Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Origen’s knowledge of (multiple) manuscripts of Mark

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It is often noted that Mark’s Gospel is not well represented among our early manuscripts of the Greek New Testament or in citations and comments in the Early Fathers (see e.g. Head, 2012).

So I was interested in reading through Origen’s Contra Celsum (as one does - actually for a reading group here in Oxford) to come to the discussion of Celsus’ accusation that the followers of Jesus were all wicked tax-collectors and sailors (Book 1, #62). Origen explains that of the twelve only Matthew was a tax collector. He then says (reading Chadwick’s ET): ‘I grant that the Leves who also followed Jesus was a tax-collector; but he was not of the number of the apostles, except according to one of the copies of the gospel according to Mark.’

I thought it was interesting to see that by the time he wrote Contra Celsum (late in his life according to Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. VI.36.2, post AD 245) Origen could note such a divergence in the manuscripts at Mark 3.18, and could know this variant reading which we know as existing only in Codex Bezae among Greek witnesses (Lebbaion is read in place of Thaddion in Codex Bezae and a good number of Old Latin witnesses). [With Donaldson’s main point, but against her question as to whether this might relate to Mark 2.14, I think this must relate to the passage which numbers the twelve apostles, i.e. Mark 3.18 (as also Koetschau’s notes in the GCS edition)]

When I got back to the office, I thought I should check the Greek text (generally this is a good policy - and ideally before opening one’s mouth in an Oxford seminar):
Ἔστω δὲ καὶ ὁ Λευὴς τελώνης ἀκολουθήσας τῷ Ἰησοῦ· ἀλλ᾿ οὔτι γε τοῦ ἀριθμοῦ τῶν ἀποστόλων αὐτοῦ ἦν εἰ μὴ κατά τινα τῶν ἀντιγράφων τοῦ κατὰ Μάρκον εὐαγγελίου.
Now it seems that Chadwick’s translation is quite faulty in its definiteness (‘according to one of the copies ...’) and we should think that Origen’s comment is that a reading which includes Levi within the number of the twelve is found ‘in some of the copies’. Even more interesting.

Bibliography

  • A.M. Donaldson, Explicit References to New Testament Variant Readings among Greek and Latin Church Fathers (PhD; Notre Dame, 2009)
  • P.M. Head,‘The Early Text of Mark’ in The Early Text of the New Testament (eds. Charles E. Hill and Michael J. Kruger; Oxford: OUP, 2012), 108–120. 
  • B.M. Metzger, ‘Explicit References in the Works of Origen to Variant Readings in New Testament Manuscripts’ in J.N. Birdsall and R.W. Thomson (eds.), Biblical and Patristic Essays in Memory of Robert Pierce Casey (Freiburg: Herder, 1967), 78–95. Reprinted in B.M. Metzger, Historical and Literary Studies: Pagan, Jewish, and Christian, New Testament Tools and Studies 8 (Leiden: Brill, 1968), 88–103. [I couldn’t find my copy of this, but Donaldson notes that Metzger mentions this passage.]

14 comments :

  1. "Even more interesting." Indeed. I'm curious how textual critics weigh this kind of information when making judgments about the initial text. I believe that the one reading in Bezae (and some Latin copies) would not be taken too seriously by tc folks. But Origen's comment leaves the impression that the evidence is stronger (perhaps) for this reading than our extant copies indicate. So how does a TC expert weigh this? Is it basically dismissed for lack of clarity and confirmation? Seems like I've come across other similar statements among the fathers that leave different impressions about the nature of their copies vs. the ones still extant.

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    1. I suspect editions are a bit reluctant to cite anything that needs an argument (and is thus a lot less straightforward than a manuscript). Also the academic work on the text of the NT in the church fathers perhaps got a bit overly statistical. And, of course, the text of a church father can't be used in the CBGM (except at the initial stage).

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  2. PMH, this is a fascinating text. Thank you for bringing it to light. One clarification: τινα could be derived from τις or τι, correct? If so, then τινα could be Accusative Neuter Plural ("some, certain ones"; your reading) or Accusative Masc./Fem. Singular ("a certain one"; the reading of the translation), right?

    I could be wrong, but the proper interpretation depends on what the gender and number of the word one thinks is being modified by the pronoun. What do you think?

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    1. Good catch, Meade. ἀντίγραφον is neuter so I would expect τινα to be neuter plural.

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    2. Okay. so the understanding is "some αντιγραφα/copies of the copies"? I can live with that, I guess.

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    3. Thanks for that. I should have been clearer (both in my own mind and in the text). I'm agreeing with your colleague.

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  3. I am perplexed by Origen and probably because I am missing something obvious. Does Origen think that James, son of Alpheus in Mark 2.18 is Levi there (v.l.) and that Matthew is therefore a different person than Levi? Hence his rejection of the v.l. in Mark 3.18. This is what I gather from reading Donaldson.

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  4. Also, for what it's worth, Marcovich's edition also cites Mark 3.18 here.

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  5. Thanks for posting this. One of my pet peeves is the leap from "infrequent citation" to "poor attestation" to "low circulation". Yes, Justin, Tatian, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement, and Origen quote Mark less than they quote Matthew, Luke, and John, but there is no real evidence that Mark ever nearly fell out of use/circulation. (I argue this in a forthcoming essay on the Diatessaron.)

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    1. Yes. In my essay I argued from some indications of apparent lack of knowledge of Mark (e.g. when Origen wondered whether the Lord's Prayer was in Mark). I suspect I may have to change my tone at least a little. Also Contra Celsum is probably very late so the situation in Caesarea in c. 250 may be quite different from Alexandria c. 210 - so I probably ned to factor in the timing and locations of Origen's writings better than I have done in the past.

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  6. You've all got access to Metzger's article on Origen's citations of textual variants, right?

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  7. Here: https://books.google.com/books?id=3pM3AAAAIAAJ&pg=PA88

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  8. Thanks PMH for this fine observation. On considering what Celsus and Origen knew, I have written a short article on where Celsus, imo, encountered Christianity--not in Rome (as Chadwick and others suggested), nor Alexandria, nor Caesarea: "Celsus of Pergamum: Locating a Critic of Early Christianity," Ch. 30 in The Archaeology of Difference...Studies in Honor of Eric M. Meyers (AASOR 60/61, 2007).
    http://people.duke.edu/~goranson/Celsus_of_Pergamum.pdf

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