Wednesday, May 31, 2023

New Series “Papyri and the New Testament”

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I just discovered today that Brill has a new series called “Papyri and the New Testament” edited by Peter Arzt-Grabner, John S. Kloppenborg, and Christina M. Kreinecker. Here’s the publisher’s summary:

Papyrology has always interested scholars of the New Testament and of Christian origins, mainly because of the discovery of papyrus copies of texts from the Christian scriptures. However, what documentary papyri, ostraca, and tablets indicate about issues of everyday Greco-Roman life has also much to contribute to the understanding of early Christ groups. These issues include ancient economy and agriculture, labor and social relations, reading cultures, administration, and a variety of other topics. The PNT series is designed to introduce students and teachers to the value of this material. The volumes provide introductions, evaluations, and conclusions. Many documents are presented in their entirety with an English translation and commentary. The authors cover the state of papyrological research and supplement it with their own conclusions and updates, making the series also of interest to scholars of Papyrology, Biblical Studies, Ancient History, and Classics.

The first two volumes are scheduled for release this year.

The first volume is More Light from the Ancient East: Understanding the New Testament through Papyri edited by the series editors. The title is an obvious ode to the pioneering volume by Adolf Deissmann.

The first volume of the new series “Papyri and the New Testament” introduces students, teachers, and scholars to the value of the study of papyrological documents and their impact on the understanding of early Christ groups. Papyri, ostraca, and tablets document the social, economic, political, and multilingual circumstances of the Greco-Roman period and are the best sources for understanding New Testament times. Compared to the first studies devoted to this topic about 100 years ago, the amount of available material has grown twentyfold. In addition, the days have passed when papyri were found exclusively in Egypt: a significant number of texts from Israel, Syria, North Africa, Britain, Switzerland, and other Greco-Roman regions demonstrate that these sources shed light on general conditions throughout the Roman Empire. The volume both introduces the main issues of comparing papyri with New Testament texts and presents many comprehensive examples.

The second volume is Letters and Letter Writing by Peter Arzt-Grabner.

New Testament letters are compared with the private, business, and administrative letters of Greco-Roman antiquity and analyzed against this background. More than 8.000 letters – preserved on papyrus, potsherds or tablets from Egypt, Israel, Asia Minor, North Africa, Britain, and Switzerland – have been edited so far. Among them are not only short notes by writers with poor writing skills, but also extensive letters and correspondences from highly educated authors. They testify to the high art of Paul of Tarsus, who knew how to make excellent use of epistolary formulas or enrich them with new variants, but they also show that some New Testament letters clearly fall outside the framework of standard epistolography, raising new questions about their authors and their genre. The introductions and discussions offered in the volume reflect the current state of research but also offer new results. Over 130 papyrus and ostracon letters are newly translated in their entirety.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Why We Wrote Myths & Mistakes in Two Tweets

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Twitter is not exactly famous for nuance, but at least it reminds you from time to time of the value of writing books. Today was one such day. Here are two tweets, from different ends of the spectrum that repeat unhelpful myths about the text of the NT. 


If only someone had edited a book correcting such common myths.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

William Eyre: Neglected Figure in the History of Textual Criticism?

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I recently acquired access to the substantial three-volume collection of James Ussher’s correspondence edited by Elizabethanne Boran. Ussher is most famous today for his very specific dating of creation. I’m no expert on him, but I can safely say that this was hardly his greatest contribution. He was, according to one recent biographer, “formidably learned” and kept a wide correspondence with great lights of hisday. He wrote on a wide range of subjects, including those of interest to this blog (see here). 

The particular letter I’m interested in, however, is not from Ussher but to him from a man named William Eyre (or Eyres, Aiers). Eyre was a Fellow at Emmanuel College and, according to Gordon Campbell, an overseer of the first Cambridge company of KJV translators who were assigned 1 Chronicles to Song of Solomon (more here).

Emmanuel College, where Eyre was a fellow

Before introducing the letter, it’s important to remember that, at this time, the dating of the Hebrew Masoretic vowel points was hotly contested. The issue was hardly arcane as it touched on a much larger debate between Catholics and Protestants on which versions of the Bible were “authentic” and therefore authoritative for settling doctrinal debate. If the Jews added the vowel points after both the Septuagint and the Vulgate, then it was easier to argue that the Hebrew text of the 16th century was inferior to either of those translations. From this Catholics could ground their preference for the Vulgate since, it was argued, Jerome had access to a purer Hebrew text than the one Protestants claimed. (If you want a great example, take a close look at Gen. 3.15 in the Douay-Rheims vs. KJV and think about its potential to influence Mariology.)

This is the backdrop to a long and fascinating letter that Eyre sent to Ussher on 24 March, 1608. (You can find the Latin online here.) The main subject of the letter is a proposed two-volume work that would contribute to the debate by showing that “only the Hebrew edition of the Old Testament, just as the Greek of the New, is authentic and pure.” The OT seems to occupy his special attention, but the NT is not left out.

What’s fascinating is the amount of detail he provides Ussher for his plan.

...here is the method of the things that I have begun to prepare — and indeed shortly (with the Lord’s help) I shall complete this work for private use. It can be called סיג התורה ‘fence around the law, or ‘Massoreth’ ’ or (as others read) ‘Masorah’, for preserving the purity of the sources, or removing corruption from the text of the sacred scriptures, and consequently for proving their authority; it is contained in two books, of which: 

  1. The first, will contain general introductory material. 
  2. The second, an index of variant readings, in the whole of scripture. 
The chief material of the first book (after the state of the controversy about the authentic edition of the scriptures and purity of the sources) I have covered in six propositions, which I could confirm with the firmest of reasoning, if they are rightly understood: 

  • 1st proposition: only that edition of the scriptures is authentic which was divinely inspired, and written down by the prophets and apostles. 
  • 2nd proposition: that prophetic scripture which was first written down is still preserved in the Church in a pure and whole state. 
  • 3rd proposition: the Hebrew scripture of the Old Testament was handed down in antiquity with the same notes of vowels and accents that we use today. 
  • 4th proposition: the Greek scripture of the New Testament (which was divinely inspired) still remains whole and pure in the Church. 
  • 5th proposition: the Greek translation of the Old Testament is neither divinely inspired, nor pure and whole. 
  • 6th proposition: the Vulgate Latin edition of the Bible is not faithful nor authentic, nor yet divinely written down.

Friday, May 19, 2023

2023 Birmingham Colloquium Papers Online

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Thanks to Hugh Houghton and his team for putting on the latest Birmingham Colloquium. The videos are now up on YouTube here. The theme this year was Catena, Marginalia and the IGNTP. I have sadly never been but I take Dirk's word as accurate to many who are able to go.


Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Codex Sassoon Sells for $38m

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We wrote earlier about the sale of Codex Sassoon which was billed, with some exaggeration, as the earliest, most complete copy of the Hebrew Bible. Less exaggerated, as it turns out, was the claim that it could be the most expensive book sold at auction. As of today, it can officially claim that title. 

JNS reports that it sold today for $38.1 million to the Tel Aviv ANU–Museum of the Jewish People. For comparison, the most expensive book sold at auction before today was da Vinci’s Codex Leicester which Bill Gates bought for almost $31m. I should note that this is at the short end of Sotheby’s original projection which put it at $30–50m.

From JNS:

Alfred H. Moses, a former U.S. ambassador to Romania and active member of the Georgetown Jewish community, and his family purchased the Hebrew manuscript on behalf of the American Friends of ANU and gifted it to the museum, according to a press release from the auction house. Moses is chair of the museum’s international board of governors.

“The hammer fell after a four-minute bidding battle between two determined bidders,” Sotheby’s stated.

Read the rest here


Update (5/18/23): JNS updated its story after I wrote this to correct the amount the codex sold for. They had originally said 33.5m but it was apparently 38.1.

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

‘Fragments of Truth’ Now Free to Watch Online

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Craig Evans shares word that his Fragments of Truth documentary on the text of the New Testament is now free to watch on YouTube. He’s also uploaded a few extras, including the video below with the late great Larry Hurtado dispensing uncommon wisdom on P52. The documentary has some fantastic footage of early NT papyri and (most of) the interviews are with genuine experts on the subject. It’s worth watching. You can read my review here.




Monday, May 01, 2023

Robinson’s Defense of Byzantine Priority in Spanish

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Norman Simón Rodríguez has translated Maurice Robinson’s essay defending the Byzantine priority position into Spanish. You can read it free online.