Some prequels of Hurtado's
Justin Martyr and the Gospels
September 1, 2017
At a conference earlier this week in Málaga, one of the main sessions was on Justin Martyr, and the lecturer was asked about Justin’s knowledge and use of NT writings. The lecturer responded by rather firmly urging that there is scant evidence that Justin knew the NT Gospels, emphasizing that Justin’s numerous references to the “memoirs [ἀπομνημονεύματα] of the apostles” might very well have designated other kinds of texts instead. I’ll make several observations that lead me to differ ...
https://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2017 ... e-gospels/
Is a Paradigm Shift Now Called for?
September 20, 2017
... the shift in question is from an older confident assumption that the early period of the copying of texts in Christian circles was “wild” and chaotic, followed then by a change to a stable and more fixed copying, typically linked to a “recension.” As I noted in an earlier posting (here), by the end of the 19th century scholars often posited such a major recension of NT writings sometime in/after the 4th century CE. This seemed intuitively cogent because in the 4th century we have monarchical bishops able to exercise to control over teaching and practices, the emergence of Christian scriptoria, and, by the end of the century, the emergence of a fixed/closed NT canon.
But the discovery of early NT papyri, initially the Chester Beatty papyri, but then still more remarkably P75 and also P66, put that theory in doubt (among those who followed the data). For especially in P75 (codex containing large portions of Luke and John, dated ca. 175-250 CE) we have a text that is almost exactly that of Codex Vaticanus (the 4th century codex that had earlier been posited as the result of that supposed 4th century recension). So, clearly, the Vaticanus-type text of the NT writings wasn’t the result of a 4th century recension!
The early (2nd/3rd century CE) papyri do show the predictable types of variants that characterize the manual transmission of texts, and exhibit a certain variety in copyist skills and the influence also of readers. But we also have examples of fairly exact copying (again, e.g., P75), and scrupulous concern to correct copying errors (e.g., P66).
So, then the “recension paradigm” was adjusted to posit that it happened earlier, sometime in the second century CE. This produced a picture in which supposedly from ca. 70-150 CE or so, copying was “wild” and chaotic, and the comparative stability in all our 2nd/3rd century NT papyri was the product of this re-dated recension ...
The “evidence” of the supposedly early “wild” copying of NT writings (prior to the late 2nd century) was the way that early Christian writers such as Justin Martyr sometimes use NT writings, appearing to cite them in wording that varies (sometimes markedly) from even our earliest copies. But, for one thing, this kind of argument fails to take account of the very different practices followed in citing and using texts in the Roman era, compared with the practices followed in copying texts. For ancient writers often (typically?) cited texts rather freely, often re-wording them for effect, which seems to have been regarded as both acceptable and even clever of them. Moreover, well after the supposed stabilization of NT writings and the formation of a NT canon, early Christian writers continued to use these texts with striking flexibility and freedom, which makes it a demanding task to use citations in these writers in NT textual criticism. So, the “free” citation of texts wasn’t confined to the early second century, and so isn’t evidence that the texts cited were handled loosely in copying them.
But if we focus on the only direct evidence of how texts were copied ̶ ancient copies of them, surely — we get the sense that copyists . . . copied. Sometimes carefully, sometimes less so. Sometimes skilfully, sometimes less so. It wasn’t their job, however, to make major changes to texts.
In my essay cited already on the NT in the second century I pointed to the social force upon those writings that were frequently read in churches. This made these texts “corporate property” of circles of believers, and thus made major changes in them less likely. In a forthcoming book that I’ve blogged on previously (here), Brian Wright shows how widespread the “communal” reading of texts was in the wider environment of the first and second centuries, and gives evidence that this practice also featured in early Christian circles. The effect of Wright’s study is to show that the social force of repeated corporate reading that curbed major changes in texts was likely active already in the first century and early second century (the time in which NT writings were supposedly handled in a “wild” manner).
In short, it is time for us to consider whether the notion (seemingly cherished by some) that there was an initial period of “wild” handling of writings that later became part of the NT, followed by a supposed fixing of texts sometime in the latter part of the 2nd century, now should be laid aside in favour of a “paradigm” that more adequately reflects the evidence. Scholars yield long-held notions reluctantly, often striving to salvage them. That’s not wrong, for new ideas should be critically examined. But there come times when even cherished notions should be set aside, when, instead of repeating dubious mantras we should boldly consider a new “paradigm.” That time has probably come with reference to the early transmission of Christian texts.
https://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2017 ... alled-for/
Patristic Citations . . . Encore
September 25, 2017
In a previous posting I complained that some scholars point to the use of biblical texts in early figures such as Justin Martyr as evidence that these biblical texts were circulating in a very “loose” way, with “wild” variations in the copies at that time ...
https://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2017 ... ns-encore/
A debate via blog-posts begins here
Fred Wisse on Early Textual Transmission
4 April 2018
In a previous post
, I [the late Larry Hurtado]
asked if we need a revised/new paradigm for portraying the earliest transmission of NT writings. In support of this, I’ve also drawn attention to the newly-published monograph by Lonnie Bell here
, which provides a close analysis of the earliest papyri of the Gospel of John.
An earlier voice advocating a similar position is Frederik Wisse (Emeritus Professor, McGill University) in an essay published in 1989: “The Nature and Purpose of Redactional Changes in Early Christian Texts: The Canonical Gospels,” in Gospel Traditions in the Second Century: Origins, Recensions, Text and Transmission
, ed. William L. Petersen (Notre Dame/London: University of Notre Dame Press,
1989), 39-53. I provide a few choice quotations from his incisive discussion.
https://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2018 ... nsmission/
Early Christian Textual Transmission, Part 1
5 April 2018
Recently on his blog Larry Hurtado has been reflecting on issues of textual stability and fluidity of early Christian manuscripts. It’s an interesting question to ponder, but as Larry notes, assertions in either direction are tricky because just about everyone agrees that when it comes to the documents of the New Testament, we simply don’t have manuscripts from the very earliest period of transmission. Larry mentions a recently published doctoral dissertation that approaches the problem in relation to the Gospel According to John by comparing the texts of manuscripts that have traditionally been thought to be the earliest extensive manuscripts of this gospel, such as P.Bodmer II and P.Bodmer XIV-XV. It has been claimed that both of these manuscripts could date from as early as the second century, although I’ve argued there are good reasons to suspect that they are instead products of the fourth century. So that would still place us at a distance of some two to three centuries from the time when most scholars think the documents that would become the New Testament were likely written. Until the question of the dates of the manuscripts is placed on firmer grounds, it seems to me that this type of inquiry will have limited validity in helping us think about the earliest period of textual transmission.
So, in what other ways might we shed light on the question? I’d like to bring a couple additional pieces of data into the discussion. One has to do with the transmission of some classical texts, but I’ll tackle that in another post. The point I want to address here is what is meant by “redaction” in these discussions. Take the opening quote from Frederik Wisse that Larry cites: “It is widely taken for granted in biblical scholarship that early Christian texts were extensively redacted during the first century of their transmission…”
Is this point really “taken for granted”? It seems to me to have been extensively argued by scholars who have worked on, eg., the synoptic problem. These scholars have demonstrated exhaustively to the satisfaction of most sober observers that the writers of the Gospel According to Matthew and the Gospel According to Luke “redacted” the Gospel According to Mark. And this “redaction” is generally agreed to have taken place not just in the second century but already in the first century (at least in the case of the Gospel According to Matthew).
But I would guess that this is not exactly what Wisse meant in speaking of “redaction” in this context. I suspect he was speaking more specifically about manuscripts of a particular work being shortened, supplemented, or otherwise edited (although it’s interesting that he used the word “texts” rather than “manuscripts” in the quotation). But I actually think this ambiguity helps us sharpen the question of textual stability. It forces us to decide when something counts as “a text” and how we discern a copy of this same text on the one hand from what we judge to be a different work that has incorporated this text on the other hand. In the 2017 Journal for the Study of the New Testament, there was a highly stimulating article by Matthew Larsen that addressed exactly this point, "Accidental Publication, Unfinished Texts and the Traditional Goals of New Testament Textual Criticism."
Larsen surveyed a wide range of ancient evidence to show that in the age before the printing press, texts became public in a variety of ways, and the notion of the “final” or “authoritative” version of a text is actually surprisingly tough to pin down. This observation has important consequences: “The prevalence of accidental publication, stolen texts and author variants simultaneously identifies and destabilizes one of the foundational assumptions of traditional textual criticism: without the assumption of a text existing in a final form, the boundaries between text, form and redaction criticism fall apart.”
It’s a jarring statement, but when I pause to consider it, it makes a great deal of sense, especially when thinking about the gospels. Other ancient texts bearing a level of similarity equal to that between the Gospel According to Mark and the Gospel According to Matthew would in all likelihood probably just be called the Short Recension of X and the Long Recension of X. Larsen’s work has made me rethink a number of my own assumptions about early Christian textual transmission
, and so, I am inclined to agree with Larry that a paradigm shift is in the works, but I think I see this shift happening in a somewhat different way from what Larry envisions.
https://brentnongbri.com/2018/04/05/ear ... on-part-1/
Which New Paradigm?
7 April 2018
In a recent blog posting, Brent Nongbri takes issue with my postings advocating a new paradigm in the study of earliest textual transmission of Christian texts such as the Gospels. Brent promises further postings, which I’ll look forward to with interest. But, essentially, he seems to me to advocate a version of the one that I think needs replacing.
I should also note that, contrary to what Brent seems to assume, the case laid out in the recently published monograph by Lonnie Bell, The Early Textual Transmission of John: Stability and Fluidity in Its Second and Third Century Greek Manuscripts
, NTTSD, no. 54 (Leiden: Brill, 2018) doesn’t actually stand or fall on the palaeographical dating of P66 or P75. Bell’s study instead bases itself on the full number of extant portions of 2nd and 3rd century manuscripts of G
John (which number about 17). His aim was to assess the extent and nature of textual variation in this pool of data. Colleagues will have to read the study before making judgments about it.
Nongbri refers to a recent journal article by Matthew D. C. Larsen, “Accidental Publication, Unfinished Texts and the Traditional Goals of New Testament Textual Criticism,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament
39.4 (2017): 362-87. Nongbri seems to think that it points persuasively in the direction of a very different paradigm, but I’m not so sure. The article is an advance notice on Larsen’s forthcoming monograph, and so I look forward to studying it in due course. But, as for the journal article itself, I find it more ambitious than persuasive. I’ll sketch briefly my reasons.
The first (and major) portions of the article are given over to a survey of textual practices that I should have thought were already familiar to scholars in ancient textual studies. Some Roman-era authors alleged unauthorized publication of their works by others (which may or may not be a literary topos used by some authors of the day). We also knew that some authors and groups produced revised versions of their literary works.
Indeed, in NT studies these ideas have been drawn upon, for example, in proposals about a “proto-Mark” or “proto-Luke.” Likewise, it is pretty clear that two or three editions of Paul’s epistle to the Romans circulated (Harry Y. Gamble, The Textual History of the Letter to the Romans
, SD 42 [Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977]). In short, I don’t think that NT textual critics are quite as naive in these matters as Larsen seems to allege.
Larsen contends, however, that these phenomena make the traditional practice and aims of textual criticism invalid; but I fail to see why. Some of the phenomena he cites seem to me somewhat less than relevant, such as the passage in 4 Ezra (14:23-26, 37-48) where Ezra is instructed to have 94 books written, 24 of which are to be made public and the others kept secret. Unless I miss something, the text doesn’t seem to present us with an example of the sort of “accidental” publication that Larsen claims., or any reason to call NT textual criticism to a halt.
Larsen makes much of early references to the Gospel of Mark as hypomnemata
, which he urges should be taken as “disorderly or unpolished notes” (377). Larsen proposes that Matthew be seen, not as “a separate piece of literature from Mark,” but, instead, as giving “alterations of Mark” that are “fairly minor” (378). I leave it for others to judge whether this characterization of either writing fits. But, given that G
Matthew is some 65% again larger than G
Mark, it seems to me a bit of a stretch to characterize G
Matthew as a “fairly minor” alteration.
Moreover, Justin Martyr refers to all
the Gospels as apomnemoneumata
66.3; 67.3), and in contexts that hardly were intended to represent the Gospels as simply “disorderly or unpolished notes.” So I think Larsen may make too much rest on this term.
To be sure, I agree that G
Matthew is what I would call a “friendly” appropriation of the G
Mark, incorporating about 90% of G
Mark. But the extended birth narrative, the large body of sayings material (so carefully crafted into five discourse-blocks), the extended resurrection-appearance narrative, and the rather well-known Matthean emphases and vocabulary all seem to most of us to amount to a new work in its own right, not simply a revised version of G
And it appears that ancient Christians took Mark and Matthew as quite distinguishable works as well. Perhaps the most obvious indication of this is that both works were preserved and copied. G
Matthew didn’t eclipse G
Mark (although, to be sure, G
Mark was cited and copied far less frequently than G
Matthew in the earliest period when the Gospels circulated individually). Contrast this with the disappearance of “Q” and the other sources often thought to have been used by the authors of the Gospels.
Also, in my view, another major problem in Larsen’s case (at least as put forth in the article) is precisely his blurring of the actions of composition, editing, “publication,” and copying texts. Granted, authors of texts often produced successively revised editions of their works. But it is also important to note that copyists didn’t perform revisions, but copied, albeit with varying levels of skill and varying practices (e.g., James R. Royse, Scribal Habits in Early Greek New Testament Papyri
, NTTS 36 [Leiden: Brill, 2007]). The copying process should not be confused with the editing or revising of texts. And it is the copying process that is the focus of textual criticism, not the process of composition or revision of texts.
It is, I think, noteworthy that all of our earliest extant copies of the Gospels, even the fragmentary remains, are readily recognizable as such. That is, the extant manuscript evidence from the second and third centuries doesn’t show multiple versions of Matthew or John, for example. To be sure, the evidence does show the various kinds of variants that can characterize a text that is frequently copied, under various circumstances, and by copyists of varying skill and attention to the task. But the point is that what we seem to have [italics mine]
are copies of this or that given text, not copies of variant editions of that text. Contrast this with the evidence that the Shepherd of Hermas was transmitted in more than one edition (Malcolm Choat and Rachel Yuen-Collingridge, “The Egyptian Hermas: The Shepherd in Egypt Before Constantine,” in Early Christian Manuscripts: Examples of Applied Method and Approach
, ed. Thomas J. Krause and Tobias Nicklas (Leiden/Boston: Brill
, 2010), 191-211.
We think that G
Mark likely acquired various endings perhaps sometime in the early second century. But this likely reflects the comparison of G
Mark with the other Gospels, i.e., another indication of the continuing use of G
Mark as a text in its own right alongside the other Gospels.
So, with all due appreciation for the fluidity of textual composition and “publication” in the ancient Roman era, I think that NT textual criticism still has a validity and 'a future'. And I remain persuaded that the new paradigm that we need in our approach to the textual history of the Gospels (and other texts) is closer to what I’ve advocated.
https://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2018 ... -paradigm/
Early Christian Textual Transmission, Part 2
7 April 2018
I posted yesterday some initial thoughts about questions of textual fluidity and stability in early Christian manuscripts generated in conversation with a post by Larry Hurtado. Larry has responded in a lengthy post,^
["Which New Paradigm?"]. I’ll take up some his points in a later post. For now, I want to follow through on my original line of thought: Is there non-Christian (in this case, classical) material that we can look at for the sake of comparing how other literature was published and transmitted in Greek and Roman antiquity?
In the Roman period, the first thing that comes to mind are fragments of Plutarch that are judged by some to be nearly contemporary with the career of Plutarch himself (such as LDAB 171902 and 10254), but here we’re dealing with quite small fragments. We’re in a little better position (although chronologically more distant from the early Christian period) with the early papyri of Thucydides’ History. They offer some interesting points of comparison. We appear to have some reasonably early papyrus fragments of Thucydides. For instance, Eric Turner has assigned P.Hamb. 2.163 (LDAB 4117) to the third century BCE. Its original editors in 1954 had assigned the piece to the first century CE, but I don’t think anyone today doubts that the piece is Ptolemaic. Cavallo and Maehler assign the piece to the second half of the third century BCE, and the presence of another Ptolemaic literary hand on the back (↓) of the papyrus raises confidence that the dating is at least roughly correct. So, we’re talking about a papyrus that was probably copied between a century and two centuries after Thucydides is supposed to have written his History. This is, in my estimation anyway, basically equivalent to the situation with our surviving early Christian manuscripts (justification of that view will have to wait a few months until my book on the topic is published in August).
But I digress. What was surprising about P.Hamb. 2.163 was that the text on the front (→) of the papyrus was definitely recognizable as coming from the first book of Thucydides’ History, but it failed to show the same level of similarity to the “textus receptus” of Thucydides as did the previously published papyri of Thucydides dating from the Roman era. Here is Turner’s summary of the situation:
“The papyrus is of interest, not for the text it presents, which is clearly ‘wild’ and erratic, but for two questions it raises about the tradition. It illustrates forcibly what every editor knows, that Thucydides’ text was peculiarly liable to early corruption. Remembering that the unknown and uncontrollable period for the textual critic is the fourth century B.C., can we dare to hope that better scribes than ours showed greater reverence for their author’s words or be confident that corruptions which may have arisen at this time have been detected? Should we, for instance, in the light of our scribe’s failure, ruthlessly restore a misplaced τε to its proper grammatical place? Secondly, the papyrus poses afresh the question of ancient editions. There is no ancient evidence as to whether the Alexandrians ever worked on the text of Thucydides. …Now the number of variant readings found in these scraps in less than eighty words of Greek contrasts strikingly with the much closer conformity to the manuscript tradition found in the papyri of Roman date. Is it likely that this conformity came about without deliberate editing?”
There are a lot of noteworthy aspects of this quotation (I wonder how Turner understands “peculiarly” in the second sentence, and I especially enjoy the British classicist’s hesitation to “ruthlessly restore” a misplaced τε). But for now, I want to focus on the question of early fluidity of the text and and a later organized editing to bring about conformity with an emerging consensus text. A more recently published “early” fragment of Thucydides (P.CtYBR inv. 4601, LDAB 10615
, extracted from mummy cartonnage and assigned to the third or second century BCE) also deviates from the “textus receptus” in curious ways and, in the words of its editor, “strengthens the claim that the text of Thucydides was standardized in antiquity, perhaps in the second century BCE.”
Thus, the situation with the early papyri of Thucydides seems to mirror what Hurtado characterizes as the “old” paradigm for the transmission of early Christian literature: a “wild” period followed by later standardization. But I stress again that we’re talking about a different time period–the third and second centuries BCE rather than the second and third centuries CE, which are the period of interest for early Christian textual transmission. But again, my point is that I would like to think about other possibilities. When comparing these fairly fragmentary papyri of Thucydides to the “textus receptus,” at what point do cumulative differences mean we might just be dealing with “different texts” rather than different “copies” of the “same text”?
The problem is all the more interesting in light of the compositional theories that classicists have generated regarding Thucydides’ History
. Anyone who has studied the preface to the Gospel According to Luke is likely familiar with the introduction to Thucydides’ History
“Thucydides, an Athenian, wrote the history of the war between the Peloponnesians and the Athenians, beginning at the moment that it broke out (ἀρξάμενος εὐθὺς καθισταμένου), and believing that it would be a great war, and more worthy of relation than any that had preceded it.”
But it is less frequently pointed out (at least in discussions of Luke) that there is a second “introduction” midway through the work at 5.26:
“The history of this period has been also written by the same Thucydides, an Athenian, in the chronological order of events by summers and winters, to the time when the Lacedaemonians and their allies put an end to the Athenian empire, and took the Long Walls and Piraeus. The war had then lasted for twenty-seven years in all (ἔτη δὲ ἐς τοῦτο τὰ ξύμπαντα ἐγένετο τῷ πολέμῳ ἑπτὰ καὶ εἴκοσι).”
This and other features of the narrative of Thucydides have prompted classical historians to offer different accounts of the composition and “publication” of the History.
Some scholars of Thucydides do not hesitate at all in speaking about “an editor” who was responsible for shaping the text. And this was true in antiquity as well. In his Lives of Eminent Philosophers
(2.57), Diogenes Laertius appears to claim that Xenophon may have produced an edition of Thucydides (here in the Loeb translation): “There is a tradition that [Xenophon] made Thucydides famous by publishing his history, which was unknown, and which he might have appropriated to his own use ( λέγεται δ᾽ ὅτι καὶτὰ Θουκυδίδου βιβλία λανθάνοντα ὑφελέσθαι δυνάμενος αὐτὸς εἰς δόξανἤγαγεν).” Again, it seems to me that the blurring of textual criticism and redaction criticism that Larsen commends is an idea worth exploring further.
https://brentnongbri.com/2018/04/07/ear ... on-part-2/
Early Christian Textual Transmission, Part 3
9 April 2018
...part of what appeals to me about Larsen’s article is that it defamiliarized some of those passages that I did think I knew reasonably well. It allowed me to see them in a different light and read them in a way that might accord better with ancient writing practices. I think a helpful way to dig in to this issue is to start off with one of Hurtado’s critiques of Larsen’s article:
"Larsen makes much of early references to the Gospel of Mark as hypomnemata and apomnemoneumata, which he urges should be taken as “disorderly or unpolished notes” (377). Larsen proposes that Matthew be seen, not as “a separate piece of literature from Mark,” but, instead, as giving “alterations of Mark” that are “fairly minor” (378). I leave it for others to judge whether this characterization of either writing fits. But, given that GMatthew is some 65% again larger than GMark, it seems to me a bit of a stretch to characterize GMatthew as a “fairly minor” alteration. Moreover, Justin Martyr refers to all the Gospels as apomnemoneumata (1 Apology 66.3; 67.3), and in contexts that hardly were intended to represent the Gospels as simply “disorderly or unpolished notes.” So I think Larsen may make too much rest on this term."
...for now I want to focus on the writings of Justin. In the quotation above, Hurtado writes that “Justin Martyr refers to all the Gospels as apomnemoneumata
(1 Apology 66.3; 67.3).” Hurtado can correct me if I’m wrong, but I take it that by “all the Gospels” he means texts that closely resemble Nestle-Aland’s texts of the Gospels According to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and maybe even John (this is the way this language normally functions in discussions of Justin’s writings, but it could be taken in different ways).
Over the years, different studies have sought to demonstrate that Justin definitely knew all four canonical gospels (e.g. Stanton), while others have emphasized instead the handful of examples in which Justin’s quotations don’t match up well with any of the canonical gospels (e.g. Koester). But I think what Larsen’s work allows us to see is that all these studies are asking a very modern question of the ancient texts. We see notices of written sources for the words of Jesus or narratives about Jesus in early Christian writings, and we ask “Which specific text
is the source of this?” We seek to associate the quotation either with one of the four canonical gospels or with some other extra-canonical, but still discreet, finished, authored text. The point that Larsen raises is that this is not how Justin and other early Christian authors characterize the gospel(s)
. And this isn’t an oral vs. written issue; it’s about how Justin characterizes gospel writings
In his preserved works, Justin doesn’t mention the “Gospel According to” any author. Now, I have no reason to doubt that Justin was familiar with texts very much like what we call the Gospels According to Matthew, Mark, and Luke (John is trickier). But the issue Larsen’s work raises is that Justin isn’t talking about the gospel(s) in that way. Justin is not distinguishing between discreet, independent writings
, with individual attributed authors (it’s the
“apomnemoneumata of the apostles
“), and this point is what should be catching our attention
To put it in more imaginative terms: I could be confronted today [in 2018]
with an ancient sheet of papyrus with Greek writing, recognize passages that are unique to what I know as the Gospel according to Mark, and therefore identify the manuscript (correctly, in our terms) as a copy of the Gospel According to Mark. Imagine Justin was confronted with that very same papyrus in the year 140. How would he have characterized it? A
gospel? An apomnemoneuma
of the apostles? Or just the apomnemoneumata
of the apostles?
Would Justin, or other Christian writers prior to him, have at all differentiated between a copy of the Gospel According to Matthew and a copy of the Gospel According to Mark in the way that Irenaeus did a few decades later? (The question of titles is important here, but that will need to be a different post.)
But now what does all this have to do with the question of textual transmission of early Christian literature? On the one hand, there is the position (the view that Hurtado characterizes the “old paradigm”) that early Christian writings, including those that would come to be regarded as “the New Testament,” were transmitted in their earliest years with a relatively high degree of fluidity. And then there is the position that the transmission of early Christian manuscripts, or at least the transmission of New Testament manuscripts, was instead characterized by “impressive stability”
(what Hurtado calls a “new paradigm”).
What I like about Larsen’s work is that is suggests (to me, anyway) that both
these approaches are missing out on a genuinely interesting and important question: How are we defining “transmission” as opposed to “redaction”?
Doesn’t the assumption of a sharp differentiation between the two require a notion of a “finished,” authored text that isn’t quite appropriate when talking about at least some ancient writings? At what point, exactly, does someone stop being a copyist and start to be an editor or an independent author? (I tried to get at this issue from a different angle in a discussion of early papyri of Thucydides.
It would appear to be a matter of not only
the number of differences and the types of differences between two manuscripts/texts but also the self presentation of the copyist/appropriator (that is to say, does the producer of the later text make a differentiation between itself and “source” material?). The preface to the Gospel According to Luke comes to mind as a good example of a work separating itself from its sources.
The relationship between what we call the Gospel According to Matthew and the Gospel According to Mark is less clear-cut to me. How long of an ending or an introduction would we have to add to the Gospel According to Mark to make it stop being the Gospel According to Mark and start being a new text? And how do these questions affect the traditional goals of textual criticism? On my reading of the discipline, such questions constitute a fresh way of approaching early Christian evidence and thinking in new and challenging ways about our methodologies. A new paradigm, one might say.
https://brentnongbri.com/2018/04/09/ear ... /#more-943
9 April 2018
My recent invocation of Matthew Larsen’s article has generated a good bit of discussion both on and off the blog. In one of these exchanges, Mike Holmes raised some good questions about the article and agreed to let me post them. I invited Matthew Larsen to respond, and I’ve posted his response below Mike’s observations. Thanks to both Mike and Matthew for sharing their thoughts.
Here is Mike’s query:
Perhaps it is the perceived (on my part) disjunction between two of [Larsen’s] closing statements that is puzzling me. Near the bottom of p. 379, he writes “So, I argue that we can no longer simply assume that a text was finished and published, especially texts that are not high literature”—a point very similar to conclusions I reach in my “From ‘Original Text’ to ‘Initial Text’
” essay (e.g., “These are the sorts of things that are characteristic of the literary environment in which the early Christian documents were composed and first circulated, which means that the relationship between the earliest circulating copy or copies and the author(s) from whom the work initially issued must be investigated, not assumed (as has traditionally been done)” [p. 658]; cf. 662, top half, esp. “In effect, the traditional assumptions now function no longer as axioms that shape or channel an analysis of the evidence, but rather as hypotheses to be tested against the evidence”). But Larson also writes, just a page later: “Unless we can presuppose
a finished text, the traditional philological apparatus of textual, source and redaction criticism crumbles, as each criticism bleeds into one another” (p. 380, emphasis added)—and since he has clearly demonstrated that we cannot presuppose a finished text, therefore, he implies, textual criticism crumbles. But here, I think, he has over-generalized the implications of his essay: he himself admits that some texts were finished (p. 379 near bottom)—in which case, however infrequently, the “traditional philological apparatus” would still be applicable. In short, I think he would be truer to his own findings to say “unless we can demonstrate a finished text …”—much like he says on 379 bottom, “Unless we can determine that a text was finished, closed and published” (a conclusion that would be close to my point that each case “must be investigated, not assumed”). In this case a key question—one that Larson does not address—is this: how might we determine, on the basis of the surviving evidence, whether a work was (to use Larson’s term), “finished” or not? … What sort of evidence is necessary, or what sorts of criteria might enable us to differentiate between “finished” or “unfinished” texts?
And here is Matthew’s response:
https://brentnongbri.com/2018/04/09/gue ... ent-texts/
For what it is worth, I used “presuppose” and “assume” as more or less analogous terms. That is, I argue, based on a very brief survey (in the article, longer in my forthcoming book) (1) we can no longer simply or unreflectively assume texts were finalized in antiquity, (2) the gospels strike me as a clear example of an unfinalized textual tradition, and so, (3) if we cannot assume/presuppose gospel was a finalized textual tradition, what does it mean to do textual criticism vis-à-vis redaction criticism of such a tradition? The scribe/author distinction doesn’t make sense to me in such a framework. Each person who makes and remakes the tradition has a creative role to play.
I think Holmes’s concluding questions get to the heart of the issue. The field of early Christian textual studies suffers (probably from its Protestant/religious heritage) from an undertheorized sense of finality or unfinalizability. This is why in my book, Gospels before the Book
, 2018, OUP, I start and end with Bakhtin, who has the best theory of unfinalizability that I’ve come across. The real answer to his question is that from one point of view, finality is in the eye of the beholder. Thus, the beholder, of course, however, could be the author, the reader, the corrector, and so forth. That is, the question of finality/unfinishedness is perspectival. Sometimes writers worked hard to give the impression their work is finished. Sometimes readers perceive unfinishedness in a work, even if a writer or author goes out of their way to say their work is finished (or not), and the readers feel liberty to rework and improve the tradition.
Almost none of the writings that have come to be regarded as part of the New Testament strike me as coming from writers who had a sense of their writings as finished pieces of literature. The Apocalypse seems the exception: it does want to be finished, though it is not exactly what I would call literature. Whether other readers regarded it as finished is another question. The case of the openness of the textual tradition seems especially true of the gospels, to me. With many other scholars, I argue they initially lacked titles, ascribed authors, and (with the exception of the Gospel according to Luke) named readers. See the forthcoming essay that Brent mentioned in a comment, ['Correcting The Gospel: Putting The Titles Of The Gospels In Historical Context,' chapter 4 in Rethinking ‘Authority’ in Late Antiquity: Authorship, Law, and Transmission in Jewish and Christian Tradition,
From another point of view (and this is a logical necessity of the first point of view) there can never be a truly, unequivocally “finished” text. Josephus is a case in point here. He seemed to have regarded his Antiquities
as “finished” each time he rewrote it. He says he published it initially in 93/94 CE. But then Justus seems to have written a rival account and Josephus revises his Antiquities and added his Life. But even then he concludes his Life with “Here I stop my writing for the present.” That is, after he had written, revised, rewritten, and finished his Antiquities
, he then revised his Antiquities again and added his Life. Yet even then he still says he is stopping for the present, leaving a door open for future possible revision. Thus, the arbiter of finality from our perspective, based on an undertheorized sense of finality, becomes “we philologists.”
My point is to ask myself and other scholars to reflect on our own position in the process of closing/controlling a text. What point in the process do we privilege for such a textual tradition? Whatever we choose, we must acknowledge our own role in the shaping of tradition.
Thus, it is a remarkably tricky thing to talk about “determining” a finished text from any objective point of view what constitutes a finished text. Whose perspective are we determining? The author’s? The readers? Or perhaps even making our own judgment? We can make a determination from a certain perspective, but that determination is not the only or the final one. That said, my research in my book does lead me, as a cultural historian of ancient writing practices, to conclude that any textual tradition that lacks a title and an ascribed author is a good candidate for being a practical, “para-literary” text that remains open to alteration. Any text that exists in multiple versions of the same work is a candidate. Any work that seems to be continually reworked is a candidate. The gospel tradition fits all these criteria. For that reason, I suspect a framework something like the one Brent mentioned (Short Recension of X and the Long Recension of X) will offer an improvement to our scholarly discourse. In my forthcoming book, I suggest creating proportional venn diagrams of the overlap between each recension and then creating a 3-D “time lapse” of the growth of the textual tradition of the gospel up to Irenaeus.
Justin Martyr and the Gospels
10 April 2018
In a response to my blog-post about early textual transmission of the Gospels, Brent Nongbri points to Justin Martyr in support of the idea that in the early 2nd century we can’t really think of the texts of the Gospels as we know them (or perhaps can’t be sure that these texts were in circulation at the time). Nongbri’s posting is here.
So, indeed, let’s have a look at Justin, whose major writings to consider are his Apology
(addressed the Emperor Antoninus Pius) and his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew
(presented as a debate/discussion between Justin and three Jewish interlocutors about the validity of the Christian faith, particularly claims about Jesus). I judge that the evidence from Justin works against the line that Nongbri takes.
Justin’s frequent use of the term apomnēmoneumata
(15x, often translated “memoirs”) comes in for attention. Nongbri seems to doubt that we can view the term as referring to the familiar NT Gospels. Well, it’s surely important to note that Justin actually identifies the writings in question as the writings also called “gospels” (ἅ καλεῖται εὐαγγέλια, 1 Apology
66.3). So, clearly, Justin knows this term as a label for certain specific texts. For him the term “gospel” is the Christian message and the tradition about Jesus, to be sure, but the term has also come to designate a certain set of texts.
Moreover, in Dialogue
103.8, Justin refers to these “memoirs” as “composed by his [Jesus’] apostles and those who accompanied them.” This implies that Justin not only knew certain texts as “gospels,” but also thought of them as composed/authored by specific individuals. Indeed, his reference to their authors as “apostles and those who accompanied them” suggests to many scholars that Justin has in mind here our familiar NT Gospels, two of which were (at a very early point) ascribed to apostles (Matthew and John), and two of which were ascribed to figures linked with apostles (
Mark, linked to Peter; and Luke, linked to Paul)
One might ask why Justin refers to these texts as “apomnēmoneumata
,” and the obvious answer is that both of the writings in which he uses the term are posed as addressing non-Christians, for whom the term had an established and respected meaning for a genre of literature (whereas, “gospel” did not). As Oskar Skarsaune observed, apomnēmoneumata
had an association with Xenophon’s Memoirs of Socrates. The term didn’t designate loose notes or sub-literary texts, but, instead, connoted texts that conveyed the authentic remembrances of a great teacher, whether Socrates or (for Justin) Jesus.
-  Skarsaune, “Justin and His Bible,” 71-72. “Justin evidently sees considerable argumentative value in the fact that these Memoirs were put into writing at an early stage, by Jesus’ closest disciples, the apostles, or by their immediate followers” (73, emphasis his).
Moreover, detailed studies of Justin’s use of his scriptures (which became the “Old Testament”) and early Christian material shows that he sometimes quotes the Gospels directly, and at other points uses writings that appear to have been composed by drawing upon the NT Gospels (and perhaps also other texts such as Gospel of Peter
). This is a somewhat similar to Justin’s use of “Old Testament” scriptures, which involved both direct (sometimes extended) citation and also the use of “testimony sources” (Christian compilations of “proof texts” and accompanying interpretations).
In sum, Justin (writing mid-second century CE) gives us what I take to be evidence that (1) certain texts had come to be known in Christian circles as “gospels,” (2) these texts were regarded as composed by known figures of apostolic standing or linkage, (3) these texts were among those read in the worship gatherings of Christians (1 Apology
67.3), which made them what we may call the corporate property of these circles, and (4) these texts enjoyed a particular value and authority.
Now, in light of these things, it seems entirely appropriate to practice textual criticism of these texts. Whatever the process(es) by which they were composed, by Justin’s time at the latest, they seem to have acquired an identity, even a certain textual stability, and so were not protean entities that could be shaped however one wished. To be sure, people continued to draw upon these texts in composing others, such as Tatian’s Diatessaron
or (as I see it) texts such as the so-called “Egerton Gospel.” But this should not be confused with the copying of the Gospels, or indication that, at least by the mid-second century, the Gospels had no textual integrity of their own. So, I maintain that textual criticism has not been rendered invalid or passé by our knowledge of ancient compositional and editing practices.
https://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2018 ... gospels-2/
Justin Martyr and the Gospel
11 April 2018
Over on his blog, Larry Hurtado has responded^
to my last post on textual transmission, and I fear we may be talking past each other. Just to try to clarify the actual points of our disagreement:
Hurtado writes: “Nongbri seems to doubt that we can view the term [apomnemoneumata] as referring to the familiar NT Gospels.
No, this oversimplifies and blurs the matter under discussion. What I wrote was this:
- 'In his preserved works, Justin doesn’t mention the “Gospel According to” any author. Now, I have no reason to doubt that Justin was familiar with texts very much like what we call the Gospels According to Matthew, Mark, and Luke (John is trickier). But the issue Larsen’s work raises is that Justin isn’t talking about the gospel(s) in that way. Justin is not distinguishing between discreet, independent writings, with individual attributed authors (it’s the “apomnemoneumata of the apostles”), and this point is what should be catching our attention.'
To bring it back to the start of the discussion, the particular issue about the gospel(s) that Larsen raised in his essay was this: In an early second-century context, “it would be anachronistic to categorize Matthew as creating a separate piece of literature from Mark.”
When Justin refers to texts very similar to what we would call
the Gospel According to Matthew and the Gospel According to Mark, he consistently uses the plural (both apomnemoneumata
) and does not
distinguish individual authorship (it’s nearly always “of/by the apostles
” “and their followers
All of this tends, in my view, to confirm Larsen’s argument about how Justin and earlier Christian authors characterize the gospel(s), which in turn supports his larger conclusions: “…early readers and users of gospel texts regarded the gospel not as a book, but as a fluid constellation of texts. … Ancient writing practices and textual fluidity present us with exciting challenges and interesting possibilities to rethink how texts became books, how writers became authors, and how we might describe how texts change.”
* The lone exception to this “plural” rule in Justin’s surviving writings is actually quite telling: At Dialogue
106.3, the manuscripts read καὶ γεγράφθαι ἐν τοῖς ἀπομνημονεύμασιν αὐτοῦ
. The singular αὐτοῦ is so out of keeping with Justin’s normal practice that some modern editors have emended the text at this point; Goodspeed and Bobichon follow the manuscripts; Otto reads ἐν τοῖς ἀπομνημονεύμασιν τῶν ἀποστόλων
αὐτοῦ; I’m unable to consult Marcovich, but according to Bobichon’s apparatus, he follows Otto in adding the words τῶν ἀποστόλων.
Some translators have followed this emendation (“memoirs of his apostles”), while others have tried to the render the Greek as it is found in the manuscripts. In so doing, they tend to take the referent of the singular αὐτοῦ as either Jesus (Dods et al.: “When it is written in the memoirs of Him…”) or Peter.
Either way, the association with the ἀπομνημονεύματα would not be individual authorship
. It is either Jesus, the object of what the ἀπομνημονεύματα are about or Peter, who is the ultimate source of the ἀπομνημονεύματα but not the author of the text
. It’s clear from context that the passage under discussion comes from (what we would call) the Gospel According to Mark, but Justin does not describe it that way
. And that, I believe, is Larsen’s point.
https://brentnongbri.com/2018/04/11/jus ... e-gospels/
Justin and the Gospels, Encore (in Dialogue with Brent Nongbri)
April 19, 2018
... I have to say, thus, that I don’t find that Larsen’s claims are supported, in particular that Justin didn’t connect the Gospels with named figures.
The first thing to note is (as I noted in my posting) that Justin does refer to what he calls “memoirs” as “those which are said to be [ἄ φημι] written by the apostles and those who followed them” (Dialogue
103.8). That Justin does not name the figures in question is likely because this text purports to show him in dialogue/debate with Jewish figures over the validity of Christian faith. His interlocutors wouldn’t be impressed were Justin to name-drop! So, instead, Justin simply indicates the nature and status of those individuals to whom he (and the tradition on which he depends, alluded to in the ἄ φημι phrasing) ascribed these “memoirs.” So, that Justin doesn’t name who these figures were is hardly evidence that he didn’t have names to hand for them. This is rather a key text in Justin that I think works against the notion of Nongri and Larsen that the identities of the authors of these memoirs weren’t important for Justin.
Now, second, I suspect that part of the confusion in the present discussion is over the use of the term “gospel” for these works. We all agree, I think, that in Justin’s day the term “gospel” (Greek: εὐαγγέλιον) still carried its originating sense in Christian circles: the message about Jesus, and traditions about him. But, as I noted in my earlier posting, Justin also refers to the “memoirs of the apostles” as “gospels” (ἅ καλεῖται εὐαγγέλια, 1 Apology
66.3). So, it appears that, already by Justin’s time, the term “gospel” had acquired an additional usage as a label for those writings that conveyed Jesus-tradition. That is, “gospel” had acquired the sense of a particular kind of literary text.
And in Dialogue
100.1 Justin refers to wording as “written in the gospel,” quoting then a saying for which we have parallels in Matthew 11:27 and Luke 10:22. Whether by “in the gospel” he refers to a text of Matthew or Luke is difficult to judge, for the form of the saying doesn’t conform exactly to the preferred text of either passage, e.g., in the Nestle-Aland edition. But the point here is that Justin cites a text, a written gospel.
10.2, Justin has his Jewish dialogue partner, Trypho, refer to “wonderful and great precepts” in “the so-called Gospel,” which Trypho says that he has carefully read. Again, we have here indication that the word “Gospel” can refer to a text, and one that Justin portrays as available for readers such as Trypho to study.
So, granted, we shouldn’t presume more than the evidence warrants. But neither should we ignore what evidence we have in favor of the romantic notion that in Justin’s time what we know as the Gospels ascribed to Matthew, etc. were a collection of anonymous writings, or that all was in a state of somewhat amorphous fluidity. Justin doesn’t simply refer to “memoirs of the apostles” collectively, he refers specifically to “gospels” and ascribes them to “apostles and those who followed them,” which suggests to me that Justin had particular figures in mind.
Larsen’s claim (which Nongbri subscribes to), that “early readers and users of gospel texts regarded the gospel not as a book, but as a fluid constellation of texts,” seems to me to over-simplify and pose as false alternatives the ways in which the term “gospel” was used, and the way in which the gospel texts were viewed in relationship to the gospel message and tradition. I judge that early readers (e.g., Justin) regarded “the gospel” as a message/tradition that took written form in “gospels,” texts which both had individual identities and also formed a collective witness to “the gospel”.
https://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2018 ... t-nongbri/
Another blog-post by Hurtado short after the debate outlined above
When did “Gospel” First = a Book?
May 22, 2018
My recent postings about the NT Gospels elicited a reminder of an essay by James Kelhoffer: “‘How Soon a Book’ Revisited: EUAGGELION
As a Reference to ‘Gospel’ Materials in the First Half of the Second Century,” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft
95 (2004): 1-34. The essay was republished in his volume of collected essays: Conceptions of “Gospel” and Legitimacy in Early Christianity
, WUNT (Mohr Siebeck, 2014), 39-75.
This meaty and detailed study addresses the questions about when the word “gospel” (Greek: evangelion
) first came to designate a book. Everyone agrees that its initial early Christian usage was a reference to the message which Jesus was central (e.g.
, Romans 1:15). It could also refer to the activity involved in disseminating that message (e.g.
, Romans 1:9; 15:16). Everyone also agrees that by the mid-second century the term was being used also to refer to certain writings about Jesus (as, e.g., in Justin Martyr, 1 Apology
66.3; ca. 153 CE
). Indeed, Justin’s wording suggests that the term was at that point already in common usage in Christian circles.
Graciously acknowledging earlier studies and positions, even as he corrects and challenges them, Kelhoffer argues that the term “gospel” was probably being used to designate what I have called “Jesus books” by sometime 100-130 CE. He builds his case by detailed analysis of texts in several early Christian writings, especially Didache and 2 Clement.
His proposal is that the use of the term in the opening words (and title) of G
Mark, “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” may have inspired some early reader or copyist to extend the term to designate books about Jesus. This could have happened, so Kelhoffer, as early as the circulation of two or more such writings, i.e., as soon as both G
Mark and G
Matthew were circulating.
https://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2018 ... st-a-book/