Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Canon as an Authoritative List of Books or a List of Authoritative Books?

There has been some good discussion of canon on the blog of late, and as usual, the matter of the meaning of canon arises. Does “canon” apply to particular text forms of books (e.g. the Gospel of Mark with or without the longer ending; or the longer and shorter versions of Daniel)? Note the results of the recent poll here. Should we translate the term “canon” as “list” and describe books as “listical” rather than canonical (per Peter Williams)? Does canon refer to an authoritative list of books or to a list of authoritative books (à la Bruce Metzger)? What is the relationship between the ontological canon and exclusive/historical canons?

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 (www.trismegistos.org/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 papyri.info. 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.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Applying CT scans to a Coptic manuscript of Acts

A few years ago I blogged about the work of W. Brent Seales, a computer scientist at the University of Kentucky, who has found a way to read manuscript texts using CT scans. Back in 2015 he used it to read the 6th century Ein Gedi scroll of Leviticus.

Morgan Library MS M.910. (Photo by Nicole Craine for NYT)
Now he is applying it to a New Testament manuscript, this one being Morgan Library MS M.910 which is a Coptic codex of Acts that is too fragile to open. The New York Times reports the details here and says Seales and his team hope to have readable text later this month.
Dr. Seales has developed software that can model the surface of a contorted piece of papyrus or parchment from X-ray data and then derive a legible text by assigning letters to their proper surface.
The site for the Morgan Library doesn’t give a date for the manuscript, but the Times article says it was written sometime between 400 and 600 A.D. From the Morgan Library site we learn this too:
According to Petersen, “the text ... is substantially that of the standard Sahidic version found in the Beatty codex and also ... [M.664B.8] ... The present new text differs from the published texts only in a few individual spellings ... The recension of the text is the ‘Alexandrian’ one, which eventually supplanted a variety of different readings which were current in Egypt before the time of Origen.”
I wonder if any of our Coptologist readers or bloggers can tell us more about this codex. If the dates are 400–600, it will probably not shed a great deal of light on canonicity as the Times suggests, but this is still very exciting technology.

Friday, January 05, 2018

A simpler yearly Bible reading plan

I’m not one for new year’s resolutions, but I do like to set concrete goals from time to time. One that I started several years ago was to read through my Greek New Testament at least once a year. I had tried before but failed. One reason is that other yearly reading plans are based on chapters (e.g., Denny Burk’s and Lee Irons’s).

The problem with chapters is that the lengths are all over the place. Just compare Matt 27 with Matt 28 and you’ll see what I mean. I always found it discouraging to get through a short chapter and then face one two or three times longer the very next day. Besides the mental hurdle, it can be hard to fit your reading into your daily schedule.

So, I have come up with something that works much better for me. Instead of chapters, I now count the pages in my preferred edition, divide by 300, and then read that number of pages each day. Using 300 gives me some room for missed days or gets me ahead if I stay on track.

By doing my reading by the page, I get into a nice, maintainable rhythm. It also keeps me from giving up when I get behind since its really easy to adjust. If October hits and I’ve missed 40 days already, I just count the pages left and divide by the number of days left in the year. This year I got stuck after Acts because of class prep but the last two years it’s worked great. I had to increase my rate at the end each time, but I made it all the way through on time.

This simple per-page method also works great if you’re switching to a new bible for the year (which I recommend doing). For the new THGNT, for example, it comes out to just over a page and half per day. Read two a day and you’ll be way ahead come the fall. For the RP2005, it’s just a little more. For N28, you’re looking at about three pages per day. If you’re just finishing your first year of Greek, pick something you find manageable like the Gospels or get a reader’s edition, do the same math, and you’ll be on your way.

As you can see, the per-page method is simple and flexible. It works with any Bible in any language. So give it a try. It’s not too late to start.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Summer Course in Papyrology


The Dept. of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art and Ideas, University of Oslo and the Papyrus Collection of the University of Oslo Library invite applications for participation in the summer course in Papyrology to take place in Oslo 18–22 June 2018. The course gives 5 ECTS credit points. Coursework includes lectures, supervised work with papyri from the collection, and a written assignment (see details below). The focus will be on Greek and Coptic papyrology in keeping with the holdings of the Oslo collection.

The course is designed for advanced bachelor, master, and early PhD students of Classics, Ancient History, Egyptology and related subjects. Participants will hear lectures on the contents and classification of papyri, editorial method, and the socio-historical and linguistic context of papyri from Egypt from Hellenistic times to late Antiquity. They will also work with an unpublished papyrus (Greek or Coptic depending on their linguistic competence), the edition of which constitutes the written assignment (work with the edition will begin in Oslo under supervision and will be continued after the course; if the academic quality of the submitted work is satisfactory, a revised version of the edition may be included in forthcoming volumes of Oslo papyri). A session will be dedicated to the basics of papyrus conservation and will be followed by practical exercises in papyrus conservation.


  • Anastasia Maravela (University of Oslo)
  • Joanne Vera Stolk (University of Oslo/Ghent University)
  • Ágnes Tothné Mihálykó (University of Oslo)
  • Jens Mangerud (University of Oslo)
  • Jörg Graf (Universitätsbibliothek Leipzig)
  • Jenny Cromwell (University of Copenhagen)
Formal requirements: a minimum of 30 ECTS credits in ancient Greek or an introductory course in the Coptic language. Full participation in the lectures and the supervised work is required to be eligible to submit the written assignment and receive the creditation.

Please submit your application by March 1st, 2018 to anastasia.maravela@ifikk.uio.no

The application should include:
  • A letter of motivation (including the preference for working with a Greek or a Coptic papyrus)
  • CV including relevant exam results
  • A letter of recommendation by an academic teacher/tutor, which describes the candidate's academic record, knowledge of the relevant language (Greek and/or Coptic) and previous acquaintance with papyrology.


  • There is no course fee. 
  • Course materials will be sent to successful applicants in electronic form.
  • Accommodation in Oslo will be covered for successful applicants.
  • Participants must pay their travel expenses.

The organisers

Anastasia Maravela Joanne Stolk Ágnes T. Mihálykó

Professor of Ancient Greek/ Co-editor of Symbolae Osloenses
Dept. of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art and Ideas
University of Oslo
Pb. 1020 Blindern
0315 Oslo

Website: http://www.hf.uio.no/ifikk/english/people/aca/classics/tenured/anastasm/