Mixture or Roll of Myrrh; John 19:39
In John 19:39 three different words are found in the manuscripts that describe what Nicodemus took along to take care of the body of Christ. The United Bible Societies text provides an evaluation of the relative degree of certainty with which they deem their own choice between variants. A signifies virtual certainty while with D the both variants could have equal weight. Their choice of C in this verse signifies that “there is a considerable degree of doubt whether the text or the apparatus contains the superior reading”. That is what I like, and have great respect for. A whole group of learned Christian academics with expertise in the fields of ancient languages, manuscript evidence as well as the religious and cultural customs of those times who outright state that they have no certainty on which could be the word John had originally written down in his autograph. And I often am so certain about my choices! On what do I base my certainty? Does the Holy Spirit choose to reveal to me His absolute certainty, and not also to them? These precious children of God who dedicate every day to bring the Word of God to His children unaltered and undefiled? Or is my certainty only built on the choices of previous translators, choices with which I grew up – or that I am familiar with? Or is it a matter of me jumping where angels fear to give even the smallest of treads?
The three words are “migma” a mixture, or “eligma” a roll (Heb.1:12) or “smigma” an oily excrement found on the skin mammals and humans. The last word can be discarded as a possible writing error where “s” by mistake was added before migma. It is found in only three Greek manuscripts, two Bysantine lectionaries and one Syriac version.
Why would an alteration to the original word be considered necessary? How could such a variation happen? It concerns the extraordinary amount of spices mentioned. Would Nicodemus have taken along such a lot of a mixture (migma) of myrrh and aloes to be added to the linen that would have been wrapped around Jesus’ body? Or does the amount rather refer to prepared linen (eligma) already saturated with myrrh and aloes? Both words fit perfectly in the customs of that time concerning the care for the body of a deceased beloved. Could some scribe suspect that the writer of the source manuscript he was copying, have made a mistake? Could he possibly have mistaken the “EL” of eligma for an “M” of migma? All manuscripts of the Bible written before ±900 A.D. were written in the uncial script. An “E” could not easily be mistaken for the first down and slanting lines of an “M”, but if the manuscript bad been severely worn out or damaged, such an assumption is possible. The “L” (Λ) could easily complete the “M”. In this way it is possible that migma could have been mistaken for eligma.
Robertson’s Word Pictures explains the difference: Mixture (migma). Late word from mignumi, to mix, only here in the N.T. Many old MSS. have here eligma (roll), from elissw (Heb_1:12), another late word here only in N.T. It was common to use sweet-smelling spices in the burial (2Ch_16:14).
It is between these two words that compilers of the UBS – text say that they have doubt.
Let us look at the manuscript evidence found in both Greek manuscripts as well as ancient translations.
Mixture or Roll
|301-400||1 Old Latin, Vulgate, Bohairic||Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Washington||Bohairic|
|401-500||Alexandrinus||3 Old Latin, Syriac, Armenian, Georgian|
|501-600||1 Old Latin|
|601-700||4 Old Latin, Syriac|
|701-800||Regius Uncial 054|
|801-900||Cyprius, Monacensis, Sangallensis, Koridethi, Petropolitanus, Minuscule 33|
|901-1000||1 Byzantine Lectionary|
|1001-1600||family 1, family 13, Minuscule 28, 14 Minuscules|
When one looks at the table above, one could ask “What is the problem? It is obvious that the weight is overwhelming to the side of mixture rather than roll!”
But looking more intense at the evidence, up to the year 400 A.D., only two Greek manuscripts contain “mixture” compared to three with “roll”. Yet with so many translations containing “mixture” one has to bear in mind that they all go back to a source manuscript containing “mixture”.
Sometimes the compilers of both the Nestle Aland – text as well as those responsible for the United Bible Societies – text are accused of blindly following the Alexandrian Text Type and especially the Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. In this instance the accusation is proved to be untrue, since both texts choose migma “mixture”, the rendering found in the Byzantine Text type as also reflected in the Textus Receptus, and not eligma “roll”.
Looking at the weight mentioned by John, (100 Roman pounds, equal to 32.5 kg), “roll” would rather make sense. Such an over measure of spices is according to Gill, enough to care for 200 bodies. Bear in mind that there is no reference to embalming of His body. On the other hand the excess of spices could reveal the reverence Nicodemus had for Jesus. Sometimes a body was also laid on a bed of spices, and not only wrapped in linen with spices..
To make a choice between “mixture” and “roll” that obvious. Yet the choice of the NA. and UBS – texts for “mixture” carries more weight.
In the translations I consulted, only the Bible in Basic English translated with “roll of myrrh”.
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