Friday, December 21, 2018

Books of Interest to Textual Criticism

We all know one of the best things about the annual SBL conference is the bookstalls. You get a chance to sample the latest and greatest offerings from the major publishers. Even though I try to keep my eye on new publications I inevitably see things there I had missed. This year I came across three books I hadn’t been aware of that looked pertinent to TC. Please note that I haven’t read these. But let me know if you have and what you think.

Scribes, Visionaries, and the Politics of Second Temple Judea by Richard A. Horsley

Judaism and Christianity both arose in times of empire, with roots in Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman periods. In order to understand these religious movements, we must first understand the history and society of these imperial cultures. In these formative years, wisdom and apocalyptic traditions flourished as two significant religious forms. In Scribes, Visionaries, and the Politics of Second Temple Judea, distinguished New Testament scholar Richard A. Horsley analyzes the function and meaning of these religious movements within their social context, providing essential background for the development of early Judaism and early Christianity. It is an ideal textbook for classes on the rise of Judaism or the Second Temple period, as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls and Apocrypha.
Most of this book is about cultural and sociological background, but there are three chapters in particular on scribes, orality, and writing etc.

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Paul and the Emergence of Christian Textuality: Early Christian Literary Culture in Context: Collected Essays by Margaret Mitchell

The apostle Paul was the inaugurator of early Christian literary culture, not only through the writing of his own letters (ca. 50–62 CE)—which were to become surprisingly influential once collected and published after his death—but also through the successful propagation of a religious logic of mediated epiphanies of Christ, on the one hand, and of “synecdochical hermeneutics” of the gospel narrative about Christ, on the other. He set the precedent that the Christ-believing movements were to be rooted in texts and textual interpretation. Already in his own letters, Paul began a process of ongoing articulation and reinterpretation of the gospel narrative and the various means by which it could be replicated in each new generation and locale. This process was to continue through the letters written in his name, the Acts of the Apostles, and apostolic imitators and expositors in the centuries to come. These 15 essays by Margaret M. Mitchell are accompanied by an introduction that lays out thirteen propositions for the development of early Christian literary culture from its inception in the astounding claims of Paul, the self-styled “apostolic envoy of Jesus Christ crucified,” up through Constantine.
What little I have read of Margaret Mitchell’s work tells me I should be reading much more. Here is a collection of her essays over the years, so probably a good place for me to start.

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Paul’s Large Letters: Paul’s Autographic Subscription in the Light of Ancient Epistolary Conventions by Steve Reece

At the end of several of his letters the apostle Paul claims to be penning a summary and farewell greeting in his own hand: 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Philemon, cf. Colossians, 2 Thessalonians. Paul’s claims raise some interesting questions about his letter-writing practices. Did he write any complete letters himself, or did he always dictate to a scribe? How much did his scribes contribute to the composition of his letters? Did Paul make the effort to proofread and correct what he had dictated? What was the purpose of Paul’s autographic subscriptions? What was Paul’s purpose in calling attention to their autographic nature? Why did Paul write in large letters in the subscription of his letter to the Galatians? Why did he call attention to this peculiarity of his handwriting?

A good source of answers to these questions can be found among the primary documents that have survived from around the time of Paul, a large number of which have been discovered over the past two centuries and in fact continue to be discovered to this day. From around the time of Paul there are extant several dozen letters from the caves and refuges in the desert of eastern Judaea (in Hebrew, Aramaic, Nabataean, Greek, and Latin), several hundred from the remains of a Roman military camp in Vindolanda in northern England (in Latin), and several thousand from the sands of Middle and Upper Egypt (in Greek, Latin, and Egyptian Demotic). Reece has examined almost all these documents, many of them unpublished and rarely read, with special attention to their handwriting styles, in order to shed some light on these technical aspects of Paul’s letter-writing conventions.
I texted Pete Head, expert in all things Pauline and epistolary, at SBL about this one and he said it was quite good. (Correct me if I’m wrong, Pete.) You can also read an in-depth interview with Reece, complete with his reconstruction of Paul’s original letter to the Galatians.


  1. I wonder how Margaret Mitchell defends the claim that it was Paul, and not the other apostles before him, or Jesus, who "set the precedent that the Christ-believing movements were to be rooted in texts and textual interpretation."

  2. An interview with Eibert Tigchelaar, "Fake Dead Sea Scrolls Explained," may interest some here:
    A minor correction: at 49:25ff the interviewer brings up a 20th-century forgery of a Jerusalem Talmud tractate; he said he thinks it was Nashim; he probably meant to say Kodashim.

    1. Correcting myself, I meant to write "Jerusalem Talmud Order (Seder)." Some fake tractates of that were published in Hungary in 1907 and 1909.

  3. Thanks for pointing these out!