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The “Meta-data” of Early Christian Manuscripts

August 10, 2010

One of my interests for a number of years has been early Christian manuscripts, focusing on them as artifacts of early Christianity.  In my book, The Earliest Christian Artifacts:  Manuscripts and Christian Origins (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 2006), I have explored the key features that make Christian manuscripts of the pre-Constantinian period so interesting.  I’ve now uploaded the pre-publication version of an essay in which I described these features more succinctly (in the “Essays, etc” page of this site).

The manuscripts in question include copies of biblical and non-biblical texts.  I’ve offered a full inventory of them as an appendix to my Artifacts book.  There is a constellation of features that mark off early Christian manuscripts in the book-culture of the time.  I have proposed that these comprise our earliest evidence of an emerging early Christian “visual and material culture”.  Some of these manuscripts are dated as early as the late second century CE, making them perhaps the earliest (and certainly among the earliest) physical artifacts of early Christianity.

The early Christian preference for the codex, the curious scribal devices known as “nomina sacra”, the various features that comprise what appear to be “readers’ aids” (e.g., early forms of punctuation, wide line-spacing, use of spaces to mark off sense-units) all are noteworthy features of early Christian book-production.

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