Sunday, March 19, 2017

Papyrus and the New Testament Epistles

I came across a reference in the letters of Cicero (54 BCE). He was writing to his brother Quintus, and mentioned, off-hand, that he was going to use high quality papyrus.
“This time it will be quality pen and well-mixed ink and ivory-finished paper (charta etiam dentata), since you say you could hardly read my last letter” (Quint. fratr. 2.14)
It is interesting that Cicero mentions that the paper is "ivory finished," that it was very white, or bright in appearance. This, of course, must have been more expensive papyrus than that which he normally used for writing letters. As Pliny the Elder wrote, there were various grades of papyrus manufactured (Nat. 74-82). Papyrus was not always available, either due to price or through scarcity. An early 2nd century letter from Terentianus to Tasoucharion reads, "I sent you papyrus so that you might be able to write me concerning your health" (P. Mich. VIII 481). Perhaps it was difficult for the recipients of the letter to obtain papyrus. Unwanted Bookrolls were often repurposed by turning them over and writing on the blank back surface. Martial mentioned that if his poems failed to please the critics boys would "scribble on the backs" of his epigrams (Epig. 4.86). One fragment of John's Gospel appears to be written on the back of a reused bookroll (See Larry Hurtado's description here).

In the New Testament, there is almost no reference to the type of writing material used by the authors. Therefore it is nearly impossible to know what materials upon which the authors wrote. In one instance, John mentions papyrus,
"Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink (διὰ χάρτου καὶ μέλανος). Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete." (2 John 12. ESV)
At least in this instance John likely used papyrus rather than a wooden or wax tablet, or any other material for that matter, in writing his epistles.

Alma Tadema's depiction of a Roman Scribe

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Augustine of Hippo on Greek Accents

At around 410 CE, Paulinus Bishop of Nola (near Mt. Vesuvius in Italy) wrote a lengthy letter to Augustine Bishop of Hippo asking if the great doctor would explain some obscure passages in the scriptures. Towards the end of this epistle, Paulinus asked if Augustine could explain a portion of Psalm 17:14 (16:14, LXX). Paulinus wrote;
In the following psalm I should like to have that passage explained to me where it says: "Their belly is filled from thy hidden stores. They are full of pork," or, as I hear it is written in another version of the psalms: "They are full of children, and they have left to their little ones the rest of their substance." (Aug. Ep. 121) 
The first reference Paulinus quotes appears to be taken from the Greek LXX and the second quotation seems to be taken from Jerome's Latin version. The Greek text of this Psalm reads, "ἐχορτάσθησαν υἱῶν" (Rahlfs') which can be translated "they are satisfied with sons (or children)" or, as the NETS translates the phrase "they were fed with sons."

Augustine did not respond to Paulinus' question until 414 CE. It may be because it took some time before he was able to study a Greek LXX (Latin was his native tongue), for he wrote "I had not been able to consult any Greek texts on certain words of Psalm 16, but afterward I secured some and consulted them" (Aug. Ep. 149). A few paragraphs later he wrote;
As to the following passage, "They are full of pork," I have explained what I think of it. What readings other texts have or are truthfully reported to have--because the more carefully written copies explain this same well-known ambiguity of the Greek word by the accent, according to the Greek method of writing--is a matter somewhat obscure, but it seems to fit in better with the more acceptable meaning. He had said: "Their belly is filled from thy hidden stores," by which words the hidden judgments of God are meant, and no doubt they are hidden from the wretched, who rejoice even in evil, whom "God gave up to the desires of their heart." (Aug. Ep. 149)
Augustine explains that Paulinus may have a corrupted text that had not been copied well and had not been transcribed with the proper Greek accents. In this case, it seems that Augustine is alluding to the similarity between the Greek word for son in the genitive  plural "υιων" and the Greek word for pig in the genitive plural "υων." To further confuse the situation, some forms/styles of the word for son also did not include the iota and were spelled the same as pig (υων).
The perplexing facet to Augustine's explanation is that it is difficult to understand whether he is mistakenly referring to a missing iota in the genitive plural for "of sons" in Paulinus' manuscript (thus it is a poorly copied manuscript); or that he is indicating that, in his understanding of the Greek of his day, these two words were differentiated in the placement of their accents.
It seems that the latter explanation makes the most sense of Augustine's comments. Paulinus probably had an LXX Psalter that had poorly copied (or missing) accents. This ambiguity over accents, coupled with the verb "ἐχορτάσθησαν" (an "eating" verb) led Paulinus to erroneously interpret the words as "pigs" rather than "sons."
Therefore Augustine reminds us of the importance of accents so that when we read Romans 8:19 we do not think that "creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the pigs of God."

Saint Augustine. (Circa 1645-1650) by Philippe de Champaigne


Augustine, Letters (Sister Wilfred Parsons, trans. The Fathers of the Church. Volumes II and III. New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1953).

Karl Kelchner Hulley, "Principles of Textual Criticism Known to St. Jerome." Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 55 (1944): 87-109.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Three Avenues of Publication in the Roman Era

Sometime at the end of the first or beginning of the second century CE (AD), the Roman statesman Pliny the Younger wrote to Suetonius urging him to publish his work. In this exhortation Pliny succinctly describes the three avenues available to authors who wished to release their work for circulation and copying.
"The work is finished and perfect, further polish will not make it shinier but wear it out. Let me see your work completed with a title tag, let me hear that the volumes of my [Suetonius] Tranquillus are copied, read, and sold." (Ep. 5.10)
Pliny mentions three pathways to publication; copying, most likely a reference to the distribution of a writing through the authors social contacts; reading, an allusion to the public reading of a text at diner parties, recitations, and other social gatherings; selling, a direct mention of book sellers. Each of these methods of "releasing" a composition effectively "published" the work for general consumption. The author lost control of the work's fate and it was free to circulate and be distributed by demand (see previous posts on publication, here, and here).

In Christian communities, at least in the first few centuries, it seems that the primary means by which the New Testament writings were disseminated was through private circulation and copying and public reading. Paul alludes to both of these avenues of distribution at the end of his letter to the Colossians.
"And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea." (Col. 4:16; ESV)
In this passage, Paul is directing the Church at Colossae to both publicly read out his letters, but also to copy and disseminate those letters addressed to other communities circulating throughout the Churches in the region.

Though direct evidence for the public sale of New Testament writings does not appear until the fourth century (see previous post), there are allusions to the possibility of scripture being sold as early as the second century. At around 150 CE Justin Martyr wrote to a Jewish acquaintance named Trypho arguing for the truthfulness of Christianity. Throughout the dialogue Justin records some of Trypho's objections and arguments against Christianity. In one instance Trypho is recorded as saying;
"Moreover, I am aware that your precepts in the so-called Gospel are so wonderful and so great, that I suspect no one can keep them; for I have carefully read them." (Dial. 10)
Besides the interesting use of the word "Gospel" to refer to a group of Christian writings, Trypho declares that he has read them. How did Trypho obtain a copy of these Gospels? At first glance it seems the likely answer is that Justin loaned Trypho copies for him to read. But Trypho informed Justin of his reading of the Gospels in such a way that suggests Trypho obtain copies on his own accord. It is of course possible that Trypho acquired copies through private channels. The other possibility is that Trypho purchased copies through a Book Dealer.

Another allusion to the sale of New Testament writings occurs in the writings of Celsus which are preserved in the work of Origen. Celsus was a Greek Philosopher opposed to Christianity and wrote an anti-Christian treatise entitled "The True Word" in the last half of the second century (ca. 160-180 CE). It was 70-80 years later before a solid Christian rebuttal came on the scene. Origen wrote a lengthy response entitled simply "Contra Celsum" where he quoted, paraphrased, and alluded to Celsus' work. Throughout Origen makes mention of Celsus' use of Gospels material. In one place Origen mentioned that Celsus "makes numerous quotations from the Gospel according to Matthew" (1.34). In another Origen wrote;
"But if this Celsus, who, in order to find matter of accusation against Jesus and the Christians, extracts from the Gospel even passages which are incorrectly interpreted, but passes over in silence the evidences of the divinity of Jesus, would listen to divine portents, let him read the Gospel, and see that even the centurion, and they who with him kept watch over Jesus, on seeing the earthquake, and the events that occurred, were greatly afraid, saying, "This man was the son of God." (Cels. 2.36)
It is clear from these passages that Celsus was at the very least reading the Gospels of Matthew and John. Again, where was Celsus able to acquire copies of these Christian writings? It is possible that he had direct contact with Christian communities in the second century and obtained copies through private channels. Another (likely) possibility is that Celsus gathered copies of the New Testament writings by purchasing them from a Book Seller.

Either through private channels or through commercial Book Sellers, it is apparent that by the middle of the second century (and most likely much earlier) the New Testament writings were distributed to such a degree that non Christians could obtain copies and engage with the Christian faith.

Translation of Pliny's letter taken from Jon W. Iddeng, "Publica Aut Peri! The Releasing and Distribution of Roman Books," Symbolae Osloenses 81 (2006), 78.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Teaching Aids for Ancient Christian Readers

Some of the earliest copies of the New Testament writings were copied in such a way that they aided the reader in their task of deciphering the scriptio continua. Bookrolls from the Roman world (1st -3rd century CE) which contained works of literature had very little by way of assistance for the reader. Take for example P. Lond. Lit. 134 (ca. 200 CE), a copy of  Hyperides, In Philippidem. It has a steady stream of letters uninterrupted by spaces or any type of punctuation.
P. Lond. Lit. 134. (Johnson, "Bookrolls and Scribes," 400)

Those fortunate children in antiquity with access to an education had to be taught methods of deciphering this system of writing. Grammarians (ancient teachers) facilitated this instruction by creating models of ancient works such as Homer's Iliad that incorporated spaces between words and markings differentiating syllables and sense units. One example of a teacher's model is a wooden tablet from Roman Egypt that contains Homer's Iliad (3rd century). The wooden slate uses spaces between words and markings to assist beginning readers in comprehending the text.

AM 13839 (Cribiore, "Gymnastics of the Mind," 135)
Similar phenomena of reading aid can be detected in some early copies of New Testament writings. For example, spaces between words can clearly be seen throughout P46 (2nd/3rd century), a collection of Paul's epistles.

The beginning of Galatians in P46
Spaces and limited punctuation can be seen in P66 (2nd/3rd century), a copy of John's Gospel. 

The beginning of the Gospel of John in P66.

There are some interesting parallels between early New Testament manuscripts such as P46 and P66 and teachers models such as AM 13839. Both types of documents employ clear and legible scripts, give generous space between lines, and use spacing between words and sense units. These features have been highlighted elsewhere on this blog (here, and here). It has already been noted that reading aids seem to reveal that these Christian books were produced for less than capable readers.
Coupled with this, perhaps the presence of reader's aids in copies of New Testament manuscripts also reveal another parallel with teacher's models; that of instruction. Just like teacher's models were used almost exclusively in the context of learning, perhaps these Christian manuscripts were produced so that they could be used primarily within teaching contexts.

Cribiore, Raffaella. Gymnastics of the Mind: Greek Education in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.

Johnson, William A., Bookrolls and Scribes in Oxyrhynchus. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Cassiodorus On Papyrus Paper

A leaf from P46, an early copy of Paul's epistles on papyrus.

During his service as a Praetorian Praefect under Theodoric The Great (ca. 533-538 CE), Cassiodorus maintained an extensive official correspondence. In a letter to Joannes, Canonicarius of Thuscia, Cassiodorus extensively praised papyrus paper;
"A wonderful product in truth is this wherewith ingenious Memphis has supplied all the offices in the world. The plants of Nile arise, a wood without leaves or branches, a harvest of the waters, the fair tresses of the marshes, plants full of emptiness, spongy, thirsty, having all their strength in their outer rind, tall and light, the fairest fruit of a foul inundation. 
Before Paper was discovered, all the sayings of the wise, all the thoughts of the ancients, were in danger of perishing. Who could write fluently or pleasantly on the rough bark of trees, though it is from that practice that we call a book Liber ? While the scribe was laboriously cutting his letters on the sordid material, his very thought grew cold: a rude contrivance assuredly, and only fit for the beginnings of the world. 
Then was paper discovered, and therewith was eloquence made possible. Paper, so smooth and so continuous, the snowy entrails of a green herb; paper which can be spread out to such a vast extent, and yet be folded up into such a little space; paper, on whose white expanse the black characters look beautiful; paper which keeps the sweet harvest of the mind, and restores it to the reader whenever he chooses to consult it; paper which is the faithful witness of all human actions, eloquent of the past, a sworn foe to oblivion." (Letters 11.38)
The popularity and utility of papyrus is also reflected in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament writings. A significant portion of New Testament manuscripts that date to the time of Cassiodorus and earlier are preserved on papyrus. Therefore, in the case of the New Testament writings, we can agree with Cassiodorus that "Before Paper was discovered, all the sayings of the wise, all the thoughts of the ancients, were in danger of perishing."
Hodgkin, Thomas, trans. The Letters of Cassiodorus. London: Henry Frowde, 1886. (pg. 483)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Galen's Rules of Textual Alteration

While reading through Eric W. Scherbenske's "Canonizing Paul: Ancient Editorial Practice and the Corpus Paulinum," I came across a fascinating discussion over Galen's (129 - 216 CE) scholarship on the text of the Hippocratic corpus. In the midst of analyzing the textual work and editions of two former Hippocratic scholars who were active in the first part of the second century, Galen wrote;
"A second book written in place of one formerly written is said to be revised (επιδιεσκευασθαι), when it has the same 'hypothesis' (υποθεσις) and most of the same words; some (of the words) taken out from the former work; some added; some altered. If you want an example of this for the sake of clarity, you have the second Autolycus of Eupolis revised from the former. Thus the doctors from Cnidus published the second 'Cnidian Opinions' in place of the former ones; some having the same in every way; but some added; some taken away; just as some altered. This then is the second book of Hippocrates which they say is more medical than the former." (Hipp. vict. acut. 120.5-14; Scherbenske's translation)
Galen sets limits on the amount of textual tampering an ancient Hippocratic scholar should perform on the text by defining an 'edition' of an ancient work. The original author's "hypothesis," that is, the foundational concept or idea written by the author (in this case, Hippocrates), should not be altered in any way. When a scholar in Galen's time was preparing an edition of an ancient work, the scholar was "revising" the text when it had the same "hypothesis" and "most of the same words." These words could be altered, however, by the scholar, as long as "most of the same words' were retained.

A similar mentality can be detected in much of the transmission history of the New Testament writings, especially the Gospels. Michael W. Holmes noted that the fluidity of movement in the words at the sentence or verse level in the manuscript tradition is "remarkable." Despite this, the overall structure of the Gospels in the manuscript tradition is very stable. Holmes wrote;

"No matter how fluid the text of a particular verse or episode maybe, the overall narrative structure is extremely stable. The circumstances of Luke and Acts are very similar to those of Matthew, John, and Mark. In short, a very high percentage of the variation evident in the text of the Four Gospels and Acts affects a verse or less of the text. On this level, the fluidity of wording within a verse, sentence, or paragraph is sometimes remarkable. At the same time, however, in terms of overall structure, arrangement, and content, these five documents are remarkably stable. They display simultaneously, in other words, what one may term micro level fluidity and macro level stability." (Holmes, 674)
It seems then, that as in the case of Galen's criteria, the overall "hypothesis" of the Gospels remains unaltered. The wording of the Gospels was merely shifted and the order of words altered slightly, with some words added and removed. Perhaps Galen's understanding of textual alteration and "edition" was more widely held by scribes in the ancient and medieval world.

Estoire del Saint Graal, France (Royal MS 14 E III c. 1315 – 1325 AD)

Holmes, Michael W. “From ‘Original Text’ to ‘Initial Text’: The Traditional Goal of New Testament Textual Criticism in Contemporary Discussion.” Pages 637-681 in The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis. Second Edition. Edited by Bart D. Ehrman and Michael W. Holmes. New Testament, Tools, Studies and Documents 42. Leiden: Brill, 2013.

Scherbenske, Eric W. Canonizing Paul: Ancient Editorial Practice and the Corpus Paulinum (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 39.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Quintilian on The Critical Skills Grammarians Teach (ca. 95 CE)

While reading through Eric W. Scherbenske's "Canonizing Paul: Ancient Editorial Practice and the Corpus Paulinum," I came across a reference from Quintilian. He was sketching the critical skills taught as part of the standard literary education given by the Greek and Latin Grammarians (teachers); 
"As soon as the boy has learned to read and write without difficulty, it is the turn for the teacher of literature (grammatici). My words apply equally to Greek and Latin masters, though I prefer that a start should be made with a Greek: in either case the method is the same. This profession may be most briefly considered under two heads, the art of speaking correctly and the interpretation of poets; but there is more beneath the surface than meets the eye. For the art of writing is combined with that of speaking, and correct reading precedes interpretation, while in each of these criticism has work to perform. The old school of teachers (veteras grammatici) carried their criticism so far that they were not content with obelizing lines [marking for deletion] or rejecting books whose titles they regarded as spurious, as though they were expelling a supposititious child from the family circle, but also drew up a canon of authors, from which some were omitted altogether." (Inst. or. 1.4.1-3)
Quintilian notes here that it was customary for Grammarians to teach the art of analyzing a piece of literature for a correct textual reading as well as determining its authenticity in relation to an author's other writings. Of course, Quintilian is describing the ideal Greco-Roman education. It may have been uncommon for literates (of lesser or greater ability) to acquire this level of analytical skill. Nevertheless, the teaching of these critical skills appears to occur early in a child's literary education (soon after acquiring an adequate level of reading and writing ability). Thus, most literates may have had at least a rudimentary understanding of recognizing textual/transmission issues as well as the problems associated with authorship.  

Apostles, disciples, and other early Christian leaders who were literate, may have had at least some ability in analyzing and evaluating a particular writing's textual character or authorship claims.  This can be seen in Peter's assessment of those who have miss-interpreted and possibly textually altered Paul's epistles in 2 Peter 3:16, and Luke's evaluation of previous Gospel writings in 1:1-4. Similar parallels could be made with regard to the collecting of Ignatius's letters in Poly. Phil. 13.1-2.

Mosaic of Plato's academy (Pompeii)
Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria (trans. H. E. Butler; LCL; London: William Heinman, 1920), 61-63.

Scherbenske, Eric W. Canonizing Paul: Ancient Editorial Practice and the Corpus Paulinum (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 16.