9 November 2004 - Tuesday

The Illiterate Elfin Collator

I do not know Greek. In fact, I am familiar with the Greek alphabet only on a need-to-know basis. Despite this, I am working on part of a manuscript collation in Greek.

In textual criticism, a collation is a comparison of texts -- in this case, a comparison of an early Greek manuscript copy of the New Testament with a standard text. Dr. Hood handed out photocopies of our manuscript a few weeks ago. We are working on a manuscript of the Bezae family (not necessarily the best family of texts), of the book of Acts.

Here's how it works. I have a photocopy of part of Acts 10 and 11. I look at this manuscript and compare it with a modern critical text. I look for discrepancies between my manuscript and this standard. When I find a difference between the texts, I note it down.

For example, my friends and I have noticed that the copyist of our manuscript tended to use the abbreviation ΘΣ where the critical text has θεός -- that is, this manuscript omits the vowels from the word God. (The manuscript is an uncial, so all the letters are capitals.) Each time this happens, I write down the verse number, the word θεός, and the word ΘΣ on another sheet of paper. Sometimes I find more spectacular discrepancies:

10:22 ειπαν ] ΕΙΠΟΝΠΡΟΣΑΥΤΟΝ

10:22 Κορνήλιος ] add ΤΙΣ

Most differences, of course, are minor. I've seen the words and and then added or dropped a few times. I've seen a word altered to put it into the superlative. I've also spotted minor spelling differences (in a few cases, the words have been corrected already by another scribe).

The work is slow -- especially slow for me, since I am illiterate. It's great fun, though. My perfectionist instincts are proving valuable, as is my neat handwriting. Dr. Hood will review our findings before sending the results on to a project (in Louisiana, I think) in a few months.

| Posted by Wilson at 23:59 Central | TrackBack
| Report submitted to the Education Desk

I like manuscripts. I think the theta-sigma abbreviation was fairly common; at least, I've heard of it before, and in Latin mss. they often abbreviate Deus as DS with a line above it.

On the plus side, some scribes who copied manuscripts were illiterate, too, so you're just getting their experience, but backwards....

The thoughts of Brandon on 10 November 2004 - 14:15 Central
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Yes; I recall being told that the abbreviation of θεός is particularly common in Western manuscripts, of which my text is probably an example.

The thoughts of Wilson on 10 November 2004 - 14:36 Central
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Not to sound too nerdy but wouldn't using a computer be a little faster and more accurate?

The thoughts of Joe on 12 November 2004 - 0:40 Central
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If you refer to the actual reading of the manuscript, it's possible that a computer would be able to do a lot of the work -- although humans would still have to deal with the many confusing sections (for example, the letters are often totally unreadable, so I have to make a judgment call about whether or not the obscure space looks about right for the text that's supposed to be there; in another example, the fact that this is a palimpsest means that there is a lot of lettering from some other text still very visible in the background).

If you are referring to the mere recording of differences, then I should explain that our results will be recorded in a database by Dr. Hood herself, once she has the opportunity to review what we've found. My fellow students and I don't have a good way to access the software, and probably shouldn't be making the final data entry ourselves anyway. Until that time, I find it more convenient to use a pencil and paper, so I can work anywhere I like.

In any case, the point of the class is to work with the text ourselves. The more we have to do by hand, the better we can get to know the manuscript.

The thoughts of Wilson on 12 November 2004 - 1:23 Central
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