Koine and Biblical and Medieval Greek • Manuscript mystery from George MacDonald’s Thomas Wingfold

What Bible verse is George MacDonald talking about here?
Mysterious passage
“About two years ago,” said Polwarth, “a friend sent me Tauchnitz’s edition of the English New Testament, which has the different readings of the three oldest known manuscripts translated at the foot of the page. The edition was prepared chiefly for the sake of showing the results of the collation of the Sinaitic manuscript, the oldest of all, so named because it was found—a few years ago, by Tischendorf—in a monastery on Mount Sinai—nowhere else than there! I received it with such exultation as brought on an attack of asthma, and I could scarce open it for a week, but lay with it under my pillow. When I did come to look at it, my main wonder was to find the differences from the common version so few and small. Still there were some such as gave rise to a feeling far above mere interest—one in particular, the absence of a word that had troubled me, not seeming like a word of our Lord, or consonant with his teaching. I am unaware whether the passage has ever given rise to controversy.”

“May I ask what word it was?” interrupted Wingfold, eagerly.

“I will not say,” returned Polwarth. “Not having troubled you, you would probably only wonder why it should have troubled me. For my purpose in mentioning the matter, it is enough to say that I had turned with eagerness to the passage wherein it occurs, as given in two of the gospels in our version. Judge my delight in discovering that in the one gospel the whole passage was omitted by the two oldest manuscripts, and in the other just the one word that had troubled me, by the same two. I would not have you suppose me foolish enough to imagine that the oldest manuscript must be the most correct; but you will at once understand the sense of room and air which the discovery gave me notwithstanding, and I mention it because it goes both to account for the dream that followed and to enforce its truth. Pray do not however imagine me a believer in dreams more than in any other source of mental impressions. If a dream reveal a principle, that principle is a revelation, and the dream is neither more NOR LESS valuable than a waking thought that does the same. The truth conveyed is the revelation. I do not deny that facts have been learned in dreams, but I would never call the communication of a mere fact a revelation. Truth alone, beheld as such by the soul, is worthy of the name. Facts, however, may themselves be the instruments of such revelation.
He describes this passage as one contained in two gospels. In the one, the passage is entirely omitted by Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. In the other, both S and V drop the troubling word contained in Alexandrinus.

The above MacDonald passage is followed by a dream, which I liked, but is not relevant to the above mystery.
The Autograph Copy
“The dream I am now going to tell you was clearly enough led up to by my waking thoughts. For I had been saying to myself ere I fell asleep: ‘On the very Mount Sinai, that once burned with heavenly fire, and resounded with the thunder of a visible Presence, now old and cold, and swathed in the mists of legend and doubt, was discovered the most reverend, because most ancient record of the new dispensation which dethroned that mountain, and silenced the thunders of the pedagogue law! Is it not possible that yet, in some ancient convent, insignificant to the eye of the traveller as modern Nazareth would be but for its ancient story, some one of the original gospel-manuscripts may lie, truthful and unblotted from the hand of the very evangelist?—Oh lovely parchment!’ I thought—‘if eye of man might but see thee! if lips of man might kiss thee!’ and my heart swelled like the heart of a lover at the thought of such a boon.—Now, as you know, I live in a sort of live coffin here,” continued the little man, striking his pigeon-breast, “with a barrel-organ of discords in it, constantly out of order in one way or another; and hence it comes that my sleep is so imperfect, and my dreams run more than is usual, as I believe, on in the direction of my last waking thoughts. Well, that night, I dreamed thus: I was in a desert. It was neither day nor night to me. I saw neither sun, moon, nor stars. A heavy, yet half-luminous cloud hung over the visible earth. My heart was beating fast and high, for I was journeying towards a certain Armenian convent, where I had good ground for hoping I should find the original manuscript of the fourth gospel, the very handwriting of the apostle John. That the old man did not write it himself, I never thought of that in my dream.

“After I had walked on for a long, anything but weary time, I saw the level horizon line before me broken by a rock, as it seemed, rising from the plain of the desert. I knew it was the monastery. It was many miles away, and as I journeyed on it grew and grew, until it swelled huge as a hill against the sky. At length I came up to the door, iron-clamped, deep-set in a low thick wall. It stood wide open. I entered, crossed a court, reached the door of the monastery itself, and again entered. Every door to which I came stood open, but priest nor guide came to meet me, and I saw no man, and at length looked for none, but used my best judgment to get deeper and deeper into the building, for I scarce doubted that in its inmost penetralia I should find the treasure I sought. At last I stood before a door hung with a curtain of rich workmanship, torn in the middle from top to bottom. Through the rent I passed into a stone cell. In the cell stood a table. On the table was a closed book. Oh how my heart beat! Never but then have I known the feeling of utter preciousness in a thing possessed. What doubts and fears would not this one lovely, oh unutterably beloved volume, lay at rest for ever! How my eyes would dwell upon every stroke of every letter the hand of the dearest disciple had formed! Nearly eighteen hundred years—and there it lay!—and there WAS a man who DID hear the Master say the words, and did set them down! I stood motionless, and my soul seemed to wind itself among the leaves, while my body stood like a pillar of salt, lost in its own gaze. At last, with sudden daring, I made a step towards the table, and, bending with awe, stretched out my hand to lay it upon the book. But ere my hand reached it, another hand, from the opposite side of the table, appeared upon it—an old, blue-veined, but powerful hand. I looked up. There stood the beloved disciple! His countenance was as a mirror which shone back the face of the Master. Slowly he lifted the book, and turned away. Then first I saw behind him as it were an altar whereon a fire of wood was burning, and a pang of dismay shot to my heart, for I knew what he was about to do. He laid the book on the burning wood, and regarded it with a smile as it shrunk and shrivelled and smouldered to ashes. Then he turned to me and said, while a perfect heaven of peace shone in his eyes: ‘Son of man, the Word of God liveth and abideth for ever, not in the volume of the book, but in the heart of the man that in love obeyeth him. And therewith I awoke weeping, but with the lesson of my dream.”
Later there is discussion of the woman caught in adultery and the manuscript tradition for it. He sets forth the magnetic possibility of a fifth, female, evangelist.
“I don’t know quite,” he had been saying, “what to think about that story of the woman they brought to Jesus in the temple—I mean how it got into that nook of the gospel of St. John, where it has no right place.—They didn’t bring her for healing or for the rebuke of her demon, but for condemnation, only they came to the wrong man for that. They dared not carry out the law of stoning, as they would have liked, I suppose, even if Jesus had condemned her, but perhaps they hoped rather to entrap him who was the friend of sinners into saying something against the law.—But what I want is, to know how it got there,—just there, I mean, betwixt the seventh and eighth chapters of St. John’s Gospel. There is no doubt of its being an interpolation—that the twelfth verse, I think it is, ought to join on to the fifty-second. The Alexandrian manuscript is the only one of the three oldest that has it, and it is the latest of the three. I did think once, but hastily, that it was our Lord’s text for saying I AM THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD, but it follows quite as well on his offer of living water. One can easily see how the place would appear a very suitable one to any presumptuous scribe who wished to settle the question of where it should stand.—I wonder if St. John told the lovely tale as something he had forgotten, after he had finished dictating all the rest. Or was it well known to all the evangelists, only no one of them was yet partaker enough of the spirit of him who was the friend of sinners, to dare put it on written record, thinking it hardly a safe story to expose to the quarrying of men’s conclusions? But it doesn’t matter much: the tale must be a true one. Only—to think of just this one story, of tenderest righteousness, floating about like a holy waif through the world of letters!—a sweet gray dove of promise that can find no rest for the sole of his foot! Just this one story of all stories a kind of outcast! and yet as a wanderer, oh, how welcome! Some manuscripts, I understand, have granted it a sort of outhouse-shelter at the end of the gospel of St. Luke. But it all matters nothing, so long as we can believe it; and true it must be, it is so like him all through. And if it does go wandering as a stray through the gospels, without place of its own, what matters it so long as it can find hearts enough to nestle in, and bring forth its young of comfort!—Perhaps the woman herself told it, and, as with the woman of Samaria, some would and some would not believe her.—Oh! the eyes that met upon her! The fiery hail of scorn from those of the Pharisees—the light of eternal sunshine from those of Jesus!—I was reading the other day, in one of the old Miracle Plays, how each that looked on while Jesus wrote with his finger on the ground, imagined he was writing down his individual sins, and was in terror lest his neighbour should come to know them.—And wasn’t he gentle even with those to whom he was sharper than a two-edged sword! and oh how gentle to her he would cover from their rudeness and wrong! LET THE SINLESS THROW! And the sinners went out, and she followed—to sin no more. No reproaches, you see! No stirring up of the fiery snakes! Only don’t do it again.—I don’t think she did it again:—do you?”

Statistics: Posted by jeidsath — Sun Jan 21, 2024 9:40 pm

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