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]rug.nl 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:

Source: https://www.esv.org/Jude/

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.

Update for clarification (29 Sept. 2021): I did not, nor have I ever suggested that the translators of the ESV lied about which editions they use. Lying is intentionally saying something false. As I said above, changing the preface from NA27 to NA28 "probably seemed reasonable at the time," because I suspect the translators simply brought the editions they typically used when they met, and since they admitted that they were not bound to follow those editions at every point of variation anyway, it was sufficiently accurate for their purposes to say they used the NA edition, the most recent of which became the NA28.

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.