Friday, January 22, 2021

Center for New Testament Restoration Update

The following update came to my inbox and I thought our readers might like to know about it too. It’s from Alan Bunning, director of the Center for New Testament Restoration.
The biggest news is that I retired from Purdue University and now am working full-time at the Center for New Testament Restoration, so hopefully new improvements will be coming at a much quicker pace. Stepping out comes with some risk though, so any donations to the project are welcome. The CNTR website is now averaging about 1000 hits per day and its usage only continues to grow. Here are some of the latest updates to the CNTR project ( that I just put out today:
  • The CNTR transcriptions have been updated and made available for download in a new MES format under the CC BY-SA license. The new format is a lot easier for most users to work with, requiring only a simple text editor.
  • “vid” which is normally only shown in apparatuses is now displayed in the CNTR collation and transcriptions shown with color-coded inverse characters. This makes it easy to see what supplied words are in variants and which ones are highly probable.
  • A new filter option has been added to the transcription pages which allows the spaces and other elements to be removed leaving only the letters. This makes it easier to compare the transcription on a page to its image.
  • The CNTR Project Description has been updated and split into two documents: the CNTR Project Overview and the CNTR Technical Reference. Lots of new and improved information.
Let me know if you have any questions about these things. Comments and suggestions are welcomed.

Alan Bunning, D.Litt.
Executive Director
Center for New Testament Restoration

Thursday, January 21, 2021

2021 Logos: Texts and Manuscripts


Mike Holmes has reminded me that the deadline for the Logos Summer workshop is fast approaching. I participated in earlier iterations of the Logos workshop and it was a great experience. Some of the other students I met there are still good friends. I highly recommend it.

Here’s the description:

Logos is a workshop dedicated to equipping graduate students with the tools and knowledge needed to further Biblical studies, ancient texts and manuscripts research, museum studies, education programmes and other similar disciplines. The 2021 workshop is hosted by Scholarship & Christianity in Oxford (SCIO) and will be held at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC, from 31st May to 11th June. For more information, please visit the SCIO website at

I would also note that Logos is for graduate students, and prior participation in a Scholars Initiative activity is not required.

Friday, January 15, 2021

A claim that Jesus was a woman(!) and other things I’ve read about recently


Now that I’ve got your attention with my shamelessly clickbaity title, I mention below some observations from my recent reading. But the titular claim is not the only thing I could have used as clickbait! Below are discussions on a manuscript that contains the Comma Johanneum, facsimiles of the Chester Beatty papyri, and even a romance novel inspired by a manuscript!

1. Andrew J. Brown on Codex 61

Part of my job at CSNTM has been purchasing books for our physical library. One group of books that I have been eager to acquire is the four volumes of Andrew J. Brown’s edition of Erasmus’ text in the Amsterdam series, Opera Omnia Desiderii Erasmi Roterodami (ASD VI-1 through ASD VI-4). ASD VI-1 has not been published yet, but I was especially excited to get ASD VI-4 for CSNTM. This volume covers Erasmus’ editions of 1 Timothy–Hebrew, the Catholic Epistles, and Revelation. Brown’s editions are really remarkable. Take ASD VI-4, for example: Opening the 698-page book at random, you’ll see on average about 1/4 of the two-page opening given to Erasmus’ Greek and Latin texts and 3/4 to Brown’s notes. These notes cover textual variations among Erasmus’s editions, textual variants in the manuscripts he would have had access to and even Brown’s own text-critical observations. I even updated my post about textual commentaries to include Brown’s editions there.

E. C. Colwell and Kenneth Clark Lecture Audio

Juan Hernandez has recently made a great find in the course of some internet sleuthing. But I’ll let Juan tell you about it:

In addition to discovering audio of E. C. Colwell’s lecture on poetry, I also uncovered this 1963 lecture (at PTS) titled, “The Next Steps in the Textual Criticism of the NT.” A fascinating lecture that echoed all of the classic ideas we have come to expect from Colwell (e.g., about quantitative analysis, scribal habits, text types, etc.). The lecture was clear, cogent, and forceful. Interestingly, he did not call the Western text a text-type but talked about loose affiliations and used the language of “cluster,” which is fascinating since I thought Epp was the first to suggest this. You will LOVE it. I was rapt in attention (partly in disbelief that I was hearing his actual voice after so many years of just reading him). Colwell’s lecture is followed by another by K. W. Clark on his examination of Greek manuscripts in libraries in Greece. These are true gems. At any rate, I’m sharing it with you in case you think folks on the ETC blog might like to hear a lecture from one of the twentieth century’s leading textual critics.

You can find the audio at PTS’s website. These two papers were presented at the Bible Studies Conference, 1963. Thanks, Juan! Great find.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The Goal of NTTC according to Eldon Epp

The second volume of Eldon J. Epp's collected essays and articles, Perspectives on New Testament Textual Criticism (covering 2006–2017) has just been published by Brill. Congratulations to the author who also turned 90 this year!

I have only browsed the volume, so for now I will just draw the attention to an introductory “notes for readers” which is freely accessible here, where Epp offers his own definition of the goal of New Testament Textual Criticism which he admits has varied, but as it stands now it is totally in line with my own view:

The Unitary Goal of New Testament Textual Criticism

New Testament textual criticism, employing aspects of both science and art, studies the transmission of the New Testament text and the manuscripts that facilitate its transmission, with the unitary goal (1) of establishing the earliest attainable text (which serves as a baseline), and at the same time (2) of assessing the textual variants that emerge from the baseline text so as to hear the narratives of early Christian thought and life that inhere in the array of meaningful variants.

Finally, I was also pleased to learn from the introduction “Developing Perspective” (accessible here) that Krister Stendahl from Sweden, then professor at Harvard University, gave the young doctoral student Epp the task to review a book on textual criticism by Fascher for the seminar and then with his other colleagues in the doctoral committee encouraged Epp to pursue a text-critical dissertation – well done! For another glimpse of Stendahl and a student at Harvard working on textual criticism in the 1950s, see here.

Monday, December 21, 2020

4QPsx: A Poorly Copied Manuscript

Several details about the Dead Sea Scrolls are common knowledge. One of these details is that these manuscripts preserve a certain level of textual plurality previously unknown among Hebrew OT manuscripts. Although this detail is a fact, the nature of this textual plurality is mostly unknown by laypeople and scholars alike. We should be aware that common explanations explain most of this textual plurality. One of these explanations is poor copying. (In a previous blog, I discussed that some of this diversity results from scribes normalizing their biblical texts [such as 4QGenk]).

4QPsx is one manuscript, among many, that was copied poorly. Interestingly, some scholars date this manuscript, which preserves portions of Psalm 89, to 175-125 BC. If this is right, this manuscript is our earliest manuscript available that preserves a psalm; yet, it is an unreliable guide to the Psalter's state, and Psalm 89 in particular, during the second century BC. Several details about this manuscript suggest that this scribe was either an unskilled or a beginner scribe. Varying letter size, inconsistent space between lines, curved lines, cancelation dots to erase a mistake, inconsistent use of final letters, and the inability to space words properly are just a few of these details. (See Skehan’s article “Gleanings” for these and other points). 


Besides these scribal features, we should consider several other material features of this manuscript that call into question its dependability. This manuscript is unruled, and this reality contributes to some of the mistakes listed above. Indeed, the absence of a writing block made it challenging to space the words, and the lack of horizontal lines caused the scribe to write upwards and downwards at times. The fact that this manuscript is unruled is puzzling since most manuscripts at Qumran were (see Tov, Scribal Practices, 57, 104). More puzzling is that this manuscript was stitched before inscribing these words, which, again, is unusual (Scribal Practices, 34-37). This fact is evident since the scribe wrote around the stitching (“Gleanings,” 441). Thus, these two details suggest that this sheet of leather was previously a handle sheet (a protective piece of leather stitched unto inscribed sheets at a manuscript's beginning and/or end).

The scribal habits and the material features of this manuscript cast serious doubt on the text's reliability. Although some might understand this text as an alternative form of Psalm 89, I suggest that it is a recycled handle sheet (like Skehan): perhaps a scribe's school exercise. Overall, this text contributes to the textual plurality preserved at Qumran but provides no evidence to suggest that the OT existed in a state of fluidity during this time (fluidity meaning that the text had not yet reached its final form). Instead, this manuscript suggests that some manuscripts were copied poorly and, perhaps, some manuscripts are mere school exercises. As already noted, this manuscript may be our earliest manuscript preserving a psalm. This reality reminds us of a vital point of textual criticism: the earlier manuscript is not always better.

*For more information about this manuscript, see my dissertation, A Comparison of the Non-Aligned Texts of Qumran to the Masoretic Text. It can be accessed on ProQuest. You may also view the presentation that I gave at the Sacred Words Conference, where I discuss this manuscript in more detail. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Manuscript Hunters – New Website


 Right now I am participating in the launch (via Zoom) of a new website, Manuscript Hunters – the result of a project at the University of Munich with wonderful resources on "manuscript hunters" like Tischendorf, Dunlop-Gibson and Smith-Lewis, Curzon, and many more. There are many fine resources here with timelines, illustrations, bibliographies and other features. The website will be updated continously. 

I have not looked at the website in any detail yet, so I do not know to what degree they have included critical perspectives relating to cultural theft, or (fantastic) discovery stories (see for example Eva Mroczek's article in Marginalia here).