Thursday, August 31, 2017

Divine Sanction Against the Corruption of Texts

Because there were no copyright laws and books stores in the Greco-Roman world, texts were primarily circulated through social contacts (see previous post, HERE and HERE). Once an text was released for circulation and began to enjoy broad circulation, authors effectively lost control over the fate of their work. Because of this, it was not uncommon for works of literature, poems, and speeches to be altered and plagiarized by others. Authors sometimes hoped to circumvent such alterations by issuing a warning against the corruption of their work, either through careless copying, outright alteration, or theft (plagiarizing). This kind of warning is used in Revelation 22:19 where John invoked the warning found in Deuteronomy 4:2,
"if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book." (Rev. 22:19; ESV) 
In the case of Christian authors and scribes, God's judgement was often given to those who would dare mutilate a text. Here are a some examples;

(ca. 180 CE) Irenaeus of Lugdunum, Gaul (modern day Lyons, France), in his "Against Heresies" discussed a variant reading for the 'mark of the beast' of Revelation in some manuscripts of his day (see previous post here). After noting that some inferior copies of Revelation read '616' instead of '666'  alluding to the curse found in Revelation 22:19 he wrote,
"there shall be no light punishment [inflicted] upon him who either adds or subtracts anything from the Scripture,under that such a person must necessarily fall." (Hear. 5.30.1; ANF 1:559)
(ca. 390 CE) Rufinus of Aquileia translated Origen's De principiis from Greek into Latin. In the preface to his translation he affixed a warning,
"[V]erily, in the presence of God the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I adjure and beseech every one, who may either transcribe or read these books, by his belief in the kingdom to come, by the mystery of the resurrection from the dead, and by that everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels, that, as he would not possess for an eternal inheritance that place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, and where their fire is not quenched and their worm dieth not, he add nothing to Scripture, and take nothing away from it, and make no insertion or alteration, but that he compare his transcript with the copies from which he made it, and make the emendations and distinctions according to the letter, and not have his manuscript incorrect or indistinct, lest the difficulty of ascertaining the sense, from the indistinctness of the copy, should cause greater difficulties to the readers" (De prin. praef.;ANF 4:238)
As Gamble noted in his "Books and Readers," Christians were not the only ancient writers and copyists to invoke a divine sanction against the corruption of a text. Artemidorus, writing about the same time as Irenaeus affixed at the end of his work on the interpretation of dreams.
"I ask those who read my books not to add or remove anything from the present contents. For any person who is able to add points to my work would more easily write a work of his own. And if certain things that I have written in these books seem superfluous, the reader should use only those things that please him without discarding the rest of the books. For he should realize that it was out of obedience to Apollo, the overseer god and guardian of all things in addition to being my own native god, that I undertook this treatise. Apollo has encouraged me in the past, and now especially, when I have made your acquaintance, he clearly presides over my work, and has all but commanded me to compose this work." (Oneir. 2.70; Gamble, "Books and Readers," 125)
In the case of Artemidorus, it is the god Apollo who entreated him to compose the work and it is Apollo who watches over his work so that it may not be corrupted through copying.

For further reading on the use of divine sanctions against the alteration of texts, see Michael J. Kruger, "Early Christian Attitudes toward the Reproduction of Texts," pages 63-80 in
 "The Early Text of the New Testament(Edited by C. R. Hill and Michael J. Kruger. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

Harry Y. Gamble, "Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts" (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995).

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Pliny the Younger: Bestselling Author in Gaul

Greco-Roman authors largely preferred private copying through friends and acquaintances to publish their work over commercial book sellers (see previous post). Despite this, bookseller were utilized, even if in some type of limited capacity (see previous post). Once an author's text began to circulate outside of the author's circle of acquaintances, the author could lose all knowledge of where his works were being copied, sold, and read.
Horace (65-8 BCE) illustrated this well when he wrote that “[w]hat you have not published you can destroy; the word once sent forth can never come back” (Ars. 389-390). Once published, anyone who was unknown to the author could obtain a copy of the author's composition and distribute it across the Roman world. Yet, even in these circumstances, an author could learn the fate of their work. This occurred in the case of Pliny the Younger (ca. 100 CE), when he received a letter from a friend, Rosianus Geminus, who lived in Lugdunum, Gaul (modern day Lyon, France). Pliny wrote a letter in response,

"I have your letter, an especially welcome one as you want me to write you something which can be included in your published work. I will find a subject, either the one you suggested or something preferable, for yours may give offence in certain quarters - use your eyes and you will see. I didn't think there were any booksellers in Lugdunum, so I was all the more pleased to learn from your letter that my efforts are being sold. I'm glad they retain abroad the popularity they won in Rome, and I'm beginning to think my work must really be quite good when public opinion in such widely different places is agreed about it." (Ep. 9.11).
 We can see from Pliny's return letter that his books were quite popular in Gaul. Even in the case of anonymous booksellers acquiring and selling copies of Pliny's works abroad, he was still able to obtain information regarding them through his circle of acquaintances and friends. Thus, any major alterations, corruptions, or plagiarizing of his work (at least in Gual) could have been made known to him.

Statue of Pliny the Younger on the Cathedral of S. Maria Maggiore in Como

Horace. Satires, Epistles, and Ars Poetica (H. Rushton Faiclough, trans. LCL. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1942), 483.

Pliny. The Letters of the Younger Pliny (translated by Betty Radice. London: Penguin Books, 1969), 238-239.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Review of; "Walk Worthily" by Jeff Smelser

Walk Worthily: A Commentary on Ephesians.” By Jeff Smelser. Cillicothe, OH: DeWard Publishing Company, 2017, 273 pp., ISBN:9781936341948, $19.00.

Walk Worthily” is a commentary on the epistle of Ephesians by Jeff Smelser, who has written articles in several confessional periodicals and edits a website that hosts courses in New Testament Greek.[1] The ‘Preface’ indicates that “this work has been prepared having in mind the first or second year Greek student” (p. 10). Those seeking a highly technical commentary on the level of a “Hermenia” or “International Critical Commentary,” that exhaustively interacts with the scholarly literature and examines every textual variant may be disappointed. “Walk Worthily” is best suited for the pastor, beginning student, or layman.

Despite its beginner level, the introduction is quite comprehensive and at fifty pages, consumes roughly one fifth of the work. The length reveals the importance Smelser places upon a proper understanding of the historical setting and recipients of the epistle. He argues that issues of Pauline authorship can be resolved by accurately determining the intended recipients (p. 16). According to Smelser, the epistle was not written to the Ephesian church specifically, but rather was originally intended as an encyclical (p. 32-38).

He gives the resemblance of Ephesians to Colossians as evidence in favor of Pauline authorship arguing that the similarity reveals that both epistles were likely written at the same time and place (p. 16). Smelser compares the outline and wording of both epistles and concludes that both have similar main ideas (p. 17-24). Ephesians being at 4:1, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthily of the calling which you were called,” and Colossians being at 2:6, “Therefore as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, in him walk” (p. 24). Yet Colossians includes very specific and individualized comments, whereas Ephesians does not, which would be out of place if the Ephesians were the intended recipients, considering Paul’s long history with the Church there (cf. p. 25).

Another clue that allegedly points away from an original Ephesian destination is the overall gentile focus of the letter. Pointing to the events described in Acts 18 and 19, Smelser highlights the primary Jewish rather than gentile membership of the Church at Ephesus (p. 26-27). Thus, it seems out of place for a letter allegedly sent to the Church at Ephesus to be addressing gentiles primarily (p. 27).

The most convincing clue tipping away from an original Ephesian destination is of course the lack of the words “in Ephesus” in a few manuscripts. These are P46, Codex Sinaiticus, and Codex Vaticanus, among others, all of which are important witnesses to the text of Ephesians (p. 28). Also, several early Church fathers are witnesses to the lack of “in Ephesus” in the manuscript tradition. Origen (early 3rd cen. CE), and Basil (late 4th cen. CE) having extensive discussion of this verse (p. 29-30).

Accumulatively, the evidence discussed above has led the author to conclude that the letter of Ephesians was not originally intended for the Ephesian Church, but was meant as an encyclical letter, written at the same time as Colossians and Philemon, and carried by Tychicus to the various Churches in Asia Minor (p. 32). Smelser gives a detailed proposal as to the route Tychicus may have taken in bearing the letter (p. 33). He suggests that Tychicus traveled the “Syrian Gate” and left copies of the encyclical letter in the cities along the route, which included the city of Laodecia (p. 32-38). This might explain Marcion’s association of the letter with Laodicea (p. 30).

Rome rather than Ephesus or Caesarea is given as the likely place of composition (p. 43-50). A date range of composition at 60 CE and no later than 64 CE is assigned to the epistle based upon the details given in the book of Acts (p. 55). Smelser gives a lengthy chronological discussion of the events in Acts, anchoring his dates on the time of Gallio’s term as Procunsul of Achaea (p. 50-52).

In the text of the commentary Smelser focuses in at the verse and clause level, rather than at the discourse level. He begins each discussion by giving his own English translation of the verse under examination. In describing his intent behind the translation, he writes,
“I have not attempted to provide a fluid, easily readable translation. Rather, my goal has been to produce a translation that will facilitate ready comparison with the Greek text for those who have some knowledge of Greek.” (p. 10)
Though the author does not reproduce the Greek text for each verse in its entirety, however, he does include the text taken from the NA 28 when the discussion requires it.
Throughout the work Smelser references most of the standard Greek grammars and lexicons. According to the “Works Consulted” list in the back, the following original language resources were used (p. 267-273); C.F.D. Moule’s, “An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek,” Richard Chenevix Trench’s “Synonyms of the New Testament,” Daniel Wallace’s “Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics,” and Maximillian Zerwick, “Biblical Greek.” 

Unfortunately, this list is not representative of every work referenced within the commentary. Scanning through the footnotes the following sources were also consulted by the author; A.T. Roberton’s “A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in Light of Historical Reasearch,” “A Manual Gramar of the Greek New Testament,” Herbert Weir Smyth, “A Greek Grammar for Colleges,” Blass, Debrunner, and Funk, “A Greek Grammar of the New Testament,” Dana and Mantey, “A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament,” Kittel, Friedrich and Bromiley, “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament,” as well as BAGD, and BDAG.

Considering my own interests in textual criticism, composition, and publication of the New Testament writings, the introduction was the most interesting to read and thus garnered the most attention in this review. Smelser gives some great insight into the circumstances surrounding the composition and distribution of the letter. Despite this, I was disappointed at the lack of interaction with scholarly literature on this issue. There was no mention of Günther Zuntz’s work and his discussion of encyclical Hellenistic royal letters extant in the papyri that had a blank space for the names of the recipients to be entered at each destination.

Despite the drawbacks, “Walk Worthily” is an affordably priced commentary that balances approachability with detailed analysis. Beginners will not be over intimidated by technicality and more advanced readers may yet find insight and scholarly commentary to satisfy their curiosity.
[1] For a list of his published articles see the website here.

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