Skip to content

Summer Break

I’m off on holidays for a couple of weeks, and I don’t plan to blog during that time.  So, nothing over the next couple of weeks (likely).  Silence doesn’t mean I’m ill.  Just being reasonable.

Further Comment on the Mark Fragment and the Rumors

There is now a further news release from the Egypt Exploration Society about the recently published fragment of the Gospel of Mark.  It responds to some of the rumors circulating, and corrects certain of them.  See here, the second item on the page.

A Plea for Round-Table Discussion, not Debates

My posting about the publication of the interestingly early fragment of GMark elicited a number of comments, a few of which caused me to wonder about the persons writing them.  One, for example, citing the erroneous claims of a first-century fragment of GMark made in some public fora over the last couple of years, kept alleging these were lies and the speakers liars.

I won’t publish the comment.  For one thing the language of “lying”, “liars” would, in a good many courts, likely be deemed libel.  And if I published the comment I could be judged complicit in the libel.  But also, how does somebody who simply repeats what they’ve been told become thereby a liar?

This kind of vituperation clearly reflects an aspect of what is now called the “culture wars” afflicting the USA.  People on both sides of what they see as the chasm of differences  give no quarter to the other side.  It’s not quite (yet) as crazy as Northern Ireland during the “troubles” in the 70s-80s, but the analogy does come to mind, as far as mindsets are concerned.  North of the 49th parallel and on this side of the Atlantic, it all seems so bizarre.

Part of the problem, I think, is that many American “Evangelicals” unthinkingly link themselves also to so-called “conservative” political and social stances (when, actually, there is no necessary connection  . . . at all).  So if someone appears to affirm some kind of traditional Christian theology, others (who espouse more “liberal/progressive” stances on the social issues) will quickly label him/her as “the enemy”.  And those espousing a “conservative” stance will likewise demonize those who take a different view.

But back to the fragment of the GMark.  The erroneous claims about the GMark fragment were sometimes made in the context of a public debate, which seems to have become a now-staple feature of what passes for scholarly discussion in some circles.  Now, I was a very successful high-school debater (top level in the National Forensic League), and I know how to debate.  But I don’t do debates on issues that are scholarly in nature.  Debating is a win/lose contest, little subtlety or complexity allowed.  It doesn’t make for the sort of careful consideration of matters that is most often required. It certainly doesn’t allow for people to grow, develop/alter their understanding of matters.

Why not, instead, have round-table discussions, in which participants of various points of view could air their position, and engage more in dialogue with those of other views?  A round-table (if properly run) allows people to talk to those of other viewpoints.  There’s no win or lose, just an effort to try to understand one another, and, hopefully, clarify issues.  Participants can remain in disagreement thereafter, but a round-table ought to encourage respect (essential) for others, and careful presentations of viewpoints.

Just a thought.


On Papyri and Integrity

The publication of the fragment of the Gospel of Mark that has been generating excitement and controversy for several years now and the preceding and ensuing accounts about it raise the issue of integrity.

The papyrus fragment (which I posted about most recently here) is now palaeographically dated by its editors as late second/early third century CE.  The earlier claim that it was a first-century fragment that was sounded by Daniel Wallace in a debate with Bart Ehrman a few years ago, was clearly based on incorrect information.  Wallace (in a commendable example of scholarly honesty and integrity) has now given his own account of how he was misled (here).

On another site, Brice Jones has expressed puzzlement (here) about claims that the fragment was offered for sale, given that it is now clear that it was part of the Oxyrhynchus hoard of ancient papyri held now in the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford).  The claims implicate the esteemed papyrologist, Dirk Obbink, and Jones poses questions about how he could have supposedly offered the fragment for sale.

The recent news release on the fragment from the Egypt Exploration Society (which own the Oxyrhynchus Papyri) denies that any of the papyri in its collection was ever put up for sale (here).  As a further note, I personally have great confidence in Dirk Obbink as a scholar and a person of honor and integrity.  I will say nothing more about the claim that troubled Jones or the person to whom it is ascribed.  But I trust Obbink, and that means that the claim that he offered the item for sale like some huckster I regard as false and mischievous.

This whole drama has been a sad instance of ballyhoo and perhaps worse distorting what should have been a sober editing and analysis of a small but very important bit of papyrus.  I hope that we shall not see such a case anytime soon.

Consequences of Christian Faith in the Early Period

Another video in the series sponsored by our Centre for the Study of Christian Origins has just been posted here.  In this one, I talk about the “social consequences” of adherence to early Christianity.

Paul, Stephen Fowl, and Trinitarian Doctrine

The contributions to the multi-author volume that I noted yesterday here include a thoughtful essay by Stephen Fowl (who, in my experience, writes only thoughtful work):  “Paul and the Trinity” (pp. 151-61).

He first notes that, although in Paul we have a “christological maximalism,” Paul did not engage the questions that occupied pro and anti figures in the Nicene-era debates, such as how to understand the “generation of the Son.”  So, “both pro- and anti-Nicene theologians made ready recourse to Paul.  If one is to say that there are Trinitarian implications to Paul’s view of God, then one must say that there are Arian implications too” (152).

Fowl then surveys quickly the questions with which Paul was concerned, which mainly focused on the terms on which Gentiles could be treated as full co-religionists by Jewish Jesus-believers.  But Fowl also notes how readily Paul linked God, Jesus, and the Spirit in his discourse and references to divine redemptive and creative work.

Fowl concludes by proposing that we, though we should not ascribe a full-blown Trinitarianism to Paul, “pro-Nicene doctrine” may be viewed as a reasonable way of handling the tensions in Paul’s thought between an “unwavering commitment to God’s singularity and his Christological maximalism in the light of theological and ecclesial pressures different from those Paul faced” (161).

That’s not to close off further discussion, and Fowl would agree.  But his essay demonstrates the kind of patient and irenic exploration of how each age has to formulate doctrine in light of its own conceptual categories and pressing issues.

What Yet Lies Beneath? The Hoard of Unpublished Oxyrhynchus Texts

My note about the newly published items included in vol 83 of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri reminded me that to date, over 100 years after the excavations there, the vast hoard of papyri shipped to Britain by Grenfell & Hunt (in hundreds of metal boxes) remains stored and unpublished.  This latest volume brings the number of published items well past 5,000.  But by some estimates this leaves several hundred thousands of papyrus fragments, perhaps more, yet to be studied and published.

That only in this latest volume do we have a remarkably early fragment of the Gospel of Mark, as well as fragments of a couple of other NT writings, shows that gems continue to be found in that hoard.  And who knows what else lies there?

Nearly 50 years ago, on a trans-Atlantic flight, I found myself seated next to a lady who worked for the British Library.  When she discovered that I was (then) a graduate student working in NT textual criticism and with strong manuscript interests, she said gave me her card, and encouraged me to visit her.  “There are crates of to-date unexamined material down in the basement,” she said, “You might want to see it.”  Sadly, my pre-booked itinerary did not permit it.

I think that the bulk of the Oxyrhynchus material is now housed in the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford), where the editing process is centered.  We must all be grateful to those scholars who have developed the expertise to do this work, and who quietly go about it without fanfare.  Strength to their hands!


Historical Roots of “Trinitarian” Theology

I’m pleased to have a contribution included in a recently-published multi-author volume: The Bible and Early Trinitarian Theology, eds. Christopher A. Beeley and Mark E. Weedman (Catholic University of America Press, 2018; the publisher’s online catalogue entry here).

The book arose from a multi-year consultation unit in the Society of Biblical Literature, and I am honored to be included with a stellar group of scholars in NT and Patristics.  After an introduction by the editors, here are the contents:

“Scholarship on the Old Testament Roots of Trinitarian Theology:  Blind Spots and Blurred Vision,” Bogdan G. Bucur

“Observations on the ‘Monotheism’ Affirmed in the New Testament,” Larry W. Hurtado

“Trinitarian Theology and the Fourth Gospel,” Harold W. Attridge

“The Johannine Riddles and Their Place in the Development of Trinitarian Theology,” Paul N. Anderson

“The Gospel of John and Early Trinitarian Thought:  The Unity of God in John, Irenaesus, and Tertullian,” Marianne Meye Thompson

“The Johannine Prologue before Origen,” Mark J. Edwards

“Basil of Caesarea on John 1:1 as an Affirmation of Pro-Nicene Trinitarian Doctrine,” Mark DelCogliano

“Paul and the Trinity,” Stephen E. Fowl

“Paul and His Legacy to Trinitarian Theology,” Adela Yarbro Collins

“The Image and Unity of God:  The Role of Colossians 1 in Theological Controversy,”   Jennifer R. Strawbridge

“The Spirit and the Letter:  2 Corinthians 3:6 and the Legacy of Origen in Fourth-Century Greek Exegesis,” Christopher A. Beeley

“Augustine’s Move from a Johannine to a Pauline Trinitarian Theology,” Mark E. Weedman

My contribution is a revised form of a presentation originally given at a conference in Lausanne several years ago.  I’ve uploaded the pre-publication form of the essay to this blog site under the “Selected Published Essays” tab here.

That Curious Fragment of the Gospel of Mark–Now Published

It appears that the much-touted “first-century” fragment of the Gospel of Mark has, at last, been published, inThe Oxyrhynchus Papyri, Volume LXXXIII (Graeco-Roman Memoirs) (Egypt Exploration Society, 2018).  I haven’t had access to the volume yet, nor have many others.  But already there are blog reports on it, e.g., here and here.

The brief notice issued by the Egypt Exploration Society today here follows:

“In the latest volume of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, volume LXXXIII text 5345, Professor Obbink and Dr Colomo publish a fragment from a papyrus codex (book). The two sides of the papyrus each preserve brief traces of a passage, both of which come from the gospel of Mark. After rigorous comparison with other objectively dated texts, the hand of this papyrus is now assigned to the late second to early third century AD. This is the same text that Professor Obbink showed to some visitors to Oxford in 2011/12, which some of them reported in talks and on social media as possibly dating to the late first century AD on the basis of a provisional dating when the text was catalogued many years ago. Papyrus 5345 was excavated by Grenfell and Hunt and has never been for sale. No other unpublished fragments of New Testament texts in the EES collection have been identified as earlier than the third century AD.”  (Emphasis mine)

The official Oxyrhynchus number of the item is LXXXIII.5345.  A photo of the item should be included in the volume, as well as a transcription and palaeographical commentary.  The Mark fragment includes parts of 1:7-9, 16-18.  (In addition, the volume is said to include newly edited fragments of Luke and Philemon, as well as a variety of non-biblical texts.)

Though not now judged to be “first-century,” this fragment of Mark is still important, doubling the number of manuscript witnesses to GMark from before 300 CE (the only other one being the Chester Beatty Gospels codex, P45).


When did “Gospel” First = a Book?

My recent postings about the NT Gospels elicited a reminder of an essay by James Kelhoffer:  “‘How Soon a Book’ Revisited: EUAGGELION As a Reference to ‘Gospel’ Materials in the First Half of the Second Century,” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 95 (2004): 1-34.  The essay was republished in his volume of collected essays:  Conceptions of “Gospel” and Legitimacy in Early Christianity, WUNT (Mohr Siebeck, 2014), 39-75.

This meaty and detailed study addresses the questions about when the word “gospel” (Greek:  evangelion) first came to designate a book.  Everyone agrees that its initial early Christian usage was a reference to the message which Jesus was central (e.g., Romans 1:15).  It could also refer to the activity involved in disseminating that message (e.g., Romans 1:9; 15:16).  Everyone also agrees that by the mid-second century the term was being used also to refer to certain writings about Jesus (as, e.g., in Justin Martyr, 1 Apology 66.3; ca. 153 CE).  Indeed, Justin’s wording suggests that the term was at that point already in common usage in Christian circles.

Graciously acknowledging earlier studies and positions, even as he corrects and challenges them, Kelhoffer argues that the term “gospel” was probably being used to designate what I have called “Jesus books” by sometime 100-130 CE.  He builds his case by detailed analysis of texts in several early Christian writings, especially Didache and 2 Clement.

His proposal is that the use of the term in the opening words (and title) of GMark, “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” may have inspired some early reader or copyist to extend the term to designate books about Jesus.  This could have happened, so Kelhoffer, as early as the circulation of two or more such writings, i.e., as soon as both GMark and GMatthew were circulating.

Those seriously interested in these matters will surely need to take account of this study.

%d bloggers like this: