Reviews of

Early Christian Manuscripts: Examples of Applied Method and Approach

In Amulets, Brill, Dan Batovici, Early Christianity, Egypt, New Testament, Oxyrhynchus, Papyrology, Patristics, Reception history, Scripture, Textual Criticism, Thomas KRAUS, Tobias NICKLAS on June 13, 2012 at 6:12 pm

2012.06.13 | Thomas J. Kraus and Tobias Nicklas, eds. Early Christian Manuscripts: Examples of Applied Method and Approach. Texts and Editions for New Testament Study 5. Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2010. xx + 243 pp. ISBN: 9789004182653.

Reviewed by Dan Batovici, University of St Andrews.

Many thanks to Brill for kindly providing us with a review copy.

This volume is intended as a papyrological follow-up of a previous volume, New Testament Manuscripts: Their Texts and Their World, published in the same series (TENT 2) in 2006. It features nine articles forming nine chapters varying in size between 15 and 45 pages. Covering topics as diverse as the assessment of amulets, reception history of a particular early Christian text, text identification in fragmentary manuscripts, a complete analysis of a gospel fragment, etc, the volume is an apology for the applied study of the papyri as ‘archaeological objects for the study of early Christianity in general and the New Testament in particular’ (x).

The aim of Thomas J. Kraus’ article – “Reconstructing Fragmentary Manuscripts: Chances and Limitations” – aims to demonstrate ‘the fundamental challenges and chances that occur in the process of reconstructing the text of a fragmentary manuscript’ and also ‘the liabilities and limits of this process’ (4). He does so by presenting past scholarship for three types of fragmentary manuscripts: fragments which have been identified, unidentified fragments, and longer yet only partly identified papyri. For each category Kraus presents at length two or three cases; their reconstruction is presented step by step, in a didactical manner: diplomatic transcription in scriptio continua majuscules, then minuscules with diacritical signs, finally the transcription with complete words identified and others tentatively identified. This is very helpful for students approaching textual criticism, though probably potentially tedious for the experienced scholar. Brief note: p. 6 Kraus stresses that the ‘traditional’ earlier date for P52 ‘is still favoured by most scholars,’ but in the footnote the John Rylands University Library website is the only example to postdate Nongbri’s article.

Rachel Yuen-Collingridge’s paper – “Hunting for Origen in Unidentified Papyri: The Case of P.Egerton 2 (= inv. 3)” – is a critical survey of scholarship involved in the debate on the attribution to Origen of the text in the fragmentary papyrus from the title. She points to various weaknesses in past too clear-cut stances on the matter and concludes that ‘we may gain far more through ambivalence, through withholding opinion and letting the papyrus speak, than by hunting for Origen in every lacuna’ (57). Her suggestion is that ‘what may be more useful for dealing with unidentified theological fragments is a study of the pattern of citation within different [literary] genres’ (57).

Paul Foster’s contribution – “Papyrus Oxyrhynchus X 1224” – is a careful and thorough analysis of the two fragments that form this papyrus. Foster’s treatment of P.Oxy. X 1224 features codicological and palaeographical descriptions, of which the latter includes a full description of letter formation for all letters that have survived (67-72). A transcription and a reconstruction are then offered, with translations and discussion of past reconstructions, followed by an extensive textual and literary commentary. Foster also engages the dating of the text of P.Oxy. X 1224: the terminus ad quem being set by the dating of the manuscript, he argues that the text of the fragment shows signs of Lukan redactional material, placing thus as terminus post quem the composition of Luke. A brief discussion of the possible social location of this text precedes concluding remarks and plates illustrating the fragments.

Lincoln Blumell’s essay – “Is P.Oxy. XLII 3057 the Earliest Christian Letter?” – is a contribution to the ongoing debate as to whether this papyrus, ‘dated palaeographically to the late first or early second century’ (97) is Christian in character. As it stands, the article is a critique of recent takes on the matter by O. Montevecchi and Ilaria Ramelli, who both argue that this personal letter is the earliest preserved Christian text.

John Granger Cook’s “P50 (P.Yale I 3) and the Question of its Function” is a note on the character of P50. He finds there is “little need to classify P50 as an amulet” (125), in spite that the folding marks are still visible might suggest that. Cook rightfully notes that ‘[f]olds are neither necessary nor a sufficient condition to indicate that a document is an amulet’ (120, emphasis original), and points out that there are various folded papyri who cannot be suspected to be amulets. Images are helpfully placed at the end of the paper; a transcription and translation are offered.

Don Barker’s article – “The Reuse of Christian Texts: P.Macquarie inv. 360 + P.Mil. Vogl.inv. 1224 (P91) and P.Oxy. X 1229 (P23)” – proposes that three papyri should be considered amulets, starting precisely from the folding marks they exhibit, but adding another control criterion in each case. In the case of the first fragment – P91 – Barker’s reconstruction of the dimensions of the initial written area are initial page size suggests that the verso might have included the episode of the ‘healing of the lame man in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth’ from Acts (135), which might hint that P91 could have been used for healing purposes. Similar reasoning is then applied to other two folded papyri.

Theodore de Bruyn’s article title is self-explanatory with regard to its contents and intentions: “Papyri, Parchements, Ostraca, and Tablets Written with Biblical Texts in Greek and Used as Amulets: A Preliminary List.’ This is part of a larger study project on the ‘influence of the liturgy of the church in Egypt on the Christianization of Greek amulets in Late Antiquity’ (147). The relevance of non-continuous Biblical manuscripts – of which amulets is one of the several categories – for the reception of Scripture in early Christianity is stressed out, and so is the difficulty ‘of distinguishing amulets from other biblical texts written for personal use’ (146). The working definition for amulet is ‘an item that is believed to convey in and of itself, as well as in association with incantations and other actions, supernatural power for protective, beneficial, or antagonistic effect, and that is worn on one’s body or fixed, displayed, or deposited at some place’ (147); furthermore his account is restricted to mainly ‘items from the fourth to the eight centuries C.E. that have Christian elements, that are written in Greek, and that were found in Egypt’ (147). De Bruyn discusses criteria for identifying amulets (149-151), then moves on to papyri and fragments (both certain and only probable), ostraca and tablets. The five tables that follow systematize the material in a very helpful manner (166-89); this is an excellent tool for future research.

Malcolm Choat and Rachel Yuen-Collingridge sign the eight chapter – “The Egyptian Hermas: The Shepherd in Egypt before Constantine”. This investigation starts by noting that Hermas is the best-attested Christian text, apart from those which eventually formed the biblical canon, and the question addressed is ‘why were the works of Hermas so popular?’ (191). The analysis of Hermas papyri starts with a quantitative comparison of Hermas papyri with gospels and Origen papyri in three temporal segments (II-III/IV, IV-IV/V, and V-V/VI centuries). Based on Patristic testimonia who seem to attest that Hermas has been used for catechetical purposes, the two authors argue that ‘its dramatic attestation in early Christian world, and the proliferation of manuscripts of it in pre-Constantinian Egypt’ is explained by that Hermas is a catechetical text which includes a catechesis: ‘as Hermas has the mysteries of the world explained to him, so were they explained to the catechumens’ (203).

This is a very interesting proposal: Hermas was copied so much before the time of Constantine because it is an enhanced catechetical text. I would note that it points more to a how rather than why, with regard to answering the initial question (‘why were the works of Hermas so popular?’, at 191). Furthermore, while this seems to explain why we have so many Hermas papyri, I am not sure how it would work in a comparative perspective: since we have a comparable number of papyri from Hermas and the gospels, should this proposal be taken to imply that Hermas was used in catechetic education more than the gospels? – assuming that catechesis is not the main (or at least not the only reason) for which the gospels were copied. Few further notes: the authors find at the outset (rightfully) that the question of whether or not Hermas was canonical is ‘the wrong question’ (191); however, they seem to address it twice, first immediately after on the same page, and then on p. 197: ‘and the evidence strongly suggests it was not’ (canonical). The hand correcting χν to κν in Vis 2.2.8 is identified as the ca corrector on, that is of the 5-7th century, not the 12th (198). The article is followed by a very useful concise description of Hermas papyri before the time of Constantine.

Stanley E. Porter’ article – “The Babatha Archive, the Egyptian Papyri and their Implications for Study of the Greek New Testament” – completes the volume. This is philological comparison on several syntactical levels (conjunctions, thematized element ordering, person participation, mood forms and attitude, tense-form and aspect) of the language in three Greek corpora: the texts in the Babtha archive of papyri found in the Judean Desert, the Egyptian papyri and the New Testament. Porter concludes that despite some explainable variances between them, ‘the fundamental grammatical structure of the three corpora seems to be very similar, and reflective of the same linguistic code or system – apparently that of the koine Greek of the Roman period’ (237).

This engaging volume offers a rather wide and varied array if examples of early Christian manuscripts, hinting thus to the dynamics in which such artefacts were involved. Articles are uneven in both size and breadth, however the result is both user-friendly – thanks to the articles with an introductory emphasis – and grounded scholarly. It forms as such an excellent and useful resource for the student as well as for the experienced textual critic in Early Christianity.

Dan Batovici
University of St Andrews
db47 [ at ]


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