READING IN 7Q5
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.
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
"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
"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
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
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.