The Importance of Itacisms

If you have spent any time in Codex Sinaiticus, you will notice the plethora of itacisms (spelling variations caused by the similar pronunciation of various vowels and diphthongs). You will also see them in Vaticanus and Alexandrinus, but they seem to occur more often in Sinaiticus in my growing but limited experience.

I think itacisms are interesting and can be important. They are rarely important in terms of the meaning of the text, however. One example is the variant of ελθιν for ελθειν in both Rom 1:10 and 1:13 in Sinaiticus. This common type of variant is a complete non-starter in terms of semantically significant variation. For the non-Greeker, the difference is like the variation between "judgment" and "judgement"; if you write the former you are probably American and the latter you are probably British. But it is still the same word.

That being said, they are still important. At the very least they can be helpful in pointing out regional sources for manuscripts. I mentioned Sinaiticus and Vaticanus for a particular reason, and here is why. Some have hypothesized that these two manuscripts were products of Constantine’s commissioning of a number of manuscripts to be copied by Eusebius. I don’t think so, and that can be argued against based on itacisms. If they were copied in the same location there is a decent chance that they would have had the same Vorlage (a German word that means "prototype" which you can use to look very’s already making you think I’m really smart), or at least a similar one. But these manuscripts seem to like itacisms in different places. This can be seen even in the rather limited data found in my collation of James 3. How do you account for this? I think this clearly shows they did not have the same Vorlage. It should have some weight as evidence against their being copied at the same place and at roughly the same time. On top of that there are variations between the two in other ways that can be used to argue the same. And why would Sinaiticus have some Clementine material and not Vaticanus?

Is this itacism data rock-solid evidence? No. It is certainly possible that Eusebius’ scribes had very mixed manuscripts from which to copy. But I think it needs to at least be put on the table and recognized as evidence that these two manuscripts, though in the same manuscript family, are probably not copied at the same scribal event.

As I write this I get the distinct impression I’ve written this before. If I am repeating myself, I apologize. My brain is such a sieve.