Monday, March 5, 2018

Philosophical Schools: Early Christian and Jewish Scripture Reading

I have been slowly reading through Brian J Wright’s excellent new book “Communal Reading in the Time of Jesus: A Window into Early Christian Reading Practices,” which came out December 2017. I can’t recommend this work enough and I hope to give an extensive review once I finish plodding through the amassed information (it is rich with primary source material). Until then, I can’t help but write a little on some of the gems. One such nugget are the references to Philo of Alexandria’s (ca. 20 BCE-50 CE) descriptions of synagogue worship (Wright, 102-104). There are two such references in Philo’s works and Wright quotes both of these in full. What is particularly striking to me is how similar these descriptions are to Justin Martyr’s famous reference to Christian worship around 100 years later. The similarities are still present even later in the writings of Tertullian of Carthage who wrote about 150-160 years after Philo. I thought it might be helpful to quote each of these in full for comparison purposes. Philo wrote
“For that day [Sabbath] has been set apart to be kept holy and on it they abstain from all other work and proceed to sacred spots which they call synagogues [συναγωγαί]. There, arranged in rows according to their ages, the younger below the elder, they sit decorously as befits the occasion with attentive ears. Then one takes the books [τὰς βίβλους] and reads aloud [ὰναγινώσκει] and another [ἕτερος] of especial proficiency [τῶν ὲμπειροτάτων] comes forward and expounds [ὰναδιδάσκει] what is not understood.” (Good Person 81-82; Wright, 103)
Philo gave another similar description of synagogue worship in a different work;
“And indeed [δῆτα] they do always [μὲν αἰεί] assemble and sit together, most of them in silence except when it is the practice [νομίζεται] to add something to signify approval [προσεπευφημῆσαι] of what is read [ἀναγινωσκομένος]. But some priest who is present or one of the elders reads [ἀναγινώσκει] the holy laws to them and expounds [ἐξηγεῖται] them point by point till about the late afternoon, when they depart having gained both expert knowledge of the holy laws and considerable advance in piety.” (Hypothetica 7.13; Wright, 104)
Now compare this reference to the Christian worship gathering described by Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165 CE) from about 100 years after the time of Philo. Justin wrote,
“And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things.” (1 Apol 67)
Justin Martyr is likely describing the practices in and around Rome which is where he likely wrote his 1st Apology. However, considering that Justin was born in Palestine, and spent some time in Ephesus, his description may include Christian communities in these regions as well. Fast-forward another 50 or so years and we have Tertullian (ca. 155-240 CE) who gave a description of Christian worship practices in Carthage. Tertullian wrote,
“We are a body knit together as an assembly and congregation, that, offering up prayer to God as with united force, we may wrestle with him in our supplications….We assemble to read our sacred writings, if any peculiarity of the times makes either forewarning or reminiscence needful. However it be in that respect, with the sacred words we nourish our faith, we animate our hope, we make our confidence more stedfast; and no less by inculcations of God’s precepts we confirm good habits. In the same place also exhortations are made, rebukes and sacred censures are administered.” (Apol 39)
The similarities between Philo’s synagogue services and Justin and Tertullian’s Christian services are these;

1) The scriptures are read out to the gathered assembly. Without getting into detail about which Christian texts, it can be fairly certain that the Hebrew scriptures were being read, obviously in the Jewish synagogues, but also by the Christians (in Greek or possibly Latin) in both Justin and Tertullian’s descriptions.

2) Someone else stands and exhorts, preaches, or teaches to the congregation from the text that was read. In Philo, this person is either an individual of “especial proficiency,” a priest, or an elder. In Justin, the speaker is the “president,” the “προεστὼς” who gives the “speech,” the “διὰ λόγου" (Blunt, 100).

3) The congregation comes together, at least in part, in order to gain instruction on Godly living and habits. In Philo, it is to “advance in piety,” in Justin, it is to “imitate these good things” found in the scriptures, and in Tertullian it is to “confirm good habits” that are derived from “God’s precepts.”

From these references one can see how much the Christian worship practice of reading scriptures and preaching and exhorting from them is rooted in the Hebrew synagogue tradition. There seems to be very little parallel in the Greek and Roman culture, even though communal reading of texts was a widespread and common phenomena (see Wright’s work on this for nearly exhaustive coverage of primary source material), the systematic study of texts coupled with a lifestyle of adherence to these same texts can only really be found in the various philosophical schools. This comparison comes out in the writings of the physician Galen of Pergamum (ca. 129-215/16 ce) who, when briefly mentioning the Jews and Christians, refer to them in the context of philosophical ‘schools’;
“They compare those who practice medicine without scientific knowledge to Moses, who framed laws for the tribe of Israel, since it is his method in his books to write without offering proofs, saying ‘God commanded, God spake.’” (On Hippocrates Anatomy; Wilken, 72)
In another place he mentions Christians and Jews together as belonging to philosophical schools;
“For one might more easily teach novelties to the followers of Moses and Christ than to the physicians and philosophers who cling fast to their schools. So in the end I decided that I should avoid unnecessary talk by having nothing to do with them at all, which is what I do at present and what I shall continue to do in the future.” (De pulsuum differentiis; Wilken, 72)
When writing for a Roman audience, Flavius Josephus (ca. 37-100 CE) in similar way compared his own Jewish tradition with Greek and Roman philosophical schools. He wrote;
“For there are three philosophical sects among the Jews. The followers of the first of which are the Pharisees, of the second, the Sadducees, and the third sect, which pretends to a severer discipline, are called Essenes.” (Jewish War 2.8.2)
Both the Jewish and Christian communities stood out against other contemporary religions of antiquity in that they were more like the philosophical schools of the day. Both Jews and Christians were communities of followers who gathered together for the close reading of their books and a discussion of how to apply these texts into their everyday lives.



A. W. F. Blunt, ed. "The Apologies of Justin Martyr" (Cambridge Patristic Texts. A. J. Mason, ed. London: Cambridge University Press, 1911).

Brian J. Wright, "Communal Reading in the Time of Jesus: A Window into Early Christian Reading Practices" (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017).

Robert Louis Wilken, "The Christians as the Romans Saw Them" (2nd ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003).

English translations of Justin Martyr and Tertullian of Carthage are taken from, The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. 1885–1887. 10 vols.

English translation of Josephus taken from the translation of William Whiston located at

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Date of P.Bodmer II (P66)

Detail of PSI V 446 (133-137 CE)

P.Bodmer II, also known as P66, is a Greek papyrus codex of the Gospel of John. Because of its age and extent of preservation it has been considered an important early material artifact of Christian book culture. Ever since its publication by Victor Martin in 1956 it has been assigned a date from 150-250 CE and recently by Brent Nongbri (see previous post here and here) into the 4th century as well.
Title of the gospel of John in P.Bodmer II (P66)

Over on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog, noted palaeographer Pasquale Orsini wrote a helpful guest post clarifying some issues of palaeography that surfaced during an interchange between Peter Malik and Brent Nongbri (here, here, and here). I also interacted with Orsini in the comments section of the blog who then helpfully responded. My question had to do with the validity of comparing the hand [that is, the style of handwriting] of P.Bodmer II with the 4th century (securely dated) papyri P.Cair.Isid.2 and P.Lond.1920. In the blog post Orsini had agreed with Nongbri's method of comparing these two papyri with that of P.Bodmer II in order to expand that date of P66 into the 4th century. It was my impression, however, that the overall structure and course of the pen strokes in forming some of the letters (alph [α], mu [μ], delta [δ], for example) between all three papyri were different enough for me to question this comparison. Orsini helpfully responded by stating,
"In a "stylistic class" the differences in structure of some letters are common, because the graphic phenomenon has not been "normalized" according to a scheme (as it happens in a "canon" or "normative majuscule"). The differences observed by you are part of this variability of a "stylistic class". The elements of the style (for example round shapes with loops, oblique and horizontal strokes prolonged, some letters written in a single sequence) prevail over the structure of the individual letters."
Detail of P.Cair.Isid. 2 (298 CE)
The "stylistic class" Orsini is referring to is the "Alexandrian stylistic class" of scripts. This type of hand came into use sometime during the second century, a typical early example being PSI V 446 (Cavallo, 129). This can be securely dated to 133-137 because it is an edict of the prefect Marcus Petronius (Orsini and Clarysse, 458). Both P.Cair.Isid.2 and P.Lond.1920 are considered as belonging to the "Alexandrian stylistic class." P.Bodmer XX on the other hand (another papyri Nongbri used in his re-dating of P66) is considered as belonging another style of script and thus is not a suitable comparison to P.Bodmer II (i.e. apples and oranges).

To the casual observer, the variations between the letters may seem slight and petty. For example, if one considers the differences between their own unique signature and the hand writing of someone else writing the same name, the variations are slight and are often subconsciously implemented by the writer. The same is most likely true of the scribe who copied P.Bodmer II. The style of script used has a lot to do with the manner in which a scribe was trained to write (On this, see, Cribiore, 114-116). By examining securely dated papyri that use a specific style of writing one can determine a general time period the script was in use. In this case, using PSI V 446 as the rough starting point and P.Lond. 1920 at the extreme end, the "Alexandrian stylistic class" was in use around 200 years. If these comparisons are fully valid, then one can set a rough date for P.Bodmer II at somewhere around 150-350 CE. This does not mean that P.Bodmer II is an exact match with each papyri only that this style of writing was in use for roughly this time length.

In order to better illustrate these slight differences in script between these four papyri (PSI V 446, P.Bodmer II, P.Lond. 1920, P.Bodmer XX, and P.Cair. Isid. 2), I laid out images of the letters of each of the papyri side by side for ease of comparison. Pay particular attention to the alpha, delta, kappa, mu, and phi. The differences in ductus and shading are slight but noticeable. I will not argue here for a specific date for P.Bodmer II, but it is obvious when comparing the letters below that P.Bodmer XX is not the same style as the rest of the papyri. 


Cavallo, Guglielmo. "Greek and Latin Writing in the Papyri." Pages 101-148 in The Oxford Handbook of Papyrology. Edited by Roger S. Bagnall. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Cribiore, Rafaella "Writing, Teachers, and Students in Graeco-Roman Egypt" (Atlanta: Scholar's Press, 1996).

Nongbri, Brent. "The Limits of Palaeographic Dating of Literary Papyri: Some Observations on the Date and Provenance of P. Bodmer II (P66)" Museum Helveticum 71 (2014): 1–35.

Orsini, Pasquale. "I Papiri Bodmer: scritture e libri." Adamantius 21 (2015): 60-78.

Orsini, Pasquale and Willy Clarysse, “Early New Testament Manuscripts and Their Dates: A Critique of Theological Palaeography,” Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses 88 (2012): 443-74.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Paul's "Large Letters" at Galatians 6:11

While reading through Raffaella Cribiore's "Writing, Teachers, and Students in Graeco-Roman Egypt," I came across a reference to Plutarch (46 CE-120 CE) writing about Marcus Cato (234 BCE- 149 BCE), the Roman historian and Senator. Plutarch wrote,

"His [Cato's] History of Rome, as he tells us himself, he wrote out with his own hand and in large characters (μεγάλοις γράμμασιν), that his son might have in his own home an aid to aquaintance with his country's ancient traditions." (Marcus Cato, 20.5)
I thought this was an interesting reference for it was mentioned by Cribiore in the context of teachers writing their models of literature excerpts in large letters so that a student can better read and follow the writing sample by copying it repeatedly (Cribiore, 99).

P.Pateus 121 Petaus, an illiterate village scribe practices copying his post script repeatedly;
"I Petaus, village scribe, have entered"

This reference reminded me of Paul's phrase found in his letter to the Galatians,

"See with what large letters (πηλίκοις γράμμασιν) I am writing to you with my own hand." (Gal. 6:11, ESV)

This phrase fits well with some of the postscripts found at the end of extant letters preserved on papyri (Richards, 172-173). A postscript was often used to authenticate a contract, letter or other such document that was prepared by a scribe by providing a statement in writing by the party involved similar to how a signature works today (Bahr, 28-29). This type of authentication is obviously occurring at Philemon 19 "I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self" (ESV).

P.Mich.inv.942 showing the authenticating postscript in a different hand

The connection between Paul and Cato here is in their use of writing in "large letters." Cato wrote with large letters apparently, in order to facilitate easier reading of his History by his son. Perhaps Paul was writing in large letters for a similar reason? Likely Paul was merely emphasizing his characteristic large-lettered handwriting in order to emphasize the postscript. But it may be that Paul was writing in large letters for emphatic reasons as well.


Bahr, Gordon J. "The Subscriptions in the Pauline Letters" Journal of Biblical Literature 87.1 (March 1968): 27-41.

Cribiore, Rafaella "Writing, Teachers, and Students in Graeco-Roman Egypt" (Atlanta: Scholar's Press, 1996).

Plutarch. "Plutarch's Lives. with an English Translation by. Bernadotte Perrin" (Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press. London. William Heinemann Ltd. 1914).

Richards, E. Randolph, "Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition and Collection" (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004).

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Ancient Marginal Notes on Variant Readings

Map of Constantinople by Sebastian Munster (ca. 1550)
At the 2017 Evangelical Theological Society Meeting, an exciting series of lectures were given in the session entitled "Growing Up in the Ehrman Era: Retrospect and Prospect on Our Text-Critical Apologetic." I was unable to attend the meeting but fortunately was able to listen to the audio recordings of each presentation. The lecture by Greg Lanier, "Dating Myths: Why Later Manuscripts Can Be Better Manuscripts" was particularly good. In the midst of his excellent paper, one of the things that Lanier highlights is the manuscript GA 1582 studied in Amy Anderson's excellent work "The Textual Tradition of the Gospels: Family 1 in Matthew." 

GA 1582 is a Gospel codex that was carefully copied in 948 CE by the Constantinopolitan scribe Ephraim (Anderson, 6, 24). Ephraim produced several carefully copied manuscripts, one of which being Codex GA 1739, a collection of Acts and the epistles copied from a much older exemplar. One of the peculiar features of both of these manuscripts are a series of extensive marginal notations indicating textual problems. Anderson stated that "the text and marginalia of 1582 provide a record of early textual variation" (Anderson, 69). She also notes that
"it is unlikely that the marginalia are the result of Ephraim's own gathering of variants. Rather, Ephraim has preserved marginalia compiled by a much earlier scholar" (Anderson, 69).
One of the clues that points to a late 5th century compilation for the marginalia in 1582 is that Cyril of Alexandria is the latest father cited who died in the 440s CE (Anderson, 70).

Three interesting marginal notes are found at the end of the Gospel of Mark and at the end of John introducing the story of the Woman Caught in Adultery.
Instead of the story of the Woman Caught in Adultery being found at John 7:53-8:11 like most medieval Greek manuscripts, it is placed at the end of John with a long marginal note stating,

“in most copies it is not found. And not from the comments of the holy fathers; John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, and Theodore of Mopseustia...”

1582 at the end of John showing textual note before the story of the Woman Caught in Adultery.
Another series of marginal notes are found at the end of the Gospel of Mark. At the end of Mark 16:8 there is a note before the longer ending of Mark. This note reads in part,

"In some of the copies up to this point the gospel ends also up to to which Eusebius Pamphilus made his cannons. But in many also these [verses] are also found."

1582 Marginal at the end of Mark 16:8 and before the longer ending.

Another note is found in the long ending of Mark in the margin at 16:19. This marginal note reads,

"Irenaeus, who was near to the apostles, in the third book ‘Against Heresies’ quotes this saying as found in Mark.”

1582 marginal note at Mark 16:19

The compiler's knowledge of the church fathers is revealed in this note for Irenaeus does indeed quote from Mark 16:19 in his "Against Heresies" 3.10.5 reads, "Also towards the conclusion of his Gospel, Mark says, “So then, after the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was received up into heaven , and sitteth on the right hand of God” (ANF 1:426).

These series of marginal notes reveals a knowledge and concern for textual variation in the manuscript tradition. Even in 10th century Constantinople, when many of the Greek New Testament manuscripts produced contained the longer ending of Mark and the story of the Woman Caught in Adultery, scribes such as Ephraim were copying older texts and marginalia that discussed these textual problems.


Amy S. Anderson, "The Textual Tradition of the Gospels: Family 1 in Matthew." (Leiden: Brill, 2004).

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Review of; "A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament" by Philip Wesley Comfort

A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament. By Philip Wesley Comfort. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2015, 416 pp., $29.99.

 This book review had originally been written nearly two years previously and was submitted to a journal for publication. After languishing in their ‘accepted’ folder for months, it was subsequently withdrawn from submission and, instead, published on ‘The Textual Mechanic’ blog and on
As the methods of New Testament textual criticism develop and as more manuscripts are discovered, handbooks and textual commentaries of the New Testament require updating and revision. Philip Comfort’s A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament endeavors to provide such an updated resource. This work is a concise handbook on the manuscripts of the New Testament, a brief introduction to the theory and practice of textual criticism, a commentary on textual variations within the manuscript tradition of the New Testament, and an introduction to the curious scribal features known as nomina sacra.
Philip Comfort is senior editor of Bible reference at Tyndale House publishers and has taught at Trinity Episcopal Seminary, Wheaton College, Columbia International University, and Coastal Carolina University. He is well known for the Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts (2001), edited together with David P. Barrett, and for his New Testament Text and Translation Commentary (2008).
In the introduction of A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament Comfort set out the goal for the work when he wrote, “[i]n this commentary readers will be reading commentary on actual manuscripts. . . No other Bible commentary does this” (p. 7). Besides providing annotation on textual variation, every instance where a nomina sacra appears within the text of these manuscripts is noted throughout the commentary.
Between the brief introduction and chapter one is placed a segment entitled simply as “Early Manuscripts” (p. 11-14). In this section, the earliest manuscript evidence is presented by chapter for each New Testament book. Though some may dispute the earlier dates given for some of the papyri (see discussion below), the list accurately reflects the manuscript data (regardless of dates) extant for each New Testament book.
Chapter one, “Introducing the Manuscripts, Text, and Nomina Sacra,” briefly presents the New Testament papyri (p. 20-22) and “Significant Uncial Manuscripts” (p. 22-23). Next, under the heading “Assessing the Manuscripts to Establish the Text of the New Testament,” Comfort orients the reader to the methods used to weigh manuscripts according to their textual “accuracy” (p. 23-29). Under this heading, the textual relationship between P66, P75, and B is surveyed (p. 24-26), and the Alands’ classification of manuscripts into the “strict,” “normal,” “at least normal,” and “free” categories is evaluated (p. 27-28). Comfort then provides some “corrective” to several of the Alands’ classifications and then proposes his own set of terminology in categorizing these papyri (p. 28-29). Following this, under the heading “The Canons of Textual Criticism,” he surveys the internal criteria used by critics to evaluate which reading gave rise to all the others in each variant unit (p. 29-31). The chapter closes by briefly introducing the nomina sacra, which are found within nearly all of the earliest New Testament manuscripts (p. 31-41).
Chapter two, “An Annotated List of the Manuscripts of the New Testament,” presents the 127 New Testament papyri with their editio principes and (for the more significant papyri) a brief analysis of their dates and textual character (p. 41-91). This segment closes with a section subtitled “Other Papyrus Manuscripts,” which discusses the Egerton Gospel, P. Antinoopolis 2.54, P.Oxy 655, and P.Oxy 5073 (p. 91-92). Under the heading “Significant Uncial Manuscripts,” the primary majuscule codices are listed with their editio principes, date, textual make-up, and characteristic features (p. 93-111). Next are listed the most important “Minuscules” with their dates, historical features, characteristics, and textual make-up (p. 11-113). Included under this heading are brief discussions of Family 1 (p. 111-112) and Family 13 (p. 112). Next, “Ancient Versions” are listed with a concise introduction, approximate date when the version first appeared, and, if applicable, the major manuscripts used in consulting the version (p. 115-123). The versions listed are, Syriac, Old Latin, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopic, Georgian, Gothic, and the translation of the Diatessaron. Chapter two is completed by listing out, with no discussion, the “Church Fathers” consulted in this commentary along with their date (p. 123-124).
The Greek New Testament textual commentary begins in chapter three, which encompasses “The Synoptic Gospels” (p. 127-245). Chapter four deals solely with “The Gospel According to John” (p. 247-276). The “Acts of the Apostles” is discussed in chapter five (p. 277-298). Chapter six examines “The Epistles of Paul” (p. 299-369). Chapter seven is dedicated to the epistle of “Hebrews” (p. 371-382). In chapter eight “The General Epistles” are reviewed (p. 383-403). The textual commentary portion of the volume concludes with chapter nine, “The Revelation of John” (p. 405-413). Between the end of chapter nine and the appendix appears a brief “Select Bibliography” (p. 415-418).
The volume closes with an appendix entitled “The Significance of the Nomina Sacra (Sacred Names)” (p. 419-443). In this appendix, Comfort continues the brief introduction of the nomina sacra found in chapter one. The following nomina sacra abbreviations are discussed in full: “Lord” (p. 419-420), “Jesus” (p. 420-423), “Christ” (p. 423-424), “God” (p. 424-427), and “Spirit” (p. 427-433). The remainder of the appendix discusses other nomina sacra abbreviations found in the New Testament manuscripts under the heading “Other Prominent Divine Names: Father, Son, Son of God, Son of Man, Son of David” (p. 433-441). In the appendix, Comfort argues that the “nomina sacra were intended to be understood only by initiates—i.e., those trained to read and decode the New Testament writings for their congregations” (p. 420). He also states that the “name ‘Jesus’ was treated as a nomen sacrum very early” and that it was likely the “second nomina sacra to be created—following right behind (if not concurrent with) ‘Lord’” (p. 420). Because the scribe of P46 inconsistently employed the nomen sacrum for “Spirit,” Comfort argues that this codex must be early, copied during the “transition” period in which this nomen sacrum was first being developed (p. 428-429).
Those who are familiar with Comfort’s New Testament Text and Translation Commentary (2008) may wish to learn of the similarities and differences between the two volumes. Due to space considerations, it is impossible to evaluate every point of commentary, therefore, this review will limit itself to two well-known variation units: the ending of Mark, and the Pericope de Adultera in John. At nine pages, the commentary on the endings of Mark is quite lengthy (p. 197-206). Comfort discusses the five variation units along with their manuscript, versional, and patristic attestation. The discussion appears to be taken nearly word-for-word from his Text and Translation Commentary. In contrast, though Comfort discusses the manuscript, versional, and patristic evidence, the commentary on the Pericope de Adultera, at two pages (p. 258-259), is highly abridged when compared to his Text and Translation Commentary. Therefore, it appears that some of the material is nearly identical and some an abridgment of the commentary already published in his previous Text and Translation Commentary. Only two features are absent in the current commentary, a list of English Bible translations that contain a particular reading, and the Greek text of the variation units. When variation units are listed, only English translations of the readings are provided.
There are some noteworthy shortcomings to A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament. Readers may be disappointed to learn that there is no discussion of the Coherence Based Genealogical Method (CBGM), which is now being used by the Institut für Neutestamentliche Textforschung (INTF) to produce the Editio Critica Maior (ECM). Along these same lines, Comfort seems to have completely disregarded the 34 changes in the Catholic (General) Epistles in the ECM that were incorporated into the main text of the NA28. Users who may have Comfort’s new commentary open alongside their NA28 edition of the Greek New Testament will be disappointed that there is absolutely no discussion of theses variations in light of the CBGM. Especially considering the conjectural emendation that has been incorporated into the main text of the NA28 at 2 Peter 3:10.
Significant criticism has already been directed towards Comfort’s other publications with regard to the palaeographic method employed to date some of the papyri earlier than the dates assigned in the NA28. Pasquale Orsini and Willy Clarysse have critiqued Comfort’s tendency to date papyri by comparing single letters and words. Instead, they argue, Comfort should be dating papyri by placing the hand in question within the history of a graphic type (“Early New Testament Manuscripts and Their Dates: A Critique of Theological Palaeography,” ETL 88.4 (2012), p. 450). Comfort has made no attempt to clarify or defend his dating method against these criticisms. Users of this commentary may come away with the (wrong) impression that some of Comfort’s assigned dates are more broadly accepted in the palaeographical community.
With that said, in most cases Comfort’s assigned dates for the papyri align with the standard dates given in the NA28. In some instances, his proposed dates fall on the lower end of the more broadly accepted ranges, or are twenty five to fifty years earlier (see for example P46, P52, P66, and P75). Most non-specialists would not see these differences as significant. At the very least, including the more broadly accepted dates alongside his own would have served better the purpose of a handbook on the manuscripts of the New Testament and would better represent the discipline of palaeography.
Most typographical mistakes are minor and forgivable, however, there is one major error in this commentary that might be distracting for users. It appears that at some point during the planning stages, what is now chapter one “Introducing the Manuscripts, Text, and Nomina Sacra,” was meant to be chapter two. Chapter two, “An Annotated List of the Manuscripts of the New Testament,” gives a detailed list and commentary on the manuscripts of the New Testament, was meant to be chapter one. During the course of the introduction in chapter one, when a particular manuscript is mentioned, the text reads “see discussion above,” presuming readers had already encountered the annotated list of manuscripts, but this annotated list occurs later, in chapter two. Even more confusing, in the appendix, “The Significance of the Nomina Sacra (Sacred Names),” the text reads, “[t]his appendix provides a continued discussion of the Nomina Sacra as presented in chapter two” (p. 419). However, the Nomina Sacra were discussed in chapter one, and readers who may pick up the commentary and turn immediately to the appendix may be confused as to where in the volume they may find the previous discussion of the nomina sacra.
One particularly disappointing error is found in the first paragraph of Chapter One, “Introducing the Manuscripts.” Here Comfort compares the “over 5,500 manuscript copies of the Greek New Testament, or portions thereof.” Boasting that “[n]o other work of Greek literature can boast of such numbers. Homer’s Iliad, the greatest of all Greek classical works, is extant in about 650 manuscripts; and Euripides’s tragedies exist in about 330 manuscripts” (p. 19). Of course, these numbers are woefully out of date. For example, a simple search on Leuven Database of Ancient Books ( reveals that there are well over 1500 copies of Homer’s Iliad extant. For a work that is purporting to be commentary on manuscripts, this is an unfortunate mistake and hopefully is not representative of other less obvious errors in the rest of the work.
Despite these drawbacks, Comfort’s A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament is a valuable handbook that can be used alongside Metzger’s A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd ed. 1994) and the NA28. Comfort’s commentary is bound in a similar hardback format with nearly identical dimensions as the NA28, and, along with a ribbon bookmark, makes for a nice companion volume that is easily portable.
The section entitled, “Early Manuscripts” is an excellent reference for quickly determining the earliest manuscript support by chapter for each New Testament book (p. 11-14). This will be particularly useful for pastors, preachers, and students of the New Testament text. It provides a strong visual representation of the manuscript attestation, which for some books, like Matthew and John, is remarkably extensive and early.
Chapter two, “An Annotated List of the Manuscripts of the New Testament,” is nearly worth the price of the volume. It provides a handy reference, especially for non-specialists, who may be working through a particular passage in the New Testament and come across an unfamiliar manuscript or versional sigla in the apparatus. The list of editio principes, date, textual make-up, and characteristic features provide a quick reference for those who wish to examine a specific manuscript in greater detail.
Finally, the most useful feature of this commentary is that it offers a wealth of information on the location of nomina sacra within the manuscript tradition of the New Testament. As far as this reviewer knows, there is no other resource which provides a textual commentary on the nomina sacra in this way. For each New Testament book, Comfort has annotated when a particular manuscript uses a nomina sacra within the text. This feature is a valuable resource for those engaging in a systematic study of the nomina sacra. Comfort highlights these curious scribal features in such a way that many who use this commentary will probably encounter them for the first time.
These features outweigh the shortcomings of the volume and the low price ensures its accessibility for a broader readership. Comfort’s A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament is a valuable handbook that will prove useful to pastors, preachers, students, and scholars of the New Testament manuscripts and text.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

New Testament Textual Transmission in the Catalina Foothills

On Sunday December 17th of 2017, I was invited by Dan Grossenbach to share some of my research for the "Reason Why?" Class at Catalina Foothills Church in Tucson, AZ
I primarily covered the material I presented at the 2017 Boston SBLAM. This concerns my research into Greco-Roman publication and how it intersects with the textual transimission of the New Testament. 
The class attendees were excellent, absorbing a lot of information and responding with great questions and feedback. They certainly kept me on my toes!
I wanted to extend a thank you to Dan Grossenbach and to those at Catalina Foothills Church for a wonderful and rewarding experience.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Review of; "James: A Commentary on the Greek Text" by William Varner

James: A Commentary on the Greek Text. By William C. Varner. Fontes Press, 2017, 423 pp. ISBN: 1-948048-01-9, $19.95.

Dr. William C. Varner is Professor of Bible and Greek at “The Master’s College” and has published books, many academic journal articles, book chapters, and has written commentaries on the Greek text of the New Testament. His latest work is a new edition of his earlier commentary on the New Testament book of James. This new edition improves the previous edition which is no longer available in print (Forward, xv). Some of the improvements of this edition are his treatments of the new NA28 variant readings as well as references to the text of the Society of Biblical Literature Greek New Testament (SBLGNT), the Greek text of the NIV2011, and the new Tyndale House Greek New Testament (THGNT). Varner also references the new “Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek” (GE), and, where relevant, the new Christian Standard Bible (CSB). For those who may own the earlier edition of his James commentary, these features, coupled with the affordable price, would alone justify purchasing this newly updated edition.

The main draw to this commentary is the originality of the work. Varner’s comments are focused and bolstered by a fresh examination of the Greek text in a top-down combination of the discourse level and sentence, phrase, and word syntax. Unlike some commentaries on the market, Varner’s work does not get bogged down in re-quoting, and re-treading the ground of previous commentaries (however useful this may be). The discussion revolves around the outline of James, which was determined by noting each place where a “cohesive device” was used. Varner wrote that James
“uses a cohesive device that cements his hortatory written discourse together much like a good preacher organizes and presents his material in a progressive manner by a coherent outline, sometimes with a repetitive device like alliteration. That cohesive device is his use of the direct address word “brothers” accompanied by either an imperative command or by a rhetorical question.” (pg. 38)
Each point on the outline is dealt with in the following manner. First the Greek text is quoted from the NA27 (cf. pg. 2). Then, if there are any textual issues these are discussed under the paragraph heading “Textual Notes.” Following this is a segment entitled “Sentence Flow and Translation” where a flowing translation is given and the text is indented to show sentence structure. Varner next gives any relevant historical background under the “Context” section. And finally, the bulk of the commentary is found under the heading of “Exegetical Comments,” where Varner brings a detailed discussion of each phrase and key word in the Greek. Throughout these subheadings Varner brings insight from the Old-Testament, Apostolic fathers, papyri, and other extra-biblical literature.

The only minor criticism that I have with the commentary has to do with some of the terminology used. Throughout the commentary Varner refers to “text-types,” such as “Alexandrian, Western, and ‘Majority,’ textual traditions” (pg. 3). The theory of text-types has largely been abandoned by most textual scholars, especially those at the INTF who produce the NA28 (see the relevant essays in the 2nd edition of “The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis”). However, this terminology is not prohibitive and may still be useful in referring to groups of similar manuscripts and does not detract from the excellent coverage of textual issues and transmission history of James.

Varner’s new commentary is an excellent resource for any scholar, pastor, student, or any others who may be working through the Greek text of James. And the cost of such a high quality work at only $19.95 means that “James: A Commentary on the Greek Text” is accessible to nearly everyone desiring a deeper understanding of James.