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

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Family Π, Codex Alexandrinus, and a 4th Century Text of Mark

When I first began wading into the deep waters of textual criticism, any study of the later Medieval Greek manuscripts of the New Testament (those that are generally aligned with the Byzantine or Majority text) appeared less interesting. The earlier papyrus fragments, or the large ornate codices such as Vaticanus and Sinaiticus were certainly more glamorous and fascinating than the thousands of minuscule manuscripts that looked so similar to my untrained eye that they all blurred together. I think that I am not alone in my experience.

This view changed quickly after I was introduced to Amy Anderson’s research into Family 1. Here was a group of manuscripts, though late in date, preserved a textual history that reached back into the early centuries of the Christian era. This is when I realized that there is a largely unexplored world of Byzantine manuscripts that have deep roots into the fertile soil of the transmission history of the New Testament.

As I began to learn more about the rich textual history imbedded in these Medieval Greek codices, I came across a group of related manuscripts that were discovered to have a unique textual character in a book from 1936; Silva Lake’s monograph "
Family Π and the Codex Alexandrinus."According to Silva Lake, this group, Family Π, was first noticed by Wilhelm Bousset way back in 1894 in his work “Textkritische Studien zum Neuen Testament,” and was further examined by Hermann von Soden. 

Codex Π opened to Luke
The significance of this group of manuscripts are their apparent connection with Codex Alexandrinus and with an even older archetype. Silva wrote;
“[T]he reconstructed text of Family Π, therefore, represents a manuscript older than the Codex Alexandrinus and affords another witness to a text which must have existed in the early part of the fifth century, if not before. Moreover, both the text of Family Π and the Codex Alexandrinus were elements in the formation of the Ecclesiastical text,--since it differs from each about equally and to the same extent that Π differs from A.”
It has yet to be explored further (to my knowledge), but von Soden also noted that Family Π’s text in Mark showed great similarities with the text used by Victor of Antioch in his commentary on Mark. If this proves to be true, then it is further confirmation that this unique text has roots into the late fourth century.

Jacob Geerlings further explored the history of this family in his 1962 work, “
Family Π in Luke.” After considering the provenance of each codex, Geerlings concluded that the group originated from Mt. Athos, most likely the Laura Monastery. He surmised that Codex Π could have been gifted to the Laura Monastery when it was founded in 963 CE. The provenance of Codex Π before its presence on Mt. Athos is not as clear. However, Geerlings postulated that, because Codex Alexandrinus was probably copied in Constantinople at the Studios Monastery, Codex Π was likely produced there as well.

Since the time of these studies more codices have been discovered that show some connection to Family Π. Therefore, I hope to begin a fresh study, using the tools available today of this very interesting Family of Greek Bibles from Mt. Athos.

Bousset, Wilhelm.
Textkritische Studien zum Neuen Testament. 1894.

Champlin, Russell.
Family Π in Matthew. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1964

Geerlings, Jacob.
Family Π in Luke. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1962.

Lake, Silva.
Family II and the Codex Alexandrinus: The Text According to Mark. London: Christophers, 1936

von Soden, Hermann.
Die Schriften des Neuen Testaments. Berlin, 1902-1913

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Exposing Textual Corruption at SBL

I just received word that my paper proposal was accepted for the 2017 SBL Annual Meeting in Boston. For those who might be interested, it will be presented in the program unit; "Book History and Biblical Literatures." The title and abstract of the paper are,

Exposing Textual Corruption: Community as a Stabilizing Aspect in the Circulation of the New Testament writings during the Greco-Roman Era.


Very few manuscripts of the New Testament writings date to within the first three centuries of the Christian era. Because of this, William L. Petersen determined that, “Our critical editions do not present us with the text that was current in 150, 120 or 100—much less in 80 CE.” In contrast, Michel W. Holmes wrote that the New Testament text is “characterized by macro-level stability and micro-level fluidity.” Both of these scholars used a similar method, applying our knowledge of scribal transmission from later periods backward into the first century. Yet, each of their results were at opposite ends of the spectrum. Despite the disparity of these conclusions, there is another avenue that remains to be analyzed that governed the transmission of texts in the period under investigation; the publication and circulation conventions of the Roman imperial age.

This paper will set out the evidence for ancient publication through community transmission. It will consider examples from Cicero, Martial, Quintilian, Pliny the younger, and Galen. These authors reveal that, although they were familiar with and used commercial book dealers on occasion, they preferred to use social networks to circulate their writings. These same communities that copied and distributed an author’s compositions inadvertently created an environment in which significant alterations and plagiarizing of these same writings became known. Martial described this well when he wrote that “a well-known book cannot change its master” (Epig. 1.66). Through these networks Quintilian knew that some of his lectures had been crudely transcribed and were circulating amongst his followers (Inst. Or. Pref. 7-8). Pliny gives an example when he warned Octavius that draft versions of his poems had begun to circulate without Octavius’s consent (Ep. 2.10). Through the communities that circulated his writings, Galen learned that his original marginal note was mistakenly copied into the main body of text (In Hipp. epid. comm. III, 1.36).

Within the New Testament writings as a whole, this paper will examine Col 4:16, 1 Tim 4:13, and Rev 1:3, and in the Apostolic Fathers at, Poly. Phil. 13.2, 1 Clem. 47.1, Mart. Poly. 22.2, and Herm. Vis. 2.4. These examples portray early Christian publication practices as functioning primarily through social networks. As a result, any significant alterations to the New Testament writings were exposed in the wider community of the first and second centuries. This is evident in 2 Thess 2:1-2, where the author knew of falsely attributed letters. And in 2 Peter 3:16, where the author is aware that Paul’s epistles are being corrupted. In the second century, the textual alterations of Marcion and the Theodotians became widely known (Tertullian, Praescr. 38; Eusebius, Hist.eccl. 5.28).

The conclusion will be that because the New Testament writings were transmitted and circulated primarily through social contacts during the Greco-Roman era, this naturally produced a condition in which the plagiarizing and alteration of these books would have been exposed within these same community circles. This would have resulted in a moderately stable textual transmission during the first and second centuries.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Papyrus and the New Testament Epistles

I came across a reference in the letters of Cicero (54 BCE). He was writing to his brother Quintus, and mentioned, off-hand, that he was going to use high quality papyrus.
“This time it will be quality pen and well-mixed ink and ivory-finished paper (charta etiam dentata), since you say you could hardly read my last letter” (Quint. fratr. 2.14)
It is interesting that Cicero mentions that the paper is "ivory finished," that it was very white, or bright in appearance. This, of course, must have been more expensive papyrus than that which he normally used for writing letters. As Pliny the Elder wrote, there were various grades of papyrus manufactured (Nat. 74-82). Papyrus was not always available, either due to price or through scarcity. An early 2nd century letter from Terentianus to Tasoucharion reads, "I sent you papyrus so that you might be able to write me concerning your health" (P. Mich. VIII 481). Perhaps it was difficult for the recipients of the letter to obtain papyrus. Unwanted Bookrolls were often repurposed by turning them over and writing on the blank back surface. Martial mentioned that if his poems failed to please the critics boys would "scribble on the backs" of his epigrams (Epig. 4.86). One fragment of John's Gospel appears to be written on the back of a reused bookroll (See Larry Hurtado's description here).

In the New Testament, there is almost no reference to the type of writing material used by the authors. Therefore it is nearly impossible to know what materials upon which the authors wrote. In one instance, John mentions papyrus,
"Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink (διὰ χάρτου καὶ μέλανος). Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete." (2 John 12. ESV)
At least in this instance John likely used papyrus rather than a wooden or wax tablet, or any other material for that matter, in writing his epistles.

Alma Tadema's depiction of a Roman Scribe

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Augustine of Hippo on Greek Accents

At around 410 CE, Paulinus Bishop of Nola (near Mt. Vesuvius in Italy) wrote a lengthy letter to Augustine Bishop of Hippo asking if the great doctor would explain some obscure passages in the scriptures. Towards the end of this epistle, Paulinus asked if Augustine could explain a portion of Psalm 17:14 (16:14, LXX). Paulinus wrote;
In the following psalm I should like to have that passage explained to me where it says: "Their belly is filled from thy hidden stores. They are full of pork," or, as I hear it is written in another version of the psalms: "They are full of children, and they have left to their little ones the rest of their substance." (Aug. Ep. 121) 
The first reference Paulinus quotes appears to be taken from the Greek LXX and the second quotation seems to be taken from Jerome's Latin version. The Greek text of this Psalm reads, "ἐχορτάσθησαν υἱῶν" (Rahlfs') which can be translated "they are satisfied with sons (or children)" or, as the NETS translates the phrase "they were fed with sons."

Augustine did not respond to Paulinus' question until 414 CE. It may be because it took some time before he was able to study a Greek LXX (Latin was his native tongue), for he wrote "I had not been able to consult any Greek texts on certain words of Psalm 16, but afterward I secured some and consulted them" (Aug. Ep. 149). A few paragraphs later he wrote;
As to the following passage, "They are full of pork," I have explained what I think of it. What readings other texts have or are truthfully reported to have--because the more carefully written copies explain this same well-known ambiguity of the Greek word by the accent, according to the Greek method of writing--is a matter somewhat obscure, but it seems to fit in better with the more acceptable meaning. He had said: "Their belly is filled from thy hidden stores," by which words the hidden judgments of God are meant, and no doubt they are hidden from the wretched, who rejoice even in evil, whom "God gave up to the desires of their heart." (Aug. Ep. 149)
Augustine explains that Paulinus may have a corrupted text that had not been copied well and had not been transcribed with the proper Greek accents. In this case, it seems that Augustine is alluding to the similarity between the Greek word for son in the genitive  plural "υιων" and the Greek word for pig in the genitive plural "υων." To further confuse the situation, some forms/styles of the word for son also did not include the iota and were spelled the same as pig (υων).
The perplexing facet to Augustine's explanation is that it is difficult to understand whether he is mistakenly referring to a missing iota in the genitive plural for "of sons" in Paulinus' manuscript (thus it is a poorly copied manuscript); or that he is indicating that, in his understanding of the Greek of his day, these two words were differentiated in the placement of their accents.
It seems that the latter explanation makes the most sense of Augustine's comments. Paulinus probably had an LXX Psalter that had poorly copied (or missing) accents. This ambiguity over accents, coupled with the verb "ἐχορτάσθησαν" (an "eating" verb) led Paulinus to erroneously interpret the words as "pigs" rather than "sons."
Therefore Augustine reminds us of the importance of accents so that when we read Romans 8:19 we do not think that "creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the pigs of God."

Saint Augustine. (Circa 1645-1650) by Philippe de Champaigne


Augustine, Letters (Sister Wilfred Parsons, trans. The Fathers of the Church. Volumes II and III. New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1953).

Karl Kelchner Hulley, "Principles of Textual Criticism Known to St. Jerome." Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 55 (1944): 87-109.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Three Avenues of Publication in the Roman Era

Sometime at the end of the first or beginning of the second century CE (AD), the Roman statesman Pliny the Younger wrote to Suetonius urging him to publish his work. In this exhortation Pliny succinctly describes the three avenues available to authors who wished to release their work for circulation and copying.
"The work is finished and perfect, further polish will not make it shinier but wear it out. Let me see your work completed with a title tag, let me hear that the volumes of my [Suetonius] Tranquillus are copied, read, and sold." (Ep. 5.10)
Pliny mentions three pathways to publication; copying, most likely a reference to the distribution of a writing through the authors social contacts; reading, an allusion to the public reading of a text at diner parties, recitations, and other social gatherings; selling, a direct mention of book sellers. Each of these methods of "releasing" a composition effectively "published" the work for general consumption. The author lost control of the work's fate and it was free to circulate and be distributed by demand (see previous posts on publication, here, and here).

In Christian communities, at least in the first few centuries, it seems that the primary means by which the New Testament writings were disseminated was through private circulation and copying and public reading. Paul alludes to both of these avenues of distribution at the end of his letter to the Colossians.
"And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea." (Col. 4:16; ESV)
In this passage, Paul is directing the Church at Colossae to both publicly read out his letters, but also to copy and disseminate those letters addressed to other communities circulating throughout the Churches in the region.

Though direct evidence for the public sale of New Testament writings does not appear until the fourth century (see previous post), there are allusions to the possibility of scripture being sold as early as the second century. At around 150 CE Justin Martyr wrote to a Jewish acquaintance named Trypho arguing for the truthfulness of Christianity. Throughout the dialogue Justin records some of Trypho's objections and arguments against Christianity. In one instance Trypho is recorded as saying;
"Moreover, I am aware that your precepts in the so-called Gospel are so wonderful and so great, that I suspect no one can keep them; for I have carefully read them." (Dial. 10)
Besides the interesting use of the word "Gospel" to refer to a group of Christian writings, Trypho declares that he has read them. How did Trypho obtain a copy of these Gospels? At first glance it seems the likely answer is that Justin loaned Trypho copies for him to read. But Trypho informed Justin of his reading of the Gospels in such a way that suggests Trypho obtain copies on his own accord. It is of course possible that Trypho acquired copies through private channels. The other possibility is that Trypho purchased copies through a Book Dealer.

Another allusion to the sale of New Testament writings occurs in the writings of Celsus which are preserved in the work of Origen. Celsus was a Greek Philosopher opposed to Christianity and wrote an anti-Christian treatise entitled "The True Word" in the last half of the second century (ca. 160-180 CE). It was 70-80 years later before a solid Christian rebuttal came on the scene. Origen wrote a lengthy response entitled simply "Contra Celsum" where he quoted, paraphrased, and alluded to Celsus' work. Throughout Origen makes mention of Celsus' use of Gospels material. In one place Origen mentioned that Celsus "makes numerous quotations from the Gospel according to Matthew" (1.34). In another Origen wrote;
"But if this Celsus, who, in order to find matter of accusation against Jesus and the Christians, extracts from the Gospel even passages which are incorrectly interpreted, but passes over in silence the evidences of the divinity of Jesus, would listen to divine portents, let him read the Gospel, and see that even the centurion, and they who with him kept watch over Jesus, on seeing the earthquake, and the events that occurred, were greatly afraid, saying, "This man was the son of God." (Cels. 2.36)
It is clear from these passages that Celsus was at the very least reading the Gospels of Matthew and John. Again, where was Celsus able to acquire copies of these Christian writings? It is possible that he had direct contact with Christian communities in the second century and obtained copies through private channels. Another (likely) possibility is that Celsus gathered copies of the New Testament writings by purchasing them from a Book Seller.

Either through private channels or through commercial Book Sellers, it is apparent that by the middle of the second century (and most likely much earlier) the New Testament writings were distributed to such a degree that non Christians could obtain copies and engage with the Christian faith.

Translation of Pliny's letter taken from Jon W. Iddeng, "Publica Aut Peri! The Releasing and Distribution of Roman Books," Symbolae Osloenses 81 (2006), 78.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Teaching Aids for Ancient Christian Readers

Some of the earliest copies of the New Testament writings were copied in such a way that they aided the reader in their task of deciphering the scriptio continua. Bookrolls from the Roman world (1st -3rd century CE) which contained works of literature had very little by way of assistance for the reader. Take for example P. Lond. Lit. 134 (ca. 200 CE), a copy of  Hyperides, In Philippidem. It has a steady stream of letters uninterrupted by spaces or any type of punctuation.
P. Lond. Lit. 134. (Johnson, "Bookrolls and Scribes," 400)

Those fortunate children in antiquity with access to an education had to be taught methods of deciphering this system of writing. Grammarians (ancient teachers) facilitated this instruction by creating models of ancient works such as Homer's Iliad that incorporated spaces between words and markings differentiating syllables and sense units. One example of a teacher's model is a wooden tablet from Roman Egypt that contains Homer's Iliad (3rd century). The wooden slate uses spaces between words and markings to assist beginning readers in comprehending the text.

AM 13839 (Cribiore, "Gymnastics of the Mind," 135)
Similar phenomena of reading aid can be detected in some early copies of New Testament writings. For example, spaces between words can clearly be seen throughout P46 (2nd/3rd century), a collection of Paul's epistles.

The beginning of Galatians in P46
Spaces and limited punctuation can be seen in P66 (2nd/3rd century), a copy of John's Gospel. 

The beginning of the Gospel of John in P66.

There are some interesting parallels between early New Testament manuscripts such as P46 and P66 and teachers models such as AM 13839. Both types of documents employ clear and legible scripts, give generous space between lines, and use spacing between words and sense units. These features have been highlighted elsewhere on this blog (here, and here). It has already been noted that reading aids seem to reveal that these Christian books were produced for less than capable readers.
Coupled with this, perhaps the presence of reader's aids in copies of New Testament manuscripts also reveal another parallel with teacher's models; that of instruction. Just like teacher's models were used almost exclusively in the context of learning, perhaps these Christian manuscripts were produced so that they could be used primarily within teaching contexts.

Cribiore, Raffaella. Gymnastics of the Mind: Greek Education in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.

Johnson, William A., Bookrolls and Scribes in Oxyrhynchus. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004.