The scene is familiar. The disciple Peter responds vehemently to Jesus’ announcement that all his disciples will fall away (οὐκ ἐγώ). Jesus responds that Peter will deny him three times in the coming night. But three times before what? Matthew has simply ‘before the rooster crows’. Luke says that the rooster will not crow until you have denied me three times. But what does Mark have? The text should read ‘before the rooster crows twice’, but there are a surprising number of variants relating to this number, both in Mk 14:30 and the subsequent unfolding of events.
14:30 πρὶν ἢ δὶς ἀλέκτορα φωνῆσαι – omit δίς (with some other variation)
‘before the rooster crows twice’ – omit ‘twice’
14:68 καὶ ἀλέκτωρ ἐφώνησεν – omit
‘and the rooster crowed’ – omit
14:72a καὶ εὐθὺς ἐκ δευτέρου ἀλέκτωρ ἐφώνησεν – omit ἐκ δευτέρου
‘and immediately the rooster crowed for the second time’ – omit ‘for the second time’
14:72b πρὶν ἀλέκτορα φωνῆσαι δίς, τρίς με ἀπαρνήσῃ – omit whole phrase or omit only δίς.
‘before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times’ – omit whole phrase or omit only ‘twice’.
All these variants are related to one another in that each of them moves away from a double crowing, either by removing δίς (‘twice’), or removing one of the two mentions of the bird’s noisy activity. Is this shared concern found in related manuscripts? More or less. Here is the Greek evidence:
14:30 πρὶν ἢ δὶς ἀλέκτορα φωνῆσαι
omit ἢ δίς ℵ C*(has ἤ) D W 579
πρὶν ἀλέκτορα δὶς φωνῆσαι Θ f13 565 700 2542
πρὶν ἢ ἀλέκτορα φωνῆσαι δίς C2
text A B K L N Γ Δ Ψ 083 f1 892 1241 1424 Maj
14:68 καὶ ἀλέκτωρ ἐφώνησεν
omit ℵ B L W Ψ* 579 892
text A C D K N Γ Δ Θ f1 f13 33 565 700 1241 1424(και ευθεως) 2542 Maj
14:72a καὶ εὐθὺς ἐκ δευτέρου ἀλέκτωρ ἐφώνησεν
omit ἐκ δευτέρου ℵ C*vid L 579
text A B D K N W Γ Δ Ψ f1 f13 33 565 700 892 1241 1424 2542 Maj
14:72b ὅτι πρὶν ἀλέκτορα φωνῆσαι δίς, τρίς με ἀπαρνήσῃ
omit completely D
omit δίς ℵ C*vid W Δ 579(απαρνηση με)
… φωνῆσαι, ἀπαρνήση με τρίς 2542 (so does omit δίς)
… φωνῆσαι δίς , ἀπαρνήση με τρίς A K N Γ f1 f13 33 1241 1424 Maj
… δίς φωνῆσαι, τρίς με ἀπαρνήση B
… δίς φωνῆσαι, ἀπαρνήση με τρίς Θ 565 700
text C2vid L Ψ 892
Note on 14:72b: Though I have presented the seven readings as a single variation unit, I take it that there are in fact three units: (a) the wholesale omission, (b) [δις] φωνησαι [δις], and (c) the word order of τρις με απαρνηση. The last one is the least interesting, but it may not be completely unrelated to what goes before.
So what order can we bring to this flood of data?
ℵ C* D W 579 have no reference to Jesus’ announcement of a double crowing, both in 14:30 and 14:72b the word δίς (or in D-05’s case the whole clause) is lacking. These manuscripts differ though in how they describe the actual crowing. Both ℵ-01 and minuscule 579 are consistent and have only the second crowing and without the words ἐκ δευτέρου, W-032 has only the second crowing but with ἐκ δευτέρου (so still gives the game away), and C-04 has the rooster crowing twice, though the second time without ἐκ δευτέρου. D-05 has two crowings, and the second with ἐκ δευτέρου.
This leaves us with some manuscripts that have the double announcement δίς but leave out the first crowing: B L Ψ 892. Of these B Ψ and 892 still have ἐκ δευτέρου at the second crowing, but L-019 lacks the phrase. In light of the previous paragraph I take this as a partial spill over from the concerns reflected in the text of the other witnesses.
The origin of all this confusion is influence from the parallel accounts in Matthew and Luke: only Mark mentions the double crowing. Each of the four variant units has then a similar explanation, which is that it brings Mark in line with the number of crowings found in the other gospels. That there is a singular motive behind these four variants gains further force in that the main manuscripts involved are not unrelated to one another (not in strict statistical terms, but in the ‘you should not be surprised to see these together’ sense).
Of course, we could take each of these variants in isolation, taking the atomistic approach encouraged by the piecemeal way of presenting an apparatus unit by unit. Thus, on the basis of external evidence alone, I can see the case against the text reading in 14:68. On the other hand, knowledge of the manuscripts and the manuscript tendencies described above causes me to adopt the reading as printed in the THGNT.
If this is correct, we have an excellent example in which harmonisation takes place by omitting text, and that already in some of the very early manuscripts (ℵ C* D and also B is involved once) — a useful phenomenon to keep in mind when dealing with some of the big variants in the Passion Narrative in Luke.