Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christian Beginnings and the Dead Sea Scrolls

I finally purchased (and received in the mail) Christian Beginnings and the Dead Sea Scrolls ed. John J. Collins and Craig A. Evans. I just had to share my excitement over it, especially noticing an essay on John and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Those of you who know me should have no doubts about my fascination with the relationship between the Gospel of John and the Dead Sea texts. Anyway, online accompanying the book is an interview with Evans:

PS: I actually received two other books this week: The Historical Jesus: Five Views ed. Beilby and Eddy; What Saint Paul Really Said N.T. Wright and on its way is Thiede's Jesus Man or Myth? (Which I hope isn't just a rehash of his cave 7 theory.)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Scribal Habits as Christological Indicators of Early Christian Diversity

In 1934 with the publication of Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei im ältesten Christentum (tr. Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity ) Walter Bauer set into motion a new approach to understanding the relationship between orthodoxy and heresy in the early church.  Although problematic in many respects, this legacy has been continued to this day in a variety of fields. Two notable commentators following the legacy of Bauer would be Bart Ehrman (e.g. Orthodox Corruption of Scripture; Lost Christianities; as well as a short rehash in Jesus Interrupted.) as well as Helmut Koester. These scholars have in some way or another, utilised early Christian literary sources as indicators of Christian diversity. With this in mind, it is a contention of mine that an approach to early Christianity can be greatly complimented through the study of early scribal habits. In particular, an evaluation of textual corruptions and the use of features such as the nomina sacra may be used to tweak a Christological model to assist our understanding of Christian diversity.

For example, text critical analysis of New Testament manuscripts and early patristic citations has been the basis for Ehrman’s reconstruction of Christianity. Ehrman’s thesis argues that early Christological controversies are reflected in corruptions of the NT texts by overzealous proto-orthodox scribes.[1] For example, in Luke 3:22 Ehrman conjectures an original adoptionist reading in the post-baptismal discourse of God, declaring “today I have begotten you” as opposed to “with you I am well pleased.”[2] Although Ehrman's  preferred adoptionist reading does not find much support,[3] it has opened up a new way of understanding the early Christian artifacts as an indicator of orthodoxy and heresy. Similarly, text critical analysis has been utilised by Ben Witherington in noting “a concerted effort by some part of the Church, perhaps as early as the late first century or beginning of the second, to tone down texts ...that indicated that women played an important and prominent part in the early days of the Christian community.”[4]

In light of the possibilities of examining the manuscripts, I propose that the development of the nomina sacra may be used in the region of Egypt. That is, the use of nomina sacra act as a Christological indicator that may be used to demonstrate an early and possibly dominant proto-orthodox community.

Although the nomina sacra is used in both literary and documentary papyri[5] the focus of this examination will be on the use in early literary works. The origins of the nomina sacra, although contested, show an awareness of both Graeco-Roman and Jewish scribal traditions. However, it would be fair to argue that the original abbreviation of the divine names appear to be tied to the Jewish scribal treatment of the divine name in the indisputably Greek biblical manuscripts of Jewish provenance.[6] Within the Jewish scribal tradition, the Tetragrammaton was often distinguished from the rest of the text.[7] For example, in P.Oxy. 3522 of Job 42, the Tetragrammaton is distinguished through the use of Paleo-Hebrew characters despite a Greek text.[8]  On this basis, as well as the consistent and early use, Roberts has found favour in the argument that the nomina sacra came to Egypt through “Jewish Christians from Palestine[9] citing synagogue  practices as the best explanation of such a consistent, widespread and early use.[10]

Although by the Byzantine period around fifteen words came to frequently be treated as nomina sacra by Christian scribes, the significance of the early scribal habits should not be overlooked.[11] That is, noting that the earliest and most consistently abbreviated names were θεος, κυριος, χριστος and ιησους. [12] Similarly, a number of scholars have argued that the nomina sacra was present in the earliest Christian literary manuscript, P52, for example.[13]

With this in mind, what can we learn about early Christian diversity? By appealing to a Christological model for defining sectarian Christianity, a number of possible directions can be taken. First of all it may be said that this demonstrates a form of early Jewish and proto-orthodox devotion to Jesus which has been coined “binitarian.”[14] Arguably, the consistent use of the scribal habit of Jesus/Christ with Lord/God[15] demonstrates both a reverence of YHWH and the high Christology of Jesus; as well as a divine equation of both. The implications of this on the models of Bauer and Koester include early evidence of proto-orthodox Christological expression in Egypt. Similarly, the exaltation of YHWH as an early scribal habit in Egypt would count in favour of proto-orthodox and Jewish Christianity as opposed to Marcionite leaning interpretation of scripture, or Gnostic demiurge tendancies.

Further Notes:

  • For an evaluation of Bauer's model see Robinson, Thomas A. The Bauer Thesis Examined : The Geography of Heresy in the Early Christian Church, Studies in the Bible and Early Christianity.
  • Sorry if everything I said was wrong, utterly flawed and incoherent (having been written between 11pm-1am today).

[1] Ehrman (1989). The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.
[2] Ibid. 49.; Idem (2005) Misquoting Jesus. 159.
[3] For example, the reading relies heavily on the Western text type while also raising questions about Markan priority. Metzger in A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament grants the Alexandrian and Byzantine reading a “B” rating, stating, “The Western reading, “This day I have begotten thee,” which was widely current during the first three centuries, appears to be secondary, derived from Ps 2.7.”
[4] Witherington, 'The Anti-Feminist Tendencies of the 'Western' Text in Acts', Journal of Biblical Literature (103.1.82), (March 1984).
[5] E.g. P.Congr. 15.20 III/IV cf.
[6] For a list of Greek biblical manuscripts generally held to be of Jewish provenance see the compilation by Robert Kraft:
[7] Roberts (1977), Manuscript, Society and Belief in Early Christian Egypt. 47.
[8] This is evident in the image:
[9] Roberts (1977), Manuscript, Society and Belief in Early Christian Egypt. 45.
[10] Roberts (1977), Manuscript, Society and Belief in Early Christian Egypt. 45-46.
[11] Hurtado (2005). The Earliest Christian Artifacts. 96-97.
[12] Hurtado (2005). The Earliest Christian Artifacts. 96-97.
[13] Charles E. Hill, "Did the Scribe of P52 Use the Nomina Sacra? Another Look," NTS 48 (2002): 587-92.
[14] E.g. Hurtado (2005), How on Earth did Jesus Become a God?; Idem, (2003). Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. 627. It should be noted that Hurtado’s use of binitarianism refers to cultic devotion, not precluding the Trinitarian belief formulated by later orthodox Christianity.
[15] Although, the sufficient ambiguity of the use of kyrios referring to both Jesus and YHWH in the Christian writings should be noted. That said, however, it should be noted that the kyrios scribal habit is present in Christian OT texts.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are = Horrible

It really was. No plot, no point. The moral of the story seems to be that you are depressed, selfish and angry - so are these fictional imaginative creatures - and they will continue to be depressed, selfish and angry. I was expecting some awesome happy children's movie where some kid went on some awesome journey into imagination land.

Instead, I was left confused, wondering whether it was time for me to off myself. I feel sorry for the elderly lady in the cinema,  wondering if she has lost the plot in old age when in actual fact it was just an utterly ridiculous film.

If I wanted to see a kid worry about the sun collapsing and life forever ending I would have watched 2012.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I just finished reading Maurice Casey's An Aramaic Approach to Q. It was a great book which I recommend to anyone interested in Q and an Aramaic approach to the gospels and sources. I had personally let my thoughts wander into Aramaic translations explaining the variants but never went into it. Other than having reservations about the extent of the conjectures, and the fact I don't really have the competency in Aramaic to test everything said, I was impressed. I think I'll be getting my hands on his Aramaic Sources of Mark's Gospel. (I wrote something on this not too long ago, apparently not on this blog, and was very disappointed to read in Raymond Brown's Intro to the NT that he didn't believe there was any evidence of an Aramaic background in Mark!?)

Anyway, I know, not much of a post. However, over the next few days I'll try and finish off a review.