In an earlier post, I mentioned an article I just published on John 21 and provided a little background on the issues concerning the “endings” of the Gospel According to John. Before I can finally move on to a summary of the article itself, I need to provide just a little more background of a different sort.
This second piece of necessary information has to do with some of the textual peculiarities of P.Bodmer II, the well known papyrus codex containing the Gospel According to John in Greek. It is one of the earliest well preserved copies of the Gospel. It was published in two parts in the late 1950s and early 1960s (for a fuller discussion of the codex, see my 2014 article).
One of the first things that scholars noticed about the book was the high number of corrections it contained. Portions of 75 leaves (=150 pages) have survived, and according to the most recent and careful count, there are 465 corrections in these pages, an average of a little over 3 corrections per page. These corrections took different forms, erasing with a sponge, placing dots over letters to be considered deleted, interlinear insertions, and arrows pointing to corrections in the margins.
While it is sometimes claimed that these corrections are the work of different individuals, it appears much more likely that the copyist of the manuscript is responsible for all but one of the corrections (this is the conclusion of James Royse, who has provided the most recent and thorough treatment of the corrections in P.Bodmer II). Having had the opportunity to closely inspect many of these corrections in the manuscript itself, I am convinced that any small differences discernable in the script of the corrections are more reasonably attributed to the different size of the writing rather than to a different writer. I thus agree with Royse’s conclusions on that point.
What is especially interesting for me is the character of the corrections. Many of the corrections are fixes of blunders made while copying. But other changes cannot be explained in the same way. As Gordon Fee pointed out, “while inattention or careless copying is the probable explanation for a great many of the corrections, there are others for which the only plausible hypothesis is that the scribe had recourse to another MS.”
Thus, the scenario that produced the text of the manuscript in its current state seems to be as follows: The copyist made a copy from an exemplar, then checked the copied work against the exemplar and made corrections where they were needed. Then the copyist compared the copied text to a different exemplar with different textual affinities and made a second set of corrections against this second exemplar. The are some places in the codex in which we can clearly see these three phases: initial copying, correction against the first exemplar, and second correction against a different text, such as the correction at John 7:41:
It is important to note that the two readings attested here are associated with two different textual traditions. The probable reading of the exemplar, ἄλλοι ἔλεγον, is the reading of the Majority Text. The second correction is made to completely different reading, οἱ δὲ ἔλεγον, which is also found in witnesses like Codex Vaticanus and P.Bodmer XIV-XV (𝔓75). P.Bodmer II contains over 100 such corrections to entirely different readings from those of the first exemplar.
The copyist of P.Bodmer II thus appears to have had access to two copies of the Gospel According to John that had different textual characteristics. With these facts in mind, we are now in a position to better understand the argument I make in my article in Early Christianity. I’ll talk more about that in a subsequent post.
Fee, Gordon Fee. “The Corrections of Papyrus Bodmer II and Early Textual Transmission.” Novum Testamentum 7 (1965), 247-257.
Rhodes, Erroll F. “The Corrections of Papyrus Bodmer II.” New Testament Studies 14 (1968), 271-281.
Royse, James R. Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri. Leiden: Brill, 2008.