Sunday, September 9, 2018

Review: "God's Library," by Brent Nongbri

In recent years, the study of “Christian” manuscripts as cultural artifacts has been gaining traction in the academic world. The binding, the textual formatting, aids to the reader, and other aspects of these manuscripts are being studied by researchers in order to better understand the cultural milieus in which these documents were produced and used.

Brent Nongbri is Honorary Research Fellow at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, and his new book, "
God’s Library," is a timely contribution to this trend of studying manuscripts as ancient artifacts. Nongbri writes, “the overall effect of my research is to raise consciousness about how messy and fragmentary our knowledge about these books is” (p. 14-15).

This review begins with a detailed summary for each chapter, for the benefit of those who have not read the book and are considering a purchase. This is followed by an evaluation of a few of the central arguments posited in the work.

The first chapter, “The Early Christian Book,” does a great job at introducing the unfamiliar reader to the materials used in making ancient books (either papyrus or animal skins, p. 24-27), along with the inks used in writing the text (p. 26), though more thorough treatments can be found in other handbooks. Where this chapter shines is in the overview of the various kinds of binding and quire gatherings used in stitching codices (p. 27-36), the various extant covers (p. 38-40), and the ancient repairing of codices (p. 40-41). Nongbri makes sure to note that the differences in codex construction, the style of stitching, the use of single or multi-quires, “do not, however, have any bearing on the dates of our surviving copies” (p. 36).

The various methods used in dating ancient manuscripts is discussed in chapter two, “The Dating Game” (p. 47-82). Nongbri introduces the reader to the methods palaeographers use to establish the dates of undated literary manuscripts and highlights several problems with the discipline (p. 49-72). The use of “Radiocarbon analysis” to determine the date of manuscripts is evaluated and several problems with the technique are discussed (p. 72-80). Methods of “Ink Analysis” are examined and the case of the “Gospel of Judas” (Codex Tchacos) is brought to bear as evidence of difficulties with the method (p. 80-82). At the end of the chapter Nongbri warns the reader that “if you see reports of dates like ‘circa 150 CE’ or ‘about the year 200’ in reference to an early Christian manuscript, you should be very suspicious” (p. 82).

In chapter three, “Finding Early Christian Books,” Nongbri recounts several interesting anecdotes surrounding the discoveries of several important ancient Christian manuscript collections; “The Coptic Codices of Hamuli” (p. 86-91), and “The Coptic Codices of Nag Hammadi” (p. 108-115). Other important or interesting manuscript find locations (if known) are also surveyed.

The Following two chapters analyze the two most famous early Christian manuscript collections; chapter four “A Discovery ‘Which Threw All Others in the Shade’: The Beatty Biblical Papyri” (p. 116-156), and, the longest chapter in the book, chapter five “An Elusive Collection: The Bodmer Papyri” (p. 157-215). Tapping into the findings of his own archival research, Nongbri attempts to correct misinformation surrounding these famous book collections.

The generally accepted dates of several of the codices in these collections are re-examined and challenged. The Beatty Codex VI (Number, Deuteronomy) is generally thought to be the oldest manuscript in the collection (ca. 150 CE) Nongbri (citing E. G. Turner) opts for a date range of 2nd to 3rd century, stating that “Greater precision on the basis of paleography alone is simply not possible” (p. 150). The date assigned to Beatty Codex I (P45), which has recently been re-evaluated as belonging to the 3rd century by Orsini and Clarysse, is also questioned. This is because, it is argued, “our corpus of dateable samples is taken almost entirely from rolls, and our concern here is a codex. The unstated working assumption is that the dateable rolls give a full representation of the span of time this type of writing was in use, even though the roll format was largely supplanted by the codex by the end of the fourth century” (p. 138). Though Beatty Codex II (P46) has been recently dated to 200-225 CE, Nongbri contends that “no truly compelling securely dated parallels for the script of the Pauline Epistles codex have been proposed” (p. 144).

Referring now to the Bodmer collection, it is argued “that the antiquity of P.Bodmer II [P66] has been exaggerated” (p. 199). This conclusion is supported mainly by the similarity in appearance of P.Bodmer II to P.Bodmer XX and Schøyen MS 193 (a codex believed to be originally part of the ancient collection), both in the squarish shape and general appearance of script (p. 199). Nongbri also contends for a fourth century date for P. Bodmer XIV-XV (P75) by comparing the elongated codex shape (width half the height) and construction with other fourth century codices in the Bodmer collection and the Nag Hammadi Codices (p. 199-202). Along with codicology, Nongbri appeals to the broadly similar appearance of the scripts with two securely dated letters from the fourth century, P.Herm 4 and 5 (p. 202).

Chapter six, “Excavating Christian Litter and Literature at Oxyrhynchus,” introduces the history of the late 19th and early 20th century expeditions to Oxyrhynchus, Egypt by Bernard P. Grenfell and Arthur S. Hunt (p. 216-246). Personal correspondence, contemporary news reports and magazine articles are brought to bear. The chapter lists out all the Christian papyri discovered at Oxyrhynchus according to genre and frequency of pieces found and the dates assigned to them (p. 231-233). Nongbri observes that there is a notable decrease in the number of papyri from the third to the fourth centuries, which, according to him, seems at odds with the rise in power of the Christian Emperor Constantine in the early fourth century (p. 244). He surmises that this may indicate that the dates assigned to the “New Testament” material are being artificially “pulled early” (p. 245) When the texts of undated literary Christian codices are compared with these securely dated re-used rolls, it results in an artificially early date (p. 244-245).

In the final chapter, “Fabricating a Second-Century Codex of the Four Gospels,” Nongbri recounts the history of the New Testament fragments P64+P67+P4. The story begins with the “discovery” of a Philo codex allegedly found bricked up in a wall (p. 248). The codex was thought to have been placed there in hiding during the “Diocletianic persecutions” in 292 CE (p. 249). Fragments of a papyrus codex containing Luke were found with the Philo codex, commonly known as P4 (p. 249). Because it was thought that the Lukan fragments were part of the binding cartonnage of the Philo codex, then P4 must date before (likely sometime earlier) than the late third century (p. 249). When fragments of Matthew (P64, P67) were thought to originate from the same codex, Colin H. Roberts postulated these as evidence of a second century four Gospel codex (p. 254).

Through his own archival research, Nongbri discovered that the (allegedly) securely dated Philo codex was not necessarily recovered in the wall of a house in Koptos Egypt. Rather, the information likely (Nongbri surmises) came from a local antiquities dealer after it was bought on the market and thus its provenance is unknown (p. 262). Thus, the date of the Lukan fragments (P4) are not as secure as once thought and this throws the entire second century four Gospel codex theory into doubt (p. 263-267). Based on the use of ekthesis in these Gospel fragments, Nongbri postulated that they should be dated closer to the fourth century where “similar techniques of division of the text are known to occur in manuscripts generally assigned to the fourth and fifth centuries” (p. 267).

Though Nongbri’s extreme caution towards dating manuscripts too early and with an unrealistically narrow range is appropriate in the specific cases he examines, at times his suspicion comes across as overdone. In several places this skepticism undercuts his own attempts at assigning later dates to some of the manuscripts discussed.

In the first chapter, “The Early Christian Book,” he argues that the differences in codex construction, the style of stitching, the use of single or multi-quires, “do not, however, have any bearing on the dates of our surviving copies” (p. 36). He writes that,
The variety of construction techniques of surviving codices from Egypt suggests that the rise and spread of the codex format was a drawn-out process involving both diffusion of the technology from one locality to another and independent experimentation at the local level. Refinement of construction techniques at any given time would have varied widely from place to place. (p. 36)
Yet, at several places in the book Nongbri appeals to codicology as a gauge of date (cf. p. 80). For example, when suggesting that the antiquity of P. Bodmer II (P66) has been exaggerated, Nongbri highlights the similarity of the squarish shape and the construction of P. Bodmer II with the squarish shape and similarity in binding of other fourth century codices in the collection (p. 195-199). If codicology has no “bearing on the dates” then the similarity in shape and binding between the Bodmer papyri should not be marshalled as evidence of a later date for P. Bodmer II or any other undated manuscripts (see also p. 202-206, et al.).

Nongbri helpfully distills dating by palaeography down to its primary assumption that “Graphic similarity equates to temporal similarity,” and this comparison is best made against securely dated writings samples rather than against other non-securely dated examples (p. 57-58). In the second chapter, Nongbri expresses skepticism towards dating strictly by palaeography, listing out reasons that “challenge the key assumption I mentioned at the outset—that graphic similarity necessarily equates to chronological similarity” (p. 64). In a later footnote, when discussing whether palaeography is strictly a “science,” Nongbri writes, “What is more certain in terms of social history is that the modern academic discipline of palaeography emerged out of the aesthetic interests and connoisseurship of elite circles in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries” (p. 296, note 20).

If palaeography, however, is merely a product of eighteenth and nineteenth centuries’ anachronistically applying different classifications to ancient scripts, then scholars cannot use palaeography to assign dates to undated manuscripts. It appears that Nongbri intends to bring this point home throughout the book, yet he consistently uses the graphic similarity between scripts as a criterion for assigning later dates to “Biblical” manuscripts (cf. p. 202).

With this level of contradiction and circular argumentation readers will likely come away from God’s Library scratching their heads and asking themselves, ‘Can palaeography be used to date undated manuscripts, or not? Can codicology be used to date un-dated manuscripts, or not?’

Despite these glaring problems, there is much to like about this book. The Prologue (if one reads Prologues), is well written and draws the reader into the book. The work is supported by extensive archival research that is both illuminating and, in the case of some manuscripts and ancient collections, paradigm shifting. The footnotes and bibliography are extensive which will likely make this book the standard guide for future studies in the provenance of manuscripts and collections. There are plenty of maps, diagrams, charts, and images of manuscripts that aid the reader in navigating the often times unfamiliar locations and visualizing these ancient books as artifacts.

Finally, much of the skepticism and warnings of overconfidence in dating ancient manuscripts is appropriate and warranted. Nongbri does well at highlighting issues with assigning the date of a manuscript solely on palaeography. He gives several examples from the past century of scholars attributing dates to manuscripts with little or no support from securely dated writing samples or instances of the same manuscripts being assigned widely differing dates. Christian apologists, theologians of every stripe, and historians of early Christianity should heed Nongbri’s warnings and apply an extra dose of caution and transparency when drawing conclusions or basing arguments on these early Christian books.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Aristides of Athens and Early Christian Writings

 Aristides was an Athenian Philosopher who lived sometime during the reign of Emperor Hadrian (117-138 CE). His apologetic work was good enough to have staying power because Eusebius, in his "Church History," makes reference to Aristides and his Apology (ca.325 CE),
"Aristides also, a believer earnestly devoted to our religion, left, like Quadratus, an apology for the faith, addressed to Hadrian. His work, too, has been preserved even to the present day by a great many persons." (Hist. Eccl. 4.3.3)
Jerome, in his "On Illustrious Men," also mentions Aristides and his Apology (ca. 393 CE).
"Aristides a most eloquent Athenian philosopher, and a disciple of Christ while yet retaining his philosopher's garb, presented a work to Hadrian at the same time that Quadratus presented his. The work contained a systematic statement of our doctrine, that is, an Apology for the Christians, which is still extant and is regarded by philologians as a monument to his genius." (De vir. 20)
In this Apologetic work Aristides compares the Christian God with the Pagan God's. At one point, Aristides begins to point Hadrian to the Christian scriptures or writings in order to validate his arguments.
"Take, then, their writings, and read therein, and lo! you will find that I have not put forth these things on my own authority, nor spoken thus as their advocate; but since I read in their writings I was fully assured of these things as also of things which are to come. And for this reason I was constrained to declare the truth to such as care for it and seek the world to come. And to me there is no doubt but that the earth abides through the supplication of the Christians. But the rest of the nations err and cause error in wallowing before the elements of the world, since beyond these their mental vision will not pass. And they search about as if in darkness because they will not recognize the truth; and like drunken men they reel and jostle one another and fall." (Apol. 16)
It appears that Aristides is stating that he was converted to Christianity after he accessed their writings and read them for himself. If we can trust his testimony here, I find it fascinating that Aristides was able to identify a collective body of recognizable Christian writings. In other words, there was at the time (ca. 117-138 CE), a collection of writings that were recognizable by a non-Christian outsider as their definitive supporting documents. In turn, Aristides expected Hadrian to be able to recognize these writings as well.
It is also interesting that these writings were even available to the outsider. Aristides does not mention how he obtained a copy, but it had to be either through a book seller, a library, a friend, or a Church. In the early decades of the second century, these early Christian writings were circulating to such a degree that a Philosopher in Athens could obtain copies and read them for himself.

Monday, August 6, 2018

A Text Without Martha: Implications of an Earlier Textual Layer of John’s Gospel

In a 2017 issue of Harvard Theological Review, Elizabeth Schrader (PhD student at Duke) published an article postulating an earlier textual layer of John’s Gospel that highlighted (to a greater extent than traditionally thought) the sister of Lazarus, Mary, in the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.
Elizabeth Schrader, “Was Martha of Bethany Added to the Fourth Gospel in the Second Century?” Harvard Theological Review 110.3 (2017): 360-392.
"This study examines the text transmission of the figure of Martha of Bethany throughout the Fourth Gospel in over one hundred of our oldest extant Greek and Vetus Latina witnesses. the starting point for this study is instability around Martha in our most ancient witnesses of John 11-12, Papyrus 66. By looking at P66's idiosyncrasies and then comparing them to the Fourth Gospel's greater manuscript transmission, I hope to demonstrate that Martha's presence shows significant textual instability throughout the Lazarus episode, and thus that this Lukan figure may not have been present in a predecessor text form of the Fourth Gospel that circulated in the second century." (Schrader, 360)

As Schrader notes in the introduction to the article, much of the argument depends on the textual idiosyncrasies of P66. In response, this post will focus on just two readings as they are found in P66. At John 11:1 Schrader argues that Mary was the only name originally present in the Lazarus story in this verse. And at John 11:3 it is Mary who allegedly sent word to Jesus and not Mary and Martha.

P66 showing duplication of μαριας and correction to μαρθας (circled in red) at John 11:1
The P66* reading in John 11:1, μαριας και μαριας, could be explained by dittography, or an error caused by a backward leap (as Schrader acknowledges on 362). Royse notes that slips involving a backward leap or dittography are quite common to the scribe of P66 (Schrader only mentions the dittography’s noted by Royse at John 1:17b, 12:26a, and 14:3; Schrader, 362). Royse notes backward leaps at John 3:3, 3:31b, 7:44a, 8:42b, 9:41a, 9:41b, 10:38b, 13:20c (either a backward or a forward leap) 13:32, 14:10b, 14:12a, 14:12c, 16:25 (Royse, 422-432). And this list is not exhaustive.

Schrader acknowledges this, but argues that this scribal slip and correction must be explained in light of “the surrounding reading of P66” (Schrader, 363). I find it interesting that at 10:38, just a few verses before John 11:1, on the recto of the same page, we find a very similar phenomena. The scribe did a backward leap and began to rewrite the same words (εν εμοι ... εν τω πατρι; Royse, 430). Because of the close proximity of these scribal slips (and the frequency of their occurrence throughout), it seems more likely that the repeating of μαριας was due to a backward leap and a repeating of the name, rather than the bleeding through of an earlier text form of John with Martha excluded.

P66 at John 10:38 showing the dittography and correction of εν εμοι ... εν τω πατρι
The changing of the pronoun from masculine to feminine in John 11:1 (αυτου > αυτης) after the dittography of μαριας could again be explained by the scribal peculiarities of P66. The scribe alters the gender of a pronoun at 4:11a, a noun at 15:19a, and the case of several pronouns at 6:7b, 15:13 (this is not an exhaustive list).

The original reading at John 11:3 is unique in that “P66 is the only extant witness that actually transcribes the name of a single sister” (Schrader, 370). The scribe of P66 originally wrote, απεστιλεν συν μαρ[?]α προς αυτον λεγουσα (Mary/Martha then sent toward him saying). In a complicated series of erasures and corrections, the scribe changed the text to read απεστιλαν συν αι αδελφαι προς αυτον λεγουσαι (The sisters then sent toward him saying).

Schrader notes that “this reading is crucial” to her thesis that the story of Lazarus originally only included Mary and Martha was added by the scribe of P66. Though Schrader does indicate that scholars are divided as to which name was originally present in this verse, it is very difficult to discern from the images which name was initially written by the scribe (Schrader, 367-368). Though Schrader and other scholars contend for μαρια as the original reading, μαρθα could have just as easily been the initial transcription.

P66 at John 11:3 showing deletion and correction

P66 at John 11:3 showing possible initial reading μαρια

P66 at John 11:3 showing possible initial reading μαρθα
The initial reading of μαρθα can very easily be explained as harmonization. One characteristic noted by Schrader is that “[i]t seems likely that there was an early harmonization of the Johannine Lazarus story to the Lukan story of Mary and Martha” (Schrader, 391). Both Colwell and Royse recognize a tendency to harmonize readings with remote parallels in other Gospels (Colwell, 112-114; Royse, 536-544). It is quite possible that the scribe was harmonizing the story to Luke 10:38-42 where Martha is quite prominent. One does not have to go as far as Luke’s gospel for harmonization parallels. It is also possible that the scribe was harmonizing to a point later in the story where Martha runs out to meet Jesus at John 11:21 (cf. 11:30). I find it interesting that at none of these places does the scribe of P66 attempt to remove the prominence of Martha who takes center stage in the narrative. Complicated and lengthy erasures and corrections are not uncommon for the scribe of P66. A "confusing" series of errors of backward leaps, erasures, and corrections made in scribendo are found at 7:33 (Royse, 422). A very similar occurrence is located at 13:20c (Royse, 431).

I think that, in the case of P66, it is wise to heed the words of Ernest Colwell;
“Wildness in copying is the outstanding characteristic of P66. This makes it very difficult to decide whether particular readings are due to editorializing on the part of the scribe or rather are due to his general laxity and inefficiency.” (Colwell, 121)
In response to these types of allegations, Schrader writes,
“I believe that the changes around Martha in P66 cannot simply be dismissed as scribal mechanical errors, because there are so many strange variants around Martha throughout the text transmission of the Fourth Gospel, as well as patristic quotations and ancient extracanonical texts.” (Schrader, 391)
I think that, at least in the case of P66, a better explanation for the unusual readings are the blunders and slips peculiar to the scribe of P66.

Though I do not wish to comment on the rest of the article content and argument at this time, I do think that Schrader's paper is a detailed and thorough piece of research. She has effectively used the data made available in online editions and other online tools that, I am sure, will be a model for future researchers.

Royse, James R., "Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri." NTTSD 36. Leiden: Brill, 2008.

Colwell, Ernest C., "Method in Evaluating Scribal Habits: A Study of P45, P66, P75," pages 106-124 in "Studies in Methodology in Textual Criticism of the New Testament." NTTS 9. Leiden: Brill, 1969.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Clement of Rome and the Holy Rule Handed Down

While reading through 1 Clement in Greek, I came across an interesting phrase,
"Therefore let us abandon empty and futile thoughts, and let us conform to the glorious and holy rule of our tradition." (1 Clement 7.2; Holmes, 37)
"διὸ ἀπολίπωμεν τὰς κενὰς καὶ ματαίας φροντίδας, καὶ ἔλθωμεν ἐπὶ τὸν εὐκλεῆ καὶ σεμνὸν τῆς παραδόσεως ἡμῶν κανόνα." (1 Clement 7.2; Holmes, 36)
The author (traditionally thought to be Clement of Rome, ca. 96 CE), appears to be referring to the "rule of faith" or the "rule of truth." This was commonly appealed to as a standard of doctrine, Christology, and belief that separated the orthodox from the heterodox. For example, Eusebius, in his history, recounts that Dionysius (ca. 170) wrote a letter to the Nicomedians "in which he combats the heresy of Marcion and compares it with the rule of the truth (τῷ τῆς ἀληθείας παρίσταται κανόνι)" (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 4.23.4; LCL, 379).

The "rule of faith" appears to have governed the manner in which the scriptures were interpreted as well. Irenaeus (ca. 180 CE) wrote that
"he also who retains unchangeable in his heart the rule (κανόνα) of the truth which he received by means of baptism, will doubtless recognize the names, the expressions, and the parables taken from the Scriptures" (Haer. 1.9.4; ANF 1:303).
Some early Christian writers use the phrase in a way that seems to include, not only the basic theology of the church, but also an accepted body of scripture handed down from the Apostles. Tertullian of Carthage (ca. 200 CE), in his "On the Prescription of Heretics," wrote that,
"For wherever it shall be manifest that the true Christian rule and faith shall be, there will likewise be the true Scriptures and expositions thereof, and all the Christian traditions." (Praescr. 19; ANF 3:251–252)
Tertullian is here including a received body of Scripture as an integral element of the "rule of faith." Returning to 1 Clement, it may be that the author (Clement) had a received body of scriptures in mind (along with "true" theology) when he wrote of the "glorious and holy rule of our traditions." There are a few clues in the context of 1 Clement they may support such a reading of 7.2.

Immediately following the author's admonition to "conform to the glorious and holy rule of our tradition" (7.2), is a long series of examples drawn from the Hebrew Bible. The author writes,
"Let us review all the generations in turn, and learn from generation to generation the Master has given an opportunity for repentance to those who desire to turn from him." (1 Clement 7.5; Holmes, 37)
From this point, Clement lists, in the fashion of Hebrews 11, Noah (7.6), Jonah (7.7), Enoch (9.3), Abraham (10.1), Lot (11.1), and Rahab (12.1). Previously, the author brought to mind, Abel (4.1), Jacob and Esau (4.8), Joseph (4.9), Moses (4.10), and David (4.13).
After an exhaustive quotation from Isaiah 53, and a brief line taken from Psalms 22 (a Psalm commonly quoted as a prophecy concerning Christ's crucifixion), Clement applies these passages to Christ's incarnation and death on the cross and then writes,
"You see, dear friends, the kind of pattern (ὑπογραμμὸς) that has been given to us; for if the Lord so humbled himself, what should we do, who through him have come under the yoke of grace?" (1 Clement 16.17; Holmes, 47-49)
The noun ὑπογραμμὸς, of course, can mean simply "pattern," but it is interesting that in its basic meaning refers specifically to a "written pattern" that students used to copy texts as they were learning to write (LSJ references Clement of Alexandria, Strom. 5.8.49,48). Because the phrasing follows extensive quotations from Isaiah 53, it suggest to me that Clement is referring to the example of Christ "written" in the Scriptures he referenced. Because of these citations and allusions to Old Testament themes, it is hard not to see that the author is referencing written sources here, the Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures, as part of these traditions handed down mentioned in 7.2.

The idea that Christian communities in the first century accepted some type of Greek translation of the Jewish writings as scripture is not very controversial. However, it seems that Clement has a collection of received Christian "New Testament" scriptures in view here as well. In the preceding context of 1 Clement 5, the author is speaking of the saints who gave the ultimate testimony in sacrificing for the name of Jesus through martyrdom, namely the Apostles Peter and Paul. He then uses the same noun as in 16.17,
"Finally, when he had given his testimony before rulers, he thus departed this world and went to the holy place, having become an outstanding example (ὑπογραμμὸς) of patient endurance." (1 Clement 5.7; Holmes, 35)
Of course, one should be careful not to take too much from the use of this word. But coupled with the extensive quotations from the Septuagint discussed above, it seems that Clement is also here referring to a "written" example of Paul.

This view is strengthened by the explicit reference to the letter of 1 Corinthians made in 47.1, "Take up the epistle of the blessed Paul the apostle" (Holmes, 83). The gospels are alluded to and loosely quoted in several places as well (13.2-7; 15.2; 24.5; 43.6; 46.7-8; 49.1), as well as Hebrews (36.2-5) along with other New Testament writings (Gregory, 129-157).

The view that I am entertaining here, that the "holy rule of our tradition" in 1 Clement 7.2 includes a body of scriptures, Septuagint and some "New Testament" writings, does not seem to be widely held in the academy. Concerning this 1 Clement 7.2, Lee Martin McDonald wrote,
"Later, Clement of Rome (ca. 90 CE) used "canon" in reference to the church's revealed truth when he encourages the Christians at Corinth to "put aside empty and vain cares, and let us come to the glorious and venerable rule of our tradition." (McDonald, 50)
McDonald does not entertain the possibility that this "rule" that was handed included a core body of scriptures, at least at this early date. Yet, I think that it may be necessary to rethink this understanding of Clement's "holy rule of our tradition." That the statements of Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria, that the "rule of faith" included a received body of scriptures, may date at least from the time Clement took up the pen to admonish the Church at Corinth in the 90s CE.

Finally, in further support of understanding 1 Clement 7.2 as including some kind of received body of scriptures, Paul (if you accept traditional Pauline authorship) in 2Thessalonians 2:15, uses the same word as Clement of Rome to refer to the teaching likely transmitted by word of mouth and to teaching contained within a letter sent from Paul.
"So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions (παραδόσεις) which you were taught, whether by word of mouth (λόγου) or by letter (ἐπιστολῆς) from us." (NASB)
Here Paul is including both oral teaching and a written text with received traditions taught to the Thessalonian Church.

I am not attempting to anachronistically back load later meanings of "canon" (κανών) into 1 Clement 7.2. I do not think 1 Clement is using "canon" here to refer to an authoritative list of books. Rather, I am proposing that, in 1 Clement 7.2, "canon" includes not only a body of received apostolic teaching, but a group of scriptural works that convey this apostolic teaching. This likely would have included the Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures, and Christian writings such as some of Paul's letters and a gospel, though the exact contours of this collection is unkown.

Bokedal, Thomas, "The Rule of Faith: Tracing its Origins." Journal of Theological Interpretation 7.2 (2013): 233-255.

Eusebius. Ecclesiastical History, Volume I: Books 1-5. Translated by Kirsopp Lake. Loeb Classical Library 153. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1926.

Gregory, Andrew. "1 Clement and the Writings That Later Formed the New Testament," pages 129-157 in The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Hagner, D.A. The Use of the Old and New Testaments in Clement of Rome. NovTSup 34. Leiden: Brill, 1973

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

McDonald, Lee Martin. The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007.

Roberts, Alexander, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Vol. 1. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.

Roberts, Alexander, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds. Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian. Vol. 3. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.

An image of Papyrus 6. Containing fragments of 1st Clement (Coptic), the Epistle of James (Coptic), and the Gospel of John (Coptic and Greek).

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Myths About Autographs

 A book to look out for in the coming year or so (I am not sure of the release date) is Elijah Hixson and Peter Gurry's new book, "Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism," Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, Academic, Forthcoming

Hixson and Gurry are the editors of this multi-author volume and they both contribute (excellent) articles. In a post-Bart Ehrman era of textual uncertainty, popular level books, articles, blogs, and apologists give various arguments for the textual reliability of the New Testament. Unfortunately, in the midst of this necessary and well-motivated apologetic are bad reasonings, misinformation, and factually incorrect arguments that actually work against the objective of confirming the reliability of the text. New Testament Textual Criticism by nature is a complex and technical discipline. The goal of this volume is NOT to provide an introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism, but to correct some of these bad and factually incorrect arguments floating in the Christian apologetic and theological landscape.

I had the opportunity to contribute a chapter to this book, "Myths About Autographs: What They Were and How Long They May Have Survived." This chapter addresses assumptions about the autographs or original documents of New Testament books by considering the historical context of ancient publication. It surveys how long these autographs may have lasted and it discusses how many autographic copies there may have been. In addition, this article engages the opposing claims of recent scholarship by Matthew Larson on the one hand which claims that the New Testament writings were never finalized and those of Craig Evans on the other that claim the New Testament autographs survived for centuries and were probably used as a “check” on the transmission process thereby ensuring accuracy.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Galen on the Parchment Codex

While reading through the physician Galen of Pergamon's (129- ca. 215 CE) recently re-discovered writing "On the Avoidance of Grief," I came across a reference to the parchment codex.
In this particular piece Galen is writing in response to a friend's inquiry into Galen's amazing state of happiness despite the recent calamities that have befallen him. Galen writes in order to instruct his friend on the discipline of avoiding grief despite the hardships of life.
One of the most interesting aspects of this writng are the details Galen gives on libraries in Rome, the copying of books, and the contents of his own library. Apparently a large fire burned a section of Rome (the Sacred Way) that housed several libraries and personal book collections, including Galen's own. While listing his literary losses,  Galen mentions one item that was especially important to him.

"What then, you will say, is even greater than all the things mentioned that might be able to cause distress? Well, I will tell you this: I was entrusted with the possession of the most remarkable medical recipes, such as no one else in the entire Roman world (possessed)--fortune, in part, contributing to this and I myself, in part, contributing equally. In fact, two-fold fortune granted me each (of the recipe collections) along the way. The first of which is as follows: A certain rich man of those around me hastened to find knowledge concerning effective medications, with the result that he purchased some recipes in the amount of more than one hundred gold coins. He set about this task in such a way as to purchase not only all recipes that were held in esteem by (physicians) today in Asia, but also by those (physicians) of the past. These medical recipes were preseved, with upmost care, in two parchment codices that a certain one of the heirs--himself most dear to me--gave to me of his own accord without being asked." ("On the Avoidance of Grief," 31-33)

There are a few observations that can be made regarding Galen's reference to codices.

1) These parchment codices are specifically used to hold notes, not a literary composition. This is in contrast to bookrolls mentioned in the surrounding context.

2) Even though Galen obviously valued this collection of recipes, he only possessed one copy of the codices.

Though Galen's codices were not meant for circulation, the fact that he only possesed one copy of such a valuable collection sits in stark contrast to Craig Evan's declaration,
"In late antiquity, no one produced a single exemplar of a work and then circulated it" ("How Long Were Late Antique Books in Use?", 33).
Coupled with this is the contrast between parchment codices and literary bookrolls. Perhaps this can shed some light on the early Christian preference for the codex?


Evans, Craig, "How Long Were Late Antique Books in Use? Possible Implications for New Testament Textual Criticiam," Bulletin for Biblical Research 25.1 (2015): 23-37.

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

An image of the Nag Hammadi codices. Likely similar to what Galen's codices would have looked like.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Faithlife's 'Fragments of Truth': A Review

On Tuesday, April the 24th, Faith Life released its docudrama, “Fragments of Truth” in which the overarching question addressed; “Is the text of the New Testament reliable?” I had the opportunity to view the film with a few friends. Here are my thoughts.

Craig Evans is the main commentator throughout the documentary and the main thesis of the film is drawn from his paper published a few years ago,

Craig A. Evans, “How Long were Late Antique Books in Use? Possible Implications for New Testament Textual Criticism,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 25.1 (2015): 23-37.

In this paper, Evans’ main thesis is that the “autographs and first copies” of the New Testament writings survived into the second and third centuries and were “in a position to influence the form of the Greek text.” Here is the full abstract of the paper;

“Recent study of libraries and book collections from late antiquity has shown that literary works were read, studied, annotated, corrected, and copied for two or more centuries before being retired or discarded. Given that there is no evidence that early Christian scribal practices differed from pagan practices, we may rightly ask whether early Christian writings, such as the autographs and first copies of the books that eventually would be recognized as canonical Scripture, also remained in use for 100 years or more. The evidence suggests that this was in fact the case. This sort of longevity could mean that at the time our extant Greek NT papyri were written in the late second and early to mid-third centuries, some of the autographs and first copies were still in circulation and in a position to influence the form of the Greek text."

When his piece was published a few years ago there was quite a backlash from scholars in the discipline of papyrology and New Testament Textual Criticism. For example, Brice Jones, over on his blog, gave a scathing review and many high profile scholars such as Malcolm Choat, J.K. Elliott (featured in the film), Gregg Schwendner, and Brent Nongbri (who was mentioned in the film) gave their criticisms in the comments section of the article.
There are many assertions made in the film that many scholars (including myself) will disagree upon. I would recommend looking at other blogs for a point-by-point discussion. In this review, I wish only to draw intention to a particular weakness in Evans' argument, namely this, that closeness in time and proximity to the "autographs" (even if they survived 200 years) leads to stability in textual transmission.
I will highlight two reasons why this argument is flawed, 1) a failure to precisely define the term 'autograph,' and 2) an assumption that a direct copy or (to use Evans' term) "first copies" from the so-called 'autograph' equals textual stability.
In order to illustrate my point I will quote a section from my article "What are the NT Autographs?";
"Though the topic at hand concerns literary compositions, two documentary examples of a petition to the Egyptian Prefect Publius Ostorius Scapula (ca. 3—10/11 CE) provide a rare glimpse of multiple draft copies of the same work; P.Mich.inv. 1436 and P.Mich.inv. 1440. Although both papyri were written by the same person, inv. 1436 contains several additions and corrections which favors its identification as the first draft of inv. 1440. The text of both papyri are fragmented and incomplete, lines 2-10 of inv. 1436 were repeated in lines 11-17 of inv. 1440. The scribe revised the text of inv. 1436 above lines 6, and 8, and marked line 9 for deletion, nonetheless, these alterations were not integrated into the text of inv. 1440. Therefore, it must mean that there were “additional rewritings, now lost” of the petition. Though inv. 1440 is a polished copy with no extant editorial alterations, it “was apparently not dispatched, but was unearthed together with the much-corrected copy, inv. 1436”." (Mitchell, 302-303)
P.Mich. inv 1436 showing extensive editing

P.Mich. inv 1440 revealing that no revisions from inv 1436 were retained
This case is particularly thorny because it is difficult to know which papyrus is the original 'autograph,' because the "extensive alterations made in the same hand as the main body of text is precisely the clue that indicates their autographic nature" (Mitchell, 304). In other words, the closer one gets in time and proximity to the 'autograph' can sometimes lead to textual instability. That is, unless one precisely defines what one means by 'autograph.'

Despite these flaws in Evans' argument and other shortcomings in the docudrama, Reuben Evans the director, the camera crew and other editors did a fantastic job on the visuals. The images of the manuscripts were fantastic and at times simply breathtaking. They did a wonderful job at production and the quality was excellent (though the Q&A segment at the end was a bit dry). I will recommend this documentary to friends, if only to entice them with beautiful images of P66 and other treasures of Biblical manuscripts and pique their interest in the rich history of the transmission of the New Testament.


Hanson, Ann Ellis, “Two Copies of a Petition to the Prefect,” Zeitschrift Für Papyrologie Und Epigraphic 47 (1982): 233-243;

_______________, “The Archive of Isidoros of Psophthis and P. Ostorius Scapula, Praefectus Aegypti,”
BASP 21.1-4 (1984), 81-83.

Mitchell, Timothy N., "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.