Thursday, January 19, 2006

Date of P52

There is discussion of the date of P52 following Nongbri's article in the Harvard Theological Review: discussions include XTalk, NTGateway, and Hypotyposeis.


  1. Some comments I posted to textualcriticism when the article first appeared:
    There are some excellent things in this article.
    1. It is very powerful on the emergence of a spurious 'consensus' (for an early 2nd cent date for P52) without any supporting evidence or argumentation. This sort of 'groupthink' slippage is well documented and shows that even senior NT text critics don't always appeal to relevant evidence (see note 22 on pp 30-31): 'This so-called "consensus" in "recent opinion," as it rests on assertions with no evidence, is highly dubious.' (p. 31). Since this seems to be an endemic problem for NT studies generally, it is helpful to have such a good case study. A good one for students to ponder. [Although in this particular case I think Nongbri underplays Roberts' own mature comments in Greek Literary Hands, p. 11 that P. Fayyum 110, AD 94, is the closest datable manuscript to P52.]

    2. It is very helpful to get all the photos here and looking pretty clear. That takes a bit of work and helps everyone.

    3. unfortunately Nongbri doesn't actually propose any particular date for P52. This seems strange as after all the work it would have been useful to get his considered opinion on this. Nevertheless it appears from the conclusion ('I have not radically revised Roberts's work') and from his comments on P. Mich. inv. 5336 (ca. 152 CE [he doesn't explain how this one is dated and how secure it is, he seems to accept the opinion of the editor]) that a date around the latter rather than earlier period of the range 100-150 would be prefered (also cf. p. 30-31 comments from Turner and Bell on this).

    4. Nongbri does have some pretty basic problems of method though. He knows that it is hard to date un-dated literary texts. Lots of documents have dates and some have hands similar to P52. So he compares P52 with these documents and refuses any comparison with palaeographically dated literary texts as involving circularity. But he doesn't provide any sense of how the hand/style fo P52 may have developed over time. He doesn't really do palaeography, certainly not in the style of Roberts, Cavallo, Maehler: construct the outline of the development of the hand from datable examples and then trace the development of the hand over time, then seek to locate the sample in the time-line (if indeed there are enough datable examples to construct such). Nongbri is too concerned with individual letter formations (similarities and dissimilarities) and not concerned enough with the style of the hand in general and in its development.

    5. As a general rule (the virtues of democracy notwithstanding) some opinions are worth a lot more than others. Of course the opinions of general NT scholars commenting on John (Moody Smith, Raymond Brown etc.) are pretty irrelevant to the dating of a particular manuscript. But the opinions of some scholars, who handled and examined hundreds of manuscripts, remains important. In this connection Eric Turner's acquiescence to Roberts' dating (the only codex he admitted into the first half of the second century) and Roberts' own attention to P. Fayyum 110 as the closest datable text to P52 retain some force, especially since Nongbri has, in his own admission, not found a more recently published text from a later period that is closer to P52.

    6. So this is a helpful challenge to the consensus and a warning to the popularisers, but it is hardly the last word on the subject.

    PS. Anyone have any idea how to pronounce "Nongbri"?

  2. What would you suggest for a responsible age-range for P52, Peter?

    1. Roughly 150-200CE.
      I don't see much reason to disagree with Hurtado or Roberts. The date isn't radically new at all.
      And in general, it seems better to give a 50year windows for the dates.