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In memorandum

As many of you now know, my father Larry Hurtado has passed away on the 25th of November 2019. I will keep his blog online as it is a testament to his work and engagment with the wider community interested in bibical scholarship. In the spirit of this, I have news to share from Edinburgh University below:

Professor Larry Hurtado PhD Scholarship Fund 

We hope that friends of Larry will forgive this intrusion into his blog, but we have an announcement that some of you may be interested in. Larry devoted his life to building up the study of New Testament and Christian Origins at Edinburgh, and many PhD students from all over the world have benefited from his friendship and guidance. In an effort to remember Larry’s legacy, and even to build on it in a small way, we are delighted to announce the establishment of a new scholarship fund in honour of Larry. It will be known as the Professor Larry Hurtado Scholarship and will support a PhD candidate at the School of Divinity working in the area of Christian Origins. We would very much value your support in this venture.

To give online go to

Alumni and friends who are taxpayers in the USA can support the University through the University of Edinburgh USA Development Trust

Tributes to Professor Hurtado can be found here





Linguistics and Loanwords in the Gospel of Mark

Scholarly readers of the Gospel of Mark have long noted the conspicuous presence of non-Greek terms and phrases.  A forthcoming article sets the analysis of the phenomena on a more sophisticated level:  Alfredo Delgado Gomez, “Get Up!  Be Opened!:  Code-switching and loanwords in the Gospel of Mark,” forthcoming (2020) in Journal for the Study of the New Testament.

Scholars have often explored whether the use of such non-Greek words and phrases was indicative of the provenance (or destination) of the GMark.  For example, the Latin words have led some to propose a Latin-speaking setting/destination.  Others, pointing to the greater frequency of Hebrew and Aramaic terms have argued for an “Eastern” setting in Palestine or Syria.

To my knowledge, Delgado Gomez’s article in the first study to address the wider phenomenon of what are called in linguistics “loanwords”, whether Latin, Hebrew, or Aramaic.  And he does so bringing to bear principles and insights from social linguistics.

After setting out those principles and insights, he then surveys sequentially the use of Latin, Hebrew, and Aramaic loanwords and phrases.  And he explores cogently how these items would have influenced early readers.  For example, the Aramaic loanwords/phrases are largely on the lips of Jesus.  This, Delgado Gomez proposes, would have given to the character of Jesus in the GMark what we might call “local color”, and gave readers a sense of hearing occasional words of Jesus in his own language.

The article is a translation of the Spanish version: “¡Levàntate!  ¡Ábrete! El Idiolecto de Marcos a La Luz de La Sociolingüistica,” Estudios Ecclesiàsticos 93 (2018): 29-86.  After Delgado Gomez brought the article to my attention, I read it and was very impressed.  But I urged him to prepare an English translation for publication in a journal focused more on the NT.  This would bring his study to a wider circle of scholars (most of whom don’t have Spanish as one of their languages).  He did so, and I’m pleased that JSNT accepted it for publication.   I’ve seen the proofs of the English version, and it is worth looking out for when it appears.

Academic Publishing: Personal Stories

Mentioning the 20 yrs delay between the initial printing of Hunter’s important book, Paul and His Predecessors, and its subsequent publication and scholarly notice, put me in mind of other stories of the unexpected problems that can arise in academic publishing.  Here are a few of my own.

My PhD thesis was successfully submitted and the degree awarded early in 1973.  Not long thereafter, my supervisor, Eldon Epp, encouraged me to submit it for publication in the prestigious monograph series, “Studies and Documents” (founded by Kirsopp Lake in the early 20th century.  I did so and awaited word on it.  But there was no word for several years.  I learned later that the series was for a few years without a publisher, and there were some personal problems among the editorial board.  I was a church pastor 1971-75 and had other things on my plate, so I didn’t think about the delay much.

But when I took up an academic post in 1975, I became concerned to get my study out.  Then, in 1977, the series reactivated with the publication of Harry Gamble’s landmark study, The Textual History of the Letter to the Romans, which showed persuasively that the earliest edition of Romans included chapters 15 and 16.

Not long thereafter (sometime early in 1978, I think), I was informed that the editors were ready to proceed toward publication of my thesis.  We had to negotiate some revisions, among them the inclusion of another manuscript, and a focus on the manuscripts then often referred to as “Pre-Caesarean.”  What with an academic move (to the University of Manitoba), marriage, and other things, I submitted the revised manuscript in summer 1979.  But the book didn’t appear until 1981, some eight years after it was first submitted for publication.

After publication, I’m pleased to note, my analysis and argument seems to have won the day.  The so-called “Pre-Caesarean” manuscripts (Codex Washingtonianus and P45) did not in fact exhibit any meaningful relationship to the manuscripts thought to represent the “Caesarean Text” in Mark.  The textbooks were accordingly re-written.  It was a long wait, but a satisfactory ending.

Fortunately for me, my first two academic appointments seem to have rested more on strong recommendations and on people being impressed with papers that I gave at academic conferences.  Today, it’s rare for one to get a junior appointment in the UK without that first book.  But I scraped through.

My second book was a general-reader commentary on the Gospel of Mark, commissioned by the editors of a then-new series in 1978 to be published by Harper & Row.  I duly undertook the task, and submitted the manuscript on time.  The commentary appeared then in 1983.  But, for some reason, by that point the publisher seems to have lost interest in the series.  It was one of the better kept secrets of the time!  I noted one review, however, that judged it the best general-reader commentary on Mark in English (but that was 1983).

But Harper & Row didn’t market the series volumes at all, and after a couple of years sold the series to Hendrickson.  The original design was that the volumes took the Good New Bible as the base text.  But Hendrickson insisted that the volumes had to be converted to comment on the NIV.  So, I undertook that, and finally in 1989 the commentary appeared in its new format, and Hendrickson did a good job of marketing it.  But that was some six years after its initial abortive publication.  More recently, Baker bought the series from Hendrickson and relabeled it.  That little commentary continues to sell, and attract occasional comments of appreciation from just the sort of “general” reader for who it was intended.

In my experience, however, the longest and most puzzling delay by far is yet to be resolved.  Several years ago, I was contacted by the editor of a series on the texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, asking if I would update the discussion of the Greek fragments from Cave 7 that had been written by Eldon Epp about 20 years earlier.  Out of appreciation for Epp, I agreed, and spend a couple of months on the update.  The volume remains unpublished, however!

Sometimes such extraordinary delays are caused by one (yes, often one) inconsiderate contributor who just can’t bother to fulfill the commitment to produce his/her contribution.  I’m not privy to the situation regarding this particular volume, however, so I’ll just note the unusually long delay (still going on).

As you can see from these “war stories” about academic publishing, one can’t predict things.  I hope that today’s younger scholars don’t experience these sorts of problems.

NT Textual Criticism: Mistakes and Myths

A new multi-author book sets out to correct and clarify numerous mistakes, myths, and mis-uses of New Testament textual criticism:  Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism, eds. Elijah Hixson and Peter Gurry (InterVarsity Press, 2019).  The publisher’s web catalog entry here.

The primary intended readership seems to be earnest but ill-informed Christian apologists, who rely too much on outdated or simply incorrect information in their attempts to defend Christian faith and the integrity of the New Testament writings.  Hixson and Gurry are not, however, critical of this intent in principle, but instead wish to inform it with solid scholarly data.  After all, the easiest way to lose an argument is to offer a weak or incorrect claim.

The table of contents reflects the range of subjects addressed, and all the chapters are written by younger scholars who have specialized in the relevant data.

1. Introduction (Peter J. Gurry and Elijah Hixson)
2. Myths about Autographs: What They Were and How Long They May Have Survived (Timothy N. Mitchell)
3. Math Myths: How Many Manuscripts We Have and Why More Isn’t Always Better (Jacob W. Peterson)
4. Myths about Classical Literature: Responsibly Comparing the New Testament to Ancient Works (James B. Prothro)
5. Dating Myths, Part One: How We Determine the Ages of Manuscripts (Elijah Hixson)
6. Dating Myths, Part Two: How Later Manuscripts Can Be Better Manuscripts (Gregory R. Lanier)
7. Myths About Copyists: The Scribes Who Copied Our Earliest Manuscripts (Zachary J. Cole)
8. Myths About Copying: The Mistakes and Corrections Scribes Made (Peter Malik)
9. Myths About Transmission: The Text of Philemon from Beginning to End (S. Matthew Solomon)
10. Myths About Variants: Why Most Variants Are Insignificant and Why Some Can’t Be Ignored (Peter J. Gurry)
11. Myths About Orthodox Corruption: Were Scribes Influenced by Theology, and How Can We Tell? (Robert D. Marcello)
12. Myths About Patristics: What the Church Fathers Thought About Textual Variation (Andrew Blaski)
13. Myths About Canon: What the Codex Can and Can’t Tell Us (John D. Meade)
14. Myths About Early Translations: Their Number, Importance, and Limitations (Jeremiah Coogan)
15. Myths About Modern Translations: Variants, Verdicts, and Versions (Edgar Battad Ebojo)
List of Contributors
Image Credits
Name Index
Subject Index
Scripture Index
Ancient Writings Index
Manuscript Index

But the range of readers who can profit from the book is considerably wider than Christian apologists.  Students, even scholars, and interested general readers will learn lots of up to date, balanced, and well-supported information.

Chronology Matters

Mentioning A.M. Hunter’s book, Paul and His Predecessors, yesterday brought to mind an earlier posting in which I drew attention to Hengel’s essay on “Chronology and New Testament Christology” here.  

In that posting I lay out Hengel’s major points and one or two of my own.  Most relevant is this one:

By most calculations, Paul underwent the reorientation from opponent of the Jesus-movement to a powerful proponent of it within ca. 2-3 years after Jesus’ crucifixion.  Prior to that reorientation (which he portrays as caused by a divine revelation), he was a dedicated opponent of the Jesus-movement.  In his own words, he sought to “ravage/destroy” it (Galatians 1:13).  So, already at that point something(s) about the Jesus-movement made him feel it necessary to oppose it so vigorously.  His language in Gal. 1:13 does not connote some minor disciplinary action, but a much more severe aim.

He describes the experience that changed his mind as a “revelation” of God’s Son.  The cognitive content of the experience was all about the status and significance of Jesus.  This suggests that his previous view was a very negative one about Jesus, and about the claims made about him by Jesus-believers.  So, the decisive christological views that Paul came to affirm were already developed in that remarkably short period of perhaps 2-3 years after Jesus’ execution.

Paul’s own distinctive view and mission was based on the further conviction that the prophesied time had arrived when the pagan nations would come to the God of Israel.  Jesus’ resurrection was proof of this, making him now the exalted Lord through whom pagans (Gentiles) could come to the one God without proselyte conversion.  They were to renounce their pagan gods and certain behaviours, but they were not to make a proselyte conversion (which, for males, included circumcision).  Paul not only believed that the time had come for this, but also that he was personally deputized by God to declare this message to the nations, making Paul himself a salvation-historical figure.

This is “the gospel that is preached by me” (Gal. 1:11), and “the gospel that I preach among the nations” (Gal. 2:2).  Paul didn’t create his christology or the devotional practices that he affirmed.  But the boldness of his sense of mission, and his unstinting commitment to it, made a major contribution to the subsequent shape of what became Christianity.

“Paul and His Predecessors”

In 1940 a slender book was printed that the author justifiably regarded as a pioneering study:  Paul and His Predecessors, by Archibald M. Hunter.  Unfortunately, because of the war then underway, the book was “still-born.”  It had been printed, but was not published, as the publisher (Nicolson and Watson) went into liquidation.  SCM Press purchased the printed copies, but the book was not formally published, because of the distresses and demands of the war.   Sadly, therefore, the book lay widely unnoticed among scholars for many years.

Hunter’s thesis was that, although the Apostle Paul was an innovative and impressive thinker and defender of his mission, he was also heavily indebted to “those who were in Christ” before him.  Hunter conducted several investigations of Pauline texts to demonstrate this, and he did so persuasively in my view.

Then, some twenty years after its initial printing, SCM Press commissioned a revised edition from Hunter, which was published in 1961.  For this edition, Hunter left the original in place and added a 35-page Appendix, “After Twenty Years,” in which he took account of how the topic had developed.  In the main, he rightly judged that his pioneering work had been reinforced and justified by numerous subsequent scholars and studies.  In a few matters, however, he changed his mind, demonstrating a commendable scholarly readiness to follow the evidence and arguments.

Given the oceanic body of works on Paul as creative theologian and Paul’s theology, it is well to recall Hunter’s pioneering study and his argument that Paul’s main theological convictions, and the liturgical practices that Paul affirmed were not his invention, but derived from the circles of Jesus-believers that he initially opposed and then came to embrace.  Given also the still-touted notion that Paul “invented” the christological claims and devotional practices reflected in his letters, still echoed in some popular and ill-informed circles, Hunter’s book is all the more worth noting.

It has been reinforced by numerous studies since it was first printed, and there is now a growing consensus, for example, that the Jesus-devotion reflected in Paul’s letters, including the incorporation of the exalted/resurrected Jesus into the liturgical life of believers all goes back to the earliest circles of the Jesus-movement in Jerusalem.

Next year (2020) will mark the 80th anniversary of the first (albeit “still-born”) appearance of Hunter’s book.  It is now in the public domain, I believe.  Serious students of Paul have no excuse for ignoring it.

Ritual Use of Jesus’ Name in Healing and Exorcism

In 2018 I posted about an interesting conference to which I was invited that focused on exorcism and healing in early Judaism and early Christianity here.

I’m pleased now to see that the papers from that conference have appeared:  Healing and Exorcism in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity, ed. Mikael Telbe and Tommy Wassermnan.  (Tubingen:  Mohr-Siebeck, 2019.  In that previous posting I summarized points from my own paper on the ritual use of Jesus’ name in exorcism and healing, set in the context of the ancient Roman world.  There are some interesting similarities to other practices, but also some striking differences in the use of Jesus’ name in comparison to the use of other powerful names.

“Paul and the Conflict of Cultures”–E.A. Judge

Just appeared:  Edwin Judge’s latest collection of essays, this one addressing the relevance of Paul (and early Christianity) for the development of things in Western culture that we take for granted (or mis-assign):  Paul and the Conflict of Cultures:  The Legacy of His Thought Today (Eugene, Oregon:  Cascade Books, 2019).  The publisher’s online catalog entry here.

Judge is the grand old man of ancient history in Australia.  He founded the department in Macquarie University, and in retirement for a number of years now continues to put forth his learning and wisdom.  An essayist above all, these and his other volumes of essays are bold, highly informed, and often provocative.  This volume begins with an extended introduction to how Judge’s thought on Paul developed, and giving also an overview of the remaining parts of the book.


The Gospels, the Qur’an, and a Level Playing Field

This site is devoted to the New Testament and the origins of Christianity, but I feel obliged to discuss another matter that pertains to the textual criticism of the Gospels.  A few days ago a reader of this blog site pointed me to a French-language debate between a Muslim apologist and a Christian apologist, in which the palaeographical dating of some key Gospels papyri came up for discussion.  The Muslim apologist claimed (wrongly) that a new consensus among experts in palaeography of Greek papyri dates the items in question to the fourth century:  P. Bodmer II (= P66 in the Nestle-Aland list of manuscripts), and P. Bodmer XIV/XV (= P75 in the Nestle-Aland list).

There is no such new consensus.  There are now individual scholars who push for a fourth-century date for the items, prominent among them, Brent Nonbgri; but the judgement that an early third-century date for P66 and a mid-to-late third-century date for P75 remains quite widely held.[1]  For example, the late-great palaeographer, Sir Eric Turner held this view.[2]  As for more recent scholars, Pasquale Orsini, for example (using his own distinctive method) proposes to date P66 mid-third to mid-fourth century, and P75 to late third-to-early-fourth century.  I blogged previously on his proposal and the reception it received from other scholars here.  Note:  Pasquale doesn’t say that these items are fourth century, only that range of possible dates allows (in his view) for a fourth-century date as a possibility,

But, whenever you date P66 or P75, we are hardly bereft of other early manuscript evidence for the textual transmission of the Gospels.  For example, for the Gospel of John alone, we have portions of some sixteen codices that are commonly dated pre-300 CE, some of them as early as the late second century.  And, as my student, Lonnie Bell, has shown in his recently published PhD thesis, although many of these are mere fragments, we can in fact tell a good deal from them about how conscientiously the text was transmitted in the third and even second centuries.[3]

But when apologists of Christian or Muslim alignment start hurling about dates, they tend to do so to score religious points, not to engage in serious consideration of scholarly dating of manuscripts.  And it’s a particular pity that Muslim apologists think that they can discredit Christianity by arguing over such matters, and by pointing out that there are textual variants evident in manuscripts of the Gospels.  There are two further things to note.

First, as has been shown repeatedly, the many textual variants in the rich abundance of early manuscripts (down through the fifth century) are almost entirely the accidental mistakes that copyists of practically any text make.  These variants don’t affect the meaning of the text.  Even Bart Ehrman admits that, among the thousands of variants, no more than a few dozen at most (and that’s a generous estimate) may show concerns to remove theological ambiguities in the text.

The second thing to note is that the traditional Muslim view of the Qur’an is widely different from the way that traditional Christians view their scriptural texts such as the Gospels.  In traditional Muslim belief, the Qur’an is a miracle, the direct speech of Allah, and has been preserved miraculously down the ages with scarcely a variant.  In contrast, in traditional Christian belief, the biblical writings are the products of human beings, “inspired” by God to write their texts.  But the texts in question are the words of those human authors.  That is, the biblical texts partake of the various historical circumstances in which they were written, edited, and copied.  So, as with any text transmitted by hand, these writings have been subject to the vicissitudes of that historical process, and, therefore, textual criticism of these texts is essential to try to establish the most reliable form/wording of them.  A vast amount of scholarly effort over a few centuries now has been given to setting these texts in their historical context, and to tracing how they have been transmitted through to the invention of the printing press.

But an equivalent scholarly effort to trace the origins and transmission of the Qur’an is still, by comparison, in its infancy.  And a good part of the reason for this is deep opposition from Muslims who regard any such critical inquiry to be  . . .  well, almost blasphemous.  So, it’s hardly a level playing field when Muslim and Christian apologists engage matters.  Muslim apologists are impressively keen to follow critical investigation of the biblical texts such as the Gospels, but (as I know from personal experience) are reluctant to engage in, or even allow, such critical inquiry about the Qur’an.  Indeed, I was told years ago by a Western scholar of Islam that one just didn’t explore certain questions, particularly about the textual transmission of the Qur’an.

Even  the historical processes involved in the transmission of the Qur’an and the Gospels differ.  From a very early point, Muslim rulers (such as Caliph Uthman in the late seventh century) took an interest in establishing a stable Qur’anic text, as part of their aim to standardize Islam, and consolidate their rule.  But early Christian rulers such as Constantine showed no equivalent effort.  Again, the reason partly lies in the different views of the respective sacred texts.  And also, of course, from practically the outset, Islam was wedded to political regimes, where for the first three centuries the Christian movement was not.

There are, however, now some “green shoots” of recent scholarly analysis of the origins and transmission of the Qur’an, such as Nicolai Sinai’s recent historical-critical introduction to the Qur’an (my brief blog posting on it here).[4]  Or consider the detailed study of the transmission of sample passages of the Qur’an by Keith Small (noted in a previous posting here).[5]  Small shows that there is evidence of variants in early copies not now reflected in later copies.  But, as with the variants in the Gospels, these are largely the minor variants that characterize the manual transmission of ancient texts.

So, Muslim apologists wrongly suppose that by pointing to scholarly studies showing that there are variants in the early manuscripts of the Gospels they can somehow undermine Christian claims and faith.  This would work if Christians held that their sacred writings were the direct speech of God and had been somehow miraculously transmitted through the centuries without any variants.  But Christians don’t typically hold such a view.  More typically, they believe that the essential message of the texts has been preserved, not miraculously, but by copyists concerned simply to copy the texts with care.  So, the Muslim apologists’ efforts are fire directed at a non-existent target.

Without wishing to cause offence, we can’t engage in fair discussion of relevant matters unless all parties agree that all texts, even sacred texts, have been subject to the vicissitudes of history.   I don’t seek some “flame-war” in response to this posting.  I’m simply trying to lay out some matters for thoughtful consideration.

[1] See my review of his recent book, God’s Library, in which he proposes a fourth-century date for P66 & P75, here.  In my view, Nongbri is more effective in criticizing the overly specific dates given to manuscripts by some scholars than he is in establishing his own preferred later dates.

[2] Eric G. Turner, The Typology of the Early Codex (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1977; reprint, Wipf & Stock), 95.

[3] Lonnie D. Bell, The Early Textual Transmission of John:  Stability and Fluidity in Its Second and Third Century Greek Manuscripts, NTTSD, 54 (Leiden: Brill, 2018).

[4] Nicolai Sinai, The Qur’an:  A Historical-Critical Introduction (Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 2017).  Cf. Brannon M. Wheeler, , Prophets in the Quran:  An Introduction to the Quran and Muslim Exegesis, Comparative Islamic Studies (London: Continuum, 2002); Muhammad Abu-Hamdiyyah, The Qur’an:  An Introduction (London: Routledge, 2000); Ibn Warraq, Which Koran?  Variants, Manuscripts, Linguistics (Prometheus Books, 2007).

[5] Keith Small, Textual Criticism and the Qur’an Manuscripts (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2011).

A Milestone: 2million+ views

Sometime over the past ten days or so, the count of views of pages on this blog site passed the 2million mark.  I had intended to keep closer track as we approached that milestone, but have been distracted with completing a writing project.  So, a bit tardily, my thanks to viewers of this blog site for continuing to consult it, and for the kind and encouraging comments about it.

I’m currently enjoying a time of comparatively better energy levels and blood tests than back in July, when my relapse was first diagnosed.  I have no idea how long this will last, but am grateful for the chance to continue to share life with family and friends.

When I launched this blog site back in 2010, it was done simply as an experiment, to see how blogging worked.  I had no idea how it would take off and continue to be consulted in the years since then.

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