreds of corrections to the text.
(The Nestle-Aland text shows about 251 corrections by C2 and
about 272 by C3). C2 is believed to have worked
in the sixth century, possibly in Palestine; C3 worked in
the ninth century, perhaps at Constantinople.
Neither corrector was really thorough. Both seem to have alternated between
moderate attention and extreme inattention. This is particularly true of
C3, who all but ignored large fractions of the text. For example,
C3 offered only three corrections in the Catholic Epistles
and only 20 corrections in Mark. The table below summarizes the extent to
which the two correctors worked on various parts of the New Testament (the
Apocalypse is omitted because NA27 shows only 3 corrections of
C in that entire book! All numbers are approximate).
The text of C3 is almost purely Byzantine. That of C2
is more complex. The Byzantine element is still dominant, but there are
occasional readings which go against the Majority Text. Few of these agree
with the earliest Alexandrian witnesses, but they are often shared with
late Alexandrian manuscripts.
- Dea/05. Codex Bezae is unique. (Oh, you knew that?) No
other manuscript departs so far from the New Testament norm. It is a testimony
to the value of manuscripts, and the effort required to make them, that it
was preserved and repeatedly corrected, rather than thrown away.
Scrivener counts a total of fifteen correctors who worked on the manuscript;
nine worked on the Greek side (the others confined their attention to the
Latin or the margins).
The earliest of these is contemporary with the writing (the original
scribe occasionally sponged and/or scraped away errors); the last dates
from the eleventh or twelfth century. Gregory summarizes the earliest of
these as follows: "The first one made about 181 changes in a careful
beautiful hand in the sixth century. The second was probably of the seventh
century, and made about 327 changes, besides adding some spiritus and accents
and other signs. The third, it may be towards the end of the seventh century,
made 130 changes, and the fourth, of the same age, 160 changes, mostly in Acts"
(The Canon and Text of the New Testament, p. 352).
Scrivener, naturally enough, designated
the various correctors by the letters A through M (the use of twelve
letters -- I/J are treated as one -- is explained by the fact that correctors
E and G worked only on the Latin side). In Tischendorf's edition this was simplified;
DA becomes D1, DB and DC
retain their symbols; the rest are subsumed as D2. In the
Nestle text this is further simplified; the early correctors DA,
DB, DC, and DD are summarized as D1; the
middle correctors (DF, DH, DJ,
DK, and DL, all of around the ninth century) are
given the symbol D2, and the eleventh/twelfth century
corrector DM becomes Dc.
- Dp/06. Codex Claromontanus resembles Codex Bezae in many
ways. It is a diglot, it dates from about the sixth century -- and it
has been heavily corrected. Tischendorf distinguished nine correctors,
though only four were really significant. These four he assigned
the symbols Db (D**, seventh century?),
Dc (D***, ninth century; whom Tischendorf regards as actually the
fourth corrector. It should be noted that Tischendorf often marked corrections
Db et c, indicating that this corrector agreed with
Db), plus the nearly-contemporary correctors Dd (D****)
and Dnov, which must be after the ninth century. (In the
Nestle-Aland text, Db becomes D1, Dc
becomes D2, and Dd and Dnov together
Of these, the most significant was the ninth century corrector
(Nestle-Aland's D2), who, according to Scrivener, made
"more than two thousand critical changes in the text, and added
stops and all the breathings and accents." The text used by this
corrector, as might be expected, was almost entirely Byzantine.
- Hp (015). H is not
as noteworthy for its corrections as for their claimed source. Originally
written in the sixth century, some centuries later a second hand went over
the manuscript adding accents and breathings as well as badly retracing letters.
Of greater interest is a note affixed to the end of Titus. This claims that
the manuscript was corrected from a manuscript written by Pamphilius and kept
at Cæsarea. (The wording of the note is
τοδε το τευχος
αναγνωσιν. των καθ
ευχη τη υπερ
αναβληθη δε η
το εν καισαρια
This note is dated by Tischendorf to the
seventh century -- i.e. to a date after the manuscript was
written. However, it seems almost certain that the note is either
wrong or misunderstood. It is highly unlikely that a Pamphilian
manuscript would have a purely Byzantine text -- but the handful
of surviving corrections in H that involve a change of text (as opposed
to spelling, accents, etc.) -- will be seen to be almost invariably Byzantine,
with the others being perhaps from the Lectionary (1799 also has lectionary
readings). Readings marked * are not in the Nestle apparatus, and so have been given
in full; for the other variants listed here, the reader is referred to NA27:
- 1 Cor. 10:28 -- H* with ℵ
A B C* D F G P 33 81 365 630 1175 1739 1881; Hc with K L Byz
- 2 Cor. 11:28 -- H* with P46 ℵ
B D F G 0243 33 81 1175 1739 1881; Hc with Ivid K L 0121 Byz
- *Col. 1:29 -- H* δυναμει
with P46 ℵ A B C D F G
K L P 330 436 1739 Byz vg;
Hc adds θεου
(I know of no other support for this reading)
- Col. 2:7 -- H* with ℵ*
33 81 1175 1739 1881; Hc with B D2 K L Byz
- *Col. 3:4 -- H* οταν
with P46 ℵ A B C D F G
K L P (330 οταν ουν) 436
read (from the lectionary?)
- 1 Tim. 1:13 -- H* with ℵ
A D* F G I P 6 33 81 365 1175 1739 1881; Hc with D2 K L Byz
- 1 Tim. 1:17 -- H* with ℵ*
A D* F G 33 1739; Hc with ℵ2
D1 K L 1881 Byz
- 2 Tim. 2:3 -- H* with ℵ
A C* D* F G I P 33 81 365 1739 1881*vid; Hc with C3
D1 K L Byz
- Heb. 1:3 -- H* with ℵ A B D1
P 33 81 1175; Hc with (P46) D(*),2 K L 0243 1739 1881 Byz
- Heb. 10:34 -- H* with P13 P46
ℵ* A D H* 33 1739c?;
Hc with ℵc
D2 K L 1739* 1881 Byz
- Heb. 10:38 -- H* with P46 ℵ
A 33 1739; Hc with P13 D2 I K L 1881 Byz
- 424. 424 is the only minuscule known
to have been heavily corrected. There were actually three stages of correction (denoted simply
67** in Tischendorf, and 424** by Souter, etc., but in K. Aland et al, Text und Textwert der
griechischen Handschriften des Neuen Testaments the hands are distinguished as
4241, 4242, and 4243). Of these, the second set
of correctors are by far the most important, introducing thousands of changes
(especially in Paul, but also in the Catholics; the Acts are relatively unaffected).
Even more interesting than the fact of these extensive corrections is their nature:
instead of its corrections moving the manuscript toward the Byzantine text (as has
taken place in every other heavily corrected manuscript), the changes in 424 move
it away from the Byzantine text and toward the text of Family 1739 (especially
Almost all other manuscripts contain corrections, of course. But few if any
contain corrections such as those found in the manuscripts listed above, which
actually change the nature of the manuscript. Descriptions of these manuscripts
are therefore omitted.
Most corrections in most manuscripts merely correct slips of the pen.
These are usually obvious, and have no textual significance. But the manuscripts
listed above are another matter.
D, and 424 in particular were clearly corrected against manuscripts of
completely different types.
This forces us to look at exactly what we know about those other manuscripts.
Can we exactly reconstruct their texts? The answer is no. If the corrector
leaves a reading alone, we cannot be certain that the manuscript he worked from
actually agreed with the manuscript in our hands. The corrector may simply have
ignored the alternate reading, either accidentally or on purpose. The
useful readings are the corrections, not the uncorrected portions. (There is an
analogy to this in Shakespeare criticism, in the many cases where the handful of
witnesses are partially but not fully independent. Where the semi-independent
witnesses agree, the reading is actually less weighty than where the
disagree, because the agreement may be coincidence in error, but where they
disagree, it is nearly sure that at least one witness is correct.)
So, in assessing a corrected text, we should examine first the corrections
in isolation and only then the text as corrected. 424 proves this point well:
Examining the corrections shows us that the direction of the corrections was
toward the 1739 type of text; looking at 424-as-corrected shows a clear kinship
to 6. This is obvious when examining both; it is less clear when examining
either in isolation.