This blog, by Richard Fellows, discusses historical questions concerning Paul's letters, his co-workers, Acts, and chronology.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The sexist hand behind P46 on Julia, and Junia

Here I discuss why Papyrus 46, our oldest copy of Romans, corrupts "Julia, Nereus" in Rom 16:15 and also why this same manuscript replaced "Junia" with "Julia" in Rom 16:7. This blog post improves on my earlier post.

At Rom 16:15 most of the manuscripts read,

Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and the sister of him

However, in place of ΙΟΥΛΙΑΝ ΝΗΡΕΑ, P46 reads: ΒΗΡΕΑ ΚΑΙ ΑΟΥΛΙΑΝ. This emendation seems inexplicable, especially since ΒΗΡΕΑ and ΑΟΥΛΙΑΝ do not appear to be attested names.

Royse's explanation
James Royse ("Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri" 2008 p333-4) gives a very promising explanation. He suggests that P46 was copied from a manuscript that had the names Julia and Nereus reversed, and that an "Α" and a "Β" had been written above the names to indicate the original order. This method of indicating a transposition is known from other manuscripts, we are told. Thus, Royse suggests that P46 was copied from a text which read like this:


The scribe of P46 then mistakenly assumed that the "Β" and the "Α" were intended to replace the "Ν" and the "Ι", respectively, rather than to correct the order of the two names. However, Royse has difficulty accounting for the ΚΑΙ (and) between the two names in P46, and he offers no explanation for why the names Julia and Nereus were reversed in the first place.

My explanation, building on Royse's idea
Name order was very important in the ancient world, the most important person being named first. Therefore sexism was the likely motive for someone to want to place Nereus, a man, before Julia, a woman.

It would make no sense to write "Greet Philologus and Nereus, Julia and the sister of him". This sentence divides the four people into two groups and there is no male in the second group so the "of him" is left with no-one to refer to. The corrector, I suggested, wanted the extra ΚΑΙ (and), intending the text to read "Greet Philologus and Nereus and Julia and the sister of him".  For the corrector, who was conscious of the importance of name order, Philologus was the most important person, so for him the "of him" naturally refers back to Philologus.

Contrary to Royse, I suggest that the exemplar used by the scribe of P46 had the original text, albeit with corrections added above the line and perhaps also in the margin. The sexist corrector added the  "Β" and the "Α" thus:

Β-----    Α

He also indicated that the ΚΑΙ should be added. Then, uncertain whether the scribe would understand the "Β" and the "Α", he gave a second indication that the names Julia and Nereus should be reversed. He then passed the manuscript to the scribe and asked the scribe to copy it. His fears that the scribe would not understand the "Β" and the "Α" were well founded. The scribe understood the second indication, so he swapped the two names, but he replaced the first two letters of the swapped names by "Β" and "Α" respectively. Thus, he wrote ΒΗΡΕΑ ΚΑΙ ΑΟΥΛΙΑΝ.  Royse writes that his explanation comes at the expense of hypothesizing a textual variant for which there is no surviving example. My modification of Royse's hypothesis avoids that problem. Only two people need have been involved: someone marked up a manuscript and gave it to a scribe to copy.

Why did the scribe write "Julia" instead of "Junia" at Rom 16:7?
Before copying out Rom 16:7 the scribe's eye may have been caught by all the stuff added at 16:15 in his exemplar. Having read the name "Julia" there his mind would have been primed to misread or miswrite "Junia" as "Julia" when he came to copy 16:7. That is to say, he had "Julia" on his mind because of the fuss around 16:15 and this made him write "Julia" in 16:7. Thus, I think the presence of Julia in P46 at 16:7 provides further confirmation that his exemplar had corrections at 16:15.

I am grateful for Carlson's discussion here.

Update 9th March:
There has been some useful discussion of these variants on the Evangelical Textual Criticism Blog, here. Tommy Wasserman accepts my explanation for the addition of the ΚΑΙ but prefers to return to Royse's two-step process in which the two names were already reversed in manuscript that was corrected by the addition of the interlinear "B" and "A". In the comments Edgar Ebojo points to quite a few errors in this part of P46, making it perfectly possible that the original reversal of the two names was made by accident without sexist motives.


  1. Thank you Richard for bringing this up. I offer a third explanation,

  2. In reference to your update, I should add that I think the reversal of the two names was made pre-46, but not entirely "by accident", because the scribe added the KAI because of the reversal.

  3. Yes, but isn't it possible that the names were accidentally reversed by one scribe and that the KAI was added later by someone else, for example by the scribe of P46? I admit though, that if the scribe of P46 was smart enough to add the KAI it would be a little less likely that he would be not smart enough to figure out the "B" and "A".

    Tommy, you may like to take a look at my bog post that proposes an explanation for the shorter versions of Romans. I'm sure it could benefit from input from you TC experts.