Correctors and Corrections

Contents: Introduction *Noteworthy Corrected Manuscripts *The Significance of Corrections


Ancient scribes were at least as aware of scribal errors asmoderns. Since all manuscripts were copied individually, eachneeded to be individually checked for errors. This process eventuallycame to be standardized.

We don't know how or whether early manuscripts were corrected.In a scriptorium, however, it was the practice that a manuscriptδιορθωτης,literally "one who straightens," which we might loosely render as"guy supposed to make this thing right." The diorthoteswas often a scribe specially trained to find and rectify mistakes,though we often find a scribe acting as his own diorthotes.

Once a manuscript had been corrected, the diorthotes wasoften expected to mark it finished. So a manuscript might be markedδι or αντιβληθη to show that it had been checked over. This notationseems to be rare in New Testament manuscripts, however.

The diorthotes was often the last scribe to work ona manuscript. (This is particularly true of Byzantine manuscripts.)But manuscripts represented a lot of expense and work; an owner mightbe reluctant to discard a manuscript simply because its text didnot meet the tastes of the times. So we see many manuscripts,including Sinaiticus and Bezae, repeatedly corrected to bringthem more in line with the Byzantine text.

Where a manuscript has been corrected, it is customary torefer to the original reading with an asterisk. Thus D* in acritical apparatus indicates that this reading is supportedby the original hand of D.

Conventions for the correctors have varied. The simplestis to use additional asterisks to refer to the correctors. Thus,if D* refers to the original hand of D, D** refers to the firstcorrector, D*** to the second, etc.

The problems with this notation are obvious. If a manuscripthas many correctors, simply reading the apparatus is a chore.(Quick! Which corrector is D*******?) In addition, there is anæsthetic difficulty -- D**, despite the presence oftwo 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 isinvolved. But suppose there are two or three, or even more(as sometimes happened)? In this case, the superscriptswere retained, but different symbols used.

In the past, correctors were often referred to by a superscript letter. Soℵareferred to a reading from the first corrector of Sinaiticus, whileℵbwould refer to the second. It is now more normal to refer to correctorsby number, makingℵ1the first corrector,ℵ2the second, etc. If a manuscript had only a single corrector, of course,the simple c notation is retained.

Unfortunately, this system is not always used outside Biblical criticism. The manuscripts of Chaucer, for instance, use superscripts to denote the witnesses -- there are (for example) four manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales in the Rawlinson Collecton at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. These are given the standard symbols Ra1, Ra2, Ra3, Ra4. Rather than using a double superscript -- admittedly a severe problem in dealing with New Testament papyri (for those of us with older eyes, it's not easy to tell 𝔓461 from 𝔓462!), editors of Chaucer use subscripts -- so Ra1 represents the main text of Ra1, Ra11 represents a correction made by the original scribe, and Ra12 a correction made by any later corrector.

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 scribeswere very nearly the only people who could read and write, and thereforeall correctors were professional. If we change the designations tosomething like "systematic" and "casual," however,the distinction is accurate. A systematic corrector is one who goes overa section of text in detail, comparing it to some sort of exemplar. Acasual corrector is one who notices a variant or two, probably in thecourse of reading, and makes some sort of correction. A casual correctorwill make only a few corrections in a manuscript, and may not be dignifiedwith a separate superscript number.

Corrections were made in many ways. If the mistake was noted before the ink had dried and the correction would fit in the space, the first reading might be sponged off and rewritten. Most, though, were spotted later. If words were missing, a mark was made in the text and the addition written in the margin. If the words in the text were wrong, they were so marked, usually by dots above the word, and the correct text in the margin (so, if a scribe wrote "mop" for "map," the reading "mop" would be marked ṁȯṗ and "map" written in the margin or above the line). If the text was simply deleted, then the dots would be written in and no alternative written. The addition of the dots was called "expunctuation."

Ideally a corrector would go over an entire manuscript with consistent diligence, but this was not always so. Often the corrector would experience revisor fatigue. The most famous example of that is found in Le.

While we usually speak of correctors as working on the text of amanuscript, there are a few instances of correctors working on theartwork as well. An early Syriac bible known as the Rabbula Gospels,for instance, has had many of the paintings retouched, presumably tomake them conform more nearly with the opinions and attitudes of thecorrectors.

The list below describes some of the more noteworthy correctedmanuscripts and the scribes who corrected them.

Noteworthy Corrected Manuscripts

The following list describes most of the manuscripts which haveexperienced noteworthy corrections.

Almost all other manuscripts contain corrections, of course. But few if anycontain corrections such as those found in the manuscripts listed above, whichactually change the nature of the manuscript. Descriptions of these manuscriptsare therefore omitted.

The Significance of Corrections

Most corrections in most manuscripts merely correct slips of the pen.These are usually obvious, and have no textual significance. But the manuscriptslisted above are another matter. ℵ,D, and 424 in particular were clearly corrected against manuscripts ofcompletely 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 correctorleaves a reading alone, we cannot be certain that the manuscript he worked fromactually agreed with the manuscript in our hands. The corrector may simply haveignored the alternate reading, either accidentally or on purpose. Theuseful readings are the corrections, not the uncorrected portions. (There is ananalogy to this in Shakespeare criticism, in the many cases where the handful ofwitnesses are partially but not fully independent. Where the semi-independentwitnesses agree, the reading is actually less weighty than where thedisagree, because the agreement may be coincidence in error, but where theydisagree, it is nearly sure that at least one witness is correct.)

So, in assessing a corrected text, we should examine first the correctionsin isolation and only then the text as corrected. 424 proves this point well:Examining the corrections shows us that the direction of the corrections wastoward the 1739 type of text; looking at 424-as-corrected shows a clear kinshipto 6. This is obvious when examining both; it is less clear when examiningeither in isolation.