Saturday, July 04, 2009

SBL International Meeting in Rome: Day 5 / La grande finale

The SBL International Meeting is now over. On this last day we had at least three marvellous presentations, I will leave it to others to judge how mine was.

First Jan Krans presented on Codex Boreelianus F(09) from three aspects. First, the differences between Krans' fresh transcription from color images as compared to that of the IGNTP (transcribed from microfilm): Krans has found new corrections, and a new portion of text which had to be photographed in a special way. Moreover, it was clear that the recording of initial letters was not entirely satisfactory in the IGNTP transcription, especially not the letter Φ, which was rendered in a special way by the scribe when commencing a line (which has been taken as an initial letter, εκθεσις, by the IGNTP), whereas the proper initial Φ had a very long vertical stroke, such as you can see on the image here in the left column.

Secondly, Krans told us about how he indexed the codex in the Virtual Manuscript Room (VMR) as one of the first MSS to be indexed. See Krans' very exhaustive description on his on Amsterdam NT Weblog. This will become a fantastic resource, although he also hinted at some issues that will have to be resolved, e.g., how to index when there is a textual variant that introduces the page so the verse sequence is affected; or how to deal with matters of copyright with institutions that have put their manuscript images on the web, but perhaps require login, etc.

The third aspect was how his experience of setting up an exhibition of a manuscript, in this case Boreelianus in Unversiteitsmuseum Utrecht in the midst of the skeletons relating to natural history. He had had help from a designer and he showed us how the signs with informations were produced, and they were just marvellous, and very inviting, although somewhat sensational. Around one of those signs with facts about the codex they had put bottles of beer relating to the bible or Christianity, i.e., Devil's beer, Melchior's beer, etc (I don't remember the original Dutch). So Krans had to collect all these beerbottles, but he also got to drink them after the close of the exhibition. (I wonder whether the inclusion of "Devil's beer" in this post will increase the blog traffic, since the Devil's bible gave us "all time high" a while ago.)

Just before this presentation, we had great difficulties in getting Krans' computer presentation to connect with Bill Warren's videoprojector ("no input signal"). Just as a miracle, Bill's former student, Roland van der Bergh, University of Pretoria, who was present offered his computer and everything worked. We could see how relieved Krans was, and we all realized after the presentation what it would have been like without the images - somewhat like hearing the Wimbledon final on radio.

The next presenter was James Leonard from University of Cambridge (Tyndale House) who presented on "Singular Readings in Versional Witnesses in the D-text: A Sampling form Codex Glazier." By going through singular readings in a sample chapter (that he had read in his devotion), Acts 8, he demonstrated how it is necessary to first take into account the translation technique of the Coptic version. The hyphothesis of a Greek Vorlage that differed significantly from extant MSS is unnecessary. The translation hyphothesis is far more plausible.

Practically all of the eight singular readings were explicable as resulting from specific linguistic conditions in the target language. (Only one reading was difficult to explain in this way.) In fact, Leonard even drew our attention to several English versions that had practically the same expanations due not to the fact that they were translated from a Vorlage close to Glazier, but that it was a natural rendering in English. There was a most interesting discussion afterwards about weighing readings, and the significance and future of the notion of text-types. More about that in the up-coming SBL in New Orleans which will devote a special session on text-types.

The third paper after a much needed coffee break was my own on Orthodox Corruption. Below is the abstract. I might post what was read when I have edited my notes (a lot scribbled by hand):
"'Misquoting Manuscripts': The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture Revisited"
In his influential monograph, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, Bart Ehrman has proposed that the New Testament text was affected early on by scribes, "the orthodox corruptors of scripture," who, according to their theological persuasion, made conscious changes in the documents they reproduced, making them say what they already were thought to mean.

This paper demonstrates how Ehrman's interpretation of the textual evidence is seriously defective. Whenever there is a textual variation in a passage that somehow relates to Christology, one or more readings are too easily identifed as examples of "orthodox corruption," when there are often other equally, or even more viable reasons for corruption. The aim of the paper is not to prove that the textual tradition of the New Testament is unaffected by "orthodox corruption," although this factor seems to play a minor role, but to demonstrate that a sound text-critical method demands a sensitivity to the particular context and nature of the variation in the individual passage - every problem must be regarded as possibly unique. A balanced judgment will not seldom require knowledge of the pecularities of individual manuscripts and their scribe(s), the citation habits of church fathers, and a familiarity with the character of a particular version and its limitations in representing the Vorlage from which it was translated.

As I said, I will leave the evaluation to others, but it felt good to speak from a subjective standpoint. One interesting issue that came up in the time for questions, relating to what Ehrman really claims and what he does not claim, which I do not have time or energy to write about now, but which I will devote some more time to explain in the future. (And thanks to Rick Bennett for this photo of me.)

I must now tell of two strange coincidences that happened today. The first has to do with my paper. In the afternoon I went out in Rome, and went into several churches. In the last church I bumped into James Kelhoffer who had bumped into two other people, Mark Given and his wife, whom I had not met before. When I introduced myself and what was my area he suddenly remembered that he was the one who had sent the abstract of my paper to his Doktorvater, Bart Ehrman.

The other even stranger coincidence was when we went out for lunch. We chatted about all sorts of things and we came to talk about thefts of MSS, and, conversely, when scholars tried to save artefacts or MSS from being destroyed or otherwise disappearing from the scholarly horizon. I began to talk about Israel, and suddenly I heard from the other table that on guy there (who was apparently also an SBL participant) simultaneously said Israel. Funny I though. Then I mentioned the example of Hanan Eshel. What happens? Someone at the other table says "Hanan Eshel." I can assure you that they did not hear what we were talking about.

Anyway, back to the last session and the fourth and final presenter, Timothy Sailors who gave a good paper but probably with the longest title I have ever heard in modern time:
"The 'New' Work of Early Christian Literature Preserved in P. Berolinensis 22220, the 'Strasbourg Coptic' and after the Coptic 'Stauros-Text': Observations on the Initial Proposals and Suggestions for Further Research"

In sum, Sailors said that when it comes to this text "we need to cast our net more widely than has been done." I think you can understand that I did not listen very carefully to this paper just after I had delivered my own, and was still thinking about the issues that came up.

In the afternoon I was able to pick up presents for the family (although I can say nothing here since my wife reads this blog occasionally, especially when I am conference blogging). I also had time for a Café Latte and an Italian newspaper at Piazza del popolo, before I headed home to the Swedish Institute here in Rome. Early in the morning 4.30AM comes a cab (hopefully) to pick me up and take me to the airport, and I am off to London and the next conference on Codex Sinaiticus.

I will come back with some final remarks on a few good and a few bad things about the SBL Int. Meeting in retrospect, although I can say already now that I enjoyed most of the papers as well as the company! Finally, on Antonio Lombatti's blog you can see what the Pontificial Biblical Institute, where the meeting was held, looks like and read his thoughts (if you read Italian).


  1. Tommy,

    Sounds like the meeting is lots of fun and pretty informative.

    I've been thinking about something you wrote on Day 3, about Heide's presentation:

    "For example the form ASA attested in the best MSS instead of ASAF is simply a shortform where the F is dropped, i.e., ASAF is not a mix-up with the psalmwriter. Heide presented compelling evidence through various examples and analogies (cf. ΙWSH for IWSHF, etc.)."

    I'm not sure what to make of this. The frame of reference in the GNT must be the names in Matthew 1, right? But if so, it's the MSS that are usually called the "best" that read "Asaph." And the person in the genealogy is king Asa, not the psalmist Asaph, so I don't see how it resolves anything to notice that the name "Asaf" could be written without the "f," because the problem is not that Asaf's name was written without the "f;" the problem is that Asa's name was written *with* an "f."

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  2. Jim, sorry, I apparently misrepresented Martin Heide which is not so strange since I wrote that in the middle of the night straight from my memory. I have changed the post accordingly (read it again).