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The Limits and Difficulties of Palaeographical Dating of Literary Manuscripts

This afternoon (15 January) our Centre for the Study of Christian Origins hosted a very informative presentation by Dr. Brent Nongbri on how we go about attempting to date undated literary manuscripts, especially Greek papyri.  The thrust of his presentation was that palaeographical dating of Greek papyri cannot yield a sound date much more precise than roughly a century.  So, e.g., we might say that a given manuscript is probably third century CE.

He reflects the sort of cautious approach that was classically characterized by the great Eric Turner.  And Nongbri has now published several articles in which he shows the ramifications of this cautious approach with reference to several widely-cited NT papyri.  There is his critical analysis of some incautious datings of the Rylands John fragment (P52):   “The Use and Abuse of P52: Papyrological Pitfalls in the Dating of the Fourth Gospel,” Harvard Theological Review 98, no. 1 (2005): 23-48; and a similarly critical analysis of the dating of P.Bodmer II (P66):  Brent Nongbri, “The Limits of Palaeographic Dating of Literary Papyri: Some Observations on the Date and Provenance of P. Bodmer II (P66),” Museum Helveticum 71 (2014): 1-35; and most recently a critical appraisal of the date for P.Bodmer XIV-XV (P75):  Brent Nongbri, “Reconsidering the Place of Papyrus Bodmer XIV-XV (P75) in the Textual Criticism of the New Testament,” Journal of Biblical Literature 135, no. 2 (2016): 405-37.

We all want the earliest evidence that we can get, an understandable desire for historical work on Christian origins and tracing the textual history of the NT.  Nongbri hasn’t so much proven that the commonly assigned dates of these papyri are wrong, as he has rightly underscored that any date assigned can only be approximate and the result of scholarly judgement.  And competent palaeographers can (and do) differ on dates.

(In an earlier posting, I responded to his article on P66 here.  And I gave a brief notice of his article on P75 here.)


The Site Word Cloud

I now and then get asked to comment on something that I’ve posted on already, sometimes a year or more earlier.  I wonder if some readers don’t grasp the function of the “word cloud” on this site (the words/phrases of various sizes on the right side of the home page).  I try to “tag” my posts appropriately, and so you can usually find any posting I’ve made on subjects in the word cloud by simply clicking on a given word.  Readers may find that it saves them time in finding things, and saves me from having to repeat myself!

Advice for New Scholars (from an older one)

The latest video in the series prepared by our Centre for the Study of Christian Origins is me offering some advice for new scholars:  here.  It’s all pretty basic, and will likely seem obvious.  But it’s what came to me for this brief video.  There are likely additional things to say, but not at the expense of the what I refer to in the video.

Editio Critica Maior: Acts Volumes

I am the happy and grateful recipient of the newly-published four-volume work on the text of Acts of the Apostles that forms part of the Editio Critica Maior (ECM) project based in the Institute for Text-Critical Research in the University of Muenster.  Published by the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, the online catalog entry is here.  At 268 Euros, it will likely be affordable mainly to libraries, but any library serving NT exegesis must acquire it, and scholars working on Acts must have access to it.

The first two volumes follow the pattern established in the earlier volume on the Catholic Epistles.  The top of each page has the text that the editors regard as closest to the “original” text (the preferred Muenster Institute term is “initial text”), and below each line of text are the variants, and below this the supporting witnesses for each of the variants.  The first volume (“Part 1.1”) covers Acts 1–14, and the second (“Part 1.2”) covers Acts 15–28.

The third volume (“Supplementary Material”) is a series of lists:  the sigla used in the edition, the Greek manuscripts cited, lacunae in Greek manuscripts, errors in Greek manuscripts, Patristic citations, “versions” (early translations) cited, and a brief commentary on versional attestations.

Probably the largest (and perhaps the toughest) problem in NT textual criticism concerns the text of the Acts of the Apostles.  In particular, what has often been called the “Western text” of Acts, the principal Greek witness being Codex Bezae (D), represents a text of Acts some 14% larger than the familiar text preferred in most critical editions and that is reflected in translations of the NT.  But the various other witnesses often linked with the “Western text” don’t actually exhibit very close agreement with one another when assessed using quantitative analysis.

So, over many years now, various scholars have proposed various theories.  One is that the “Western text” is one of the earliest (or perhaps the earliest) forms of Acts, but its transmission produced the lack of coherence among extant witnesses.  Another view is that the “Western text” (in the form that we see in Codex Bezae) was formed by a “redaction” at some point.  Still another view is that the “Western text” is a mirage, or, more precisely, that it isn’t really a coherent text-form.  Instead, in this theory, the various witnesses all reflect a comparatively “free” transmission practice that generated a body of textual variants, the fullest body of them represented in Codex Bezae.

In dealing with the text of Acts, therefore, the Muenster scholars had to engage this  problem in particular.  The fourth volume in this set, “Part 3:  Studies,” includes several essays devoted  to the “Western text” problem.  But, before we get to them, Klaus Wachtel offers a “text-critical commentary” on passages where the editors of the ECM reconstructed the “initial text” differently than in the Nestle-Aland 28th edition (= UBS 5th edition), and a discussion of “new” variants in Patristic citations (Nikolai Kiel), an analysis of quotations of Acts in the Gospel commentary of Fortunatus of Aquileia and in Augustine’s early anti-Manichean writings (Georg Gäbel), a discussion of the use of Coptic versions (Siegfried Richter and Katharina Schröder), and a study of a 6th century witness to the Gothic text of Acts (Carla Falluomini).

Then, come major studies concerned with the “Western text.”  Georg Gäbel leads off with a wide-ranging discussion of various approaches and theories.  He affirms the view that the “Western text” (or “D-text cluster”) was not an early form of the text of Acts, but, instead, was what he calls a “Bezan trajectory” (alluding to Codex Bezae), that is, a loose textual tradition that reflects a somewhat more “free” handling of the text of Acts than we have in witnesses such as Vaticanus.  It is interesting that he acknowledges that he has now shifted from his earlier view that there was a “redaction” that generated the Bezan-type text.  (Anytime a scholar changes his/her mind under the impact of evidence, it should be noted and celebrated!)  This 53-page and highly detailed study now demands the attention of any scholar addressing the text of Acts, and particularly scholars who have expressed views on the “Western text.”

Next comes a study of the relationship of the “Western text” of Acts and the “Byzantine tradition” (i.e., the witnesses to the tradition that led to the “textus receptus” of the Medieval period) by Klaus Wachtel.  He contends in forceful language, “the quest for the ‘Western text’ has failed,” and “the notion of a second century ‘Western text’ should be abandoned once and for all” (p. 147).  Thereafter, we have a (German-language) discussion by Holger Strutwolf of the text of Acts reflected in citations by Irenaeus.  Strutwolf concludes that Irenaeus isn’t a witness to a “Western text,” but instead to a certain freedom in citing and transmitting the text of Acts.

Gunnar Büsch considers whether a “Western text” is reflected in the citations of Acts by Chrysostom (some 3,500 Acts citations across his body of work!).  He complains that the textual history of Chrysostom’s homilies must be resolved before any definitive judgement can be made.  Nevertheless, he expresses doubts that Chrysostom really is a witness to a “Western text” of Acts.

Shorter studies of the “middle-Egyptian” textual tradition (Siegfried G. Richter) and the so-called “Harklean apparatus” of variants in the ECM conclude the volume.

A LOT of work has gone into the production of these volumes, for which all NT scholars must express admiration and gratitude.  The judgments reflected in the preferred “initial text” should be studied by anyone doing exegesis of Acts.  And the provocative essays in the final volume that address the “Western text” issue should (and certainly will) receive the close attention of NT textual critics in particular.


Commentary on Luke: Wolter in English Translation

The second/final volume of the English translation of Michael Wolter’s massive commentary on the Gospel of Luke has just appeared:  The Gospel According to Luke: Volume II (Luke 9:51–24), in the Baylor-Mohr Siebeck Studies in Early Christianity series.  The German original was published in 2008, and the first volume of the English translation appeared in 2016.

With a combined page-count of 1,162 pp., it is one of the most substantial resources available on the Gospel of Luke. The endorsements from major scholars that adorn the book-jacket attest to the quality of the work.

Wolter is Professor of New Testament in the Faculty of Protestant Theology, University of Bonn, and is the author of a number of other books, including Paul:  An Outline of His Theology (also in English translation from Baylor University Press).

Hearty thanks to Wayne Coppins and Christoph Heilig, who translated this massive work.

The publisher’s information on the two volumes of the Luke commentary is here and here.

Jesus: Davidic Messiah?

Relating to the historical Jesus issue, one of our recent PhD students has his recently published thesis reviewed favorably in a recent issue of Review of Biblical Literature here.

Michael Zolondek, We Have Found the Messiah: How the Disciples Help Us Answer the Davidic Messianic Question (Eugene, Oregon:  Pickwick, 2016).  Whereas many previous scholars tried to assess Jesus’ “intentions” and what he thought of himself, Zolondek focuses on what others seem to have made of him.  Zolondek concludes that Jesus’ followers thought he was (or was to be shown) the royal (Davidic) Messiah.  And, by the way, that also makes the most sense of Jesus’ crucifixion.  Congratulations, Michael!

“The Son of Man”: The Video

Another of the several short videos filmed by and for our Centre for the Study of Christian Origins has appears, this one me responding briefly on scholarly study of “the Son of Man” expression:  here.

P.S.  For more of my analysis of the “son of man” issue, see my essay in ‘Who is This Son of Man’?  Latest Scholarship on a Puzzling Expression of the Historical Jesus, eds. Larry W. Hurtado & Paul L. Owen (London:  T&T Clark, 2011), 159-77.  The pre-publication form of that essay is on this blog site here.

New Book on Christology of GJohn

I’m pleased to see that the PhD thesis of one of my recent students has now appeared, which offers an original contribution to our understanding of the christology reflected in the GJohn:  Joshua J. F. Coutts, The Divine Name in the Gospel of John: Significance and Impetus (WUNT 447; Tuebingen:  Mohr Siebeck, 2017).

One of the distinctive features of the GJohn is the emphasis on the divine name, and (a related topic) divine glory.  GJohn associates Jesus with the manifestation of God’s name and glory.  The questions Coutts pursues is what role this linkage of divine name and Jesus plays in GJohn, and what might have been the impetus and influence(s) that prompted this linkage.

I won’t spoil the “plot” for readers, but Coutts makes what I think is a persuasive case that the author of GJohn was inspired by the prophetic themes of a future manifestation of God’s name and glory in Isaiah.  Coutts also discusses in detail the ways that these topoi are used in GJohn to bring out Jesus’ significance.  In short, in GJohn Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise that God will bring eschatological salvation by manifesting his name and glory.

New Article on “Mythical Jesus”

With apologies to readers fed up with the “mythical Jesus” discussions, I simply note a newly published article comprising a careful, fair, and incisive critique of Richard Carrier’s book:  Daniel N. Gullotta, “On Richard Carrier’s Doubts:  A Response to Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus:  Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt,” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 15 (2017):  310-46.

There is an abstract here, and you can purchase the article if the journal isn’t otherwise available (e.g., through univ/college library).

Hurtado Books on Jesus-Devotion

After mentioning the reduced prices on Kindle editions of three of my books recently (here), some readers have asked for me to give some information on the basic focus of several of my books on the origins of Jesus-devotion.

My first book on this research-programme is not included in this holiday special, as it’s from another publisher:  One God, One Lord:  Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism (original edition, Fortress Press and SCM, 1988; 2nd edition Edinburgh:  T&T Clark, 1998; 3rd edition London:  Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015).  In this book, I explore what conceptual resources there were in ancient Jewish tradition that earliest Jesus-followers may have had available for accommodating a second, distinguishable figure alongside the one God of biblical tradition.

I identify ancient Jewish traditions of what I call “divine agency”, distinguishing three types:  (1) personified divine attributes, such as Wisdom and Philo’s Logos; (2) “exalted patriarchs”–Enoch, Moses, and others; and (3) “principal angels” including Michael and others.  I contend that these all are variant forms of what we can call “chief agent” tradition, in which God is pictured as having a particular figure acting as God’s plenipotentiary or vizier.  I further propose that the early christological statements appear to portray Jesus as God’s unique agent, and so likely drew upon these traditions.

But the striking new feature of the Christian “mutation” of these traditions is that Jesus is accorded a level of reverence that we don’t find given to any of these other figures.  In the final chapter I lay out quite specifically the devotional actions that are reflected already in our earliest Christian texts.  These form a constellation or devotional pattern that seems novel.  I originally referred to this as a “binitarian” devotional pattern (God and Jesus both reverenced), but in more recent publications have preferred the term “dyadic” (because despite my rather clear explanations of how I was using “binitarian” some critics read into it metaphysical categories of much later centuries).

On the cover of the Fortress edition of this book, the late and great Martin Hengel famously referred to it as signalling the emergence of “a new religionsgeschichtliche Schule” (“history of religion school”).  The book certainly drew upon the work of other scholars, both of earlier decades and my contemporaries.  In the 2nd (1998) edition, I added a 5,000 word preface engaging scholarly developments between 1988 and that 2nd edition.  In the 3rd edition (2015), I also added a 20,000 word epilogue in which I discuss developments from roughly 1998 to the date of the 3rd edition.  I consider this book foundational for the ensuing body of my publications on early Jesus-devotion.  I am pleased that it received a positive reception from fellow scholars, and continues to be cited appreciatively.

I turn now to the books in the Eerdmans holiday special price sale.  At the Origins of Christian Worship:  The Context and Character of Earliest Christian Devotion (Eerdmans 1999) originated as a short public lecture series in the British Isles Nazarene College (Manchester).  I discuss the wider “religious environment” of earliest Christian circles, especially worship practices, and then survey characteristics of early Christian worship, and the specific features that gave it a “binitarian shape.”  As the lectures were addressed to a mainly Christian audience, I also have a short concluding chapter on “reflections for Christian worship today.”

My research programme on early Jesus-devotion that began in the late 1970s with the longer-term aim of producing a study on the level of Wilhelm Bousset’s classic work, Kyrios Christos (1913), eventuated in my larger work, Lord Jesus Christ:  Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Eerdmans 2003).  In One God, One Lord, I was, so to speak, looking “upstream” from earliest Christian practices to explore precedents and resources in the ancient Jewish tradition.  In Lord Jesus Christ, I explore “downstream”, so to speak, tracing the origins and development of expressions of Jesus-devotion from its beginnings down through the mid-second century CE.  This book received widespread notice (I know of over 50 reviews, nearly all of them positive) and has been translated into French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Korean.  Whatever its flaws, it is the only work of this breadth and depth of treatment of the evidence.

How on Earth did Jesus Become a God?  Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus (Eerdmans, 2005) developed from a lecture-series by this title given in Ben Gurion University (Beeersheva, Israel) in 2004, prompted by the publication of my book, Lord Jesus Christ.  The first four chapters are essentially the four lectures in that series.  I compare my own approach to that of some other scholars, emphasize the distinctive profile of Jesus-devotion in the context of ancient Jewish “monotheistic” piety, underscore the social and political consequences of early Jesus-devotion, and offer a detailed analysis of Philippians 2:6-11.

I was asked to add material to these lectures for the book, and the remaining four chapters are previously published essays relating to the book’s focus.  These include my essay on “Religious Experience and Religious Innovation in the New Testament,” which originated as the 1998 T.W. Manson Lecture.  My Ben Gurion lectures inaugurated the Deichmann Annual Lecture Series in Ben Gurion University, and were published also in Hebrew by Ben Gurion University Press.  It has also been translated into Hungarian and Chinese.  The book isn’t a digest of Lord Jesus Christ, but more a gathering of treatment of some related issues.

I should also mention my little book, God in New Testament Theology (Abingdon Press, 2010), thanks to the publishers failing to get the book out for reviews one of the best kept secrets in recent publishing history!  In this book I explore how “God” is portrayed in the NT, what consequences for “God” there are in the place of Jesus in early Christian circles.  I also try to place these developments in the context of the Roman-era world, with particular attention to the Jewish matrix in which the Jesus-movement erupted.  I recommend the book for a larger overview of how Jesus-devotion fitted into early Christian beliefs and worship of “God.”

In addition to these books, over the past several decades I have also produced a goodly number of essays in journals and multi-author volumes addressing various issues in the historical study of early Jesus-devotion.  Most recently, I was invited to gather up a bundle of these previously published essays for a book-collection:  Ancient Jewish Monotheism and Early Christian Jesus-Devotion:  The Context and Character of Christological Faith (Baylor University Press, 2017).  This book comprises thirty-two essays that appeared over some forty years of research, addressing quite a wide range of questions about the “scholarly context” (interacting with some other key scholars), and the ancient Jewish context, offering some explanations for the eruption of Jesus-devotion, and treating a number of texts and other expressions of devotion to Jesus in the early Christian circles.

So, there you have a brief summary of the book-length products of some forty years of research work on what is surely one of the most interesting, and also one of the most influential, developments in the history of religions.

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