Block Mixture

Contents: Introduction * Noteworthy Block Mixed Manuscripts * Bibliography


All known manuscripts are copied and corrected from previous manuscripts. Usually the manuscripts are taken and corrected from a single exemplar, but this is by no means universal. A scribe's exemplar might be damaged as some point, forcing him to refer to another manuscript. Or he might come into the scriptorium one day to find his exemplar in use, and have to refer to another for that day. Or the exemplar might have been very thoroughly corrected in different places from different manuscripts. Or a scribe might suffer revisor fatigue and, for practical purposes, correct only part of a manuscript. Or, conceivably, a scribe might have started to copy from one manuscript, decided he didn't approve of its text, and turned to another.

All of these are possible causes of block mixture, where a manuscript displays a sudden shift of text-type within a corpus. (If a manuscript shows a change in type between one corpus and another, this is not considered block mixture; this situation is too common to invite comment. We should simply keep in mind that the fact a document is Alexandrian in, say, the Gospels, does not mean it will belong to that type in other parts of the New Testament.)

Block mixture should not be confused with ordinary mixture, in which elements of different text-types occur constantly throughout a manuscript. Ordinary mixture is thought to be the result of correcting a manuscript of one type from a manuscript of another (meaning that readings from both manuscripts will become jumbled together), while block mixture arises from the sole use of multiple exemplars.

One might give an analogy from baking. One can take a measuring cup of sugar, and a measuring cup of flour. The sugar might be Alexandrian readings, the flour Byzantine. As long as the sugar is in one cup and the flour in another, the texts are block mixed. If we take the two and mix them together, then put them back in the cups, they are mixed, not just block mixed.

Or let's try another analogy: Let's think of ordinary mixture as being like mixing paints, while block mixture is like mixing colored tiles. If you mix red and yellow paint, you get orange paint -- not paint with splotches of red and splotches of yellow. The two are thoroughly united; you can't take them back apart or point to one section of paint and say "this is from the can of red paint."

But, instead of painting the wall or floor, think of covering it with tiles, some red, some yellow. Whoever laid the tiles brought in several boxes. He laid red tiles until the box ran out, then started on the yellow, then perhaps went back to red. For any given tile, you can tell which box it came out of. The overall floor is not red or yellow, but there is no place where it is orange. In any given section, it is red or yellow. Similarly, a block-mixed text may have Alexandrian and Byzantine strands (for example), but any particular section is either from the Alexandrian or the Byzantine source, not both. In an ordinary mixed manuscript, you will see Alexandrian and Byzantine readings in immediate proximity throughout.

The phenomenon is not solely confined to Biblical manuscripts; I have read of it occurring in Chaucer manuscripts, though I cannot verify this of my own knowledge. And reading catalogs of Piers Plowman manuscripts (where there are three easily distinguishable recensions) gives the impression that the majority of manuscripts are block-mixed! (The problem is so extreme in that case that it almost certainly deserves some sort of examination to try to understand how it came about.)

Block mixture is not overly common, but neither is it rare. Students should always be alert to it, and never assume, simply because a manuscript belongs to a certain text-type in one book or section of a book, that it will belong to that type in another section.

Incidentally we should note that even printed editions, especially those from the early days of printing, may be block mixed; printed texts rarely used more than one source at a time, so if (say) Q3 of a Shakespeare play was set from Q2 of the same play, but the compositor's copy of Q2 has a damaged leaf, the compositor might dig up a copy of Q1 and set the one page from that -- and then go right back to setting from Q2, even though Q1 is earlier and, very possibly, more authoritative. Something like this appears to have been true of "Richard III," for instance: most of the text of the First Folio is believed to derive from a 1622 quarto corrected from manuscript, but some parts are derived from a 1602 quarto which was not corrected from manuscript.

Noteworthy Block Mixed Manuscripts

The following list highlights some of the better-known examples of block mixture.


Davies: M. Davies, The Text of the Pauline Epistles in MS. 2344 (Studies and Documents 38, 1968)

Fee: Gordon D. Fee, "Codex Sinaiticus in the Gospel of John: A Contribution to Methodology in Establishing Textual Relationships," now available as Chapter 12 of Eldon J. Epp and Gordon D. Fee, Studies in the Theory and Method of New Testament Textual Criticism (Studies and Documents 45, Eerdmans, 1993).

Hurtado: Larry W. Hurtado, Text-Critical Methodology and the Pre-Cæsarean Text: Codex W in the Gospel of Mark (Studies and Documents 43, Eerdmans, 1981).

Metzger: Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (third edition, Oxford, 1992)

Richards: W. L. Richards, The Classification of the Greek Manuscripts of the Johannine Epistles (SBL Dissertation Series 35, Scholars Press, 1977).

Sanders: Henry A. Sanders, Facsimile of the Washington Manuscript of the Four Gospels in the Freer Collection (University of Michigan, 1912).

Streeter: B. H. Streeter, The Four Gospels: A Study of Origins (Macmillan, 1924)