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Dublin: Papyri and Pints

April 12, 2012

Yesterday, accompanied by my new colleague, Dr. Matt Novenson, and 11 of our PhD students, I went to Dublin to visit again the Chester Beatty Library and give a little workshop focused on their fabulous collection of biblical papyri. Out on a 8.10 a.m. flight there and back in Edinburgh by 9 p.m. (ca. 50 minutes travel time each direction), it is a great boon to have the CBL so accessible.

Having established a connection with the CBL over a number of years and such visits now, they kindly agree to put us in a private room and bring out the pre-selected folios that I request. So, the students were able to do an “autopsy” examination of these pages. I had selected folios from several different codices that illustrated different features of interest, such as page-numbers, elementary punctuation, reader’s marks, corrections, and in the case of the Daniel text even clear chapter division. All these in mss palaeographically dated variously ca. 150-250 CE.

The various early biblical codices also illustrate different early approaches to codex construction, and to text-layout. So, e.g., the Numbers-Deuteronomy ms features double-column layout, whereas most others (e.g., the Gospels and Pauline codices) have one full-page column layout. We were able to discuss what all these features and layout choices may tell us about the aims of the copyists and early users of these texts.

A couple of students also noted a variant reading in P46 (the Pauline codex) not registered in the Nestle-Aland 27th edition. In 1 Cor 8:6, in the line that reads in N-A27 “εις θεος ο πατηρ,” P45 reads “εις θς και ο πρ” (I’ve retained the “nomina sacra” forms of words used in P46 here).

It’s always exciting to be able to see directly and even handle copies of these writings made by and for Christians in that early period. It’s one of the opportunities we offer to PhD students here.

We also took in the very informative exhibit at Trinity College Dublin focused on early illuminated manuscripts, featuring particularly the Book of Kells.

Oh, and after a hard day’s thirsty work, we all went to a pub in the Temple Bar area and rewarded ourselves with a pint of Guinness (or other beverage to taste and scruple).

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  1. I want to make that trip with you one day. Have you ever seen a nomina sacra on an icon which does not have the supra lineal line?

    • I’m not a specialist in icons, and haven’t perused all that many. Anyone who is an expert is welcome to respond.

  2. I went on the above trip and greatly benefitted from the time around these manuscripts. Before moving to a viewing room, in which P46 (among others) were laid out for us, we spent some time in the impressive Chester Beatty Library exhibit hall (open to the public). In this hall, a leaflet of the Bodmer papyri (John’s Gospel, smaller than an index card) was on display, as was a sample of P45 (Mark’s Gospel). I found the description of this leaf of P45 curious. It had only a couple sentences, one of which said, “Because of the unevenness of the text of Mark’s Gospel, scholars think that the book was originally two documents, before being merged in subsequent years.” My thesis research covers the Gospel of Mark, and I know if no scholar who has ever convincingly put forward such an argument. It goes to show that one cannot always rely on statements that invoke “scholarly” support.

  3. W. Andrew Smith permalink

    It sounds like a wonderful trip!

    I still have hard feelings toward a certain Icelandic volcano for delaying the last one.

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