Friday, December 06, 2013

SBL S25-324: Papyrology and Early Christian Backgrounds

This session took place on Monday afternoon (I am working backwards through my "notes"). I think it had some problems at the outset. Firstly, although there is some allowable, necessary and fertile overlap between the fields, three out of five of the papers were very clearly related more closely to NT textual criticism and history than to anything that could be called papyrology (which should have the study of the actual papyrological evidence as something of a foundational expectation). Secondly, no visuals! Only Don Barker provided images. Of the four later presenters one had a handout and one other had a powerpoint but mostly in presentational terms they were pretty pedestrian. Of course all can be forgiven if the content is good. Thirdly, as far as I could tell, four of the five were students.

Don Barker, Macquarie University: Dating P. Ant 12: What Your Mother Never Told You (30 min)
I am not sure what the sub-title was about, I guess it was connected to Don's attempted joke about "dating". Notwithstanding that this was a helpful presentation by Don Barker, with typically good visuals, of the date of P.Ant.1.12 - something that has been contested over the years. It was interesting to hear Don argue for an earlier date (III/IV with Turner [PMH up-date]) than Mike Kruger's recent NTS article; but the palaeographical basis seemed slim, and Don's attempt to distinguish the core 'graphic stream' from the actual writing practice (although it helped to clarify what he seems to be arguing in his recent NTS article) struck me as fundamentally wrong-headed (as I pointed out in my gentle questions). At one point he made the interesting observation that the lack of parallels to this style may suggest it was produced outside of Egypt.

Benjamin Laird, University of Aberdeen: The Emergence of the Codex and the Formation of the Pauline Corpus (30 min)
I am sorry that I can't recall much about this paper. I don't recall much new in it, most of it seemed a reasonably plausible discussion along the lines of Gamble on the codex and the Pauline Corpus, without actually presenting much in the way of actual evidence (certainly nothing papyrological was involved).

Joel D. Estes, Princeton Theological Seminary: Reading for the Spirit of the Text: Nomina Sacra and Pneuma Language in P46 (30 min)
This presentation was based on a usefully thorough study of every reference to pneuma in P46 and whether or not it was contracted as a nomen sacrum. The handout was helpfully full and the basis data looked OK. It seemed to me that the data was rather over-interpreted, firstly through presuming that one could easily distinguish when Paul meant to signify the divine Spirit and when he didn't; and then by over-interpreting the scribal inconsistency as reflecting "a wider ambiguity in early Christian communities about the person and work of the Holy Spirit"; and then by mis-understanding where scribal practice eventually gravitated to in relation to pneuma.

Timothy J. Christian, Asbury Theological Seminary: P46 Tendencies in 2 Corinthians: A Critical Examination of the Oldest and Most Inconsistent Extant Papyrus of the Pauline Corpus (30 min)
This was a confident presentation which turned out to be over-confident where a bit of humility was called for. The so-called critical examination turned out to be a study of P46 in NA27 and its apparatus. Claiming not to have read the relevant secondary literature on the subject (one part of the presentation I could agree with) Mr Christian proceeded to analyse singular readings in P46 which agreed with two, three, four or even five other witnesses (his chart of the agreements in singular readings between P46 and other witnesses brought gasps of disbelief from the audience). He critiqued Kenyon's analysis because it was based on a comparison with such an old and out-dated work as Tischendorf's 1869 edition (not to mention that Kenyon had based his discussion on actually studying the old papyrus rather than simply seeing what one could find in NA27). Basically a bit of a disaster. One hopes he learns from the experience ...

David I. Yoon, McMaster Divinity College: Letters of Recommendation: A Literary Analysis of the Documentary Papyri and Its Relation to the Corinthians (30 min)
This is an interesting topic (indeed the only paper I could find in the whole SBL conference on epistolary issues related to the epistolary practices of the ancient world), but the argument didn't really get very far and the delivery was a bit too monotone. After an overly long introduction (addressing the rather self-evident notion that we should not start from contemporary letters of recommendation in academic contexts) Mr Yoon had only time to read a single ancient letter of recommendation (he didn't give us a reference); he then read out a letter of recommendation from Christ that he had composed as a way of illustrating 2 Cor 3.1-2. But the analysis of the ancient letter of recommendation was not too strong and in question-time he didn't seem to have given enough thought to what is actually said in 2 Cor 3.1-3. A missed opportunity.


  1. I think Barker dated P.Ant. to III/IV (as Turner).

  2. Thanks Peter, that makes even better sense of my notes!

  3. Anytime! I might note that I seem to be a bit less unenthusiastic about Don's paper, although my knowledge of palaeography is rather limited (if any). I think that what Don was getting at is that the decorative element was the scribe's peculiarity and not a characteristic of the broader style within which his script appears to fit (in his view anyway). This of course can't be conclusively demonstrated within the limits of a conference paper, hence I'm looking forward to the publication with a more developed argument.