Thursday, May 9, 2013

Irenaeus and Early Christian Reading

Proper pronunciation and inflection in reading ancient texts was very important for the listeners to understand the meaning. Lucian, a second century writer, criticized an "uneducated" Syrian who was attempting to pawn himself off as an elite intellectual but he did not “know how to read the texts so as to bring out their meaning” (Johnson, 276). The manner of reciting a text was a central part of sophisticated culture, as was “the ability to read performatively, with detailed, deep knowledge of the meaning, style, structure and conventions” (Johnson, 276).
Irenaeus of Lyons in the later part of the second century, made a similar statement when referring to how some confuse an ambiguous text in 2 Thessalonians 2:8;

If, then, one does not attend to the [proper] reading [of the passage], and if he does not exhibit the intervals of breathing as they occur, there shall be not only incongruities, but also, when reading, he will utter blasphemy, as if the advent of the Lord could take place according to the working of Satan. So therefore, in such passages, the hyperbaton must be exhibited by the reading, and the apostle’s meaning following on, preserved. (Haer. 3.7.2)

To help Christian readers not "utter blasphemy" by incorrectly reciting a text, many ancient manuscripts were equipped with marks of punctuation and spaces between words and sense units (Gamble, 229-230). One famous manuscript Codex Bezae is a fourth or fifth century codex of the gospels in Greek and Latin that has “each page written in thirty-three colometric lines” (Finegan, 40). Having the sense lines set out separately by spaces or into columns helps the reader sound out and properly parse the text for the audience.



Ante-Nicine Fathers vol. 1.

Finegan, Jack. Encountering New Testament Manuscripts: A Working Introduction to Textual Criticism. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980.

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

Johnson, William A. “The Ancient Book.” in The Oxford Handbook of Papyrology. ed. Roger S. Bagnall, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.