Friday, November 30, 2018

Why Didn’t God Preserve the Biblical Autographs?

In the volume on Holy Scripture in his studies in dogmatics, G. C. Berkouwer, theologian at the Free University of Amsterdam, has a few pages on textual criticism. The discussion follows that of his predecessors Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck quite closely and is worth a read even though I would probably demur at several points.

There are a number of issues worth discussing from Berkouwer, but I want to focus here on just one point because it is something I have heard many times from Christians. It is an answer to why, given the divine origin of the Bible, God did not preserve the actual autographs for us. Here is what Berkouwer writes:
The acceptance of this “textual criticism” is clearly related to the manner in which Holy Scripture was given to us. Obviously, it was not given to us in such a form that on the subjective human side it was merely possible and permissible to listen, with the exclusion of any “judgment.” Concern for a correct text shows clearly that this listening is set in a certain context. Textual criticism would be superfluous, according to Kuyper, “if it had pleased God to leave us perfect autographs.” Since this is not the case, we must respect the historical “aspects related to it.” Kuyper’s opinion about why the original handwriting is no longer at our disposal is that “such autographs would soon lead to idolatry, and it apparently pleased God to subject his Holy Scripture to the vicissitudes of time to ward off this evil rather than subject his church to the temptation of idolatry.” (Holy Scripture, p. 219)
In other words, the uncertainty that comes with textual criticism is better than that temptation to idolize the autographs that would come if we had them still. I have heard this a number of times as an explanation for why the need for textual criticism is okay. To his credit, Berkouwer goes on to say that
Opinions will differ concerning these considerations of divine motivations and providential intentions concerning the loss of the “autographs.” 
I say that this caveat is to Berkouwer’s credit because no matter how often I hear it, I have yet to find this reason very convincing.

It’s not because I don’t think God has any good reasons for withholding the original ink and parchment from us (he must, after all); it’s because I don’t see him saving us from countless other things our “idol factory” hearts worship like money, power, sex, or influence. If God doesn’t keep these things from us because we idolize them, why would he keep the autographs from us either? After all, idolizing these things creates far greater problems than any idolizing of the autographs would. What’s more, doesn’t God have other ways of addressing the problem of idolatry? And wouldn’t the first generation of Christians face this same temptation? Why not save them from it too?

It’s not that I’m against any suggestion for why God didn’t preserve the autographs—for instance, he didn’t need to; he isn’t afraid of the uncertainty that comes with textual criticism; he likes our blog; he knows I need a job; etc., etc.—it’s just that idolatry isn’t a convincing one.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Historic Editions Digitized in Münster

The Bible Museum in Münster digitized a number of important historical editions of the Bible from Erasmus’s first edition to the Luther Bible. Other important figures include Estienne, Bengel, Wettstein, Griesbach, and Nestle. Here is the full list with downloadable PDFs. Press release is here. At some point, we should cross reference this with Pete Head’s list of Historic Editions of the GNT.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Textual Criticism on the Cover of National Geographic

It’s not every day that the subject of our humble blog makes the cover of international magazines. But the December cover story of National Geographic is a well-written and apparently well-researched article on just that though. Okay, it’s not mostly about the textual criticism per se, but it is about attempts to discover and acquire new manuscripts of the Bible. And our own Peter Head gets quoted! Some of the pictures are fantastic as you would expect from NatGeo.

Apparently, outside the U.S. the story is titled “Bible Hunters.” The online version is “Inside the cloak-and-dagger search for sacred texts.” I don’t have time (or interest really) to engage this article in detail, but see Hurtado and Nongbri for their reactions.

One thing that struck me in this article was the accurate description of Teststellen by INTF. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this done well, but here it is. The Teststellen are discussed in response to the fact that most NT manuscripts haven’t been studied in detail.
The Institute for New Testament Textual Research in Münster, Germany, has sought to reduce the labor challenges by classifying biblical documents according to key passages, but such a system amounts to triage that wholly ignores numerous texts.
If we take “numerous texts” to mean numerous places in the text then this is a simple and accurate description. Calling it “triage” isn’t quite fair in my opinion, since it does seem to work pretty well in telling us which manuscripts are similar enough to leave out of an apparatus. But it does make the point that it’s not the ideal way to evaluate a manuscript’s text as a whole. Dan Wallace says he hopes OCR will make this approach unnecessary in the future. That would be great.

Other things that come up in the story are the fake DSS in the Museum of the Bible collection, CSNTM’s work, P52, and, of course, formerly-first-century Mark. The whole story is well told even if it pulls punches at a few points. Ehrman gets his say but so does Wallace in response. I’ll give the last word to Pete Head:
Many of Ehrman’s assertions are debatable (literally so: he and Wallace have squared off in three public debates), but some scholars agree that Christian scribes deliberately corrupted certain passages over time. The question is one of degree.

“Broadly, I support what Ehrman is saying about this,” says Peter Head, an Oxford scholar who studies Greek New Testament manuscripts. “But the manuscripts suggest a controlled fluidity. Variants emerge, but you can sort of figure out when and why. Now, it’s in the earlier period that we don’t have enough data. That’s the problem.”

The “earlier period” that Head refers to begins with the birth of Christianity in the first century A.D. and concludes in the early fourth century. And while it’s true that more than 5,500 Greek New Testament manuscripts have been found, close to 95 percent of those copies come from the ninth to the 16th centuries. Only about 125 date back to the second or third centuries, and none to the first.
Update: I should add that I haven’t seen the print magazine which apparently has additional material alongside the main article.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Giveaway of the New Septuaginta: A Reader’s Edition

Will Ross and Greg Lanier are giving away two copies of their newly published Septuaginta: A Reader’s Edition. Enter the giveaway here. The publisher describes the new edition as follows:
Septuaginta: A Reader’s Edition offers the complete text of the Greek Old Testament as it appears in the Rahlfs-Hanhart revised Septuaginta, laid out in a clear and readable format. All deuterocanonical books are included, as well as all double-texts, which are presented on facing pages for easy textual comparison. In order to facilitate natural and seamless reading of the text, every word occurring 100 times or fewer in the Rahlfs-Hanhart text (excluding proper names)—as well as every word that occurs more than 100 times in the Rahlfs-Hanhart text but fewer than 30 times in the Greek New Testament—is accompanied by a footnote that provides a contextual gloss for the word and (for verbs only) full parsing. Additionally, an appendix provides a complete alphabetized list of common vocabulary (namely, all the words that are not accompanied by a footnote), with glosses and (as applicable) comparison of a word’s usage in the Septuagint to its usage in the New Testament. 
All of these combined features will make Septuaginta: A Reader’s Edition an indispensable resource for biblical scholars and an excellent tool for improving one’s comprehension of the Greek language. 
In addition to the attractive and high-quality binding, each volume will include two ribbon markers.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Evidence of Canon Formation from Work-Combinations in NT Manuscripts?

Questions over the history of the formation of the New Testament canon continue to occupy researchers. While Dan Brown continues to promote the popular view that the Council of Nicaea or similar council determined the canon of scripture (see my post here on the history of this myth), scholarship has not submitted to such reductionism. Instead, scholars continue to study canon lists, early Christian citations, manuscript contents, and other kinds of testimonia such as early Christian statements on their own biblical theory in order to assess the historical formation of the canon. Given the state of research on these questions, a recent article in TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism by Michael Dormandy entitled, “How the Books Became the Bible The Evidence for Canon Formation from Work-Combinations in Manuscripts,” is a welcomed addition to the growing body of literature.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Understanding and Teaching the CBGM

Thanks to Hugh for the photo
For SBL this year I was invited by the German Bible Society to present something related to mine and Tommy’s book on the CBGM. Since I’ve had several years now of trying to explain to people what the CBGM is, how it works, and why it’s valuable I decided to talk about how we go about teaching the method. I shared some of the difficulties I’ve had doing that and some of the things I’ve tried to do to address them. You can read the full paper online.

One question I got in the Q&A was if I could put together some short YouTube videos. Each video could maybe explore a different aspect of the method, giving examples and that might be a good entry point for students. That’s a good idea and I might try to do that if I find the time. I am keen to find more ways to make the CBGM easy easier to understand.

In the mean time, I said I would share a lecture I gave at my seminary earlier this year that may serve as a good starting point for students. I’ve also uploaded the slides (which aren’t in the video) so you can follow along. My part of the talk starts around the 33 minute mark. Let me know if you find this helpful, especially if you’re a teacher.


Does anyone know where P28 is located (John 6:8–12, 17–22)? It is listed as being at Pacific School of Religion in Berklely, Cal. USA in NA 28 and also in the Tyndale House Greek New Testament, but the folk at Pacific School of Religion told me that they had de-accessioned it and sold it.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Blog dinner photos

We had another great ETC blog dinner this year at SBL with about 50 in attendance. There were a number of new faces this year which was great to see. Tommy and I both felt that this was the best venue we could remember. Thanks to the staff at Hard Rock Cafe Denver for that. Although we missed Pete Williams or Pete Head for the annual speech, Tommy did a stellar job. He even instituted a new tradition: the blog dinner quiz! The winners answered all 9 questions about the blog’s history correctly. Well done!

Thanks to all who attended. See you all next year in San Diego!

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Bible as Notepad

I was pleased to lay my hands on this very recent collection of essays edited by Liv Ingeborg Lied and Marilena Maniaci. It is the third volume in De Gruyter’s new ‘Manuscripta Biblica’ series, edited by Patrick Andrist and Martin Wallraff. (Oddly, vol. 2 is only scheduled for publication in 2019 and there’s no word of vol. 1 on the publisher’s website.) As the series itself indicates, MB focuses on manuscripts of the Bible and as such ‘introduces and analyses these neglected witnesses of acts of reading and re-interpreting the text throughout the centuries’. Bible as Notepad fits squarely within this scope.

The essays, which are actually proceedings from a 2014 conference held in Oslo, deal with a diverse pool of topics. Here’s the TOC to whet your appetite:
  1. Liv Ingeborg Lied, ‘Bible as notepad: Exploring annotations and annotation practices in biblical manuscripts’
  2. Daniel K. Falk, ‘In the margins of the Dead Sea Scrolls’
  3. Kipp Davis, ‘Margins as media: The long insertion in 4QJera (4Q70)’
  4. Paolo Buzi, ‘Additional notes in Christian Egyptian biblical manuscripts (fourth–eleventh centuries): Brief remarks’
  5. Jeff W. Childers, ‘Divining gospel: Classifying manuscripts of John used in sortilege’
  6. Marilena Maniaci, ‘Written evidence in the Italian Giant Bibles: Around and beyond the sacred text’
  7. Nurit Pasternak, ‘Giannozzo Manetti’s handwritten notes in his Hebrew Bibles’
  8. Adam Carter Bremer-McCollum, ‘Notes and colophons of scribes and readers in Georgian biblical manuscripts from Saint Catherine’s Monastery (Sinai)’
  9. Loren T. Stuckenbruck and Ted M. Erho, ‘EMML 8400 and notes on the reading of Hēnok in Ethiopia’
  10. Patrick Andrist, ‘Toward a definition of paratexts and paratextuality: The case of ancient Greek manuscripts’
There’s much to be learnt from every essay in this wide-ranging collection, but the one that particularly hit home for me was Andrist’s, more theoretically geared, treatment of paratexts. (FWI: Patrick Andrist and Martin Wallraff are spearheading a big ERC-funded project ParaTexBib, which investigates the structural codicology and paratextual materials in the manuscripts of the canonical Gospels). I’ve been interested in the notion of paratextuality for a while now and have found Genette’s literary theories, which Andrist re-contextualised and re-appropriated for the study of biblical manuscripts, fascinating and potentially useful. I hope to say more on the subject in due course. Suffice it to say that the biblical manuscript tradition a rich pool of data that is ripe for fresh investigations and the study of paratexts might well be a very fruitful way of going about it.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Blog Dinner: Get Tickets Now!

If you’re planning to come to the blog dinner this coming Monday night, now is the time to get tickets. The restaurant is going to ask me for a final headcount tomorrow and if you haven’t purchased your ticket, I can’t guarantee a spot. So, please get your tickets now if you’re planning to come. Ticket sales are over.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Around the Blogs

Larry Hurtado took a significant break from his blog over the summer due to health issues, so it has been great to see him back in the blogosaddle recently and posting on a number of interesting text-critical issues, including (to select two interesting examples):
Brent Nongbri has also been blogging regularly recently, on the ending of John’s Gospel in P66 and Tertullian, and a load of other interesting issues (including a response to Hurtado’s review which raises some really good points about the use of roll palaeography in dating codices). Brent has also been involved with digitising images of the Bodmer Papyri and writes a helpful guide to the new online catalogue.

Bodmer Papyri Site

There has been a bit of buzz recently around a couple of Reader’s Editions (This seems to be a euphemism for “Lazy Readers’ Editions”). Marketing is gearing up for the SBL market-fest. Firstly, the Tyndale House Edition of the Greek New Testament has been released with some vocab lists at the bottom of each page (for words that occur 25 times or less in this Greek NT) (sadly that means the textual apparatus has been jettisoned). See here and here for details.

Secondly, Will Ross and Greg Lanier have produced a Septuagint Reader’s Edition. This comes in two volumes, with a text that seems to be a copy of Rahlfs’ text, and also has vocab lists at the bottom of each page (every word occurring 100 times or fewer in the LXX as well as other words that occur fewer than 30 times in the Greek New Testament). Check out the Hendrickson blog and also for a design perspective see the Logos blog. Again the vocab lists push out any textual apparatus.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Apocryphal Gospels and Textual Criticism: An Interesting Case of P.Egerton 2 + P.Köln VI 255

This forum is primarily concerned with textual criticism of biblical literature—and rightly so. Yet, the basic skills acquired in the course of studying biblical manuscripts can also come in handy when studying other textual traditions, including the ever-popular apocryphal Gospels.

This summer, I published a little study of the so-called Egerton Gospel (GEg), an intriguing late second-/early third-century papyrus containing non-canonical Gospel-like material. (Many of our readers will have been familiar with this text, and I'd refer those who aren't to a brief but very lucid discussion in Markus Bockmuehl, Ancient Apocryphal Gospels [Louiseville 2017] 106–10.) The topic of this article was borne a while ago as I read Francis Watson's Gospel Writing, in preparation for Peter Head's reading group (which, I'm afraid, I never ended up attending, but that's another story).

In his chapter on the composition of John, Watson argues that the fourth evangelist re-interprets some of the material found in the GEg, hence the latter preserves a tradition anterior to the Johannine account. Although Watson's overall argument is rather extended and intricate, the point of departure for his entire discussion is, in fact, a single reading of the Cologne fragment of the GEg (the main portion of the text is housed in the British Library). In particular, Watson contends that, at ↓ 23, GEg should read 'our fathers'. Thus, the entire GEg parallel goes like this: εἰ γὰρ ἐπι[ϲτεύϲατε Μω(ϋϲεῖ)]· ἐπιϲτευϲάτε ἄ[ν ἐμοί· πε]ρ̣[ὶ] ἐμοῦ̣ γὰρ ἐκεῖνο[ϲ ἔγραψε]ν̣ τοῖϲ πατ[ρά]ϲ̣ι̣ν ἡμῶ[ν] ('If you had believed Moses you would have believed me, for he wrote them about me—to your fathers'). Most of this resembles John 5.46 quite closely, apart from the 'our fathers' bit, which Watson sets in contrast with John 6.49 where Jesus says: 'Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died'. This being the case, GEg preserves what Watson calls a 'Mosaic' stratum of the tradition, while John's material is a reinterpretation in view of the severance of his community from the synagogue.

At any rate, it would seem that Watson's argument is based on a misunderstanding of editorial conventions as well as of the reading itself. To begin with, he criticises Gronewald for reading ὑ̣μῶ[ν] in his articulated transcription whereas in the diplomatic transcription he prints ⟦η⟧`ϋ̣΄μω[ν. This, however, is a standard papyrological practice of editing previously unknown literary texts: a diplomatic transcript is followed by a full/articulated transcription (as well as a translation based on the latter) where abbreviations are resolved and scribal corrections of initial errors are incorporated into the main text. Moreover, Watson doesn't seem to appreciate that his preferred reading is quite likely to have been an error corrected by the scribe himself (there are three further examples of such scribal behaviour in the papyrus). Although the surface is a bit damaged at this point, one can make out the remains of the eta having been partly written over by a supralinear upsilon (notice the trema over it, right below the iota on the previous line):

P.Köln VI 255↓ 22–3.

You can easily follow Gronewald's reasoning on the basis of this reconstruction. Obviously, there's always a possibility that both readings are 'good' (i.e. non-erroneous) but reflect divergent traditions—though this would be more plausible in a text with a wider circulation. Who knows how wide, if any, distribution GEg may have enjoyed. In his aforementioned book, Bockmuehl observes that there's little reason to think that GEg was widely read in early Christian communities. I tend to agree.

For a fuller discussion of this problem, see ‘Whose Fathers?: A Note on the (Un-)Johannine Echo in the Egerton Gospel’, EC 9 (2018) 201–11.

2018 SBL Denver Blog Dinner

The day we’ve all been waiting for has arrived: the 2018 ETC blog dinner is on! Christian Askeland has faithfully served as our blog maitre d’ for many years now, but this year he was overworked (Mike Holmes, if you’re reading this, give the guy a break!). Since I seem to have too much time for blogging, the responsibilities fell to me.

Hard Rock Cafe, Denver
The dinner will be Monday, November 19 at 7:30pm at the Denver Hard Rock Cafe. I’ve reserved 50 spots in the main dining room where we will order from the group menu. Since the restaurant won’t split tickets, I’m asking people to pay ahead like last year to expedite things. Tickets are $31 per plate. This includes entree, salad, cookie, and soft drink as well as tax, gratuity, and fees. Alcohol will be on your own. I’ve listed the menu options below.

Ticket sales are closed

As a special treat this year, our other blog editor, Tommy Wasserman, will be delivering the annual speech in Pete Head’s stead. As always, everyone is invited. You don’t need to be an evangelical, a text critic, or a good-humored Swede.

Menu options

Monday, November 12, 2018

Collation Advice from the Past

Following from Tommy’s recent transcription suggestions, here is some advice on the subject from A. A. Vansittart, written to Hort on October 15, 1869.
…. How I wish I had seriously taken to collating and the like when I took my M.A. degree! Then I might have been able to follow your plans of collation which are in many respects admirable. Now alas I have 45 strong reasons against it! But I think I should recommend it to any young man beginning betimes: only with two modification. First I should impress on his mind always to collate to the best text within reach: never for instance to use a Lloyd’s Testament if he could beg, borrow, or steal a ‘Tregelles’. The best plan I think is what Wright was doing this year with his Chaucer, to take or make a text and have a lot of copies printed (with large margin, on writing paper: neglect nothing which may help one to write with speed what can be read with ease) and collate two or three MSS in each of them. Secondly I should decidedly recommend the use of coloured inks. They lose no minute of time: and they gain distinctness which is an equivalent of time: very likely they may save you from the dilemma of either having to do the work of weeks over again or not being able to rely on it. But perhaps I may have misunderstood your monochromania: perhaps it may bear the innocent nay laudable meaning that one should only write with one ink at a time? …
Given that Vansittart wrote this from the Hotel du Louvre in Paris, I think I would add one more tip: always try to do your collating from nice hotels in Paris.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

From a Text-Carrier to a Book Project

In his previous post, my erstwhile neighbour and fellow-postgraduate mentioned a brief article of mine that appeared in the second volume of Didaktikos. My task in this article was to write up a short overview of various trends in the study of biblical manuscripts for the journal’s ‘Currents’ section. (Peter’s fine essay on the NT TC appeared under in the same section under the ‘New Testament’ heading; I guess ‘texts’ are closer to the ‘New Testament’ than manuscripts. Or are they?)
Anywho, in the article I briefly address three main areas: specialised studies of individual manuscripts, particularly with the focus on ‘scribal habits’ (not forgetting to mention the giants of this approach like our very own Dirk Jongkind); material culture and social history; and book-historical approaches, particularly with the focus on paratextual materials and codicology.

The article is free to download (see the link at the end of the post), so here’s just one remark concerning the second of the aforementioned topics. A great deal of ink has been spilt recently over the matters of the social-historical matters pertaining to some manuscripts, and, I must admit, I’ve often found the way this line of enquiry has been pursued rather wanting. Particularly disconcerting is the ease with which some people use binary categories like ‘professional/unprofessional’ and ‘public/private’ based on rather meagre data: the script looks a bit ugly, → the manuscript is private; hey, there’s a paragraphos! → the manuscript is churchy; the nomina sacra are inconsistent → the scribe may not have been a Christian. You get the idea. Sometimes it’s better to admit ignorance than to perpetuate inane ideas.

Anyway, for the article, see ‘From a Text-Carrier to a Book Project’, Didaktikos 2 (2018) 44–6.

Friday, November 09, 2018

The Quiet Renaissance in Textual Criticism

In the latest Didaktikos journal, I have a very brief article attempting to introduce fellow teachers of New Testament to some of the things happening in our discipline. To regular ETC readers, the article will probably be old news, but maybe some will be curious as to what I chose to focus on. In the same issue there is an essay by another Peter (Malik) on the value of studying manuscripts as material objects. That article is titled “Biblical Manuscripts: From a Text-Carrier to a Book Project.”
If you’ve not heard of Didaktikos, that’s because it’s a very new journal, put out by the makers of Logos Bible software. It’s devoted to theological education and the articles are all short and to the point—something I very much appreciate now as a busy teacher myself. Best of all, they send the journal out free to theological educators and they encourage contributors to share them for free as well.

Here’s the link: “A Quiet Renaissance in Textual Criticism,” Didaktikos: Journal of Theological Education 2.3 (2018): 40–42.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Helpful Review of Papyri.Info

In vol. 9 of the online journal RIDE there is a helpful review of Papyri.Info by Lucia Vannini. If you don’t know anything about Papyri.Info then this review is a good source for anybody interested in documentary papyri. If you use Papyri.Info a lot there are some helpful points of information. If you are interested in the critical analysis of digital text collections then this is a geek-fest for you.

Review of Papyri.Info
Abstract:, made available by the Duke University, is a text collection of over 50,000 documentary papyri, i.e., Greek and Latin documents, dating back to the IV century BC – VIII century AD, which constitute a fundamental body of evidence for ancient everyday life in the classical antiquity. The collection consists of transcriptions encoded in EpiDoc (a subset of TEI for the representation of ancient documents preserved in inscriptions and in papyri), metadata, links to related resources, and, for some records, images and translations. It also includes a platform for the scholarly community to contribute to the database, whether for the digitisation of already published material or for the proposal of new contributions, with an editorial vetting process. This review aims to illustrate the content of the collection, discussing whether the relevant information is presented in a clear way to the user; to assess the usability of the interface for searching and browsing the papyri; and to analyse the technical aspects of the resource, especially the integration of different databases and the possibility of downloading and reusing the data, while highlighting, for all these aspects, both strengths and features that could be improved.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Bibliography of the Arabic Bible

Fresh from the Biblia Arabica project comes a new bibliography of the Arabic Bible which is said to be a classified and annotated history of scholarship. 

You can find it at and read more about it on the introductory blog post. Here’s a snippet of that:
The bibliography aims to include all Arabic Bible prints and all secondary literature on Arabic versions of the Bible, regardless of language. Currently we have entries in Arabic, English, Hebrew, French, German, Italian, Latin, and (coming soon) Russian. Translations made by three different communities––Jewish, Christian, and Samaritan––as well as citations by Muslim authors are all within scope. For more about this, see the Introduction.

That said, what we are releasing today is the first 200 of about 1500 entries we have drafted. These published entries make up part or all of the following subject collections: Generalia (edited by Ronny Vollandt), Gospels (edited by Robert Turnbull and Vevian Zaki), Pauline Epistles (edited by Vevian Zaki), Qaraite Translations (edited by Ronny Vollandt and Michael Wechsler), and Quotations in Christian Arabic Writings (edited by Peter Tarras).

Our plan is to upload new entries fortnightly, so stay tuned!
This looks very helpful.