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“Professor,” “Dr.,” and Geography

One of the curious features of modern academia is how academic titles are used so differently in various countries.  This isn’t really a posting on early Christianity, but I thought it might be informative (or even amusing) nevertheless.

In the North American setting, practically anyone teaching courses in a college or university is a “professor”.   As in a statement such as, “All my professors in my university are good teachers.”   And the term “Dr.” functions as a way of specifically offering deference or respect to one of them.

In the UK, on the other hand (and other side of the Atlantic), “Professor” is a title conferred solely by the university or college in which one is appointed (NB:  it’s capitalized).  Formerly, the only individuals given this title were those who held “established chairs” in given subjects.  So, for example, there might be one Professor of Ancient History, the other academics in that subject holding the status of “Lecturer” or “Senior Lecturer”.  My appointment was to the established chair as Professor of New Testament Language, Literature and Theology.  Those who hold posts as Lecturer or Senior Lecturer nowadays will typically be addressed as “Dr.” (given that practically all contemporary UK academics have earned a PhD).

More recently, many UK universities have begun awarding the title “Professor” on the basis of conferring on individuals “personal chairs” in a given subject.  So, for example, in Edinburgh we now have two Professors in the area of New Testament and early Christianity, Professor Helen Bond and Professor Paul Foster, each with her/his particular chair title.  (Foster now occupies the chair in New Testament Language, Literature and Theology, and Bond’s personal chair is in Christian Origins.)  The difference between “established” and “personal” chairs is this:  When someone leaves or retires from an “established” chair, any successor will be appointed to this professorial level.  When a “personal” chair is vacated, however, any successor will likely be appointed at a more junior level, e.g., as “Lecturer”.

In Germany there is still a third practice.  Those who are appointed to university chairs are all given the title “Professor”,  but, given that they also typically have earned their PhD, they tend to be designated as “Professor Dr.”.  Typically, to be considered for an appointment to a regular teaching post/chair, German scholars have to complete a PhD, and then a second major research project that leads to what is called a “Habilitationsschrift“.  While working on this second project, they are typically appointed in a given university as a “Privat Docent” (effectively, a post-doctoral post), which may involve some teaching as well as the primary work on their Habilitation project.  So, in Germany only those awarded a proper “chair” are addressed as “Professor”.

Just goes to show you that academic culture and practice and language takes different forms in different countries.  It helps to know this in addressing individuals in those different contexts.

Martyrs/Martyrdom in Early Christianity: Paul Middleton’s Contributions

It’s always a pleasure to see one’s former PhD students making their own contributions to scholarship, and one of my most productive former students is Paul Middleton, now Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity in the University of Chester.  From his PhD thesis completed here in Edinburgh onward (published as Radical Martyrdom and Cosmic Conflict in Early Christianity, T & T Clark, 2006), Middleton has steadily solidified his place as one of the leading scholars on the subject of early Christian martyrdom.  He has produced a string of publications, the most recent of which is this volume:  The Violence of the Lamb:  Martyrs as Agents of Divine Judgement in the Book of Revelation (London:  T&T Clark, 2018).  The publisher’s online catalog description is here.

The particular emphasis and contribution that Middleton has pushed over these publications is that early Christian martyrdom wasn’t simply a passive or unfortunate passive act, with martyrs simply victims.  Instead, they saw themselves as actively engaged in the struggle against evil, acting as agents of God, even soldiers in a cosmic struggle.  The Roman authorities weren’t really so keen on killing Christians as they were to lead Christians back into the social fold from what the authorities regarded as a bizarre and socially disruptive stance.  In short, when Christians were on trial, the aim of the authorities was to get them to recant.  This is evident in all the reports of interrogations, from Pliny’s famous letter to Trajan on through the early Christian accounts of martyrdom.

Christians understood this well, and so refusing to recant was their only option. This meant death.  But in their eyes it also meant a victory over the efforts of the Roman authorities (whom Christians regarded as tools of Satan).  In short, refusing to recant, effectively forcing the authorities to kill them, meant that the martyrs had succeeded in maintaining their faith, and thereby in defeating the aims of the devil.

In his latest book, Middleton argues that Revelation pictures a looming situation in which the only option for Christians will be such a martyr’s death.  In taking this stance, Middleton disagrees with scholars of Revelation who contend that the author didn’t actually expect that every Christian would be a martyr. It’s now accepted that at whatever time Revelation was written there wasn’t actually a widespread incidence of Christian martyrdom.  So the author of Revelation is portraying what he sees as the looming future situation in which Christians will have to choose between “the Beast” (which Middleton takes as the Emperor cult) and Christ “the Lamb”.

This book also focuses commendably on the portrayal of Jesus in Revelation.  He argues that the dual imagery of Lion and Lamb is not contradictory but complementary expressions of the author’s view of Christ.  And Middleton shows how in Revelation the death of Christ functions as the model and inspiration for believers facing the prospect of arraignment and execution.


ORBIS: The Stanford Geospatial Network of the Roman World

In a reading a recent book review, I was introduced to a remarkable resource for all students and scholars interested in the Roman world:  ORBIS:  The Stanford Geospatial Network of the Roman World, an online resource freely available, the home page here.

ORBIS is primarily intended to serve historians of the Roman Empire, the main questions shaping the project having to do with how Rome managed such a far-flung empire.  So it is “top down” in orientation, more amenable to questions about how trade or governance operated, and at what cost and time involved.

But in various ways it is also useful for other questions.  For example, how long did it take for the trip from Antioch of Syria to Jerusalem (e.g., for the financial relief trip that Acts 11>27-30).  Well, per ORBIS, it depends on whether one traveled by foot, or by donkey, or by coastal vessel.  The latter mode would have taken a little over seven days.

So, in various ways, ORBIS allows one to get more of a sense of what physical and financial efforts were involved in travel.  And the New Testament writings make it clear that early Christians did a lot of traveling.   ORBIS is a powerful, but unavoidably complex tool that will require some help from the tutorials provided on the site.  But for historical questions it is a valuable resource.

“Honoring the Son”: A Recent Review

Reviewing books well requires care.  When the topic of a book is central to field of study, and when the position advocated in a book is carefully nuanced, it is important to engage it accurately.  A newly-published review of my latest book left me a bit puzzled and disappointed.  The book:  Honoring the Son:  Jesus in Earliest Christian Devotional Practice (Lexham Press, 2018).  The review is by Yung Suk Kim, in Review of Biblical Literature (RBL 01/2019).  Although expressing appreciation for the decades of work reflected in the little book in question, Kim posits disagreement on a few key matters.  It is these matters that I address in this response.

The first thing to emphasize in engaging the book is my contention that in the ancient world cultic practice (“worship”) was the core expression of what we mean by “religion,” and so mapping the contours of earliest Christian devotional practice is a key objective in understanding earliest Christian circles in their historical context.  Kim complains that “a mere lens of the devotional focus on Jesus without careful interpretation of his work as the Son of God seems hollow.”  I suggest in turn that this reflects Kim’s lack of appreciation of the historical centrality of devotional practices in the Roman world.  I also must object to the implication that my argument reflects a lack of consideration of Jesus’ “work.”  In various statements throughout the book, I note that Jesus is reverenced “in, and on account of, his relationship to the one God, for example, as the unique Son of God, Word of God, and image of God,” and I point as an example to the scene in Revelation 5 where “‘the Lamb’” (the exalted Jesus) is worshipped as the one who was slain and ‘purchased for God’ people from every nation,” while Jesus is also “hymned along with God ‘who sits on the throne’” (13).

I characterize early Christian devotional practice as “dyadic,” two figures (God and Jesus) distinguished from each other and yet also uniquely linked, Jesus functioning as God’s “chief agent” and plenipotentiary.  Kim offers what he seems to think is a correction to my view.  Kim states that “a more natural understanding might be that Jesus was exalted as the Son of God but not as God or the same with God or with the same worthiness as God.”  I’m not sure what makes this more “natural,” but in any case what he seems to imagine as my view is that Jesus was treated as the replacement for God or as a second deity in his own right.  But over some thirty years or more I have consistently indicated that Jesus was reverenced with reference to his relationship with God, not as a second deity or at God’s expense.  The “dyad” in earliest Christian devotional practice was a shaped dyad, Jesus consistently portrayed in relationship to God.  As I note in the book, earliest believers reverenced Jesus because they believed that God had exalted him to a unique status as divine plenipotentiary and now required them to reverence Jesus accordingly.  In short, they believed that faithfulness to the one God precisely required that their worship practice incorporate Jesus as well!

Moreover, contra Kim’s claim, the key status and title by which earliest believers referred to the exalted Jesus in the cultic setting wasn’t as “the adopted Son of God,” but “Lord” (Greek:  Kyrios; Aramaic:  Mar).  Take Philippians 2:6-11, for example, which states that God “highly exalted” Jesus (vv. 9-11) and gave him “the name above every name,” with the aim that Jesus should be given a universal obeisance expressed in the acclamation “Lord Jesus Christ” (Greek: kyrios Iēsous Christos). By contrast, to judge by Paul’s usage, references to Jesus’ divine sonship were mainly sentences expressing Jesus’ intimate relationship with God, and God’s approval and investment in Jesus’ redemptive work.  But in worship, Jesus was thought of and addressed as “Lord.”  And, by the way, it’s actually difficult to find much reference in the New Testament to Jesus being “adopted” as divine Son.

In his closing thoughts, Kim also accuses me of assuming “the existence of a single group of earliest Christians,” and Kim posits, instead, “various understandings of Jesus, his resurrection, and Christology” in the first century.  Well, maybe.  But Kim gives no basis for the latter claim, and no specifics of what he posits.  In any case, his accusation is far wide of the mark.  In fact, I note precisely that there were various circles of earliest believers, and that they differed in some matters, such as the bitter disputes over the terms on which to treat gentile converts as full members of the redeemed, whether male gentiles had to undergo circumcision.  I don’t claim “a single group of earliest Christians.”  Indeed, we know that there were differences precisely because Paul refers to them quite explicitly.  And that makes it all the more interesting that these differences didn’t apparently include the sort of devotional practices and christological affirmations reflected (indeed, take for granted) in Paul’s letters.  That is, across the various groups and circles, with their other differences, the “dyadic” devotional pattern seems to have been shared, at least to judge by the extant evidence.  I should also indicate that, in any case, the validity of my historical case, that the cultic reverence of Jesus erupted early and quickly became widely shared in earliest Christian circles, would not be refuted were we to discover that in some circles the “dyadic” pattern wasn’t followed.

So, with thanks to Kim for the positive features of his review (which include a brief chapter-by-chapter description of contents), I must also express some disappointment at the apparent failure to grasp carefully the position taken in the book and the bases for it.

Circumcision of Jesus

From about the 6th century or so in the Western churches, 1 January was designated as the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus (eight days after 25 Dec).  Luke 2:21 mentions Jesus’ circumcision and formal naming.  In the medieval period, however, the date was treated as another feast dedicated to Jesus’ mother, Mary.  This is indicative of the growing centrality of Mary-devotion in the medieval period (in practical terms, overshadowing Jesus in popular piety), and it may also reflect a certain lack of concern or even an uneasiness about Jesus’ Jewishness.

The readiness to acknowledge Jesus the Jew has varied, with much of church history appearing to ignore or have little to say about the topic.  This is even evident in church art.  If you go through the many paintings of the infant Jesus (often pictured with the infant John the Baptist), typically a nude Jesus with his genitals showing, it’s interesting to note how many appear to show an uncircumcised Jesus.

So, I think that it’s important in historical terms to have in the church calendar a reminder that Jesus was not some generic human, but a quite specific person:  male and most definitely Jewish.  Perhaps especially in light of the sad history of Christian treatment of Jews, it’s particularly appropriate.  It at least does justice to history.


The “Willoughby Papyrus” (P134)

In the latest issue of Journal of Biblical Literature Geoffrey Smith offers an in-depth discussion of an interesting papyrus that has a few verses of John on one side and what appears to be remnants of an otherwise unknown Christian text on the other side of the writing material: Geoffrey Smith, “The Willoughby Papyrus: A New Fragment of John 1:492:1 (P134) and an Unidentified Christian Text,” JBL 137.4 (2018): 935-58.

The item was acquired by Professor Harold Willoughby (University of Chicago) at some point earlier than the early 1950s, when it shows up in a hand-written list of such items among Willoughby’s large personal collection of books and manuscripts.  But Willoughby never published the item.  Instead, at his death it went into a suitcase and was stored in an attic, until one of his descendents discovered it.  Initially, it was put on e-Bay for sale, but when Brice Jones noticed it and blogged about it (here), the e-Bay listing was cancelled.  The item remains in the possession of the Willoughby relative (who wishes to remain anonymous).  But Smith was permitted to make an autopsy examination and to make his own photo-images, on the basis of which he offers his newly published study.

There are some noteworthy features of the item.  First, it is not apparently a portion of a leaf of a codex, for the two sides have two different texts (whereas in a codex the text continues from one side to the other).  It is possibly a fragment of an isolated sheet, perhaps even an amulet, or (Smith’s favored suggestion) perhaps a remnant of a book-roll initially used for a copy of the Gospel of John and then re-used for the other early Christian text.  If this last option is the correct one, then P134 would be the first instance of a copy of a Gospel copied in an unused bookroll (all other known Gospels papyri are codices or a few re-used rolls).   I don’t find it surprising that we might find copies of Gospels (or other texts that became part of the NT) in a bookroll format.  What is surprising (and in my view indicative of something significant) is that there aren’t more examples.

Another interesting (and somewhat irregular) feature is that, although the copyist knew and used the early Christian copyist practice called nomina sacra, in the verses of John there is an instance of an uncontracted form of θεος (theos).  Again, this isn’t exceptional, but it is unusual and noteworthy.  What it indicates (in my view) along with some other related data is that the nomina sacra represent a Christian copyist convention, and, as with other human conventions, there were irregularities in observance of the practice.

Smith openly admits that his own aim is to blur the distinction between how the texts than came to form the NT were regarded in the third century and those other early Christian texts that are now “non-canonical.”  If we imagine some uniformity in third-century Christian attitudes, then Smith’s line of argument is an “easy goal.”  But, if we don’t imagine a uniform and rigidly enforced set of practices and attitudes in the second and third centuries (and how could there have been such then?), data such as the Willoughby Papyrus simply comprise examples that show both a dominant set of practices and some diversity, with the papyrus being one of a few other “outrider” items.

In any case, Smith’s study is exemplary in thoroughness, even-handed treatment of opinions and possibilities, and an appropriately cautious advancing of his preferred views.  And we should all be grateful to the owner for permitting Smith to have access to the item and to bring it before the scholarly guild.

“When Christians were Jews”: Paula Fredriksen on “The First Generation”

Paula Fredriksen’s latest book is a readable, well-paced narrative of the first decades of what became Christianity, with lots of particular good points made:  When Christians Were Jews:  The First Generation (Yale University Press, 2018).  Intended for a wide readership, the main emphases of the book build upon (and the notes make frequent reference to) her earlier and more detailed studies:  Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews:  A Jewish Life (1999), and Paul:  The Pagans’ Apostle (2017).  I think that it deserves a wide readership, and I am in agreement with many points in it.  I count her as a dear friend, and so feel free also, however, to indicate some points of disagreement (I’ve communicated these to her in emails, so she won’t find anything surprising here).

Here are her aims in this book in her own words:

“I have attempted to reimagine the stages by which the earliest Jesus-community would have first come together again, after the crucifixion.  To understand how and why, despite the difficulties, these first followers of Jesus would have resettled in Jerusalem.  To reconstruct the steps by which they became in some sense the center of a movement that was already fracturing bitterly within two decades of its founder’s death.  To see how the seriatim waves of expectation, disappointment, and fresh interpretation would have sustained this astonishing assembly in the long decades framed by Pilate’s troops in 30 and Titus’ in 70.” (184).

She refrains from referring to this earliest stage of the “Jesus-community” as early “Christianity” and comprised of “churches,” as the terms carry baggage of later developments of “organized institutions, and of a religion separate from, different from, and hostile to Judaism” (185).  So, instead, she renders ekklēsia as “assembly” (quite appropriately in my view, reflecting the quasi-official connotation of the term, often both in the LXX and in wider usage).

Fredriksen emphasizes effectively the Jewishness of that first generation of Jesus-followers, their Jerusalem orientation, their positive attitude toward the Jerusalem temple, and, particularly, their eschatological convictions and excitement.  Along the way, she raises and pursues a number of questions, offering thoughtful and reasoned answers.  For example, she judges (rightly I think) that “No ideological breach yawned” between Paul and James (188).  She challenges the notion that Jesus’ temple-action was what led to his arrest (contra such figures as E.P. Sanders), and she contends that Jesus didn’t so much condemn the temple as he did prophecy a new one.

She argues that Jesus’ followers did not comprise a revolutionary party, and that the disciples’ “swords” in the Gethsemane scene were actually knives (the more common meaning of the Greek term machaira, 64), likely used for Passover sacrifice.  This, she contends helps us to understand why only Jesus was seized and executed, and his followers allowed to flee Gethsemane.  They didn’t comprise a revolutionary cell.  Otherwise, the Roman authority would have followed the more typical practice toward revolutionary groups that involved seizing all the ring-leaders and putting them to death.

Fredriksen takes the Johannine depiction of Jesus making multiple visits to Jerusalem as more convincing than the Synoptic Gospels’ narrative of only one such visit.  So, she argues, in these previous visits there was nothing sufficiently threatening about Jesus or his teaching that seemed to require his arrest.  But, she urges, in what became his final Jerusalem visit, Jesus’ arrest was provoked by his “updating” his prophecy of the coming kingdom of God, declaring that it would be manifested during this visit.  This led to “mounting enthusiasm of the holiday crowds,” and this in turn led the authorities taking action against Jesus:  “It was to disabuse them that Jesus died on a cross” (69, emphasis mine).  Jesus’ crucifixion (in her view) points “away from Jesus himself, toward those watching him die,” and “Pilate did not have a problem with Jesus . . . [but] with the crowds that followed him” (41).  Similarly, she insists that Antipas executed John the Baptizer because of “the numbers and the commitment of John’s followers . . . not what John was telling them.” (40)

Personally, I have to say that I find this argument to comprise a dubious either/or set of alternatives.  Granted, both John and Jesus generated a number of dedicated followers, and the execution of both men was surely intended to snuff out their respective movements.  But there would have been no such followers or movements without the powerful impact of both men.  So I would say that a more adequate statement is that Antipas executed John and Pilate executed Jesus not only because of their teachings and actions but also because of their effects upon their followers.

Similarly, in her discussion of the early conviction that God raised Jesus from the dead, I think she poses another set of false alternatives:  “The point of his particular resurrection . . . was not to express Jesus’ special status as such . . . [but instead] was to vindicate his prophecy [of the immediate appearance of the kingdom of God]” (87, emphasis mine).  To be sure, Jesus’ resurrection signalled for earliest believers that the days of eschatological fulfilment were at hand.  But, surely, texts ranging from Romans 1:3-4 to 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 to Philippians 2:9-11 and others as well posit Jesus’ resurrection as also the action in which God designated Jesus as the unique divine Son, Lord, and monarch who is to preside  in the submission of all things to God’s kingdom.  So, wouldn’t it be more adequate to say that for early believers Jesus’ resurrection both vindicated him and his message and also signalled that he was the divinely exalted Son and Kyrios, which formed the basis of their subsequently developing christological claims?

One of the strong points in Fredriksen’s previous book on Paul, echoed in this book too, is that Paul’s opposition to requiring male circumcision of his former-pagan converts was a principled stand based on OT predictions that in the last days the gentile nations would come to the God of Israel, as gentiles (e.g., Zechariah 8:20-23), not as proselytes to Israel.  So, Paul insisted that his former pagans must not undergo proselyte conversion, for this would go against the divine intention.  She is correct also to insist that James and the Jerusalem leadership were basically on board with this.  And, quite plausibly in my view, contends that the demand by opponents to Paul that pagan converts should undergo circumcision was a somewhat later innovation, and not the position of the Jerusalem leadership.  But I missed discussion of Paul’s frequent insistence that his full-scale gentile mission was his own special task, and that he may well have even seen himself, as Johannes Munck proposed, as personally and singularly deputized by God to bring about the predicted ingathering (the “fullness”) of the nations (Romans 11:25).  That is, I think that Paul saw himself as what Munck called a salvation-historical figure in his own right[i]

Fredriksen’s claim that Jesus “updated” his prophecy of the coming kingdom of God, making its arrival coterminous with his last visit to Jerusalem, reminds me of Albert Schweitzer’s memorable and dramatic articulation of what seems a similar proposal.  In this view, the first of several disappointed eschatological hopes that the Jesus-movement had to overcome was comprised in Jesus’ crucifixion, and the failure of an immediate appearance of the kingdom of God.[ii]  (I’m not so confident, however, that Caligula’s demand that his image he set up in the Jerusalem temple was another such crisis for the Jesus-movement.)

To be sure, Jesus did speak to eschatological concerns of his time, and did excite messianic hopes for an imminent redemption of his people (e.g., Luke 24:21; Acts 1:6).  So, Jesus’ crucifixion was likely a huge shock and disappointment of hopes for his followers.  But also, as Fredriksen notes, “‘The resurrection’ gives us a measure of the degree to which Jesus of Nazareth had successfully forged his followers into a group intensely, indeed singularly, committed to himself and to his prophecy of the coming Kingdom” (75).  That is, Jesus’ person and validity became the polarizing issue, already during his own ministry.  She focuses more (almost exclusively), however, on the validation of what she proposes was the content of Jesus’ prophecy of the eschatological kingdom of God, but she seems to me to neglect (or fail to see?) that the experience of the resurrected Jesus also validated his person powerfully for his followers.  Indeed, in their view Jesus’ resurrection marked the exaltation of Jesus to a wholly new and distinctive status at God’s “right hand,” as unique plenipotentiary of divine purposes, and rightful recipient of devotion.  In other words, in the faith of early believers, Jesus’ resurrection not only had a backward effect, retroactively validating his message, but also comprised a new and further effect in which the risen Jesus was installed as this plenipotentiary and also as rightfully a co-recipient of devotion (e.g., Philippians 2:9-11).  In several publications over several decades now, I have pointed to the specific actions, a constellation of early devotional practices that form a “dyadic” pattern in which God and Jesus are central.[iii]

Moreover, this devotion is often expressed verbally in terms that convey an intensity, profound feelings of a relationship with both God and the exalted Jesus.  But Fredriksen says little about this.  Granted, as Alan Segal observed, this lack of attention to Paul’s religious experience is all too typical of Pauline scholars, whether Jewish, Christian, or non-committed.[iv]  Obviously, as Fredriksen emphasizes, Paul and that “first generation” held the eschatological conviction that Jesus’ return in glory and the consummation of God’s kingdom would take place within their lifetime (as reflected in Paul’s reference to “we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord,” 1 Thessalonians 4:15).  But was it solely a sense of eschatological urgency that drove early believers such as Paul, for example?  What are we to make of statements that “the love of Christ constrains us” (2 Corinthians 5:14), or that “the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20), or that Paul counts everything else as nothing in comparison to “the knowledge of Christ Jesus my lord,” seeking to be “found in him” (Philippians 3:8-11), texts which are not discussed in this book?

In an essay on distinctive elements in Paul’s “messianic Christology,” I discussed briefly what I called an “affective emphasis,” and complained that this is not commented on very frequently in Paul scholarship.[v]  What I refer to are the numerous statements in Paul’s letters such as those cited in the preceding paragraph here about Christ’s love for him (and believers more generally) and Paul’s deep sense of a relationship with the risen Jesus.  If I have one major criticism of Fredriksen’s otherwise impressive new book, it is that this intense devotional element in Paul and early Jesus-circles is not given its rightful attention, whereas I think that it was a major factor in accounting for the enthusiasm and staying power of the Jesus-movement.

I also remain unrepentant in dissenting from her view that Paul the Pharisee “persecuted” Jewish believers because they were recruiting gentile god-fearers (she repeatedly refers to “apostles” doing so), requiring them to abandon their pagan gods.  This, she argues, caused pagans and Jews anxiety, “a highly charged situation” (151), and this generated the disciplinary efforts of the young Pharisee, Saul/Paul.  In making her case, however, I think she reads a plausible reason for Paul being on the receiving end of repeated synagogue lashings (2 Cor. 11:24) inappropriately back into the scene in Damascus assemblies.  As I’ve contended earlier, Paul’s reference to his turn-around “Damascus road” experience as a revelation of God’s Son (Gal. 1:15-16) shows that the content was deeply christological, and this in turn suggests that it was in Paul’s mind a divine corrective to his previous stance, which was an opposition to christological claims of the Jesus-movement.

But, notwithstanding certain points of disagreement between us, I reiterate my commendation of Fredriksen’s book, which compresses a lot of matters into an impressively concise but clear presentation.

[i] Johannes Munck, Paul and the Salvation of Mankind (ET, Richmond: John Knox Press, 1959; German original, Aarhus/Copenhagen: Universitetsforlaget/Ejnar Munksgaard, 1954).

[ii] “There is silence all around. The Baptist appears and cries, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’  Soon after that comes Jesus, and in the knowledge that He is the coming Son of Man lays hold of the wheel of the world to set it moving on that last revolution which is to bring all ordinary history to a close.  It refuses to turn, and He throws himself upon it.  Then it does turn; and crushes Him.  Instead of bringing in the eschatological conditions, he has destroyed them.  The wheel rolls onward, and the mangled body of the one immeasurably great Man, who was strong enough to think of himself as the spiritual ruler of mankind and to bend history to His purpose, is hanging upon it still.  That is His victory and His reign.” Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (London:  Macmillian, 1910; German original 1906), 370-71.

[iii] I first drew attention to these actions in Larry W. Hurtado, One God, One Lord:  Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988; 2nd ed. Edinburgh:  T&T Clark, 1998; 3rd ed., London:  Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015), esp. 93-127; 97-134 in the 3rd ed.).

[iv] Alan  F. Segal, “Paul’s Religious Experience in the Eyes of Jewish Scholars,” in Israel’s God and Rebecca’s Children:  Christology and Community in Early Judaism and Christianity:  Essays in Honor of Larry W. Hurtado and Alan F. Segal, ed. David B. Capes et al. (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2007), 321-43, esp. 342.

[v] Larry W. Hurtado, “Paul’s Messianic Christology,” in Paul the Jew:  Rereading the Apostle As a Figure of Second Temple Judaism, ed. Gabrielle Boccaccini and Carlos A. Segovia (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016), 107-31; republished in Larry W. Hurtado, Ancient Jewish Monotheism and Early Christian Jesus-Devotion:  The Context and Character of Christological Faith, Library of Early Christology (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2017), 539-58.

Orsini on Bodmer Biblical Papyri

Further to my notice about Pasquale Orsini’s newly published English translation of several of his essays on Greek and Coptic scripts, there is a guest blog by Orsini that appeared earlier this year on the Evangelical Textual Criticism site (here) in which Orsini briefly describes the palaeographical method that he advocates.  The comments/exchanges that follow are also interesting.

In those exchanges and in the essay on the Bodmer papyri, Orsini indicates how he now views the likely date of the key Bodmer biblical papyri.  He now dates P.Bodmer II (P66) to somewhere mid-third to mid-fourth century, and P.Bodmer XIV-XV (P75) to the late-third to early-fourth century.  In the recently published book, he deals with these matters in the chapter on the scripts of the Bodmer papyri (Chap 3):  On P.Bodmer II, p. 32 note 93.  Orsini’s stature adds now weight to the opinions of other scholars such as Nongbri and Don Barker, that both papyri should be dated later than in previous opinion.

Orsini’s New Book on Greek & Coptic Scripts

One of the most productive and important palaeographers today is Pasquale Orsini, but much of his scholarly work has been published in Italian and so has not received the widespread direct attention that it deserves.  It is a great boon, therefore, that a number of his essays have now been gathered into one volume and in English translation:   Pasquale Orsini, Studies on Greek and Coptic Majuscule Scripts and Books (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2018).  Moreover, the book is available in “open access” for downloading (though only one chapter at a time) here.

The essays (originally published separately) address the scripts/hands of the Nag Hammadi manuscripts (Chap 1), the Bodmer Papyri (Chap 2), the identification and nature of the Greek “Biblical Majuscule” style (Chap 3), the Coptic “Biblical Majuscule” style (Chap 4), the “Sloping Greek Majuscule” (Chap 5), the “Liturgical Majuscule” (Chap. 6), and the “Decorated Liturgical Majuscule” (Chap 7).

The manuscripts at the centre of the discussions tend to be from the fourth century and later, although Orsini does briefly address a few earlier ones.  Among the many interesting topics touched on are examples of manuscripts in which two or more copyists were involved.  These include P.Bodmer XXIV, a single-gathering codex of the Psalms, 41 extant leaves (Psalms 17-118) of an original 49.  It is interesting that Orsini proposes a date in the early 3rd century CE, in contrast to the early 4th century date assigned by the editors of the manuscript.

On another manuscript, this one of personal interest, the Freer Gospels Codex (Codex W), the date of which has been a subject of occasional debate, dates ranging from the late 4th to the 8th century CE, Orsini judges that it “can plausibly be considered to be earlier than the sixth century” (pp. 155-56).  Codex W is also a prime example of the Greek “pointed sloping majuscule” (letters with pointed edges and leaning slightly to the right).

Although the several essays are highly specialized and technical in general character, those readers beyond the field of Greek palaeography will still find some useful and accessible information.  For those engaged in the study of manuscripts and palaeography/codicology, the book is a “must”.  And the open access means that all can readily have its benefit.

Silent Reading in Roman Antiquity

Since a few comments have referred to the matter, I post some references on the question of whether in the ancient Roman period individuals practiced silent reading.  To cut to the conclusion, it is now accepted among Classicists and ancient historians (for over 20 years now) that silent reading was known and practiced.  Of course, especially in group settings people read texts aloud.  But the ancient readers were perfectly capable of reading silently, especially in private reading, and recognized the advantages of doing so, enabling faster reading of texts, for example.

It appears that the notion that silent reading was unusual in the Roman era arose through a mis-interpretation of a passage in Augustine (Confessions 6.3.3), where he comments about Ambrose reading to himself.  One still sees reference to this notion today (e.g., here and here).  It’s now accepted, however, that Augustine wasn’t expressing surprise that Ambrose could read silently to himself, but instead Augustine remarked that by doing so Ambrose effectively shut out those around him, and could have some privacy even though people were coming and going about him.  See, for example, this note on the matter from the Guardian here.

Another erroneous claim was that the (re)introduction of word-separation in Latin manuscripts in the early medieval period enabled silent reading for the first time:  Paul Henry Saenger, Space Between Words: The Origins of Silent Reading (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997).  Actually, word-separation was known and practiced much earlier.  For example, inscriptions frequently had word-separation.  And the practice of “scriptio continua” (words written without separation) was adopted in Latin from Greek practice, because it was regarded as a more elegant format.  It had nothing to do with whether reading was done silently or aloud to oneself.

So, for those who need to get up to date on the topic, here are some bibliographical references:

A. K. Gavrilov, “Techniques of Reading in Classical Antiquity,” Classical Quarterly 47 (1997): 56-73.

M. F. Burnyeat, “Postscript on Silent Reading,” Classical Quarterly 47 (1997): 74-76.

Emmanuelle Valette-Cagnac, La lecture à Rome: rites et pratiques (Paris: Belin, 1997).

Guglielmo Cavallo and Roger Chartier, eds., A History of Reading in the West (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1999), especially pp. 1-36.

For an online discussion, see here.


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