Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Over at Bible and Interpretation, Craig Evans has a short article on How Long Were Biblical Manuscripts in Use. The blurb reads:
I speculated that if the Gospel of Matthew were published and circulated in 75 CE and if it and some of the first copies of it were in use as long as the manuscripts in the collections and libraries studied by Houston were in use, then some of these manuscripts could still have been in circulation, being read, studied, and copied, as late as the end of the second century and perhaps even on into the third century. This means that New Testament autographs and first copies could still have been available when our oldest extant papyri manuscripts (e.g., P45, P46, P66) were produced. If still in circulation and being read and copied, the autographs and first copies would have continued to give shape to the text. In a sense, then, the gap between autograph and extant manuscript is bridged.
In the end Evans wonders what bearing this has for conceiving of early Christian libraries and the formation of the canon:
What I propose is that the New Testament canon of writings be viewed more as a library or collection. Many of the libraries and collections that Houston studied were assembled either by families or by groups of literate friends with common reading interests. Members of these groups met together from time to time to read and study. They acquired manuscripts, sometimes multiple copies, compared and discussed texts, and made notes, which in some instances approximate what we today would regard as commentary. I should think that some of these activities were very much those of early Christian groups that collected the founding documents of the Christian faith. In short, some of the dynamics behind the collecting, reading, and studying of the literary collections studied by Houston might be very close to the dynamics behind the collecting, reading, and studying of sacred texts by early Christian groups.