Sunday, March 22, 2015

Library Lists and Early Christian Canon

I recently finished reading through George W. Houston's Inside Roman Libraries: Book Collections and Their Management in Antiquity. Houston's detailed study of Roman libraries has opened new ways of looking at early Christian book collections (see previous entry on the useful life of ancient books).

Ancient Papyrus Book Lists
In chapter two of Inside Roman Libraries, Houston recounted an offhand remark that Cicero made to his slave-scribe Tiro;
Put the books away, and compile the list when Metrodorus [the doctor] tells you it’s OK, since you have to live by his instructions. (Cic. Fam. 16; Houston, Inside Roman Libraries, 39, n 1)
Apparently Tiro had fallen ill and Cicero was sending some books his way and wanted him to write up a list, an inventory of the collection, as soon as the physician gave Tiro a clean bill of health. Compiling an inventory list of a book collection was a common practice in antiquity as Cicero's comment to Tiro illustrates. Several of these lists have managed to survive into modern times (see picture of P.Ross.Georg. 1.22). Houston examined these surviving papyrus book lists in detail in chapter two of Inside Roman Libraries. Besides giving the author's name and the title of the work, some of these lists inventoried the books in alphabetical order by the author's name, indicated a particular work's completeness, that is, whether all of the work was represented, and the number of opisthographs [a book copied on the back of a re-used roll] (Houston, Inside Roman Libraries, 43). One list in particular may even have given some indication as to where the books in the list were stored, in a case, or in a specific room (Houston, Inside Roman Libraries, 84).
P.Ross.Georg. 1.22, an ancient book list

The Book Lists of Pamphilus
The previous article briefly examined the library of Pamphilus, the copies he produced, and the long useful life these manuscripts may have had. Houston's examination of ancient book lists illuminates another aspect of Pamphilus's scholarly activity, his cataloging of the library holdings. Eusebius wrote in his Church History;
After showing how great the diligence of Pamphilus was in divine things, we give in that a catalogue of the library which he collected of the works of Origen and of other ecclesiastical writers. Whoever desires may learn readily from this which of Origen’s works have reached us. (Hist. eccl. 6.32.3; NPNF 1:277)
Apparently in Eusebius's Life of Pamphilus, which is no longer extant, he gave a detailed list of the holdings of the Caesarean Library. This detailed list was made by Pamphilus himself and helped Eusebius indicate to his readers which works of Origen were still present in the library. Jerome may have also worked from these inventory lists, which were still available in the 5th century, in order to write-out the titles of Origen's works in his letter to Paula (Ep. 33; Gamble, Books and Readers, 157).

Eusebius also gave a detailed list of Clement of Alexandria's works (Hist. eccl. 6.13). It is possible that Eusebius was working from another inventory list of Pamphilus that cataloged the library's holdings of Clement's works. Jerome seems to have worked from the same list when he wrote about Clement in his Lives of Illustrious Men (Vir ill. 38). Of course, Jerome could have simply been working from Eusebius's Church History, but because the lists in Eusebius and Jerome differ slightly, it is more likely that they were working from a similar source.
It is possible that these works of Clement and Origen were recognizable collections in the library of Caesarea and kept in specific containers, shelves, or rooms. As mentioned above, Houston noted in Inside Roman Libraries, that some of the book lists preserved on papyrus actually gave a location for the cataloged books (p. 84). Houston also noted that some collections retained their identities for quite some time, such as the book collections of Lucullus and Sulla (p. 36) Galen mentioned that the collections of  “Callinia, Atticiana, and Peducaeana,” which contained accurate copies of various works, were destroyed in a fire (Houston, Inside Roman Libraries, 29). The book lists of Pamphilus, and the recognizable collections in the Library of Caesarea that they cataloged, would have been valuable for ancient scholars who sought out the authentic works of Clement and Origen. These book lists could have functioned as a means by which scholars could check copies of Origen's or Clement's works in order to verify their authenticity and check their textual accuracy.

Early Canon Lists
If we can take the Caesarean Library and the inventory lists as representative of other Christian libraries, and I think there is good reason to assume this. Then, Church libraries of major Christian centers such as Rome, Ephesus, Corinth, Smyrna, Antioch, and others, would have had similar inventory lists of their collections as well. Perhaps these lists aided early Christians in verifying certain writings as "authentically" apostolic. The author of the Muratorian fragment may have drawn upon just such a book-list when describing which writings were being read and accepted as authentically apostolic (Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament, 305-307). By comparing the inventory lists of major Christian centers, an ancient scholar would be able to determine which writings were being studied and/or read in the Churches.

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

Houston, George W. Inside Roman Libraries: Book Collections and Their Management in Antiquity. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2014

Metzger, Bruce Manning. The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987.

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