Dr. James Royse was our special guest presenter today in an ad hoc seminar sponsored by CSCO here at New College. Royse is best known for his mammoth study, Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri (Leiden/Atlanta: Brill/Society of Biblical Literature, 2008). (Weighing in at 1050 pp., it is “the daddy” in scholarly discussion of its subject!)
Royse’s presentation in the seminar focused on a number of variants in manuscripts of the Gospel of John that seem to reflect “harmonization” of a word or phrase to the nearby context. His point was mainly that this sort of phenomenon is likely more frequent than typically has been recognized, at least in the Gospel of John. As noted by others, one of the stylistic features of the John seems to be a fondness for variation in words and phrasing. A well-known set of examples are the oft-noted variation in John 21:15-17 between αγαπαω and φιλεω in Jesus’ repeated question to Peter, “Do you love me?”, and the variation in the words αρνια (“lambs”) and προβατα (“sheep”) here. Royse showed that we have manuscript variants that seem often to remove such variation. This would mean that, among the criteria to be used in assessing variants, we should prefer readings that reflect the author’s apparent penchant for variation.
After Royse’s presentation, there were interesting questions from PhD students and academic staff present. We’re grateful for his time and readiness to share his expertise with us.