Tuesday, December 03, 2013

SBL: The Public Reading of Texts in Early Christianity

I will start my posts about SBL with the last day. After a visit to the hotel gym I was at the door of the bookroom for the 8AM rush. I managed to snag the display copy of New Documents 10 and picked up some other books before heading over to room 347 (via my secret short cut) for the joint session between NT Textual Criticism and the Bible in Ancient and Modern Media. The line up was as follows:

Dan Nässelqvist, Lund University: Public Reading from Early Christian Manuscripts (25 min)
This was a useful general overview of some features in early Christian manuscripts (e.g. codex format, staurogram, nomina sacra, handwriting, and lectional signs). He didn't think these were really "readers' aids" but more to facilitate private study, partly since it would have been very difficult to give a public reading. For public reading a "trained lector" would be necessary. Larry Hurtado pointed out that the distinction between private study and public reading may not be that significant since we should probably think of the lector first engaging in preparatory private study so as to give a competent public reading. 

Michael Holmes, Bethel University (Minnesota): Creation, Transmission, Collection: Reflections on the Textual History of the Pauline Corpus (25 min)
This was a useful presentation of different views of the formation of the Pauline corpus (O'Neil, Zuntz, Porter), showing how on any view we need to factor in issues of creation, transmission, and collection rather than treat them in isolation. It didn't really make an argument for one of the views (unless I misunderstood!). 

Scott Charlesworth, Pacific Adventist University: The 'Public' Features of Second- and Second/Third-Century Canonical Gospel Papyri (25 min)
Along with a massive useful handout (and with reference to his still forthcoming monograph) this paper made the argument that we could identify those gospel manuscripts that were produced with a view to public reading by shared common characteristics in terms of size (of page), type of hand, and the presence of text division (and/or punctuation). By contrast manuscripts lacking more or less uniform size, written in informal hands and lacking text division should be regarded as produced for private reading. On the positive point I found it quite convincing, although I made the point that it might be better to categorise this as a spectrum rather than a binary division.

David Trobisch, American Bible Society: Is There a Text of the New Testament? (25 min)
This began with a "performance" of the passage about the woman caught in adultery, followed by a parallel interpretive performance about two gay men caught in their adultery (after which not they but the audience was told to go and sin to more). Then it was suggested that this could be applied to priests caught having sex with minors. Surely the most striking opening to any presentation at SBL, brave and blatantly manipulative at the same time. Anyway, this was an illustration of the idea that there isn't really an original text (illustrated with a characteristically excellent powerpoint type presentation showing some of the complexities involved in edition the Greek NT). I guess it was helpful in showing some of the issues at stake in the idea of the original text (and how ethical relativism can be connected with textual criticism of a certain sort), and where the American Bible Society seems to be heading. 

Perttu Nikander, University of Helsinki: Orality, Writing, and Textual History of the Didache (25 min)
This looked interesting, but I was only able to grab a handout before heading out, via the bookroom, to lunch with a friend. 


  1. Regarding Trobisch's paper, can you clarify what you mean by "where the ABS seems to be heading"?

  2. Odd, my comment never showed up!

    I made a joke about Peter's secret pathways, and then asked about Trobisch's paper: Could you clarify, was he arguing in favour of "the living text" model? Or was he using this as a type of reductio ad absurdum argument against the idea?

    Just wondering, Trosbisch has always struck me as more of a traditional, original-text kind of guy.

  3. Re Trobisch's presentation, in regard to where the ABS seems to be heading: my recollection (for whatever it's worth) was that acc. to Trobisch, the ABS is shifting focus to some degree from Bible distribution to trying to find ways to encourage engagement with the Bible. The reason: the average home has multiple copies of the Bible, but they are almost never used. So the ABS will be trying to encourage engagement with Scripture, by multiple means (reading, listening, videos, etc.)
    Mike Holmes