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When Nonsense Makes Sense: Space-intervals in P46 and Scribal Habits

February 25, 2012

P46 does not exhibit the elaborate visual features of later manuscripts. Its pages do not have clear paragraphing divisions of Sinaiticus et al, neither ektheses and eistheses, and other visual features.  While there are punctuations, their employment are very stingy and sporadic nonetheless.  In fact, their presence is almost unpredictable and patternless (with a very exceptions).  However, it would be extremely misleading to suppose that the scribe of P46 had no sense of what he was copying, simply because elaborate visual features are lacking.  The contrary is not farther from truth.

The experienced judgement of both Sir Frederic Kenyon and Prof Henry Sanders on the space-intervals (i.e., space-gaps) in between words in the text of P46 carry a lot of weight in this regard.  They both advocated that these space-intervals, particularly the big ones, betray a kind of structure signals which have to do with “pauses in sense”.  This makes a lot of sense, especially for scriptio continua manuscripts like P46, where there are many instances of 2-3-letter space-gaps (sometimes just 1-letter gaps), which are clearly denotative of structures at the pericopal/paragraph, sentencial, and clause levels.  Furthermore, most of these space-gaps have corresponding reading marks (from another hand), especially those at the sentence level.  This to me are not independent doings or imaginative mental products of the firsthand, but reflective of a bigger scribal convention of signalling structures, not for the sake of the scribe, but more for the end-users (the lectors), especially for the earlier papyrus manuscripts that are mostly continuous scripts.

As far as P46 is concerned, space-intervals also have aesthetic functions, again for the benefit of the readers. They signal the presence of nomen sacrum in particular lines, making them easier to decipher on top of the cue that the crossbar evinces.  Space-gaps also signal that an OT passage/s is to be quoted, making delineation easier for the reader/s.  Again, I think this is not an independent product of the firsthand, but part and parcel of the scribal trade.

Having said that, I’m a bit disturbed by both Kenyon (p.xiv) and Sanders’ (p.17) assessments that there are also space-gaps that are “purely accidental and hardly perceptible”, and therefore nonsense in context.  At first glance, this seems to be  the best explanation for this “phenomenon”.  But is this really the best explanation? Or is there another way to appreciate the presence of these “purely accidental” space-intervals?  Needless to say, only a closer look (re-investigation) at the manuscript itself will validate this presupposition. In general, I think that these gaps are not at all “accidental” as such, but they betray the copying habits of the scribe who produced this manuscript, insofar as the physical material is concerned.  In short, space-gaps that “make sense” betray the general scribal copying convention, but those that seem to be “nonsense” betray the attention level of particular scribes, in this case, that of P46, in terms of the physical minutiae of his manuscript.

From → New Discoveries

6 Comments
  1. Wow, Pastor Egay! Parang nakakalula na ah. . .

  2. Maganda sana kung may sample per claim. Do you have a printable text of the P46 already?

    • Will try to do that, if copyright allows, Dave.

      Yes, I have my own transcription of P46, chacked against Kenyon’s facsimile, Muenster’s VMR… and the actual leaves. I hope, if time and resources permit, I can prepare an on-line commentary on the textual and physical aspects of P46. In the meantime, I will suffice myself with sporadic blogging… Watch out for part II!

  3. Nice work bro. So when can I read the monograph of this article?

    • Thanks, Jess. Crossing my fingers, thesis first before the monograph (if ever). But will let you know when it happens 🙂

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