Numerals in early Greek New Testament manuscripts: text-critical, scribal and theological studies
Cole, Zachary John
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This thesis examines the phenomenon of numerals as they were written by early New Testament scribes. Chapter 1 briefly introduces the two basic ways that early scribes wrote numerals, either as longhand words or in alphabetic shorthand (e.g., δύο or β̅), and summarizes the fundamental research question: how did early Christian scribes write numerals and why? The need for such a study is described in chapter 2, which reviews past discussions of the phenomenon of scribal number-writing in New Testament manuscripts. While scholars are aware of the feature and have been eager to draw it into a variety of important discussions, this has been done without any systematic or thorough study of the phenomenon itself. After these introductory chapters, the thesis proceeds in two basic parts: the first isolates the relevant data in question and the second aims to examine those data more fully and from several different angles. Part one is a systematic examination of all numerals, both cardinal and ordinal, that are extant in New Testament manuscripts dated up through the fifth century CE (II–V/VI). The principal concern is when and where numerical shorthand occurs in these manuscripts. Can we discern a Christian style of number-writing that can be distinguished from contemporary scribal customs, and, if so, what is the nature of that style? One aim is to discern the function of number-writing within individual codices, and so its relation to other codicological and scribal features is also considered. Chapter 3 examines numerals in papyrus witnesses and chapter 4 examines them in majuscules written on parchment. Part two then comprises a more thorough investigation of some important issues that arose in part one. Chapter 5 approaches the feature of number-writing from the angle of textual genealogy. Did scribes ever mimic the particular numberforms as they were written in their exemplars or did they choose between them at their own leisure? In either case, what implications does this have for our understanding of textual relationships? Chapter 6 takes a brief detour to evaluate a commonly repeated axiom: that, in Greek copies of the Old Testament scriptures, Jewish scribes consistently used longhand numerals and avoided numerical shorthand. I argue that this idea is invalid and has distorted our understanding of the provenance of some early manuscripts. Chapter 7 then considers whether theological reflection ever influenced a scribe’s decision to employ numerical shorthand. In the same way that devotional practice seems to lie at the origin of the nomina sacra, the group of scribal contractions for divine names and titles, can we detect similar patterns of number-writing that relate to theologically significant concepts and/or referents? I argue that, aside from a handful of isolated yet intriguing examples, no coherent system similar to the nomina sacra can be detected—a conclusion that nonetheless sheds a great deal of light on devotional practices among early Christians. In chapter 8, I describe a hypothesis that seeks to make sense of much of the data observed in part one. In our examination of the numerals in the early manuscripts, four curious features are identified that distinguish Christian scribal practice from that found in other corpora, all relating to numerals (or kinds of numerals) that Christian scribes, as a rule, wrote longhand rather than in shorthand. I argue that this unique adaptation of numerical abbreviation in New Testament manuscripts reflects an awareness and intentional policy to avoid forms that were potentially ambiguous in the reading of those texts, and especially in their public reading. The final portion, chapter 9, then summarizes the thesis, draws out some implications of the study, and suggests areas in which more research would be potentially fruitful.