Thursday, August 31, 2023

New 2nd-Century ‘Sayings of Jesus’ Oxyrhynchus Papyrus


Volume 87 of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri is apparently out today and it lists some pretty exciting papyri. From the website:

This volume includes editions of fifty-eight papyri and one text on parchment. Among the theological texts, three are of exceptional interest. 5575 is an early copy of sayings of Jesus corresponding in part to the canonical gospels of Matthew and Luke and in part to the apocryphal gospel of Thomas. Jesus is also the speaker in 5576 and apparently in 5577, where Mary is addressed. Both pieces may be loosely called “Gnostic”; the latter appears to be Valentinian.

Candida Moss has more detail at the Daily Beast here. From her article:

The significance of the fragment lies in its date and contents. In conjunction with distinguished papyrologist and paleographer Ben Henry, the editors—Jeffrey Fish, Daniel Wallace, and Michael Holmes—date the fragment to the second century CE. This is important because, as Dr. Fish told me, “Only a few gospel papyri can be securely dated to the second or beginning of the third century.” This is the earliest period from which we have Christian manuscripts. “What is so significant about this papyrus,” continued Fish, “is that it contains sayings of Jesus which correspond partly to canonical gospels (Matthew and Luke) and partly to sayings we know only from the Gospel of Thomas. It is as early or earlier than any of our papyri of the Gospel of Thomas [our earliest non-canonical Gospel],” including other fragments of the Gospel of Thomas found at Oxyrhynchus.

I will update this post as I learn more. But needless to say, this looks like a big deal.

Update (9/1/23)

Now that I’ve seen pictures and emailed the editors I can confirm this is the fragment I worked on as a student in the Green Scholars Initiative back around 2012. It was a treat to work on it and I’m very glad to see it finally published. I did get to spend an afternoon with the fragment. I’ll try to publish some more of the work I did on it back then later on the blog. I haven’t seen the official publication yet and, naturally, the editors went well beyond my meager student efforts. You’ll notice that comparing the photos from 2013 to the b/w images from the Oxy volume that another piece of the fragment was identified. So the color photos do not show the entire known fragment.

2012 Photos (by Ardon Bar-Hama)

2023 Photos from the Oxy volume (via Facebook)

Update (9/12/23)

See the Greek synopsis I put together here.

Friday, August 25, 2023

J. Gresham Machen on Conjecture


J. Gresham Machen is known for many things: starting Westminster Seminary, starting the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, writing a widely used introductory Greek grammar (one still used when I was in high school!), battling theological modernism, etc. Among his books, the most famous is Christianity and Liberalism, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. It is a classic. If you’ve never read it, you should. 

One thing Machen is not known for is textual criticism. Nevertheless, one will find in his major study of the virgin birth a chapter devoted especially to the textual problem of Matt 1:16. It’s a nice treatment overall. But what caught my attention was his response to the conjecture proposed by A. Merx (and others, see here) that the text initially read “Joseph begat Jesus” and this was only later emended in various ways to include Mary and her virginity. Here is Machen:

In reply, it may be said, in the first place, that the method of conjectural emendation, which is here followed, can be applied only with the greatest caution to a work which has so extraordinarily rich a documentary attestation as has the Gospel according to Matthew. In the case of many classical authors, where we have only one or two late and obviously very imperfect manuscripts, an editor is often justified in rejecting the transmitted text of a passage and in substituting for it a reading which shall best account for the obviously incorrect wording of those manuscripts that happen to be extant. But in the case of the Gospels, the extant documentary attestation is so very abundant, and the various lines of transmission began to diverge at such an early time, that one has difficulty in understanding how the original text could have been so completely obliterated as to leave no trace. There may indeed be such instances, where all of our extant witnesses to the text have been corrupted; but surely they are very few. Thus although conjectural emendation cannot be excluded in principle from the textual criticism of the New Testament, it should certainly be employed there in the most sparing possible way. The employment of it in any passage should be regarded as a counsel of desperation, to be resorted to only when all ordinary methods fail. If it is possible to regard any one of the extant variants as original, that alternative should be chosen; and the critic should not undertake to reproduce by conjecture a text which has actually left no trace. 

In the case of Mt. 1:16, if there is any truth in what has been said above, we are by no means reduced to such desperate expedients. It is perfectly possible to understand the reading attested by our earliest Greek manuscripts as belonging to the original text of the Gospel, and both the variants as having been produced from that reading in the course of the transmission by well-known causes of textual corruption. But if such a solution of the problem is possible, it is surely—in view of the wealth of documentary attestation— decidedly preferable. What need is there of going so far afield to solve a problem for which a satisfactory solution lies near at hand? (pp. 183-184)

I’ll just note two points of interest to me. The first is that, despite his famously staunch defense of the Westminster Confession, Machen is willing to entertain that conjecture might be needed in the rarest cases in the Gospels: “There may indeed be such instances, where all of our extant witnesses to the text have been corrupted; but surely they are very few.” 

The second is that Machen’s hesitation about conjecture is based on two points not one. It is not only the “abundance” of manuscript evidence for the Gospels but also that the lines of transmission diverged so early. If this is true, then any convincing conjecture must not only explain why the original text was lost in so many manuscripts, but, more importantly, how it was lost in all the lines of transmission so early. Even still, Machen is not opposed to conjecture tout court.

P.S. It’s pronounced gress-um.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

A Tribute to Gordon Fee


It’s been almost a year since Gordon Fee passed away. I wrote a little about his passing at the time and linked to other obituaries for him. Now the latest issue of the Journal of Pentecostal Theology has an editorial about Gordon Fee that is worth reading. On this blog, we remember Fee most for his text-critical work but he was known for much, much more of course. Here’s a taste:

Amongst the incredibly candid revelations to come out of this interview was Gordon’s confession that he was the least intentional NT scholar on the face of the earth, for he had pursued his theological training as preparation for a lifetime of missionary teaching and accidentally ‘fell’ into teaching; that he was spurred on to scholarship in part when he heard a minister say from the pulpit, ‘I would rather be a fool on fire than a scholar on ice’ – which led Gordon to the conviction that it should be possible to be a ‘scholar on fire’...

Later, the article mentions a tribute session at SBL in 2014 which, I think, is the one I attended. Here is what Fee said about that occasion.

Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease that robs you of your memories. I had forgotten about many of the things about which you spoke, but your memories brought back my memories that had been lost to me and I want to thank you all for these memories you have helped me reclaim. It is a gift I could not possibly have received in any other way.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Parablepsis to the Rescue in Jude 12


Jude 12 has an above average number of variants in it. But one in particular is quite striking. It’s the addition of the words γογγυσταὶ μεμψίμοιροι κατὰ τὰς ἐπιθυμίας αὐτῶν πορευόμενοι (“grumblers, malcontents, following their own desires”). This longer reading is found in 01*, 04C, 1270, 1297, 1827, and some Coptic witnesses at the end of v. 11 and must come from v. 16. How did it get here? Probably by dittography caused by the presence of οὗτοί εἰσιν in both verses. But that is a long way for an eye to skip as seen in Codex Sinaiticus.

The red lines mark the shared verbiage in v. 12 and v. 16 (οὗτοί εἰσιν).

Is it really possible that a scribe’s eye skipped that far? I doubt it. Thankfully, Tommy Wasserman’s dissertation cites J. Rendel Harris who provides a better explanation. He suggests that the mistake happened when the two verses were on the same level in parallel columns. The scribe’s eye jumped, not just from one verse to the other, but from one column to the other. The longer reading wasn’t always corrected, in part, because as Tommy notes, it fits pretty well in v. 12 given the reference to Korah’s rebellion in v. 11 and the grumbling that was a key part of it (cf. Num 16.11; 17.6 etc.).

All this is well and good. It explains how the scribe got off track. What it doesn’t answer is how he got back on. How does a scribe go from jumping columns like this and not leave out everything in between (vv. 12–15) as a result? A mistake that big would not have gone unnoticed and therefore would not have survived like it has in the tradition. What gives?

At this point, the corrector in Sinaiticus may offer a clue. Just after the addition (marked as such), we find another correction in the small addition of οἱ out in the margin before ἐν ταῖς κτλ. 

The article οἱ has been added in the margin in 01

Sure enough, the other three Greek manuscripts with the longer reading also lack the article οἱ after the addition (04 is not extant at this point per ECM). Since those are the same last two letters in the addition (πορευόμενοι), might it be possible that, having skipped to the wrong verse, the scribe’s eye now skipped back to the right one thanks to the letters -οι? From there, he carried on with the rest of v. 12, missing only the οἱ. This would explain why his mistake went completely unnoticed and how he managed to skip from v. 12 to v. 16 without leaving out everything in between. In short, he managed to get himself back on track without ever having realized he left it. 

If so, then we have a rather fun case where one parablepsis led to a lengthy addition and a second parablepsis kept it from leading to a much larger omission—while the combination kept the scribe from noticing he made either mistake.


Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Textual Criticism in the 1970s and 1980s


Was there an interlude in the discipline of NT textual criticism in the mid-20th century? Eldon Epp thought so. Kurt Aland disagreed. Whichever side you take, I noticed an interest contrast today in an article by Georg Luck published in 1981 on the state of classical textual criticism. 

Writing shortly after Epp made his provocative claim about an interlude, Luck wrote these words introducing an extended review of several books: “Above all, these works show that textual criticism today is as an essential tool of classical scholarship as it has ever been.” 

That’s an interesting contrast. At roughly the same period of time, a NT scholar was suggesting the discipline was in a lull on his side of things while a classicist was saying it was thriving on his. I have no grand conclusion to draw. Just an observation.