Monday, April 20, 2009

SBL Boston, Book Review of James Royse Scribal Habits in Early Greek NT Papyri, pt. 1

I will now try to finish my maraton report from the SBL in Boston – I still have some months to do this before the next meeting. You may think it comes a bit late, but it is too important to be passed over. It is time for the final, the review of James Royse, Scribal Habits. Again I want to state that this summary is in my own words, sometimes omitting, sometimes elucidating what was said in the session.

SBL24-129 New Testament Textual Criticism

Theme: Review of James Royse, Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri (Brill)

AnneMarie Luijendijk, Princeton University, Presiding
Juan Hernandez, Bethel College, Panelist (25 min)
Kim Haines-Eitzen, Cornell University, Panelist (25 min)
Peter M Head, Tyndale House, Panelist (25 min)
Dirk Jongkind, Tyndale House, Panelist (25 min)
James Royse, San Francisco, CA, Respondent (25 min)
Discussion (25 min)

Juan Hernandez
The first reviewer was Juan Hernandez. He offered a personal reflection of what Royse’s work has meant for him. In his witty introduction he stated, “This is a work of ‘singular importance’. It is an exemplar for all who want to study scribal habits.” What then did Royse’s work mean for a Ph.D. student specifically? In 2003 Hernandez stood as a crossroads. He had to come up with a dissertation proposal. His interest was in textual criticism, but there was no text-critical scholar around. How was he to embark without specialists? He contacted a lot of scholars about what to do. He was interested in the Book of Revelation. The path eventually led to James R. Royse. The approach of Epp (The Theological Tendency of Codex Bezae) and Ehrman (The Orthodox Corruption) on theological variation aroused his interest. Could this perspective be applied to Revelation? One problem was the fact that there is no Western text of Revelation. Could Ehrman’s method be applied? No. Christological controversies and their bearing upon the transmission seemed rather marginal. Then Hernandez found the work of Royse (i.e., his dissertation).

The undertext was: Scrutinize every claim!; Check everything for yourself! Even Royse’s 1981 dissertation was considered groundbreaking and remained a standard work for twenty-seven years (until it was superseded by the monograph). To put this work into perspective, E.C. Colwell had urged that someone someday would publish a commentary on singular readings (and he was talking about the three papyri he had studied). Royse came along, corrected and updated Colwell’s original work. Royse checked the readings against all available editions. His study was much more nuanced than an attempt to classify the text of these witnesses in broad terms, e.g., according to text-types. Royse goal was to cast light of each scribe’s habits. This was necessary to be able to arrive at canons of criticism applicable to papyri. Hernandez said he was “electrified” by the 1981 study. He was given “access.” It was a gigantic how-to-do manual. It was permeated of transparency. Everything was available for scrutiny. His prior interest was in theological variation. Royse, however, was not a friend of “theologizing.” Royse applied an extreme caution. He singled out only three variants that were theologically motivated (in P72). It was cristall clear for Hernandez that he would have to learn from Royse. He now had to put behind him notions of theological variation and start with the mundane, the facsimiles! Everything that he needed was there in Royse’s work, being the model.

Then Hernandez said some words about the monograph: The current publication superseeds the prior study in a number of ways. It has more chapters, more nuances in classification of singular readings, many new topics, and exhaustive appendices. The only missing thing was P46 in relation to the Ethiopic (a joke!). In the new work Royse has identified sixty-four additional singular readings (I think). The thesis stands concerning the implications for the canons of criticism. The burden of proof still rests with those who will prefer the short reading (in the early papyri). In sum, the monograph is a veritable encyclopedia of scribal habits (surpassing Colwell’s original urge for a commentary).

More to come.

Update: Juan Hernandez has kindly offered his full presentation to our readers. It can be requested from tomwas[at]spray[dot]se. (See also next post.)


  1. The real shame is that this phantastic book is so expensive!

    310 Euro! $ 369!Come one!
    This book belongs into the hand of every NT scholar.

  2. Wieland, I agree with you. Maybe Brill could do a paperback some day?

  3. Concerning the pricing of scholarly literature in Biblical studies it is time that scholars themselves start to think about their roles as content providers.

    It's not just that the books are so expensive, but all the work that goes into publishing such literature is basically done by the scholars as well. Sky-high prizing despite having the manuscripts delivered camera-ready is a situation that I am increasingly fed up with.

    What do other content providers think about that?

    Ulrich Schmid

  4. Then there is of course the opposite trend of increasing accessibility with the era of digitization, e.g., google books. This is very positive, not least for those that could never afford any printed book.

  5. In concurrence with Ulrich's comment:

    I seriously wonder what all the publishers of those ridiculously expensive limited-print volumes would do if the various scholarly writers (who often get little or no payment or royalty for such works) would eschew such costly publication formats, and get together to offer at a common website free PDF downloads of their camera-ready scholarly works.

    That way -- bypassing the print media entirely -- a wider audience could be had, even offering the material in printed hardback or paperback format through the various low-cost on-demand publishing entities such as Lulu or Lightning Source.

    Something to think about, certainly.

  6. I suspect there may well be a paperback, as there has been for Epp's collected essays.

  7. I would like to hear what publishers think about the costs and profits of publishing scholarly monographs.

    This particular book has over 1,000 pages and is very well proof read and the product of 30 years of work. And the product itself is a very solid-feeling and attractive codex.

    At that rate (c. 3 pages per Euro) it is very comparable with, e.g.:
    Parker on Codex Bezae (345 pages @ £70 CUP)
    Schmid on Marcion 381 pages @ Eur 144 de Gruyter)
    Jongkind on Sinaiticus (323 pages @ $102 Gorgias)
    And in terms of quality of book production in general only Parker on Bezae (CUP) compares (no offence - I am not talking about quality of content/argument!).

  8. Peter Head:
    "I would like to hear what publishers think about the costs and profits of publishing scholarly monographs."

    I would also like to hear how many copies of a scholarly monograph are sold to individuals as opposed to the usual suspects, i.e. libraries.

    Peter Head:
    "This particular book has over 1,000 pages and is very well proof read and the product of 30 years of work. And the product itself is a very solid-feeling and attractive codex."

    By that meaning? ... It has always been expensive to own Codex Sinaiticus? ;-)

    Seriously, what are we paying for and who are we paying what, if we buy a scholarly monograph?

    Ulrich Schmid

  9. The ethical elephant in the room with this issue is, I think, the reality of illegal copying. Surrounding every university I have seen are copy shops that are quite happy to take that library copy you checked out and then photocopy and bind it for you, all for about the price of a pizza.

    It is, of course, illegal, and thus generally unethical. I've debated it with several people though who argue quite strenuously that there are certain situations where it would be ethical, or at least not unethical.

    Yes we should generally obey the law, the argument goes, but just as a child's obedience is associated with the parent's not provoking them, so also the law has an obligation to be reasonable. Telling you to buy something rather than copy it is reasonable if the item is for sale, the argument goes, but what if the item is no longer for sale? What if it has gone out of print and the publisher isn't planning a re-issue? If it is not reasonably available for sale, then shouldn't that count as an exceptional situation where it would be fine for you to copy it? And, the argument continues, if we accept that exception, what other circumstances could count as "not reasonably available"? If the publisher, Brill for example, prices the item so ridiculously high that the average person could not hope to afford it, would that count as not reasonably for sale to the average person?

    It's hard to say, it's a bit of a slippery slope really. Fortunately I obtained my (legal) copy of Royse for free as a review copy, so I was spared that particular debate. I know of at least one person, however, who has just brought the library copy to the photocopy store, and I have to admit, at $500 canadian, I'd have trouble condemning him. (Not saying he was right, just that I certainly wouldn't be rushing to pick up the first stone)

  10. There is a paperback edition available, yet it is still well over $100.

  11. Not only are print copies prohibitively expensive, they are also becoming less and less useful in the digital age. We need data to be in an accessible digital format in order to make the best use of available technologies. I agree with Maurice Robinson - it would be best to circumvent publishers. Yet I would take it a step further than PDFs. I would offer the original source files from which the work was produced online for free. That way maximum benefit can be reaped from the data. I think we can all agree that scholars want their work to be useful. Freely-licensed content in a digital format seems to be the best way.

  12. Tommy,

    Please send a copy of Juan H.'s work to me at
    james [dot] snapp [at] gmail [dot] com . Looking forward to reading it!

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  13. James, I hope you have noticed that the file is now available for download on the right sidebar (TC Files).