Monday, March 28, 2016


Flights of Fancy

Georg Luck (1926-2013), "Conjectural Emendations in the Greek New Testament," in M. Sanz Morales and M. Librán Moreno, edd., Verae Lectiones: estudios de crítica textual y edición de textos griegos (Huelva: Universidad de Huelvá, 2009), pp. 169-202 (at 182-183):
Jn. 19:29

After Jesus has spoken the words "I am thirsty", a sponge soaked in sour wine is put on a "hyssop stick" and held up to his mouth. A hyssop stick is an extremely unsuitable tool, and in the 16th century, Camerarius suggested ὑσσῷ for ὑσσώπῳ. Since Roman soldiers were standing near the Cross, a "spear" or "javelin" would make much more sense than a "hyssop stalk", whose "long, firm stalk" (Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich, s.v.) is pure fantasy, read out of this passage; the real hyssop is a small bush. Later, the reading proposed by Camerarius was found in a 12th c. Minuscule and in some witnesses of the Itala. It is obviously correct, and it is mentioned in a note in the NJB, but the editors reject it obstinately. One of the arguments is the "purifying effect of the hyssop" which is apparently essential here. G.D. Kilpatrick21 uses a different approach to disqualify the reading. According to him, ὑσσός is the Greek word for pilum; the characteristic weapon of the Roman legionary troops. But no legionary troops were stationed in Judaea before A. D. 66, says Kilpatrick. Pontius Pilate only had auxiliary troops serving under him, and they were not equipped with pila. Therefore, no pilum was available near the Cross. All of this is complete fiction, as any Roman historian will tell you, and all you need to do is read Lucan's Bellum Civile to find out how common a weapon the Roman pilum was. Along with the gladius, it belonged to the basic equipment of the Roman infantryman. It is a sobering experience to observe what flights of fancy Biblical scholars indulge in order to discredit a conjecture. This is a fight to the death, and truth, as in a real war, is its first casualty. I have to say, in all honesty, that Camerarius' conjecture has been accepted by a number of scholars, Catholic and Protestant alike, but it is still relegated to the apparatus criticus in modern editions, although it has been pointed out long ago22 that the stem of a hyssop branch would not be strong enough to take the weight of a wet sponge and palaeography offers an easy explanation of the error.

21 Bible Translator 9, 1958, 133-4.
22 M.-J. Lagrange, Commentary on John, Paris 1925, ad loc.

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?