Friday, December 07, 2012

Hurtado on The Early Text of the New Testament

Larry Hurtado has had time to work his way through the 21 contributions of C.E. Hill & M.J. Kruger (eds), The Early Text of the New Testament (Oxford: OUP, 2012), and concludes his positive review:
This volume (though expensive!) is now probably the most up to date analysis of earliest evidence about the state and transmission of NT writings in the second century CE.  Given the limitations of our evidence, scholars are required to make the best inferences they can.  This volume provides essential resources in doing so, and largely shows that we can with some confidence posit that the NT writings, essentially as we know them, were copied for both ecclesial and private reading.
 At the SBL, two other scholars told me in passing that they were reviewing the book, one of which were Brice Jones, and the other one I cannot remember.

Speaking of the early text of the NT, one issue that I have described as controversial is whether the text of Codex Vaticanus – the single manuscript which is probably closest to the text of NA28 (96% similarity in the Catholic Letters) – goes back to a recension or rather reflects a strict transmission.

In Eldon Epp's “The Twentieth-Century Interlude in New Testament Textual Criticism,” in Studies in the Theory and Method of New Testament Textual Criticism (ed. E. J. Epp and G. D. Fee; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 103, he noted that with the publication of P75, the issue of whether the “Neutral” (or Alexandrian) text or text type is the result of a recension or of a strict transmission was not resolved, but pushed back into the second century.

Now that I read through Eldon Epp's new chapter on "Textual Clusters: Their Past and Future" in the second edition of The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research. Essays on the Status Questionis, 544, I note a small, but important shift:
That finding [of P75] was sufficient to render invalid any view of B as a mid-fourth century recension; rather, the B-text cluster had been moved back in time a century and a half and strongly solidified. Also, the long history of NT textual recensions, in the technical sense, clearly had been terminated.
Now I heard that Brent Nongbri has just proposed (at the SBL in Chicago) that P75 might be dated to the fifth century(!), so perhaps the recension issue will see a revival. On the other hand, there are many other papyri attesting to a strict text (á la Alands), and, as Epp puts it (p. 553), "the B-cluster is supported also by third- and fourth-century pastristic sources, and with impressive secondary Greek and versional members," so I don't know.

Update: I might have misunderstood Nongbri's proposal; it might have been the fourth century. We will have to wait for the publication.


  1. Now I heard that Brent Nongbri has just proposed (at the SBL in Chicago) that P75 might be dated to the fifth century(!),

    What??!?? Does anyone know anything more about this proposal?

  2. Now I am more than curious. What reasons exist for such a claim?

  3. I think Peter Head, who was at the session, should reply. But Nongbri has some forthcoming publication about it I think.

  4. I saw him present, and I think that he was perhaps a bit more vague than that. He showed a handwriting sample which he could date to, I think, 322, and suggested that P75 could be dated to the fourth century based upon this. At this point, I think that it would be inaccurate to understand that he is arguing for a firm fourth century date, but rather adding it to the range of paleographic possibility. I would wait to see just how wide his range is. Having said that, he did not give such a range, so perhaps he would be firm on the 4th century. We will have to wait for clarification.

    If, as Robinson claims, the Dishna papers were buried in the early 7th century, then indeed one would suppose that P75 could be significantly later than the 3rd century.

    Nongbri argued against the hypothesis that P75 was some sort of poorly restored artifact codex with an unusable binding.

  5. I do think this Hill&Kruger book, with its thorough treatment of the manuscript evidences for different books or parts of the NT; and some of the other important essays on particular church fathers etc. works well alongside the Erhman&Holmes book which covers a wider time period and has a lot more detail on later manuscripts and versions etc., as well as methodological discussions. Reading these two books carefully would be an education.

  6. Well, now, this is interesting. If P75 may be dated to the fourth century, which other papyri may be later than we think, and how would that affect the probabilities in restoring the second-century text? How would we then see P66 in relation to P75? Just thinking out aloud ... A can of worms?

  7. Thanks, Tommy, for the mention of the ETNT. On Nongbri, according to my sloppy notes, he was comparing P75 to the rest of the Bodmer library and said its dimensions (Turner Group 8) put it with other Bodmer texts from the 5th c. He also proposed that the binding holes in P66 argue for its original construction in the 4th c! I wasn't sure how he was so sure that he could tell the "original" holes from later ones, etc. He seemed to be arguing that the Bodmer books were all constructed in the same setting. A can of worms, yes, but I don't think we should ditch the opinions of all previous paleographers on the basis of what Nongbri presented at SBL.

  8. Chill wrote: "I don't think we should ditch the opinions of all previous paleographers on the basis of what Nongbri presented at SBL."

    Why not? Nongbri was totally right in his reassessment of the breadth of the date-assignment of P52, when no one else seemed to care that its date was consistently being tipped into the very early 100's. Palaeographers must be weighed, not counted.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  9. James,
    Then let's "weigh" Nongbri's argument when he comes out with it and not simply accept it uncritically.

  10. James said in part "Nongbri was totally right in his reassessment of the breadth of the date-assignment of P52"

    Brent Nongbri's 2005 article is somewhat frequently referred to but has anybody gone beyond referring to it and done a comprehensive analysis?

    Matthew Hamilton

  11. ISTM that paleography, which has ruled supreme for the past century, is being exposed as the naked emperor.

    Meanwhile, Carbon dating has been refined to give date-ranges at least as precise, and with diminishing fragments of material required for the test.

    Where are the C-14 results for NT manuscripts?

  12. I am not a scholar, but have massive interest in this discussion for obvious reasons. Perhaps someone could provide a brief comment. The changing of the dates for early witnesses would have weighty significance, right (at least in two ways in my mind)? First, our confidence in the early form of the text would necessarily have to be weakened. Second, given the nature and method of text criticism, if the criteria of "date" is tossed while weighing probable readings, decisions of critics in the past would probably have looked (possibly very) different (in some instances), correct? If anyone could comment who has some expertise on this, I would be very grateful. Thank you!

  13. Do not put too much hope on Greek texts as word of God. Where is Logia of Jesus in Aramaic. Where is Matthew’s Aramaic gospel?

    P46 (175CE) is Greek manuscript with the largest percentage of difference on record. This just proved that Church have been changing words since early 2nd century at will.

    Here is the words of the early church father, Origen (3rd century CE):
    “The differences among the manuscripts have become great, either through the negligence of some copyists or through the perverse audacity of others; they either neglect to check over what they have transcribed, or, in the process of checking, they make additions or deletions as they please.” Origen, early church father in “Commentary on Matthew.”

    Regarding the oldest surviving fragment, Colin Roberts compared P52 writings using ONLY 5 samples from the early 2nd century CE back in 1935 and concluded based on those 5 samples; P52 was from the early 2nd century.

    (Brent Nongbri’s 2005. The Use and Abuse of P52: Papyrological Pitfalls in the Dating of the Fourth Gospel)
    What I have done is to show that any serious consideration of the window of possible dates for P52 must include dates in the later second and early third centuries. – Brent

    Compare with 4th and 5th century codex-es. You will be surprise how Holy Spirit inside the scribes fail to prevent them from changing words of God.