Saturday, November 18, 2006

Live from SBL in Washington

It's now SBL in Washington. The conference begins in earnest tomorrow morning, but already there has been much of interest to textual critics. The display of manuscripts in the Freer Gallery is phenomenal. Quite the richest display I've seen together in one place. I'm sure that there will be much discussion of it after the conference.

The 5 hour session on the Freer Biblical Manuscripts happened today. Larry Hurtado spoke about the significance of the collection. Kent Clarke spoke about the biography of Charles Lang Freer and produced evidence that some of the manuscripts may have come from Dimai (Soknopaei Nesou) in the Fayoum. David Trobisch explained how to read a page of the Freer Gospels and spoke about various details on the page. Timothy Brown gave a live demonstration of how he cuts high quality images of the facing page of a manuscript, flips them horizontally, makes them see-through and then superimposes them on the page they face and thereby tests hypotheses of transfer of ink across facing pages (he did various other things too). Thomas Wayment spoke about multispectral imaging. Just as an aside he mentioned the loss to water of 32 boxes of ca. 1000 manuscript fragments each of the Oxyrhynchus Collection in the Ashmolean in Oxford (!). Malcolm Choat spoke about the Minor Prophets scroll in the Freer Collection and specifically about the text that follows it. Leonard Greenspoon was not able to give his paper about the Freer Joshua. Jean-Francois Racine compared the textual smoothness of W with B, comparing the changing tastes of textual critics to the changing fashions of taste in wine. James Royse talked about the various types of corrections in the Freer Gospels and Ulrich Schmid rounded off the day with a provocative paper addressing the question of the date of the Freer Gospels. The IV/V century date seems to have no secure basis and a later date (e.g. VI century or later) is entirely possible. The papers were all so good that 5 hours non-stop still kept the interest of someone with jet-lag. That's a good sign.


  1. Ulrich's paper was very well-done and very compelling in its paleographical argument. But at one point it seemed like he was saying that non-paleographical arguments for a date should not be admissible even in cases where the paleography is inconclusive. It might be that in this case, those other arguments are also inconclusive (he mentioned that he addresses that more fully in the book--which I have not yet perused). But it seems to me that where paleography is inconclusive, all other forms of evidence must be considered. Is there a good reason why this would not be the case?

  2. Another great day at SBL.

    Dr. Don Barker (Macquarie) began his discussion of P. Oxy 1780 by passing around an extremely authentic looking replica of the manuscript in question. I didn't want to ask a stupid question, but I couldn't help asking if such replicas could be purchased from

    If I understood him rightly, he very carefully reproduced by his own hand each letter and space to near exact dimensions of the original on very old looking papyrus from Egypt. It appeared to me that he also reduplicated the same tears and lacunae as the original.

    I asked him if anyone else did this sort of thing. He said no. I commented that this painstaking work must help him understand much more about the manuscript than could be learned from simple observation. He replied that this was the whole idea.

    After this brief conversation, he then gave me an order form to order my own "New Testament Papyri Reproductions." Available are samples from P46 P 66 P39 P75 P23 for $45.00 each (plust $12.00 postage & handling). Hey! $12 for handling P72 is a pretty good bargain!

  3. Dr. Peter Head presented on early letter carrying.

    He made the point that sometimes letters were written simply because a trusted friend or servant was already en route to an area where a letter writer's friend lived. So long as the servant were traveling to the same area, a letter might as well be written, without any other significant impetus for it.

    I wonder, then, if this might be the case for Colossians, since the real impetus for Tychicus' trip to Colosse was to ensure that Onesimus actually made it back to Philemon's house. Perhaps the occasion for Colossians might be a bit more muted than has sometimes been asserted.

    To be sure, there were some secondary urgencies behind Colossians. But perhaps Paul would have never written it if the occasion of sending Onesimus back to Colosse had not presented itself.

    At least I would ask this question, especially in light of Dr. Head's presentation.

    Jim Leonard

  4. Two papers were presented as part of the fruit of labors involving the Papyrological Commentary on the New Testament (see, e.g., ).

    What light might be shed from documentary papyrological sources on the Lord's Prayer in Q and on the call of Levi the tax collectors?

    Essentially, both presenters gave a couple of parallel texts which 1) suggest that forgiveness of debts may have had more to do with Roman or Ptolemaic offerings of peace amnesties in the aftermath of war than with the typically assumed semitic backgrounds; and 2) Levi was not the typical kind of Roman tax collector, but was a subcontractor whose status was all the more villanous since he was a traitor working for the occupier; perhaps the term "impious" is more subtly adroit than the term "sinner" for hamartoloi.

    We were treated to full presentations which led to these conclusions.

    Jim Leonard

  5. Juan Hernandez, who now teaches at Bethel, St. Paul--if I remember correctly, has presented papers on scribal tendencies in Revelation in two successive SBL years.

    Both in Philadelphia and now here in Washington, he seems to enjoy reporting that his two subject manuscripts overthrow the canon of preference for the shorter reading. P46 and Sinaiticus both omit more in their singular readings than add.

    I suspect there is a significant caveat to this conclusion. Despite the statistics, perhaps the canon is nonetheless operative when a scribe is consciously confronted by two competing readings. Surely, the scribe would be loathe to preserve the shorter reading, and would tend instead to preserve the fuller reading.

    In such circumstances, a restoration of the text must take seriously the preference for the shorter reading.

    This important caveat never seems to be addressed by Hernandez. I can understand that accidental or unconscious omissions may be more frequent than additions of any stripe. Nonetheless, I don't understand how the canon can be dismissed without reference to the aforementioned caveat.

    The issue is important in that some TR advocates seize such conclusions indiscriminately.

    In making this comment, I'm stating what seems obvious to me. However, I feel rather insecure in making this assertion, and would like to have some assurance as to whether I'm on the right track.

  6. While I learned a great deal from the panel discussion over Dr. Hurtado's The Earliest Christian Artifacts, featuring rather intensive disagreement between him and Dr. Ehrman, the one thing I learned best is to couch criticism against a colleague with subjunctives and not indicatives:

    "Your view SEEMS to fail because...."
    "You MAY have overlooked this fact...."
    "This PERHAPS is better interpreted this way...."


    In a later (non-TC) panel session, one significant scholar was called upon to make evaluative comments regarding three panel presentations. He began by saying, "I am not here as a demolitionist. I've already seen one session earlier today in which such an attempt was unfortunately made."

    I'm not sure if this scholar indeed was present in the Hurtado session, but his comment could have reflected as much.

    At any rate, Dr. Hurtado would not have his work demolished. He gave a rather robust response, especially to Dr. Ehrman. To the charge that his conclusions were theologically motivated, Dr. Hurtado was quick to obliquely rejoin that there was more than one theological commitment represented in the intense exchange.

    Jim Leonard
    Southwestern Pennsylvania

  7. A recurring issue in several sessions is how representative of early Christianity are our literary "artifacts" from Egypt?

    This touches on geographically based Text Types. Years ago Dr. Epp argued that travel was so extensive and easy so as to invalidate geographically based Text Types. Variant readings were constantly exported and imported from and to Egypt.

    This prompted his suggestion that Text Types be based more upon the character of the manuscript. For example, is the manuscript expansive (D), or strict (B), or polished/theologically evolved(A)? Yet, I haven't read anyone who has further developed this thought.

    Today, it was asserted that every Text Type is represented by manuscripts found in Egypt, and Dr. Epp's thesis was lightly discussed just long enough to move on to another issue.

    Why has Dr. Epp's thesis not been advocated?

    Jim Leonard
    Southwestern Pennsylvania

  8. Despite the statistics, perhaps the canon is nonetheless operative when a scribe is consciously confronted by two competing readings. Surely, the scribe would be loathe to preserve the shorter reading, and would tend instead to preserve the fuller reading.

    Opponents of the shorter reading canon have adduced a fair amount of evidence against it. I've never seen anything comparable from proponents - they just tell us that "surely" scribes must have done this or that, because it seems reasonable that they would have done so. I'd be gratified to see something more compelling.

  9. Having posted so many comments of late, I should hasten to note my status as a novice, and that these posts should be taken with more than a grain of salt....


    Going back to Friday's session, Ulrich Schmid suggested that the Freer Gospels be dated a bit later than Sanders suggested. Dr. Schmid pushes the date from the late fourth or early fifth century, to the sixth century.

    In case anyone didn't get around all the way through the exhibit hall, I thought I might point out that Lee W. Woodard (D.Min., Phillips University, OK) has rented an exhibit booth on the back edge of the hall and is passing out his free 14 page full color paper entitled "Codex W Discovered to Be the Original First Century Gospels" (caveat lecteur).

    Woodard has done...extensive... paleographic study on the Freer Gospels, and has determined that it was the official edition of the Gospels. His considered...analysis... demonstrates that the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all personally signed and sealed Codex W for authentication.

    Evidently Dr. Schmid didn't benefit from Woodard's analysis pointing to the exact date of 96 A.D.

    Woodard's considered opinion invalidate's Dr. Ehrman's contention that inerrancy doesn't matter since we don't have the originals. Now, as Woodard has argued, we evidently realize that Washingtonensis is the original eye-witness account.

    Thus, all text-types in the Gospels stream from Codex W.

    Also, by the way, Woodard resolves the Synoptic Problem, not to mention the original Hebrew of Matthew.

    To quote from one of our favorite movies: "Would you like to know more?" (Starship Troopers).

  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  11. Thank you James and anon for your interesting shorter reading comments. I do find amusing and puzzling the concern that if the shorter reading theory goes down (similarly with lectio difficilior, which appears to be at least grossly abused) that the new truth might be used by TR advocates. Should we not follow truth wherever it leads ?

    And I am always amazed at how some of the simplest and clearest issues are ignored. First, that shorter reading (even more so lectio difficilior) has a type of presumption of manuscript errancy in the great majority of manuscripts, that the scribes were generally tamperers looking to actively add this and that, the words of men substituted for the words of God. And that these phoney additions were pulled off against the vigilance of the Bible readers and God's promises of inspiration and preservation.

    Consider that omissions are much simpler and less puzzling than additions.

    Omissions are quite easy to miss because.. they are not there !

    While additions glare out, and will be noticed immediately by the other regional churches and copyists in other cities.

    Such a distinction should be a primary consideration in comparative theories, yet this simple major component is simply virtually never mentioned.

    From this evangelical perspective of respect for the Bible text, one must consider omissions as a far more prevalent scribal tendency than additions.

    However .. ooops.. again we run into the same problem .. that may have been the theoretical base used by the early scholars and Reformers who used a careful textual analysis in bringing forth the TR text.

    Steven Avery
    Queens, NY