It’s been a few weeks since my last installment in this series. As you can see, I’ve been a bit busy with other topics. As we return to the lengthy quotation from Bentley on a, we recall that we have already documented the less-than-accurate perspective offered by Bentley (which is probably why our Muslim authors chose this citation). This continues in the following section:
Even more strikingly, because Codex Sinaiticus was worked over by correctors long after it was first written, one can actually see this process of alteration for doctrinal reasons at work. Two examples make this abundantly clear. In both cases later correctors have objected to the text as preserved by the great codex. The first example concerns Jesus praying on the Mount of Olives.
According to the text of Codex Sinaiticus, St Luke’s Gospel records that ‘there appeared unto him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony, he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became as it were great drops of blood falling down upon the ground’. This text, with its suggestion that Jesus needed the support of an angel, and that before his arrest and trial he was in agony, is not to be found in the Vatican codex. Codex Sinaiticus clearly shows that the debate about them affected later scribes. One of them has placed dots beside the text, indicating that it ought to be deleted. A yet later scribe has carefully tried to erase these dots.
Bentley’s assumption may or may not be true, in the sense that it is always easy to speculate as to why scribes would read a text in a particular fashion, why they would, or would not, seek to harmonize it with a parallel account, etc. One of the problems with focusing upon a particular manuscript and taking it outside the tradition as a whole (as Bentley does) is that you then get a distorted view of the process. This is the case as well here. a is not the only text to contain this variant, though Bentley only mentions a single other text (B). As a result, one is given a very skewed picture.
In this particular text you have an ancient tradition, cited by some of the earliest Christian writers, such as Justin and Irenaeus, regarding the suffering of Christ in the garden, along with angelic ministration. These words appear in the original hand of a, but are marked with obeli by a later scribe, but those marks are then removed by an even later scribe. Bentley is correct that this portion is not found in B, but that is not the whole story. It is also not found in A (Alexandrinus, pictured here), P75, possibly P69, N, T, W, 579, 1071*, l844, f, sys, sa, bopt, and some Armenian manuscripts. Now it should be noted that this list represents a very, very wide swath of geography. But there is another, very important factor to note. Family 13 (f13) transports this portion out of Luke and into Matthew 26:39. When portions of text become movable, there is a strong assumption that they have a life of their own and hence were sayings, stories, that “found a place” in the text at a later point (similar to John 5:4). Now, if one were to assume the phrase was original, it is difficult to explain its disappearance in such a wide range of witnesses as noted above. At the same time (and this is why it is retained in the text of the NA27, though in double brackets), its appearance in very early sources (a being one, Irenaeus and Justin others) found it a place in the majority text.
While it is quite possible that scribes were “uncomfortable” with what they thought was a problem in the text, isn’t it odd that the text remains with us today? In a way Bentley proves my point for me. We may have to deal with the textual data, but this is far better than being in the position of the Muslim who must always wonder, “What portions of the manuscripts of the Qur’an Uthman had that were contradictory to each other did he remove out of ignorance?”