Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Greek Palaeography: Bookhands of the Imperial Peak

The previous post discussed the type of writing used for copying Greek literature, the bookhand. During the Roman imperial era, this handwriting was bilinear, that is, each letter was written between two parallel imaginary lines. This period is often referred to as the "Imperial Peak" because there is an increase in the number of ancient papyri preserved from this time. Several styles of bookhands developed during the Roman era. This abundance of writing samples has allowed scholars to study the development of these various hand writing styles. This is good news for scholars who are assigning dates to early Christian papyri. The earliest copies of the New Testament writings have been dated during this "imperial peak," from the 2nd through the 4th centuries. In regard to the Roman period, Cavallo wrote;

"[Bookhands], in the course of this period not only reach full maturity but also exhibit a typological variety that allows us to distinguish a whole series of graphic streams sometimes also visible in documents, thereby enabling us to arrive at better-founded dates." (Cavallo, "Greek and Latin Writing in the Papyri, p. 112)

During this period, there are several main types of what palaeographers refer to as “scripts,” that is, a type of handwriting used by a scribe that has common stylistic features.

Round Majuscule (Turner: Formal Round)
(In use ca. 1st to the 2nd century CE)
Characterized by the “Hawara Homer” papyrus

Biblical Majuscule
(In use ca. 2nd to the 9th or 10th century CE)
Characterized by Codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus

Alexandrian Majuscule (Turner: Informal Round)
(In use ca. 2nd to the 8th century CE)
Characterized by PSI V 446

Severe Style (Turner: Formal Mixed)
(In use ca. 2nd to the 3rd century CE)
Characterized by the “Bacchylides” papyrus

Ogival Majuscule (Pointed Majuscule)
Developed from the "Severe Style"
(In use ca. 3rd to the 11th century CE)
Upright type characterized by P.Oxy XI 1352
Sloping type characterized by PSI X 1165

Though the development of these scripts are discernible in the papyri, palaeographers are careful not to assign too narrow a date to any particular manuscript. Turner wrote,

"For book hands a period of 50 years is the least acceptable spread of time. A palaeographer familiar with the material will refuse assent to a precise date allocated to a manuscript simply by comparison with other texts and by no other criterion." (Turner, GMAW, p. 23)

Select Bibliography

Bianconi, Daniele. "Greek Palaeography." Pages 297-305 in Comparative Oriental Manuscript Studies: An Introduction. Edited by, Alessandro Bausi, Pier Giorgio Borbone, Françoise Briquel-Chatonnet, Paola BuziJost Gippert, Caroline Macé, Marilena Maniaci, Zisis Melissakis, Laura E. Parodi, Witold Witakowski, Eugenia Sokolinski. Hamburg: Tredition, 2015.

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.

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

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.

(Round Majuscule) "Hawara Homer" P.Haw 24-28
(Biblical Majuscule) Codex Sinaiticus
(Alexandrian Majuscule) PSI V 446
(Severe Style) Bacchylides Papyrus [PSI V 446]

(Upright Ogival Majuscule) P.Oxy XI 1352

(Sloping Ogival Majuscule) PSI X 1165