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Kraus, Thomas J., and Tobias Nicklas [Eds.]
Early Christian Manuscripts. Examples of Applied Method and Approach.
Leiden/Boston: Brill 2010. XX, 243 S. m. Abb. u. Tab. gr.8° = Texts and Editions for New Testament Study, 5. Geb. EUR 99,00. ISBN 978-90-04-18265-3.
Larry W. Hurtado
Within the last decade or so there has been a growing emphasis on early Christian manuscripts as artifacts of ancient Christianity that provide valuable data for historical analysis. Of course, early manuscripts of New Testament writings have been studied eagerly by textual critics for their witness to the early transmission of these texts. But in recent years a growing number of scholars have emphasized the value of early Christian manuscripts for additional and wider historical questions. Beyond the wording of the texts that they contain, there are also various physical and visual features of manuscripts that reflect, for example, the settings in which they were prepared and in which they were intended to be used. For this »artifact« approach, all early Christian manuscripts are relevant, whatever the texts that they record, New Testament, Old Testament, extra-canonical texts, or »documentary« texts such as letters.
Prominent among the scholars making this emphasis are Kraus and Nicklas, and this valuable collection of studies represents an-other of their contributions. Following on from their editing of a previous multi-author volume, New Testament Manuscripts: Their Texts and Their World (TENT 2; Leiden: Brill, 2006), the book under review here comprises nine substantial studies that demonstrate scholarly analysis of manuscripts and also are solid contributions to the study of the manuscripts addressed.
Thomas Kraus explains the difficulties and necessity of reconstructing the texts of fragmentary manuscripts, noting the dangers and limitations in- volved. It is commendable that Kraus roots his discussion solidly by focusing on examples of fragmentary manuscripts containing known and unidentified texts. One of Kraus’s emphases is that scholars who use reconstructed texts must make a distinction between what is actually preserved and visible in a manuscript and the proposed restorations of texts by editors of manuscripts.
Rachel Yuen-Collingridge traces scholarly efforts to identify the text in P. Egerton 2. Though the text is badly mutilated, this has not prevented some scholars from confidently assigning it to Origen. Yuen-Collingridge ably shows, however, that this confidence is unjustified, and she urges that »we may gain far more through ambivalence, through withholding opinion and letting the papyrus speak, than by hunting for Origen in every lacuma« (57).
Paul Foster offers an exemplary demonstration of a full analysis of an ancient manuscript in his discussion of P. Oxyrhynchus 1224, an unknown gospel-like text. Beginning with reviewing the discovery of the manuscript (by Grenfell and Hunt, early 20th century), Foster then gives a detailed codicological and palaeographical study, a transcription and translation, commentary, and proposals on the date and social setting of the manuscript in early Christianity.
Lincoln Blumell engages the scholarly proposal that P.Oxyrhynchus 3057 may be the earliest extant Christian letter, casting considerable doubt on the claim. At the very least, he unquestionably shows that there is no persuasive basis for taking the manuscript as specifically Christian.
John Granger Cook challenges the claim that P.Yale I 3 (= P50, portions of Acts 8 and 10) is an ancient Christian amulet. Noting that the main basis for the claim is that the manuscript bears the marks of having been folded, Cook rightly notes that there are various reasons for the folding of manuscripts in antiquity, and that there is, thus, scant basis for taking this item as an amulet. Instead, he proposes, it may well have been notes for a preacher or Christian traveler.
Don Barker queries the use of two other fragments of manuscripts containing portions of New Testament writings, P91 (Acts) and P23 (James), as well as P.Oxyrhynchus 407 (a sheet containing a prayer). On the basis of his careful observations, Barker judges that it is unwise to label them amulets, proposing instead that they should be grouped with other manuscripts that appear to have been used in various ways by individuals, e. g., as aide de mémoire or for devotional purposes. Barker suggests Lieblingstexte as a general category. His essay concludes with a table of early Christian texts (through the fourth century) that have been considered as amulets, and a table of second and third-century Christian and non-Christian codices from Oxyrhynchus.
Theodore de Bruyn, who is conducting a larger project on »the Christianization of the production and the use of amulets in Late Antique Egypt« discusses criteria used in classifying items as amulets and offers a preliminary list of such items. These include biblical texts written on papyrus, parchment, ostraca, and tablets. He helpfully classifies items as »certain«, »probable«, »possible« and »unlikely« and in tables at the end of his essay gives a detailed listing of items so classified, and a table giving references to standard catalogues in which the items are also listed.
Malcolm Choat and Yuen-Collingridge give a particularly useful study of pre-Constantinian manuscripts of Shepherd of Hermas. Among Christian texts, Hermas is exceeded in the number of extant copies only by the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Matthew, indicative of its popularity in the early centuries. The manuscripts support the view that the several sections of Hermas circulated separately in this earliest period. Demurring from the question of whether it was considered canonical, they emphasize instead indications that Hermas was used frequently in catechesis. Their study includes tables of pre-Constantinian and post-Constantinian MSS of Hermas, and a descriptive catalogue of pre-Constantinian copies.
Stanley Porter probes the question of how the Greek of the New Testament compares with wider Koine Greek, drawing upon non-Christian papyri of the time, and the Babatha archive in particular (a cache of 36 documents found in the Cave of Letters in Judea). Porter’s detailed analysis of various syntactical features (e. g., use of conjunctions, word-order, and various verb forms) leads to the conclusion that »the fundamental grammatical structure« reflected in the Greek New Testament, non-Christian papyri from Egypt, and the Babatha archive »seems to be very similar« and so the New Testament reflects »the koine Greek of the Roman period« (237).
The obvious competence of the contributors, the rich provision of data, and the clarity of their discussions make this a highly valuable volume for anyone interested in the early Christian centuries. Individually, the contributions each represent worthy studies. Collectively, they make this a volume that should be held by any re-search library in the field. There are a few unfortunate typos, how-ever: »Christopher E. Hill« (14) should be »Charles E. Hill«; »recto« (30, lines 11–12) should be »verso«; for »corps« (35) read »corpse«; »that« (200, next to last line) should be »than«; and »36 Greek documents« (216) should be »26 Greek documents«. In addition, the key to classification of the writing style of manuscripts at the bottom of the table on p. 142 should list options as »1, 2, and 3«. An index of manuscripts, biblical and extra-canonical texts, and subjects completes this commendable volume.