Monday, July 24, 2017

Martial: A Well Known Book Cannot Change its Author

In a recent issue of the Journal for the Study of the New Testament, Matthew Larsen of Yale University published an article,

"Accidental Publication, Unfinished Texts and the Traditional Goals of New Testament Textual Criticism." Journal for the Study of the New Testament 39.4 (2017): 362-387.

Larsen mines several primary sources from Roman, Greek, Christian, and Jewish authors from Cicero in the first century BCE to Augustine in the fifth century CE. Larsen concludes by writing,
“The varied assortment of examples from Jewish, Greek, Roman and late antique Christian contexts show the prevalence of textual fluidity and unfinishedness in antiquity. Accidental publication, post-publication revision and multiple authorized versions of the same text are not surprising, since publication was only notional and so existed only as a social construct. Every new draft functions only provisionally and temporarily as a final draft, while the notion of a truly finished text in a definitive version does not map neatly onto the material ‘realia’ of the ancient world.” (pg. 15)

Larsen’s article advances our understanding of ancient composition and publication practices, by highlighting underutilized primary sources. Larsen does well to view the composition of the New Testament writings, especially the canonical gospels, as less rigidly defined texts on a sterilized linear progression from composition, to publication and wider circulation.

Yet, in several ways Larsen appears to misunderstand his own cited evidence. To give just one example, at one point Larsen cites Martial (late 1st cen. CE) as evidence for the ancient practice of compositions being plagiarized and repurposed by other authors as their own work. Larsen writes,
“In Martial, Ep. 1.66, he writes that, if you can buy a book for 6 or 10 sesterces, sure, go ahead and buy it, but if you find one yet unpolished by the pumice-stone, yet unadorned with bosses and cover (i.e. unfinished and unpublished), buy it, because you can become the author of that kind of text. Unfinished and unpublished literary raw materials, Martial quipped, were worth more because one could author what someone else wrote.” (pg. 8)
This reference in Martial is a gem of insight into first century attitudes towards literary borrowing and plagiarism. That is, plagiarism was okay, as long as one could get away with using another author’s work and circulating it as their own. Nevertheless, Martial does qualify this practice of plagiarism, here is Martial’s epigram in full;
“You mistake, you greedy thief of my works, who think you can become a poet at no more than the cost of a transcript and a cheap papyrus roll. Applause is not acquired for six or ten sesterces. Look out for unpublished poems and unfinished studies, which one man only knows of, and which the sire of the virgin sheet not yet grown rough by the contact of hard chins, keeps sealed up in his book-wallet. A well-known book cannot change its author. But if there be one with ends not yet smoothed with pumice, and not yet smart with its bosses and wrapper, buy it: such I possess, and no man shall know. Whoever recites another man’s work, and so woos fame, ought not to buy a book, but—silence.” (Epigr. 1.66) (LCL, pg. 71)
It is clear from Martial’s epigram that Larsen is correct to view plagiarism and literary borrowing as an accepted first century practice, as long as one obtained raw notes that had not been circulated. Martial even admits to holding and using unpublished notes when he wrote that, “such I possess, and no man shall know.” Despite this, Larsen goes beyond the evidence by stating that “publication was only notional and so existed only as a social construct” (pg. 15). Martial testifies against Larsen’s thesis when he differentiated between a text that was kept private and unknown and a text that was published and circulating. A text that was published could not (easily) be plagiarized for “a well-known book cannot change its author,” in other words, once a book was published under an author’s name, someone else could not easily steal this author’s work without it becoming known. This consequence can be seen in the very same poem for Martial begins his epigram by accusing another poet of stealing his own work. 

Some of the quotes referenced by Larsen are discussed with reference to the composition of the New Testament writings in,"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.

And in the forthcoming SBL paper,

Exposing Textual Corruption: Community as a Stabilizing Aspect in the Circulation of the New Testament writings during the Greco-Roman Era.
Martial, Epigrams (Walter C. A. Ker, trans. 2 Vols. LCL. London: William Heinemann, 1919).

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Review of; "Grounded in the Faith," by Todd Scacewater

"Grounded in the Faith: A Guide for New Disciples Based on the Apostles’ Creed" by Todd A. Scacewater, Fontes Press, 2017, 54 pp. ISBN: 069287562X, $6.99

Grounded in the Faith” is the first release in a planned series of discipleship booklets designed to foster learning and growth in new converts to the Christian faith. The author's preface reads; "This work is intended for pastors, elders, church leaders, and laymen to use to disciple new believers" (pg. v). The author, Todd Scacewater, holds a PhD from Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, where he also taught Greek courses, and is the editor of the website “Exegetical Tools”[1] which features teaching resources for studying the Biblical languages.

Grounded in the Faith” revolves around the author’s own English translation from the Greek text of the “Apostles’ Creed” found in most editions and commentaries. The booklet begins in the first chapter with a rudimentary orientation to the history of the creed and why it serves as an adequate summary of the basic tenets of Christian belief. Scacewater notes that the “final form of the Apostles’ Creed that churches around the world recite today was solidified by around AD 700” and that since it has been used “to teach new disciples for more than 1,600 years,” it can be accepted “as a true representation of the Bible’s teaching” (pg. 3). Those who desire a critical edition of the Greek text, or wish for an exhaustive historical treatment of the Creed should look elsewhere.

After the elementary introduction, the following chapters divide the creed into three main segments; “God the Father,” “Jesus Christ,” and “The Gifts of God.” Each of these chapters are further segmented into smaller portions that discuss each phrase of the Creed. For example, chapter one comments on the creedal phrase “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth” (pg.5). The phrase “I believe,” is given its own treatment in a mini-chapter and the rest of the saying receives commentary in a separate mini-chapter. Each of these mini-chapters ends with a series of questions that prompt the reader and the teacher into further discussion. For example, chapter one, under the mini-chapter “I believe,” the following questions conclude the discussion;
“1. Read Ephesians 2:8–9. How are we saved? 2. Read Galatians 2:16. Can we be saved through our own good works? 3. Read Ezekiel 36:26–27, which describes what happens when we are saved through faith in Christ. How is a new believer’s life different than before salvation? 4. How has God changed your heart since you started following Christ? How does your life look different?” (pg. 8)
The questions aid in solidifying the material and form a single unit of instruction. In this way a mentor or teacher could organize a discipleship program in which a mini-chapter was discussed at each session.

The final chapter, “Next Steps,” offers a simple but practical guide to encourage further spiritual growth, Church attendance, and biblical knowledge. It also gives suggestions for further reading on a few entry level works that deal with spiritual growth, biblical interpretation, defense of the Christian faith, and evangelism.

The booklet is designed to be used in a broad array of faith traditions and backgrounds and avoids points of interdenominational theological controversy. For example, when discussing a believer’s baptism into Christ a footnote states;
“The meaning and significance of baptism is understood differently by various theological traditions. Some traditions hold that only those who profess faith in Christ should be baptized, while other traditions baptize the babies of Christian families in order to include the entire family in the covenant community. Consult with your pastor to discuss the meaning and significance of baptism in your tradition and to answer any questions you may have.” (pg. 27-28)
With that said, the Reformed tradition of the author bleeds through at one point. In the first chapter, the essential aspect of faith in salvation is discussed and after quoting Ephesians 2:8-9, the author writes simply, “Faith, then, is a gift from God” (pg. 7). Christians from non-reformed traditions would contest this interpretation and argue that “salvation” and not “faith” is the gift in view here. Despite this, it is clear that the author emphasizes the necessity of personal faith in Christ; “But at the same time, faith is a personal decision that is made because of the gracious work of the Holy Spirit in our heart” (pg. 7). Therefore, even those who hold to “prevenient grace,” for example, would still benefit from this booklet.

Though this study guide is meant for a novice, one of the Greek and Hebrew names of God are introduced on one occasion. The significance of these two languages are introduced in a helpful way; “The Old Testament, written in ancient Hebrew, was translated into Greek by Jewish believers about 200 years before Jesus’ day” (pg. 15). Unfortunately, it is never explained that the New Testament and the “Apostles’ Creed” were also composed in Greek and the significance of the Greek words may be lost on a new convert. This information, however, can easily be supplemented by the instructor.

Overall, "Grounded in the Faith: A Guide for New Disciples Based on the Apostles’ Creed," is an excellent resource that is affordable and easily portable.

[1] www.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

New Manuscript Discovered at Saint Catherine's Monastery

A news article popped up on my Facebook feed announcing that a new manuscript was discovered during renovations at Saint Catherine's Monastery, where Codex Sinaiticus was "discovered" by Tischendorf. The news source describes the find;
"Cairo- Egypt has announced the discovery of a rare manuscript dating back to the fifth or sixth century at the Saint Catherine Monastery in southern Sinai. Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany said the manuscript was uncovered by monks during restoration works carried out at the monastery’s library. The minister highlighted the discovery’s importance, as it features medical texts written by the renowned Greek physician Hippocrates, along with three other texts by an anonymous writer."

Apparently the Hippocratic text is part of the underlying text of a Biblical palimpsest. The article describes the manuscript further on;
"Mohamed Abdel-Latif, assistant minister of antiquities for archaeological sites, explained that the discovered document is one of those known as "Palmesit" manuscripts, dating to the 6th century AD. The manuscript is written on vellum and bears parts of herbal remedies from a Greek recipe missing before 1200AD. He also noted that the second layer of the book features extracts from the Bible known as "Sinaitic manuscript" from the medieval eras."
 I wonder if the 'anonymous write' could be Galen, a second century physician who wrote copious commentaries and notes on Hippocrates. It is also curious what manuscript is meant by the "Sinaitic manuscript" mentioned.

You can read the full article here. News Source, ASHARQ AL-AWSAT

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Galen and Papias on Forgery and Authorship

In a recent article in the Journal of Biblical Literature, Armin D. Baum published a response to Bart Ehrman's book, "Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics" (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

"Content and Form: Authorship Attribution and Pseudonymity in Ancient Speeches, Letters, Lectures, and Translations —A Rejoinder to Bart Ehrman," JBL 136.2 (2017): 381–403.

In this article Baum cites several ancient Christian and non-Christian Greco-Roman primary sources to support his thesis that,
"Everywhere an authorial attribution was regarded as correct and nondeceptive if either the wording or the content of a particular text could be traced back to the author whose name it carried." (pg. 402)
In one interesting section, Baum discusses the Christian tradition that, even though Mark and Luke "composed" gospels that bore their names, Peter (for Mark) and Paul (for Luke), "were regarded as the intellectual authors of their contents (pg. 390)." Baum shows this attitude by siting the statements of Tertullian,
"That which Mark edited is stated to be Peter’s [Petri affirmetur], whose interpreter Mark was. Luke’s digest also they usually attribute to Paul [Paulo adscribere solent]. It is permissible for the works which disciples published to be regarded as belonging to their masters [Capit magistrorum videri quae discipuli promulgarint]." (Marc. 4.5.3–4)(Baum, pg. 390)
Another source not referenced by Baum support's this conclusion, Papias's (ca. 100-110 CE) statements on the composition of Mark.
"And the Elder used to say this: 'Mark, having become Peter's interpreter, wrote down accurately everything he remembered, though not in order, of the things either said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, followed Peter, who adapted his teachings as needed but had no intention of giving an ordered account of the Lord's sayings. Consequently Mark did nothing wrong in writing down some things as he remembered them, for he made it his one concern not omit anything which he heard or to make any false statement in them." (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 3.39; Holmes, 569)
It is clear that, though Papias acknowledged that his gospel was composed and written down by Mark, he considered Peter as the true "intellectual author."
Galen (ca. 160s-170s CE), In the midst of analyzing the textual work and editions of two former Hippocratic scholars who were active in the first part of the second century, Galen wrote;
"A second book written in place of one formerly written is said to be revised (επιδιεσκευασθαι), when it has the same 'hypothesis'(υποθεσις) and most of the same words; some (of the words) taken out from the former work; some added; some altered. If you want an example of this for the sake of clarity, you have the second Autolycus of Eupolis revised from the former. Thus the doctors from Cnidus published the second 'Cnidian Opinions'in place of the former ones; some having the same in every way; but some added; some taken away; just as some altered. This then is the second book of Hippocrates which they say is more medical than the former." (Hipp. vict. acut. 120.5-14; Scherbenske's translation)
Though Galen is speaking specifically in reference to editing an ancient author's work, it is clear that Galen saw that a work was still considered to be that of the ancient authors as long as "some of the words" were still from the original author and that the editing did not alter the original ideas.
Thus, both Papias and Galen confirm Baum's conclusion that,
"Everywhere an authorial attribution was regarded as correct and nondeceptive if either the wording or the content of a particular text could be traced back to the author whose name it carried." (pg. 402)


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

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

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Codex Sinaiticus: A Hulking Pile of a Book

In a recent issue of "Expository Times," Christfried Böttrich of Greifswald University (Germany) published an article on the Codex Sinaiticus.
"Codex Sinaiticus and the use of Manuscripts in the Early Church." Expository Times 128.10 (2017): 469-478

In this article, Böttrich contends that the library at Caesarea (T. C. Skeat), rather than Alexandria (Kirsopp Lake) was the likely source of the production of the manuscript. He gives the following reasons;
"First: there are some lexical indications regarding geographical substitutes. Second: Codex Sinaiticus adopts the Eusebian system in the gospels, and offers a special text division in Acts following a model that can be traced back to Pamphilus. Third: there are two famous colophons after the text of 2 Esdras and Esther claiming a correction of the text in Caesarea at least in the 6th century; such colophons should be viewed with caution because they became inflationary in later times, being copied from one codex to the other, but these two predate such secondary usurpation." (pg. 470) 

Böttrich does not give any new evidence or argument for Caesarea as the likely place of origin. The bulk of the article focuses, rather, on the purpose for producing such a fine codex in the first place. He engages with the well known theory that both Codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus were two of the large Biblical codices requested from Eusebius of Caesarea by the new Christian Emperor Constantine. Here is an excerpt of the request,

"Be ready therefore to act urgently on the decision which we have reached. It appeared proper to indicate to your Intelligence that you should order fifty volumes with ornamental leather bindings, easily legible and convenient for portable use, to be copied by skilled calligraphists well trained in the art, copies that is of the Divine Scriptures, the provision and use of which you well know to be necessary for reading in church. Written instructions have been sent by our Clemency to the man who is in charge of the diocese that he see to the supply of all the materials needed to produce them. The preparation of the written volumes with utmost speed shall be the task of your Diligence. You are entitled by the authority of this our letter to the use of two public vehicles for transportation. The fine copies may thus most readily be transported to us for inspection …" (Vit. Const 4.36.2–4; quoted from the article, pgs. 472-473).

Böttrich gives several reasons why Codex Sinaiticus was not one of these codices produced for public reading in a Church worship context. First is that the four column format with its many corrections cluttering the margins does not easily facilitate public reading (pg. 474). Second is the shear size of the book;

"The biggest problem is the weight. All in all, the codex originally must have covered more than 730 parchment sheets, a hulking pile. Who could carry it in daily use? Is it conceivable to manage liturgical readings with such a codex? Regarding the emperor’s guidelines, Codex Sinaiticus would not have been a clever solution." (pg. 474-475)
No one can argue that Sinaiticus is a very large codex and must have weighed a tremendous amount in its original complete form. Its size, however, may not exclude it from having been used in a Church worship context. There is at least one instance from about the same time period that mentions a Church congregation holding several large copies of the Bible. In the capital city of Cirta, Numidia, in North Africa, during the great persecution under Diocletion (ca. 303 CE), there is a detailed account of the confiscation of Bibles. In this account, a subdeacon surrenders to the officials a very large copy of the scriptures [codicem unum pernimium maiorem] and several church readers surrender "five large codices, and two small ones" [codices quinque maiores et minors duos] (Gamble, "Books and Readers," pgs. 145-147). Of course, the overall size of these copies are relative, and they still may be considerably smaller than Codex Sinaiticus. Even so, as this account suggests, it would not be out of place for a Christian congregation to use a larger copy of the Bible in their worship practices.

As Böttrich mentioned, Sinaiticus's four column layout is not unlike a bookroll from the height of the Roman Imperial era (pg. 474). This format, however, does not necessarily imply that Sinaiticus was not meant for public reading. As William Johnson noted, there were many who read out from bookrolls in group settings and were able to navigate its format. Johnson describes a scene in which the physician Galen (last half of the second century) and his rival Martialius publicly read from a bookroll and argued over its text (Johnson, "Reading and Reading Culture," pgs. 88-89). Johnson also recounts a dinner party scene described by Aulus Gellius (last half of the second century) where passages from poets were read out from bookrolls and discussed amongst the learned group (Johnson, pg. 105). Some of the formatting in Sinaticus also suggests that the codex had public reading in view. "Ekthesis" and other reading aids are used throughout the codex, and several places in the codex, the text is formatted into lists in such a way that the reading-out of these lists would emphasize each word in a unique way. Peter Head noted this in his paper "The Gospel of Mark in Codex Sinaiticus," stating that, "These lists would also have been reflected in public reading of the text of Sinaiticus, with each item pronounced carefully and separately, developing emphasis over the course of the lists" (pg. 13). I argue in my paper "Codex Sinaiticus as a Window into early Christian Worship," that these lists were read in a public worship setting in a unique way that facilitated learning or memorizing these words and phrases (pg. 12).

Böttrich's article is a nice summary of the scholarship and theories behind the production of arguably the world's most famous Biblical manuscript. He makes a great assessment that Caesarea is the likely origin of its production and that Sinaiticus is likely not one of the codices manufactured at Emperor Constantine's demand.

Codex Sinaiticus (


Böttrich, Christfried."Codex Sinaiticus and the use of Manuscripts in the Early Church." Expository Times 128.10 (2017): 469-478

Gamble, Harry Y. Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995
Head, Peter M. "The Gospel of Mark in Codex Sinaiticus: Textual and Reception-Historical Considerations." TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism , Vol. 13 (2008): 1-38.

Johnson, William A.
Readers and Reading Culture in the High Roman Empire: A Study of Elite Communities. Edited by Joseph Farrell and Robin Osborne. Classic Culture and Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Mitchell, Timothy. "Codex Sinaiticus as a Window into Early Christian Worship." in Eleutheria 3:1 Fall (2014): 2-19.

Monday, May 29, 2017

An Errant (A Working) Inerrancy Statement for Textual Critics

As a by product of a lengthy and very profitable online discussion of Biblical inerrancy, I decided to formulate my own version of a "Chicago Statement" (that was supposed to be funny) that might appeal (or not) to other evangelicals in academia. The two brief sentences dealing with the writings that form the New Testament are based upon my own publication;

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

The sentence dealing with the writings that form the Old Testament is based upon the work of Michael A. Grisanti;

"Inspiration, Inerrancy, and the OT Canon: The Place of Textual Updating in an Inerrant View of Scripture," JETS 44.4 (December 2001): 577-598.

Here is the working (errant) inerrancy statement in less than 250 words;

"As an out working of his holy and perfect nature, God inspired the scriptures by moving the various ancient authors to write his revelation in their own words, using the culture, language, composition, and publication conventions of their times.
"With regard to the New Testament writings, the inspiration of these scriptural works was complete once they were released by their authors for distribution and circulation. Once completed these writings were infallible, and truthful.”
“With regard to the Old Testament writings, these scriptural works were infallible, and truthful after their initial release to the people of God, and after divinely appointed prophetic authorities updated these writings during later stages of Israel’s History.
“Subsequent stages of circulation and copying introduced scribal alterations into the manuscript tradition of both the New and Old Testaments. These alterations were not divinely inspired, though some of these alterations have gained widespread confessional acceptance.”
“Modern printed Bibles are also inspired, infallible and truthful as long as they faithfully reflect, through the tools of textual criticism, the Greek text of the initially released New Testament writings, or the Hebrew and Aramaic of the Old Testament writings in their final form. Modern translations also carry this divine inspiration in so far as they faithfully render the original languages."

Now before I am burned at the stake of open academic discussion this post is meant to be somewhat light hearted. Anyone who may have constructive input, please feel free to critique and make suggested changes. I would prefer that this or a similar doctrinal statement be much more brief.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Julius Africanus and A Short Lived Book

George Houston, in his work “Inside Roman Libraries,” surveyed book collections in antiquity, analyzed their contents, the date of composition, and the rough date of the discarding of the collection, or, in the case of the library at Herculaneum, the last known period of use. From these data Houston wrote;
"The identification of such collections, and of the manuscripts within them, provides new evidence on an old question: how long did a papyrus roll last? The evidence from our collections indicates that a usable lifetime of about 100 to 125 years was common and can reasonably be considered the norm; a small but significant number of manuscripts were still usable some 300 years after they were first created; and on rare occasions a manuscript might last, it seems, for half a millennium." (p. 257)
These dates are not entirely novel, however, for E. G. Turner stated many decades earlier that,
"In the second case, that of a literary roll which has afterwards been used for a document such as a dated or datable letter, there is a probability, which may differ from example to example, that a longish life should be assigned to the literary text, perhaps 50, perhaps even 100 years." (Turner, GMAW2, 19)
Of course, all of these dates are approximate and are based on papyri that have been randomly preserved from antiquity. In some instances though, ancient books had a much shorter useful life and the papyrus was repurposed for another document. This is the case for P.Oxy III.412, a well known fragment of a bookroll containing a work of Julius Africanus, a Christian writer who lived ca. 160-240 CE. This is an encyclopedic piece entitled "Kestoi" and was likely written some time in the 220's CE, though very little is known about the details of his life.

P. Oxy III.412 (Thompson, plt. 14 pg. 134)
This copy of Julius Africanus's "Kestoi" was not valued for too long however, because the bookroll was reused on the reverse for a cursive document dated to 275-276 CE. If one assumes that this copy is not in close proximity to the author (mainly due to some evidence of textual corruption) and if one allows for at least a generation of use for the roll before it was repurposed, then the book was probably copied in the 240's or 250's CE.
This level of precision in dating a literary book is rare and because of this, P.Oxy III.412 is valuable to palaeographers for dating the type of script that was used to copy this roll; the "Alexandrian Stylistic Class" (Orsini, pg. 62).  A search in the Leuven Database of Ancient Books reveals several New Testament manuscripts that are assigned to this stylistic class. Thankfully, some ancient books such as P.Oxy III.412 had a short useful life so that modern palaeographers have a more securely dated example by which to compare and date New Testament manuscripts.

Grenfell B., P., and Author S. Hunt, eds. Oxyrhynchus Papyri. Part 3: Nos 401-653. London: Egypt Exploration Fund, 1903: pages 36-41.

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

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

Thompson, Edward Maunde. An Introduction to Greek and Latin Palaeography. Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1912.

Turner, E. G. Greek Manuscripts of the Ancient World. 2nd edition. Edited by P. J. Parsons. London: University of London, Institute of Classical Studies, 1987.

Here is an interesting blog post by James Snapp that discusses P Oxy 412