Saturday, July 14, 2018

Clement of Rome and the Holy Rule Handed Down

While reading through 1 Clement in Greek, I came across an interesting phrase,
"Therefore let us abandon empty and futile thoughts, and let us conform to the glorious and holy rule of our tradition." (1 Clement 7.2; Holmes, 37)
"διὸ ἀπολίπωμεν τὰς κενὰς καὶ ματαίας φροντίδας, καὶ ἔλθωμεν ἐπὶ τὸν εὐκλεῆ καὶ σεμνὸν τῆς παραδόσεως ἡμῶν κανόνα." (1 Clement 7.2; Holmes, 36)
The author (traditionally thought to be Clement of Rome, ca. 96 CE), appears to be referring to the "rule of faith" or the "rule of truth." This was commonly appealed to as a standard of doctrine, Christology, and belief that separated the orthodox from the heterodox. For example, Eusebius, in his history, recounts that Dionysius (ca. 170) wrote a letter to the Nicomedians "in which he combats the heresy of Marcion and compares it with the rule of the truth (τῷ τῆς ἀληθείας παρίσταται κανόνι)" (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 4.23.4; LCL, 379).

The "rule of faith" appears to have governed the manner in which the scriptures were interpreted as well. Irenaeus (ca. 180 CE) wrote that
"he also who retains unchangeable in his heart the rule (κανόνα) of the truth which he received by means of baptism, will doubtless recognize the names, the expressions, and the parables taken from the Scriptures" (Haer. 1.9.4; ANF 1:303).
Some early Christian writers use the phrase in a way that seems to include, not only the basic theology of the church, but also an accepted body of scripture handed down from the Apostles. Tertullian of Carthage (ca. 200 CE), in his "On the Prescription of Heretics," wrote that,
"For wherever it shall be manifest that the true Christian rule and faith shall be, there will likewise be the true Scriptures and expositions thereof, and all the Christian traditions." (Praescr. 19; ANF 3:251–252)
Tertullian is here including a received body of Scripture as an integral element of the "rule of faith." Returning to 1 Clement, it may be that the author (Clement) had a received body of scriptures in mind (along with "true" theology) when he wrote of the "glorious and holy rule of our traditions." There are a few clues in the context of 1 Clement they may support such a reading of 7.2.

Immediately following the author's admonition to "conform to the glorious and holy rule of our tradition" (7.2), is a long series of examples drawn from the Hebrew Bible. The author writes,
"Let us review all the generations in turn, and learn from generation to generation the Master has given an opportunity for repentance to those who desire to turn from him." (1 Clement 7.5; Holmes, 37)
From this point, Clement lists, in the fashion of Hebrews 11, Noah (7.6), Jonah (7.7), Enoch (9.3), Abraham (10.1), Lot (11.1), and Rahab (12.1). Previously, the author brought to mind, Abel (4.1), Jacob and Esau (4.8), Joseph (4.9), Moses (4.10), and David (4.13).
After an exhaustive quotation from Isaiah 53, and a brief line taken from Psalms 22 (a Psalm commonly quoted as a prophecy concerning Christ's crucifixion), Clement applies these passages to Christ's incarnation and death on the cross and then writes,
"You see, dear friends, the kind of pattern (ὑπογραμμὸς) that has been given to us; for if the Lord so humbled himself, what should we do, who through him have come under the yoke of grace?" (1 Clement 16.17; Holmes, 47-49)
The noun ὑπογραμμὸς, of course, can mean simply "pattern," but it is interesting that in its basic meaning refers specifically to a "written pattern" that students used to copy texts as they were learning to write (LSJ references Clement of Alexandria, Strom. 5.8.49,48). Because the phrasing follows extensive quotations from Isaiah 53, it suggest to me that Clement is referring to the example of Christ "written" in the Scriptures he referenced. Because of these citations and allusions to Old Testament themes, it is hard not to see that the author is referencing written sources here, the Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures, as part of these traditions handed down mentioned in 7.2.

The idea that Christian communities in the first century accepted some type of Greek translation of the Jewish writings as scripture is not very controversial. However, it seems that Clement has a collection of received Christian "New Testament" scriptures in view here as well. In the preceding context of 1 Clement 5, the author is speaking of the saints who gave the ultimate testimony in sacrificing for the name of Jesus through martyrdom, namely the Apostles Peter and Paul. He then uses the same noun as in 16.17,
"Finally, when he had given his testimony before rulers, he thus departed this world and went to the holy place, having become an outstanding example (ὑπογραμμὸς) of patient endurance." (1 Clement 5.7; Holmes, 35)
Of course, one should be careful not to take too much from the use of this word. But coupled with the extensive quotations from the Septuagint discussed above, it seems that Clement is also here referring to a "written" example of Paul.

This view is strengthened by the explicit reference to the letter of 1 Corinthians made in 47.1, "Take up the epistle of the blessed Paul the apostle" (Holmes, 83). The gospels are alluded to and loosely quoted in several places as well (13.2-7; 15.2; 24.5; 43.6; 46.7-8; 49.1), as well as Hebrews (36.2-5) along with other New Testament writings (Gregory, 129-157).

The view that I am entertaining here, that the "holy rule of our tradition" in 1 Clement 7.2 includes a body of scriptures, Septuagint and some "New Testament" writings, does not seem to be widely held in the academy. Concerning this 1 Clement 7.2, Lee Martin McDonald wrote,
"Later, Clement of Rome (ca. 90 CE) used "canon" in reference to the church's revealed truth when he encourages the Christians at Corinth to "put aside empty and vain cares, and let us come to the glorious and venerable rule of our tradition." (McDonald, 50)
McDonald does not entertain the possibility that this "rule" that was handed included a core body of scriptures, at least at this early date. Yet, I think that it may be necessary to rethink this understanding of Clement's "holy rule of our tradition." That the statements of Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria, that the "rule of faith" included a received body of scriptures, may date at least from the time Clement took up the pen to admonish the Church at Corinth in the 90s CE.

Finally, in further support of understanding 1 Clement 7.2 as including some kind of received body of scriptures, Paul (if you accept traditional Pauline authorship) in 2Thessalonians 2:15, uses the same word as Clement of Rome to refer to the teaching likely transmitted by word of mouth and to teaching contained within a letter sent from Paul.
"So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions (παραδόσεις) which you were taught, whether by word of mouth (λόγου) or by letter (ἐπιστολῆς) from us." (NASB)
Here Paul is including both oral teaching and a written text with received traditions taught to the Thessalonian Church.

I am not attempting to anachronistically back load later meanings of "canon" (κανών) into 1 Clement 7.2. I do not think 1 Clement is using "canon" here to refer to an authoritative list of books. Rather, I am proposing that, in 1 Clement 7.2, "canon" includes not only a body of received apostolic teaching, but a group of scriptural works that convey this apostolic teaching. This likely would have included the Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures, and Christian writings such as some of Paul's letters and a gospel, though the exact contours of this collection is unkown.

Bokedal, Thomas, "The Rule of Faith: Tracing its Origins." Journal of Theological Interpretation 7.2 (2013): 233-255.

Eusebius. Ecclesiastical History, Volume I: Books 1-5. Translated by Kirsopp Lake. Loeb Classical Library 153. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1926.

Gregory, Andrew. "1 Clement and the Writings That Later Formed the New Testament," pages 129-157 in The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Hagner, D.A. The Use of the Old and New Testaments in Clement of Rome. NovTSup 34. Leiden: Brill, 1973

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

McDonald, Lee Martin. The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007.

Roberts, Alexander, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Vol. 1. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.

Roberts, Alexander, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds. Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian. Vol. 3. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.

An image of Papyrus 6. Containing fragments of 1st Clement (Coptic), the Epistle of James (Coptic), and the Gospel of John (Coptic and Greek).

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Myths About Autographs

 A book to look out for in the coming year or so (I am not sure of the release date) is Elijah Hixson and Peter Gurry's new book, "Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism," Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, Academic, Forthcoming

Hixson and Gurry are the editors of this multi-author volume and they both contribute (excellent) articles. In a post-Bart Ehrman era of textual uncertainty, popular level books, articles, blogs, and apologists give various arguments for the textual reliability of the New Testament. Unfortunately, in the midst of this necessary and well-motivated apologetic are bad reasonings, misinformation, and factually incorrect arguments that actually work against the objective of confirming the reliability of the text. New Testament Textual Criticism by nature is a complex and technical discipline. The goal of this volume is NOT to provide an introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism, but to correct some of these bad and factually incorrect arguments floating in the Christian apologetic and theological landscape.

I had the opportunity to contribute a chapter to this book, "Myths About Autographs: What They Were and How Long They May Have Survived." This chapter addresses assumptions about the autographs or original documents of New Testament books by considering the historical context of ancient publication. It surveys how long these autographs may have lasted and it discusses how many autographic copies there may have been. In addition, this article engages the opposing claims of recent scholarship by Matthew Larson on the one hand which claims that the New Testament writings were never finalized and those of Craig Evans on the other that claim the New Testament autographs survived for centuries and were probably used as a “check” on the transmission process thereby ensuring accuracy.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Galen on the Parchment Codex

While reading through the physician Galen of Pergamon's (129- ca. 215 CE) recently re-discovered writing "On the Avoidance of Grief," I came across a reference to the parchment codex.
In this particular piece Galen is writing in response to a friend's inquiry into Galen's amazing state of happiness despite the recent calamities that have befallen him. Galen writes in order to instruct his friend on the discipline of avoiding grief despite the hardships of life.
One of the most interesting aspects of this writng are the details Galen gives on libraries in Rome, the copying of books, and the contents of his own library. Apparently a large fire burned a section of Rome (the Sacred Way) that housed several libraries and personal book collections, including Galen's own. While listing his literary losses,  Galen mentions one item that was especially important to him.

"What then, you will say, is even greater than all the things mentioned that might be able to cause distress? Well, I will tell you this: I was entrusted with the possession of the most remarkable medical recipes, such as no one else in the entire Roman world (possessed)--fortune, in part, contributing to this and I myself, in part, contributing equally. In fact, two-fold fortune granted me each (of the recipe collections) along the way. The first of which is as follows: A certain rich man of those around me hastened to find knowledge concerning effective medications, with the result that he purchased some recipes in the amount of more than one hundred gold coins. He set about this task in such a way as to purchase not only all recipes that were held in esteem by (physicians) today in Asia, but also by those (physicians) of the past. These medical recipes were preseved, with upmost care, in two parchment codices that a certain one of the heirs--himself most dear to me--gave to me of his own accord without being asked." ("On the Avoidance of Grief," 31-33)

There are a few observations that can be made regarding Galen's reference to codices.

1) These parchment codices are specifically used to hold notes, not a literary composition. This is in contrast to bookrolls mentioned in the surrounding context.

2) Even though Galen obviously valued this collection of recipes, he only possessed one copy of the codices.

Though Galen's codices were not meant for circulation, the fact that he only possesed one copy of such a valuable collection sits in stark contrast to Craig Evan's declaration,
"In late antiquity, no one produced a single exemplar of a work and then circulated it" ("How Long Were Late Antique Books in Use?", 33).
Coupled with this is the contrast between parchment codices and literary bookrolls. Perhaps this can shed some light on the early Christian preference for the codex?


Evans, Craig, "How Long Were Late Antique Books in Use? Possible Implications for New Testament Textual Criticiam," Bulletin for Biblical Research 25.1 (2015): 23-37.

Rothschild, Clare K. , and Trevor W. Thompson, "Galen: "On the Avoidance of Grief"," Early Christianity 2 (2011): 110-129.

An image of the Nag Hammadi codices. Likely similar to what Galen's codices would have looked like.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Faithlife's 'Fragments of Truth': A Review

On Tuesday, April the 24th, Faith Life released its docudrama, “Fragments of Truth” in which the overarching question addressed; “Is the text of the New Testament reliable?” I had the opportunity to view the film with a few friends. Here are my thoughts.

Craig Evans is the main commentator throughout the documentary and the main thesis of the film is drawn from his paper published a few years ago,

Craig A. Evans, “How Long were Late Antique Books in Use? Possible Implications for New Testament Textual Criticism,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 25.1 (2015): 23-37.

In this paper, Evans’ main thesis is that the “autographs and first copies” of the New Testament writings survived into the second and third centuries and were “in a position to influence the form of the Greek text.” Here is the full abstract of the paper;

“Recent study of libraries and book collections from late antiquity has shown that literary works were read, studied, annotated, corrected, and copied for two or more centuries before being retired or discarded. Given that there is no evidence that early Christian scribal practices differed from pagan practices, we may rightly ask whether early Christian writings, such as the autographs and first copies of the books that eventually would be recognized as canonical Scripture, also remained in use for 100 years or more. The evidence suggests that this was in fact the case. This sort of longevity could mean that at the time our extant Greek NT papyri were written in the late second and early to mid-third centuries, some of the autographs and first copies were still in circulation and in a position to influence the form of the Greek text."

When his piece was published a few years ago there was quite a backlash from scholars in the discipline of papyrology and New Testament Textual Criticism. For example, Brice Jones, over on his blog, gave a scathing review and many high profile scholars such as Malcolm Choat, J.K. Elliott (featured in the film), Gregg Schwendner, and Brent Nongbri (who was mentioned in the film) gave their criticisms in the comments section of the article.
There are many assertions made in the film that many scholars (including myself) will disagree upon. I would recommend looking at other blogs for a point-by-point discussion. In this review, I wish only to draw intention to a particular weakness in Evans' argument, namely this, that closeness in time and proximity to the "autographs" (even if they survived 200 years) leads to stability in textual transmission.
I will highlight two reasons why this argument is flawed, 1) a failure to precisely define the term 'autograph,' and 2) an assumption that a direct copy or (to use Evans' term) "first copies" from the so-called 'autograph' equals textual stability.
In order to illustrate my point I will quote a section from my article "What are the NT Autographs?";
"Though the topic at hand concerns literary compositions, two documentary examples of a petition to the Egyptian Prefect Publius Ostorius Scapula (ca. 3—10/11 CE) provide a rare glimpse of multiple draft copies of the same work; P.Mich.inv. 1436 and P.Mich.inv. 1440. Although both papyri were written by the same person, inv. 1436 contains several additions and corrections which favors its identification as the first draft of inv. 1440. The text of both papyri are fragmented and incomplete, lines 2-10 of inv. 1436 were repeated in lines 11-17 of inv. 1440. The scribe revised the text of inv. 1436 above lines 6, and 8, and marked line 9 for deletion, nonetheless, these alterations were not integrated into the text of inv. 1440. Therefore, it must mean that there were “additional rewritings, now lost” of the petition. Though inv. 1440 is a polished copy with no extant editorial alterations, it “was apparently not dispatched, but was unearthed together with the much-corrected copy, inv. 1436”." (Mitchell, 302-303)
P.Mich. inv 1436 showing extensive editing

P.Mich. inv 1440 revealing that no revisions from inv 1436 were retained
This case is particularly thorny because it is difficult to know which papyrus is the original 'autograph,' because the "extensive alterations made in the same hand as the main body of text is precisely the clue that indicates their autographic nature" (Mitchell, 304). In other words, the closer one gets in time and proximity to the 'autograph' can sometimes lead to textual instability. That is, unless one precisely defines what one means by 'autograph.'

Despite these flaws in Evans' argument and other shortcomings in the docudrama, Reuben Evans the director, the camera crew and other editors did a fantastic job on the visuals. The images of the manuscripts were fantastic and at times simply breathtaking. They did a wonderful job at production and the quality was excellent (though the Q&A segment at the end was a bit dry). I will recommend this documentary to friends, if only to entice them with beautiful images of P66 and other treasures of Biblical manuscripts and pique their interest in the rich history of the transmission of the New Testament.


Hanson, Ann Ellis, “Two Copies of a Petition to the Prefect,” Zeitschrift Für Papyrologie Und Epigraphic 47 (1982): 233-243;

_______________, “The Archive of Isidoros of Psophthis and P. Ostorius Scapula, Praefectus Aegypti,”
BASP 21.1-4 (1984), 81-83.

Mitchell, Timothy N., "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.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Philosophical Schools: Early Christian and Jewish Scripture Reading

I have been slowly reading through Brian J Wright’s excellent new book “Communal Reading in the Time of Jesus: A Window into Early Christian Reading Practices,” which came out December 2017. I can’t recommend this work enough and I hope to give an extensive review once I finish plodding through the amassed information (it is rich with primary source material). Until then, I can’t help but write a little on some of the gems. One such nugget are the references to Philo of Alexandria’s (ca. 20 BCE-50 CE) descriptions of synagogue worship (Wright, 102-104). There are two such references in Philo’s works and Wright quotes both of these in full. What is particularly striking to me is how similar these descriptions are to Justin Martyr’s famous reference to Christian worship around 100 years later. The similarities are still present even later in the writings of Tertullian of Carthage who wrote about 150-160 years after Philo. I thought it might be helpful to quote each of these in full for comparison purposes. Philo wrote
“For that day [Sabbath] has been set apart to be kept holy and on it they abstain from all other work and proceed to sacred spots which they call synagogues [συναγωγαί]. There, arranged in rows according to their ages, the younger below the elder, they sit decorously as befits the occasion with attentive ears. Then one takes the books [τὰς βίβλους] and reads aloud [ὰναγινώσκει] and another [ἕτερος] of especial proficiency [τῶν ὲμπειροτάτων] comes forward and expounds [ὰναδιδάσκει] what is not understood.” (Good Person 81-82; Wright, 103)
Philo gave another similar description of synagogue worship in a different work;
“And indeed [δῆτα] they do always [μὲν αἰεί] assemble and sit together, most of them in silence except when it is the practice [νομίζεται] to add something to signify approval [προσεπευφημῆσαι] of what is read [ἀναγινωσκομένος]. But some priest who is present or one of the elders reads [ἀναγινώσκει] the holy laws to them and expounds [ἐξηγεῖται] them point by point till about the late afternoon, when they depart having gained both expert knowledge of the holy laws and considerable advance in piety.” (Hypothetica 7.13; Wright, 104)
Now compare this reference to the Christian worship gathering described by Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165 CE) from about 100 years after the time of Philo. Justin wrote,
“And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things.” (1 Apol 67)
Justin Martyr is likely describing the practices in and around Rome which is where he likely wrote his 1st Apology. However, considering that Justin was born in Palestine, and spent some time in Ephesus, his description may include Christian communities in these regions as well. Fast-forward another 50 or so years and we have Tertullian (ca. 155-240 CE) who gave a description of Christian worship practices in Carthage. Tertullian wrote,
“We are a body knit together as an assembly and congregation, that, offering up prayer to God as with united force, we may wrestle with him in our supplications….We assemble to read our sacred writings, if any peculiarity of the times makes either forewarning or reminiscence needful. However it be in that respect, with the sacred words we nourish our faith, we animate our hope, we make our confidence more stedfast; and no less by inculcations of God’s precepts we confirm good habits. In the same place also exhortations are made, rebukes and sacred censures are administered.” (Apol 39)
The similarities between Philo’s synagogue services and Justin and Tertullian’s Christian services are these;

1) The scriptures are read out to the gathered assembly. Without getting into detail about which Christian texts, it can be fairly certain that the Hebrew scriptures were being read, obviously in the Jewish synagogues, but also by the Christians (in Greek or possibly Latin) in both Justin and Tertullian’s descriptions.

2) Someone else stands and exhorts, preaches, or teaches to the congregation from the text that was read. In Philo, this person is either an individual of “especial proficiency,” a priest, or an elder. In Justin, the speaker is the “president,” the “προεστὼς” who gives the “speech,” the “διὰ λόγου" (Blunt, 100).

3) The congregation comes together, at least in part, in order to gain instruction on Godly living and habits. In Philo, it is to “advance in piety,” in Justin, it is to “imitate these good things” found in the scriptures, and in Tertullian it is to “confirm good habits” that are derived from “God’s precepts.”

From these references one can see how much the Christian worship practice of reading scriptures and preaching and exhorting from them is rooted in the Hebrew synagogue tradition. There seems to be very little parallel in the Greek and Roman culture, even though communal reading of texts was a widespread and common phenomena (see Wright’s work on this for nearly exhaustive coverage of primary source material), the systematic study of texts coupled with a lifestyle of adherence to these same texts can only really be found in the various philosophical schools. This comparison comes out in the writings of the physician Galen of Pergamum (ca. 129-215/16 ce) who, when briefly mentioning the Jews and Christians, refer to them in the context of philosophical ‘schools’;
“They compare those who practice medicine without scientific knowledge to Moses, who framed laws for the tribe of Israel, since it is his method in his books to write without offering proofs, saying ‘God commanded, God spake.’” (On Hippocrates Anatomy; Wilken, 72)
In another place he mentions Christians and Jews together as belonging to philosophical schools;
“For one might more easily teach novelties to the followers of Moses and Christ than to the physicians and philosophers who cling fast to their schools. So in the end I decided that I should avoid unnecessary talk by having nothing to do with them at all, which is what I do at present and what I shall continue to do in the future.” (De pulsuum differentiis; Wilken, 72)
When writing for a Roman audience, Flavius Josephus (ca. 37-100 CE) in similar way compared his own Jewish tradition with Greek and Roman philosophical schools. He wrote;
“For there are three philosophical sects among the Jews. The followers of the first of which are the Pharisees, of the second, the Sadducees, and the third sect, which pretends to a severer discipline, are called Essenes.” (Jewish War 2.8.2)
Both the Jewish and Christian communities stood out against other contemporary religions of antiquity in that they were more like the philosophical schools of the day. Both Jews and Christians were communities of followers who gathered together for the close reading of their books and a discussion of how to apply these texts into their everyday lives.



A. W. F. Blunt, ed. "The Apologies of Justin Martyr" (Cambridge Patristic Texts. A. J. Mason, ed. London: Cambridge University Press, 1911).

Brian J. Wright, "Communal Reading in the Time of Jesus: A Window into Early Christian Reading Practices" (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017).

Robert Louis Wilken, "The Christians as the Romans Saw Them" (2nd ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003).

English translations of Justin Martyr and Tertullian of Carthage are taken from, The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. 1885–1887. 10 vols.

English translation of Josephus taken from the translation of William Whiston located at

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Date of P.Bodmer II (P66)

Detail of PSI V 446 (133-137 CE)

P.Bodmer II, also known as P66, is a Greek papyrus codex of the Gospel of John. Because of its age and extent of preservation it has been considered an important early material artifact of Christian book culture. Ever since its publication by Victor Martin in 1956 it has been assigned a date from 150-250 CE and recently by Brent Nongbri (see previous post here and here) into the 4th century as well.
Title of the gospel of John in P.Bodmer II (P66)

Over on the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog, noted palaeographer Pasquale Orsini wrote a helpful guest post clarifying some issues of palaeography that surfaced during an interchange between Peter Malik and Brent Nongbri (here, here, and here). I also interacted with Orsini in the comments section of the blog who then helpfully responded. My question had to do with the validity of comparing the hand [that is, the style of handwriting] of P.Bodmer II with the 4th century (securely dated) papyri P.Cair.Isid.2 and P.Lond.1920. In the blog post Orsini had agreed with Nongbri's method of comparing these two papyri with that of P.Bodmer II in order to expand that date of P66 into the 4th century. It was my impression, however, that the overall structure and course of the pen strokes in forming some of the letters (alph [α], mu [μ], delta [δ], for example) between all three papyri were different enough for me to question this comparison. Orsini helpfully responded by stating,
"In a "stylistic class" the differences in structure of some letters are common, because the graphic phenomenon has not been "normalized" according to a scheme (as it happens in a "canon" or "normative majuscule"). The differences observed by you are part of this variability of a "stylistic class". The elements of the style (for example round shapes with loops, oblique and horizontal strokes prolonged, some letters written in a single sequence) prevail over the structure of the individual letters."
Detail of P.Cair.Isid. 2 (298 CE)
The "stylistic class" Orsini is referring to is the "Alexandrian stylistic class" of scripts. This type of hand came into use sometime during the second century, a typical early example being PSI V 446 (Cavallo, 129). This can be securely dated to 133-137 because it is an edict of the prefect Marcus Petronius (Orsini and Clarysse, 458). Both P.Cair.Isid.2 and P.Lond.1920 are considered as belonging to the "Alexandrian stylistic class." P.Bodmer XX on the other hand (another papyri Nongbri used in his re-dating of P66) is considered as belonging another style of script and thus is not a suitable comparison to P.Bodmer II (i.e. apples and oranges).

To the casual observer, the variations between the letters may seem slight and petty. For example, if one considers the differences between their own unique signature and the hand writing of someone else writing the same name, the variations are slight and are often subconsciously implemented by the writer. The same is most likely true of the scribe who copied P.Bodmer II. The style of script used has a lot to do with the manner in which a scribe was trained to write (On this, see, Cribiore, 114-116). By examining securely dated papyri that use a specific style of writing one can determine a general time period the script was in use. In this case, using PSI V 446 as the rough starting point and P.Lond. 1920 at the extreme end, the "Alexandrian stylistic class" was in use around 200 years. If these comparisons are fully valid, then one can set a rough date for P.Bodmer II at somewhere around 150-350 CE. This does not mean that P.Bodmer II is an exact match with each papyri only that this style of writing was in use for roughly this time length.

In order to better illustrate these slight differences in script between these four papyri (PSI V 446, P.Bodmer II, P.Lond. 1920, P.Bodmer XX, and P.Cair. Isid. 2), I laid out images of the letters of each of the papyri side by side for ease of comparison. Pay particular attention to the alpha, delta, kappa, mu, and phi. The differences in ductus and shading are slight but noticeable. I will not argue here for a specific date for P.Bodmer II, but it is obvious when comparing the letters below that P.Bodmer XX is not the same style as the rest of the papyri. 


Cavallo, Guglielmo. "Greek and Latin Writing in the Papyri." Pages 101-148 in The Oxford Handbook of Papyrology. Edited by Roger S. Bagnall. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Cribiore, Rafaella "Writing, Teachers, and Students in Graeco-Roman Egypt" (Atlanta: Scholar's Press, 1996).

Nongbri, Brent. "The Limits of Palaeographic Dating of Literary Papyri: Some Observations on the Date and Provenance of P. Bodmer II (P66)" Museum Helveticum 71 (2014): 1–35.

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

Orsini, Pasquale and Willy Clarysse, “Early New Testament Manuscripts and Their Dates: A Critique of Theological Palaeography,” Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses 88 (2012): 443-74.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Paul's "Large Letters" at Galatians 6:11

While reading through Raffaella Cribiore's "Writing, Teachers, and Students in Graeco-Roman Egypt," I came across a reference to Plutarch (46 CE-120 CE) writing about Marcus Cato (234 BCE- 149 BCE), the Roman historian and Senator. Plutarch wrote,

"His [Cato's] History of Rome, as he tells us himself, he wrote out with his own hand and in large characters (μεγάλοις γράμμασιν), that his son might have in his own home an aid to aquaintance with his country's ancient traditions." (Marcus Cato, 20.5)
I thought this was an interesting reference for it was mentioned by Cribiore in the context of teachers writing their models of literature excerpts in large letters so that a student can better read and follow the writing sample by copying it repeatedly (Cribiore, 99).

P.Pateus 121 Petaus, an illiterate village scribe practices copying his post script repeatedly;
"I Petaus, village scribe, have entered"

This reference reminded me of Paul's phrase found in his letter to the Galatians,

"See with what large letters (πηλίκοις γράμμασιν) I am writing to you with my own hand." (Gal. 6:11, ESV)

This phrase fits well with some of the postscripts found at the end of extant letters preserved on papyri (Richards, 172-173). A postscript was often used to authenticate a contract, letter or other such document that was prepared by a scribe by providing a statement in writing by the party involved similar to how a signature works today (Bahr, 28-29). This type of authentication is obviously occurring at Philemon 19 "I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self" (ESV).

P.Mich.inv.942 showing the authenticating postscript in a different hand

The connection between Paul and Cato here is in their use of writing in "large letters." Cato wrote with large letters apparently, in order to facilitate easier reading of his History by his son. Perhaps Paul was writing in large letters for a similar reason? Likely Paul was merely emphasizing his characteristic large-lettered handwriting in order to emphasize the postscript. But it may be that Paul was writing in large letters for emphatic reasons as well.


Bahr, Gordon J. "The Subscriptions in the Pauline Letters" Journal of Biblical Literature 87.1 (March 1968): 27-41.

Cribiore, Rafaella "Writing, Teachers, and Students in Graeco-Roman Egypt" (Atlanta: Scholar's Press, 1996).

Plutarch. "Plutarch's Lives. with an English Translation by. Bernadotte Perrin" (Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press. London. William Heinemann Ltd. 1914).

Richards, E. Randolph, "Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition and Collection" (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004).