Skip to content

Acts of the Apostles: A Continuing/Renewed Focus

The arrival today of the third massive volume in Craig Keener’s commentary on Acts (details below) is only the latest of a number of indications of intense scholarly interest in this remarkable early Christian text.  Acts of the Apostles is unique among known Christian texts of the three centuries in purporting to give a continuous narrative of early developments and figures in the first decades of the young Christian movement.  Scholarly questions about, and interest in, this major text continue, and have even received renewed attention in recent years.

This latest volume in Keener’s major commentary project on Acts weighs in at 1,155 pages, bringing the total page-count thus far to 3,348, taking his coverage through Acts 23:35.  Craig S. Keener, Acts:  An Exegetical Commentary.  Volume 3:  15:1–23:35 (Grand Rapids:  Baker Academic, 2014).  There is a fourth huge volume to come that will complete the set.

Over the years, Acts has been the focus of previous multi-volume projects.  Perhaps the most well-known is the still-important 5-volume work:  The Beginnings of Christianity: Part 1, The Acts of the Apostles, eds. F. J. Foakes Jackson and Kirsopp Lake (London/New York:  Macmillan, 1920-1933).  This project included a volume on the “Jewish and Gentile Backgrounds,” another on key critical issues (e.g., authorship, date, etc.), a full volume on the text-critical issue (by J. H. Ropes), a volume of passage-by-passage commentary (by Lake and Cadbury), and a volume of “Additional Notes” that include some valuable studies of particular topics in Acts.

In the 1990s there appeared another multi-volume series with much to offer, The Book of Acts in its First Century Setting (published by Eerdmans):  Vol. 1, The Book of Acts in its Ancient Literary Setting, eds. Bruce Winter and Andrew Clarke (1993); Vol. 2, The Book of Acts in Its Graeco-Roman Setting, eds. David W.J. Gill & Conrad Gempf (1994); Vol. 3, The Book of Acts and Paul in Roman Custody, a monograph by Brian Rapske (1994); Vo. 4, The Book of Acts in Its Palestinian Setting, ed. Richard Bauckham (1995); and Vol. 5, The Book of Acts in Its Diaspora Setting, another monograph, by Irina Levinskaya (1996).  A projected 6th volume appeared as a separate book:  Witness to the Gospel:  The Theology of Acts, ed. I. Howard Marshall (1998).

There is yet another large commentary project by Justin Taylor, Les acts des deux apôtres (vols 4-6 covering the full text of Acts, published by J. Gabalda, Paris).

I mentioned Acts as unique.  There were, certainly, other Christian writings that now bear the label “apocryphal acts,” but they tend to focus on one or another figure, are commonly thought to have emerged later than Acts of the Apostles, and at least some of them seem to be compilations of stories and smaller units of material, not having the character of Acts as a more unified narrative.  For a good entrée into these texts, see Hans-Josef Klauck, The Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles:  An Introduction (Baylor University Press, 2008).  It is only with Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History (several editions ca. 290-325 CE) that we have another “joined-up” account of early Christianity.  Note the title of Daniel Marguerat’s monograph: Daniel G. The First Christian Historian: Writing the “Acts of the Apostles” (SNTSMS, 121; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

Acts is still usually regarded as a second volume by the author of the Gospel of Luke, and these two work comprise a major literary project in themselves, amounting to about 25% of the entire NT.  The prefaces to Luke (1:1-4) and to Acts (1:1-5) reflect an author acquainted with and invoking literary conventions of his time.  (For a good introduction to the literary setting of the NT, David E. Aune, The New Testament in Its Literary Environment, 1987.)

One of the major problems in the study of Acts is that there is significant variation in the form of its text.  In particular, Codex Bezae (a Greek-Latin manuscript of the 5th century CE) has a Greek text of Acts that is quite distinguishable from the more familiar text-form.  Often referred to as “the Western text” of Acts, as given in Codex Bezae it is about 12-14% larger, mainly due to longer variants at a number of points in the text.  Some have championed the kind of text we have in Bezae as closer to the “original” text, but most scholars continue to judge the more familiar “Alexandrian” kind of text as superior.  For some recent discussions of the matter, the following:  Peter Head, “Acts and the Problem of Its Texts,” in The Book of Acts in Its First Century Setting, Volume 1: Ancient Literary Setting, eds. Bruce W. Winter and Andrew D. Clarke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 415-44; Christopher Tuckett, “The Early Text of Acts,” in The Early Text of the New Testament, eds. Charles E. Hill and Michael J. Kruger (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 157-74.  There is also a concise discussion of the matter in A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition, by Bruce M. Metzger (Stuttgart:  United Bible Societies, 1994), 222-36.

Other questions abound as well, such as what literary “genre” by which to characterize Acts, when to date it, even whether it was written by the author of Luke, the theological focus and purpose of Acts, its stance toward Jews, and still other matters.  Evidence of this continuing scholarly focus is the recent multi-author volume:  The Book of Acts As Church History. Apostelgeschichte als Kirchengeschichte: Text, Texttraditionen und antike Auslegungen, eds. Tobias Nicklas & M. Tilly (BZNW, 120; Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 2003), which has a number of excellent analyses of major issues.



“Texts and Traditions”: New Volume on NT

In an earlier posting (here), I mentioned the publication of an essay of mine in a new multi-author volume:  Texts and Traditions:  Essays in Honour of J. Keith Elliott (Leiden:  Brill, 2014), and in today’s mail I received my complimentary copy.  (The publisher’s online catalogue entry on the volume is here.

This allows me now to see the full line-up of contributors, and I’m honoured to be among such an impressive group.  These include Michael Holmes, David Parker, Jenny Read-Heimerdinger, James Kelhoffer, James Voeltz, Tijtze Baarda, Peter Doble, Jeffrey Kloha, Hugh Houghton, Holger Strutwolf, J. Lionel North, and Peter Head, all of whom have written on various matters related to Elliott’s interest in NT textual criticism.

There are also contributions by David Cartlidge (on the impact of the extra-canonical text, Protevangelium Jacobi, in Christian art), my Edinburgh colleague Paul Foster (on “The Education of Jesus in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas”), Denise Rouger & Christian-B. Ampoux (on the “literary project” of Ignatius of Antioch reflected in his epistle to the Ephesians), and William Elliott (on cases where lectionary titles have been inserted into NT Greek manuscripts).

For a full list of contributors and the titles of their contributions, see the publisher’s online catalogue entry cited above.

Hearty congratulations to Keith Elliott for a long and distinguished career of contributions to NT textual criticism and also to the study of early Christian apocrypha.  And he ain’t done yet!


PhD Studies in the UK (and Edinburgh in particular)

It’s again the time of year when those considering possible PhD work start thinking about applying.  The structure of the PhD programmes in the UK and in North America (to pick the two areas with which I’m most familiar) are different, and so I offer some explanation of things in this post.  I’ve posted before on related matters here.  But I’ll underscore some things in this posting to help potential applicants understand things better.,

The first thing to note is that the North American PhD combines both a course/taught component and a thesis/dissertation component, whereas the British PhD is more purely a “research” degree, which is awarded solely on the basis of a thesis exhibiting high standards of scholarship and judged either publishable or at least incorporating publishable material.  In North American PhD programmes, thus, students can be admitted on the basis of a strong undergraduate degree, and/or, in the case of Religion/Theology often on the basis of a MDiv degree (from a theological seminary).  In these programmes, the coursework done as part of the PhD is intended to provide the student with further and necessary resources for working up a good general knowledge of the field (e.g., NT).  This field-knowledge is then assessed by examinations (variously referred to as “comprehensive exams” or “comps”, or “qualifying exams”) taken after a year or more of coursework.

Then one is permitted to propose a thesis project and carry it out.  The thesis is typically examined by the members of the department of the university in which one is studying, typically with an examiner also from another department of that university.

The overall purpose is to prepare a student for teaching/lecturing in a field (at least at undergraduate level) and for conducting “original” research.  The PhD is sometimes informally referred to as the “union card” for posts in higher education institutions.

In the Humanities, when I last checked a few decades ago (and I doubt that it’s changed much), the average time to completion of the American PhD was ca. 7 years.  (In the Sciences it was closer to 3-4 years.)  This is often because of the need to acquire languages in the Humanities, and also because the nature of the research in Humanities often requires much more time (whereas in the Sciences one often is simply taking on some facet of a larger research project of one’s supervisor).

In the UK, however, one is typically now expected to commence formulating a thesis project from the outset, and optimally complete and submit the thesis within 36 to 48 months.  The British PhD is referred to as a “research” degree, i.e., designed primarily to develop in the student the capacity to conduct high-quality research.

In the School of Divinity in Edinburgh, therefore, we typically require applicants to have both a good first/undergraduate degree and a proper masters degree in the proposed field of PhD studies.  That is, we expect applicants to have developed already a general knowledge of the subject-area/field prior to commencing PhD work.  (We don’t, therefore, usually find the MDiv adequate preparation, and strongly urge prospective applicants to do a proper masters degree instead or in addition.)  I can’t vouch for what other British universities do, but I can say this is our policy.  (In my previous posting I referred to the pressures on British universities that might pose temptations to admit students who don’t have all the necessary prerequisites.  We’ve chosen, however, to resist that temptation.)

In the British model, the examination of the PhD thesis requires a senior-level scholar from another university.  The PhD supervisor is not an examiner.  This means that the thesis should be of sufficient quality to obtain approval by those who have not been involved in guiding the student/thesis.  It’s an important way to assure a high level of quality.

I’ve mentioned languages and some further comments are in order.  In the North American structure, you have the time to work up languages while doing the PhD.  In NT you’ll likely be expected to have some Greek at the outset, but you won’t be expected to read German or French (necessary for consulting scholarly publications), and can acquire a basic reading ability while doing the coursework.  In our view (Edinburgh), the languages necessary for research in the field should really be tackled prior to starting PhD work.  So, e.g., in NT, we expect applicants to have good Greek, some Hebrew, and some basic reading ability in German and also French, as well as a good grounding in the field.

Which structure is better?  Well, in my view it depends on the applicant.  If you want to commence PhD work right after basic degree(s), and acquire languages en passant, then the North American structure is for you.  If, however, you’ve done further studies already (e.g., a masters degree in the subject), if you’ve worked up the necessary languages, and have a reasonably clear idea of the topic that you’d like to research, then the British PhD is a good option.

Some (typically, I find, some Americans with little experience of living or studying outside the USA) may look down on the British PhD in comparison to the North American PhD.  I think that’s simplistic (and I say that as a North American myself who took his PhD in the USA).  I’ll simply note the following facts.

Just consider the publications in the field, the journal articles and scholarly monographs, and the ideas and contributions that shape and comprise the field.  You’ll find strong representation among those with British PhDs as well as those with PhDs from North America (and elsewhere).  Universities in Britain, North America and elsewhere appoint people to academic posts with PhDs from Britain or elsewhere.  There are, to be sure, weaker as well as stronger examples of PhD graduates and PhD programmes, both in the UK and in North America.  But it would be ignorant to classify the British or the North American PhD model as inherently inferior.

Rules of the Game (on THIS blog site)

In view of some recent comments I think it well to draw attention (again) to the nature of this blog site, and the “rules of the game” for comments.  This isn’t at all intended to deter readers or comments, simply to reiterate some guidelines.

First, this isn’t a community bulletin-board, or a talking shop for any and all to air their pet theories.  You’ll find that sort of site elsewhere.  This is essentially a public space where I post on matters pertaining to my own field of established expertise, the NT and Christian Origins, reflecting my own research and the work of others that I find interesting.  I’m not a dedicated cruiser of blog sites myself, not a self-taught amateur in the field of NT/Christian Origins, and this site isn’t a hobby.  I don’t blog as a substitute for serious scholarly publication. I blog to communicate the results of scholarship for a wider public.  I’m a scholar in the field, and I do this simply to open a window for the wider public on what I find to be the fascinating subject to which I’ve devoted some 40 yrs of professional study.

Comments are welcome on the topic of the posts, and I discourage efforts to redirect discussion into other issues.  One commentor recently has been greatly exercised over my failure to post several of his comments, accusing me of censorship.  Nothing of the kind.  My posting was about a recent article offering fresh linguistic study pertaining to Paul’s statements in 1 Cor 15:1-7 about Jesus’ resurrection.  But this commentor wants to engage in philosophical/theological discussion about the feasibility of resurrection, how it could happen, etc.  That is not what my posting was about.  So, I don’t “censor”, but I do decline to publish comments that veer off into some other topic, or when the commentor is repeating himself and the basic issue has been addressed already.

On the “About this Site” tab, I’ve sketched the basic ground rules to be observed, which include identifying yourself, and staying on the topic of the of the posting to which you comment.  If you want a free-wheeling  venue where you can wander off into anything that comes to mind, you’ll find blog spaces elsewhere.

The Codex and Early Christians: Clarification & Corrections

The prominence of the codex bookform in early Christianity is a well-known phenomenon.  But there remain continuing questions, and also what I regard as confusion on some matters that make for mischief in historical analysis.  I’ve treated the topic rather extensively in my book, The Earliest Christian Artifacts:  Manuscripts and Christian Origins (Eerdmans, 2006), 43-93.  Nevertheless, in light of a couple of subsequent publications, I think it necessary to reiterate and clarify a couple of things.

I start with reference to a recent essay:  Stanley E. Porter, “What Do We Know and How Do We Know It? Reconstructing Early Christianity From Its Manuscripts,” in Christian Origins and Greco-Roman Culture: Social and Literary Contexts for the New Testament, edited by Stanley E. Porter and Andrew Pitts (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 41-70.  At one point in this otherwise very helpful and impressively informed discussion, Porter deals briefly with the codex in early Christianity (p. 49).  Referring to Roger Bagnall (Early Christian Books in Egypt, Princeton University Press, 2009, esp. pp. 70-90), Porter claims (p. 49) that Bagnall showed that the rate of adoption/usage of the codex in early Christian circles was no greater than in the larger culture of the time (2nd-3rd centuries CE).  In a footnote (p. 49, n. 26) he claims that Bagnall “corrected” my own discussion, showing “that the Christian uptake of the codex was no greater than in secular literature.”  But I must protest and correct matters.

Granted, Bagnall referred to my discussion as a recent example of what he calls “partly misleading” statements of matters (p. 77).  But, as I pointed out in my review of Bagnall’s book (Review of Biblical Literature, 01/2010, available here), it is actually Bagnall who has given a bit of a misleading impression of things.  My own key positions are these:  (1) Christians of the 2nd/3rd centuries preferred the codex over the roll to a remarkable degree in comparison with the general book-culture of their time, and (2) this preference was especially strong for copies of those texts that they most highly prized and treated/read as scriptures.  The data behind these two positions are entirely clear and easily verified.  Moreover, Bagnall actually granted  and underscored these two points in his own discussion.

Bagnall offered figures (pp. 72-74) comparing the number of non-Christian and Christian codices from Egypt datable to the early centuries, giving also the percentages of Christian codices of the total.  His own data show, e.g., that Christian codices amount to somewhere between 22-34%  of the total for the 2nd-3rd centuries CE.  Yet Christian books overall amount to only ca. 2% of the total number of books (codices and rolls) of these centuries.  Of course, there are more non-Christian codices, but the first point to note is that Christian codices comprise a vastly disproportionate percentage of the total number of codices in this period.

So it is in fact not at all “misleading” to say so, and Bagnall has not “corrected” me on these matters.  Neither I nor others familiar with the data claim that Christians invented the codex or were the only ones to use this bookform.  Nor have I claimed that the more widespread preference for the codex in 4th century CE and thereafter was caused by Christianity (although a few others have suggested this).  But the very data provided by Bagnall clearly show that Christians invested in the codex far more than is reflected in the larger book-culture of the time.  That is, the early Christian preference for the codex is undeniable, and this preference is quite distinctive in that period.  And Bagnall actually reached the same judgement, stating “Christian books in these centuries [2nd/3rd] are far more likely to be codices than rolls, quite the reverse of what we find with classical literature.” (p. 74)

My second point also stands, and is agreed by Bagnall:  The early Christian preference for the codex seems to have been especially keen when it came to making copies of texts used as scripture (i.e., read in corporate worship).  E.g., some 95+% of Christian copies of OT writings are in codex form.  As for the writings that came to form the NT, they’re all in codex form except for a very few instances of NT writings copied on the back of a re-used roll (which were likely informal and personal copies made by/for readers who couldn’t afford a copy on unused writing material).  And here again, Bagnall actually grants the same conclusion, judging that “the Christians adopted the codex as the normative format of deliberately produced public copies of scriptural texts” (p. 78), but were ready to use rolls for other texts (76).

As to the reason(s) that Christian preferred the codex (especially for their scriptures), that’s a matter less clear or agreed.  Bagnall expressed an interest in Kurt Treu’s speculation that early Christians inherited use of the codex from Jewish scribal tradition, but this proposal suffers from a complete lack of any evidence of pre-Christian Jewish use of the codex for literary texts.  In fact, all pre-Christian Jewish literary texts are in bookroll form.

In a lengthy footnote (p. 49 n. 27), Porter offers several frequently made assertions about the supposed superiority of the codex over the bookroll, claiming that these were what attracted Christians to the codex.  But I’ve discussed these matters extensively (The Earliest Christian Artifacts, 61-83), and I remain unpersuaded.   To mention one counter-argument, if the codex was already such a supposedly superior bookform in the 2nd-3rd centuries, why didn’t everyone recognize this at the time?  Why did most everybody continue to prefer the bookroll?  Were the early Christians the only ones perceptive enough to see the supposed advantages of the codex?  That seems just a wee bit counter-intuitive.

So, to correct in this instance Porter, Bagnall didn’t really correct my own discussion of early Christian preference for the codex, but essentially wound up agreeing with it.  That Christian preference was unprecedented and unparalleled in the 2nd-3rd centuries CE.



“New Testament Studies”: 60th Anniversary

The respected journal, New Testament Studies, the official journal of the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas (Society for New Testament Studies) is now in its 60th volume.  To celebrate this, the editor (Prof. Francis Watson) has chosen “key research published in NTS over the past 60 years,” a selection of articles published in the journal across this period, and the publisher (Cambridge University Press) has made them available free online until 31 December here.

I’m pleased and honoured to have my recent article included in that selection:  “Oral Fixation and New Testament Studies?  ‘Orality’, ‘Performance’ and Reading Texts in Early Christianity,” New Testament Studies 60 (2014):  321-40.

Paul on Jesus’ Resurrection: A New Study

Scholars commonly see in 1 Corinthians 15:1-7 material of an early “pre-Pauline” confession that focuses on Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection and appearances to select witnesses.  But there are continuing disagreements over what kind of event is referred to in vv. 3-5 where Jesus is described as “raised on the third day,” specifically whether this refers to a resurrection/transformation of Jesus’ mortal body or some other kind of event, e.g., a “spiritual” one that left his mortal body in the grave.  I’ve just read a new study of the matter that seems to me pretty effective in guiding exegetes to the correct answer:  James Ware,  “The Resurrection of Jesus in the Pre-Pauline Formula of 1 Cor 15.3-5.” New Testament Studies 60 (2014): 475-98.

Ware reviews a wide range of previous scholarly views, carefully assessing their merits, noting the limited force of some and the dubious force of others.  His own particular contribution is a more in-depth analysis of the use of the Greek verb translated here “raised”:  εγειρω.  Essentially, Ware contends that all other uses of the verb describe one or another kind of action involving the raising up, rising up, or setting up of something or someone from a prone or seated position to an upright, standing position.

This, he argues, means that proposals that the verb here refers to an ascension of Jesus, a transportation of him in some “spiritual” mode to heavenly glory, is ruled out.  Instead, Paul refers to a raising up or restoration to life of the executed body of Jesus.

To be sure, as Ware notes, later in 1 Cor 15, Paul engages the question of “in what kind of body” are the dead to be raised (vv. 35-49), and Paul here posits  a dramatic and profound transformation, those raised being “changed” powerfully.  In vv. 42-44, in particular, Paul makes a series of contrasts between the mortal body and the resurrection body:  corruption/incorruption, dishonour/glory, weakness/power, “soulish”/spiritual.  And Paul also makes the claim that the resurrection of believers will be modelled on Jesus’ resurrection.

So, Paul posits a profound change involved in the resurrection.  But, as Ware so deftly points out, all through the passage Paul refers to the body of believers as changed.   That is, Paul insists that the resurrection is an event that changes the nature of the embodied existence of those raised.  The “spiritual” body, Ware persuasively argues, has to be in context a description of the animating force of the resurrection body, for the contrast is not with a “fleshly” body but with a “soulish” (ψυχικος) one, i.e., the mortal body animated by “soul” (ψυχη), which here appears to be Paul’s reference to what we might call mortal, “biological” life.

I think that Ware’s case must now be considered by anyone concerned with the confessional statement in 1 Cor 15:3-5.  I think he’s mounted a pretty impressive argument.  The issue isn’t what one’s personal preferences or inclinations are on the matter of resurrection, but what Paul presumed and asserts in these verses.


Summer Biblical Studies 2015

An advance notice for those who might be interested in a spell of high-quality biblical study in summer 2015:  The Vacation Term for Biblical Study will be held in Robinson College, Cambridge over two weeks,  2-7 and 9-14 August 2015.

I’ve participated in previous years a couple of times and have been impressed with the quality of this general-public programme:  typically, lectures by senior scholars on subjects in which they are expert, plus opportunities to take up or improve Greek and/or Hebrew, and reading sessions in the Greek NT and Hebrew OT led by the lecturers.

There are two one-week sessions.  So one can take either session or both.   And I reiterate that the programme is set up especially for “adult” learners who simply want a high-quality teaching but not for degree-credit.

Plus, there is free time most afternoons to do some sight-seeing in Cambridge, punt along on the river Cam, walk to a nearby village for a pint, or  . . . whatever.

There is more information on the VTBS web site here.

Important Studies of Kinship-terms and Forms of Address

Through reading the recently-published thesis of one of our PhD students, I’ve learned of a body of important studies on terms used in the NT by Professor Eleanor Dickey.   Such is the canalization of modern scholarship (and my own limits) that I hadn’t previously known of these studies, but I think they’re essential for exegetes and commentators on NT writings.  A blog posting won’t allow space to do justice to all that her work offers, so I’ll confine myself to a few comments.

Let’s start with her book based on her DPhil thesis:   Eleanor Dickey, Greek Forms of Address: From Herodotus to Lucian (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996).  In this work she analyses the use of terms (other than proper names) used in ancient Greek letters to address recipients.  This is of obvious relevance to NT studies given that a number of NT writings are letters.  We’re better enabled to weigh the manners in which people are addressed in the NT letters in light of what Dickey provides.

Next, this one:  Eleanor Dickey, “KYRIE, ΔΕΣΠΟΤΑ, DOMINE: Greek Politeness in the Roman Empire,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 121 (2001): 1-11.  Both κυριε (the vocative form of κυριος = sir/lord/master) and δεσποτα (vocative of δεσποτης = master/lord/owner) are used in the NT, esp. in narratives and reported speech, and Dickey’s study, attentive to changes across ancient centuries, gives important data for weighing what these terms of address mean in NT instances.

And then this one:  Eleanor Dickey, “Literal and Extended Use of Kinship Terms in Documentary Papyri,” Mnemosyne 57 (2004):  131-76.  This impressively data-rich study covers usage of various Greek kinship terms across several centuries:  The Greek words for “father,” “mother,” “brother,” “sister,” “son,” and “daughter.”  The analysis focuses on how/when these terms were used “literally” (i.e., referring to actual family members) and when they were used in an “extended” or “metaphorical” sense, for individuals not physically related to the speaker/writer.

This study seems to me particularly important for serious readers/interpreters of NT  writings, where we often have individuals referred to with these terms.  Just note, for example, Paul’s use of various kinship terms in Philemon, none of which seems to be used in a “literal” sense.  Dickey gives reason for caution, for example, in assuming that simply referring to someone as a “brother” connoted an intimate or close personal relationship.  The use of the term in Roman-era documentary texts clearly shows that this is not necessarily the case.  There are a number of other specific observations in this article that simply must be noted by exegetes.

Finally, this one:  Eleanor Dickey, “The Greek Address System of the Roman Period and Its Relationship to Latin,” Classical Quarterly 54, no. 2 (2004):  494-527.  In this essay she makes a strong case for the proposal that in the Roman period the Greek terms used for addressees developed under the impact of Latin.  Of specific relevance for NT studies, she shows that the vocative form of “kyrios” (kyrie) seems to appear quite suddenly in documentary papyri of the Roman period, and she proposes that this happened as Greek-speakers developed this address-form as a functional equivalent for the Latin “domine“.

Now, on this particular point, I’m not (yet) entirely satisfied that she has adequately reckoned with the use of the vocative, kyrie, in the Septuagint (LXX).  This would pre-date the Roman period, of course.  Her response is that the LXX is something of a special case, as a translation-text (from the Hebrew and Aramaic), whereas she’s focused on the evidence of “documentary” texts (esp. letters).

But the counter-point is that the LXX likely reflects the use of Semitic-language equivalents for “kyrie,” and this may have been an additional factor promoting the formation and usage of “kyrie.”  But this question can’t be engaged adequately here, and, whatever may be the case, her article is a “must” read for serious NT exegetes.

Oh, and the published PhD thesis that led me to Dickey’s work is this one (which I also highly recommend):  Julia A. Snyder, Language and Identity in Ancient Narratives, WUNT 2, no. 370 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014).

YHWH in the Septuagint

Further to my earlier postings and the (many!) comments elicited, especially those about the use of “kyrios” in the LXX, I point readers to an excellent essay by John Wevers:

John William Wevers, “The Rendering of the Tetragram in the Psalter and Pentateuch: A Comparative Study,” in The Old Greek Psalter: Studies in Honour of Albert Pietersma, ed. Robert J. V. Hiebert, Claude E. Cox and Peter J. Gentry (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001), 21-35.

First, he registers agreement with Albert Pietersma’s argument that the use of the Hebrew YHWH in some Old Greek manuscripts (as well as other devices, e.g., ΙΑΩ, ΠΙΠΙ), represents “a revision” that took place within the textual transmission of the Greek of the Hebrew scriptures.  Then Wevers gives details of the use of “kyrios” as equivalents of YHWH and other terms in the LXX.

His particular focus is on the Psalter, but he prefaces that analysis with a helpfully detailed survey of data from the Pentateuch (book by book), confirming that YHWH is overwhelmingly rendered by forms of kyrios without the definite article (“anarthrous” forms).  In contrast, forms of the word with the definite article (“articular”) are preferred to translate references to other figures who hold a lordly position in the narratives.  As one example, check out Genesis 39:2-3, where the LXX has κυριος (without article) for YHWH consistently, and articular forms of κυριος to translate references to the human/Egyptian “master” in the narrative.   The few exceptions, where an articular form of kyrios refers to God are translations of prepositional phrases and/or a very few cases where the Greek syntax requires a definite article (“post-positive” uses of the Greek δε, for Greek “techies”).

And remember that we’re talking about hundreds of instances on which to build the observation that the “anarthrous” forms of kyrios are preferred in the Pentateuch.  This pattern suggests that in these texts kyrios is being treated as if it is a name, not the common noun for “Sir/Lord/Master”.

In the final part of his essay, Wevers also makes brief notice of the pattern of usage in the “former prophets” (called “historical books” often by Christians), and it’s the same clear overwhelming dominance of the anarthrous kyrios as substitute for YHWH.

But the main/middle part of the essay is given to the translation practice in the Psalter, and here the pattern differs somewhat.  Wevers observes that it is “clear that the translator of the Psalter has not followed the strict pattern established by the translators of the Pentateuch.  To be sure, Κυριος does continue to represent the proper noun, ‘YHWH’, and it remains unarticulated in the majority of cases, but this is not a hard and fast rule” (p. 33).  And Wevers judges that in a number of instances the translator may be rendering the “qere” (the Hebrew oral substitute for YHWH that had become popular by the time of the translator, “adonay“), which the translator regularly renders with articular forms of kyrios.

As one example of the Psalter data, consider LXX Psalm 134 (Heb 135).  The Hebrew “halelu yah” is rendered Αλληλουια (“hallelujah”), but cf. the translation of the same expression in v. 3, αινειτε τον κυριον (the articular form).  It appears, however, that the translator didn’t take the “yah” to be the same thing as YHWH fully spelled out (as also the case in v. 4).  For in the psalm otherwise, he tends to use anarthrous forms of kyrios to render YHWH (5 times in vv. 1-5).  In vv. 19-21, however, the articular (accusative) forms of kyrios render Hebrew phrases with the particle signalling an accusative phrase, the Hebrew accusative phrasing here influencing the translator’s decisions (a translation-choice that we can observe in other Psalms too).

This clear dominance of the anarthrous kyrios as Greek equivalent of YHWH, a dominance exhibited already in the Pentateuch (which were the earliest Hebrew scriptures translated), suggests strongly that it had become a widely-used oral substitute for YHWH among Greek-speaking Jews.  I.e., the anarthrous kyrios served as virtually a proper name for God, a reverential substitute for YHWH.

There are implications for exegesis of the NT that are not sufficiently registered by exegetes and commentaries.  One would need to test things writing-by-writing in the NT, but it is a good hypothesis to test that there is often a distinction in connotation between the anarthrous and articular forms of kyrios.  I’ve noted, for example, a general pattern of usage in Acts (in the recently published essay mentioned in a previous posting here).  But conducting such an analysis through other NT writings is a project I’ll leave for the future (or for some industrious young scholar!).


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,073 other followers