Variant reading in 7Q5

by Giuseppe Guarino

Dead Sea Scrolls

One of the problems against the identification of 7Q5 with the Gospel of Mark is a peculiar variant reading: the omission of the entire sentence “epi ten gen.”          

Stichometry is the calculation of the average number of letters for each line of a manuscript. The tendency of scribes was to keep the number of letters for each line uniform. In our case it can prove to be essential in order to confirm the identification of such a small fragment like 7Q5. If it is, as we have argued, the surviving portion of a scroll containing the entire Gospel of Mark we should find a plausible stichometry. The numbers of letters for each line calculated by O’Callaghan were: 20/23/20/21/21. This works only if we omit ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν.

7Q1 and 7Q2 are the only two manuscripts of cave 7 which have been officially identified.

  Their stichometry is the following.

  7Q1: 21/22/21/20/20/19/16/18/21/19/20.

  7Q2: 22/21/23/21

  The stichometry of 7Q5 calculated by O’Callaghan perfectly aligns with those of 7Q1 and 7Q2. This is further evidence of the identity of the fragment 7Q5. And it weights much more than the necessary omission of the words ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν. This must be made clear.   

  What are the possible explanations for a short text of Mark 6:52-53 at such an early date?

  First, it can be useful to compare various translations of the passage.

“And when they had passed over, they came into the land of  Gennesaret, and drew to the shore. ” (King James Version)

“When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret and anchored there.” (New King James Version)

“And when they had crossed over, they came to the land unto Gennesaret, and moored to the shore ” (American Standard Version)

“et cum transfretassent pervenerunt in terram Gennesareth et adplicuerunt” (Latin Vulgate)

“And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret, and moored to the shore.” (Revised Standard Version)

“When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there.” (New International Version)

  The original Greek text of some relevant critical editions is the following.

“Καὶ διαπεράσαντες ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν ἦλθον εἰς Γεννησαρὲτ καὶ προσωρμίσθησαν.” (Westott & Hort – Nestle-Aland – United Bible Societies – Tischendorf)

“Καὶ διαπεράσαντες ἦλθον ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν Γεννησαρὲτ” (Majority Text, Farstad e Hodges)

“Καὶ διαπεράσαντες ἀπῆλθον ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν Γεννησαρὲτ καὶ προσωρμίσθησαν.” (Text of the Greek Orthodox Church)

Evidence in favor of the reading of the so called Standard Text (N-A, UBS) is found in Vatican Codex, Sinaiticus, L and 33.

My preference for the Majority text has been motivated in my book and I don’t see any reason to change my approach in this specific passage of Scripture.

If we give for granted the identification with Mark, we can say that 7Q5 is the oldest and only New Testament manuscript to support the omission of the three words: “ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν”.

  In fact, the 7Q5 (Mark) reading is:

“Καὶ διαπεράσαντες ἦλθον εἰς Γεννησαρὲτ.”

The reasons to explain the “short” reading given by professor Thiede are plausible. He believes that the Gospel of Mark was written before 50 AD. In those days the simple reference to Gennesaret must have been  sufficient to the reader to let him know the author was speaking of the town bearing that name. Always according to Thiede, about twenty years later the Romans destroyed the city and temple of Jerusalem and brought general destruction in Israel. After that catastrophic event, the addition (“to the land”) might have been necessary in the gospel in order to avoid confusion in the reader’s mind between the city and the lake of Gennesaret.

Thiede’s theory is perfectly aligned with some statistics I personally collected.

If we omit “ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν”, Gennesaret is preceded in the Greek original by the simple preposition “εἰς” – at least if we follow the “Standard Text” edited by Kurt Aland.

In Mark (1:21, 2:1, 8:22, 9:33, 10:33, 10:46, 11:1, 11:11, 11:15, 11:27, 15:41) εἰς invariably precedes the name of a town.

In Mark 1:14 εἰς is followed by the article τὴν gives name to an area, which in that case was the region of Galilee. The same happens in Mark 14:28 and Mark16:7.

Similar to the latter two examples is Mark 1:39 where the preposition “εἰς” and the article “τὴν” are followed by the clarifying term “ὅλην”, so that we read: “throughout all Galilee”. See also Mark 10:1.

The logic conclusion is that in Mark, when εἰς is followed by an article it indicates a place, a region, a land, but if it simply precedes the name of the place the evangelist is speaking about, he is invariably referring to a town.

As far as the evidence discussed above is concerned, for those who believe in the reliability of the so called Standard Text, it must be evident that the primitive text of 7Q5, according to the principles of modern textual criticism, is a very good candidate to be the recipient of the original reading of the Gospel. This passage of Mark, amended according to 7Q5 variant reading, would read: “And crossing over they came to the town of Gennesaret”. Quite a short, readable text.

Anyway, Thiede’s explanation is not the only possible. In fact, the existence of a town named Gennesaret is not proven. Josephus, the Jewish historian, speaks of a region called Gennesaret, of a lake bearing the same name, but not of a town.

Some sources maintain that there really was a town named Gennesaret, which had existed in the Assyrian period, but wasn’t there anymore during the days of Jesus.

Personally, I must say that I find Thiede a better papyrologist than a textual critic. I respect his opinion, but I think there is a good explanation for the potential omission in 7Q5, which has to be investigated according to the rules of sound textual criticism.

We need to ask ourselves a very important question: if the short reading was in the autograph of Mark and in the faithful copies before the supposed destruction of the city of Gennesaret, how can there be left no trace of it in all the surviving manuscripts?

As far as textual criticism is concerned it is far better to suppose that the omission of the three words (epi ten gen) is simply an early omission. The practice of shortening the text, producing a readable text, perhaps a more readable text than the original, is well attested in early papyri manuscripts.

“P45 omits words and phrases […] His shortened text is readable.”, E. C. Colwell, Scribal habits, p. 383.

P52  is the oldest manuscript of the Gospel of John. It’s a papyri and its latest attributed date is 125 AD. It is alone in the omission of one of the two consecutive “εἰς τοῦτο” (“to this end”) in John 18:37, found in all the surviving  manuscripts. The short reading is by no means to be considered the original, but, strange as it may seem, it makes the passage more readable. Jesus says in the New King James Version: “… for this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world.” This is the text without the repetition: “… for this cause I was born and I have come into the world.”

It is worth notice that also in P52 the omission has been detected using stichometry. The same made it also possible to find the omission of humeis in Matthew 26:31 in the P64 manuscript. 

P64, the so called Magdalen Papyrus, has been dated c. 200. In his book “Eyewitness to Jesus”, Thiede supplies convincing evidence to ante-date the manuscript to 60 AD.

If this be the case, P64 and 7Q5 both share a venerable age and the common papyri scribal practice of omitting words and sentences.

It is my personal conviction that we do not need to believe 7Q5 was the only manuscript preserving the original, correct (short) text of Mark 6:52-53 in order to support its identification with the second Gospel. The truth is, it can neither be refuted nor received on the sole ground of the omission of the words epi ten gen. Also, it must be said that 7Q5’s witness alone cannot weaken the unanimous consent of the rest of the manuscript evidence on this passage.

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