Thursday, July 02, 2009

SBL International Meeting in Rome: Day 3

No one could guess where I was on the nice photo on the SBL site yesterday (highlighting the big cake for Kent Richards). I was in the left corner in a yellow shirt. Incidentally, a new photo is on the SBL-website, but I am on this as well. This time it will be much easier to see me, so I hope someone will have a guess (you can see that I am thinking hard). Mark Goodacre, by the way, who is also reporting from the SBL, is clearly the most relaxed person in the panel as you can see - this photo was taken yesterday, after he had delivered his paper on the "lower regions."

Anyway, today the Working with Biblical Manuscript unit had its first session. I came in a bit late to be the presider (I guess I am supposed to be there first), but was able to welcome everyone (perhaps 10-20 people). First, our co-blogger Martin Heide from the University of Marburg delivered a very interesting paper on "The Semitic Background of Some Variants in the Greek New Testament." He demonstrated how variation relating to some personal names could be explained by the fact that their meaning arose in a Semitic setting and was not sufficiently understood by the later Byzantine scribes. For example the name Ασα in the Matthean genealogy attested by most MSS is a shortform of Ασαφ that found its way into the LXX-tradition, i.e., Ασαφ is not a mix-up with the psalmwriter or anything, but it is the older form of the name. Heide presented compelling evidence through various examples and analogies (cf. Ιωση for Ιωσηφ, etc.). Several other examples related to the LXX-tradition.

The next paper was on an unusual but highly interesting subject, Keith Small from London School of Theology delivered a paper titled "A Quranic Window onto New Testament Textual History" and demonstrated how the Qur’an, in relative contrast to the NT manuscript tradition, underwent a formal process of textual standardisation which started in its first century and continued to its completion within four centuries resulting in one uniform standard text. The Qur’an MS tradition, Small stated, shows strong evidence of a centralized process of editing of the text done for a combination of political, dogmatic, and liturgical reasons.

The third paper by Dave Nielsen, now Duke, "The Reception of Sense-Units in Versions of the Greek New Testament", explored the sense-units - a small gap in the scriptio continua - observable already in the earliest NT MSS, which demarcates sentences, verses and other divisions in the text. In John 2, Nielsen explained, P66 and P75 had by and large the same textual segmentations. These are what you could call "narrative focused", they demarcate the narrative, whereas in an OL MS like Codex Vercellensis there are signficantly more segmentations demarcating e.g., words and deeds of Jesus. Nielsen could not see any direct dependence in the Latin and Syriac versions he had studied on the early Greek papyri. It seems the transmission of this phenomena was characterized by greater freedom.

Co-blogger Bill Warren from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, who was kind to bring along both computer and videoprojector for anyone to use during our sessions (the SBL did not provide AV this meeting), presented his paper "When is a Textual Variant an Error?: Case Studies for Determining Scribal Errors" with several examples of how certain features in individual MSS can be very important to record and note. For example the segmentation of the text in 1 Cor 14:33-34 and its surrounding text in various MSS can perhaps help us to better understand why vv. 33-34 have been omitted or transposed in some MSS, or certain features like the ligature τγ which stands for ττ which has actually been misunderstood even by a Greek scribe so that he accidently divided a word starting a new line (and word) with the gamma. In the time for comments I suggested that one important reason to record this is when these kind of mistakes become an intermediate stage for the creation of another reading that may make good sense. I am of the opinion that as many details as is possible should be recorded in collations, but not everything can be represented in an apparatus for pragmatic reasons - it will become to heavy. There is always a possibility to have some appendix.

The last paper was Molly Zahn, University of Kansas, speaking on "The Samaritan Pentateuch and its Qumranic Forebears in Light of the 4QReworked Pentateuch Texts." The SP has often been characterized as harmonistic. However, that is not an accurate description. The rewritings, not seldom additions, are often attempts to create coherency. If a command is given, but a fulfilment is then lacking, the editor often takes already existing material from elsewhere in the Pentateuch and inserts it. Or conversely, when a fulfilment is there, then a previous command is also added. However, Zahn did provide a few examples of completely new material being added. This was a very good paper, by a scholar who had researched her texts very well. Indeed, that was confirmed when Emanuel Tov, who was present, said "I have learnt a lot from this paper." (Although he added that he had to look some stuff up for himself.) Molly has actually lived in Sweden, she told me, and she talks Swedish very well. Her parents-in-law live in Västerås, a town very near Örebro, so I hope to be able to invite her to my seminary in the future, when she is here in Sweden.

After those presentations I had a lunch with Dave Nielsen, Keith Small and Jan Krans. No one wanted to follow with me on a tour to the catacombs, so I went there myself and I did not have to regret it! I did not go on an organized (and expensive) tour, which stopped at some churches first. No, I jumped on a bus (the bus- and metrotickets which are combined cost 1 EUR here, and is valid for 75 minutes, which is unbelievably cheap, whereas a pizza costs 11 EUR - the one I ate tonight at least). Anyway, after some travelling I went off the bus and stepped on the ancient stones ofVia Appia (Antica). I wish I could post a photo but Wikipedia will have to do.

Then I arrived, after a few hundred meters of walking, with a diet Coke in my hand, to the catacombs of San Sebastiano. I will leave it for you to read about on the website but all I can say was that it was a fantastic experience, and, literally cool, which was much needed in this warmth. The guided tour cost 6 EUR and it was a learned woman from India who showed us around for half an hour. It was prohibited to take photos within the actual catacombs. I am glad I did not get lost, these particular were 12 kilometers (with 100.000 graves)! WOW.

What happened more? I went out to a fantastic dinner with Jan Krans, Keith Small and Rick Bennett, and had a Pizza Quattro Stagioni, a beer and gelato for desert. We chated for hours about this and that and manuscripts. Speaking of manuscripts, earlier in the day I sent an e-mail to the librarian at the Biblioteca Casanatense where I was yesterday at the de Gruyter reception (see previous report), and asked if I could take a group with me to see their GNT MSS tomorrow. Yes, they replied. Tomorrow I hope we will be able to look at MSS 165 (GA 395), 715 (GA 853), 1298 (GA 1987), and 1295 (GA 1840). As Ulrich Schmid pointed out in the comment section to my earlier report, MS 165 will be most interesting since it is a palimpsest. I hope to be able to report more on this tomorrow if I have the time and energy. On Saturday I will have to deliver my own paper, and that requires some more preparation, although today I got the handout done and copied.


  1. While you're near the catacombs: I think I heard a report on the BBC about the discovery of what is thought to be the earliest known representation of the apostle Paul, in the catacombs! Might be worth a visit!

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  2. Jim, thanks. Do you have any more details? Maybe I will have to skip that because my legs and feet are beginning to ache. It was a long time since I walked this much.

  3. Apparently, the discovery was made in one of the catacombs just three weeks ago. I will mention it in the next blogpost.