Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Myths About Autographs on Google Books

For those readers who may be interested, one can read the entire content on Google Books of my chapter contribution "Myths About Autographs" in the newly released "Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism."

Monday, October 28, 2019

Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism

It was exciting to receive in the mail last week my pre-release copy of "Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism." I am only about half of the way through the book and I just have to say that it is a fantastic piece of scholarship! Every chapter has easy to read prose, with technical terms explained. Yet each presents rigorous scholarship with footnotes and references equal to any high level scholarly tome. It is an honor to have my own modest piece, Chapter 2 "Myths About Autographs" alongside such high caliber scholarship. Peter Gurry and Elijah Hixson did a stellar job of editing and bringing the different chapters together in a cohesive unit. It is my prayer that "Myths and Mistakes" will serve well those wishing to better understand a field that encompasses a broad array of disciplines.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Revisiting the Shift from the Roll to the Codex Book Form

Recently, Brent Nongbri published an article in JSNT raising valid concerns with regard to using objectively dated rolls to assign dates to codices based on palaeography (see previous post). This JSNT article, and the subsequent interchange with Nongbri on the blog, got me thinking about the fantastic new resource put together by Grant Edwards.

"The Collaborative Database of Dateable Greek Bookhands"

The online database is very user friendly and it's sorting and filtering tools are quite intuitive. One drawback about using the data found in LDAB (which is a fantastic resource) is that many of the dates for the material referenced are not derived objectively.  Thus, any conclusions relying on the dates of the material obtained from LDAB (for example determining when the codex supplanted the roll) may not be as secure.

I thought that it might prove to be an interesting exercise to query the new "Collaborative Database of Dateable Greek Bookhands" for this information. Of course, objectively dated manuscripts are extremely rare and one should be careful about drawing sweeping conclusions from the information. 

All the same, using the "Filter" option to show only the format of "codex" gave only 32 results. The earliest codex being P.Bodmer 20 of the 4th century with some examples extending out to the 9th century (though with only one other 4th century example).

Using the "Filter" option again to show only the format of "roll" yielded 68 hits. Of  these, only 8 rolls were dated from the 3/4th century out to the 8th, with the bulk falling somwhere in the 1st-3rd century mark. 
I thought it intriguing that these more objectively dated results seem to support the well noted trend, that is, that the 4th century saw a shift in book formatting from the roll to the codex.

Friday, August 23, 2019

The Limitations of Assigning Dates to Christian Codices

Published in a recent issue of the Journal for the Study of the New Testament is a new piece by Brent Nongbri.

Brent Nongbri, "Palaeographic Analysis of Codices from the Early Christian Period: A Point of Method," JSNT 42.1 (2019): 81-97.

It is a fleshed out discussion of the same topic that is found in chapter 2 of his recent book, "God's Library," (pg. 71-72). In this article Nongbri sets out a critique of the palaeographic practice of assigning dates to undated Christian codices by comparing their scripts with the scripts of securely dated rolls. The article takes issue with this method of dating Christian codices for the following reasons.

First, Nongbri rightly notes that writing styles could theoretically span generations as they were passed down and taught to student apprentices. Along with this are the examples of scribes having very long working lives of 20-30 years. In addition, there are extant writing excercises that reveal scribes practicing different scripts normally assigned to different temporal priods (Nongbri, pg 87, note 6). Therefore, drawing into question the bedrock of the paleographic method, that "graphic similarity generally equates to temporal similarity" (Nongbri, pg. 86).

Second, and more importanantly, according to the data located in the LDAB, the roll largely dropped out of use in the 4th century CE being supplanted by the codex. However, most of the securely dated samples used for comparative scripts in assigning dates to undated Christian codices are taken from rolls. Thus, Nongbri posits that this practice would artificially skew the assigned dates of these codices much earlier (Nongbri, pg. 92). Another issue is that the practice of reusing rolls to copy documents allegedly went out of vogue by the beginning of the 4th century (Nongbri, pg. 91). Therefore, it is surmised that employing re-used rolls as comparators of script style will skew the assigned dates of undated codices earlier (Nongbri, pg. 92).

I would like to make a few observations and engage with the article on a few points. As to the first critique, this is a thought provoking piece that raises some valid concerns with the method of assigning too tight of a temporal time span to styles of handwriting. It has certainly been observed that a student's hand can mimick that of their instructor (Rafaella Cribiore presents a few examples in her work). This would definitely allow for certain styles of handwriting to continue for generations. The only push back I want to offer against this notion is that this observation fails to take into consideration market and cultural demands on writing styles in vogue at the time books were copied. For example, (to use a crude modern example), many of us were taught cursive writing as children, but due to current styles in vogue and cultural conventions, few of us use cursive writing today. I think this mentality is evinced in the famous Price edict of Diocletian where the quality of a script was subject to the limits a patron was willing to pay for a book to be copied out. It would follow that, though a scribe may have been taught certain styles, books may not have been copied out in those styles because they had fallen out of vogue. Also, I would argue that the content of a book could, and did (in the case of documentary records for example) affect the type of script used. This would suggest to me that some writing styles could, theoretically have very short useful lives if the styles came and went out of style quickly. Of course, this is neither here nor there if modern palaeographers have few securely dated examples of these hands to use in reconstructing a chronology.

As to the second point, Nongbri makes a poignant and relevant critique against the dataset of securely dated writing samples used to reconstruct a chronology. If Nongbri's criticism holds, then potentially the house of cards may come tumbling down. He rightly notes at the end of the article that,
"these observations reinforce the conclusion that historial arguments should never depend too heavily upon the dates of manuscripts that have been assigned only by palaeography, especially when such arguments involve codices in the early Christian period" (Nongbri, pg. 94).
The problem here is that (as Nongbri is aware) the dates assigned to the manuscripts (codices included) in the LDAB are largely based on Palaeography. Thus, if we are to carry this criticism of palaeography to its logical conclusion, the precise era of transition from the roll to the codex is largely an open question. The chronology of when the codex supplanted the roll should take into consideration only securely dated samples along with other data as well. For example, the limited data scattered throughout the primary resources seem to indicate that it was quite normal to use a codex in writing and copying before the 4th century (Quintilian, Inst. Or 10.3.31; Martial, Epigr. 1.2; 2 Timothy 4:13, and Galen, "On the Avoidance of Grief," 31-33).  

Finally, now that Nongbri has primed the pump of doubt, so to speak, I have my own set of questions with regard to paleography. How did the social upheavals of the 4th century affect book production? Would the growing recognition of the sacredness of New Testament writings have an affect on the style of script used? How would economic factors affect the style of script used? For example, with regard to Diocletians Price edict, perhaps the well documented economic slump of the Empire in the 3rd century saw with it a decline in the use of certain types of more expensive ornate scripts. Many more things could be said. Alltogether a steller article that will likely motivate additional shifts in the discipline of Greek Palaeography. 

Saturday, July 13, 2019

E. M. Thompson and the Precision of Greek Palaeography

Berlin Papyrus 9782 (LDAB 3764),

While reading through Brent Nongbri's excellent book "God's Library," I couldn't help but notice a somewhat negative tone (however unintentional) towards Victorian era palaeographers. In a discussion over the dating of the famed Hawara Homer papyrus (LDAB 1695), Nongbri noted that some of the dates assigned to the papyrus had been determined by "Victorian aesthetics (the 'handsomeness' of a hand or the presence or absence of 'character')" (Nongbri, 65, 66). Frederic Kenyon did re-date the Hawara Homer based upon the "handsomeness" of the script, yet, not all Victorian era palaeographers were so subjective and definitive in their evaluation of scripts. Edward Maunde Thompson, a contemporary of Kenyon, was fully aware of the subjectivity of palaeography and the importance of having many examples by which to date an undated manuscript. In the middle of a discussion over the date of Berlin Papyrus 9782 (LDAB 3764), Thompson wrote,  
“Indeed, the difficulty, in such an instance as the present one, of judging of the age of book-hand papyri is very great; for the number of examples is comparatively limited, and they have to be distributed over so large a space of time, that it is only when certain of them can be grouped within not too wide a period and can therefore individually give support to each other in the sequence assigned to them, that we can be said to be standing on fairly firm ground. Then the eye acquires a familiarity with the character of the writing and its subtle changes, and the palaeographer developes a kind of instinct for the exercise of his judgement and for the conclusions at which he arrives. But when the examples lie far apart in date, then we cannot speak without diffidence and reserve, recognizing that further discoveries may largely modify present opinion.” (Thompson, 133)

Brent Nongbri, God's Library: The Archaeology of the Earliest Christian Manuscripts (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018).
Edward Maunde Thompson, An Introduction to Greek and Latin Palaeography (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1912).

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Cicero and his "Original Copy"

In a letter to his long time friend Atticus, Cicero informs his friend that he had finished revising an essay and was sending it his way for publication;
"I am glad that you were not disappointed in that expectation: but nevertheless I am sending you the same essay somewhat more carefully revised—and it is indeed the original copy (ἀρχέτυπον) itself with interlineations and corrections in many places. Get this copied on large paper (macrocollum) and read it privately to your guests, but, as you love me, when they are cheerful and have had a good dinner, lest they vent their wrath on me, though really angry with you." (At. 16.3)
This letter was previously discussed in an earlier post (here) that interacts with Cicero's mention of "large paper" (macrocollum). What I wanted to highlight today is Cicero's mention of an "original copy" or ἀρχέτυπον. In this context, it sems to function as a synonym for "autograph." This is mainly because this "source copy" of Cicero's composition contains his own interlinear corrections and must be the corrected original-composition. I find it interesting that, even though the authorial copy is in view (the autograph), the text was under some amount of flux as Cicero continued to revise and polish the work. As long as the autograph remained under Cicero's control, the text was subject to change. As soon as Atticus receives this ἀρχέτυπον, copies it onto a macrocollum, and begins to distribute it widely, Cicero would effectively loose control over the textual form and the composition would be fixed.
Cicero understands this fact of publication well for he is afraid that his composition will circulate and be distributed out of his control. In a previous letter to Atticus he wrote concerning the same work,
"I am sending you my de Gloria. You will therefore please to keep it under lock and key as usual: but let select passages be marked for Salvius at least to read when he has got some fitting hearers at a dinner party." (At. 16.2)
Here Cicero is concerned that his piece will be released before he is finished with it so he implores Atticus to keep it under lock and key. It also reveals the potential fluidity of the text at this point as Cicero desires only select portions to be read by a close friend at a diner party. This would provide opportunity for his work to receive some initial exposure while at the same time remaining under Cicero's control.

English translation:( http://perseus.uchicago.edu/perseus-cgi/citequery3.pl?dbname=PerseusLatinTexts&getid=1&query=Cic.%20Att.%2016.3.)

Latin text: (http://perseus.uchicago.edu/perseus-cgi/citequery3.pl?dbname=PerseusLatinTexts&query=Cic.%20Att.%2016.3&getid=0)