Textual Transmission: ‘Homoioteleuton’ and ‘Metathesis’

Posted: February 1, 2012 in General

Some accidental mistakes, like homoioteleuton and metathesis, have to be reckoned with seriously. In the previous posts, I pointed out about the errors called “itacism”, “haplography”, and “dittography”. Here, I am bringing to my readers’ notice two other forms of errors, like “homoioteleuton” and “metathesis”.

(1) Homoioteleuton [1]

This long word is used for omission of words and phrases because they end and sound alike. What happens in this case is that the eye of the copyist goes from the first occurrence to the second so that part of the text, sometimes even an entire sentence, gets left out in the process of copying. For example, Luke 18:39 is missing from some manuscripts (see 33, 57, 130, it[b]), no doubt because the verse has the same ending as the previous one [2].

(2) Metathesis [3]

These types of errors appeared in the text because of changing the order of letters or words. In Mark 14:65 [4], some manuscripts have elabon (“received”) and some others ebalon (“struck”) [5].

Readers of New Testament writings must take up the above mentioned two issues, those are closely associated with the textual transmission, very seriously.


[1] Errors caused by similar ending. See Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 186-87. “Homoioteleuton is a series of words with similar endings such as those with the Latinate suffixes ‘-ion’ (e.g., presentation, action, elaboration, interpretation), ‘-ence’ (e.g., emergence), and ‘-ance’ (e.g., resemblance, performance). These suffixes work to nominalize verbs (transform verbs into nouns) and tend to appear most regularly in what Williams (1990) referred to as the various ‘-eses’ (idioms such as ‘legalese’ and ‘bureaucrates’. Like other patterns of repetition, homoioteleuton helps to build or reinforce connections, as in this example from the English politician Lord Rosebery in an 1899 speech: ‘Imperialism, sane imperialism . . . is nothing but this–a larger patriotism.'” (James Jasinski, Sourcebook on Rhetoric. Sage, 2001). See the definition here: http://grammar.about.com/od/fh/g/homoioterms.htm.

[2] Leon Vaganay and Christian-Bernard Amphoux, An Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism (Cambridge: University Press, 1986), p. 54.

[3] From Greek meta-the-sis, from meta-ti-themi “I put in a different order”: Latin trānspositiō) is the re-arranging of sounds or syllables in a word, or of words in a sentence. Most commonly it refers to the switching of two or more contiguous sounds, known as adjacent metathesis or local metathesis. See Phillip Strazny, Encyclopedia of Linguistics, Vol. 2 (Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2005), p. 679; Marc van Oostendorp, et. al. (eds.), The Blackwell  Companion to Phonology, Phonological Processes, Vol. 3 (Oxford: Blackwell), p. 1381.

[4] See the textual apparatus at The Greek New Testament, UBS[4], 1994, p. 182-83.

[5] David Alan Black, New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide (Michigan: Baker Books, 1994), p. 160.

By Johnson Thomaskutty, Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India

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