Friday, May 8, 2020

Plague and Palaeography

The effects of the Antonine plague in the later half of the second century (ca. 165-190s CE) were far reaching. It is commonly accepted that the outbreak was some form of the Smallpox virus (Harper, 102). Scholars estimate anywhere from 1.5 to 25 million dead throughout the empire over the course of the plague (Harper, 108). This, and many other concomitant factors brought in its aftermath great economic and social upheaval in the later half of the second and long into the third century. The large death toll caused a slackening of the many social and class restrictions due to depopulation. For example, in 174-175 CE, emperor Marcus Aurelius loosened his own requirements for holding office in the city of Athens, that is, membership in the Areopagus. This was because there just wasn't enough "well-born" candidates to fill the ranks and Marcus mentions that this shortage was due to the "disasters" that had occurred in the cities (Duncan-Jones, 134).

Partly due to personell shortages across the empire and partly due to increasing inflation, wage hikes lead to an increasing cost of labor in the third century. The labor shortage and inflation also caused a large increase in the price of commodities from the second to the third centuries (Scheidel, 103-104). The papyrological record from Egypt reveals this increase in wages showing that the cost of rural labor at least doubled from the second to the third centuries (Scheidel, 104-105).

This level of economic and social change should be visible within the material and literary remains of Roman writing and book culture. Already in the third century the writing of Roman law changed quite drastically due to the Constitutio Antoniniana, that is the declaration by Emperor Caracalla of all peoples within the bounds of the empire as Roman citizens around the year 212 CE (Zwalve, 367). There was also a drastic decrease in the number documentary records produced during the last half of the second century (Duncan-Jones, 124-125).

It appears then that the economic decline did indeed leave it's traces in Roman literary and book culture. Raffaella Cribiore, in her work, "Writing, Teachers, and Students in Graeco-Roman Egypt," which focused on the material remains of teacher and student writing samples, noted that the quality of papyrus used in student exercises dropped off after the third century (Cribiore, 58). This corresponds with Turner's observations who noted that the quality of papyrus declined after the third centur, describing it as "resembling cardboard" (Turner, 2). This decline in quality coincides with the drastic increase in labor and material costs mentioned above. For Pliny the Elder in the first century wrote that papyrus paper was manufactured in varying levels of quality and Cicero gives hints that these differing qualities had a proportionate level of cost (see earlier post here).

Though Scheidel's study of Roman-Egypt wage increases specifically did not include the wage of scribes (Scheidel, 105), the cost of hiring a scribe must have continued to increase along with the price of commodities for the Emperor Diocletian in 301 CE gave an edict capping the price on commodities and wages for different services (for an English translation of the edict see, here). The price that could be charged by both a scribe and a notary are listed as follows.
Scribe, for the best writing, for 100 lines, 25.
Scribe, for writing of the second quality, for 100 lines, 20.
Notary, for writing petitions or legal documents, for 100 lines, 10.
(English translation of edict)
It is apparent that during the third century and into the fourth century, the cost of employing a scribe increased enough so that the cost of producing a high quality book by hand would have increased as well. This cost increase might be reflected in the popularity of certain styles of writing used in the third century and beyond. Cribiore noted that decorated and serifed styles in Greek are found in school hands from the second century BCE into the third century CE in Roman Egypt with only a few examples found after this time (Cribiore, 115). This style of handwriting was referred to as "Zierstil" by palaeographer Wilhelm Schubart and was the subject of a thorough study by Giovanni Menci (see also Turner and Parsons, 21). Menci noted that these types of serifs were used across different handwriting styles and were added to several different hands across the centuries (Menci, 48-50). Menci also mentions that the first and second centuries CE were the high point in serifed writing and notes that the hands that became dominate in the later centuries do not exhibit the "decorated style" (Menci, 49-51). In support of this observation, Turner noted (before Menci's study) that there where few securely dated examples of serifed writing in this "informal round" style found in the third century noting two in the first half of the third century at the extreme end of a four hundred year life, P.Oxy 42.3030 and P.Oxy 43.3093.

P.Oxy 42.3030

P.Oxy 43.3093

Without knowing for sure what Diocletian's "best writing" is referring to, it might be that, due to the ever increasing cost in paying a scribe to copy out a book, more serifed writing styles ("Diocletian's "best writing") may have dropped out of vogue due to pressures of economy.


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

Duncan-Jones, R.P., "The Impact of the Antonine Plague," in Journal of Roman Archaeology 9 (1996): 108-136.

Harper, Kyle, "The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire" (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017).

Menci, Giovanni, "Scritture greche librarie con apici ornamentali," in Scrittura e Civilta 3 (1979): 23-53.

Scheidel, Walter, "A Model of Demographic and Economic Change in Roman Egypt After the Antonine Plague" in the Journal of Roman Archaeology 15: 97-114.

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).

Turner, E.G, "Greek Papyri: An Introduction" (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968).

Zwalve, Willem, "Codex Justinianus 6.21.1: Florus's Case," pg. 367-378 in "Crises and the Roman Empire" (Leiden: Brill, 2007).

Monday, April 13, 2020

Did the New Testament Autographs Wear Out?

P.Fam.Tebt. 15. British Library Papyrus 1885 (ca. 114 CE)
It has been a common statement for scholars to claim that the autographs of the New Testament writings would have worn out quickly through their frequent use. Metzger's comments in his The Text of The New Testament are representative;
"Their [the autographs] early loss is not surprising, for during persecutions the toll taken by imperial edicts aiming to destroy all copies of the sacred books of Christians must have been heavy. Furthermore, simply the ordinary wear and tear of the fragile papyus, on which at least the shorter Epistles of the New Testament had been written (see the reference to χαρτης in 2 John, verse 12), would account for their early dissolution. It is not difficult to imagine what would happen in the course of time to one much-handled manuscript, passing from reader to reader, perhaps from church to church (see Col. 4.16) and suffering damage from the fingers of eager, if devout readers as well as from climatic changes." Metzger and Erhman, p. 266, footnote 20)
Though these kinds of statements about the autographs appear reasonable, they are rarely supported by any actual evidence.
A recent issue of Mnemosyne highlights some documentary evidence that might shed light on these common claims of the New Testament autographs wearing out.
Mark de Kreij, Daniela Colomo, Andrew Lui, “Shoring Up Sappho: P.Oxy. 2288 and Ancient Reinforcements of Bookrolls,” Mnemosyne (2020):1-34.
This article discusses in detail a fragment of Sappho's Ode to Aphrodite with an underlying layer of papyrus used as a repair to the Sappho roll. It is section 4 of the article that is relevant to the New Testament autographs, "Papyri Repaired or Reinforced in Antiquity." This is a brilliant discussion of the remains of two papyri that were part of a family archive in Tebtunis Egypt. There was a dispute regarding the poor state of the documents found in the public archives of the Arisinoites. The first papyrus P.Fam.Tebt. 15 dates to ca. 114 CE, and the second, P.Fam.Tebt. 24 dates to 124 CE.

The court case involved the terrible state the public archived documents were in. Accusations arose between clerks charged with the care of the archival rolls and there were disputes as to whom the responsibility of repairing the documents fell. It is apparent that the records were in disrepair for some years as the earliest reference to the poor state of the archive was made in 71 CE (Jennifer Cromwell, "Law and the Art of Bookroll Maintenance," Papyrus Stories). The disputes between clerks in taking responsibility in repairing the damaged rolls continued into the ensuing decades with the clerks' heirs. Eventually the Prefect steps in to settle the argument (for a summary of the entire dispute spanning decades and involving the heirs see P.Fam.Tebt 24).

The relevance to the longevity of New Testament autographs can be found in the description of the state of the papyrus documents;
"The documents shown to me by the clerk Leonidas … were in some cases deprived of their beginning, or damaged, or moth-eaten, and do not allow an estimation of the cost of the διακόλησις." (P.Fam.Tebt. 15, ll. 35-37. transl. by the authors)
The beginning and end of these documents were missing and other damage such as by moths is mentioned. The explanation as to why these records were in such a poor state comes later;
"Since the books have been hastily moved from one place to another, repeatedly, lying on top of each other and unattached, due to the quantity, since the nome is so large, and since they are being handled daily, and their material is brittle, it happened that some were destroyed in parts, some others were without beginnings, and some had even fallen apart." (P.Fam.Tebt. 15, lines 68-71. transl. by the authors)
It is this description of the worn papyrus rolls and other documents that sheds some light on the autographs of the New Testaments writings. If the New Testament writings began to be copied and distributed rapidly (within a few years) throughout the first century Mediterranean world, then it is possible that the "autographs" (however one may define this) would have been subjected to similar miss-handling and damage through frequent use.
It is difficult to know precisely how long these official archival records were in a bad state, though it is clear that they were in a poor condition for at least forty years. Significant portions of these documents had to be reconstructed from duplicate archives.
"And Mettius wrote to Archelaus, sometime strategos, to make sure that we copied the missing parts from the documents entered at Alexandria and completed those rolls in the archive that are without beginnings." (P.Fam.Tebt. 15, ll. 83-85. transl. by the authors)
It is important to note here that there was text missing from these documents that had to be compared with duplicate copies in Alexandria for the missing text to be restored. Thus, if the state of these records can be compared with the "original" copies (however one may define this) of the New Testament writings, then their ability to be used by scribes as master copies in order to transcribe new copies would greatly diminish at a rapid rate. Using the example of the archival documents, within a period of 50 years the "autographs" of some of the New Testament writings could have been in an almost unusable state of preservation.



Mark de Kreij, Daniela Colomo, Andrew Lui, “Shoring Up Sappho: P.Oxy. 2288 and Ancient Reinforcements of Bookrolls,” Mnemosyne (2020): 1-34.

Metzger, Bruce Manning, and Bart D. Ehrman. The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration. 4th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Origen: Comparing his Manuscripts to Jewish Copies

In the midst of discussing a textual reading at John 1:28 in his "Commentary on John" Origen of Caesarea (ca. 184 - 253 CE) waxed long on the various place names found in the Gospel accounts and the variations in spelling that can be seen in the manuscript tradition.
“We are aware of the reading which is found in almost all the copies, "These things were done in Bethany." This appears, moreover, to have been the reading at an earlier time; and in Heracleon we read "Bethany." We are convinced, however, that we should not read "Bethany," but "Bethabara." We have visited the places to enquire as to the footsteps of Jesus and His disciples, and of the prophets. Now, Bethany, as the same evangelist tells us, was the town of Lazarus, and of Martha and Mary; it is fifteen stadia from Jerusalem, and the river Jordan is about a hundred and eighty stadia distant from it. Nor is there any other place of the same name in the neighbourhood of the Jordan, but they say that Bethabara is pointed out on the banks of the Jordan, and that John is said to have baptized there." (Comm.  Jo. 6.24)
I find it fascinating that Origen is validating the proper spelling, and ultimately, the location of these various places with his own first hand knowledge of the geography of Palestine. He talks of having walked in some of the regions discussed and even gives some distances between locations. Origen places greater confidence in his first hand knowledge rather than the manuscripts in his possesion because he states that,
"In the matter of proper names the Greek copies are often incorrect." (Comm. Jo. 6.24)
The inaccuracies of the Greek copies as to place names is not not limited to the Gospels alone. Origen laments that certain Greek translations of the Old Testament are also allegedly filled with errors. Origen goes on to say,
"The same inaccuracy with regard to proper names is also to be observed in many passages of the law and the prophets, as we have been at pains to learn from the Hebrews, comparing our own copies with theirs which have the confirmation of the versions, never subjected to corruption, of Aquila and Theodotion and Symmachus." (Comm. Jo. 6.24)
Origen is in the habit of comparing his copies of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament  ("the law and the prophets") with the copies in the posession of the local Jewish community. Apparently Origen had a good working relationship with these local Jewish scholars and was able to cross check his own copies of the scriptures with those in the posession of the Jewish community. 


Roberts, Alexander, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, translators. Ante-Nicene Fathers The Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325. Volume 9, the Gospel of Peter, the Diatessaron of Tatian, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Vision of Paul. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1906).

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Seneca the Younger on Quality Texts

Brian J. Wright has published an excellent book that covers, quite exhaustively, communal reading events in the first century; Communal Reading in the Time of Jesus: A Window into Early Christian Reading Practices (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017). The work is a gold mine of references to little known primary source materials relating to communal reading. One particular nugget that Wright mentions is in reference to Seneca the Younger (4 BCE - 65 CE: p. 99-100). In his famous work, "On Anger" (De Ira), Seneca analyses circumstances that can lead to anger. In one such passage he discusses a poorly copied book.

"We are angry, either with those who can, or with those who cannot do us an injury. To the latter class belong some inanimate things, such as a book, which we often throw away when it is written in letters too small for us to read, or tear up when it is full of mistakes, or clothes which we destroy because we do not like them. How foolish to be angry with such things as these, which neither deserve nor feel our anger! "But of course it is their makers who really affront us." I answer that, in the first place, we often become angry before making this distinction clear in our minds, and secondly, perhaps even the makers might put forward some reasonable excuses: one of them, it may be, could not make them any better than he did, and it is not through any disrespect to you that he was unskilled in his trade: another may have done his work so without any intention of insulting you: and, finally, what can be more crazy than to discharge upon things the ill-feeling which one has accumulated against persons?" (Ira 2.26)

As many know, in the trash mounds of ancient Oxyrhynchus were found many discarded books, Christian and non-Christian works. Many of them appear to have been torn-up before they were cast into the garbage dump (see Anne Marie Luijendijk on this phenomena). Of course we can never know for certain, yet Seneca's comments may apply to some of the fragments of books discovered in places like Oxyrhynchus. Perhaps their owners were disgusted with the perceived poor quality of the text or the style of writing employed. Considering the cost of making a book at this time, Seneca's comments reflect the vain anger of a member of Rome's wealthy elite who can afford to throw something as costly as a book away simply because they do not like it.


Anne Marie Luijendijk, “Sacred Scriptures as Trash: Biblical Papyri from Oxyrhynchus.” Vigiliae Christianae 64:3 (2010): 217-54.

Aubrey Stewart, trans. L. Annaeus Seneca, Minor Dialogs Together with the Dialog "On Clemency" (Bohn's Classical Library Edition; London, George Bell and Sons, 1900)

Monday, February 10, 2020

Interview With Stephen Boyce on "Myths About Autographs"
Click to Play YouTube Video

Here is an interview that I had with Stephen Boyce of City Light Church. We talked about my chapter "Myths About Autographs: What They Were and How Long They May Have Survived" in "Myths and Mistakes sin New Testament Textual Criticism" (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019). We discussed the definition of "Autograph" as it pertains to the New Testament writings and doctrinal statements, ancient publication, letter carriers, scribes, and textual corruption.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Review of Matthew Larsen "Gospels Before the Book"

The September 2019 issue of JETS published my review of

Matthew Larsen. "Gospels Before the Book." New York: Oxford University Press, 2018 (JETS 62.3 pg. 641-645).

The following post is taken from the text of my JETS review, minus the chapter summaries. Since the JETS review guidelines limit the word count of the reviews I was unable to quote the text of the cited primary sources. I decided to repost the evaluation portion of the JETS review and include the primary source quotations in order to allow readers to better follow the critical engagement.

The main thesis for "Gospels Before the Book" is largely built upon the idea that first-century notes (hypomnēmata) were not considered “bookish” or “finished" and would often be refashioned at will by users of these texts (or “authored,” to use Larsen’s term). However, when the primary sources cited are given a closer reading, they actually push back against this idea. For example, Larsen refers to the hypomnēmata of Cicero’s consulship, stating that the “goal was to script unfinished pre-literary raw material” and that this material was not meant “to be thought of as public” even though these hypomnēmata “were in circulation” (pp. 13–14). He uses the example of Cicero and Caesar’s Gallic Wars (which were also notes) to argue that these hypomnēmata were really considered “pre-books” by ancient readers (p. 14). Yet, in both the letters to Atticus, Cicero referred to these very same notes as a completed book (Latin, liber) (Att. 1.20; 2.1).
"Of my writings I send you my consulship in Greek completed. I have handed that book to L. Cossinius. My Latin works I think you like, but as a Greek you envy this Greek book. If others write treatises on the subject I will send them to you, but I assure you that, as soon as they have read mine, somehow or other they become slack." (Att. 1.20)
"On the 1st of June, as I was on my way to Antium, and eagerly getting out of the way of M. Metellus's gladiators, your boy met me, and delivered to me a letter from you and a history of my consulship written in Greek. This made me glad that I had some time before delivered to L. Cossinius a book, also written in Greek, on the same subject, to take to you. For if I had read yours first you might have said that I had pilfered from you. Although your essay (which I have read with pleasure) seemed to me just a trifle rough and bald, yet its very neglect of ornament is an ornament in itself, as women were once thought to have the best perfume who used none. My book, on the other hand, has exhausted the whole of Isocrates's unguent case, and all the paint-boxes of his pupils, and even Aristotle's colours. This, as you tell me in another letter, you glanced over at Corcyra, and afterwards I suppose received it from Cossinius. I should not have ventured to send it to you until I had slowly and fastidiously revised it. However, Posidonius, in his letter of acknowledgment from Rhodes, says that as he read my memoir, which I had sent him with a view to his writing on the same subject with more elaboration, he was not only not incited to write, but absolutely made afraid to do so. In a word, I have routed the Greeks. Accordingly, as a general rule, those who were pressing me for material to work up, have now ceased to bother me. Pray, if you like the book, see to there being copies at Athens and other Greek towns for it may possibly throw some lustre on my actions." (At. 2.1)
Cicero also requested Atticus to make copies to be distributed in Athens and other Greek towns so that these transcripts could be read as a completed standalone composition (Att. 2.1). Cicero had previously sent copies to others, such as Posidonius, in order to use as material for a more “polished" piece. Despite this, Cicero appears to treat Posidonius’s history (if he were to have authored it) as a potentially separate work. This history would have had a different author with recognizable additions and alterations to his own notes (Att. 2.1). Cicero would not have considered Posidonius’s history the same writing as his own notes (though altered), which Larsen appears to be arguing. The same can be said about the conclusions drawn from Pliny the Elder’s annotations and the poet Martial. Pliny the Younger gave an account in one of his letters concerning his uncle, Pliny the Elder. Apparently his uncle had kept copious unpublished notes (commentarii) of all his reading and studying. These texts were offered to be purchased by Larcius Licinus for the astonishing sum of 400,000 sesterces (as observed by Larsen, pp. 17–18).
"Such was the application which enabled him to compile all those volumes I have enumerated, and he left me one hundred and sixty commonplace books, written on both sides of the scrolls, and in a very small handwriting, which really makes the number of the volumes considerably more. He used to say that when he was procurator in Spain he could have sold these commonplace books to Largius Licinus for four hundred thousand sesterces, and at that time they were much fewer in number"(Pliny, Ep. 3.5)
Apparently, Martial helps explain why such an enormous sum was offered for Pliny the Elder’s commentarii. In Epigr. 1.66, Martial complained that someone had stolen his writings and exhorted the thief that instead of stealing his work this person should have looked for “unpublished poems and raw pieces of writing, which only one person knows” (p. 18). 
"You are mistaken, insatiable thief of my writings, who think a poet can be made for the mere expense which copying, and a cheap volume cost. The applause of the world is not acquired for six or even ten sesterces. Seek out for this purpose verses treasured up, and unpublished efforts, known only to one person, and which the father himself of the virgin sheet, that has not been worn and scrubbed by bushy chins, keeps sealed up in his desk. A well-known book cannot change its master. But if there is one to be found yet unpolished by the pumice-stone, yet unadorned with bosses and cover, buy it: I have such by me, and no one shall know it. Whoever recites another's compositions, and seeks for fame, must buy, not a book, but the author's silence." (Martial, Ep. 1.66)
For Martial, one should attempt to publish someone else’s work as their own only when that work had never circulated, this is because, according to Martial, “A famous book cannot change its master” (p. 18). Rather than supporting Larsen’s thesis here, Martial reveals that commentarii and hypomnēmata (or any other written piece) could be refashioned into a different composition by another author only when this material had not yet gone into circulation and become known. This was because the author would have considered this misappropriation a theft and not the normal use of texts already in circulation (as Martial did in Ep. 1.66). This is why Licinus offered such a large sum for Pliny the Elder’s material; they were unpublished and thus no one would know that Licinus was not their author. Therefore, Martial actually reveals that the publication and circulation of a writing was a definitive point at which a text became more or less fixed, not more fluid. The physician Galen provides a good example of this phenomenon. In his On My Own Books he describes how many of his lecture transcripts were given to his friends and students for their own personal use and edification (De libr. propr. 19.10). These notes were circulated widely without his consent and were altered, misappropriated, and plagiarized by others (De libr. propr. 19.10). His students informed Galen of the situation, gathered these aberrant copies, and gave them back to Galen so that he could then correct them (De libr. propr. 19.10).
“[M]y books have been subject to all sorts of mutilations, whereby people in different countries publish* different texts under their own names, with all sorts of cuts, additions, and alterations—I decided it would be best, first to explain the cause of these mutilations, and secondly to give an account of the content of each of my genuine works. Well, as for the fact of my books being published by many people under their own names, my dearest Bassus, you know the reason yourself: it is that they were given without inscription to friends or pupils, having been written with no thought for publication, but simply at the request of those individuals, who had desired a written record of lectures they had attended. When in the course of time some of these individuals died, their successors came into possession of the writings, liked them, and began to pass them off as their own.[ . . .]* Taking them from their owners, they returned to their own countries, and after a short space of time began to perform the demonstrations* in them, each in some different way. All these were eventually caught, and many of those who then recovered the works affixed my name to them. They then discovered discrepancies between these and copies in the possession of other individuals, and so sent them to me with the request that I correct them.”(De  libr.  propr.  19.10).
This account effectively acts against Larsen’s thesis. Though these copies were crude and had no title or name affixed, Galen and his friends and students took issue with their alteration and appropriation by others. Even though they were mere “notes” he still considered them his own writings. Larsen attempts to use Galen as an example of this type of material being treated as fluid texts (pp. 29–30). Though his compositions were misappropriated and altered by others, these were considered corruptions, clear additions to Galen’s definitive writings, and his students worked hard to correct these alterations. This would not have occurred if this type of alteration and appropriation of notes was a culturally acceptable practice as Larsen attempts to argue. Despite these difficulties, Larsen goes on to apply to the Gospel of Mark his unique reading of the primary sources, declaring that “[t]here is no evidence of someone regarding the gospel [Mark] as a discrete, stable, finished book with an attributed author until the end of the second century CE” (p. 1). A few lines later he states that “there is no evidence of the idea of gospel as a gospel book with an author until much later” (p. 2). Despite this claim being an argument from silence, Justin Martyr provides early second century evidence that Mark was likely considered a separate and distinct composition referred to as a “Gospel.” In his Dialogue with Trypho, Justin makes a clear reference to Mark 3:16–17 (Dial. 106).
"And when it is said that He changed the name of one of the apostles to Peter; and when it is written in the memoirs of Him that this so happened, as well as that He changed the names of other two brothers, the sons of Zebedee, to Boanerges, which means sons of thunder."(Dial. 106)
Larsen agrees that Justin does appear to make reference to Mark, “[h]e does not, though, call the text ‘the Gospel according to Mark’ nor even use the name ‘Mark’” (p. 92 n. 52; p. 180). This is not entirely correct, however, for in his First Apology Justin does refer to these writings as the “memoirs [ἀπομνημονεύματα] of the apostles” that were also called “Gospels” and these texts were handed down from previous generations (1 Apol. 1.66).

“For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them.” (1 Apol. 1.66)
Contrary to Larsen’s claim, something like the Gospel of Mark was read by Justin and referred to as a “Gospel” that had recognizable contours as a distinct composition. It was passed down from former Christians and was read alongside the writings of the prophets in Sunday worship services in the first half of the second century (1 Apol. 1.67). 
"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. 1.67)
Concerning Papias’s statements about the composition of Mark and Matthew preserved in Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History, Larsen claims that Matthew did not write “a separate gospel” from Mark, rather, he merely placed Mark’s copying of Peter’s preaching “in an interpretive arrangement” (p. 92).

"But now we must add to the words of his which we have already quoted the tradition which he gives in regard to Mark, the author of the Gospel.
This also the presbyter said: 

"Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, he followed Peter, who adapted his teaching to the needs of his hearers, but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord's discourses, so that Mark committed no error while he thus wrote some things as he remembered them. For he was careful of one thing, not to omit any of the things which he had heard, and not to state any of them falsely." 
These things are related by Papias concerning Mark.
"But concerning Matthew he writes as follows: So then Matthew wrote the oracles in the Hebrew language, and every one interpreted them as he was able."" (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 3.39)
This highly speculative reading of Papias is largely based upon the “ancient writing practices and modes of authorship” discussed earlier (p. 92). As analyzed above, however, the ancient sources do not support the thesis concerning hypomnēmata. A simple reading of Eusebius’s quotation of Papias reveals that two distinct authors with two distinct writings are in view. Overall, Larsen’s thesis that hypomnēmata were textually fluid holds true only for those texts that remain uncirculated (as Martial reveals in Ep. 1.66). Once released and disseminating, whether intended by the author or not, the written material becomes “fixed” and distinctions between the initially released text and alterations are often made known in the community of readers (as Galen reveals in De libr. propr. 19.10). Therefore, Larsen’s conclusions ring hollow, that “[n]ew theories and frameworks must be developed that take textual fluidity seriously and do not rely on notions like author, book, or finished versions of text” (p. 154). The primary sources referenced in Gospels Before the Book reveal that first and second century figures actually did interact with texts in the ways that Larsen attempts to argue against. In other words, they did interact with writings using concepts “like author, book, [and] finished versions of text” (p. 154). Though most of the work remains unconvincing, there are one or two aspects of Gospels Before the Book that might commend it to those who lack knowledge of ancient publication. The monograph does survey an array of Greek, Roman, and Jewish primary sources. These could instruct those who are uninformed on ancient practices of composition and circulation as they relate to Gospel studies and textual criticism.
Cicero's Letters to Atticus English translations taken from here
Eusebius Church History English translations taken from here
Galen, "Selected Works" (P. N. Singer, trans. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997)

Justin Martyr, "First Apology" English translation taken from here
Justin Martyr, "Dialogue With Typho" English translation taken from here
Pliny he Younger's Letters English translation taken from here

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Paul’s Letter Carriers Tychicus And Onesimus

Ancient writings were largely circulated within communities through copying and distributing, with no legal copyright or formal system to control plagiarism. Once a work began to circulate the author became powerless to control the quality of the copying process or to select the audience that would read the work. The permanency of writing and the lack of control over who came into contact with a composition often led authors to exercise caution concerning the work they committed to writing. This realization was expressed well by Plato (ca. 370’s BCE), who wrote,
"Once a thing is put in writing, the composition, whatever it may be, drifts all over the place, getting into the hands not only of those who understand it, but equally of those who have no business with it; it does not know how to address the right people and not to address the wrong. And when it has been ill-treated and unfairly abused it always needs its parent to come to its help, being unable to defend or help itself.” (Plato, Phaedrus 275 d-e; Alexander, 54-55)
The physician Galen (ca. 160’s CE) expressed a strikingly similar concern. He feared that his lectures would disseminate more broadly than those who were present at the time a lecture or demonstration was given (Mattern, 12). In one particular instance, Galen told of a public demonstration in which he was speaking about several ancient medical writers. The demonstration quickly escalated into a debate between Galen and a follower of Martialius (a rival physician). Galen’s criticism and debate with the follower of Martialius drew great praise from those present who were watching the spectacle. Because of the fame, Galen wrote that a friend
“begged me to dictate what I had said to a person he would send to me who was trained in a form of shorthand writing, so that, if he suddenly had to leave Rome for his home city, he would be able to use it against Martialius during examinations of patients. When I subsequently returned to Rome on my second visit (at the summons of the emperors), the friend who had taken this document had died; but to my amazement the book, written in the context of the rivalry of a particular moment, and while I was quite young (still in my thirty-fourth year), was now in the possession of a large number of people. (De libr. propr., 14-15; Translation taken from, Singer).
Galen regretted that this debate, meant for a specific audience in a unique context, had disseminated so widely and vowed never to give a public lecture again.

The lack of control by the author over a written work that was circulating was also felt by those who wrote and dispatched letters. During Cicero’s time (60-40’s BCE) the crumbling Roman Republic was fraught with political intrigue and Cicero had to be sure that letters to his friends did not contain any sensitive political or military information. To combat this danger he would send verbal messages along with the written epistle which were conveyed to the letter carrier, who was charged with delivering this verbal message along with the written dispatch. Following are a few of these examples.

In June 48 (BCE), Cicero wrote to his longtime friend Atticus,

“You ask me about the war news. You will be able to learn it from Isidorus [the courier of this letter]. It looks as if what remains won't be too difficult. Do please see to what you know I have most at heart [Tullia's dowry]. ... Brutus is my friend; he is zealous in the cause. That is as much as I can prudently put on paper.” (Att. 11.4a; Nicholson, 42)
In another letter he wrote to Atticus,
“You will be able to learn what is going on here [at Pompey's camp in Dyrrachium] from the bearer of this letter.” (Att. 11.3.1; June 48 (BCE); Nicholson, 42)
To Appius Claudius, Cicero wrote in July 51 (BCE),
“I arrived at Tralles on 27 July. There to meet me was L. Lucilius [otherwise unknown] with your letter and messages. You could not have sent me any friendlier or, as I suppose, better qualified or more sensible informant to tell me what I want to know. I was glad to read your letter, and I have listened carefully to Lucilius.” (Fam. 3.5.1; Nicholson, 42)
There are a few instances in the Pauline corpus that exhibit a similar practice as illustrated by the example of Cicero. Scholars have argued that the letter carrier would read out and even perform the message of Paul’s epistle, though other scholars argue against this practice (for a brief overview with examples and references, see Head, 280-282). It is true, however, that Paul sometimes incorporated a verbal message along with the written contents of the letter both of which were conveyed by the dispatch carrier. This can be seen in the role of Tychicus and Onesimus the couriers who brought Paul’s letter to the Church at Colossae. At the end of the epistle Paul wrote,
“Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother in the Lord. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts, and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here.” (Col. 4:7-9: ESV: Head, 280)
There are many reasons that a letter writer might wish to convey a message verbally rather than in writing (for several examples from the Oxyrhynchus papyri see Head, 289-296). And Paul could have given verbal messages for those reasons. It is also equally possible that Paul wished to control the audience of this message and did not wish for the details of his circumstance to fall into the wrong hands. Paul always had intended his letter to the Church at Colossae to be circulated widely beyond the original recipients (Col. 4:16). Paul was in prison at the time of writing (Col. 4:18) and it is possible that Tychicus and Onesimus had sensitive information about his imprisonment that Paul did not want to be widely circulated. Peter noted at the end of his epistle that there were those who were twisting the words of Paul’s epistles,
“And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” (2 Pet. 3:15-16; ESV)
Of course, there could be many other reasons for conveying a message orally, yet Paul might have needed to exercise control over who heard this information because of his captivity. In his letter to the Philippian Church Paul notes that his imprisonment became widely known “throughout the whole imperial guard” (Phil 1:13; ESV). He also shared that though some Christians were emboldened by his imprisonment, others were preaching the Gospel from “envy and rivalry”(Phil 1:15, 17). This “rivalry” was somehow connected with the occasion of Paul’s imprisonment, these individuals were seeking to harm Paul in some way (Phil 1:15, 17; ESV). In light of this, Paul had every reason to exercise caution in purveying news of his imprisonment. 

Alexander, Loveday. “Luke’s Preface in the Context of Greek Preface-Writing.” Novum Testamentum 28.1 (1986): 48-74.

Galen, Selected Works (P. N. Singer, trans. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).

Head, Peter M. "Named letter-carriers among the Oxyrhynchus Papyri." Journal For The Study Of The New Testament 31, no. 3 (March 1, 2009): 279-299.

Mattern, Susan P. Galen and the Rhetoric of Healing (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008).

Nicholson, John. “The Delivery and Confidentiality of Cicero's Letters.” The Classical Journal 90.1 (1994): 33-63