New Testament spelling

Semantic Range, Lexicography, and other approaches to word meaning - in general, or for particular words.
Alan Bunning
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New Testament spelling

Post by Alan Bunning » December 22nd, 2016, 11:03 am

It has occurred to me that spelling I really want to represent in lexical entries is not what was the most common Koine form, nor what was the most common form during the first century, nor what was the most common form used in my data, but what was the most probable common form used in the original autographs in the New Testament.

I have thought of many different ways to measure spelling statistics, but one way would be to find the most likely form of each word used in each verse weighted for earliness (sort of doing computer-generated textual criticism on a word by word basis). Then I could tally up the frequency of those words and find the most common form by author (assuming traditional authorship). And finally, the most common form used among all authors (one vote per author). I already know there will not always be a clear winner. For example, there is unanimous consensus among witnesses of “αγαθοεργω” in 1 Tim. 6:18, but “αγαθουργω” in Acts 14:17.

What concerns me though, is that having the words weighted for earliness would certainly prefer any Egyptian tendencies (if there is such a thing), reflecting manuscripts like P45, P46, P75, etc. since that is where most of the earliest manuscripts were preserved. So I am wondering if there are any Egyptian tendencies related to dialect and spelling? For example, from my unscientific impression of working with the data, it seems like the earlier spellings tend to prefer “ει” over “ι”. If so, am I discovering the earliest spelling preferred by the original authors, or the spelling preferred by an Egyptian dialect? Or is it possible to know the difference?
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Stephen Carlson
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Re: New Testament spelling

Post by Stephen Carlson » December 22nd, 2016, 10:27 pm

Not a lot about spelling has been studied by text critics. Hort was certainly interested, but I think he's about the only one. The problem is that there is little confidence that scribes were sticklers about preserving the spelling of their exemplars. As a result, the general practice has been to remove orthography (and punctuation) wholly from textual criticism and make it solely a question of editorial policy. In a sense, this is doing what the scribes were thought to be doing anyway.
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Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D.
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Alan Bunning
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Re: New Testament spelling

Post by Alan Bunning » December 24th, 2016, 9:44 am

Stephen Carlson wrote:Not a lot about spelling has been studied by text critics. Hort was certainly interested, but I think he's about the only one. The problem is that there is little confidence that scribes were sticklers about preserving the spelling of their exemplars. As a result, the general practice has been to remove orthography (and punctuation) wholly from textual criticism and make it solely a question of editorial policy. In a sense, this is doing what the scribes were thought to be doing anyway.
Certainly some scribes were doing that and they had no choice but to do that in the cases where the transcription was dictated orally. And perhaps that trend continued in that the spelling used in the modern critical texts disagrees with ALL early manuscripts in numerous places. But then there are some manuscripts like Vaticanus (and perhaps P75) where it seems to be preserving a distinct spelling. But what is that spelling? Is it their editorial attempt to be consistent with some Egyptian form of spelling, or an attempt to preserve some original spelling? Again the question may be mute if there is no way to tell the difference. So before I go to far down this road, does anyone know if there is such a thing as an Egyptian dialect or Egyptian spelling? If I compared other secular manuscripts in the same time period, would I notice a distinct form of Egyptian spelling different from other geographical areas?
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Stephen Hughes
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Re: New Testament spelling

Post by Stephen Hughes » December 24th, 2016, 12:51 pm

Alan Bunning wrote:But then there are some manuscripts like Vaticanus (and perhaps P75) where it seems to be preserving a distinct spelling. But what is that spelling? Is it their editorial attempt to be consistent with some Egyptian form of spelling, or an attempt to preserve some original spelling? Again the question may be mute if there is no way to tell the difference. So before I go to far down this road, does anyone know if there is such a thing as an Egyptian dialect or Egyptian spelling? If I compared other secular manuscripts in the same time period, would I notice a distinct form of Egyptian spelling different from other geographical areas?
"Egyptian" is quite a blunt demarcation to categorise spelling tendencies by. Even the physical space in the column may be a cause of variation in the spelling paractice of an individual scribe.
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Alan Bunning
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Re: New Testament spelling

Post by Alan Bunning » December 26th, 2016, 9:14 am

Stephen Hughes wrote:
Alan Bunning wrote:But then there are some manuscripts like Vaticanus (and perhaps P75) where it seems to be preserving a distinct spelling. But what is that spelling? Is it their editorial attempt to be consistent with some Egyptian form of spelling, or an attempt to preserve some original spelling? Again the question may be mute if there is no way to tell the difference. So before I go to far down this road, does anyone know if there is such a thing as an Egyptian dialect or Egyptian spelling? If I compared other secular manuscripts in the same time period, would I notice a distinct form of Egyptian spelling different from other geographical areas?
"Egyptian" is quite a blunt demarcation to categorise spelling tendencies by. Even the physical space in the column may be a cause of variation in the spelling paractice of an individual scribe.
So you are saying you don't think there is such a thing?
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Stephen Hughes
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Re: New Testament spelling

Post by Stephen Hughes » December 26th, 2016, 2:31 pm

Alan Bunning wrote:So you are saying you don't think there is such a thing?
"Egytian spelling" is not a crisp set, no. Generally the membership function needed to account for variance in spelling is directly correlated to the homophonic ambiguity that is assumed to have existed in any given region or era. That is to say, variance in spelling is more likely an indication of Egyptian pronunciation, than it is of Egyptian spelling.
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Jonathan Robie
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Re: New Testament spelling

Post by Jonathan Robie » December 29th, 2016, 10:11 am

Alan Bunning wrote:It has occurred to me that spelling I really want to represent in lexical entries is not what was the most common Koine form, nor what was the most common form during the first century, nor what was the most common form used in my data, but what was the most probable common form used in the original autographs in the New Testament.
I keep coming back to the why question. What are you trying to optimize for?

If you are creating a lexicon for reading the papyri - and that would be great to have - then perhaps all the variations should be represented, and you need some clear strategy for picking the headword of an entry. One strategy would be to use the form that people are likely to encounter in modern critical editions. Another would be to use the most common spelling encountered in the papyri. Each strategy has different advantages and disadvantages.

Whatever strategy you choose, it's probably best to choose one that makes the choice of headword predictable.
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Alan Bunning
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Re: New Testament spelling

Post by Alan Bunning » December 30th, 2016, 10:43 am

Jonathan Robie wrote:
Alan Bunning wrote:It has occurred to me that spelling I really want to represent in lexical entries is not what was the most common Koine form, nor what was the most common form during the first century, nor what was the most common form used in my data, but what was the most probable common form used in the original autographs in the New Testament.
I keep coming back to the why question. What are you trying to optimize for?

If you are creating a lexicon for reading the papyri - and that would be great to have - then perhaps all the variations should be represented, and you need some clear strategy for picking the headword of an entry. One strategy would be to use the form that people are likely to encounter in modern critical editions. Another would be to use the most common spelling encountered in the papyri. Each strategy has different advantages and disadvantages.

Whatever strategy you choose, it's probably best to choose one that makes the choice of headword predictable.
As I said before, all forms have been retained (both in the wild and in the critical texts) and will be linked to (or have “see entries”), so the only issue I have is what form to use for the main lexical entry. Since no one seems to be worried about a possible Egyptian dialect or spelling, I am planning on reflecting the most probable common form of the word used in the wild based on some spelling matrix. And then I will probably have to make some tweaks for consistency.

But now I have another question. As I have previously mentioned, there are many words where the “ει” spelling is clearly preferred (and sometimes the unanimous choice) in the early manuscripts, and then has later been changed to the “ι” spelling used in the modern critical texts. I am using this as just one example. Likewise, I am assuming that the uncontracted forms of words were earlier and then the contracted forms became more prevalent later. So I am wondering if this is information loss? (i.e. several letters are replaced with fewer letters, even though the sound may be the same.) Using TC phraseology, it is better to keep the “harder” spelling?

For example, if both the “ει” and the “ι” spelling occurs for the same word in the early manuscripts, but in this case the “ι” form is more prevalent, which would be more likely?

A. A few scribes intentionally preserved the “ει” spelling of the word as the form that appeared in the NT, while most scribes updated the word to show the more modern “ι” spelling.
B. Most scribes intentionally preserved the “ι” spelling of the word as the form that appeared in the NT, while some scribes changed the word to reflect an earlier or more official “ει” spelling.

Obviously, it is also possible that the scribes simply spelled the word however they wanted which could result in any distribution, but that does not seem to be true in many cases. There probably is not a definite answer, but I am look for trends here. So given the choices of A or B, which do you think would be more likely? Stated another way, if there was information loss, is it more likely losing an earlier generic spelling of a word, or losing a specific spelling of a NT word?
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Stephen Carlson
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Re: New Testament spelling

Post by Stephen Carlson » December 30th, 2016, 7:04 pm

Alan Bunning wrote:But now I have another question. As I have previously mentioned, there are many words where the “ει” spelling is clearly preferred (and sometimes the unanimous choice) in the early manuscripts, and then has later been changed to the “ι” spelling used in the modern critical texts. I am using this as just one example. Likewise, I am assuming that the uncontracted forms of words were earlier and then the contracted forms became more prevalent later. So I am wondering if this is information loss? (i.e. several letters are replaced with fewer letters, even though the sound may be the same.) Using TC phraseology, it is better to keep the “harder” spelling?
Actually, for long /ῑ/, the classical spelling is <ι>, but in Koine times the spelling <ει> becomes more common. The fuller spelling is later and relies on a non-classical phonetic shift in the pronunciation of <ει> from /ei/ to /i:/ probably by 200 BC or even earlier. It appears that the best practice of the day (as is our day) was to maintain the classical spellings but this was not always adhered to. Hort has a very detailed discussion of orthographic issues in Appendix 2 to Westcott and Hort's Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek; I recommend you consult it. The fundamental problem is that most readers of ancient Greek today expect the classical spellings unless they are specifically working with diplomatic transcriptions. Forms like Πειλᾶτος instead of Πιλᾶτος will appear to very odd to contemporary readers, and this why Hort's allegedly more "accurate" orthography was rejected by later editors and readers.
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Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D.
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Alan Bunning
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Re: New Testament spelling

Post by Alan Bunning » December 30th, 2016, 7:27 pm

Stephen Carlson wrote:
Alan Bunning wrote:But now I have another question. As I have previously mentioned, there are many words where the “ει” spelling is clearly preferred (and sometimes the unanimous choice) in the early manuscripts, and then has later been changed to the “ι” spelling used in the modern critical texts. I am using this as just one example. Likewise, I am assuming that the uncontracted forms of words were earlier and then the contracted forms became more prevalent later. So I am wondering if this is information loss? (i.e. several letters are replaced with fewer letters, even though the sound may be the same.) Using TC phraseology, it is better to keep the “harder” spelling?
Actually, for long /ῑ/, the classical spelling is <ι>, but in Koine times the spelling <ει> becomes more common. The fuller spelling is later and relies on a non-classical phonetic shift in the pronunciation of <ει> from /ei/ to /i:/ probably by 200 BC or even earlier. It appears that the best practice of the day (as is our day) was to maintain the classical spellings but this was not always adhered to. Hort has a very detailed discussion of orthographic issues in Appendix 2 to Westcott and Hort's Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek; I recommend you consult it. The fundamental problem is that most readers of ancient Greek today expect the classical spellings unless they are specifically working with diplomatic transcriptions. Forms like Πειλᾶτος instead of Πιλᾶτος will appear to very odd to contemporary readers, and this why Hort's allegedly more "accurate" orthography was rejected by later editors and readers.
Thanks for that reference. I just downloaded it and it looks like its going to be very helpful.
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