Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Blogcomment That Made It into CUP's Catalogue

Yesterday I was in Lund all day on a research seminar. In my postbox I found the new catalogue from Cambridge University Press on Religious Studies 2009. As I browsed it I found D. C. Parker's book, An Introduction to the New Testament Manuscripts and their Texts (Cambridge: CUP, 2008), the book that was recently reviewed at the SBL Boston. You will find links to all my summaries of that session here.

Interestingly, the endorsement cited in the catalogue was by Peter Head and first appeared here on this blog:

... anyone interested in the subject should drop whatever else they are doing and go and buy it ... Brilliant, lucid, learned, naunced, and able to look at things from lots of different angles. Also provocative, stimulating, informative and interesting.

Of course, as you can see, Peter wrote this half way through the book and added, "Criticism must wait until appreciation is complete," which he did in the update.

My impression is that practically all scholars in the field agree that this is a highly significant book, not least as a guide on how to work with manuscripts and the necessary tools and resources for such work. Moreover, it gives a good overview of what is going on right now in the field. Therefore I warmthly recommend buying it, e.g., here or here (paperback). However, it is not as suitable as a "textbook." Hence, the title promises too much in this regard.

While on the subject of Cambridge (publishers and scholars), I must add an aside note. In next week the professor of Philosophical Theology from Cambridge, Janet Martin Soskice, visits Lund university and holds two lectures. The second lecture is titled "Sisters of Sinai: of how two victorian ladies, rich and eccentric, made a priceless find in the Sinai desert and, aged over 50, reinvented themselves as scholars of Syriac and Arabic Christian manuscripts."

Simon Gathercole mentioned here that her book on the subject has recently been published and cited the blurb.


  1. David did ask my permission before quoting my comment - which was made on the basis of purchasing the book not being given it. I wondered then about it because obviously they are only going to quote the most positive bits. But I thought I should be willing to live with what I wrote on the blog. So I gave permission.

  2. Tommy,

    The book is also available in paperback at a more reasonable price:


  3. James, thanks. I added that link to the main post, to promote Eisenbrauns ;-)

  4. I just finished reading that book actually, finally.

    I agree it's an excellent resource, and there's a lot of people I would recommend it to.

    I think one of the strengths of the book is the numerous detailed explanations he gives of some rather important but often overlooked elements of our field.

    I'm reminded of that scene in "A Few Good Men" where tom cruise cross examines the marine in court and, handing him the official marine manual, asks him to read the section that explains where the dinning hall is. The marine responds that there is no such section. "what?" tom cruise asks, something as important as eating, there's no official instructions about it?! As a new marine, how did you know where to get food then?" And the marine replies "well, at chow time, I just sorta followed everyone else."

    In my experience, even if you read the standard text books and manuals, there are still many important practical elements of our field that are very much like that marine dinning hall: it's not explained anywhere, and you are forced to just sort follow everyone else and pick it up as you go along.

    Things like the Klist, for example, or the text und textwert series. When I started in this field, I read all the right books and I took the classes, but no one ever explained those things to me - those I had to figure out for myself.

    Parker's book, however, has helpful explanations of many things just like that. A little late for me personally, mind you, but I certainly do wish someone had given me Parker's book when I was starting out, and I will certainly be giving it to people myself.

    On the other hand, I found many of the criticisms leveled in Boston to be quite true. I can see Parker's argument about the pictures, for example, but in the end it just doesn't work. He's trying hard to push the new media, and either we're just not ready for it yet, or it just can't be mixed with the old media. I read the book primarily on the plane, for example. I had no way at all to access the website to see the pictures. Instead I had to struggle through trying to imagine what he was trying to talk about. I can respect what he was trying to do, but in the end it was simply a weakness in the book.

    Finally, I was humoured to see a reference to this blog in the book! Maybe that was mentioned here before and I missed it, but he has a discussion of this blog where he offers it as an example of textual criticism influenced by ideological concerns.

  5. Ryan, yes it was mentioned by Peter in the first comment to his original post.

  6. Ryan:
    "I can see Parker's argument about the pictures, for example, but in the end it just doesn't work. He's trying hard to push the new media, and either we're just not ready for it yet, or it just can't be mixed with the old media. I read the book primarily on the plane, for example. I had no way at all to access the website to see the pictures."

    It sounds funny to read the first person plural ("we're just not ready...") within a report about a completely subjective narrative about an individual's reading experience in an aircraft.

    To me it rather looks like Parker is slightly ahead of time (because in the not too distant future the internet will be available on planes as well) or Ryan has to catch up a little (because in the not too distant future NTTC cannot be seriously followed without the new media).

    Seriously, NTTC has to deal with too much information from close to six thousand manuscripts in Greek alone to carry on in such a condescending attitude.

    Without the new media (databases, high resolution images available over the internet, interactive tools to index and transcribe manuscripts, etc.) the job cannot be done and a great many people will never be able to join in that work.

    Ulrich Schmid

  7. Ulrich, my friend, sorry, I wasn't trying to be condescending, the "we" was just a colloquial english way of putting it, nothing was necessarily intended about anyone else.

    I do certainly have some catching up to do, in a great many areas I am sure, but I'm not sure that's the issue here.

    The criticism in Boston was not that Parker should have eschewed web-based graphics entirely - at least not that I heard - but rather that they should have been complimentary to images in the book itself. As I heard several people suggest in Boston, even if they were just low-quality black and white images, that would be enough to give the reader a general idea what Parker was referring to at any given point. More detailed study could then be followed up on later by visiting the website and studying the high-def images.

    I think that would have been a much better mediating position. If I recall correctly, Parker's response to that suggestion was that he just didn't see the point in wasting time on low-quality images when high-quality ones can be made available online.

    The point as I see it, however, is at least two fold:

    1) despite your quite correct inference that internet access is becoming more widely available every day, even on on planes (hopefully soon)we are still not yet at that point. It will be a long time, I predict, until the internet is equally as accessible as a book with pictures in it. Until then, Parker's model will strand a great many readers with no access to the relevant images at the time of reading.

    2) I'll clarify here that this is especially a personal preference, but even with ready internet access, I would still find it highly distracting to have to put down the book constantly, go to the computer, and consult a website to see a picture of what the author is talking about. But that's just me. Personally, I find endnotes terribly distracting as well, since I have to stick my thumb in the pages where I'm reading and then track down the note at the end of the book, rather than just having the note right there in front of me like a good footnote is. For someone like me who finds endnotes distracting, I promise you, having to go to a website for the pictures is ten times worse!

    Let me stress though, I do respect Parker's idea, and when the time comes that books are primarily read on portable viewscreens, like the ibook, then yes, I'm sure Parker will be seen to have been ahead of his time. In *this* time, however, I (and many others, given the discussion in Boston) find it to be more of a hindrance than a help.