Thursday, August 31, 2017

Divine Sanction Against the Corruption of Texts

Because there were no copyright laws and books stores in the Greco-Roman world, texts were primarily circulated through social contacts (see previous post, HERE and HERE). Once an text was released for circulation and began to enjoy broad circulation, authors effectively lost control over the fate of their work. Because of this, it was not uncommon for works of literature, poems, and speeches to be altered and plagiarized by others. Authors sometimes hoped to circumvent such alterations by issuing a warning against the corruption of their work, either through careless copying, outright alteration, or theft (plagiarizing). This kind of warning is used in Revelation 22:19 where John invoked the warning found in Deuteronomy 4:2,
"if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book." (Rev. 22:19; ESV) 
In the case of Christian authors and scribes, God's judgement was often given to those who would dare mutilate a text. Here are a some examples;

(ca. 180 CE) Irenaeus of Lugdunum, Gaul (modern day Lyons, France), in his "Against Heresies" discussed a variant reading for the 'mark of the beast' of Revelation in some manuscripts of his day (see previous post here). After noting that some inferior copies of Revelation read '616' instead of '666'  alluding to the curse found in Revelation 22:19 he wrote,
"there shall be no light punishment [inflicted] upon him who either adds or subtracts anything from the Scripture,under that such a person must necessarily fall." (Hear. 5.30.1; ANF 1:559)
(ca. 390 CE) Rufinus of Aquileia translated Origen's De principiis from Greek into Latin. In the preface to his translation he affixed a warning,
"[V]erily, in the presence of God the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I adjure and beseech every one, who may either transcribe or read these books, by his belief in the kingdom to come, by the mystery of the resurrection from the dead, and by that everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels, that, as he would not possess for an eternal inheritance that place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, and where their fire is not quenched and their worm dieth not, he add nothing to Scripture, and take nothing away from it, and make no insertion or alteration, but that he compare his transcript with the copies from which he made it, and make the emendations and distinctions according to the letter, and not have his manuscript incorrect or indistinct, lest the difficulty of ascertaining the sense, from the indistinctness of the copy, should cause greater difficulties to the readers" (De prin. praef.;ANF 4:238)
As Gamble noted in his "Books and Readers," Christians were not the only ancient writers and copyists to invoke a divine sanction against the corruption of a text. Artemidorus, writing about the same time as Irenaeus affixed at the end of his work on the interpretation of dreams.
"I ask those who read my books not to add or remove anything from the present contents. For any person who is able to add points to my work would more easily write a work of his own. And if certain things that I have written in these books seem superfluous, the reader should use only those things that please him without discarding the rest of the books. For he should realize that it was out of obedience to Apollo, the overseer god and guardian of all things in addition to being my own native god, that I undertook this treatise. Apollo has encouraged me in the past, and now especially, when I have made your acquaintance, he clearly presides over my work, and has all but commanded me to compose this work." (Oneir. 2.70; Gamble, "Books and Readers," 125)
In the case of Artemidorus, it is the god Apollo who entreated him to compose the work and it is Apollo who watches over his work so that it may not be corrupted through copying.

For further reading on the use of divine sanctions against the alteration of texts, see Michael J. Kruger, "Early Christian Attitudes toward the Reproduction of Texts," pages 63-80 in
 "The Early Text of the New Testament(Edited by C. R. Hill and Michael J. Kruger. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

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

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Pliny the Younger: Bestselling Author in Gaul

Greco-Roman authors largely preferred private copying through friends and acquaintances to publish their work over commercial book sellers (see previous post). Despite this, bookseller were utilized, even if in some type of limited capacity (see previous post). Once an author's text began to circulate outside of the author's circle of acquaintances, the author could lose all knowledge of where his works were being copied, sold, and read.
Horace (65-8 BCE) illustrated this well when he wrote that “[w]hat you have not published you can destroy; the word once sent forth can never come back” (Ars. 389-390). Once published, anyone who was unknown to the author could obtain a copy of the author's composition and distribute it across the Roman world. Yet, even in these circumstances, an author could learn the fate of their work. This occurred in the case of Pliny the Younger (ca. 100 CE), when he received a letter from a friend, Rosianus Geminus, who lived in Lugdunum, Gaul (modern day Lyon, France). Pliny wrote a letter in response,

"I have your letter, an especially welcome one as you want me to write you something which can be included in your published work. I will find a subject, either the one you suggested or something preferable, for yours may give offence in certain quarters - use your eyes and you will see. I didn't think there were any booksellers in Lugdunum, so I was all the more pleased to learn from your letter that my efforts are being sold. I'm glad they retain abroad the popularity they won in Rome, and I'm beginning to think my work must really be quite good when public opinion in such widely different places is agreed about it." (Ep. 9.11).
 We can see from Pliny's return letter that his books were quite popular in Gaul. Even in the case of anonymous booksellers acquiring and selling copies of Pliny's works abroad, he was still able to obtain information regarding them through his circle of acquaintances and friends. Thus, any major alterations, corruptions, or plagiarizing of his work (at least in Gual) could have been made known to him.

Statue of Pliny the Younger on the Cathedral of S. Maria Maggiore in Como

Horace. Satires, Epistles, and Ars Poetica (H. Rushton Faiclough, trans. LCL. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1942), 483.

Pliny. The Letters of the Younger Pliny (translated by Betty Radice. London: Penguin Books, 1969), 238-239.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Review of; "Walk Worthily" by Jeff Smelser

Walk Worthily: A Commentary on Ephesians.” By Jeff Smelser. Cillicothe, OH: DeWard Publishing Company, 2017, 273 pp., ISBN:9781936341948, $19.00.

Walk Worthily” is a commentary on the epistle of Ephesians by Jeff Smelser, who has written articles in several confessional periodicals and edits a website that hosts courses in New Testament Greek.[1] The ‘Preface’ indicates that “this work has been prepared having in mind the first or second year Greek student” (p. 10). Those seeking a highly technical commentary on the level of a “Hermenia” or “International Critical Commentary,” that exhaustively interacts with the scholarly literature and examines every textual variant may be disappointed. “Walk Worthily” is best suited for the pastor, beginning student, or layman.

Despite its beginner level, the introduction is quite comprehensive and at fifty pages, consumes roughly one fifth of the work. The length reveals the importance Smelser places upon a proper understanding of the historical setting and recipients of the epistle. He argues that issues of Pauline authorship can be resolved by accurately determining the intended recipients (p. 16). According to Smelser, the epistle was not written to the Ephesian church specifically, but rather was originally intended as an encyclical (p. 32-38).

He gives the resemblance of Ephesians to Colossians as evidence in favor of Pauline authorship arguing that the similarity reveals that both epistles were likely written at the same time and place (p. 16). Smelser compares the outline and wording of both epistles and concludes that both have similar main ideas (p. 17-24). Ephesians being at 4:1, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthily of the calling which you were called,” and Colossians being at 2:6, “Therefore as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, in him walk” (p. 24). Yet Colossians includes very specific and individualized comments, whereas Ephesians does not, which would be out of place if the Ephesians were the intended recipients, considering Paul’s long history with the Church there (cf. p. 25).

Another clue that allegedly points away from an original Ephesian destination is the overall gentile focus of the letter. Pointing to the events described in Acts 18 and 19, Smelser highlights the primary Jewish rather than gentile membership of the Church at Ephesus (p. 26-27). Thus, it seems out of place for a letter allegedly sent to the Church at Ephesus to be addressing gentiles primarily (p. 27).

The most convincing clue tipping away from an original Ephesian destination is of course the lack of the words “in Ephesus” in a few manuscripts. These are P46, Codex Sinaiticus, and Codex Vaticanus, among others, all of which are important witnesses to the text of Ephesians (p. 28). Also, several early Church fathers are witnesses to the lack of “in Ephesus” in the manuscript tradition. Origen (early 3rd cen. CE), and Basil (late 4th cen. CE) having extensive discussion of this verse (p. 29-30).

Accumulatively, the evidence discussed above has led the author to conclude that the letter of Ephesians was not originally intended for the Ephesian Church, but was meant as an encyclical letter, written at the same time as Colossians and Philemon, and carried by Tychicus to the various Churches in Asia Minor (p. 32). Smelser gives a detailed proposal as to the route Tychicus may have taken in bearing the letter (p. 33). He suggests that Tychicus traveled the “Syrian Gate” and left copies of the encyclical letter in the cities along the route, which included the city of Laodecia (p. 32-38). This might explain Marcion’s association of the letter with Laodicea (p. 30).

Rome rather than Ephesus or Caesarea is given as the likely place of composition (p. 43-50). A date range of composition at 60 CE and no later than 64 CE is assigned to the epistle based upon the details given in the book of Acts (p. 55). Smelser gives a lengthy chronological discussion of the events in Acts, anchoring his dates on the time of Gallio’s term as Procunsul of Achaea (p. 50-52).

In the text of the commentary Smelser focuses in at the verse and clause level, rather than at the discourse level. He begins each discussion by giving his own English translation of the verse under examination. In describing his intent behind the translation, he writes,
“I have not attempted to provide a fluid, easily readable translation. Rather, my goal has been to produce a translation that will facilitate ready comparison with the Greek text for those who have some knowledge of Greek.” (p. 10)
Though the author does not reproduce the Greek text for each verse in its entirety, however, he does include the text taken from the NA 28 when the discussion requires it.
Throughout the work Smelser references most of the standard Greek grammars and lexicons. According to the “Works Consulted” list in the back, the following original language resources were used (p. 267-273); C.F.D. Moule’s, “An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek,” Richard Chenevix Trench’s “Synonyms of the New Testament,” Daniel Wallace’s “Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics,” and Maximillian Zerwick, “Biblical Greek.” 

Unfortunately, this list is not representative of every work referenced within the commentary. Scanning through the footnotes the following sources were also consulted by the author; A.T. Roberton’s “A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in Light of Historical Reasearch,” “A Manual Gramar of the Greek New Testament,” Herbert Weir Smyth, “A Greek Grammar for Colleges,” Blass, Debrunner, and Funk, “A Greek Grammar of the New Testament,” Dana and Mantey, “A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament,” Kittel, Friedrich and Bromiley, “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament,” as well as BAGD, and BDAG.

Considering my own interests in textual criticism, composition, and publication of the New Testament writings, the introduction was the most interesting to read and thus garnered the most attention in this review. Smelser gives some great insight into the circumstances surrounding the composition and distribution of the letter. Despite this, I was disappointed at the lack of interaction with scholarly literature on this issue. There was no mention of G√ľnther Zuntz’s work and his discussion of encyclical Hellenistic royal letters extant in the papyri that had a blank space for the names of the recipients to be entered at each destination.

Despite the drawbacks, “Walk Worthily” is an affordably priced commentary that balances approachability with detailed analysis. Beginners will not be over intimidated by technicality and more advanced readers may yet find insight and scholarly commentary to satisfy their curiosity.
[1] For a list of his published articles see the website here.