Monday, August 13, 2018

Aristides of Athens and Early Christian Writings

 Aristides was an Athenian Philosopher who lived sometime during the reign of Emperor Hadrian (117-138 CE). His apologetic work was good enough to have staying power because Eusebius, in his "Church History," makes reference to Aristides and his Apology (ca.325 CE),
"Aristides also, a believer earnestly devoted to our religion, left, like Quadratus, an apology for the faith, addressed to Hadrian. His work, too, has been preserved even to the present day by a great many persons." (Hist. Eccl. 4.3.3)
Jerome, in his "On Illustrious Men," also mentions Aristides and his Apology (ca. 393 CE).
"Aristides a most eloquent Athenian philosopher, and a disciple of Christ while yet retaining his philosopher's garb, presented a work to Hadrian at the same time that Quadratus presented his. The work contained a systematic statement of our doctrine, that is, an Apology for the Christians, which is still extant and is regarded by philologians as a monument to his genius." (De vir. 20)
In this Apologetic work Aristides compares the Christian God with the Pagan God's. At one point, Aristides begins to point Hadrian to the Christian scriptures or writings in order to validate his arguments.
"Take, then, their writings, and read therein, and lo! you will find that I have not put forth these things on my own authority, nor spoken thus as their advocate; but since I read in their writings I was fully assured of these things as also of things which are to come. And for this reason I was constrained to declare the truth to such as care for it and seek the world to come. And to me there is no doubt but that the earth abides through the supplication of the Christians. But the rest of the nations err and cause error in wallowing before the elements of the world, since beyond these their mental vision will not pass. And they search about as if in darkness because they will not recognize the truth; and like drunken men they reel and jostle one another and fall." (Apol. 16)
It appears that Aristides is stating that he was converted to Christianity after he accessed their writings and read them for himself. If we can trust his testimony here, I find it fascinating that Aristides was able to identify a collective body of recognizable Christian writings. In other words, there was at the time (ca. 117-138 CE), a collection of writings that were recognizable by a non-Christian outsider as their definitive supporting documents. In turn, Aristides expected Hadrian to be able to recognize these writings as well.
It is also interesting that these writings were even available to the outsider. Aristides does not mention how he obtained a copy, but it had to be either through a book seller, a library, a friend, or a Church. In the early decades of the second century, these early Christian writings were circulating to such a degree that a Philosopher in Athens could obtain copies and read them for himself.

Monday, August 6, 2018

A Text Without Martha: Implications of an Earlier Textual Layer of John’s Gospel

In a 2017 issue of Harvard Theological Review, Elizabeth Schrader (PhD student at Duke) published an article postulating an earlier textual layer of John’s Gospel that highlighted (to a greater extent than traditionally thought) the sister of Lazarus, Mary, in the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.
Elizabeth Schrader, “Was Martha of Bethany Added to the Fourth Gospel in the Second Century?” Harvard Theological Review 110.3 (2017): 360-392.
"This study examines the text transmission of the figure of Martha of Bethany throughout the Fourth Gospel in over one hundred of our oldest extant Greek and Vetus Latina witnesses. the starting point for this study is instability around Martha in our most ancient witnesses of John 11-12, Papyrus 66. By looking at P66's idiosyncrasies and then comparing them to the Fourth Gospel's greater manuscript transmission, I hope to demonstrate that Martha's presence shows significant textual instability throughout the Lazarus episode, and thus that this Lukan figure may not have been present in a predecessor text form of the Fourth Gospel that circulated in the second century." (Schrader, 360)

As Schrader notes in the introduction to the article, much of the argument depends on the textual idiosyncrasies of P66. In response, this post will focus on just two readings as they are found in P66. At John 11:1 Schrader argues that Mary was the only name originally present in the Lazarus story in this verse. And at John 11:3 it is Mary who allegedly sent word to Jesus and not Mary and Martha.

P66 showing duplication of μαριας and correction to μαρθας (circled in red) at John 11:1
The P66* reading in John 11:1, μαριας και μαριας, could be explained by dittography, or an error caused by a backward leap (as Schrader acknowledges on 362). Royse notes that slips involving a backward leap or dittography are quite common to the scribe of P66 (Schrader only mentions the dittography’s noted by Royse at John 1:17b, 12:26a, and 14:3; Schrader, 362). Royse notes backward leaps at John 3:3, 3:31b, 7:44a, 8:42b, 9:41a, 9:41b, 10:38b, 13:20c (either a backward or a forward leap) 13:32, 14:10b, 14:12a, 14:12c, 16:25 (Royse, 422-432). And this list is not exhaustive.

Schrader acknowledges this, but argues that this scribal slip and correction must be explained in light of “the surrounding reading of P66” (Schrader, 363). I find it interesting that at 10:38, just a few verses before John 11:1, on the recto of the same page, we find a very similar phenomena. The scribe did a backward leap and began to rewrite the same words (εν εμοι ... εν τω πατρι; Royse, 430). Because of the close proximity of these scribal slips (and the frequency of their occurrence throughout), it seems more likely that the repeating of μαριας was due to a backward leap and a repeating of the name, rather than the bleeding through of an earlier text form of John with Martha excluded.

P66 at John 10:38 showing the dittography and correction of εν εμοι ... εν τω πατρι
The changing of the pronoun from masculine to feminine in John 11:1 (αυτου > αυτης) after the dittography of μαριας could again be explained by the scribal peculiarities of P66. The scribe alters the gender of a pronoun at 4:11a, a noun at 15:19a, and the case of several pronouns at 6:7b, 15:13 (this is not an exhaustive list).

The original reading at John 11:3 is unique in that “P66 is the only extant witness that actually transcribes the name of a single sister” (Schrader, 370). The scribe of P66 originally wrote, απεστιλεν ουν μαρ[?]α προς αυτον λεγουσα (Mary/Martha then sent toward him saying). In a complicated series of erasures and corrections, the scribe changed the text to read απεστιλαν ουν αι αδελφαι προς αυτον λεγουσαι (The sisters then sent toward him saying).

Schrader notes that “this reading is crucial” to her thesis that the story of Lazarus originally only included Mary and Martha was added by the scribe of P66. Though Schrader does indicate that scholars are divided as to which name was originally present in this verse, it is very difficult to discern from the images which name was initially written by the scribe (Schrader, 367-368). Though Schrader and other scholars contend for μαρια as the original reading, μαρθα could have just as easily been the initial transcription.

P66 at John 11:3 showing deletion and correction

P66 at John 11:3 showing possible initial reading μαρια

P66 at John 11:3 showing possible initial reading μαρθα
The initial reading of μαρθα can very easily be explained as harmonization. One characteristic noted by Schrader is that “[i]t seems likely that there was an early harmonization of the Johannine Lazarus story to the Lukan story of Mary and Martha” (Schrader, 391). Both Colwell and Royse recognize a tendency to harmonize readings with remote parallels in other Gospels (Colwell, 112-114; Royse, 536-544). It is quite possible that the scribe was harmonizing the story to Luke 10:38-42 where Martha is quite prominent. One does not have to go as far as Luke’s gospel for harmonization parallels. It is also possible that the scribe was harmonizing to a point later in the story where Martha runs out to meet Jesus at John 11:21 (cf. 11:30). I find it interesting that at none of these places does the scribe of P66 attempt to remove the prominence of Martha who takes center stage in the narrative. Complicated and lengthy erasures and corrections are not uncommon for the scribe of P66. A "confusing" series of errors of backward leaps, erasures, and corrections made in scribendo are found at 7:33 (Royse, 422). A very similar occurrence is located at 13:20c (Royse, 431).

I think that, in the case of P66, it is wise to heed the words of Ernest Colwell;
“Wildness in copying is the outstanding characteristic of P66. This makes it very difficult to decide whether particular readings are due to editorializing on the part of the scribe or rather are due to his general laxity and inefficiency.” (Colwell, 121)
In response to these types of allegations, Schrader writes,
“I believe that the changes around Martha in P66 cannot simply be dismissed as scribal mechanical errors, because there are so many strange variants around Martha throughout the text transmission of the Fourth Gospel, as well as patristic quotations and ancient extracanonical texts.” (Schrader, 391)
I think that, at least in the case of P66, a better explanation for the unusual readings are the blunders and slips peculiar to the scribe of P66.

Though I do not wish to comment on the rest of the article content and argument at this time, I do think that Schrader's paper is a detailed and thorough piece of research. She has effectively used the data made available in online editions and other online tools that, I am sure, will be a model for future researchers.

Royse, James R., "Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri." NTTSD 36. Leiden: Brill, 2008.

Colwell, Ernest C., "Method in Evaluating Scribal Habits: A Study of P45, P66, P75," pages 106-124 in "Studies in Methodology in Textual Criticism of the New Testament." NTTS 9. Leiden: Brill, 1969.