Thursday, June 30, 2016

Quintilian, Transcriptions, Publication, and Mark's Gospel

Mark writing the Gospel, London Rothschild Hours

Quintilian, a famous orator from the later part of the first century CE (see previous post), wrote his most famous work "Institutes of Oratory" in response to requests made by his students. Apparently, his students and followers wished for Quintilian to put down his vast knowledge and experience in teaching and practicing the art of rhetoric into a more permanent written form (Pref. 1-3). He dedicated the work to Marcellus Victorius because of his "extraordinary love of letters" and because, Quintilian wrote, "my treatise seemed likely to be of use for the instruction of your son" (Pref. 6). 
It seems, however, that portions of Quintilian's teaching on rhetoric was already circulating in written form. He wrote that, 
"This I rather designed, because two books on 'The Art of Rhetoric' were already in circulation under my name, though neither published by me nor composed for that object, for after holding two days' discourse with me, some youths, to whom that time was devoted, had caught up the first by heart; the other, which was learned indeed in a greater number of days (as far as they could learn by taking notes), some of my young pupils, of excellent disposition, but of too great fondness for me, had made known through the indiscreet honor of publication. In these books, accordingly, there will be some things the same, many altered, very many added, but all better arranged, and rendered, as far as I shall be able, complete." (Pref. 7-8)
It is clear that this work, "The Art of Rhetoric," contained transcriptions of Quintilian's lectures, but was not written by Quintilian himself, and was done without his knowlege. Though this writing was attributed to Quintilian, he did not regard it as a sanctioned work, fully polished and complete, worthy of circulation. He contrasted this poorly written transcription with his "Institutes," which was designed to teach "from the very cradle as it were of oratory, through all the studies which can at all assist the future speaker to the summit of that art" (Pref. 6). It was Quintilian's desire that this new, carefully crafted work would supplant the inferior transcription in circulation, for he told Victorius that the material in the "Institutes" was "better arranged, and rendered, as far as I shall be able, complete" (Pref. 8).

Quintilian's account of the transcription of his lectures being published, brings to mind Papias's account (ca. 100 CE) of the circumstances surrounding the composition of Mark's Gospel.
"And the Elder used to say this: 'Mark, having become Peter's interpreter, wrote down accurately everything he remembered, though not in order, of the things either said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, followed Peter, who adapted his teachings as needed but had no intention of giving an ordered account of the Lord's sayings. Consequently Mark did nothing wrong in writing down some things as he remembered them, for he made it his one concern not omit anything which he heard or to make any false statement in them." (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 3.39; Holmes, 569)
According to Papias, Mark copied down the teaching of Peter, arranged the material into a written document that contained everything that Peter taught. An interesting difference between Quintilian and Mark is that, in Quintilian's case, the transcriptions were circulated under his name, whereas, Mark's Gospel, as far as we know, was never circulated under Peter's name. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Mark was more instrumental in "composing" material while keeping it faithful to Peter's teaching. Also, Quintilian does not seem to be too pleased that this writing is circulating under his name and would rather have something more polished and complete attributed to him.

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

Quintilian. 2006. Institutes of Oratory. Ed. Lee Honeycutt. Trans. John Selby Watson. (accessed June 30, 2016).

Thursday, June 23, 2016

What Are the New Testament Autographs?

I am privileged to have an article published in the June issue of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society;

"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.

The abstract reads;

"This article explores the definition of the NT "autographs" as articulated in various inerrancy doctrinal statements. It begins by sketching the history of the doctrine of the inerrancy of the "autographs," followed by some modern criticisms of the doctrine. Greco-Roman publication composition and publication practices are surveyed by investigating three figures from the beginning of the Roman Imperial age through to its height: Cicero, Pliny the Younger, and Galen. Four extant examples of ancient papyrus "autographs" are examined, illustrating the draft and rewriting stages of composition. After analyzing Greco-Roman publication, a definition is proposed: in reference to the NT, the "autographs," as often discussed in biblical inerrancy doctrinal statements, should be defined as the completed authorial work which was released by the author for circulation and copying, not earlier draft versions or layers of composition."

A significant portion of the article focuses on select quotations from the letters and writings of Cicero, Pliny, and Galen illustrating that the writing process was often a long process which involved writing and rewriting. Friends and associates, scribes, and personal secretaries would often be a part of the editing process as well. All the while it was expected that these early draft stages of composition would not circulate beyond the immediate circle of associates who were offering feedback to these initial stages of composition. The key event that signaled the end of this process was the releasing of the work, by the author, for general circulation by the author's circle of acquaintances.
I also bring into the discussion a few extant examples of papyrus autographs. This is merely to illustrate that, usually, early stages of the writing process were characterized by rewriting, editing, deletions, and corrections. These papyrus copies were obviously not meant for wider circulation because they were incomplete. Of course, the event that would signal the completion of the composition process would be the releasing of the document for circulation by the author's associates.
Therefore, I think that, in light of this practice, the doctrinal statements should define the New Testament "autographs" in the same manner, that is, the completed form of the New Testament writings that were released for circulation.

Valentin de Boulogne, Apostle Paul Writing

Monday, June 20, 2016

Quintilian on Reading

While working my way through Raffaella Cribiore's "Writers, Teachers, and Students of Graeco-Roman Egypt," I came across an interesting comment made by Quintilian (95 CE) concerning the act of reading a text.

"The syllables once learnt, let him begin to construct words with them and sentences with words. You will hardly believe how much reading is delayed by undue haste. If the child attempts more than his powers allow, the inevitable result is hesitation, interruption and repetition, and mistakes which he makes merely lead him to lose confidence in what he already knows. Reading must therefore first be sure, then connected, while it must be kept slow for a considerable time, until practice brings speed unaccompanied by error. For to look to the right, which is regularly taught, and to look ahead depends not so much on precept as on practice; since it is necessary to keep the eyes on what follows while reading out what precedes, with the resulting difficulty that the attention of the mind must be divided, the eyes and voice being differently engaged." (Inst. Or. 1.1.31-34)

It is interesting that Quintilian is describing a very difficult multi-tasking operation in reading. The eyes must always be looking ahead at the text that is about to be read out-loud, in order to decipher the text while the voice is "speaking" the previous sections that had already been deciphered. The labor and effort in practicing this is apparent as Quintilian states that reading "must be kept slow for a considerable time." It seems that most of this difficulty was caused by the format of the bookroll, that is, the scriptio continua and the lack of punctuation and reader's aids.
Closeup of a Mosaic Depicting Virgil Holding a Bookroll


Butler, H. E., trans. The Institutio Oratio of Quintilian. Vol. 1. LCL. Harvard University Press; New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1920.

Cribiore, Raffaella. Writing, Teachers, and Students in Graeco-Roman Egypt. American Studies in Papyrology 36. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1996.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Moral Maxims, Education, and Codex Sinaiticus

Recently, I have been reading through Raffaella Cribiore's "Writing, Teachers, and Students in Graeco-Roman Egypt," who examines in detail the physical remains of Greek writing instruction on ostraca, papyrus, wooden and wax tablets, and codices. Many of these writing samples and exercises consist of "maxims and sayings of famous men" (pg. 46). These remains reflect the attitudes expressed by the famous rhetorician Quintilian (ca. 95 CE) who wrote,
"It will be found worth while, when the boy begins to write out words in accordance with usual practice, to see that he does not waste his labor in writing out common words of everyday occurrence. . . . I would urge that the lines, which he is set to copy, should not express thoughts of no significance, but convey some sound moral lesson. He will remember such aphorisms even when he is an old man, and the impression made upon his informed mind will contribute to the formation of his character." (Inst. Or. 1.1.34-36)
Quintilian is hardly innovative in urging young students to learn useful maxims and sayings from the greats of Greek and Roman literature, though, he may be one of the few who urge students to incorporate these in writing exercises. The fourth century BCE Greek statesman Aeschines, while quoting from Hesiod, mentioned in passing that "for this is the reason, I think, that in our childhood we commit to memory the sentiments of the poets, that when we are men we may make use of them" (Ctesiph. 135). This practice continued for some time for in the third century CE, Diogenes Laertius, while writing about the fourth century BCE philosopher Diogenes the Cynic, wrote,
"The boys used to get by heart many passages from poets, historians, and the writings of Diogenes himself; and he would practice them in every short cut to a good memory" (VI 31).
This practice of memorizing moral maxims and sayings continued for many centuries and students would learned them through copying them out in school exercises and singing them in songs and chants. Augustine of Hippo mentioned that he used to "commit to memory the wanderings of I know not what Aneas while I forgot my own: and to bewail dead Dido because she killed herself ," and he complained that "one and one makes two, and two and two makes four, was a harsh song to me" (Confess. 1.13).

It is possible that this ancient practice of incorporating moral maxims and sayings into songs and chants was continued in Christian education as well. In a paper published in 2014, I argued that certain scribal features, the use of "lists" in Codex Sinaiticus, preserve an ancient practice of Christian instruction.
"Codex Sinaiticus as a Window into Early Christian Worship." Eleutheria 3:1 Fall (2014): 2-19.
Codex Sinaiticus was copied in the standard scriptio continua with some reading aids such as ekthesis integrated into the layout of the columns. Yet, at select locations in the text, the scribes interrupted the steady stream of letters and placed on a line "only one key word or phrase" which left "a noticeable empty space on the right hand side of the column" ("Codex Sinaiticus," pg. 4). One interesting place where these lists were employed was at "two-ways" or "virtue and vice lists" in the New Testament and in the Epistle of Barnabas. The use of "virtue and vice lists" and "two ways" was a common method in giving moral instruction in both Jewish and Christian literature ("Codex Sinaiticus," pg. 9).
Codex Sinaiticus at Mark 7:21 (

It is likely that these paragraph lists were read differently than the surrounding text, either chanted or sung. Perhaps, following in the Graeco-Roman tradition, these areas in the text were formatted in a way that facilitated learning of these moral maxims. It is well known that the "colophons at the end of 2 Esdras and Esther indicate a possible connection with Pamphilus’ famous library at Caesarea in Palestine. Origen was head of a school for catechumens during his days in Alexandria in Egypt and later began a similar school in Caesarea. Pamphilus was Origen’s star pupil and later directed his school in Caesarea. These colophons may connect Sinaiticus with an ancient tradition of early Christian worship and instruction of new converts" (quoted from the article abstract).


Adams, Charles Darwin, trans. The Speeches of Aeschines. LCL. Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann. 1919.

Butler, H. E., trans. The Institutio Oratio of Quintilian. Vol. 1. LCL. Harvard University Press; New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1920.

Cribiore, Raffaella. Writing, Teachers, and Students in Graeco-Roman Egypt. American Studies in Papyrology 36. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1996.

Hicks, R. D., trans. Diogenes Laertius: The Lives of Eminent Philosophers. Vol. 2. LCL. Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann, 1925.

Watts, William, trans. St. Augustine's Confessions. Vol. 1. LCL. Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann, 1912.

Monday, June 6, 2016

P75, P66, and the Useful Life of Papyrus Codices

The Summer 2016 issue of The Journal of Biblical Literature published a new piece by Brent Nongbri, a researcher at Macquarie University of Sydney, Australia: 
"Reconsidering the Place of Papyrus Bodmer XIV–XV (𝔓75) in the Textual Criticism of the New Testament." Journal of Biblical Literature 135, no. 2 (2016): 405-37.
In this essay, Nongbri argues that Papyrus Bodmer XIV–XV (P75) should be dated into the fourth century (ca. 350 CE) rather than in the first half of the third century. This new proposed date is 100-150 years later than the traditional ca. 200-250 CE date. His essay follows a similar line of argumentation as in his previous article which contended for a fourth century date for P66 as well.
“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.
One interesting line of evidence which Nongbri brings to bear in these articles is that both codices appear to originate from the same ancient library/collection, the so-called Bodmer collection. A large portion of the collection dates into the 4th and 5th centuries. Therefore, Nongbri argues, this is evidence that both P66 and P75 date into the 4th century as well.

The Useful Life of Papyrus Codices.

I do not wish to debate the particulars of Nongbri's assessment, however, what I thought interesting was that the latest pieces included in the Bodmer collection date to the 5th century. And, if some of the additional papyri that Robinson contended were part of the assemblage as well, then the latest pieces date into the 6th or 7th centuries ("The Limits," pg. 25). What this means is that the manuscripts could not have been deposited in their location any earlier than the 5th century (probably the latter part of that century). Even if one agrees with Nongbri's 4th century date for P66 and P75, then these codices were in use for at least 100-150 years before they were discarded, add another 200 years if the collection was deposited in the 7th century. If the traditional dating holds for these codices (early third century) then we are looking at a useful life of 200-250 years, or, if the Bodmer papyri were deposited in the 7th century, 400-450 years of useful life.

In his masterful study of Roman libraries, George Houston noted the useful life of papyrus bookrolls:

"The identification of such collections, and of the manuscripts within them, provides new evidence on an old question: how long did a papyrus roll last? The evidence from our collections indicates that a usable lifetime of about 100 to 125 years was common and can reasonably be considered the norm; a small but significant number of manuscripts were still usable some 300 years after they were first created; and on rare occasions a manuscript might last, it seems, for half a millennium." (Inside Roman Libraries, p. 257)
The useful life of P66 and P75 appear to fall within the upper end of Houston's assessment. However, it is important to note that Houston's observations were specifically in regard to bookrolls and not codices (for the difference between bookrolls and codices read here). In the case of the Bodmer papyri, we have at least one instance from antiquity that confirms Houston's assessment with regard to the useful life of the papyrus codex as well.

The Marks of a Long Useful Life.

Nongbri notes that P75 had been rebound and repaired sometime in antiquity and bore other marks of continued use ("Reconsidering," pg. 431-432). Besides the evidence of rebinding, P75 has several interesting marginal notations that are not made by the original copyist's hand. Nongbri notes that at least two of these marginal notations use a 4th or 5th century majuscule hand ("Reconsidering," pg. 432-433).
P75 Marginal Note in Later Majuscule Hand
P75 Marginal Note in Later Majuscule Hand

Whether or not one agrees or disagrees with Nongbri's dating of P66 and P75 into the 4th century, he has teased out some very interesting details that highlight the long useful life of papyrus codices. Those who read them in antiquity obviously valued them. They repaired these books and rebound them. They studied their texts while making notes in the margin. These codices are more than just husks that carried texts, they are ancient artifacts that inform us on how early Christians used and valued these books.

(For more discussion on the useful life of papyrus books, read here, and read here)


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

Nongbri, Brent. "Reconsidering the Place of Papyrus Bodmer XIV–XV (𝔓75) in the Textual Criticism of the New Testament." Journal of Biblical Literature 135, no. 2 (2016): 405-37.

____________. “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.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Jerome Against Lavish Bible Manuscripts

Codex Palatinus
While reading through Hugh Houghton's excellent new work "The Latin New Testament," I came across an excellent reference to Jerome (p. 45; see also p. 45 note 5).

Jerome (ca. 347-420 CE), while residing in Rome, wrote to Eustochium (ca. 384), a woman who had placed herself under his spiritual guidance. In the letter Jerome set out the proper motives for those who wished to enter into a life of virginity. Also included in the letter was a vivid description of the decadence of the city of Rome. Among many other sins of extravagance Jerome mentions a curious trend of the Christians of Rome;
"Parchments are dyed purple, gold is melted into lettering, manuscripts are decked with jewels, while Christ lies at the door naked and dying." (Epist. 22; NPNF2 6:36)
In his Prologue to Job, Jerome wrote that he had worked hard at translating Job from Hebrew and Greek into Latin. In this prologue he described the horrid textual state of the Latin manuscripts of Job. Apparently responding to those who criticized his efforts, he wrote
"Let those who will keep the old books with their gold and silver letters on purple skins, or, to follow the ordinary phrase, in “uncial characters,” loads of writing rather than manuscripts, if only they will leave for me and mine, our poor pages and copies which are less remarkable for beauty than for accuracy."(NPNF2 6:492)
It seems that there where those who only cared about the beauty and craftsmanship of their manuscripts and not the accuracy of the text of the Bible that they contained. Christians also cared more about the appearance of piety, spending their money on lavish copies of the gospels, rather than on the furtherance of the gospel, or on the poor and needy. 
What is particularly interesting is that a "relatively high proportion of early Latin gospel books are written on purple parchment" (Houghton, p. 187). One in particular, Codex Palatinus, dates to the 4th-or 5th century (during the life-time of Jerome) and is written on purple dyed parchment with gold and silver lettering. Judging by the manuscript evidence, it seems that Jerome's criticisms were no exaggeration.


H. A. G. Houghton, "The Latin New Testament: A Guide to its Early History, Texts, and Manuscripts" (Oxford: OUP, 2016).