Skip to content

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

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.

Unintentional copying error and the re-sharpening of the pen in P46

In their 1997 NTS article, “Re-Inking the Pen…”, Head and Warren made a good case for identifying unintentional scribal errors due to the copying necessity of re-inking the pen or quill.

During my recent autopsy of the Michigan leaves of P46, I found another factor that can cause unintentional error: the re-sharpening of the pen/quill. I haven’t made any comparative study yet of papyri of similar age but one case is sufficient to drive home the point. The 4th line of folio 79 recto of P46 (covering the last two clauses of Eph 4.28) reads το αγαθον ιν εχη μεταδιδοναι τω χρειαν. The textual anomaly here is the reading ιν which is an error for the conjunction ινα. James Royse (Scribal Habits, p.253) listed this as a singular reading, exemplifying loss of a vowel due to an elision. However, this case can also be alternatively explained. By including the physical aspect of the manuscript in the investigation, it is more probable, I think, that the error emerged because the scribe re-sharpened his pen/quill too soon, leaving the final alpha out. This is corroborated by the fact that this is the only occurrence of the incomplete ινα throughout the extant pages of P46. The change in ink density between the first four lines (until ιν) and the following lines is unmistakable. But more importantly, those who have access to a good digital image of this page will immediately have an idea as to why the scribe re-sharpened his pen/quill at this point… the presence of the kollesis marking on the actual spot/space where the final alpha should have been written. Needless to say, integrating the study of the physical (codicological-palaeographical) features of particular manuscripts vis-a-vis textual study will certainly open up new portals for appreciating textual variations in the transmission history of the text of the New Testament. (Attached image courtesy of the department of Papyrological Collections, University of Michigan).

Joy of putting a piece into its rightful place

I was examining F22r (F22v in Kenyon) of P46 yesterday when I noticed a piece of fragment on the mid-left side of the page (about 3.1 cms). The actual fragment is now smaller than the one in Kenyon’s facsimile. The magnetic detail that caught my attention is the ink remnant (same colour as the one used in the text) of what looks like to be the second stroke of an omega. Since Kenyon’s facsimile photo in 1937 up until now, the location of this fragment remains the same. However, I find the placement of the fragment anomalous precisely because of the presence of the omega stroke, and especially considering that the left side of the page is actually the binding area already and therefore the fragment should not be expected there.  Hence, I navigated through the page and in the process further noticed that there are two instances where vertical strands of the papyrus fibre have been stripped off, both on the right side of the page, almost at the right edge of the text area margin. I immediately had the hunch that the original location of this fragment must be in one of these. But the question is which one, and so I did more attempts to discover its rightful place. But  to make the long story short, I think this small fragment was originally located on line 10, as the last character in the word παλαι[ω]–and it looks like that folks from the University of Michigan agree with my “suspicion”. Just feel very happy for this discovery!

Off to Michigan to meet the beautiful Sixty!!!

Will fly to Michigan next week, to conduct autopsy on the 60 pages of P46 under the safekeeping of the University of Michigan (UoM). As is widely known among textual critics, there was a professional rivalry of sort between UoM (led by Prof Henry Sanders et al) and Mr the Chester Beatty (as well as Sir Frederic Kenyon), in terms of acquiring papyrus manuscripts from Egyptian antiquities dealers in Cairo in the 1930’s. The first twenty pages (10 leaves) were acquired by Beatty but the UoM acquired the next 60 pages (30 leaves). But after Sanders published an expanded transcription of P46 (Kenyon earlier published a transcription of the ten Beatty leaves), Kenyon, in a book review, announced that Mr Beatty acquired 92 pages (46 leaves)  more and eventually published the most complete transcription (perhaps making this the official editio princeps). And as they say, the rest is history.

My trip aims to personally look more closely at the “materiality” of this very important manuscript, and not only its text. During my Dublin trip last year, I found some very interesting details previously undocumented; I hope to find some more in this trip (but of course, I’m crossing my fingers). I might find some more variants caused by the texture, and a few more stuffs.

At any rate, I am generally excited about the prospects of finding more about this manuscript that has captured my attention for the last seven years!


First time to use wordpress… and still finding my way through. Hence, thought of starting a post to publicize my incredulous stupidity in joining the world of blogging without even knowing how to go around web design!!! But I cannot help… need to do something or else I will explode sooner than later if I don’t share what I have discovered about the mysterious scribe (and also the corrector-scribes) of one the most important manuscripts of the New Testament–the Papyrus 46 (a.k.a. Chester Beatty II/P. Mich. Inv. 6328).

I hope that in this site, I can give a few more hints about the scribe of P46 (but of course I need to keep the meatiest part to myself [at least in the meantime] while my dissertation is still in progress–which by the way is going smoothly, by the grace of God). Have lots to tell the world about this scribe… but to be honest I don’t know yet where to begin–there’s just so much about this scribe that we still do not know about!!! But I think I will be able to figure it out later…

So come and join me in my journey, together with the scribe of P46!