Monday, July 26, 2021

Romans 8.34 A question of accentuation?


In the NA28 text Romans 8.34 begins with  τίς ὁ κατακρινῶν; 

This is a little bit exciting not only from an exegetical viewpoint; but also because future participles don't come along every day (there are around a dozen in the Greek NT).

If we look in the apparatus it would appear that not a single manuscript can be cited in support of this accentuation (of the future participle κατακρινῶν). The early manuscripts lack accentuation (generally): P46 01 A B* C D* F G 0289 [good luck if you want to check the vid on the basis of the images in NTVMR]; and the only other option given in the apparatus is  τίς ὁ κατακρίνων; (rendering this as a present participle). It is presumably on the basis of the predominance of the manuscripts that the THEGNT opts for this reading (cf. also Tisch. 1869/72). Here is a picture from Vaticanus


The exegetical discussions seem to hinge on whether Paul's series of questions are all future.

8.33: τίς ἐγκαλέσει κατὰ ἐκλεκτῶν θεοῦ; ...

8.34: τίς ὁ κατακρινῶν; ...

8.35:  τίς ἡμᾶς χωρίσει ἀπὸ τῆς ἀγάπης τοῦ Χριστοῦ; ...

    So, very briefly, Cranfield: 'the future is required by the parallel ἐγκαλέσει'. 


Or whether you think the immediately preceding present participle is the most significant: 

8.33b-34a: θεὸς ὁ δικαιῶν· τίς ὁ κατακρίνων; 

    So Sanday & Headlam: 'δικαιῶν suggests the present'. I'm tempted to think that the verse numbering has distracted us from the close relationship here.

Does anybody have some wisdom on this? Should I think of the NA28 reading as essentially a conjectural reading? Should I think, on the basis that there is no essential morphological distinction between the two forms, that it doesn't really matter.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Melchior Sessa’s 1538 Greek New Testament online


It was once extremely rare; in 1941, Hatch knew of only 7 copies in the world.

I found one online yesterday at Google Books. Maybe this is old news to you, but it's new to me, and I was excited to find it.

According to Grantley McDonald, “The Basel printer Johannes Bebelius produced three editions (1524, 1531, 1535), based largely on Erasmus’ third edition … Bebelius’ third edition formed the basis of Johannes Valderus’ edition (Basel, 1536), which in turn served as parent for that of Melchior Sessa (Venice, 1538).” (Biblical Criticism in Early Modern Europe, pp. 56–57)

It’s also fun that this edition of the Greek NT has a cat on the title page. That should make some people happy.


Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Journal Issue on Biblical Authority and Textual Criticism


The latest issue of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology is devoted to textual criticism and bibliology. The main essays are published versions of the Text & Canon Institute’s inaugural conference from 2020 with some intro essays by Steve Wellum, John Meade, and myself. We’re glad to see this material reach a new audience and thankful to SBJT for hosting it. Don’t mind the 2020 date; it’s a COVID thing. It’s all open access, by the way. 

Editorial: Defending Biblical Authority on the Textual Front

Discipleship and the History of the Bible

Some Missteps in Narrating the Bible’s History

From a Smoking Canon to Burning Hearts: The Making of the Hebrew Bible

Chaos Theory and the Text of the Old Testament

Where Inspiration is Found: Putting the New Testament Autographs in Context

Listening to the Dead Sea Scrolls

What Do James, Peter, John, and Jude Have in Common? Arguing for the Canonical Collection of the Catholic Epistles

Textual Division Markers in Codex Vaticanus


I enjoyed teaching some seminars for the Logos online program this year. In our seminars we looked at Psalm 8 and Hebrews 2 in a variety of manuscripts. We had a very close look at this passage (the end of Hebrews 2 and the start of Hebrews 3) in Codex Vaticanus to try and figure out the temporal relationships between the seven different actions involved in the marking of this textual division. 

Friday, July 02, 2021

Free Edition of 048


I recently found out that Dale Heath’s 1965 Michigan State University Ph.D. dissertation (“A transcription and description of Manuscript Vatican Greek 2061 [Gregory 048].”) is free online, here.

048 is a 5th-century palimpsest that contains text from Acts and the Epistles. When I’ve needed to work with 048, I’ve found Heath’s dissertation helpful. There is a physical copy at Tyndale House, which I used a good bit. That copy says “Taylor University” on it though. It turns out that Heath was a professor at Taylor, but his Ph.D. was from Michigan State. I guess Tyndale House simply had a copy made by (or for?) Taylor.

The signature is too faded for me to make out Heath’s supervisor (UPDATE: supervised by Richard E. Sullivan; thanks Hugh Houghton!), but in the preface, he wrote that it was “gratefully undertaken at the suggestion and under the guidance of Dr. J. Harold Greenlee of Asbury Theological Seminary.”


Monday, June 14, 2021

Roman Writing Equipment


A. Willi, Manual of Everyday Roman Writing. Volume 2. Writing Equipment 

Here is a very useful little e-book with some nice illustrations. 



Saturday, June 12, 2021

ECM Mark and More on the Way


Here’s some happy news out of Muenster: “The ECM of Mark is currently being printed and will be available soon.” I think there is an SBL session on the Mark data. (That reminds me I need to register for SBL.) You can see the initial book listing here which gives July 26 as the release date. More from Muenster:

After the ECM of the Gospel of Mark appears in print, we’ll upload a list of textual changes and split guiding lines online. Like Acts, there will be an online textual commentary, a digital version on the NTVMR, the CBGM (with downloadable docker container), and the Patristic citations database.

We hope these resources will guide readers to better understand the data behind the editions and can provide a solid starting place for further research to take place. Now that a Docker container is available for Acts, anyone can now experiment with the CBGM, which may be the best way to learn how the method works firsthand.
Don’t miss that last sentence. The CBGM has a version you can edit yourself (albeit with some tech know-how). The “black box” is open for anyone with enough motivation to explore it.

Thursday, June 03, 2021

Hobby Lobby Sues Obbink for $7m


Courthouse News Service reports today that Hobby Lobby is suing Dirk Obbink for $7 million for fraud and breach of contract. The complaint details seven private sale agreements between February 2010 and February 2013 for “fragments along with other ancient objects” for approximately $7,095,100. To date, the complaint says, 32 papyri have been identified as stolen from EES and sold directly to Hobby Lobby.

It also clarifies that Hobby Lobby came into possession of all the sale items except those in the seventh lot, purchased in February 2013 for $760,000. This last sale “contained four (4) papyrus pieces of New Testament Gospels identified as Matthew 3:7–10, 11–12; Mark 1:8–9, 16–18; Luke 13: 25–27, 28; and John 8:26–28, 33–35.” The second of those should look familiar as P.Oxy. 5345, aka “First-Century Mark.” So, we now know that Hobby Lobby did pay for these fragments. Scott Carroll’s infamous Tweet was in December of 2011 and Dan Wallace announced a first-century Mark fragment in February 2012—all before Hobby Lobby bought it. We know from Mike Holmes, that negotiations for its sale started in “early 2012.” 

The complaint goes on to tell us that “On or about December 2017, Obbink informed Hobby Lobby that he had ‘mistakenly’ sold the Gospel Fragments in Purchase #7 and that they were, in fact, owned by his employer, the EES.” The fragment was published not long after, in May of 2018. Surely Obbink had finished editing it for his employer well before then. He did refund Hobby Lobby $10k of the $760k while pleading for more time to pay the rest—which never came.

A number of questions arise from this new wrinkle. The complaint says that $760,000 was the cost of the four Gospel fragments in lot 7, but the entire lot contained that and “other antiquities,” all totaling $1.81m. It does not specify what those other antiquities are or whether Hobby Lobby initially asked for a refund for those as well. The complaint is also mum about the specifics of the other fragments and antiquities sold. 

A last point: if you split $760k four ways, that could mean that “First-Century Mark” sold for around $200k. That actually seems low to me, but what do I know.

It’s safe to say we have not heard the end of this sordid saga.

HT: Hixson

6/4/21 Update: Brent Nongbri has blogged about this here. He’s followed this closer than anybody so read the whole thing. This bit in particular jumped out: “Remember that between the Museum of the Bible and the American collector Andrew Stimer, who is said to have bought 6 stolen EES fragments from a business partner of Prof. Obbink, a total of 40 pieces have been returned to the EES. Now, the EES has said that 120 papyri are missing from its collection. That means 80 Oxyrhynchus papyri remain missing.” 

Monday, May 24, 2021

Blog Maintenance: New Subscription Manager


Hi all. For a while the blog has used to keep track of subscriber stats and to handle email subscriptions. Unfortunately, Feedburner has basically been dead in the water for some time. Recently Google announced it would drop support the email subscription feature altogether. 

So, as of today, I have switched the ETC blog over to to handle both features. If you currently receive the blog by email, I am working on moving your email over. So far, I’ve managed to migrate the most recent 100 subscribers but I’m waiting on someone on their staff to do the rest. (Update: All is now migrated.) If you don’t want to wait, you can always subscribe with this link—unless you’re a robot. Your ETC emails will now be delivered through which gives you some control over how and when you get them. 

I’ve also updated the RSS icon at the top of the page to point you to The email subscription form in the sidebar does the same. If you want to bypass altogether, you can still do that using the Atom link. If none of this means anything to you, you might be a robot.

Please let me know if you spot problems.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Free Book (Open Access): Georgi Parpulov’s new catalogue of catena manuscripts


This is one I’ve been looking forward to for a while.

Georgi R. Parpulov’s new book, Catena Manuscripts of the Greek New Testament: A Catalogue Texts and Studies, Third Series (Piscataway, NJ; Gorgias, 2021) is open access and has been published. The publisher’s page for the book is here, but a FREE pdf of it is available here.

I haven’t read the book in full yet, but I have been able to look at one place. I’ve had a very casual and low-priority interest in Niketas of Herakleia’s Catena in Lucam for a few years now because of one of the sources Niketas used, and when I checked the group of manuscripts I had been looking at (pp. 122–123), Parpulov lists two additional manuscripts that are members of that group that I didn't previously know about.

If you’re not familiar with Parpulov, you should be. When I see his name on the schedule of conference presentations, I usually just plan to drop whatever else I’m doing to go hear him.

As a bonus: here is another one of Parpulov’s publications that is also free: “Kr in the Gospels”, which is a must-read for anyone interested in Family 35.

Congrats, Georgi!

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

C.H. Spurgeon on the Preservation of Scripture

[Note: I originally wrote this post over a year ago during UK lockdown but didn't post it at the time.]

It’s no secret that for many years now, I’ve had an unhealthy obsession a healthy respect for the Last of the Puritans. I was recently working on a side project, and I had left a note for myself to “find a way to put Spurgeon in.” It was really just a joke to myself. [Update: I found a way!] Nothing wrong with an occasional irrelevant reference to the man, even if it’s against an editor’s wishes!

I decided to follow my note up and search his sermons for references to manuscripts again, and after sorting away all the references to sermon manuscripts, I came across something I had not seen before.

C. H. Spurgeon (1834–1892),
looking amused
Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834–1892) preached his sermon no. 3303 “on behalf of the British and Foreign Bible Society” on Thursday evening, 14 May 1885. (By the way, the Bible Society has an amazing library in Cambridge.) The sermon wasn’t published right away. It was one of the posthumously-published sermons that finally came to print about twenty years after he died. Spurgeon’s text for the sermon, “A Very Early Bible Society,” is 2 Chron. 34:15, 18, 19—when Hilkiah finds the lost Book of the Law.

Spurgeon has a whole sermon point on “that Peculiar Preservation which God has extended to the Scriptures which he has inspired” (somewhat ironically, in light of the fact that he was preaching this from an instance in Scripture in which God’s Word appears to have been lost to his people for a time). I have shown elsewhere that Spurgeon spoke out at times in favor of textual criticism and even occasionally mentioned textual variants from the pulpit. Once, he even preached from a phrase that is in the Revised Version but not the King James Version because homoioteluton/visual similarity caused a phrase to be omitted in the majority of manuscripts (κληθῶμεν καὶ ἐσμέν, but κλη/και and θ/ε would be very similar in some hands as well). Spurgeon drank deeply from the wells of the Puritans and carried their intense respect of Scripture with him his whole life. He vehemently defended the reliability, truthfulness, and infallibility of the Scriptures, but he also understood that our access to God’s Word is not the same as what God’s Word is ontologically. Here, I stumbled upon a section in which Spurgeon defends the preservation of Scripture, but he also affirms that copies of Scripture have errors and can be corrected by comparing them to other copies. I quote a few sections below:
Now look you along through all the ages, and if you are a reverent believer in the Word, you will be filled with grateful wonder that the Sacred Roll has been preserved to us. Through what perils it has passed, and yet, as I believe, there is not a chapter of it lost; nay, nor a verse of any chapter. The misreadings of the copies are really so inconsiderable, and are so happily corrected by other manuscripts, that our Bible is a marvel in literature for the comparative ease with which the correct text is discoverable. It seems to me that God’s divine care has extended itself to the whole text, so that, with far less care than would be needed by any classic author, the very words of the Holy Spirit may be known. As the wings of cherubim overshadowed the mercy-seat, so do the wings of providence protect the Book of the Lord. As Michael guarded the body of Moses, so does a divine care secure the Books of Moses. I invite lovers of history and of famous books to look into the interesting story of the immortality of Scripture. Let us think of that special preservation with reverent gratitude.
Quickly, note here that Spurgeon does imply that the “correct text” does need to be discovered, but God’s preservation is evident in the “comparative ease with which” that is done: “with far less care than would be needed by any classical author.” In apologetics terms, Spurgeon is giving an early version of the comparison of the Bible/New Testament with classical literature, perhaps most famously made by F.F. Bruce and recently discussed by James B. Prothro.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Review of Falcetta’s Bio of J. Rendel Harris


The new issue of BBR has my review of Alessandro Falcetta’s The Daily Discoveries of a Bible Scholar and Manuscript Hunter: A Biography of James Rendel Harris. It’s an account thick with detail of a life marked by some remarkable adventures. The man survived not one but two German U-Boat attacks and “discovered” the Odes of Solomon in his own office!

One feature I wished for in the book was a bit more of Rendel’s own voice. Falcetta appears to have worked through all the personal correspondence and there were times I would have liked to hear them rather than Falcetta’s summary of them. One other thing I didn’t mention in the review is the extreme price. Thankfully, I noticed today that the publisher has put out a much more affordable paperback edition. It’s worth a read.

You can read the review here.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Cambridge Greek Lexicon 4 – Do We Need It?


This is the fourth and final post on my week with the Cambridge Greek Lexicon (first, second, third).

So do we (we, as in students of the Greek New Testament – and LXX [with different frustrations]) need the Cambridge Greek Lexicon?

No, we don’t. Not in the sense that we need it.

It is an informative lexicon, it is well set up, but it does not offer the depth of data needed for a ‘research lexicon’. Authors are referred to, but without a reference. Sometimes we get snippets of English translation but without the underlying Greek. Also, the corpus covered is not nearly wide enough to be satisfactory. So, no. I would not advise my students to use this lexicon for any in-depth work.

That being said, it is an original lexicographical work. It can help us see things we had not seen before (remember the example of δόξα in an earlier post). But in the end, this lexicon is what it is, an intermediate lexicon on the main body of literature that students would read when doing classics. And frankly, this is exactly what I will be using it for privately (and I will peek into it whenever working on the New Testament, just to see if there is something interesting in there).

Let me give you some examples.

The word ἁγνισμός receives both a definition ‘process of purifying’ and a translation / gloss, ‘purification’. The only author reference is NT, so I assume it doesn’t occur in the rest of the covered corpus. This is confirmed by BDAG, which gives a slightly better, but wordier definition as it adds a relevant adverb, ‘the process of making sthng cultically acceptable’, and adds the same gloss ‘purification’. This is the type of word where you will find nothing new in the Cambridge Greek Lexicon, and I would guess that even its fresh and independent reading will not come near to the intensity with which New Testament scholarship has pored itself over every word.

A word which is helpful to look up in the Cambridge Greek Lexicon is ἀγωγή. It is found in 2 Tim 3:10, so its NT reference is not covered by the CGL (it has only the Gospels and Acts). However, the range of senses for ἀγωγή gives a good feel for the word. In comparison, the entry in BDAG looks muddled and is in need of improvement. We all know that BDAG is far from perfect and I wish it was created using the same approach as the CGL. Instead BDAG is the result of repeatedly working over an existing lexicon, making some changes that happen to interest yet another editor, and, in its most recent outfit, adding definitions to the glosses. However, note that the entries were not rewritten or reimagined, it was simply that a definition was added which was based on the existing glosses. That leads to some toe-curling situations (see e.g. BDAG on ἀγαπάω). In that sense the CGL feels so much cleaner.

Even with simple words such as ἄγγος I thought the CGL did a better job than BDAG.

Many of the unique or just rarer words used in the letters of the New Testament will not show up in the dictionary, or only as used in the Gospels. An interesting example is γαμίζω, which is taken widely and correctly as ‘to give in marriage’, and as such also shows up in the CGL. However, the word is contested in 1 Cor 7:38, where many want to translate with ‘marry’. Because of the corpus limitation of the CGL one will not find a mention of that possibility (one will look also in vain for the variant reading ἐκγαμίζω).

 An issue where I think that the CGL is raising helpful questions is with the word ἀγενής, which in 1 Cor. 1:28 is taken as ‘not of noble birth’. This seems completely justified, also in light of its antonym εὐγενής. In the CGL ἀγενής has as its only gloss ‘not created’, because of its use in Plato. The word that covers our meaning found in 1 Corinthians is ἀγεννής. Did the first simply take the place of the second? There may be a story to tell.

 In the end, the Cambridge Greek Lexicon is a good lexicon for what it is. Do not judge it because it is not what you want it to be. And since we all ought to read lots of Greek, it is a great help. And, going full book lover again, I like the feel of the lexicon, the clarity of the lay-out. It is calling out to me to be used, it does not want to stay on the shelf. It is stirring up ζῆλος, perhaps more than φθόνος.


But should you tell your New Testament Greek students to get this? No, not really. The opportunity cost is considerable (money, shelf-space), and the immediate pay back relatively low.

There is a moral to the story, though. Despite many projects (most of which were never completed), promises, and false rumours, I am still waiting for a lexicon of the Greek Bible. A lexicon that covers the Greek Old and New Testament, that does a good job in using classical and koine literature, that mines the papyri and inscriptions, and - in an ideal world - gives some attention to Hebrew and Aramaic lexicography too. If this Cambridge Greek Lexicon took such an enormous effort over several decades and barely scraped through, I am not expecting that my lexicon will see the light of day in my life time. But wait, isn’t it about time we start talking about the Diccionario Griego–Español

Thursday, April 29, 2021

The Cambridge Greek Lexicon 3 – Scope and Use


 After the previousblog post it became clear that I needed to read the introductory material to get into the detail of this new lexicon. Apart from the lists of ‘Authors and Editions’ and ‘Abbreviations’, there are only 6 pages of prose as introduction.

The project was originally intended as a revision of the Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon but soon morphed into something bigger and independent. Aimed at ‘modern students’ but also of interest to scholars because of the fresh reading of the texts.

 Here it gets interesting. The coverage of the Lexicon extends from Homer to the early second century’ and ‘most of the major authors who fall within that period are included.’ This is a lexicon aimed at students, covering most of the major literature of said period. What does that mean from a New Testament perspective? The Gospels and Acts are covered, but not the remainder of the New Testament.


Also, there is no Greek Old Testament, no Philo, no Josephus.

It is a Lexicon of a certain body of Greek literature (and indeed an important body which New Testament scholars do well to read), but it is not a Lexicon of the Greek language as a whole. There are no papyri, there is no epigraphic material.

I had not realized this from the outset. The title ‘Cambridge Greek Lexicon’ and the phrasing ‘the coverage extends from Homer to the early second century’ had led me to expect that it covered all of this period. To be honest, I think this is a little bit of a downer. All that gargantuan effort to produce something that, in the end, is an intermediate lexicon, though possibly the best one around. I had hoped for more, because we need a lexicon that does more.

 Swallowing my disappointment (and this is directed at me, not at the editors) there is the explanation of how an entry works. By and large we got this right the first time around, though there is some interesting terminology used (and not used). The example ἀλάσσω works well and demonstrates how this lexicon is at its very best. The numbered sections are called sense-sections, a definition is indeed not in bold, but the glosses are. Here the term for gloss is ‘translation words’.

Having read the ‘Structure and Content of Entries’, most of my questions about the structure have been answered, even though the application in practice may not always been as lucid as in the demonstration example.

The lexicon claims to make a real contribution, ‘Entries are organized not primarily according to chronological or grammatical criteria, but according to meaning’. This is where skill comes in, and this is where we should be able to learn something. I admit upfront that a couple of years ago I read Lakoff’s Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things and picked up a lot about how meaning develops, flows, and re-emerges. So let’s put the Lexicon to the test and we return to the same page as the previous post.

How does the meaning of δόξα develop? From the New Testament I have a firm concept of ‘glory’. So how did we get there?

The birthing verb (my term) is δοκέω, as in ‘to think’ or ‘it seems to me’, etc. Looking at the sense-sections I can see indeed how the various senses are related. ‘Glory’ is close to ‘reputation’, is close to ‘opinion about someone’. I can indeed see how the same word can function in such a wide array. If I turn then to BDAG in comparison, I am confronted with a wordy mess, divided in senses, but with definitions that need the glosses to be understood (which is of course the wrong way around). In just 30 seconds, I learned more from the Cambridge Lexicon than from BDAG.

So we have here a positive, namely the organization around senses, and a negative, a rather underwhelming coverage.

In the final post, I will ponder the question if a student of the New Testament needs this lexicon.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Tyndale’s Use of ‘Jehovah’


William Tyndale (1491–1536) is known as the father of the English Bible because of the influence of his translation work. He is well known for giving to English Bible readers terms we now take for granted like anathema, godly, scapegoat, unbeliever, and zealous. He also gave us Jehovah for the divine name (spelled Iehouah or Iehoua). Tyndale was killed before he finished the OT, of course, but this translation of the divine name is found in his Pentateuch. 

What I didn’t realize until yesterday is that he does not use it in every case to translate יְהוָה. In fact, his use is quite sparing. A search of an online edition of Tyndale’s Pentateuch, turns up only seven results. Elsewhere, Tyndale treats the tetragrammaton the same way that Luther’s Bible did, by putting the first three letters in caps to mark it out. Thus, LORde akin to Luther’s HERr.

Tyndale’s 1530 Pentateuch at Gen 15.2f (source)

But if Tyndale did not use it always, how did he decide when to use it? Four of the seven cases are explainable because there is an explicit mention of יְהוָה as God’s name. The other five are all uses of הָאָדֹן יְהוָה (marked with an asterisk). He does seem to have missed Gen 15.8 though. Maybe he would have caught in revision had he lived to do so. 

  1. Genesis 15:2*
    And Abram answered: LORde Iehouah what wilt thou geue me: I goo childlesse and the cater of myne housse this Eleasar of Damasco hath a sonne.
  2. Exodus 6:3 
    and I appeared vnto Abraham, Isaac and Iacob an allmightie God: but in my name Iehouah was I not knowne vnto them.
  3. Exodus 15:3 
    The Lorde is a ma off warre, Iehouah ys his name:
  4. Exodus 17:15
    And Moses made an alter ad called the name of it Iehouah Nissi,
  5. Exodus 23:17
    Thre tymes in a yere shall all thy men childern appere before the Lorde Iehouah.
  6. Exodus 33:19 
    And he sayde: I will make all my good goo before the, and I will be called in this name Iehouah before the, ad wil shewe mercy to whom I shew mercy, and will haue compassion on whom I haue compassion.
  7. Exodus 34:23*
    Thrise in a yere shall all youre men childern appeare before the Lorde Iehouah God of Israel:
  8. Deuteronomy 3:24*
    O lorde Iehoua, thou hast begonne to shewe thy servaunte thy greatnesse and thy mightie hande for there is no God in heauen nor in erth that can do after thy workes and after thy power:
  9. Deuteronomy 9:26*
    But I made intercession vnto the Lorde and sayed: O Lorde Iehoua, destroye not thy people and thyne enheritauce which thou hast delyuered thorow thi greatnesse and which thou hast brought out of Egipte with a mightie hand.
One of the reasons I bring this up is because some recent English translations have made a big deal of using “Yahweh” in the OT for the Tetragrammaton. The 2004 HCSB did this when it came out but reversed course with the revised CSB in 2017. The in-process LSB also says it will use Yahweh. Until I checked, I had thought this was essentially a return to Tyndale’s approach. But I now see that is not the case. These modern translations really are innovating rather than returning to precedent. (Someone correct me if that’s wrong.)

The Cambridge Greek Lexicon 2 - First Impressions



Going full reader-response on the new Cambridge Classical Lexicon, let me share my first impressions when opening my new purchase. Doing what anyone would do who knows people who have been involved in the project, I turn immediately to the title page. I am not particularly involved in the Classics faculty, but I know two of the six people mentioned personally. One is the lovely Anne Thompson. Always softly spoken, always considerate, and someone who has been a great influence by expertise, thoughtfulness, and character on me and many others. The other person is ‘P. James’, who is none other than the ‘Patrick James’ on the title page of the Tyndale House Greek New Testament. I am acquainted with perhaps two people who know classical Greek; he is one of them.

Opening the first volume at random, a number of things strike me immediately. The font is relatively small, but the use of bold headwords and ekthesis make the location of a new entry stand out. The margins are all rather narrow, so this book will not be the place in which I will make any notes. At best I can get a sign in that will refer me to a note I will have made elsewhere. 

But then the first ‘New Testament’ entry I spot on this page, which happens to be δοξάζω.

 And here I get a bit confused. I trust I will get over it, but the variety of font types is puzzling.

Bold Greek, italic, Bold English, dash, small capitals, sans serif font, plus sign, minus sign (correction, probably another dash). Upfront I trust that each variation in font type makes sense, so I expect that different kinds of information are given. At this point I am not interested in reading the introduction and learning what everything stands for. I want to know how intuitive each entry is. 

δοξάζω is subdivided into 5 numbered parts. I know a little bit about the lexical wars that are being fought about the relative merits of glossing versus defining words. I don’t have a strong conviction either way, and at first glance the Cambridge Classical Lexicon doesn’t seem to have either. Have a look at the list for δοξάζω:

1. think, imagine, suppose, expect;
(intr.) think, suppose (sthg.); 

2. think, form or hold an opinion;
holdw.cogn.acc. an opinion

3. make an inference, conjecture, guess

4. estimate, reckon oneself

5. honour, praise, glorify God, His word or name, Jesus

Each of the five parts have at least two glosses, in bold. I take it that the intended  meaning is to be found where these glosses overlap (prototypical for the sense?). The third entry on this list contains a definition, ‘make an inference’, but has two glosses in addition. I assume that the gloss ‘guess’ is qualified by what precedes and that it is closer to the use of ‘guess’ as in ‘I guess it will start to rain in a minute’ than guessing that happen for truly random events. 

I am not sure about the structure of (2) here. It is glossed as ‘hold an opinion’, but then later in this part as ‘hold’ with ‘an opinion’ as a complement (if I am correct in taking italics at this point as a complement, see next). The solution lies probably in the –w.cogn.acc

The final entry sounds the most ‘New Testament’, and indeed, the ‘author source’ is given as NT. ‘honour, praise, glorify’ is followed by a dash and the following in italics, which must mean complements or objects in this context, God, His word or name, Jesus. Interesting to see ‘His’ capitalized! I gather that that strictly speaking ‘or’ in His word or name should not be in italics.

So my first impressions are that I am not sure about the methodology behind the Cambridge Greek Lexicon or the more subtle points of how a lemma is subdivided. At the very least I know that the lexicon includes the New Testament corpus. 

 Next thing to do is to read the introductory material, and, as a cliff-hanger, it will show that first impressions can be mistaken.


Tuesday, April 27, 2021

The Cambridge Greek Lexicon (1) - Envy

EDIT: I got the name wrong! I called it initially the Cambridge Classical Lexicon, it is the Cambridge Greek Lexicon.

Many of us will have pricked up our ears when the news broke this month that the Cambridge Greek Lexicon is finally out. For many long years this project has been in the making, and I remember going to a day-conference in the Classics faculty on the topic when I was still a student.

So today I left a Covid-restricted Tyndale House early and cycled to the Cambridge University Press shop in the centre of town. The momentous nature of this new publication is not lost on the shop as they have devoted one of their window displays to both recent Greek publications, the Grammar and the Lexicon.

I am always impressed by the wide variety of books on display in this shop 😊

Clearly this lexicon is not for the faint-hearted as it is quite heavy. It may therefore well be that pound-for-pound this is not an expensive purchase; I got a lot of weight for my £51.99 (discount for University members).

 Anyway, in the coming days I will post a series of observations and random thoughts on this new lexicon solely and unashamedly from the standpoint of a student of the New Testament (I know, I am setting myself up for a fall by saying ‘in the coming days’).

I guess that you will have picked up the sole purpose of this post by now, to induce pure envy, nothing less.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

GA 1429, Looted in 1917, Is Returning Home


I didn’t want this to get lost in my last post about the MOTB, but, while we were there, Jeff Kloha told us about GA 1429 and the Museum’s recent work identifying it as part of a cache of manuscripts looted in 1917. The Museum now has a detailed account of the process and history of the manuscript on their website. It’s worth reading. 

Several other U.S. institutions also have manuscripts from this cache. The Museum and the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago are repatriating theirs. As far as I know, Princeton and Duke have not said what they will do with theirs. 

The marking of the woman caught in adultery in 1429 was key to identification

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Manuscripts in D.C. and Dinner in Dollyworld


A few weeks ago, Elijah and I were hosted by the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. to talk about Myths and Mistakes. Elijah and I are alumni of the original Green Scholars Initiative, a formative experience for both of us. So it was especially nice to feel like we could give something back. The Museum staff was beyond hospitable and generous with their time. I was able to tour one of the floors (on the Bible’s history) and really enjoyed it. The medieval and English Bible artifacts were the highlight for me. I saw a number of important Greek New Testaments for the first time with my own eyes. I had no idea how small Stephanus’s 1551 edition is.

We were also able to spend time with four of their earliest New Testament fragments: P39, 0313, 0206, and 0220. All of these were of interest, but we were most interested in 0220. This is the earliest copy of Rom 5.1 and its reading on ἔχομεν/ἔχωμεν is marked “vid” in NA28 and with underdots in THGNT. We were able to look at it twice, once with a Dino microscope camera. Our conclusion? 0220 most likely has the omicron.

A Dino cam image of ε[χο] in 0220

On the way home, I stopped over in East Tennessee, Hixson’s backyard and the sacred home of HRH Dolly Parton. Sadly, we did not see her majesty. But we were able to see another legend, one Maurice Robinson! I can’t be sure, but it may have been the largest gathering of ETC blog members in the last year. He did not have anything quite as old as 0220, but we were able to see the original edition of the Byzantine text-form and the very computer—still working!—that it was made with. We even acquired some rare KJV-only books with Pierpont’s (sometimes extensive) marginal criticisms.

All-in-all, it was a great trip and I am grateful to all my hosts.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Online Groningen Symposium on Palaeography and Hebrew/Aramaic Scribal Culture


Thanks to Drew Longacre for alerting me to the the 2021 International Online Groningen Symposium.


  • When: 6–8 April 2021 13:00–20:00 Central European Summer Time (UTC+2)
  • Hosts: Qumran Institute and Bernoulli Institute (University of Groningen)
  • Where: online, of course
  • Registration: email Drew Longacre at d.g.longacre[at] for the Zoom link
You can make this your Zoom background and pretend you’re in the Netherlands


Tuesday, 6 April

13:00 CET Jouke de Vries (President of the University of Groningen)


Mladen Popović (University of Groningen)


Session 1 — The Hands that Wrote the Bible: Digital Palaeography

Chair: Eibert Tigchelaar

13:15 Mladen Popović (University of Groningen)

Digital Palaeography for Identifying the Unknown Scribes and Dating the Undated Manuscripts from the Dead Sea Scrolls

13:45 Maruf Dhali (University of Groningen)

Artificial Intelligence and Pattern Recognition Techniques in Analyzing the Dead Sea Scrolls

14:15 Gemma Hayes (University of Groningen)

Digital Palaeography and the Scribes of the Dead Sea Scrolls

14:45 Drew Longacre (University of Groningen)

Data Mining for Writer Identification: The Test Case of the Dead Sea Psalm Scrolls

15:15 Discussion

15:30–16:15 Break

Session 2 — The Hands that Wrote the Bible: Radiocarbon Dating

Chair: Mladen Popović

16:15 Kaare Rasmussen (University of Southern Denmark)

The 14C Dating in the ERC project “The Hands that Wrote the Bible”: Chemical Aspects and the Cleaning of the Samples

16:45 Hans van der Plicht (University of Groningen)

The 14C Dating in the ERC project “The Hands that Wrote the Bible”: Physical Aspects and the Measurement of the 14C Content

17:15 Discussion

17:30–18:15 Break

Session 3 — Hebrew/Aramaic Palaeography

Chair: Drew Longacre

18:15 Michael Langlois (University of Strasbourg)

Deciphering Ancient Hebrew and Aramaic Inscriptions in a Digital World: Potential and Limitations

18:45 James Moore (Humboldt Universität zu Berlin)

Toward a Systematic Description of the Imperial Aramaic Script and its Meaning for Dating and Writer Identification


19:15 Bronson Brown-deVost (University of Göttingen)

Scripta Qumranica Electronica

19:30 Daniel Stoekl ben Ezra (École Pratique des Hautes Études)


19:45 Sarah Yardney and Miller Prosser (University of Chicago)


20:00 Conclusion

Wednesday, 7 April

13:00 CET Welcome

Session 4 — Digital Palaeography

Chair: Maruf Dhali

13:15 Lambert Schomaker (University of Groningen)


13:45 Peter Stokes (École Pratique des Hautes Études)

When is a Scribe Not a Scribe? Some Reflections on Writer Identification

14:15 Nachum Dershowitz (Tel Aviv University)

Computational Paleography

14:45 Discussion

15:00–15:45 Break

Session 5 — Digital Palaeography

Chair: Lambert Schomaker

15:45 Shira Faigenbaum-Golovin (Tel Aviv University)

Algorithmic Handwriting Analysis of Iron Age Documents and its Implications to the Composition of Biblical Texts

16:15 Hussein Mohammed (Universität Hamburg)

Pattern-Recognition Approaches for Handwriting-Style Analysis

16:45 Eythan Levy (Tel Aviv University) and Frédéric Pluquet (Haute École

Louvain en Hainaut [HELHa] - Tournai and Ecole Supérieure

d'Informatique [ESI] - Brussels)

New Developments in the Scrypt Software for Old Hebrew Epigraphy

17:15 Discussion

17:30–18:15 Break

Session 6 — Hebrew/Aramaic Palaeography

Chair: Gemma Hayes

18:15 Judith Olszowy-Schlanger (University of Oxford)

Hebrew Palaeography Album: A New Online Tool to Study Medieval Hebrew Manuscripts

18:45 Elvira Martín-Contreras (Spanish National Research Council)

Distinguishing Scribal Hands in the Masora of the Medieval Hebrew Bible Manuscripts


19:15 Joe Uziel (Israel Antiquities Authority)

IAA projects

19:30 Isabelle Marthot-Santaniello (University of Basel)


19:45 James Moore (Humboldt Universität zu Berlin)


20:00 Conclusion

Thursday, 8 April

13:00 CET Welcome

Session 7 — Hebrew/Aramaic Palaeography and Textual Communities

Chair: Mladen Popović

13:15 Eibert Tigchelaar (KU Leuven)

Scribal Culture, Palaeography, and the Scrolls

13:45 Ayhan Aksu (University of Groningen)

Leaving No Scroll Unturned: Opisthographs and Scribal Culture of the Dead Sea Scrolls

14:15 Hanneke van der Schoor (KU Leuven)

Assessing Palaeographic Variation in Informal Manuscripts: The Scribe(s) of the Testament of Qahat and Visions of Amrame

14:45 Discussion

15:00–15:45 Break

Session 8 — Hebrew/Aramaic Palaeography

Chair: Ayhan Aksu

15:45 Nadia Vidro (University College London)

Calendars from the Cairo Genizah as a Dating Tool for Palaeography

16:15 Estara J Arrant (University of Cambridge)

From Scholastic to Scribal: A Developmental Analysis of “Unprofessional” Square Hebrew Script from Cairo Genizah Bible Fragments

16:45 Elihu Shannon (Sofer STaM)

Why My Script is Different from My Teacher's

17:15 Discussion

17:30–18:15 Break

Session 9 — Final Discussion Panels

Chairs: Drew Longacre and Maruf Dhali

18:15 Digital Palaeography Panel Discussion

18:45 Hebrew/Aramaic Palaeography and Scribal Culture Panel Discussion

19:15 Final Open Discussion

20:00 Conclusion

Thursday, March 18, 2021

New Book: Reception of the Bible in Byzantium


 This new book Receptions of the Bible in Byzantium: Texts, Manuscripts, and their Readers is available free on open access (HT: Dan Batovici on Twitter). It has over twenty essays under the broad headings of:

Politics of Interpretation


Rewritten Bible

Visual Exegesis

Technical Exegesis

It has interesting essays on a very wide range of topics, including (things I thought were interesting) on Julian the Apostate as Biblical Literalist, Armenian colophons, dating of Gospel manuscripts, illustrations used in Greek gospel books, Arabic Gospel books, classifying Catena manuscripts of Galatians, annotations in Codex Marchalianus, etc. It also has some lovely photos. Check it out.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

New Nahal Hever LXX Fragments of the Minor Prophets


The major media outlets are abuzz today with the news that Israel has announced additional fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Specifically, these are new fragments of the Nahal Hever Minor Prophets scroll (8HevXII gr). They also discovered a very old basket, arrow heads and spear tips, and the remains of a child. Readers may know the Nahal Hever scroll because it has a nice example of the Tetragrammaton in paleo-Hebrew script. There are lots more pictures of the finds at the Times of Israel story.

The new fragments (image from Times of Israel)

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Cardinal Bellarmine, Trent’s Major Apologist, on Important Variants


I’ve been doing some reading on the Council of Trent and its aftermath the last few weeks and would like to share some interesting finds. First, some context. Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621) was an important Roman Catholic theologian and a major apologist for Trent. More than a few leading Protestant polemicists recognized Bellarmine as their main target. As Cardinal Dulles explains:

When recalled by superiors to teach at the Roman College, Bellarmine produced his magnum opus, the Disputationes de Controversiis Fidei Catholicae adversus huius temporis haereticos, published in three large folios in 1586, 1588, and 1593. Although never translated as a whole into vernacular languages, this work remained for centuries the standard Catholic response to the Reformation.

Dulles wrote that in 1994. Happily, there is now an effort to translate Bellarmine’s opus into English and put it online. It is well worth reading, not least because Bellarmine represents his positions so clearly and succinctly. He is also not afraid to criticize excesses on his own side of the debate.

One of the debates at the time was which version of the Bible was “authentic” and thus authoritative (see here). Hebrew, Greek, or Latin? The Protestants, of course, affirmed the original languages of Hebrew and Greek over against the Latin. Trent asserted the “authenticity” of the Latin, and said no one “dare, or presume to reject it under any pretext whatever.” (The role of Greek and Hebrew went unmentioned but the council did call—with varying success—for new editions of them.) It is Trent’s position that Bellarmine defends.

In the course of doing so, he comments on an argument, made by some Catholics, that the Greek New Testament had been so corrupted that the (purer) Vulgate has supreme authority. On this point, Bellarmine demurs, writing that 

there can be no doubt but that the Apostolic edition [Greek] is of supreme authority unless it be clear it has been corrupted. On this matter I judge one should think as we said above about the Hebrew editions, namely that the Greek codices are not generally corrupted; however the sources are not so very pure that necessarily whatever differs from them should be corrected, as Calvin, Major, Chemnitz, and the rest of the heretics of this age falsely think.

Disputationes (source)
He goes on to give some examples of where he thinks the Greek has been corrupted, before adding this concluding section on several variants that still get a lot of press today:

Finally it is clear that in many Greek codices there are missing many parts of the true Scripture, as the story of the adulteress John ch.8. The last chapter of Mark, the very beautiful testimony to the Trinity, I John, and others that we discussed above. It is also clear that certain things are found in all the Greek codices that are not parts of divine Scripture, as in Matthew ch.6 is added to the Lord’s prayer, “for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever.” That these words are not in the text but were added by the Greeks can be understood from two things.

First from the fact that Tertullian, Cyprian, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine expound the Lord’s prayer and yet make no mention of these words, although all the Greeks know them well. Second from the fact that the Greeks in their liturgy recite these words indeed, but they are not continuous with the Lord’s prayer.

It’s probably no coincidence that the Reformed Scholastic Francis Turretin (1623–1687), writing a generation after Bellarmine, mentions all three of these “missing parts” in his discussion of “authenticity.” In each case, he finds the contested passage “in all the Greek copies” of his day (Institutes, vol. 1, Q.XI.X). This serves as proof, for him, against any notion that the Greek copies must cede authenticity to the Vulgate because of textual corruption.

One last observation about Bellarmine’s discussion. I notice a similarity, mutatis mutandis, between Trent’s view of the Vulgate and some present-day Protestant defenses of the TR. Both believe that usage has a key role in confirming authority. For Trent, the Vulgate’s authority is confirmed “by the lengthened usage of so many years.” For TR proponents, the TR’s authority is confirmed by the usage of such great theologians (the Reformers). Neither view convinces me, but it remains instructive to see how Bellarmine argues for his case.

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

A Myth/Mistake about the ESV

The ESV was not translated from the NA28, and the reading at Jude 5 is not an example of the ESV adopting the reading of the NA28.

(That’s the correct version, not the myth—just to be clear.)

I’ve seen this one several times before and was once even accused of bearing false witness against the ESV Translation Committee for saying that they did not translate the ESV from the NA28. The text-critical question is who saved the people out of Egypt? The UBS5/NA28/ECM/THGNT have “Jesus” (Ἰησοῦς), and the UBS4/NA27/Tommy Wasserman have “Lord” (κύριος). There is more to the variation unit than just that substitution, but that is the part I want to focus on here.

Before I get to why that is a myth, I’d like to acknowledge why I think I’ve seen it so much.

If you check the preface to the ESV, the “Textual Basis and Resources” section says the following:
The ESV is based on the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible as found in Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (5th ed., 1997), and on the Greek text in the 2014 editions of the Greek New Testament (5th corrected ed.), published by the United Bible Societies (UBS), and Novum Testamentum Graece (28th ed., 2012), edited by Nestle and Aland. ... Similarly, in a few difficult cases in the New Testament, the ESV has followed a Greek text different from the text given preference in the UBS/Nestle-Aland 28th edition. Throughout, the translation team has benefited greatly from the massive textual resources that have become readily available recently, from new insights into biblical laws and culture, and from current advances in Hebrew and Greek lexicography and grammatical understanding.
That is both in the online version and in recent (at least since 2016) print versions.

Furthermore, if you check Jude 5 in the ESV, we see that it translates the reading adopted in the NA28 and the Tyndale House GNT:


Those two things are enough to make someone think that the ESV is simply following the NA28 here.

However, there is more to the story.

I attach below images from my own copy of the 2001 ESV, which I’ve had since college. Here are pictures of the copyright page (to show that it is the 2001 edition), the “Textual Basis” section from the preface, the text of Jude 5 and the text-critical footnote for Jude 5.

ESV 2001 Copyright page

ESV 2001 Textual Basis

ESV 2001 Jude 5

ESV 2001 Jude 5 text-critical footnote

Now, assuming I’m not bearing false witness with these photos (I promise I am not, but of course, that’s exactly what someone who was bearing false witness would say, so please do find an ESV 2001 and check it yourself rather than take my word for it), here we have the reading adopted by the NA28, Ἰησοῦς (against κύριος in the NA27 and in Tommy Wasserman’s Epistle of Jude: Its Text and Transmission).

The thing to remember here is that Ἰησοῦς was adopted by the ESV Committee eleven years before the NA28 was published. The 2001 ESV was also published four years before the publication of Installment 4 of the text (2–3 John, Jude) of the ECM1 Catholic Epistles (2005), which also adopted Ἰησοῦς before the NA28 (2012) or the ECM2 of the Catholic Epistles (2013). Unless Wayne Grudem is a Time Lord, this demonstrates that the ESV did not get the Ἰησοῦς reading from the NA28. Instead, the ESV Committee broke from the NA27’s main text at Jude 5 and adopted the Ἰησοῦς reading from the NA27 apparatus—just like they said they occasionally did in the preface—and coincidentally Ἰησοῦς was also adopted (a few years later) as the main text in the ECM/NA28.

That leaves one important question though: Why does the current ESV say that it was translated from the NA28/UBS5? From here, I can only speculate. I did ask this question to someone who is on the ESV translation committee (back when I was accused of bearing false witness—I do try to check myself believe it or not, because I’ve been wrong before), and unfortunately he said he was not on the committee in the beginning when it was first translated. If I remember his answer correctly, he said the process was something like “ok we’re going to meet to translate” and everyone brought whichever editions of the original languages he used. My suspicion is that when the ESV was updated, someone simply updated the ‘editions used’ to whatever was current—which became the NA28 and the UBS5. The textual difference is not huge, and given that the ESV never stuck slavishly to the NA27/UBS4 in the first place, it probably seemed reasonable at the time. Indeed, I imagine when the committee has met since, committee members probably brought their copies of the NA28/UBS5.

As a final thought: there is something to the notion that fundamentally textual critics are not in control of what’s in people’s Bibles—translation committees are. We can rave about/rail against the CBGM all day long, but the only way it will ever change the text of a Bible translation is if a translation committee follows the textual decisions that the CBGM was used to make.

Friday, March 05, 2021

Twelfth Birmingham Colloquium Videos


For those not aware, the presentations for this year’s Birmingham Colloquium on NT Textual Criticism have been online and are being put on YouTube here.

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Festschrift for Chuck Hill Published


Congratulations to Chuck Hill on the publication his Festschrift! The book is Studies on the Intersection of Text, Paratext, and Reception edited by Gregory R. Lanier and J. Nicholas Reid (both colleagues of his at RTS). Don’t miss the interview we did with Chuck back in 2016 (part 1 and part 2). Here’s a bit more on Greg Lanier’s blog on the presentation for Chuck today.


Studies on the Intersection of Text, Paratext, and Reception brings together thirteen contributions from leading scholars in the fields of textual criticism, manuscript/paratextual research, and reception history. These fields have tended to operate in isolation, but recent years have seen a rise in valuable research being done at their multiple points of intersection. The contributors to this volume show the potential of such crossover work through, for example, exploring how paratextual features of papyri and minuscules give insight into their text; probing how scribal behaviors illumine textual transmission/restoration, and examining how colometry, inner-biblical references, and early church reading cultures may contribute to understanding canon formation. These essays reflect the contours of the scholarship of Dr. Charles E. Hill, to whom the volume is dedicated.

Table of Contents

  1. Punctuation and Paragraphs in P66 (P.Bod. II): Insights into Scribal Behavior
    Peter M. Head 
  2. The Text and Paratext of Minuscule GA 1424: Initial Observations
    Gregory R. Lanier and Moses Han 
  3. Marginal Paratexts in GA 2323: A Thirteenth-Century Witness to the Medieval Reception of Revelation
    Peter Malik 
  4. Writing and Writers in Ancient Mesopotamia: A Brief Sketch for New Testament Scholars
    J. Nicholas Reid 
  5. On Not Preferring the Shorter Reading: Matthew as a Test Case
    Peter J. Gurry 
  6. Codex Bezae as Repository
    Jennifer Knust and Tommy Wasserman 
  7. What Is a Text? The Linguistic Turn and Its Implications for New Testament Studies
    Stanley E. Porter 
  8. Second Peter 3:2, the Apostolate, and a Bi-covenantal Canon
    Michael J. Kruger 
  9. MasPsa and the Early History of the Hebrew Psalter: Notes on Canon and Text
    Peter J. Gentry 
  10. Problems with the Explicit Marking of Quotations in Translations and Scholarly Editions of the New Testament
    Peter J. Williams 
  11. Polycarp’s Teaching: The Reception and Development of Theology
    Paul Foster 
  12. A Neglected Reference to John the Elder as Bishop of Ephesus (Const. ap. 7.46.7)
    Richard Bauckham 
  13. The Acts of John within the Johannine Corpus James W. Barker 
A Bibliography of the Works of Charles E. Hill

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

When Art (Forgery) Imitates Textual Criticism


Over the weekend I watched a documentary called Made You Look: A True Story of Fake Art. It’s about the case of $80m in fake art that was sold by the famed Knoedler Art Gallery in NYC. Knoedler was the oldest gallery in the U.S. and the scandal ended its storied history; they shut their doors in 2011.

The ARTnews review gives a good summary of what happened.

The film starts in the 1990s, when Freedman meets a woman that no one in the art world had ever heard of before named Glafira Rosales, who claims to have a trove of previously unknown paintings by the greats of postwar contemporary art, including Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, Richard Diebenkorn, and more. Avrich’s interviewees claim there were numerous red flags that Freedman should have spotted—Rosales’s story of how and from whom her secretive client, Mr. X, came to acquire the works seemed suspicious, and there was no documentation of the work’s provenance. Freedman claims otherwise: “It was credible, to me. I believed what I was told. There was mystery, but there’s often mystery in provenance. I hoped to solve that mystery as time went on.”

Don’t worry, the ETC blog is not getting into art criticism. I mention the documentary because there are so many parallels with the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife fiasco: a con artist targets a major institution that buys the con, lending its enormous credibility to the fakes; the con artist gives just enough info about provenance to satisfy the initial questions; when red flags do pop up, the con artist leaks a few more details about provenance to keep the ruse going; the experts who note problems are dismissed or silenced by the institution at the center; etc.

A fake Rothko on display at a museum.
At one point, a wealthy family that bought a fake talks about how they “fell in love” with it immediately. They were smitten. But it becomes clear that they didn’t just love the painting, they loved the idea of owning a previously unknown painting by a famous artist. They loved the exclusivity of it all. And this gets to the heart of the issue. Like with the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, the key players believed the con because they wanted to; they believed because they loved the idea. There are other lessons, but those are the ones that jumped out.

Sometimes, seeing a problem in another field can help you recognize it in your own. I recommend the movie if you can catch it. It’s on Netflix now.