Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Un-discovered parts of the Gothic Bible

Yes, the hyphen is deliberate ...

I'm currently working on a dictionary article on the early versions of the Bible and am working through the material on the Gothic Bible. Here are some questions on the ancient and modern contents of the Gothic Bible.

1) Did Wulfila translate all the Bible except for Kings, or all the Bible except for Samuel and Kings?
The source for this is Philostorgius (2.5) whose Ecclesiastical History is preserved in an epitome by Photius. Philostorgius says of Wulfila:

'He became an inventor for them [the Goths] of their own letters and translated into their language all the scriptures, except those of of the Kingdoms [βασιλειων], since they contained the account of wars, and the nation was fond of war and needed a bridle for their eagerness for battles rather than something that would spur them on to these.'

Now according to some reputable sources (including Sebastian Brock, TRE art. Bibelübersetzungen; p. 213 and the Wulfila Project) it is only the books of Kings that Wulfila did not translate. But surely the books of 'Kingdoms' would most naturally mean Samuel and Kings. Am I missing something? My only worry is that no one else seems to consider the possibility that the books of Samuel could be included in this mention by Philostorgius.

2) Are there really any remains of the Psalms in Gothic?
Bruce Metzger, whose vast learning we have had recent cause to remember with gratitude, says that parts of Ps. 52:2 and 52:3 are preserved in Gothic (Metzger, Early Versions, p. 375 fn. 1). However, I could find no trace of these and so corresponded with a Gothicist (or whatever they are called) who pointed out to me that fragments that had been considered as belonging to the Psalms now are considered as belonging to Nehemiah (see red print here). Unless, someone informs me to the contrary I am therefore going to conclude that the reference to these verses in Metzger is misleading.

Syriac texts online

A collection of Syriac texts, including photos of some Syriac biblical manuscripts, is available here. The site appears to bring together photos of Syriac manuscripts from across the web.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Schøyen Collection launches new website

The librarian of the Schøyen collection has just notified me that the collection has moved to a new and independent website

Under the "news" section (20/2 -07) there is more information cited below:

The Schøyen Collection, the largest private manuscript collection created in the last 100 years, today announced the launch of its new independent website at The move has come after a long collaboration with the National Library of Norway, which hosted the Schøyen Collection's online catalogue for seven years. The online checklist of about 6 per cent of the total collection is a work in progress, with information updates, additions and disposals reflected for the benefit, and with the input, of its users. The current website will hold the 21st edition of the collection checklist.

The decision to host an independent website has been made for two reasons. First, the Schøyen Collection and its stakeholders will be better served by having a stronger independent presence on the web at an international level rather than being merely a resource within the website of a national library. Second, by not being obliged to provide the level of public service required as an associate of a national, state-funded institution, the privately funded collection would be better able to fulfil its original remit of working with scholars, students, and others with a genuine interest in advancing the understanding and knowledge of human culture and civilization as a whole.

Martin Schøyen, proprietor and creator of the collection, said:
'It has been a privilege for the Collection to co-operate with the National Library of Norway but our Collection is of global rather than national importance. It should stand alone as a significant cultural resource in its own right. We need to make our own decisions on the future in the best interests of the Collection. However, I can assure scholars that the Collection will continue to make its manuscripts and other material available on the same terms as before in both London and Oslo.'

Note to Editors:
The Schøyen Collection crosses borders and unites cultures, religions and unique materials found nowhere else. The Collection, based in London and Oslo, contains over 13,000 significant manuscripts and other artefacts of major cultural importance and is an important part of the world’s heritage.

There is no public collection that has the Schøyen Collection’s unique array of manuscripts from all the greatest manuscript hoards, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, The Cairo Genizah of Hebrew MSS, The Oxyrhynchus hoard of classical papyri, The Dishna Biblical papyri, The Nag Hammadi Gnostic papyri, the Dunhuang hoard of Buddhist MSS, and many others. Nor is there one with such a variety, geographically, linguistically and textually, and of scripts and writing materials, covering so a great span of time — 5,000 years of history."

Monday, February 26, 2007

Early versions go online at Titus

I've just been looking at the Titus website with its breathtaking array of material of interest to the linguist. What is of interest to textual critics, however, will be the fact that a number of ancient Bible versions, or transcriptions of manuscripts, are now appearing online. From the Titus page you can read transcriptions of the Old Georgian gospels (for instance, the Adysh manuscript is there), the Old Armenian Bible (Künzle's edition of the Gospels; Zohrab's of the Bible) and the Udi NT. Syriac biblical material (including transcription!) is available for members. There are many other features. Even if you do not know the languages in question, the site is well worth browsing just to get a sense of what is out there.

Elliott reviews Krans Beyond What Is Written

In the latest RBL Keith Elliott reviews Jan Krans Beyond What Is Written: Erasmus and Beza as Conjectural Critics of the New Testament. Elliott is warm in his praise of this monograph, which provides a description of the framework within which Erasmus and Beza carried out their work. Both are apparently viewed as reluctant in their proposal of conjectural emendations to the GNT.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

A New Ending for Mark 16? Maybe not…

[Daniel B. Wallace sent in the following message]

The sensational report in the school newspaper of Brigham Young University about a new ending for Mark 16 in an early papyrus has circulated the Internet rather rapidly. Other publications have picked it up and the news has continued to spread, with scholarly speculation over what the ending might be.

All of this is premature, however, and in fact is based on faulty reporting. The scholars involved in the “discovery” have written a disclaimer and have asked me to post it. The three professors working on multi-spectral imaging of ancient manuscripts at BYU are Thomas Wayment, Roger Macfarlane, and Stephen Bay. I contacted Professor Macfarlane because of my interest in the discovery. He told me that it was a journalistic mistake. I would simply ask that the scholarly community recognize that not only is there no such manuscript to speculate about, but that the reputations of these professors should not in any way be impugned by this unintentionally false report of their findings. Please read their retraction for yourselves to see what has actually transpired. As all of us who teach know, our students don’t always hear exactly what we are saying. This is simply just another classic case of that, but the ramifications for the reputation of these gentlemen could have been unfortunate if they had not published a retraction of what was written. Please read the pdf file for yourselves. It’s simply called “retraction.”

As those of us who are working in the field of textual criticism fully recognize, all too often sensationalist reports about our work have almost become commonplace. I trust that this explanation and the accompanying retraction clear this matter up.


Daniel B. Wallace
Executive Director
Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts

[Read the text of the retraction of the BYU scholars here.]

Friday, February 23, 2007

Keith Elliott's tribute to Metzger

As noted by Dave Black (blog and personal communication), Prof. J. Keith Elliott (Leeds) has written a detailed tribute to Bruce Metzger in The Independent, one of the leading British newspapers.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Colossians 4:19 [sic]

Over at Project Wulfila (the Gothic language project) there is something that is puzzling me at the end of Colossians 4, namely Colossians 4:19. Now in the various Bibles I have available to me, Colossians ends at 4:18. The Project Wulfila edition does not in fact have any additional text. It simply defines the phrase 'Remember my chains. Grace be with you. Amen' as belonging to '4:19' rather than 4:18. Can anyone enlighten me as to the history of this particular verse division? Can anyone tell me of any other editions of the NT with a 19th verse to Colossians 4?

Cambridge Day Conference: Sat 3rd March


Some readers may be interested in the following day conference. Although the papers will cover a wide range of areas there will be at least one paper which deals with some textual criticism.


Professor Hengel is respected internationally as a leading Biblical scholar. For many decades he has maintained a close link with our University and Faculty, and with many of our Biblical scholars.

Saturday 3 March 10.15 to 4.30

Venue ­ Runcie Room, Faculty of Divinity.

At the one day conference in the Runcie Room a set of short papers will interact with some of the many strands in Professor Hengel’s scholarly work.

Speakers will include:
Andrew Chester
Peter Head
William Horbury
Larry Hurtado (Edinburgh)
Justin Meggitt
Graham Stanton
Roland Deines (Tübingen & Nottingham)

Professor Hengel will contribute to the discussions, as will one of his most distinguished former pupils, Professor Jörg Frey (Munich).

Coffee from 10 a.m.
Buffet lunch (Selwyn College)

No charges!
All Welcome

Parking spaces available close to the Faculty building, off West Road.

If you plan to attend, please inform Stephen Witmer in person in Cambridge, or by e-mail:

Nicklas reviews Bokedal

Tobias Nicklas reviews Tomas Bokedal's book The Scriptures and the Lord: Formation and Significance of the Christian Biblical Canon; A Study in Text, Ritual and Interpretation here. We have previously featured the abstract of this dissertation here and it is linked from our dissertation section.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

New ending to the Gospel of Mark?

Some Brigham Young scholars are apparently claiming to have found a new ending to the Gospel of Mark (here). Discussion here and here. A bit low on substantiation at the moment for such a dramatic claim. If I were a betting man, I wouldn't back this horse.

Tremellius' Syriac New Testament

Thanks to Rob Price, who made me aware that a new article on Immanuel Tremellius has just come out in the Journal of Ecclesiastical History. Tremellius was a sixteenth century philologist who converted from Judaism to Catholicism to evangelicalism (associated with Cranmer and the Prayer Book) and who was for some time Professor of Hebrew in Cambridge. He was also the first person to distinguish between dialects of Aramaic, arguing that Syriac was not the dialect of Aramaic used by Jesus. The first edition of the Syriac NT was 1555. Tremellius’ 1569 edition, using Hebrew script, appeared visually inferior, but sought to use historical linguistics to restore the vocalisation of the Aramaic to its earliest form (and therefore a form closer to that of Jesus).

Robert J. Wilkinson, ‘Immanuel Tremellius’ 1569 Edition of the Syriac New Testament’, JEH 58.1 (2007) 9-25.

Tremellius’ 1569 edition of the Syriac New Testament was a quite distinctive product of Heidelberg oriental scholarship, very different from other sixteenth-century editions produced by Catholic scholars. Tremellius produced his edition by first reconstructing an historical grammar of Aramaic and then, in the light of this, vocalising the text of Vat. sir. 16 which he took to be more ancient than that of Widmanstetter’s editio princeps. Thus in this way he sought to construct the earliest recoverable linguistic and textual form of the Peshitta. The anonymous Specularius dialogus of 1581 is here used for the first time to corroborate this assessment of Tremellius’ achievement and to cast light on the confessional polemics his edition provoked.

Journal of Coptic Studies 8

Journal of Coptic Studies 8 (2006) is now out. Table of contents can be seen here. Coptic mss of Psalms, Matthew and Revelation are discussed, and there is a short article by me entitled 'On the Representation of Sahidic within the Apparatus of the Nestle Aland Novum Testamentum Graece' (pp. 123-25). Though brief it takes notes in Matthew 2:13; 3:10; and 4:3, to document the sort of errors that are arising using current methods for citation of versions in a critical apparatus. Of course an examination of more verses and of versions beyond the Sahidic would almost certainly turn up more problems.

Typing in Unicode


The kind folks at the Unicode Consortium have acted as the referees for the font world by creating a consistent system by which a variety of fonts may represent a variety of characters and symbols in a uniform way. As long as a computer has an up-to-date unicode font, it should be able to display text written in unicode, even if it does not have that same font in which the text was written.

The trouble lies in actually typing the characters because our keyboards are often set for the typical Latin fonts (e.g. English, French, German, etc...). To type unicode characters beyond those on your keyboard, one needs to have an alternate (digital) keyboard layout available. Stefan Hagel has created a program called Multi Key which works well in Microsoft Word for a variety of languages germane to TC (Greek, Hebrew, Syriac, Armenian, Ethiopic, Gothic, etc...). “But,” you say, “I really want to type in Coptic!” Donald Mastronarde has created a keyboard layout which may be used with greatest success in Microsoft Notepad to input Coptic characters (some, like ϭ, will not show in Microsoft Word).

Interested persons will probably want to acquire the New Athena Unicode font (which has encoding for the biblical languages) and may want to install the Arial Unicode MS font (which, though massive in size, has encoding for just about everything).

Monday, February 19, 2007

Fee pays tribute to Metzger

Gordon Fee has sent this tribute to the blog:

The world of scholarship and the church have lost a great and beloved member. Bruce was easily the most widely educated man that I have known in my lifetime; yet at no time in any conversation with him would one ever know that, unless he slipped in one of his famous anecdotes. He was a truly learned man who wore that learning lightly, and who was especially kind to me as a very young scholar first breaking into the NT text critical academy. Indeed, he always gave one a sense that he was learning from us younger ones as well. And now that I am older than he was when I first met him, I realize what a great legacy he has left us—in so very many ways. Bruce seemed like he would be forever; it is hard to come to terms with the fact that he has now gone on to his heavenly reward. May his tribe increase.

Gordon D. Fee

Thursday, February 15, 2007

SBL Metzger obit by Mike Holmes

Our very own blogger Mike Holmes has written the obituary for Metzger for the Society of Biblical Literature.

Princeton Theological Seminary tribute

PTS newspage tribute to Metzger.

Iain Torrance's tribute to Metzger

Iain Torrance's tribute to Metzger is here.

Memories of Metzger invited

There are many ways in which I think it is right to remember Bruce Metzger. His achievements were immense, particularly when we remember that his reputation was not built on launching some grand new theory, but simply on vast erudition. He had an ability to produce (or be involved in the production of) a number of books that filled a niche perfectly. The NRSV, the UBS Greek New Testament, Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece, the Oxford Companion to the Bible, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Manuscripts of the Greek Bible, The Early Versions of the New Testament, The Text of the New Testament, Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation, Lexical Aids for Students of the Greek New Testament, List of Words Occurring Frequently in the Coptic New Testament, etc. The list could go on. This is quite aside from his authoritative articles. He received three Festschriften, and I believe that his third may not be his last (perhaps someone can give us up-to-date information here).

I would like to invite two sorts of contribution by which we could remember Metzger. Perhaps others can think of other ways:

1) Eyewitness memories
I'd like to invite memories from anyone who came across Metzger in the flesh, whether through close contact with him as a friend or more distant contact through hearing him speak publicly. There are surely many parts of the history of the man which have not yet been recorded.

2) Most awesome footnote
One of the most striking things to me about Metzger was the Metzger footnote. You would read one and think: 'Wow! So he knows about that too!' I'd like therefore to invite nominations of particularly awesome footnotes (or passages) in the Metzger corpus.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Bruce Metzger (1914-2007)

Mike Holmes informs me that Bruce Metzger died yesterday (Feb. 13 2007). An obituary will appear here shortly. As a textual critic he has had an outstanding influence and an impeccable reputation. It is hard to do justice to his achievement in words now as I write and so I will reserve further comment till I have had more time to reflect. I'm profoundly grateful to God for his writing.

Update: NewsDay, Home News Tribune (courtesy of Novum Testamentum blog, which also records what various blogs are saying), The Trentonian, Christianity Today, Iain Torrance (president of Princeton Theological Seminary), PTS newspage, Press of Atlantic City, John Piper. Memorial service in Princeton 20 Feb, 2 p.m.

Daniel Wallace reviews The Text of the New Testament (4th ed.)

In the recent issue of JETS (Dec 2006), Dan Wallace reviews Bruce M. Metzger and Bart D. Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (4th ed.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005). The full review is available here.

Wallace brings up a number of critical points:

1) the plates are of lower quality and now interspersed throughout the book;
2) the section on Important Witnesses lists only eighty Greek manuscripts (a mere increase of three);
3) the discussion of internal evidence is underdeveloped (examples in the discussion of 1 Thess 2:7 and Mark 16:9-20);
4) the critiques of other viewpoints are too irenic (for example, Fee's arguments against rigorous eclecticism are not mentioned)—this is a lingering deficiency from previous editions;
5) the revision is uneven—a clear demarcation between Metzger's contribution and Ehrman's can often be seen, close to the point of internal contradiction;
6) "other errata are sprinkled throughout the book" (especially the indices need numerous corrections);
7) the discussion of the future task is too thin.

On the whole, however, Wallace appears to be less critical than D.C. Parker in his recent review of the book in JTS. Wallace ends his review on a positive note:

"Lest the casual reader think that these criticisms outweigh the strengths of the fourth edition, let me reiterate: Metzger-Ehrman's Text of the New Testament remains the standard handbook on NT textual criticism. Even with its few flaws, this volume should be read, underlined, digested, and quoted by all students of the NT text. It rightfully deserves to be within arm's reach of all who study the sacred Greek Scriptures."

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon search

The Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon has just added new search capacities, including complete lemma search; search by English glosses; advanced search by dialect. The CAL is an excellent resource and should generally be used in preference to printed editions of texts, printed dictionaries, etc., unless these have issued from CAL itself. Though Sperber offers some facilities for the Targumim not on CAL, the latter is more reliable.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Arlandson on NT TC

As noticed by Matthijs den Dulk, James Arlandson (@ American Thinker) has started a series on NT TC.

Download Bohairic NT

You can download the Bohairic New Testament here.

Pretty Coptic mss

You can see some pretty Coptic Bible mss by going to the site and finding the link just over half way down the side bar on the left. None of them look particularly old.

New blogging system

We have undergone an upgrade to the latest version of blogger. There were a few initial problems with this. Please let me know of any glitches that you notice.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Binding the Codex

Michael Leary has been busy investigating the bindings of Codex Bezae and Codex Sinaiticus. Unfortunately the care taken in relatively* contemporary restoration, involving stretching the pages and rebinding the codices, doesn't leave much ancient evidence visible.

*For the significance of 'relatively' you'll have to consult ML's attempt to win the prize for "the most irrelevant detail in blogging on New Testament MSS for 2007". As for me, I say there is plenty of water to go under the bridge before the end of 2007!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Computers, TC and the Peshitta

Recently announced on the Peshitta list:

P.S.F. van Keulen, W. Th. van Peursen, eds, Corpus Linguistics and Textual History: A Computer-Assisted Interdisciplinary Approach to the Peshitta (VanGorcum, 2006), pp. 380. ISBN 90 232 4194 0. € 109,00. Further details here.

It seems that a substantial amount of this book is dedicated to various examinations of the Peshitta of 1 Kings 2:1-9.

Previously uncatalogued Ethiopic mss

The SBL Forum has here an article on a digital collection of previously uncatalogued Ethiopic mss, including 47 Psalters and 7 copies of John's Gospel.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Key to Lambdin's Sahidic Coptic

Thanks to Jim Leonard for pointing out that there is an online key to the exercises in Thomas Lambdin's Introduction to Sahidic Coptic. See here.

Papyrus project at Lund University

My university library, Lund university library, in Sweden, holds about 800 Greek papyri from Egypt, of which only about 50 have been published ("P. Lund"). Thus, the main part of the material, mainly documentary papyri, has not been catalogued and has remained unavailable stuffed away somewhere in the library. However, last year a new project was initiated in co-operation with APIS (”Advanced Papyrological Information System”), by which the whole collection will eventually be made available through the Internet. The project is moving rather slow, but I have just been invited by the responsible person at the library to come and inspect the material, which will be quite interesting, although I do not think there will be any big surprises (e.g. identifable Christian texts...).

The medieval manuscripts of the library have already been digitized in the St Laurentius digital library. There are no GNT MSS among this collection, but curiously one of the oldest manuscripts containing Apophtegmata Patrum, "Medeltidshandskrift 54," which was donated by no other than Adolf Deissman "to Scandinavia". That is another story, which I might blog about some other time. Incidentally, I have helped a collague of mine who is writing his dissertation on the Apophtegmata to transcribe parts of this manuscript.

Monday, February 05, 2007

More on P75 (P. Vatican ???)

Jim Davila links to a long news report on P75: a translation of an article published last week in the semi-official Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, entitled 18 Centuries of History: The Bodmer Papyrus 14-15 (P75) Arrives in the Vatican Apostolic Library (the proposed sale was previously noted here and the purchase here).

There is a lot of incidental information here which will be of interest to readers (and some unprovable assertions about four gospel collections!) but there is some new info on unidentified extra fragments of P75:

  • "When, however, the manuscript was consigned to the Vatican Library, it emerged immediately from a summary review, that the present situation of the papyrus is not identical to that described by the facsimile: Some fragments of the external pages were recovered by a partial restoration of the "hard binding" effected after the publication in 1961 and some thirty worn out fragments awaited identification, while some new fragments, of which not a few, turned out not to be documented. Subsequent research demonstrated that at least one fragment not reproduced in the facsimile was already noted around 1974."

This reflects an interesting issue, since NA27 cites material in P75 beyond the range of published photos: 13.1-10; 14.30-31; 15.1-6, 9-10. And S.A. Edwards, 'P75 under the Magnifying Glass' Novum Testamentum 18(1976)190-212 refers to additional photos and reconstructs an additional fragment (probably the one refered to above).
In W.J. Elliott & D.C. Parker (eds), The New Testament in Greek IV. The Gospel According to St. John. The Papyri (NTTS XX; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1995) the editors said about P75: that ‘no fresh transcription was made [i.e. from the originals]; instead, the collation was made directly from the photographs’ (p. 2). And they wouldn't recognise any letters not able to be confirmed directly from the photographs. So hopefully we might soon get a proper new and compelte transcription of the text of P75. And somebody might have the fun of identifying tiny fragments. [By the way: "Your holiness, if you read this, I volunteer."]

Up-date: Holy Father thrilled upon receiving New Testament manuscript

Friday, February 02, 2007

Codd. Vaticanus and Bezae Cantabrigensis morphologically tagged for Accordance

Today I got my hands on a paper read at the SBL by R.A. Koivisto from Multnomah Bible College, Portland, Oregon. The title of the paper is "Special Morphological Tagging Requirements for Individual Greek Manuscripts" and was read in the Accordance Scholar's Session. The paper is available from the Accordance website here.

Koivisto has been working for two years with morphologically tagging Codices Vaticanus and Bezae for OakTree Software's Accordance for Mac. The goal is an "electronic representation of an ancient manuscript as a module for Accordance software." This representation is an approximation. The real power, as Koivisto describes it, is that the MS will be morphologically tagged and by this means it can be "evaluated and searched according to lexical grammatical information, and ... quickly compared to other MSS in the collection." (It is not clear exactly which MSS will be in the "collection.")

Koivisto has worked from the transcriptions of Tischendorf (Vaticanus) and Scrivener (Bezae), as well as from photographic images (not stated which facsimiles/images). He has used a specially developed uncial Greek font, "Sylvanus" to represent the MSS. One of the reasons for having one single standardized uncial Greek font is that it enables an easier visual comparison between MSS (and this is of course much less complicated in every respect). This font also enables representation of a few ligatures; Koivisto mentions "the line-ending NU overstrike," "the KAI ligature" (only one of the most common) and "the MOU ligature." This limitation is of course a major drawback in my opinion. Either all ligatures in an MS should be represented, or else none. Moreover, Koivisto states that he has not generally recorded corrections. However, in Bezae, "when there are letters or words squeezed into the text" he has included that text within parenthesis, if he was not sure that it was "the original hand doing a 'self-correct'." As for spelling errors, two tags has been used: the first for the "ad sensum," i.e. what the form likely represents, and the second tag for what is actually written.

Some of these procedures, especially that of omitting most corrections, seem to be too arbitrary, especially from the perspective of the text-critic, but also for the exegete in general, who will run the risk of missing important information.

In sum, the goal of Koivisto (and Accordance) expressed as "making textual criticism workable at a new and interesting level" is only partly achieved in the first version of the electronic MSS collection, judging from this paper. I have not evaluated the actual software, although I note that Vaticanus (GNT-VAT) was realesed on November 26 (Bezae seems not have appeared yet). However, Kovisto (and Accordance I presume) welcomes feedback from "careful users," so hopefully this new tool can be improved in the future. Otherwise, the best (and free) tool thus far when it comes to MS comparison is of course the NT transcript prototype and the related digital Nestle-Aland from the Institut für Neutestamentliche Textforschung (see the links section on the right sidebar). These tools, however, have no morphological tagging.

Update: Both modules with Vaticanus (GNT-VAT) and Bezae (GNT-BEZ) are available from Accordance; GNT-VAT $60 and GNT-BEZ $40 (more on In a comment to this posts Danny Zacharias informs us that several other items of interest for textual criticism are available in the Accordance scholars collection.

Textual Criticism and the Languages of the Early Church

In the latest issue of Neotestamentica, Rick Strelan (my doktorvater) has an article entitled: 'We Hear Them Telling in Our Own Tongues the Mighty Works of God' (Acts 2:11). The abstract reads:

The language map of the early Christians is rarely included in New Testament scholarship. This article argues that the understanding of the spread of Koine Greek needs to be nuanced; that local dialects and languages survived hellenization; and that early Christian communities were largely polyglot. The evidence suggests that prayer and songs, in particular, were often expressed in a vernacular, and that the early gospel traditions were transmitted in vernacular forms in some communities.

Strelan points out that, apart studies of the linguistic milieu of Palestine (Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Latin), there is a virtual ignorance/avoidance of the study of local dialects by commentators and biblical reference books on early Christianity. His paper has three aims: (1) To nuance the use of Greek in the first Christian centuries, (2) to draw attention to the survival of local languages, and (3) to emphasize that a variety of languages were spoken in the early Christian communities.

In his conclusion, Strelan argues:

While evidence of vernacular usage in Christian worship practices is stronger from the later centuries, there is nothing in that evidence to suggest that this was an introduced phenomenon. The reasonable inference is that such was the case from the very earliest days of the Christian movement. Certainly, the evidence is strong that in the fourth century, some Christians in the empire heard the gospel and the Christian scriptures in their own languages. They also sang hymns and prayed in those languages. There is also good evidence that in the earlier centuries, local languages were used in prayer and in songs to the praise of God. There is also some evidence that illiterate Christians of the early generations of the movement maintained and passed on the tradition in an oral form in their vernacular. It is highly likely that such communication of the gospel, especially in story form, was common. Finally, there are hints within the New Testament itself that prayers, particularly, were offered also in languages other than Greek, and that Luke was himself aware of Christians in many parts of the empire who had heard in their own local languages ‘the mighty works of God’.

I think Strelan makes a good point here and we have to get away from the assumption that all Christians spoke their own local-indigenous language plus Greek. That is about as likely as thinking that most people in modern Europe speak their national language plus English (compare Amsterdam with Budapest on that one!).

For instance, given that most first-century inscriptions in Corinth are in Latin, we would do well to consider how that effected the linguistic milieu of the churches there. Likewise, if one accepts a Syrian provenance for the Gospel of Thomas we might seriously (re-)consider a Syriac Vorlage for Thomas as argued recently by Nicholas Perrin (but see the review of Perrin by Peter Williams in EJTh).

A cursory glance at the diverse array of languages and dialects of the NT mss is a further indicator of the assorted languages that Christianity was carried in (Ethiopic [Sahidic and Bohairic], Coptic, Arabic, Syriac, Armenian, Old Slavonic, and Georgian). Although these texts are obviously translations of Greek texts one has to wonder why their significance for the study of first and second century Christianity has not been pursued. Non-Greek and non-Aramaic speaking Christians emerged very early (certainly before 70 AD) and they would have needed or wanted translations and texts for their worship and ministry. Perhaps Tatian’s Diatessaron was not only a Gospel-harmony, but was also a quick way to get all four Gospels into the hands of Syriac speaking Christians. It is tenable to suppose that the various languages of our textual witnesses presuppose the diverse languages of Christians, of both the later and earlier centuries. While the manuscripts outside of the Greek and Latin texts may be numerically small and relatively late the translations themselves may have a longer antiquity and they point to a multi-lingual environment for Christians in Europe, North Africa, the Middle-East, and Eurasia. That of course begs the question as to what extent do we use fourth-fifth-sixth century mss to reconstruct the linguistic situation of Christians in the late first century and early secondary century. But it is an interesting question and Strelan fills in some of the details for us.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Baarda reviews Williams

In Novum Testamentum 48.4 (2006), which was published online around the same time as 49.1 (2007), there are a number of reviews of interest to textual critics. One that caught my attention (on pp. 400-404) was the review of Tjitze Baarda of P.J. Williams, Early Syriac Translation Technique and the Textual Criticism of the Greek Gospels. It is a very detailed engagement and appears to demonstrate that Williams has not convinced everyone to change their ways of analysing versions. Nevertheless, Baarda says 'I cannot but admire the audacity with which the apparently young and assertive scholar Williams has tried to develop new ways of interpreting Syriac linguistic phenomena in view of their importance for the recovery of the Greek text.' For those who are interested in following in detail the review's interaction with the book I'd note that on Williams p. 300 the pages of discussion for Mark 1:16 should be '59-60' and that, contrary to the suggestion in the review, Williams suggests no more emendations to the NA27 apparatus of this verse than the removal of the Peshitta's support for αμφιβαλλοντας τα δικτυα.

Ethiopic of Matthew reviewed

The latest Review of Biblical Literature contains a review by John Mason of Rochus Zuurmond's edition of the Ethiopic of Matthew. At least if one judges by Mason's analysis Zuurmond's edition is not quite as definitive as I thought it would be. View here.