Thursday, February 15, 2007

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.


  1. Twelve years ago, I had the opportunity to hear BMM do a presentation at a local church. During the question time, I asked him what languages he thought that I should learn if I wanted to become a biblical scholar. I thought he might say something like “Greek and German”. Instead, he started saying words like “Coptic, Syriac, Ethiopic...” (as well as lots of other languages of which I had not heard). I changed my major to Classics that week in order to get some kind of start on this hopeless task to which I had been assigned.
    BMM was kind enough to correspond by mail with my naive college-student self for the next couple years and was an encouragement and a role model as I developed myself academically. One time he even mailed me an off-print of an article he had written on the Jehovah's Witnesses in response to some questions I had asked. He was very kind to see my correspondence as an opportunity for ministry and not as a nuisance, and in retrospect I must say that his input played an important role in bringing me where I am today.

  2. In the late 90's I was visiting a fried of mine who teaches at Princeton Theological Seminary. We were wandering around the campus, traveling between his office and the cafeteria when we stumbled upon Professor Metzger and James Charlesworth. We stood around for I guess 20 minutes just shooting the breeze, discussing Scrolls and manuscripts and book collections and all manner of things.

    The good Professor was cordial, kind, insightful, and terribly personable. We all know, I think, academecians who are snotty and arrogant but Bruce Metzger was not of that tribe.

    He was a treasure that, fortunately, left behind so many of his valuable ideas in print. He will continue to influence New Testament studies for decades I predict.

  3. Sorry- that was supposed to be "friend". Though he may have been "fried" since he teaches theology.

  4. I'd like to hear from people who knew him personally.
    I came across BMM first of all through his books on NT Textual Criticism; but then he visited Melbourne and gave some talks on the book of Revelation while I was a young student. I recall being impressed that a proper scholar who did techo scholarly things could also give solid encouraging Bible expositions.
    Then many years later he came to hear my first paper at SBL, in Toronto. I know he was there because just around the time I was going to get up and begin an old bloke bustled in through the door and whispered (in a very loud voice) 'is this Peter Head?'! Only later did someone tell me that this was BMM.
    Another interchange took place after I had requested a photo of a manuscript at Princeton. Upon receiving the photo and checking it against other sources I realised that a bit was missing from my photo. So I wrote to the librarian, who then got Bruce Metzger onto the case, who subsequently found the little bit of this manuscript broken off in the bottom of the box! They sent me a nice letter and a complete photo.

  5. John Piper has listed five memories as a tribute to Metzger on his Desiring God blog.

  6. I can't think of any actual footnotes that show the breadth of Metzger's intellect. But it's a quality I've taken note of in his published works. The first such work was an appendix in one of his collections of articles in which he had collected numerous ancient and medieval artistic depictions of scribes at work, all to buttress the point that they didn't use desks. I was highly impressed that he had gone well outside of his field of specialty to plunder data that is highly important within that specialty.

    The next example was his article comparing citation formulas in the NT with those in rabbinic literature. This article is a classic work of nuts and bolds scholarship. It would have been an impressive article from someone who specializes in relationships between rabbinic traditions and the NT, considerably more impressive from a man whose most recognized contributions are in TC and translation.

    The third such experience with Metzger's breadth was when I finally got around to going through his vocabulary guide to NT Greek. It has a very short appendix that introduces the reader to Indo-European languages and explains Grimm's law for consonantal transformations in Greek/English cognates. It is as erudite as it is concise. But it is not placed at the end of a vocabulary acquisition tool just to show off; it's highly useful to its end. Understanding the rules he lists allows Greek students to recognize and remember cognates not only when they're obvious, like theologia=theology, but also when they're more subtle, like kunos=hound and plege=flog. There are a lot of vocabulary helps out there, but to combine comprehension and memorization this way reflects pretty special pedagogical and academic qualities.

  7. Ben Witherington III writes some of his memories here:

  8. I never met Metzger in person, but I remember when I visited the Institute for New Testament Textual Research for the first time in 2000. Beate Köster approached me and asked me to sign the guest book, and it was a special feeling to place my signature among those of some of the giants of textual criticism including Bruce Metzger. (The most recent visitor from Sweden had been prof. René Kieffer over 30 years earlier than me.)

    Another recent memory was when Kathleen Maxwell told us in her presentation at the SBL in Edinburgh that she had phoned Bart Ehrman concerning a special feature in a manuscript (a red cross marking out the place where there was an illumination in the exemplar of the MS). Ehrman had told her to phone his Doktorvater Metzger to see if he had encountered this feature in MSS. Bart gave her the number and she got Metzger on the line. To us she remarked, "I felt like I was calling God!"

  9. Ah yes, the Münster visitors book! I remember the feeling.

  10. Re Tommy Wasserman’s story about Kathleen Maxwell, who remarked, "I felt like I was calling God!": I think that’s more or less how nearly all of us felt before meeting Dr. Metzger for the first time. His reputation was of such magnitude that it made people nervous or reticent merely to contact or meet him. I know I certainly was exceedingly nervous the first time I met him, having been just assigned to him as my doctoral advisor (what’s ranch kid from central California, I remember thinking, doing in a place like Princeton meeting Bruce Metzger—of whom my own profs had all spoken in hushed and reverent tones?)

    The irony is that I think he actually was a bit shy in many social settings, especially if he didn’t already know too many people present. So people’s reticence and his shyness tended to compound a bit, only adding to the mystique. Once one got to know him a bit, however, things were a little easier: it was no longer like meeting God, but perhaps only God’s wise nephew.

    In his dress and conduct he was the quintessential Eastern, Ivy League scholar and gentleman, a bit formal and correct, and always (so it seemed, at least during the academic year) wearing a three-piece suit. Only twice do I recall seeing him remove his suit coat: once when I visited him at home he was mowing his lawn (with an electric mower), and for this task had deigned to remove his coat (but still kept the vest on), and the other time (again at home) he was assembling and gluing a furniture project (a grandfather clock from a kit). But as soon as he finished up the joint he was gluing, the coat went back on before our conversation continued.

    Behind the wheel of his car, he seemed almost a different person: once I rode with him to New Brunswick Seminary to hear E. A. Judge lecture, and Dr. Metzger worked the gas pedal with an enthusiasm worthy of a stock car racer. And on the way back, we stopped and had a quick bite to eat at… McDonald’s! Yes, there is my claim to fame, colleagues: I once had lunch with Dr. Metzger at McDonald’s.

    And now, merely to get things started, a Metzgerian footnote: from the Text of the NT (4th ed.), 153 n. 39, attached in the text to the name of Dr. John Fell (1625-86): “This Dr. Fell is the theme of Thomas Brown’s well-known quatrain (adapted from Martial, Epigram i.32) beginning “I do not love thee, Dr. Fell.”

  11. I first met Dr. Metzger when I was in High School. He came to my home church, The Presbyterian Church at New Providence, to teach a class on Revelation. I was already considering a call to pastoral ministry, my own pastor had confirmed it, but Dr. Metzger's class encouraged me to actually look forward to the process of preparing for ministry. Inspired by that class and his use of the Greek texts, I determined to study NT Greek at my first opportunity.
    I next met Dr. Metger in 1978 at a reception on the campus of Princeton Theological Seminary where I was enrolled as an M. Div. student. I approached him with much more awe on this occasion-- I had spent four years studying N.T. Greek as an undergraduate and now I knew who he was! He peered at my name tag and asked me if we had met when he was teaching at The Presbyterian Church at New Providence. Astonished, I confirmed his memory and engaged in an extended conversation about my home church, my pastor, and the professor who taught NT Greek at Grove City College and many other "mutual acquaintances," as he phrased it. I had mutual acquaintances with Dr. Metzger!
    Though I admired his scholarship and his encyclopedic memory, I was most touched by his graciousness. He invited students into his home for refreshments and conversation several times a year.
    He began every class with a sincere prayer for God's presence and inspiration. He listened with patience and careful consideration to every scholar (that's what he called all of us, M.Divs and doctoral students alike)and always treated every opinion with deep respect. I particularly enjoyed being a spectator as Dr. Metzger and Bart Ehrmann, then an M.Div. student, debated the provenance of New Testament manuscripts and the trustworthiness of the transmission of the gospel records.
    On another occasion, one of our more charismatic 'scholars' took issue with one of Dr. Metzger's interpretations of several verses in the book of Revelation. She proceeded to share the interpretation she had received by 'the gift of the Holy Spirit' while she was praying over that Scripture the night before. Some students began to giggle. But Dr. Metzger thanked the young woman for sharing her interpretation and noted that he placed great faith in the ability of the Holy Spirit to assist us whenever we interpreted Scripture. He stated further that he, himself, never approached the study of the Bible in any language apart from prayer and the invocation of the Spirit. And then class continued.
    Dr. Metzger's brilliance and scholarship cannot be questioned. Neither can his personal faith, his charity, or his piety. I look forward to seeing him again.

  12. Dan Wallace with some personal memories of Metzger:

  13. Peter Rodgers Remembers Prof. Bruce Metzger. My. first memory of Professor Metzger was when he preached at my school, The Stony Brook School on Long Island in 1961. I was impressed then, as a schoolboy, with his clarity and learning.
    I next encountered him when I took a summer course from him at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1973. The course helped me to prepare for my graduate research at Oxford. After returning to the USA, I became the Rector of St. John's Episcopal Church, and Professor Metzger kindly accepted my invitation to preach at St. John's. The forum he conducted for us was on "the Scholarly and Devotional Use of the Bible."
    My next encounter with him was when I was invited by the Inter-Varsity Theological Students' Fellowship at Princeton to give a talk on the intersection of my faith and my scholarship. Professor Metzger attended that talk and joined me and several students for lunch at the Seminary cafeteria. It was only later in the day that I learned that that was the very day when the NRSV was published!
    Later, around the year 2000, I sent him a copy of my novel, THE SCRIBES, and he wrote an appreciative "thank you" note in which he wrote, "Now Goodspeed's THE CURSE OF THE COLOPHON has a serious rival." When I sent him the first chapters of my second volume in THE SCRIBES SERIES, THE SIGN OF THE DOLPHIN, he invited me to Princeton, picked me up at Princeton station, and took me to his little office at the library. On the way he said that he had gone to the seminary library, found my little book, KNOWING JESUS, and said he thought it "a first-rate piece of work." What a prince of a man and a scholar! I deeply appreciate his thoughtful and caring treatment of me.