Saturday, January 20, 2018

Discussion of Canon and Text at the G3 Conference

Yesterday morning, at the G3 conference in Atlanta, GA, James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries and Michael Kruger of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte held a good discussion of the canon of scripture (mostly the New Testament canon), and often times their conversation drifted toward matters of textual criticism. I would encourage you to watch the video (link below; sorry, it’s currently available only on Facebook), and if you are interested, please comment on some of the more salient points. For example, around the 45:00 minute mark, there is a good discussion of the relationship between the canon and individual text forms of books, which will probably interest many of you. Also, I would be interested to know what you all think about the distinction between the “ontological” canon and the “exclusive” canon (Kruger) or White’s Canon 1 and Canon 2. If I remember correctly, this topic arose near the beginning of the discussion on the video. Here is the link to the video: The Canon (G3 conference).

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Justified Commitment Issues in Dating P.Egerton 2 + P.Köln VI 255 (and Other Literary Papyri)

P.Köln VI 255 (inv. 608) →
(Image courtesy of the Kölner Papyrussammlung website) 
One of the helpful trends in more recent palaeography has been marked by a more explicit recognition of virtually impossibility to assign narrow, ‘precise’ dates to undated literary manuscripts, lest one runs the risks of arbitrariness. As a result, scholars have preferred to assign broader date ranges, spanning hardly ever less than 100 years. I say ‘more explicit’ recognition, because there have always been voices that called for greater caution such as E. G. Turner or after him P. J. Parsons, but the problem does seem to be recognised much more widely nowadays (with Comfort’s problematic undertakings in this area being something of an exception). In my view a less helpful trend amongst recent scholarship has been an abandonment of classic palaeographical method, which is characterised by the comparative analysis of graphic background, style, and typology. For this reason (and despite occasional minor disagreements), I’ve found particularly the work of Pasquale Orsini to be of great pedagogical value. (N.B. Orsini is a pupil of Guglielmo Cavallo’s, probably the most important living palaeographer.) For methodological purposes, I’d recommend especially the article he co-wrote with Willy Clarysse (ETL 88 [2012] 443–74), which deals specifically with the palaeographical problems pertaining to the NT MSS. The comparative method they follow is neatly summarised in the following quote from the said piece:
Palaeographical comparison may lead to chronological results when an undated manuscript is compared to an explicitly dated or to a datable one ... Such parallels may lead to different results. They may: 1. connect an undated script with the same general graphic background to one or more dated and/or datable examples; 2. bring an undated manuscript into the context of a “stylistic class,” whose chronological range can be reconstructed thanks to various dated manuscripts; 3. link an undated script to a “style,” whose history and main distinctive aspects can be reconstructed thanks to dated and undated manuscripts; 4. connect an undated script with a “canonical” or “normative script” for which a system of internal rules and a history can be reconstructed; 5. attribute an undated manuscript to the hand of a scribe, known by other manuscripts, dated or undated. (p. 448)
I utilised a similar method in my work on P47, and assigned a date in 250–325 CE. (Incidentally, the range could be extended as far as to 350, if I allowed for a Coptic comparandum [P.Lond. VI 1920 (TM 44659)]). 

Especially owing to the prolific output of Brent Nongbri, a number of other NT MSS have received fresh scrutiny, often resulting in later assignments. On the one hand, I’ve not been inclined to agree with Nongbri’s take on P66 and P75: I think both articles begin to lose force precisely when he undertakes to suggest alternative (in some cases graphically inappropriate) parallel scripts with later dates. In general, however, I’ve found Nongbri’s call for caution—reflected in his broader (and typically later) suggested datings—helpful. 

So much for the NT MSS. But what about other early Christian papyri? For quite some time, I was bothered by how texts, particularly the Egerton Gospel (P.Egerton 2 + P. Köln VI 255 [LDAB 4736]), were repeatedly invoked as instances of ‘earliest’ Christian literature, all the while ignoring the same palaeographical difficulties loom large over them as well. So I took a closer look at the Egerton papyrus and became quite dissatisfied with its traditional dating (early second century, based solely on palaeography), while not being particularly impressed by the rationale for the alternative suggestion (early third century, based on the presence of apostrophe). As one does, I then spilled out my frustration in a Facebook status, upon which Lorne Zelyck PM-ed me (being more sensible, I reckon) expressing his own misgivings. Long story short, we then concocted an article (ZPE 204 [2017] 55–71), where we survey the history of the debate (there’s a good measure of nonsense involved, especially in the recent years) and suggest that, at the very least, the possible date should be extended to 150–250 CE. Interestingly, the closest parallels, in fact, come from the turn of the third century, hence it is plausible that our papyrus is of the early-third century date. But since that palaeographical inquiry cannot yield very narrow results, keeping the assigned dating broad seems the best way forward.

Moral of the story, then: When dating literary manuscripts, it is too firm a commitment that may be an issue.

[UPDATE:] I'm very pleased that Brent came across this post and swiftly wrote, as one might expect, a most eloquent response. In particular, he called for clarification on my own part concerning my specific objections to some of the comparanda he adduced in re-dating P66 and P75. This I did in a comment under this post as well as under his (in a slightly revised form). Brent then wrote another post where he clarified the differences between his argument in P66 and P75, which I found very helpful. We still disagree about the applicability of his comparandum in P66 and the nature of typological classification in the case of P75, but we are also very much on the same page concerning the need for caution in dating manuscripts palaeographically as well as the limits of such undertaking. Above all, it was so refreshing to have such an amicable back-and-forth whose outcome is, as it seems to me, greater clarity and understanding of each other's views. Thanks very much, Brent!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Poll: Text as Corollary of Canon

Let’s take a poll on this statement from Carl E. Armerding: “Moreover, the development of an authoritative text is a natural corollary to an authoritative list of books.”*

Is the development of an authoritative text a natural corollary to an authoritative list of books?

*The Old Testament and Criticism, 101

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Peer-reviewing the peer review—why not?

The seeming dullness of our subject area inevitably limits the number of books a typical text-critic writes in their lifetime. Article-writing, then, is one of the fundamental ways in which we unleash our groundbreaking ideas onto unsuspecting scholarly public. Fundamental to scholarly publishing is the notion of peer-review, and for a good reason. Having a layer (or two) of formal feedback before one’s work goes to print has a great potential to improve the work and eliminate, or minimise the number of, embarrassing errors (been there, done that). But peer-review often takes bizarrely long: anywhere from 2 (which is great) to 12 (which is unreasonable) months. Sometimes the review process is not very transparent. And some journals don’t care to send any formal feedback to the author, apart from the letter of acceptance and rejection. I have a handful of examples for each of the above, but won’t mention any names. The good news is that there now seems to be a formal tool to review the way journals review our articles and it’s called SciRev. I’d encourage all of you with publishing (or at least submitting) experience to register for free and write a few reviews; it’s a matter of filling out a simple questionnaire, but I think it’s well worth the 15 or so minutes of your time.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Trismegistos Words: New Tool for seaching Documentary Papyri

There is a new tool in town for searching morphological analysis of 5 million words in the Duke Database of Ducmentary Papyri. I’ve only been able to have a brief play around so far (on αὐθεντέω which has only five occurrences [4 of which are very late]), but I thought you might be interested to hear about this and try it out.
Trismegistos is pleased to announce a new database: TM Words ( It contains the just under 5 million words contained in the Duke Database of Documentary Papyri. The new database is the result of work by Alek Keersmaekers, who started from the XML-version available on GitHub on 19 September 2016. He used a stochastic machine-learning approach for tokenisation, part-of-speech-tagging and lemmatization [I had to look all of these up too ;-)]. The accuracy is about 95%, which seems high, but also means that there are still about 250,000 errors of morphological interpretation in the database, some of which very obvious for humans. We would be very grateful if you would communicate errors you notice by giving us a ’thumbs-down’ and clicking the 👎 icon after each attestation. On the basis of that feedback we can improve the database further.

We have made the online version as user-friendly as possible, with many possibilities for filtering and automated weighed-dates charts. This obviously is very demanding for our server, and we hope that the system won’t crash as a result. In any case for some large datasets (very common words) you may need to wait half a minute or more.

A special feature is the possibility to look for attestations of words in specific genres of texts. This is only possible through cooperation with Joanne Stolk, who has undertaken a rough classification in the margin of her work on TM Text Irregularities.

Finally: all of this is only possible thanks to the existence of the DDbDP and In the future we hope to work together with them to share all information and make the lemmatisation available there as well. This will be a non-trivial matter, because of the dynamic nature of the text in the DDbDP. Nevertheless it is an urgently needed effort to prevent the creation of multiple versions of the same text. For that reason we will share all corrections as much as possible, and new readings should of course continue to be entered through the Papyrological Editor.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Nothing new under the (skeptical) sun

The Swiss Protestant divine,
Louis Gaussen (1790–1863) 
Sometimes it’s useful to remember that most of objections to the Bible have been raised before. It provides some perspective, especially to those just made aware of some sensational objection and now feel they’ve been duped or had things hidden from them. In fact, most criticisms of the Bible have been raised (and answered) long before we came along.

Today I found one pertinent to this blog from a 160 years ago that bears remarkable similarity to a now well-known criticism leveled in our day.
From 2005: “What good is it to say that the auographs (i.e., the originals) were inspired? We don’t have the originals! We have only error-ridden copies, and the vast majority of these are centuries removed from the originals and different from them, evidently, in thousands of ways.” (Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, 7)
From 1841: “What matters to me (it would have been said [by one objecting to the Bible’s inspiration]), the assurance that the first text has been dictated by God, eighteen hundred years ago, if I have no longer the assurance that the manuscripts of our libraries contain it in its purity; and if it be true (as we are assured,) that the variations of these ancient transcripts are at least in number, thirty thousand?” (François Samuel Robert Louis Gaussen, Theopneustia: The Plenary Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, 86.)
Noting the similarity does not answer the objection, of course. For that, you’ll have to read more of Gaussen’s book linked above. But for some, just knowing that an objection is not new and earth-shattering can help calm a person down.

Why Westcott and Hort gave special treatment to the woman caught in adultery

Not long ago, we discussed on the blog whether or not the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 7.53–8.11) should be read and taught as Scripture. I remain somewhat torn myself though I lean toward a negative answer. Regardless of that larger question, one of the issues that came up in the discussion was whether Mark 16.9–20 and John 7.53–8.11 raise distinct canonical questions that are not warranted for other widely-attested variant texts like John 5.4.

The Pericope Adulterae
in Westcott and Hort’s GNT
Regarding this question, I was intrigued by how Hort explained his and Westcott’s unique handling of the Pericope in their edition. As you may know, they printed it in double brackets just like Mark 16.9–20 but then went a step further by placing it after John’s Gospel with its own separate heading. (Note, however, that it is not listed in the table of contents.)

In a letter to his good friend A. A. Vansittart dated May 4, 1865, Hort explained this decision as follows:
I firmly adhere to the Pericope so treated, though conscious that it may cause scandal. Let me repeat more clearly than before. This is one of many passages which belong in a sense to the New Testament, and which we feel we cannot expel from it, and yet which do not belong to the originals of its component books. The other such passages or clauses we leave (in at least one case, Mt 27.49b we insert) in their proper places for two reasons: those passages could not stand independently from their very nature, and the contexts are little or not at all injured by the interpolation, which of course is plainly marked. Here both conditions are reversed: the Pericope can very well stand by itself, and St John’s narrative is miserably interrupted by its insertion. To put it in the appendix would be to expel it from the New Testament: we can therefore only place it as an omitted chapter of the ΕΥΑΓΓΕΛΙΟΝ. It will, I trust, like the other passages stand within [[ ]]⟦ ⟧.
Thus, Hort explains why the Pericope could neither be expelled from the NT altogether but could and should be left out of the Gospel according to John proper, even with its double brackets. Hort, of course, was well aware that this might cause scandal which itself is interesting given that on theological matters, the two editors typically eschewed public controversy.