Sleepy Scribes and Clever Critics

A Classification of Conjectures on the Text of the New Testament

in Novum Testamentum
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This article presents a classification of conjectures on the text of the New Testament. It focusses on the types of arguments used by conjectural critics. The argumentation for a conjecture basically comprises (1) the perception of a problem (or problems) in the transmitted text and (2) the suggestion of a cause (or causes) for the supposed scribal change. Type (or types) of perceived problems and of supposed causes are classified, and illustrated with a range of important conjectures.

Sleepy Scribes and Clever Critics

A Classification of Conjectures on the Text of the New Testament

in Novum Testamentum




See e.g. B.M. MetzgerThe Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission Corruption and Restoration (3rd ed.; New York: Oxford University Press1992) 185.


See e.g. J.K. ElliottNew Testament Textual Criticism: The Application of Thoroughgoing Principles; Essays on Manuscripts and Textual Variation (NovTSup 137; Leiden: Brill2010) 8; M.W. Holmes “Text and Transmission in the Second Century” in R.B. Stewart (ed.) The Reliability of the New Testament: Bart D. Ehrman and Daniel B. Wallace in Dialogue (Minneapolis: Fortress 2011) 61-79 (67-68); U. Schmid “Scribes and Variants: Sociology and Typology” in Textual Variation: Theological and Social Tendencies? Papers from the Fifth Birmingham Colloquium on the Textual Criticicm of the New Testament (eds. H.A.G. Houghton and D.C. Parker; TS third series 6; Piscataway: Gorgias 2008) 1-23 (23). See also R. Wettlaufer “Unseen Variants: Conjectural Emendation and the New Testament” in Editing the Bible: Assessing the Task Past and Present (eds. J.S. Kloppenborg and J.H. Newman; SBLRBS 69; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature 2012) 171-193 and No Longer Written: The Use of Conjectural Emendation in the Restoration of the Text of the New Testament the Epistle of James as a Case Study (NTTSD 44; Leiden: Brill 2013). Seemlingly at odds with this trend the latest edition of the Nestle text has obliterated all modern conjectures from its apparatus. However its text contains a fresh conjecture at 2 Pet 3:10 besides the one already present at Acts 16:12. Moreover the decision to omit the conjectures was a technical one (see NA28 Introduction 49*); the Amsterdam project (see n. 1) will provide the digital NA28 with a full listing of all conjectures ever mentioned in previous Nestle editions.


J.L.H. KransBeyond What is Written: Erasmus and Beza as Conjectural Critics of the New Testament (NTTS 35; Leiden: Brill2006).


Cf. F.W. HallA Companion to Classical Texts (Oxford: Clarendon Press1913) 150-198; P. Maas Textual Criticism (transl. B. Flower; Oxford: Clarendon Press 1958) 5 10-13; E.J. Kenney “Textual Criticism” in Encyclopaedia Britannica Online n.p. [consulted 16 October 2013;]; B.A. Van Groningen Traité d’histoire et de critique des textes grecs (Verhandelingen Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen section Letterkunde second series 70; Amsterdam: Noord-Hollandsche Uitgevers Maatschappij 1963) 81-117; R. Renehan Greek Textual Criticism: A Reader (Loeb Classical Monographs; Cambridge: Harvard University Press 1969) 2.


See e.g. the major study of J.R. RoyseScribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri (NTTSD 36; Leiden: Brill2008) who from his analysis of singular readings in 𝔓45 𝔓46 𝔓47 𝔓66 𝔓72 and 𝔓75 concludes that early scribes tended to omit rather than to add. From a statistical point of view this would imply for conjectural criticism that a proposed addition is more plausible than a proposed omission.


See A. Maradi“Classification, Typology, Taxonomy,” in Quality and Quantity 24 (1990) 129-157.


J. Delobel“Textual Criticism and Exegesis: Siamese Twins?,” in New Testament Textual Criticism Exegesis and Early Church History: A Discussion of Methods (eds. B. Aland and J. Delobel; CBET 7; Kampen: Kok Pharos1994) 98-117 (111-116).


W. Bousset“Der erste Brief an die Korinther,” in Die Briefe. Die johanneischen Schriften (vol. 2 of Die Schriften des Neuen Testaments neu überlegt und für die Gegenwart erklärt . . . ; ed. J. Weiß; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1907) 123-124. In the Nestle editions (N13-NA27) the conjecture is mentioned in this form though incorrectly under Straatman’s name. Bousset leaves out vs. 33b from the conjecture because only vss. 34 and 35 are located after vs. 40 in the “Western Text” (information not used by Straatman). In Bousset’s version the conjecture solves a fourth problem this one being text-critical. As he assumes the suspicious words were first written down in the margin and subsequently inserted into other copies at different locations the cause now becomes “contextualization (with margin).


C.H. TurnerThe Study of the New Testament 1883 and 1920: An Inaugural Lecture Delivered Before the University of Oxford on October 22 and 29 1920 (Oxford: Clarendon Press1920) 46-47.

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