Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Cassiodorus on the Task of the Scribe

Cassiodorus (Gesta Theodorici: Leiden, University Library, Ms. vul. 46, fol. 2r)

Cassiodorus is famous for the foundation of his monastery at Vivarium in southern Italy and the copying of books and manuscripts. These activities, however, occurred later in his life. He spent a large part of his earlier career as a Roman statesman serving the administration of Theodoric the Great. Many of his letters are preserved from this time, and in Book 12, letter 21 we find him writing to a certain Deusdedit, a Scribe of Ravenna, about the duties of a scribe. In one place Cassiodorus declares that;
"Banish, therefore, all thoughts of venality from your mind. The worst moth that gets into papers and destroys them is the gold of the dishonest litigant, who bribes the Scribes to make away with evidence which he knows to be hostile. Thus, then, be ready always to produce to suitors genuine old documents; and, on the other hand, transcribe only, do not compose ancient proceedings. Let the copy correspond to the original as the wax to the signet-ring, that as the face is the index of the emotions so your handwriting may not err from the authentic original in anything." (Ep. 12.21)
The context appears to be that of a courtroom, where the scribe is admitting evidence of some kind (contracts, wills, deeds, and the like) and transcribing the minutes of the court proceedings. I find it particularly telling that Cassiodorus declares that the scribes task is to "transcribe only" and not to "compose." And in relation to the copying of texts, he states, "let the copy correspond to the original" and ensure that the "handwriting may not err from the authentic original in anything."
Though the topic of Cassiodorus's letter primarily concerns the scribes task in the courtroom (a primary task for an official city scribe), I cannot help but think that this gives a glimpse into his attitudes towards the copying of biblical texts later in his life.

Hodgkin, Thomas, trans. The Letters of Cassiodorus. London: Henry Frowde, 1886. (pg. 511-512)

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Avoiding The Damaged Page: Imperfections Creating Errors in the Copying of a Text (?)

In 2015, Dr. Brice Jones published a fascinating piece on the scribal practice of avoiding imperfections in the writing material while copying out a text;
"Scribes Avoiding Imperfections in Their Writing Matierials" Archiv für Papyrusforschung 61.2 (2015): 371-383.
Dr. Jones discussed several phenomenon of imperfections that a scribe may encounter while performing their task; cracks, folds, tears, holes, separated or shrunken fibers, stains, and κολλήσεις (joint seams). The article is summarized nicely on his blog, here.
In short, if a scribe encountered a feature on the page they were inscribing, the copyist would more than likely have to pull the pen away from the page and then place it back in a (sometimes drastically) different location. For example, in the case of a hole, the scribe would have to alter the placement of the letters by writing around the defect in some way. Dr. Jones highlighted this phenomenon on pages 376-378. This occurred in the case of Codex Sinaiticus through-out the manuscript, in particular, on Q84-f.5.r, at the bottom of the first column.

A Scribe avoiding a hole in the parchment C. Sinaiticus (Q84-f.5.r)

Dr. Jones also highlights another similar case at Q18-f.6.r on page 377 of his article.
I find this fascinating, especially in its relation to the introduction of scribal errors in the copying of the text. In a particularly bad case in Codex Bezae that Jones highlights on page 377 of his article, the scribe had to avoid a large hole, writing the text around the imperfection.

A scribe avoiding a hole in C. Bezae (f. 205r)
This brought to mind another excellent article that drew attention to the scribal practice of re-inking the pen, which inadvertently led to the introduction of errors in the transcribing of the text.
Peter M. Head and Mike Warren, "Re-inking the Pen: Evidence from P. Oxy. 657 (P13) Concerning Unintentional Scribal Errors." New Testament Studies 43 (1997): 466-473.
In the article, Dr. Head and Dr. Warren contend that, 
"the constant necessity to re-ink one's pen provided the opportunity for scribal distraction at the level of eye, memory, judgement and pen, and would thus have been an occasion for the introduction of unintentional copying error." (pg. 466)
 This may (must) be true in the case of defects in the writing material. The lifting of the pen and the distraction of avoiding the imperfection may have led to the introduction of an error in the copying of the text.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Early Christian Scholarship

In about 403 CE three men, Getica, Sunnias and Fretela wrote to Jerome asking for an explanation as to why there were so many differences between the Septuagint LXX these men were using and the Latin Psalter Jerome had produced many years before in about 383 CE. Along with this letter, these men sent a long list of passages where there were differences in the text between the LXX and the Latin Psalter.

The Latin text of this Epistle 106 can be found in the Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum volume 55. This letter is interesting because this is an instance where Christian scholars in late antiquity that were studying scripture wrote to another scholar asking for explanation on various readings in their manuscripts. Of course, in this instance, the scholars had the privilege of writing to the translator himself. Perhaps, though, scholars in antiquity also wrote to other scholars asking for readings from manuscripts in their possession. For example (see previous post), Irenaeus (ca. 180 CE) discussed a variant reading found in some manuscripts of Revelation indicating that the number of the beast was 616 rather than 666 (Hear. 5.30.1). Irenaeus could have very easily written to any of his other Christian contacts throughout the Mediterranean (for example Polycarp), who possessed copies of Revelation, to check which readings their copies contained. Irenaeus mentions that the number 666 was "found in all the most approved and ancient copies" (Hear. 5.30.1). It is certainly possible.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

How Long a Book? The Useful Life of Papyrus and Parchment Books

George Houston, in his work “Inside Roman Libraries,” surveyed book collections in antiquity, analyzed their contents, the date of composition, and the rough date of the discarding of the collection in a trash heap, or, in the case of the library at Herculaneum, the last known period of use. From these data Houston concluded that the useful life of papyrus bookrolls was on average 100-125 years and 300 to 500 years in extreme cases (pg. 257).

There is some difference, however, in the useful life of papyrus and parchment books in the various climates where they may be used for making books. In the later part of the second century, the physician Galen described the process of copying out books that were in a Roman library in order to preserve, for his own collection, copies of these works;
"These (books), then, did not cause me a small pain when copying them. As it is, the papyri are completely useless, not even able to be unrolled because they have been glued together by decomposition, since the region is both marshy and low-lying, and, during the summer, it is stifling." (Peri Alupias 19)
It is clear that in the more humid climate of Rome, the useful life of papyrus, if not properly cared for, was much reduced. As Galen so richly describes, the damp atmosphere quickly decomposed the organic papyrus material.
Library of Celsus in Ephesus (ca. 135 CE)
Examples From the Caesarean Library
In the more arid environment of the East, papyrus books could have a very long life. In the library of Caesarea in Palestine, Pamphilus (ca. 280 CE) set about making copies of Origen's works, in his own hand, in order to build the library's inventory. Apparently, these works were still present in the library, and in use, over 100 years later when Jerome wrote (ca. 392 CE);
Pamphilus the presbyter, patron of Eusebius bishop of Caesarea, was so inflamed with love of sacred literature, that he transcribed the greater part of the works of Origen with his own hand and these are still preserved in the library at Caesarea. (Jerome, Vir ill. 75; NPNF 2:377)
It is apparent that Pamphilus copied these works on papyrus because Jerome noted that Eusebius' immediate successors set about restoring the Caesarean Library's inventory in parchment codices.
"Euzoius was educated as a young man at Caesarea along with Gregory, the bishop of Nazianzus, under the rhetor Thespesius and later became bishop of the same city; with very great toil he attempted to restore on parchment (codices(?); membranis) the library of Origen and Pamphilus that had been damaged." (Jerome, Vir ill. 113; translation taken from Carriker, p. 23, n. 70)
Therefore, the works that Jerome had noted, that were in the hand of Pamphilus, were papyrus books that were still in use in the Caesarean library over 100 years later during Jerome's lifetime.

It is noteworthy, however, that Euzoius set about to restore the library's works in parchment codices, rather than papyrus. This was likely due to the fact that parchment was much more durable and had an incredibly long shelf life. As was noted in a previous post, the parchment Codex Sinaiticus, which was copied sometime ca. 350 CE, was still being used in the 6th or 7th centuries when scribes corrected the text to "an extremely old copy corrected in the hand of the holy martyr Pamphilus." Thus, the Codex Sinaiticus was still being used and consulted by scholars 200-300 years after its creation!

At least in the case of the Caesarean Library, papyrus books had a useful life of more than 100 years, and parchment many times longer.

Carriker, Andrew James. The Library of Eusebius of Caesarea. VCsup 67. Leiden: Brill, 2003.

Houston, George W. Inside Roman Libraries: Book Collections and Their Management in Antiquity. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2014.

Clare K. Rothschild and Trevor W. Thompson. "Galen: 'On the Avoidance of Grief,' " Early Christianity 2 (2011) 110-129

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Quintilian, Transcriptions, Publication, and Mark's Gospel

Mark writing the Gospel, London Rothschild Hours

Quintilian, a famous orator from the later part of the first century CE (see previous post), wrote his most famous work "Institutes of Oratory" in response to requests made by his students. Apparently, his students and followers wished for Quintilian to put down his vast knowledge and experience in teaching and practicing the art of rhetoric into a more permanent written form (Pref. 1-3). He dedicated the work to Marcellus Victorius because of his "extraordinary love of letters" and because, Quintilian wrote, "my treatise seemed likely to be of use for the instruction of your son" (Pref. 6). 
It seems, however, that portions of Quintilian's teaching on rhetoric was already circulating in written form. He wrote that, 
"This I rather designed, because two books on 'The Art of Rhetoric' were already in circulation under my name, though neither published by me nor composed for that object, for after holding two days' discourse with me, some youths, to whom that time was devoted, had caught up the first by heart; the other, which was learned indeed in a greater number of days (as far as they could learn by taking notes), some of my young pupils, of excellent disposition, but of too great fondness for me, had made known through the indiscreet honor of publication. In these books, accordingly, there will be some things the same, many altered, very many added, but all better arranged, and rendered, as far as I shall be able, complete." (Pref. 7-8)
It is clear that this work, "The Art of Rhetoric," contained transcriptions of Quintilian's lectures, but was not written by Quintilian himself, and was done without his knowlege. Though this writing was attributed to Quintilian, he did not regard it as a sanctioned work, fully polished and complete, worthy of circulation. He contrasted this poorly written transcription with his "Institutes," which was designed to teach "from the very cradle as it were of oratory, through all the studies which can at all assist the future speaker to the summit of that art" (Pref. 6). It was Quintilian's desire that this new, carefully crafted work would supplant the inferior transcription in circulation, for he told Victorius that the material in the "Institutes" was "better arranged, and rendered, as far as I shall be able, complete" (Pref. 8).

Quintilian's account of the transcription of his lectures being published, brings to mind Papias's account (ca. 100 CE) of the circumstances surrounding the composition of Mark's Gospel.
"And the Elder used to say this: 'Mark, having become Peter's interpreter, wrote down accurately everything he remembered, though not in order, of the things either said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, followed Peter, who adapted his teachings as needed but had no intention of giving an ordered account of the Lord's sayings. Consequently Mark did nothing wrong in writing down some things as he remembered them, for he made it his one concern not omit anything which he heard or to make any false statement in them." (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 3.39; Holmes, 569)
According to Papias, Mark copied down the teaching of Peter, arranged the material into a written document that contained everything that Peter taught. An interesting difference between Quintilian and Mark is that, in Quintilian's case, the transcriptions were circulated under his name, whereas, Mark's Gospel, as far as we know, was never circulated under Peter's name. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Mark was more instrumental in "composing" material while keeping it faithful to Peter's teaching. Also, Quintilian does not seem to be too pleased that this writing is circulating under his name and would rather have something more polished and complete attributed to him.

Holmes, Michael W., ed. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

Quintilian. 2006. Institutes of Oratory. Ed. Lee Honeycutt. Trans. John Selby Watson. (accessed June 30, 2016).

Thursday, June 23, 2016

What Are the New Testament Autographs?

I am privileged to have an article published in the June issue of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society;

"What are the NT Autographs? An Examination of the Doctrine of Inspiration and Inerrancy in Light of Greco-Roman Publication." JETS 59/2 (June 2016): 287-308.

The abstract reads;

"This article explores the definition of the NT "autographs" as articulated in various inerrancy doctrinal statements. It begins by sketching the history of the doctrine of the inerrancy of the "autographs," followed by some modern criticisms of the doctrine. Greco-Roman publication composition and publication practices are surveyed by investigating three figures from the beginning of the Roman Imperial age through to its height: Cicero, Pliny the Younger, and Galen. Four extant examples of ancient papyrus "autographs" are examined, illustrating the draft and rewriting stages of composition. After analyzing Greco-Roman publication, a definition is proposed: in reference to the NT, the "autographs," as often discussed in biblical inerrancy doctrinal statements, should be defined as the completed authorial work which was released by the author for circulation and copying, not earlier draft versions or layers of composition."

A significant portion of the article focuses on select quotations from the letters and writings of Cicero, Pliny, and Galen illustrating that the writing process was often a long process which involved writing and rewriting. Friends and associates, scribes, and personal secretaries would often be a part of the editing process as well. All the while it was expected that these early draft stages of composition would not circulate beyond the immediate circle of associates who were offering feedback to these initial stages of composition. The key event that signaled the end of this process was the releasing of the work, by the author, for general circulation by the author's circle of acquaintances.
I also bring into the discussion a few extant examples of papyrus autographs. This is merely to illustrate that, usually, early stages of the writing process were characterized by rewriting, editing, deletions, and corrections. These papyrus copies were obviously not meant for wider circulation because they were incomplete. Of course, the event that would signal the completion of the composition process would be the releasing of the document for circulation by the author's associates.
Therefore, I think that, in light of this practice, the doctrinal statements should define the New Testament "autographs" in the same manner, that is, the completed form of the New Testament writings that were released for circulation.

Valentin de Boulogne, Apostle Paul Writing

Monday, June 20, 2016

Quintilian on Reading

While working my way through Raffaella Cribiore's "Writers, Teachers, and Students of Graeco-Roman Egypt," I came across an interesting comment made by Quintilian (95 CE) concerning the act of reading a text.

"The syllables once learnt, let him begin to construct words with them and sentences with words. You will hardly believe how much reading is delayed by undue haste. If the child attempts more than his powers allow, the inevitable result is hesitation, interruption and repetition, and mistakes which he makes merely lead him to lose confidence in what he already knows. Reading must therefore first be sure, then connected, while it must be kept slow for a considerable time, until practice brings speed unaccompanied by error. For to look to the right, which is regularly taught, and to look ahead depends not so much on precept as on practice; since it is necessary to keep the eyes on what follows while reading out what precedes, with the resulting difficulty that the attention of the mind must be divided, the eyes and voice being differently engaged." (Inst. Or. 1.1.31-34)

It is interesting that Quintilian is describing a very difficult multi-tasking operation in reading. The eyes must always be looking ahead at the text that is about to be read out-loud, in order to decipher the text while the voice is "speaking" the previous sections that had already been deciphered. The labor and effort in practicing this is apparent as Quintilian states that reading "must be kept slow for a considerable time." It seems that most of this difficulty was caused by the format of the bookroll, that is, the scriptio continua and the lack of punctuation and reader's aids.
Closeup of a Mosaic Depicting Virgil Holding a Bookroll


Butler, H. E., trans. The Institutio Oratio of Quintilian. Vol. 1. LCL. Harvard University Press; New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1920.

Cribiore, Raffaella. Writing, Teachers, and Students in Graeco-Roman Egypt. American Studies in Papyrology 36. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1996.