This is a report on a conference at the University of Edinburgh, held in honour of the retirement of Prof. Larry W. Hurtado, Professor Emeritus of New Testament Language, Literature, and Theology, University of Edinburgh (UoE), 7th October 2011, 10:00 a.m.—4:30 p.m., Martin Hall, School of Divinity, New College building, University of Edinburgh. The conference programme is available here. Audio recording of the proceedings (lectures and the responses by Prof Hurtado) is available at website of Centre for the Study of Christian Origins (CSCO), here, courtesy of Mark Batluck, a local PhD researcher at Edinburgh. RBECS is also on facebook, here.
The chilly but otherwise rainless weather that day was far more preferable than the previous day, which was marked with erratic occasional rain showers, soaking many people wet especially during the rush hour. Together with a local postgrad researcher (PGR) from the University of Edinburgh, we braved our way through that chilly morning and arrived early at Martin Hall, New College, giving us the opportunity to meet other PGRs who are equally excited in attending the conference.
Immediately as we entered the Martin Hall is a mini book stall by Alban Books, where some books by the honouree and by some of the presenters were on display and sold at a very reasonably friendly price, especially for postgraduate researchers. (Cheers to Alban Books!).
When the conference commenced, about seventy people were already in the Hall, but more participants still came in later. To formally kick-off the conference, Dr Helen Bond, New Testament Senior Lecturer at UoE, provided a bird’s eye view of Prof Larry W. Hurtado’s contributions, not only to the UoE, but also to the wider field of NT scholarship and Christian origins. Bond’s introductory message provided the essential sketch for the whole day’s program, prolifically presenting Hurtado as one who is a textual critic, a student of ancient manuscripts, and a historical theologian (particularly in the area of Christology). As equally underscored later by other speakers, Bond also appropriately mentioned the lasting influence of Hurtado’s doctoral supervisor at Case Western Reserve University, Prof Eldon Jay Epp, whose own thoughts and contributions find occasional resonances on Hurtado’s own works as a scholar of the biblical text and of Christian origins. Bond concluded her brief speech by reading greetings and messages from Prof Epp and two others, and the lecture sessions begun.
Tommy Wasserman, “How on Earth Did Larry Hurtado Become a Text-Critic?”
The first presenter was Dr Tommy Wasserman, Academic Dean and a lecturer in New Testament at the Örebro School of Theology in Sweden, who has had his own share of prior interaction with the works of Hurtado in the area of textual criticism. Wasserman offered a titillating title for his presentation, eliciting laughter from the audience, “How on Earth Did Larry Hurtado Become a Text-Critic?”, an obvious pun on Hurtado’s more recent book entitled “How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?” (The topic was actually discussed later on by Prof Richard Bauckham).
Wasserman begins his sketch with a number of anecdotes describing his surprising experience, on various occasions, where some people he presumed to have easily known about the fact that Hurtado is a textual critic turned out to be a misplaced assumption, all replying to the effect of “What? Is Hurtado working on textual criticism? I didn’t know that.” Wasserman noted that these responses, while initially quite surprising, nonetheless point to the fact that Hurtado is a well-known scholar, whose contributions to NT scholarship is uncontestably significant. Second, however, his publications on NT textual criticism are not as widely known as in other areas he is engaged with, especially in the area of early Christology and Markan studies. But Wasserman was quick to add that the difference is not of quality but of popularity.
Having said these preliminaries, Wasserman then moved on to Hurtado’s doctoral dissertation, under the able supervision of Epp (entitled Codex Washingtonianus in the Gospel of Mark: Its Textual Relationship and Scribal Characteristics), which was eventually published in 1981, bearing the title Text-Critical Methodology and the Pre-Caesarean Text: Codex W in the Gospel of Mark, as volume 43 of the Studies and Documents series. At this juncture, he underscored that Epp did not only dutifully played the role of a thesis supervisor but also made a profound impact on the life and works of Hurtado. He then proceeded to show the interesting and interactive juxtaposing of the works of Epp and Hurtado, particularly in their varying appraisal of the state of affairs of New Testament textual criticism prior the turn of the new millennium. For instance, in various occasions Epp spoke of “Interlude” and “Continuing interlude” in the discipline, a catchphrase Epp used to characterize the decline of interest and apparent absence of significant developments in the field, after the “golden era” status attained by the discipline during the Westcott and Hort period. On the other hand, twenty years after Epp’s “Interlude”, Hurtado spoke of “Beyond Interlude”, brimming with a more optimistic vision of the things to come for the discipline. Along this line of discussion, Wasserman singled out the contentious topic of what Epp calls as the “Caesarean text-affair” and used this to highlight the importance of the context from which the dissertation of Hurtado emerged, and how Hurtado helped to provide a firmer basis for appreciating more objectively the weaknesses of this theory.
In more details, Wasserman laid out the reasons why he sees the dissertation as having played a very important role in eventually laying to rest the theory of the Caesarean text-type. He noted that Hurtado’s choice of Codex Washingtonianus over that of P45 was a logical one as Mark is more complete in W than in P45. He also commended Hurtado’s observation on the lack of airtight methodology in assessing text-type relationships (which at the time was largely based on comparing the degree of agreements of particular manuscripts with that of the textus receptus), as well as Hurtado’s adoption and further refinement of Prof E.C. Colwell’s quantitative analysis as his own dissertation methodology. Using various manuscripts representing the different texttypes as his control witnesses (i.e., codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus for the Alexandrian texttype; codex Bezae for Western; codex Alexandrinus for the early form of the Byzantine texttype; textus receptus for the late form of the Byzantine; P45 and Family 13 representing the “theoretical early form of the Caesarean text”; codices Koridethi and 565 representing the late form of the Caesarean text) and by adopting Colwell’s quantitative relationship criterion (i.e., 70% agreement among related mss and separated by 10% gap from its unrelated neighbours), Hurtado was able to argue coherently that the P45 and codex W formed a small group of their own, unrelated to other witnesses or texttypes, corroborating the criticism that the theory of a Caesarean texttype is unsustainable. Furthermore, Wasserman also noted Hurtado’s contribution in the field of studying scribal habits, wherein he discussed Hurtado’s perceptive characterization of the scribe who prepared codex W as a scribe who exercised considerable editorial freedom, and who “… was interested in producing a text that was easy to read and as intelligible as possible.” In short, codex W was apparently prepared for popular reading.
At this juncture, Wasserman noted that 30 years had already passed since Hurtado first published his dissertation and therefore offered another look at Hurtado’s conclusion in light of P45, and see whether such conclusion remains valid. (It should be noted that Wasserman earlier presented a related paper during the 2011 SBL International Meeting in London). After presenting additional variation units that Hurtado left out in his dissertation, for one reason or another, Wasserman’s own quantitative analysis still showed the inviolable textual relationship of P45 and codex W, thus further validating Hurtado’s proposal that W and P45 represent a distinct texttype, perhaps a text prepared for popular reading consumption in the context of liturgical gathering. Wasserman then cited other works by Hurtado that have to do with the role of sacred texts in liturgical settings, as well as the role of textual consciousness in the crucial second century. He concluded his presentation with an apt accolade of Hurtado’s contributions for furthering the cause of New Testament textual criticism in general and his inspiring friendship, both as a scholar and a colleague, in particular.
Accordingly, a day before the actual conference, Wasserman also gave a lecture during a NT textual criticism seminar, where he discussed his own investigation of the textual variation involving the controversial last two words of Mark 1:1, υιου θεου. In this seminar, mostly attended by postgraduate researchers and some faculty members of the University, Wasserman aligned himself with those who view the longer reading (i.e., with υιου θεου) as the most probable reading written by the author of the Gospel of Mark. He engaged the proposal of Prof Bart Ehrman, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (and also partly the views of Dr Peter Head, Tyndale House, Cambridge), who believes that the longer reading was a scribal expansion to obviate a potential un-orthodox Christological (i.e., “anti-adoptionistic Christology”) reading of the verse. Contrary to Ehrman, Wasserman argued that the balance of evidence points to the equally demonstrable scribal tendency to omit nomina sacra due to homoioteleuton, and concluded that “(T)he balance of probabilities favors the long reading in Mark 1:1—the ‘Son of God’ was in the beginning.”
Thomas Kraus, “Larry Hurtado and Manuscripts”
The second presenter was Dr Thomas Kraus, author and editor of books on ancient Christian manuscripts, who spoke on the title “Larry Hurtado and Manuscripts”. Kraus commenced his treatise by sharing what he sees as the various semantic ranges of the English word “retirement”, and surmised how they may apply to Hurtado’s case, to the delight of the audience. On a personal level, he also vividly portrayed his first contact with Hurtado as a postgraduate researcher wherein he learned one virtue that has left a big influence on his own work as a scholar—the necessity of being accurate, further underscoring that accuracy is the sine qua non for any textual studies.
Although some of Kraus’ discussion on Hurtado’s text-critical works somehow neatly overlapped with Wasserman’s earlier lecture, Kraus’ focus was nonetheless on Hurtado’s distinct contributions to the discipline, particularly in the area of appreciating the physicality of manuscripts. Making reference to other scholars’ works on the importance of the socio-cultural aspect of ancient Christianity, Kraus then underscored Hurtado’s contribution in emphasizing the value of studying the physical aspects of any given manuscript and on how he has been rallying specialists in Christian origins and early Jewish studies to seriously consider manuscripts as ancient artefacts themselves, that can help in understanding their value for the larger historical question. Kraus argued that both theologians and bible scholars will yield better results if they approach manuscripts not only for their value in textual reconstruction of the biblical texts but also in the way that they contribute to the knowledge of scribal conventions and trades of the time. A researcher must not only be solely captivated by the value-judgement accorded to a particular manuscript by virtue of its age, but also by the very fact that manuscripts represent inherent value on their own, as they can contribute richly to our understanding of the ancient Christian communities.
Accordingly, Kraus brings to the discussion his own experience working with ancient manuscripts, and how paratextual features can widen our appreciation of the context in which particular manuscripts have been produced. His presentation draws from Hurtado’s own work on the subjects of codex’s victory over the scroll, the nomina sacra and the staurogram which Hurtado proposed on sundry occasions as the earliest visual representations of Christian piety. To a large extent Hurtado’s The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins (2006) is the accumulation of Hurtado’s thoughts on these subjects.
Why was the scroll substituted by the codex? Was the shift due to certain advantages of the codex format over the scroll or was the codex an indigenous invention of the early Christians? Codicology is another area of interest for Hurtado, and along this subject Kraus noted that the discussion is continuing and still open-ended. First, he cautioned of the dangers (and his own pessimism) of purely statistical approach to the problem of offering valid reasons for this technological shift, as some papyrologists and scholars seem prone to do—the problem is much more complicated than just reducing the extant manuscripts to numerical figures. He then discussed some of the standing proposals in explaining the shift, after which Kraus then itemized the areas wherein Hurtado’s own contributions on the subject area have helped in forming a better appreciation of the problem.
Are the nomina sacra really referring to the holy names? Are they purely scribal conventions to save space? Mentioning early works on the subject, especially the seminal monograph of Ludwig Traube, then by Paap, Callaghan, and Roberts, Kraus then proceeded to the merits of Hurtado’s 1998 JBL article “The Origin of the nomina sacra: A Proposal”. Among other things that Hurtado contributed in the discussion of the nomina sacra is the emphasis that the convention involves both the contraction and the overbar/supralinear on certain words believed to have been treated with certain reverence by the early Christians—this emphasizes the visual aspect of the convention. He also mentioned Hurtado’s discussion on the manners/patterns of contraction, i.e., contraction and suspension, as well as the question on how the ancient practice of gematria (i.e., the assignment of numerical value to certain words or letters) may have possibly influenced the scribal use of nomina sacra in the surviving Christian and Jewish manuscripts—on which Kraus agrees with Hurtado that the system of gematria is a bit complicated to be put in parallel vis-à-vis the nomina sacra.
On the subject of staurogram, Kraus commended Hurtado’s keen and aggressive proposal that the staurogram is one of the earliest visual symbols that the ancient Christians iconographically used to publicly express their belief in Christ. But Kraus also cautioned that the staurogram (the intermingling of the Greek letters τ and ρ) should not be confused with the Christogram symbol (i.e., the combination of χ and ρ; a separate subject that Kraus intentionally did not touch on). He then described that the τ, as a Christian visual representation of the Cross, and the loop of the ρ above the horizontal stroke of the τ, when combined together forms a representation of a human figure hanging on the Cross—which therefore puts a direct “pictographic reference to the crucified Jesus”. Kraus also noted that the presence of this siglum, together with the other nomina sacra, in some of the earliest papyrus codices seem to point toward an earlier standardization of the convention, but equally noted the potential special role of the scribes in having this accomplished.
To further drive the point that manuscripts should not only be studied for their textual contribution but also for their artifactual value, Kraus concluded his presentation by showing an ancient Christian letter written on a papyrus and examining the paratextual features that can be drawn from this small papyrus fragment, that can help better appreciate the probable socio-cultural context from which it emerged.
Lunch break momentarily punctuated the conference, but it nonetheless provided a wholesome environment for continuing discussion and introductory acquaintance among postgraduate students from various universities represented, sharing the nature of their own research projects and other interests. Most of the participants had their lunch at the nearby Rainy Hall.
Richard Bauckham, “Devotion to Jesus in Early Christianity—An Appreciation and Discussion of the work of Larry Hurtado”
The third and last presenter, animatedly introduced by Dr Paul Foster, was Prof Richard Bauckham, former Professor of New Testament Studies at the University of St Andrews. Under the rubric, “Devotion to Jesus in Early Christianity—An Appreciation and Discussion of the work of Larry Hurtado,” the ever-energetic speaker brought to the table the on-going dynamic discussions between him, Hurtado, and James Dunn as well as other “christologians”, with regards to the earliest recoverable Christian devotions to Jesus Christ, giving the audience the foretaste of the yet unexplored richness of the subject, despite the fact that voluminous literature has been published already on the subject. Interestingly, Bauckham specially noted, with forthright appropriateness, the “marginal interest” among NT scholars on the subject before Hurtado ventured to producing two stimulating monographs that eventually generated invigorated interest on the subject.
What should we know about Jesus? Why did the early Christians worship Jesus? How did they view Jesus? Is there a distinction between early high Christology and later high Christology? These are some of the questions that Bauckham underlined insofar as the subject is concerned. In relation to Hurtado’s own works, Bauckham started off by reviewing some of Hurtado’s main points in his two vital monographs: One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism and Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. Point-by-point, Bauckham engaged Hurtado’s views on the following areas of Jewish monotheism and intermediary figures that played prominently in Hurtado’s two books, as well in his other related writings, including How on Earth did Jesus become a God? Historical Questions about the Earliest Devotion to Jesus. With his usual incisiveness, Bauckham lengthily discussed on the following points: 1) evidence of veneration of angels in the Second Temple Judaism (STJ) vis-à-vis the divine agencies in Jewish monotheism, 2) evidence of the worship of some human beings in the STJ vis-à-vis personified divine agents, 3) role of the sacrificial worship in the monotheistic worship in the STJ, 4) the narrowness of worship as a criterion of divinity, 5) questions about the role of principal angels and exalted patriarchs as plenipotentiaries, wielding all God’s power and authority of his behalf vis-à-vis principal agents and exalted patriarchs as divine agents, and 6) the proposal that monotheism requires more than cultic worship, in relation to what Hurtado calls the “early Christian mutation”.
Bauckham also commended Hurtado’s proposition that the earliest dominant Jewish monotheism was an exclusive monotheism as opposed to the pagans’ polytheism or against the other Jewish form of inclusive monotheism—a view Hurtado proffered in his One God, One Lord. Bauckham believes that this was a crucial argument in Hurtado’s thesis on the Christian Christological mutation, as he prepares to draw the essential connection between early Jewish monotheism and the eventual Trinitarian devotional practices of the early Christians. Along this line, Bauckham mentioned Hurtado’s evidences that underscore this undeniable association: 1) celebrating Christ, 2) prayer to Christ, 3) the use of the name of Jesus in baptism and other practices, including calling on the name of Jesus, an intertextual resonance of the OT’s calling upon the Name of the Lord, 4) the Lord’s Supper, 5) confessing Jesus as Lord, and 6) prophecies about Jesus and Jesus as the Risen Lord. For Bauckham, these early Christian practices afforded an “unprecedented centrality of a divine agent to a community devotion and cultic life”. Despite criticisms from other camps against Hurtado’s points, (of which Bauckham specifically mentioned two, namely, 1) use/non-use of magic and amulets in STJ, and 2) the evidence of the worship of other human beings in STJ), Bauckham believes that Hurtado has persuasively presented a very good case for the connection.
In regard to the early Christian devotion to Jesus and its origins, Bauckham added a few more features to Hurtado’s list, namely: 1) the early Christian exegesis of the Hebrew bible, and 2) the lavish early Christians’ application to Jesus of the title “Lord” as a direct echo of the OT. Bauckham also mentioned about the criticism proposing that the early Christian experience is not enough to explain the origins of devotions to Jesus Christ, which Hurtado, in his books, directly engaged counter-arguing that the early Christian’s religious experience, particularly visions and revelations, functioned in such a way that fortified their devotion to Jesus, and not only as a product of their idiosyncratic experience. To this, Bauckham added that these religious experiences must also be properly understood in the context of the early Christians’ exegesis of the Hebrew bible. Finally, Bauckham concluded his presentation with a brief discussion on the question, “Do we have sufficient evidence for thinking early Christian devotion to Jesus was based on visions of the exalted Jesus?” presenting his own appraisal of the on-going inquiry on the matter. Commending Hurtado’s significant contribution to the field of Christological studies, Bauckham advised Hurtado that “(T)he only disadvantage of retirement is that you no longer get sabbaticals”.
To all these presentations, Hurtado responded in various ways, with his usual candour and reflective tone: anecdotes of his own academic journey as a postgraduate student in America, as a neophyte scholar grappling with almost gargantuan issues, and as an accomplished and respectable contributor to the furtherance of New Testament scholarship. His responses also generated stimulating interaction between him, the three presenters, and the participants.
The conference ended formally at 4:30 in Martin Hall with a resounding accolade for Prof Larry Hurtado and his contributions… but the conference informally went on at the Rainy Hall, where the staff of the Centre for the Study of Christian Origins treated the participants to a drinks reception. In a nutshell, one may describe the event as a conference paying tribute to an outstandingly brilliant American scholar based in Scotland, efficiently organized by an English lady, graced by prolific and respectable guest speakers delivering lectures in English with Swedish, German, and Scottish accents, and attended by faculty members and students encompassing the UK, the continental Europe, Africa, America, and Asia—a fitting illustration of the breadth and depth of Prof Larry Hurtado’s influence!
Let me end this summary report with a remarkable quote (read earlier in the conference by Helen Bond) from Hurtado’s doctoral supervisor, Prof Eldon Jay Epp, who described him in this fashion, “Larry was one of those rare graduate students of whom a mentor simply opens the door to scholarship and the student does the rest. As his distinguished career attests, his inquiring mind and critical skills hastened his development into a highly productive and distinguished scholar of serious purpose and above all of integrity. Few teachers are satisfied than following one student on such a catholic accomplishment and lasting contribution.”
University of Birmingham