Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Upcoming Event, Text and Manuscript Conference: Pen, Print, and Pixels

The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts has launched a new biannual Text and Manuscript Conference. Executive Director Daniel Wallace announced,

"This conference will be held on even-numbered years as a North American reflection of the Birmingham Colloquium on the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, which is itself held on odd-numbered years in the United Kingdom."
The inaugural conference is slated for May 19th - 20th, 2022 and is themed Pen, Print, and Pixels. Follow the hyperlink, or go to the following link, https://conference.csntm.org/

There is a great line-up of main speakers.

Hugh Houghton
Kathleen Maxwell
Holger Strutwolf
Dirk Yongkind
Jan Krans

There is also a great selection of breakout session speakers.

Keith Elliot
Jeremiah Coogan
Juan Hernandez
Edgar Ebojo
Craig Evans
Georgi Parpulov
Christian Askeland
Timothy Mitchell
Peter Montro
Ryan Griffin
William Warren
Grant Edwards
James Prothro

I don't know what all of the session speakers will be presenting on, but my own presentation will be the following;

Exposing Textual Corruption in the Wider Circulation of the New Testament Writings During the Greco-Roman Era

In a recent publication I argued that the primary means by which books were circulated was through social networks. A natural consequence of this was that macro-level changes (to use the terminology of Michael W. Holmes) to a text within circulation would become known within that same community.
In this paper I will present further evidence that the avenues for exposing textual corruption were present even when a writing circulated more broadly. In the wider Greco-Roman culture, literature would often be circulated through booksellers allowing the work to be accessed by more extensive reading communities farther removed from the author(s) and their followers. References from Cicero, Pliny the Younger, and Galen will be explored.
In the case of the New Testament writings, evidence for those outside of the Christian community having contact with and reading scriptural books will be examined. Figures such as Justin Martyr, Tatian, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen and many others will be explored.
I will be arguing from this evidence that these wider pathways of book distribution also presented opportunities for exposing the macro-level corruption of texts in circulation, specifically with regard to the New Testament writings.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Interview on The Hardcore Humanities Podcast

Released today is an interview I did with Jamie Tibke host of The Hardcore Humanities Podcast.  The interview can be found on Spotify and Apple ITunes. Link to Spotify posted below.

The Hardcore Humanities Podcast https://open.spotify.com/episode/2480jEi5oxaKZxaRMUsEXb

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Aurelius of Carthage: The Illiterate Church Lector and Confessor


Add. 40165 A 
4th century fragments of Cyprians letters  
used as flyleaves for a 12th-century Latin manuscript

At around 250 CE Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, wrote to his Church to inform them of the appointment of a young man named Aurelius to the office of lector. That is someone who read out the scriptures to the congregation at the time they were gathering for worship.

"In the ordinations of clerics, dearly beloved Brethren, we are accustomed to consult you in advance and in common council to weigh the characters and merits of each one." (Ep. 38)

Cyprian goes on to share in the letter that Aurelius was "twice confessed and twice glorious in the victory of his confession" (Ep. 38). It was during this time that Christians were under extreme pressure to make sacrifices to the God's or face repercussions. This was due to an imperial edict given by Emperor Decius in order to gain favor from the God's towards the troubled Roman Empire (see posts here and here). Apparently Aurelius had suffered under this edict but had remained firm in the faith and had not recanted belief; a confessor. Cyprian greatly admired Aurelius for his courage and because of this wanted to go ahead and ordain him to the office before he had consulted with the other leaders as was the custom.

"Such a one was deserving of the higher steps of clerical ordination and a greater promotion, not so considered for his years, but for his merits. But, in the meantime, it seemed right for him to start with the office of reading since nothing was more becoming also to the voice which confessed God with glorious praise than to sound Him forth through the celebrating of the divine readings, after the sublime words which bespoke martyrdom for Christ: to read the Gospel of Christ whence martyrs are made, to come to the pulpit after the scaffold; . . . Know, therefore, dearly beloved that he has been ordained by me and by colleagues who were present. . . . And since joy is always hastening, and rejoicing cannot brook delays, in the meantime, he reads for us on Sunday, that is, he is auspicious for peace while he dedicates the reading." (Ep. 38)

It is obvious that Aurelius is capable of reading out a text (presumably in Latin) because Cyprian is fully expecting him to do so the next Sunday after he sent this letter. What is strange however is that in a letter to the Church in Rome, Cyprian mentions that a certain Lucian (another confessor) had written many petitions in behalf of others who were imprisoned.

"Many petitions, written in the handwriting of this same Lucian, have also been given in the name of Aurelius, a youth who suffered tortures, because the latter did not know how to write." (Ep. 27).

This same Aurelius, who was perfectly capable at reading, did not know his letters and had to have a certain Lucian write a petition on his behalf. This does seem strange to us in the twenty-first century, accustomed to learning to read and write together. This was not the case in the ancient world. These two skills were often acquired separately and with varying degrees of competency (Cribiore, 9-10). Cyprian presents this information normally and does not indicate that this circumstance is exceptional. This might also help explain the kinds of features that we see in our earliest copies of the New Testament writings. These often exhibit reading aids, spaces between words, and other kinds of limited punctuation (see here). These may have been present to assist those who had limit education, who could read at a basic level, but had not received schooling in the ability to write, just like we see in the case of Aurelius of Carthage.


St. Cyprian, Letters 1-81The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation (Sister Rose Bernard Donna, trans. New York: Catholic University of America Press, 1964).

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

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Sunday, July 4, 2021

A Sacred Number in the Gospel of Mark?

The painstaking task of transcribing and collating Greek New Testament manuscripts will often bring to light many tantalizing features that have as of yet gone unnoticed. Mainly because so many of these manuscripts have not been studied in detail, or at all. Not only this, but also because transcription forces the scholar to slow down and compare the texts of the manuscripts being studied, highlighting any unique characteristics. Recently I came across an interesting feature in GA 989 which is a twelfth century Four Gospels minuscule manuscript with commentary bordering the biblical text. It has to do with the use of the numeral twelve. In Mark 6:7 Jesus commissions the twelve disciples to preach the gospel.

"And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits."

Mark 6:7 in GA 989 showing the number 12  Ι̅β̅ in Greek

A fascinating aspect is that in this verse the scribe chose to use the Greek numeral sign for the number twelve ( Ι̅β̅ ) rather than writing out the number in full (δωδεκα). Here also the word for "unclean" spirit is written in full (plene) rather than in the nomen sacrum form. No where else in the Gospel of Mark in GA 989 is the Greek numeral for twelve used. And there seems to be no differentiation in this manuscript in the use of nomen sacrum for the Holy Spirit or an unclean spirit. Thus it seems to be more than a coincidence that the scribe chose to use the abbreviated Greek numeral for twelve and unclean spirit is written out in full (πνευματων ακαθαρτων) in the context of this verse. It is certainly possible that there is nothing significant to this, a mere coincidence. It is also impossible to definitively know for certain. It could be, however, that the Greek numeral for twelve (Ι̅β̅ ) was used in a "sacred" sense like a nomen sacrum, preserved from an earlier tradition.

Zachary Cole recently published a monograph that discussed this topic.
Zachary Cole, Numerals in Early Greek New Testament Manuscripts
Text-Critical, Scribal, and Theological Studies
. NTTSD 53 (Leiden: Brill, 2017).
In Chapter 7, pages 175-178, Cole discusses the possibility that the Greek number twelve ( Ι̅β̅ ) was used as a sacred number (numerus sacer) when referring to the twelve disciples in Codex Sinaiticus in the Gospel of Matthew.

Codex Sinaitcus Matt 10:5 [Q74-f.5v]

There is not enough data to draw any hard conclusions in GA 989. These tantalizing remnants of scribal activity, however, may be all that remains of an early tradition of representing the "twelve" disciples in a sacred sense.  

Friday, June 11, 2021

Ancient Tablets, Notebooks, and Speeches in the Writing of the Gospels

Roman scribe with his stylus and tablets on his tomb stele at Flavia Solva in Noricum

In Book 6, Letter 5 to his friend Ursus, Pliny the Younger (ca. 61-113 AD) vividly describes a senate hearing. He mentions that during the proceedings two figures were debating each other; Licinius Nepos and Juventius Celsus. Apparently, Nepos re-opened a case that had been previous resolved and gave an untimely speech dealing with the matter that those present considered to be a breach of protocol. This is when the Jurist Celsus stepped in.

“The praetor Juventius Celsus vehemently upbraided him in a long speech, in which he taunted him with seeking to reform the senate. Nepos replied; Celsus answered him back, and neither spared reproaches and insults. I do not wish to repeat the words which pained me when I heard them spoken, but I blame even more some of our number who kept running first to Celsus and then to Nepos, according as one or other was speaking, in their desire to hear every word. At one moment they seemed to be encouraging and inflaming their passions, at another to be seeking to reconcile them and smooth matters over, and then they kept on appealing to Caesar to take the side of each, or even of both, just as actors do in a farce. What annoyed me most of all was that each was told what his opponent was going to say, for Celsus replied to Nepos from his note-book, and Nepos answered Celsus from his tablets. The friends of each kept talking to such an extent that the two disputants knew exactly what each was going to say, as though it had all been arranged beforehand.” (Ep. 6.5)

What caught my interest was the reference to “note-book” and “tablets,” both figures were referencing notes that they had obviously prepared beforehand. Celsus is described as making his reply to Nepos from a “note-book” which is translated from the Latin word “libellus.” And Nepos is depicted as referencing his “tablet,” which is translated from the Latin word “pugillaris."

The term "libellus" in this context is likely referring to "a book written in pages, and not in long rolls," especially some kind of legal brief or case notes (From Lewis and Short). This could be either papyrus or parchment. Though if it was a parchment codex the Latin word "membranis" would have more likely been used (Quintilian, Ins. Or. 10.3.31). Therefore this is likely referring to individual sheets stacked together.

P.Oxy 3929 a third century libellus or certificate of sacrifice for the Decian persecution 

The word "pugillaris" is a reference to a type of smaller hand held writing surface that was made from thin board hollowed out and filled with wax. This could then be inscribed upon by a pointy stylus and then erased easily by smoothing out the wax.

Teacher's Example Above, Student's Writing Below. Wax Tablet, II CE. (British Museum MS. 34186)

I find it fascinating that Pliny specifically mentions that these two figures are making their speeches directly from notes on writing materials rather than from rote memorization. This made me think of the intersection of early Christian "preaching" and the giving of public speeches in the Roman Senate. Irenaeus tells us that the Gospels of Mark and Luke first began as preaching events.

"Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia." (Haer. 3.1, ANF)

Also, Eusebius hands down to us a tradition that the Gospel of John also first began as the oral preaching of the Jesus story. Only after he was urged by the Christian community did he write down the gospel of John in his old age.

"For Matthew, who had at first preached to the Hebrews, when he was about to go to other peoples, committed his Gospel to writing in his native tongue, and thus compensated those whom he was obliged to leave for the loss of his presence. And when Mark and Luke had already published their Gospels, they say that John, who had employed all his time in proclaiming the Gospel orally, finally proceeded to write for the following reason. The three Gospels already mentioned having come into the hands of all and into his own too, they say that he accepted them and bore witness to their truthfulness; but that there was lacking in them an account of the deeds done by Christ at the beginning of his ministry." (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3.24.6-7, NPNF).

After thinking about the incident recounted by Pliny of Celsus and Nepos giving speeches while consulting their notebooks and tablets, I immediately thought about the apostles using notebooks and wax tablets as references and guides in their preaching. Perhaps these kinds of preaching notes were what was contained in Paul's mysterious "notebooks" (μεμβράνας, membranis) mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:13. If so, then perhaps some of these materials were in mind when Luke mentioned "many have undertaken to compile a narrative" (Luke 1:1-4). In the same way, perhaps some of Peter's preaching notes were used by Mark and arranged and ordered by him as Eusebius quotes Papias recounting (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3.39.15). John too may have had these types of written notes when he proclaimed the Gospel story orally (as Eusebius recounts) and could have used them in the composition of his Gospel as well.

Of course this is all wild speculation, and there is no way to explore this further. However, considering the few snapshots that we have from contemporaries of the Evangelists like Pliny the Younger, this type of speculative scenario is not outside the realm of possibility.


Latin text and English translation of Pliny’s Letter taken from Pliny: Letters - Book 6 (attalus.org)