Sunday, March 05, 2006

More about The Scribes

Peter Rodgers' novel The Scribes is available in its second edition from Authorhouse. Below is some (lightly edited) publicity from their webpage and an extract—just so you get hooked.

Authorhouse publicity:

The Scribes is the first in a series of historical novels. The book is set in Rome in the years A.D. 179-180. Its protagonist is Justin, a young scribe of the Roman church, named after Justin Martyr. He is helped in the copyist's tasks by two friends, Marcus and Rufus. His teacher in Rome had been Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, who was beginning to write his Against Heresies when the novel takes place.

The story begins when the Roman church receives a visit from a wealthy ship merchant from Alexandria in Egypt and his daughter, Juliana. This appealing young woman is a student in the catechetical school in Alexandria, and is also a scribe for her church. Justin is attracted to her, but troubled by her manuscript. Her St. Mark begins differently. He has the longer ending (Mark 16:9-20) and she does not etc. For Justin This is very unsettling. His primary aim in life is to copy with scrupulous fidelity the text of the gospels, as the church in Rome has receieved it. But the church in Alexandria has perserved a different type of text. He is determined to get to the bottom of this puzzle, and as he does, he develops a romantic interest in Juliana. But she has returned to Alexandria. How will he pursue the relationship?

The opportunity comes when Bishop Eleutherus of Rome sends Justin and Marcus to deliver letters to various churches throughout the empire. Their final destination is Alexandria.

TRAVEL... with Justin and Marcus as they visit churches in Cornith, Athens, Ephesus, Antioch, and Alexandria.

MEET... the remarkable leaders they encounter: Dionysius of Cornith, Athen agoras of Athens, Pinytus of Cnossus, Theophilus of Antioch, the aged Hegesippus and the young Clement of Alexandria.

JOURNEY... with them to exotic places like Cnossus in Crete, Oxyrhyhchus in the Nile Valley and Crocodilopolis in the Fayum in Egypt.

EXPERIENCE...with them the many hazards that could befall a traveller or a manuscript: storms, pirates, arrests, theft, greedy customs agents, eager booksellers, heretical groups, unscrupulous innkeepers, scribes who improve the style of their texts.

JOIN... them as they face the challenge of different readings in the texts, different methods of copying, different interpretations among the churches, and strange gospels among the Gnostics.
About the Author

Peter Rodgers is the Rector of St. John's Episcopal Church, New Haven, Connecticut and an Associate Fellow of Timothy Dwight College at Yale University. He holds degrees from Hobart College, General Theological Seminary and Oxford University. Before coming to St. John's in 1979 he was curate for student ministry at the Round Church in Cambridge, England. He has published several journal articles on the text of the New Testament and is the author of Knowing Jesus (InterVarsity 1982, Forward Movement, 1989).

Free Preview
Justin could not sleep. It was a little after midnight and a long time until dawn. His mind was filled with thoughts of the manuscript and its owner. He had been caught off guard by his reaction. His glance at Marcus made it clear that he too was taken aback. The prospect of spending the next few weeks in the scriptorium, day by day with such an attractive, intelligent and interesting woman was undeniably pleasant. She sought to learn from him not only the skill of the scribe, but also the craft of the reed-pen. But what more was in store: many conversations on theology, the endless contrasts between East and West, the playful banter over disputed points? They would think the same thoughts, breathe the same air, drink of the same spirit for the better part of a month.

The whole idea of a woman scribe was new. Rufus, of course, with his rigorist views, would not have approved. The thought of women in the church, let alone in the scriptorium, would be suspect, and from his point of view, put the whole Christian enterprise in jeopardy. 'Flee from meat and wine and women!' he would often cry in heated debate. And although he was, alas, not present to protest, and was in any case the newest member of the scribal band, he was nonetheless a valued brother, and Justin was aware of what he would think and what he might say. He chided himself for thinking it a relief that Rufus was detained.

Was Justin investing too much in the eastern visitor? Was this striking woman with her beautiful manuscript to be honored any more than another visitor to Rome? It was her faith and love of learning had led her to seek out the local scribes and learn all she could from them. But why should he think that she would show any special interest in him? He must be entirely sensible and get on with his work. The rigorism of Rufus was not for him, but it did have its point. Single-minded zeal for the task at hand was what was called for, and he must keep guard over his heart.

But it did surprise him that she was willing to leave her precious copy of St. Mark there with him at the scriptorium. It was her special private possession, used for devotion. She felt it would be safe with him. It certainly bespoke a high degree of trust in a man she had only just met. Had she thought it a great generosity that he invited her to come each morning to the scriptorium, to join and aid him in his work? Had she been impressed with his eagerness to read and copy this beautiful manuscript from Alexandria? Whatever her reason, there it lay, in the room adjacent to his own. No wonder he couldn t sleep! He lit his lamp, dressed himself and went into the scriptorium. Several hours without disturbance lay before him, when he could read and enjoy the splendid codex. He carefully untied the string and opened to the title page.

'The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ...'

Something was missing. In every copy of St. Mark that he had ever read were the words 'Jesus Christ, the Son of God.' Why was this splendid Alexandrian manuscript different? Surely they believed in Alexandria that Jesus was the Son of God? Perhaps it was a scribal slip, caused because in Greek 'Christ' and 'God", written in abbreviation, ended in the same letter. So some Alexandrian scribe had inadvertently left out the precious words. Justin had caught himself in just such a mistake some time ago. He had left out a line in St. John, and found his text reading in the great prayer of Jesus 'I do not pray that thou shouldst take them from the evil one.' But what had Mark originally written? Mark had had links with the earliest churches in both Rome and Alexandria, but was reputed to be the founder of the latter. Had some early copyist, eager to honor the Lord, or to underline the Gospel's emphasis added it? What, perhaps, could Juliana tell him? He needed to know, but he hardly dared ask her, knowing how much this particular manuscript meant to her. Yet the faithful handing on of the faith depended on the faithful transmission of the text.


  1. Among 'the many hazards that could befall a traveller or a manuscript' sorms would be one of the most interesting. But a sorm would effect a traveller quite differently from a manuscript. Has anybody got access to the Zeitschrift fur Sormkritische Neutestamentlichen Studien?

  2. I've conjectured an emendation, but your marginal note will remain a source of evidence for the publisher's original reading.

  3. I thought you said you wouldn't publish any conjectural emendations.

  4. I.e. I would not publish any conjecture with the pretension that it forms part of an inspired text, esp. not when there's always a decent enough reading in available sources (again, I'm trying to provoke counter examples).

  5. Well pretty clearly 'sorms' is a better reading than your conjecture. 'Sorms' has all the manuscript support AND it is the more difficult reading. 'Storms' is a harmonistic conjecture. You ought to be more consistent Pete, really.

  6. Illustrates the problem with the l.d. canon.

  7. This is obviously an antivermipassionist heresy. The real reading is "worms". Some judicious administrator came along and emended the text to cover up the earliest view that worms represent something or other.

  8. Could it have had something to do with the Diet of Worms? Perhaps they ate manuscripts.

  9. Exegetical support: Worms ate the manna (Ex. 16:20) and manna parallels the word (Dt. 8:3).

  10. Antivermipassionism? Yeah, right. Once again tc scholarship proves itself too smart for its own good, so anxious to devise the most ingenious explanation in place of the simplest. Granted, the original reading was "worms," but the received text is surely more easily explained as an accidental corruption based on the proximity of "s" so close to "w" on the keyboard, and nothing more. No theological motivation is needed. Moreover, antivermipassionism must etymologically only relate to doctrines concerning the class of animals commonly known as worms, which creatures could have no impact on a text whose entire history was carried in electronic form. Granted there are also computer viruses known as worms, but these are only of theological interest to those in the emergent church movement, where the original wording of any text is of such little interest that such a movement could hardly be relevant to the present inquiry.

  11. Is Sorm Criticism only taught at Trekkie conventions?

  12. "the many hazards that could befall a traveller or a manuscript: storms, pirates, arrests, theft, greedy customs agents, eager booksellers, heretical groups, unscrupulous innkeepers, scribes who improve the style of their texts."

    Just what was the nature of the orthodox corruption above? Anyone have a copy of the original screenshot?

  13. Thanks Anon,

    To restore the original text:
    "the many hazards that could befall a traveller or a manuscript: sorms, pirates, ...'

  14. . . .scribes who improve the style of their texts?