Friday, September 20, 2019

New Images of Papyrus 967 (Ezekiel Portion)

Another portion of the 2nd-3d-century Papyrus 967 (LXX, RA 967), discovered in 1931, that contains parts of Ezekiel, Esther and Daniel has now been digitized and is available on-line. It is the National Library of Spain in Madrid that has digitized their pages with Ezekiel (HT: John Cook).

More here and here.

John Meade compiled a list for us in a blogpost from last year to which I have added a link to the new images below. We are now just waiting for images of the portions in Princeton and Montserrat:

1. Chester Beatty IX + X: pp. 10–17 (upper half); 71–83 (upper half); 102–109 (upper half) (images of the pages from Dublin can be viewed at the CSNTM).
2. Princeton, Univ. Libr., P. Scheide 3: pp. 20 + 22, 23–28, 30–32, 34–37, 40–45 (upper half).
3. Kӧln, IfA, P. Colon. theol. 3–40: pp. 10–17, 20, 22, 71–77, 79–83 (lower half); 90, 92–101 (upper half); pp. 18–19, 21, 29, 53–70, 84–89 (whole) (see images at Kölner Papyri of the Institute of Ancient History at the University of Cologne).
4. Madrid, CSIC (Fonds Photiaded), P. Matr. bibl. 1: pp. 10, 33, 38–39, 46–52 (access the new images here).
5. Montserrat, SBO, P.Monts./II Inv. 42. 43: p. 78 (lower half), p. 91 (upper half)

More information and link to the digitized portion in Köln here.

More about the text and paratext of this papyrus from our blog here, here, and here.

Update: An anonymous commenter (and Sofia Torallas Tovar) has informed me that the Monteserrat portion has indeed been digitized (a few years ago as P.Monts Roca IV was published):

Montserrat catalogue and images: .

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Handwritten-Text Recognition (HTR) for Syriac Manuscripts

The Beth Mardutho Facebook pages just announced a major development in the quest to use OCR (optical character recognition) technology for manuscripts. Calling it Handwritten-Text Recognition (HTR), they say they have it working for Syriac manuscripts. I know others have tried this for Greek for years and have run into trouble. We can hope the lessons learned here for Syriac can be passed on and used on Greek. If anyone has more details, please share.

Congratulations to the team!

Monday, September 16, 2019

Evidence for Codex Alexandrinus in Egypt

In a recent article (D. Lincicum, ‘Two Overlooked Greek Manuscripts of 1 Clement’ Vig. Cr. 73 (2019), 241–253) David Lincicum provides evidence that a Greek manuscript of 1 Clement in the National Library of Greece—EBE 1896—is a direct copy from Codex Alexandrinus’ text of 1 Clement, from a point in time prior to its arrival in London in 1627 (because of its association with other texts of Alexandrian provenance). This manuscript ‘offers us an important sighting of a notable Codex before it came to the attention of western scholars’ (p. 253). (It also offers a glimpse of the manuscript before it was trimmed for binding in London—so more text is visible in the heading field of the codex.)

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

A shorter Byzantine reading in the parable of the Prodigal Son

Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal
I’ve written before on some shorter (not necessarily shortest) Byzantine readings and their significance for the Byzantine priority position held by my esteemed co-blogger, MAR. (See here, here, and here.) Well, I’ve just come across another such unexpected Byzantine shorter reading. This one occurs in Luke 15.21, in the parable of the two lost sons (aka the prodigal son), the younger son realizes his mistake and says:
18 ἀναστὰς πορεύσομαι πρὸς τὸν πατέρα μου καὶ ἐρῶ αὐτῷ· πάτερ, ἥμαρτον εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ ἐνώπιόν σου, 19 οὐκέτι εἰμὶ ἄξιος κληθῆναι υἱός σου· ποίησόν με ὡς ἕνα τῶν μισθίων σου.
18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” ’
Then, when he does see his father, he gives this slightly truncated form of his speech:
21 εἶπεν δὲ ὁ υἱὸς αὐτῷ· πάτερ, ἥμαρτον εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ ἐνώπιόν σου, οὐκέτι εἰμὶ ἄξιος κληθῆναι υἱός σου.
21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
This is verbatim from vv. 18–19, except for the last bit which is left off. Not surprisingly, some manuscripts include it. Also not surprisingly, most editions reject the last bit, no doubt, as a harmonization to v. 19 (see Tregelles, Souter, RP, SBLGNT, NA28/UBS5, THGNT). Here is the evidence from NA28:
ποιησον με ως ενα των μισθιων σου ℵ B D 33. 700. 1241. ℓ 844 vgmss syh
omit 𝔓75 A K L N P Q W Γ Δ Θ Ψ ƒ1.13 565. 579. 892. 1424. 2542. ℓ 2211 𝔐 lat sys.c.p co
This variant is also one of many in Luke that had its grade inflated (B to A) from UBS3 to UBS4. The one exception to the strong consensus noted above is WH who have the longer reading in brackets—not so surprising given their affinity for ℵ B. What is striking is that, not only is the shorter reading  attested by Byz, but the longer reading is also attested by such important witnesses as ℵ, B, D, 33.

In addition to its good external evidence, the shorter reading has a very obvious transcriptional explanation in parablepsis. All it takes is a scribe’s eyes skipping  from σου to σου and the result is the omission of the last phrase (cf. Matt 19.9). Intrinsically, since Luke has already repeated so much of the son’s speech, we might expect him to repeat the whole of it. This kind of verbatim repetition of speech is quite common in the Bible, especially in the OT, which Luke is known for imitating stylistically.

I imagine many will reject parablepsis as less likely than harmonization (so Metzger’s Commentary). But why should such an intentional change be more likely than the equally obvious but unintentional one? Certainly, scribes harmonize to the context. But, from my experience, they accidentally omit by parablepsis even more. Any look at a large apparatus bears this out on page after page.

To make the point, we need go no further than these three verses themselves. We just need to do so in a much larger apparatus than NA. In the IGNTP Luke, I see six cases of omission in just these three verses all of which are easily explained by simple parablepsis.
  1. 71 omits αυτω in 15.18
  2. 903* omits εις τον in 15.18
  3. 1, 118, 205, 209 omit και ... σου in 15.19
  4. R* omits υιος ... κληθηναι from 15.19–21 thus omitting all of v. 20
  5. W, 713 omit ποιησον ... σου in 15.19
  6. ℓ 890 omits και ... σου2 in 15.21
The clearest parallels to our variant are 5 and 6 which are also omissions due to the repetition of σου. The omission in R* is instructive because it shows that omissions could be lengthy. 

So, my question: if these shorter readings are clearly accidental omissions, why shouldn’t we see the same in v. 21? Yes, the majority of witnesses have the shorter form, but does that in itself make it more likely? Not for me. Instead, the shorter reading has the simpler scribal explanation, one found multiple times in this same context, and is also attested by the best witnesses. Therefore, it seems to me that it should be preferred as original. 

Monday, September 09, 2019

Pied-Piper Teaching Techniques: In which Dr Amy describes how she moves students from no interest in Greek at all to enthusiastically transcribing manuscripts on the VMR

Peter Gurry has encouraged me (over several years!) to share my teaching strategies on the ETC blog, and here we finally are – my first blog article.

I am a strategist by nature.  I look at a situation, decide where I would like things to end up, and then think about the steps for getting there.  In this case, my goal has been to enthuse as many undergrads as possible for the study of ancient Greek, and then beyond that to convince as many as possible to go on and master intermediate textual criticism.

What I do (in various courses):

The following semester courses provide me with a chance to influence students:

  • New Testament History and Literature (taken by all NCU students, mostly freshmen)
  • Reading and Interpreting Scripture (taken by all NCU students, mostly sophomores)
  • Bible book courses (required for BATS majors and Bible minors, taken by others as electives)
All BA students are required to take one year of a language.  NCU does not offer more than one year in any languages except Hebrew, for which two years are offered, and Greek, for which a recently reinstated minor involves 4 semesters beyond the major requirements. 

In NT History and Lit I require the students to learn the Greek alphabet.  To reinforce this, I do not transliterate Greek during the lecture, but expect students to be able to write Greek words into their notes, pronounce them, and recognize (but not reproduce) them on exams.  The lecture material for this course includes several hours on textual criticism, explaining why it is necessary, and including a small TC exercise using English.  Students receive a photocopy of a folio of P75 in their packet of handouts, and some aspects of palaeography, such as scriptio continua, are explained.  There is also a section on Bible translation that points out the importance of understanding the Greek. 

In R&I there are several weeks on TC early in the semester.  The students learn to use the footnotes of their English Bibles to find variation units, and have an assignment where they look for at least two English versions that made differing text-critical decisions, then use the UBS GNT and Metzger’s commentary to understand the arguments for either decision.  Some of the best text-critical exercises in R&I are written by students who never had a day of Greek.  I also show students images of ancient manuscripts as part of the lecture on TC, and give them extra credit for spending time with our facsimile of Sinaiticus. 

In both of these introductory courses, I repeatedly encourage students to take either Greek or Hebrew the following fall.  I tout the advantages: for example, that studying an ancient language makes them stand out on applications for jobs, scholarships, and grad school; that learning an ancient language helps them with writing, grammar, and communication skills, as well as brain development; that the languages enhance their faith.  Why would a believer attend a Christian university and NOT take as many Bible and language courses as s/he can fit into his/her schedule?!

In all of my NT book courses, I read through the entire text of that document in class, spontaneously translating from the Greek while the students follow in their English versions.  I point out variation units that affect translation.  After each paragraph, I ask them to point out differences they notice and raise questions of understanding that arise.  They ask such great questions that sometimes an entire class period is spent reading and discussing the text, rather than in lecture.

All of the above is meant to intrigue students with the ancient text and encourage them to take as much Bible as possible, and either Hebrew or Greek for their required year of language.

My first-year Greek course almost always fills (25).  I teach it inductively, and we read continuous text, beginning with John 1:1 on the first day of class.  Quizzes are mostly on translation, though grammar quizzes also occur.  (Grammar paradigms are not permanently memorized for weekly quizzes, but are instead checked off on a “temporary memorization” list.)  One third of the class time is spent in small reading labs led by advanced students.  Repeatedly during the semester, I talk to the first-years about the value of doing more than one year of language, even if they are not able to complete a Greek minor. 

One class period per semester of first year is dedicated to palaeography.  On that day we meet in a café with mugs of coffee, and 5-7 advanced students teach the first-years at their table how to decipher an ancient hand.  Normally we read P66 or P75 in the fall semester and an easy minuscule in the spring.  The students are astounded that they are able to decipher the hand after just 50 minutes of training.

My last semester with any particular cohort of Greek students is usually fall semester of second year.  Now as a group of 10-12, we continue to read continuous text, spending a significant amount of the class time on palaeography, moving from early majuscules to late minuscules.  We often read the day’s assigned text straight from a manuscript facsimile rather than from the NA28.  At the same time, we look at as many variation units as we have time for.  Since Textual Criticism of the Bible was published, assigned readings help reduce the time needed for in-class teaching of TC, allowing us to move more quickly to the actual practice.  I talk through variation units as we come across them in the text, and then ask the students to do the same.  Some of the pop quizzes require the student to do a spontaneous evaluation of a variation unit, as does one of the five final exam topics. 

Special Courses
NCU has also been generous in allowing me to do a number of unusual courses over the years.  Every two to four years I have taught an entire course (called Topics) on palaeography and textual criticism during the same semester as the Birmingham Colloquium.  In Topics, the students gain significant expertise in deciphering hands and evaluating variation units.  We tend to focus on the topic of the Colloquium, which meant, for example, that the first Topics class wrote a primer on Zuntz’s The Text of the Epistles, while the most recent class studied the versions in greater detail. 

During the last month of Topics, we stage an academic conference, with each student presenting on their research paper – a 20-minute presentation and 10 minutes of Q&A, with extra points for asking good questions, and all students taking turns moderating.

Another special course was a recent Honors Seminar, in which 7 advanced students took on the further study of the text of a Gospel codex assigned to us by the Museum of the Bible.  They did transcription and reconciliation of the text, as well as codicology, a full collation to other MSS, and an evaluation of the results.

I also frequently have students in my home.  Most relevant here are the “Transcription Parties.”  Three to eight students bring their laptops, sign in to the VMR, and begin transcribing an easy minuscule.  I and the more experienced students help them get started and give advice when they run into things they don’t recognize.  Many only do a few hours of transcription, but several have completed entire Gospels.

In summary, my strategy is to first give exposure to Greek and manuscript images, and then to engage Greek students with actual use of the images in palaeography and textual criticism.  What I find is that they fall in love with the language and with the ancient manuscripts, and they keep wanting more.

10 Tips on Academic Job Hunting

Last week I had a conversation with a colleague that turned to how she got her current teaching job. Shortly after that, someone emailed me about advice on applying for a teaching job in biblical studies. Since we probably have a decent number of readers who are in PhDs or thinking about one, I thought it might be worth sharing what advice I have.

Disclaimers: I don’t have any particular expertise on this other than I got a job (for which I’m very thankful) and I have had a number of good friends also go through the ringer application process and get jobs. I can primarily speak from and for my own context of American evangelicalism. Jobs in U.S. state schools, research universities, non-confessional liberal arts schools, and overseas schools can be different animals and others are better equipped to talk about those. Finally, I don’t have any jobs to offer. Sorry.
  1. Identify your real competition. The job market can often feel daunting because there are so many well qualified applicants out there, especially in NT. But the reality is, you aren’t actually competing with everyone for every job. You also aren’t competing for every job. In some cases you won’t be competing at all! The sooner you realize who your real competition is, the better. This advice comes from John Stackhouse and it helped me when I was thinking about doing a a PhD. It gives some needed perspective.
  2. Expand your networks now. Go to ETS. Go to IBR. Go to SBL. Meet with people at those venues to connect about their research and yours. The more people who know you, your gifts, your research, etc., the better. Who you know matters far less than who knows you. Yes, networking can be crass and shallow, but it doesn’t have to be. Learn to do it well.
  3. Start applying now. It’s almost never too early. Even though many won’t consider you without a PhD in hand, it’s still helpful to get started on the process. It can be exhausting so starting early helps build up endurance for what may be a long haul.
  4. Publish now. This is tricky because you want to put most of your energy into writing a great dissertation. But I think it can be very helpful to have an article or two under your belt when you send out an application. At the very least, you should present your research in academic forums.
  5. Identify your “pluses.” This one comes from my boss and I think it’s increasingly true. Many schools today are looking for a professor+, someone who can teach plus do x, y, or z. That plus could be additional skill in marketing, enrollment, admin, advancement, online ed, library staffing, etc. The point is: think about what you have to offer beyond teaching. If you’re lucky, you won’t have to teach+, but more and more, teaching+ is going to be key.
  6. Read The Professor Is in: The Essential Guide to Turning Your Ph.D. into a Job. It’s mostly geared at secular teaching jobs, but it’s still helpful. Especially the part on writing a cover letter.
  7. Know what matters in an interview. I know when I was job searching, I was most worried about whether I measured up academically. The reality is, if you get to the interview, they are probably not concerned at all about that; they want to know about your theology, your personality, your family, and host of intangibles. I would also add, make sure that you interview your interviewers. You should be looking for red flags, rifts in the institution, financial woes, etc. If they ask if you have any questions for them, make sure you do. Read this from Mike Kruger for more on this.
  8. Identify the unwritten doctrinal statement. This can be tricky if you don’t know someone on the inside, but I always say there is the written doctrinal statement and the unwritten one. The unwritten one is where a school puts its theological emphasis. Ask if they have a separate teaching statement or set of white papers or any other kind of clarifications for their faculty that you need to be aware of. Many confessional schools do and it won’t hurt to ask. Even if they don’t, you can bet they have things they care about that aren’t on the homepage. Try to identify those as best you can before taking the job.
  9. Serve others. If you’ve finished a PhD, you’ve worked really hard and probably made a lot of sacrifices along the way. Especially if you did your degree to serve the Lord, it can be crushing not to get the teaching job you always wanted. If you’re not careful, it can make you bitter—at God, at the church, at your family. To avoid this, you need a robust theology of grace. God doesn’t owe any of us a job. It’s a gift that we have the ability, time, and resources to study. If we get a good job, that too is a gift (cf. 1 Cor 4.7). If your dream job is an undeserved gift, treat it that way now. In all this, be like Jesus: For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10.45).
  10. What would you add?

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Is Martha an Interpolation into John’s Gospel – A Note from the Editor

Bildresultat för editor's notesIn a three-part guestpost “Is Martha an Interpolation into John’s Gospel,” Elizabeth Schrader has shared her research and in the recent week there has been a lively discussion with more than fifty comments (Peter Head’s magic threshold) added together. As the editor who invited Schrader to post, I want to thank her for sharing and for interacting with those who commented. The debate will likely continue.

Finally, I also promised to offer my own thoughts. I may make some readers disappointed, but I first have to admit that I have neither studied the textual problems in John 11, nor Schrader’s published work, in any great detail, and therefore I can only offer my preliminary thoughts here.

As I said in the introduction of the first blogpost, I think Schrader’s findings – the mere textual data – are significant. Some commenters have suggested that they are all random scribal errors. I actually have the feeling that it is a mix. Some are random errors, others are different types of general tendencies, e.g., to elevate the man Lazarus, or to downplay Martha, or possibly redaction by a scribe like in the case of P66 (I need to look more into that). This is all interesting and worth the research.

On the other hand, I think it is extremely problematic to harvest the textual tradition and try to find one grand thesis that explains all the textual changes, i.e., I disagree with Schrader’s overall explanation of the data – that Martha was interpolated in the story in the second century – and this would be an interpolation of a very different kind than the ending of Mark or the pericope adulterae (which I, along with most scholars, regard as the two major interpolations in the New Testament).

Friday, September 06, 2019

Origen Did Think Paul Wrote Hebrews

Hebrews written by Paul in GA 104
Last fall, when teaching Hebrews at the seminary, I did what one does when discussing authorship of Hebrews: I noted that tradition ascribes it to Paul, pointed out that it’s anonymous (but see here), showed why Paul isn’t the author, surveyed the alternate options, and then ended with Origen who says, “But who wrote the epistle, in truth God knows.” Once the standing ovation had died down, I moved on.

The problem with my presentation turns out to be the last part about Origen. The larger context of Origen’s comment is as follows:
But as for myself, if I were to state my own opinion, I should say that the thoughts are the apostle’s, but that the style and composition belong to one who called to mind the apostle’s teachings and, as it were, made short notes of what his master said. If any church, therefore, holds this epistle as Paul’s, let it be commended for this also. For not without reason have the men of old time handed it down as Paul’s. But who wrote the epistle, in truth God knows. Yet the account which has reached us [is twofold], some saying that Clement, who was bishop of the Romans, wrote the epistle, others, that it was Luke, he who wrote the Gospel and the Acts. (Eusebius Hist. Eccl. 6.25.11–14)
Today, a very good article on Origen and the authorship of Hebrews has been published in NTS by Matthew J. Thomas, arguing that I and so many others have misread this passage. Thomas instead shows that the right way to read this is not that Origen doesn’t know who authored Hebrews but that he doesn’t know who put pen to papyrus. Thus, exactly as he says, the thoughts are indeed the apostle’s but the actual composition is someone else’s. Thomas says that “while Origen suspects Hebrews’ composition to involve more than Paul alone, his surprisingly consistent testimony is that the epistle is indeed Paul’s.”

I read the article in an earlier draft and was convinced and had to revise my course notes accordingly. Next time I teach it, I will not be using Origen as evidence against Pauline authorship. (Hopefully I’ll still get the standing-o though.)

You can read the whole argument here.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Silvia Castelli Passes Her Viva on Wettstein

A hearty congratulations to Silvia Castelli who has just defended her doctoral dissertation on the subject of J. J. Wettstein (see here). I have read a bit of it privately and what I read was excellent (and well formatted too). I do hope it gets published. For now we extend a hearty congrats to her!

P.S. I am happy to announce the passing of TC-related thesis defenses on this space. Please let me know.

Photo from Bert Jan Lietaert Peerbolte

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Is Martha an Interpolation into John’s Gospel? Part III

36 have come to the third and concluding part of Elizabeth Schrader’s guest post concerning the presence or absence of Martha and Mary in John 11:1–12:2. The previous two parts are here and here. I am glad that I did not have to delete any comments to the previous part, and I look forward to following the final round.


Some have suggested that I am collecting many various phenomena and positing one grand theory for basically anything aberrant I have found in John 11. For those who have gotten this impression of my work, I hope they might consider examining the cogent one-sister text form of John 11:1-5, which can be reconstructed using real readings found in just three weighty manuscripts (A*, P66*, and VL 6):
1 There was a certain sick man, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary his sister.
2 Now this was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.
3 Therefore Mary sent to him, saying, “Lord, behold, the one you love is sick.”
4 But when Jesus heard he said to her, “The sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son may be glorified through it.”
5 Now Jesus loved Lazarus and his sister.
I posit that this text form (found on page 381 of my Harvard Theological Review article, and justified by the analysis in the article’s preceding pages) may be both a plausible and defensible recovery of five verses of John 11, and is potentially representative of the “initial text.” I believe that all of the phenomena discussed in the previous post can be explained by an interpolation of Martha to the one-sister text form above (and its natural continuation). Although our tendency as a text-critical guild is sometimes to apply more and more complicated methodologies, none of us doubt that all manuscripts of John trace back to the initial circulating text. Thus it is not impossible that different portions of the initial text could have been preserved in different corners of the textual tradition. Since a coherent one-sister text form of considerable length can already be reconstructed (which lessens the likelihood of the variants’ randomness), I believe it is worthwhile to simply begin thinking through the exegetical implications of a “Lazarus and Mary” version of John 11-12, and any potential objections that might have arisen to such a text in antiquity.

Of course this does not mean that we should overlook the information that sophisticated methodologies can provide. The Coherence-Based Genealogical Method will hopefully shed additional light on the problems in John 11. I suggest that those working with the CBGM consider looking not just at relationships between individual variation units, but also at how the five problematic criteria I have isolated (see post #1) show up in related witnesses. As one particularly clear example, 157, 1344, 579, and 2680 are all closely related genealogically overall in John. However, these witnesses might variously display any of the five criteria that suggest Martha’s absence: 157 drops “Martha” in John 11:1 (Criterion 1), 1344 changes “Maria” to “Martha” in John 11:20 (Criterion 2), 579 uses two unexpected singular verbs and one unexpected singular pronoun at 11:3, 12:2, and 11:39 (Criterion 4), while 2680 simultaneously lists Mary first in John 11:5, omits Martha’s name completely from the same verse, and uses a singular pronoun at 11:19 (Criteria 1, 3, 4, and 5). Thus when we use the CBGM to look at this problem in John 11, let us note when several witnesses in the same genealogical group display problematic criteria in different ways. If a high concentration of different Maria/Martha problems occur in related witnesses, this could suggest that the phenomena originate with a one-sister text form, rather than that the phenomena are random scribal errors occurring independently of one another.

My hope is that the increased interest in this topic will lead to additional research on all of the abovementioned topics, so we can better understand the various textual phenomena appearing in the Lazarus story. I look forward to engaging with the responses of my colleagues.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Is Martha an Interpolation into John’s Gospel? Part II

Here we continue with Elizabeth Schrader's guest post in three parts concerning the textual transmission of John 11:1–12:2, specifically the presence (or absence) of the two sisters, Martha and Mary in the story. The first part was posted here and provoked a lot of reactions. I will personally try to stay out of the debate and instead add a few thoughts in a separate post when all parts have been published. In the meantime let's continue the discussion with focus on arguments (I had to delete some comments that did not).


Some have already objected to my suggestion that Martha is an interpolation into John’s Gospel. Thus far there have been both public supporters and detractors of the theory, though the case has yet to be settled. I remain open to changing my position if others can present theories that persuasively account for all of the textual phenomena I have isolated in John 11. For example, dissenting responders must explain:
  • Why Martha’s name drops out from so many verses in the manuscripts of John, while her name is stable in the manuscript transmission of Luke;
  • Why there are five continuous verses of textual instability around Martha in our oldest surviving copy of John 11, Papyrus 66, where in 11:3 the scribe clearly splits one named woman into two unnamed women (a choice that cannot be explained by P66’s scribal habits);
  • Why there is such extreme textual instability in both the order of names and who is named in John 11:5, especially in the Vetus Latina (we find an extremely rare phenomenon of the first person in the list being completely unpredictable, and neither sister is named in several important witnesses, including one Greek lemma of a Chrysostom homily);
  • Why many ancient patristic quotations attribute actions to Mary that our Bibles now attribute to Martha (e.g. Tertullian giving Mary the Christological confession at John 11:27, or Chrysostom stating that Mary said the tomb stank at John 11:39);
  • Why two of our most important manuscripts of John 11:1, P66 and Codex Alexandrinus, make the very similar change of “Maria” to “Martha,” and also use the masculine pronoun to say “his sister”;
  • Why the name “Maria” is altered to “Martha” in several witnesses, whereas not a single surveyed manuscript of John ever alters the name “Martha” to “Maria”;
  • Why the clearly accented dative feminine singular pronoun frequently pops up throughout the text transmission in John 11:4 (ἀκούσας δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτῆ), a reading that is also seems to be reflected in P66*;
  • Why Martha is placed beside Mary Magdalene in second- and third-century documents like the Epistula Apostolorum and Hippolytus’ Commentary on the Song of Songs in ways that seem to diminish Mary’s authority (at the very same time period where documents like the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, and the Gospel of Philip reveal that there were debates around Mary’s authority).
I agree that theories of the marginalization of Martha or scribal incompetence could explain (b), (d), (e), and (g). However I do not believe they adequately explain (a), (c), (f), and (h). Perhaps some scribes did drop Martha’s name at John 11:1 due to inattention; perhaps Tertullian’s (or Chrysostom’s, or Cyril of Jerusalem’s) memories of scripture were faulty when they said that Mary did things that Martha “should” do; perhaps Lazarus was occasionally moved to the top of the list in John 11:5 due to a desire to emphasize the male in the family; perhaps some scribes anticipating the anointing accidentally wrote that Mary served the supper at John 12:2, etc. etc. I realize that there is nearly always an alternate explanation for each of these problems individually; but the trouble is with the weight of these problems collectively.

This theory does not exclude the possibility that multiple phenomena may be occurring in the variations in John 11. For example, we see a bit of instability around Mary’s presence in John 11 (although this happens about five times less frequently than instability around Martha, and may simply be further evidence of a desire to emphasize Martha). Moreover, as Tommy Wasserman and Mary Rose D’Angelo have pointed out, the occasional dropping of the ἣ at Luke 10:39 can be seen as de-emphasizing Martha’s discipleship;[1] it is thus not impossible that there was a kind of “diminishment” of Martha happening at the same time as the early controversies around Mary Magdalene. Since multiple phenomena may indeed be at play in this pericope, we should do comprehensive studies of the various possibilities in each case. It may also be worthwhile to do studies of the individual scribal habits of the manuscripts displaying multiple instances of instability around Martha (beyond P66, these include Codex Alexandrinus, 357, 423, 579, 841, 884, 994, 2680, L17, VL 2, VL 6, VL 8, VL 15, and sa 5). It might be worthwhile to investigate the textual character of Chrysostom’s lemmas in Gr. Ms. 320 in St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai, the only extant Greek witness to name Lazarus first in John 11:5. However, since so many manuscripts display problems around Martha, we cannot chalk it all up to individual scribal habits. At a certain point we must ask whether the collective weight of all of the evidence might be related to the woman getting split in two in Papyrus 66 at John 11:3.

Moreover, the early interpolation of Martha can answer several questions that biblical scholars have been asking for generations, such as:
  • why do Martha and Mary seem to live in Galilee or Samaria in Luke’s Gospel? (because they did not live in Bethany!)
  • why don’t Martha and Mary have a brother in Luke 10? (Because Lazarus isn’t their brother!)
  • why do Martha and Mary say the very same thing, first at John 11:21 and then again at 11:32? (because one woman was doubled!)
  • why did so many early Christians, going all the way back to the third century, identify Mary of Bethany as Mary Magdalene? (because circulating texts of the Fourth Gospel encouraged them to do so in light of obvious parallels between John 11 and John 20!)
Therefore, due to both external and internal evidence, as of now I believe that the interpolation of Martha remains the simplest thesis for explaining the combined weight of these phenomena.

[1] See Tommy Wasserman, “Bringing Sisters Back Together: Another Look at Luke 10:41–42,” JBL 137:2 (2018): 439-61, at 457; Mary Rose D’Angelo, “Women Partners in the New Testament,” JFSR 6 (1990): 65-86, at 78-79.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Is Martha an Interpolation into John’s Gospel?

One of the readers of our blog, and a very promising PhD student at Duke University, Elizabeth Schrader, is currently working on examining the textual transmission of John 11:1–12:2, specifically the presence (or absence) of the two sisters, Martha and Mary in the story. I have invited Elisabeth to share her research in three consecutive posts. Based on her observations in the manuscripts, she proposes the bold thesis that Martha was interpolated into the Fourth Gospel in the second century. I know she looks forward to response and debate. Personally, I think her findings are very significant, although I disagree with her overall explanation of the data.

A Problem around Martha: Introduction

In a 2017 article published in the Harvard Theological Review (Open Access version here), I argued that the character Martha is likely to be a second-century interpolation into John’s Gospel. In recent weeks, this research has received increased attention and discussion (Duke Today, Religion News Service, Religion for Breakfast). Tommy Wasserman has kindly invited me to introduce my work to this blog, and I was very happy to discuss it in more detail here.

In my research, I have demonstrated that Martha’s presence is consistently unstable throughout the textual transmission of John. Such instability is found in nearly every verse where Martha appears in John 11:1–12:2, in witnesses as early as Papyrus 66 and as late as the 1611 King James Bible. My conclusion is that approximately one in five Greek manuscripts and one in three Old Latin manuscripts has some problem around Martha. I define a “problem around Martha” according to the following five criteria:
  1. the unexpected omission of Martha’s name
  2. the initially transcribed name “Mary” altered to “Martha”
  3. the name “Mary” appearing instead of an expected “Martha”
  4. an unexpected singular noun, verb, or pronoun to describe the Bethany sisters
  5. a different person named as the first of those Jesus loved in John 11:5
My most recent compilation of the relevant manuscript and patristic data is available here for those who are interested; I will happily approve a read-only view of the spreadsheet for anyone that asks.

Of course we must now ask, why is there such a remarkable textual problem around Martha in John’s Gospel? My position is that Martha was added to John’s Gospel in order to discourage readers from identifying Lazarus’ sister Mary as Mary Magdalene, an identification that was happening in patristic and extracanonical literature as early as the third century. Martha’s presence in the Lazarus story is important: she is now the woman who speaks the central Christological confession “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world” [John 11:27, NRSV]. This confession is often compared to Peter’s similar Christological confession in Matthew (“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” [Matt 16:16, NRSV]) to which Jesus replies that Peter is the rock upon which the church will be built [Matthew 16:18]. Since according to Matthew, the Christological confessor is designated as the foundation of the church, the identity of the Christological confessor in John’s Gospel is of paramount importance. It should give us pause to learn that Tertullian, writing in 206 AD, believed that Mary gave this confession – and that this Mary was understood by many early readers to also be Mary Magdalene, the first person to see the risen Jesus and to receive an apostolic commission in John’s Gospel. Indeed, if it was the Evangelist’s intent for Mary (Magdalene) to give the Christological confession in John 11:27, this would suggest that her leadership role in John was akin to Peter’s in the Gospel of Matthew.

One need not give authority to the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Philip, or the Pistis Sophia today to notice that they offer evidence of early objections to Mary’s stature as “apostle to the apostles” (her status among Orthodox Christians even now). Composed by diverse Christian writers over the course of more than a century, these four documents each portray Jesus’ disciples—particularly Peter—objecting to Mary or to special status given to her by Jesus. Perhaps the changes we see from “Mary” to “Martha” are not so different from whatever process led to a textual variant at Luke 2:33, where Ἰωσὴφ is often copied instead of ὁ πατὴρ αὐτοῦ. We know that there were early debates about the doctrine of Jesus’ virgin birth. So, when we see textual instability around the suggestion that Joseph was Jesus’ “father,” it is reasonable for textual critics to infer that this textual problem could be connected with the virgin birth debate. Similarly, we know that there was early controversy about Mary Magdalene’s authority, especially vis-à-vis Peter. So when we see that the presence of Martha, the Christological confessor, is unstable throughout John 11–12—and since we know that many early readers identified Lazarus’ sister Mary as Mary Magdalene—our scholarly antennae should go up.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Announcing the Sacred Words Conference


On February 21–22, 2020, plan to attend the Phoenix Seminary Text & Canon Institute’s inaugural history of the Bible conference: Sacred Words: History of the Bible Conference.


Brief description from the conference website:
The Bible is the best-selling book of all time and its influence on Western culture beyond compare. But how did this group of ancient books written and then copied over millennia become the Bible we now know?

Join us for the Text & Canon Institute’s inaugural conference and learn from internationally known speakers about how the Bible has been copied, collected, and confessed as God’s sacred words.
The Text & Canon Institute seeks to foster academic study of the Bible and to serve the church and impact the culture by providing expertise and instruction on the history of the Bible. The Sacred Words conference brings this expertise directly to the church and wider culture.

More Info & Tickets


We are delighted to announce that Daniel Wallace, Peter Gentry, and Stephen Dempster will be the plenary speakers for the event. We’re also very excited to have some top-notch breakout presenters from the region: Jeff Cate, Anthony Ferguson, Darian Lockett, and Timothy Mitchell. Each of these speakers and presenters will be speaking on the topics in their own wheelhouse and each has a desire to see the church and honest seekers learn more about the history of the Bible.


Friday, Feb. 21

Arrive/Registration (6:00 pm) Welcome (6:30 pm)
Plenary: Dr. Peter Gentry – Chaos Theory and the Text of the Old Testament
  • Dr. Jeff Cate – The Stories They Tell: A Look at Interesting Variants in the Transmission of the New Testament
  • Dr. Darian Lockett – The Catholic Epistles: What Do James, Peter, John, and Jude have in Common?
  • Dr. Anthony Ferguson – Listening to the Dead Sea Scrolls
  • Timothy N. Mitchell – Where Inspiration is Found: Putting the New Testament Autographs in Context
Dismiss (9:00 pm)

Saturday, Feb. 22

Coffee and pastries (8:30 am)
Opening remarks (9:00 am)
Plenary: Dr. Stephen Dempster – How the Bible Became the Bible
Plenary: Dr. Daniel B. Wallace – Is What We Have Now What They Wrote Then?
Panel discussion
Dismiss (12:00 pm)

If you are in or around the Phoenix area next February, we hope you will join us for what will undoubtedly be some of the best teaching on the history of the Bible in the USA in 2020 and maybe for a long time to come.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Purpose of Catchwords

In Medieval manuscripts it’s not uncommon to find the first word of each page written at the bottom of the previous page. These repeated words are called “catchwords” and they continue well into the age of print. My vague sense is that they stopped being used around the 18th/19th cent. in printed works.

Catchwords in Erasmus’s 1516 edition
I had always assumed that these catchwords were a type of reader’s aid. I assumed that the idea was that you can have the next word, in whole or in part, at the ready as you turn the page. In this, it’s a bit like a pianist who needs to know what the notes are on the next page so that the music doesn’t stop during the page turn. This explanation, however, doesn’t make  sense of why these catchwords are found on the verso where no page turn is needed. But I just assumed they were included there since the eye has to move from the bottom to the top of a page.

But Michelle Brown has cleared up the reason for me. She says that catchwords are actually a printer’s aid not a reader’s (see Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts, p. 36). They are meant to help facilitate the arrangement of quires during book binding. Brown says they were introduced in Europe by way of Spain, Italy and France around 1,000 and that they may have entered through Islamic influence.

So, there you have it. I’d still like to know more about how they developed and why they became obsolete in printed books. If anybody knows more about the history of this little device, let me know.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Textual Optimism of the UBS4

The grading system for variants in the UBS editions is probably its most distinctive feature. These ratings rank from A to D and indicate the relative level of certainty the editors felt in their decision (A being the most confident). I suspect this system has been a help to many translators over the years. For myself, the system is a rare and welcome peek behind the editorial curtain to one of our most important (and bestselling?) editions.

Over time, however, there is a noticeable and well-documented shift in these ratings without any additional explanation or justification. For example, the reading of Eph 5.22 is given a C in the UBS3 and a B in UBS4, but the textual commentary for this decision remains word-for-word the same. Kent Clark called this “textual optimism” and his work on this is well worth consulting. (See the helpful summary from Mark Ward here.)

What I didn’t realize until today is that several of the editors owned up to this “textual optimism” and wrote about it even before the UBS4 was in print. Kurt and Barbara Aland say as much in their Text of the New Testament. On p. 45, they write about the UBS3 that “The only question is whether the editors have not been too cautious in applying the classifications, so that a B should often be replaced by an A, a C by a B, and a D by a C (a thorough reexamination has led to a revision of these for the fourth edition of GNT).” It does lead one to wonder how much responsibility for the increased textual optimism is the responsibility of the Alands.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Asa or Asaph in Matthew 1: A Teaser for the THGNT Textual Commentary

Yesterday morning, I was reading a sermon by Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834–1892) titled “Concealing the Words of God.” No, the sermon is not about textual criticism, but Spurgeon made a remark that sent my mind back to the arguments surrounding Asa or Asaph in Matt. 1:7–8. Spurgeon said (emphasis mine),
Lay no embargo upon any form of truth; demand no toll for the commodities of heaven. Let your mind be an open port, carrying on a free trade in the treasures of the gospel. Believe whatever God says, because God says it, though you may not always see its why and wherefore or perceive its internal consistency. Be prepared, and even anxious, to know the whole truth as far as you can know it, and let it pervade your entire being with its holy influence. It will be a terrible thing if one of these days you shall have to say “I rejected a great truth. I had a suspicion that it was so, but I did not wish to believe it, and so I shut my ears to its evidence. I had a leaning towards the opposite view, and I felt committed to it, and so refused to alter.” —Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit 25 (1879): 245.
Of course, Spurgeon is talking about theology here, but his remarks have relevance to arguments I’ve come across regarding a textual variant in Matt. 1. Since Spurgeon was not opposed to textual criticism, I’ll use his remark to leap into the Asa/Asaph variant at Matt. 1:7–8. I derive parts of what follows from the forthcoming Textual Commentary for the Tyndale House Greek New Testament that Dirk Jongkind and I are working on.

The variant in question is at Matt. 1:7–8. There are two instances of a name in Matthew’s genealogy—Ἀσά or Ἀσάφ, right at the end of v. 7 and beginning of v. 8. A sampling of the textual evidence breaks down thus, derived mostly from the UBS5 (with languages separated by commas):

Ἀσάφ· ἈσὰφP1(vid ασ̣α̣[φ ασα]φ̣) ℵ B C 700 f1 f13, aur c g1 k q vgmss, sa bo mae, arm, eth, geo, (syhmg) 
Ἀσά· ἈσὰK L W Δ Σ 33 565 1241 892 1424 Byz, (a), f ff1 vg, syc sys syp syh sypalslav
The Tyndale House edition, UBS, NA and SBL editions all go with Ἀσάφ. The earliest manuscripts support Ἀσάφ, as well as much of the Old Latin tradition, all of the Coptic tradition, and most of the ‘minor’ versions. On the other hand, the majority of Greek, Latin and Syriac manuscripts support Ἀσά, as it is supported by the Byzantine Greek text and the Vulgate, as well as some Old Latin and most Syriac versions.

Textually, if one’s preference is for early manuscripts, this decision is easy. There is a clear ‘winner’ among early witnesses in the Greek tradition. Still, the explanation for the variation has caused concern for some. The issue is that in 1 Kings 15:9, this individual is named Asa, not Asaph. Copyists were not unaware of this difference—in GA 1582 (which is close to the archetype of fam. 1), the text has Ἀσάφ, but a marginal note mentions that “Ασα” is the name according to 1 Kings (see Amy S. Anderson, The Textual Tradition of the Gospels: Family 1 in Matthew. NTTS 32. [Leiden: Brill, 2004], 62.)

The question, then, is whether copyists changed Ἀσά to Ἀσάφ, presumably because of the familiarity with the Psalmist, or did copyists see Ἀσάφ, perceive an error and ‘correct’ it, writing Ἀσά and conforming the text to 1 Kings?

Metzger writes that Ἀσάφ likely came about because “the evangelist may have derived material for the genealogy, not from the Old Testament directly, but from subsequent genealogical lists, in which the erroneous spelling occurred” (Textual Commentary, 2nd ed. [Stuttgart: German Bible Society, 1994], 1). If one believes that the original text is inerrant, one would rightly be suspicious of Metzger’s explanation here. That being said, one must not fall into the fallacy of a false dilemma and think that one must accept Metzger’s reason in order to accept the same text as Metzger.

In the current draft of the forthcoming Textual Commentary for the THGNT, we write the following to support the decision to print Ἀσάφ:

The text is adopted on the basis of its early evidence. The king’s name is given as Ἀσά thoughout 1 Kings 15, which could have led scribes to think the reading Ἀσάφ is an error, even as some modern scholars have suggested.[1] The similarity of the names Ἀσάφ (also note the Psalmist of the same name) and Ἀσά could have led to confusion as well.  
The name used in the Hebrew text of 1 Kings 15 is אָסָא (Asa), and a legitimate interpretation of this name is that it is a hypocorism (a shortened name)—an alternative form of the same name,אָסָף  (Asaph).[2] An alternative explanation for the use of Ἀσάφ might be that Matthew knows Hebrew better than his later copyists, and for the king who is called Asa in 1 Kings 15, Matthew uses the longer form of his name, Asaph.

[1] For example, Bruce M. Metzger suggests that Matthew may have copied Ἀσάφ from “genealogical lists, in which the erroneous spelling occurred,” in Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Biblegesellschaft, 1994), 1. W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison also suggest that Ἀσάφ is an error, corrected by later scribes in The Gospel According to Saint Matthew: Volume 1, International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988), 175.
[2] On אָסָא as a hypocorism (a shortened form) of אסף and the divine name but אָסָף as a hypocorism of the divine name and אסף, see Wilhelm Gesenius, Hebräisches und Aramäisches Handwörterbuch über das Alte Testament: Gesamtausgabe, ed. Herbert Donner, 18th ed. (Heidelberg: Springer, 2013), 83, 85. We are indebted to Pete Myers for this reference.

If one wanted to push the evidence a bit further, one might conclude that having the right text (Ἀσάφ) supports traditional views about Matthean authorship better than the majority reading, Ἀσά. If the author of Matthew’s Gospel was a Hebrew-speaking Christian, wouldn’t it make sense that he knew how Hebrew names worked better than his Greek- and Latin-speaking copyists centuries later?

As Spurgeon said, Believe whatever God says, because God says it, though you may not always see its why and wherefore or perceive its internal consistency. Our priority should be for the text and what it is, trusting that it is internally consistent even if we do not always perceive it so. When I was discussing this passage with a friend, he said something helpful to me once we found the explanation of hypocorism. “The thing you’ve got to remember,” he said, “is that the text [i.e. Asaph] was already perfect and without error long before we found an explanation for why it is perfect and without error.”