A Critique of Theological Palaeography

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Leucius Charinus
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A Critique of Theological Palaeography

Post by Leucius Charinus »

.


"Theological Palaeography" ? :eek:


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Early New Testament Manuscripts and Their Dates: A Critique of Theological Palaeography
Pasquale Orsini & Willy Clarysse
Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses 88 (2012): 443-474.
Abstract

The date of the earliest New Testament papyri is nearly always
based on palaeographical criteria. A consensus among papyrologists,
palaeographers and New Testament scholars is presented in the edition
of Nestle-Aland, 1994. In the last twenty years several New Testament
scholars (Thiede, Comfort-Barrett, 1999, 2001 and Jaroš, 2006) have
argued for an earlier date of most of these texts. The present article
analyzes the date of the earliest New Testament papyri on the basis of
comparative palaeography and a clear distinction between different
types of literary scripts. There are no first-century New Testament
papyri and only very few papyri can be attributed to the (second half
of the) second century. It is only in the third and fourth centuries
that New Testament manuscripts become more common, but here too the
dates proposed by Comfort-Barrett, 1999, 2001, and Jaroš, 2006 are
often too early.


The authors present a 3 page table showing ranges of dating (earliest-latest) in which all but 7 papyri are dated (at latest) before 300 CE.

The article makes reference to an earlier [2011] article which I will also cite below with its abstract.

Grenfell and Hunt on the Dates on Early Christian Codices: Setting the Record Straight --- Brent Nongbri, Macquarie University [2011]
Abstract

Since the middle of the twentieth century, there has been a tendency among scholars
to marginalize the palaeographical opinions of Grenfell and Hunt. Their alleged belief
that the codex format was a post-third century development is said to have induced them
to date fragments of Christian codices much later than they would have on strictly palaeographical
grounds. I argue that this is a serious misrepresentation of their views and practices.

FWIW here are my notes on Brent Nongbri's article.
My notes wrote:
NOTES:

P64 ... Hunt "assigns with more probability to the fourth century.”
P15 and P16 ... "Grenfell and Hunt dated these fragments to the fourth century"

"it may be remarked that in 1904, when Part IV of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri appeared,
Christian texts which could confidently be dated in the second century were unknown."

p.155

In his report of the first season’s excavations (1896/7), Grenfell writes:

I had for some time felt that one of the most promising sites in Egypt for finding
Greek manuscripts was the city of Oxyrhynchus. ... Above all, Oxyrhynchus seemed to
be a site where fragments of Christian literature might be expected of an earlier date
than the fourth century, to which our oldest manuscripts of the New Testament belong;
for the place was renowned in the fourth and fifth centuries on account of the number
of its churches and monasteries, and the rapid spread of Christianity about Oxyrhynchus,
as soon as the new religion was officially recognized, implied that it had already taken
a strong hold during the preceding centuries of persecution.

Oxy. vi 849 = NT Apocrypha 13, is dated to c. iv rather than c. iii because it is on parchment.
“Had the material been papyrus we should have been more disposed to assign it to
late c. iii rather than to c. iv.”

1007 = OT 2 (Latin Genesis on parchment): The same reason is given in regard to vii 1007 = OT 2,
because the material is parchment.

p.160

It seems assured, then, that at least as early as 1899, Grenfell and Hunt recognized
that the received wisdom with regard to the development of the papyrus codex was in need
of revision. Indeed, they stressed the preponderance of examples of Christian codices
in the third century, and they recognized an early Christian preference for the codex.



Conclusion

From nearly the very beginning of their publication of the Oxyrhynchus papyri, Grenfell and Hunt
recognized that Christians were well established in Oxyrhynchus in the third century and that the
codex was an early development among Christians in Egypt. The claim that they thought otherwise
and that this thinking influenced them to date fragments of Christian codices later than they
would have on strictly palaeographical grounds has no basis. The preceding review of the
scholarship demonstrates that the criticism of Grenfell and Hunt by Roberts, Bell, and Skeat is
without merit, and the grosser forms of the claims against Grenfell and Hunt founnd in the
subsequent writings of some biblical scholars should be disregarded. Grenfell and Hunt saw, read,
and edited thousands of papyri. Their palaeographical opinions involving Christian codices have
been unfairly marginalized, and the modern student who ignores their judgements does so to his or
her own detriment.
A "cobbler of fables" [Augustine]; "Leucius is the disciple of the devil" [Decretum Gelasianum]; and his books "should be utterly swept away and burned" [Pope Leo I]; they are the "source and mother of all heresy" [Photius]
avi
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Re: A Critique of Theological Palaeography

Post by avi »

I am impressed that even such competent scholars as these two, uncritically accept the dogma, that P24 from Dura Europos, had been buried prior to the Persian attack, circa 260 CE.

No quarrel with their conclusion about the dates being too early for most of these (non-existent) manuscripts.
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Leucius Charinus
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Re: A Critique of Theological Palaeography

Post by Leucius Charinus »

From another thread ....
Peter Kirby wrote:If they want to claim simply that paleography does not have a scientific basis,
let them say so, but nobody has to believe them.
There are certainly those who view palaeography as a science, and they were quite vocal about it
when the UK's last palaeographer was made redundant

However I am inclined to assess palaeography as a mixture of science and art.
I will provide two different sources to substantiate my position:

(1) What is Paleography?

Paleography is the art of analysing and reading handwriting. Some would call it a science, and to a degree it has acquired a veneer

of scientific style, classification and ordering, but ultimately it involves one human individual attempting to understand the unique

efforts at communication of another. This is fundamentally an art, with some scientific props.
(2)Eric G. Turner, from his book .... "The Typology of the Early Codex" (which I am currently reading).

The author is addressing both the expert palaeographer and those without such skills.
He provides three examples of inexactitudes: in what cannot be an exact science ...
Eric G. Turner wrote:
p.2

"The somewhat hit-and-miss datings assigned by palaeographers to books on the basis of their handwriting".

Every palaeographer is aware of his fallibility on this score. The person without palaeographical skills
will have observed with interest a number of recent examples of incompatible dates.

1) Different editors of separated fragments P.Oslo ii 10 and P. Harris 45 later determined
to be from the same ms dated 3rd century and 1st century. Both could not be right!

2) Same editor (Sir Frederick Kenyon) dated different fragments of same ms to late 3rd and
early 3rd centuries. Both could not be right!

3) P.Oxy 2105: Hunt (1927) = edict of a prefect - Petronius Honoratus, prefect in 148 CE.
P.Oxy 2105: Rea (1967) = edict of prefect - Maevius Honoratianus, prefect in 231-236 CE.

This example is especially instructive since it is the error of an outstanding palaeographer;
and concerns a documentary hand, a type of writing which it is often claimed is easier to date
with confidence that a book hand.
These examples are cited by the author to demonstrate the very real disparity
in the assessment by means of palaeographical assessments by various palaeographers,
and even, in the second example, by the same palaeographer.

So palaeography, although it uses scientific methods, also involves subjective elements.
The author continues with a fourth example in which expert palaeographers disagree
about the estimated date of a manuscript by 500 years - between the 2nd and the 6th century:

Eric G. Turner wrote: The helplessness felt by palaeographers when they have to rely on the morphological analysis of
letter forms is well illustrated by the lack of agreement on the dating of the Ambrosian Iliad,
and more recently of the Duke University fragments of Plato Parmenides 253. I cannot bring myself
to date this fragment in the 2nd century, as Professor W.H. Willis does, and throughout this study
I have treated it as 3rd-4th century. Other palaeographers ... assign it to the 6th century.

Again this indicates the presence of one or more subjective elements.

He discusses the validity of the objection of circularity caused by the lack and the
insufficiency of data, and concludes that it is unlikely that the palaeographer will succeed
in eliminating a subjective factor....

Eric G. Turner wrote: Is the [valid] objection of circularity, then, to deter us from attempting our task
at all? A moment's reflection on the instance just given will show that this "circularity"
is complex: it is not a matter of simple opposition between an independent date for
handwriting on one side and the resultant date for a codex on the other.

In the dating of a papyrus manuscript by a scholar a large number of elements are taken into account.
.... The rigorous palaeographer will try to derive each single element from a certainly dated source.
But the quantity of certain data is in fact insufficient for his needs. The certain dates have to be
linked to each other by extrapolation, by hypothetical extension and combination: however conscientiously
the palaeographer tests out and refines his apparatus of criteria, it is unlikely that he will succeed
in eliminating a subjective factor....

The presence of a subjective factor works like a bias on a coin.
A biased coin when flipped is not going to provide a random distribution.

Peter Kirby wrote: (2) Then we have to accept a claim as to the idea that, collectively, the manuscripts that appear to be dated paleographically to the
2nd/3rd century do not. It's easy to see how this breaks down very quickly, and all the more quickly when one adopts the "big view"
of probabilities that is extolled so poetically. Take just ten manuscripts evaluated by ten experts and assign them each a fair 80%
probability of belonging to the 2nd/3rd century, with a 20% chance of error due to the paleographic expert being cited. The chance
that all ten are in error independently falls to 1 in 10,000,000. The only real chance of the ten manuscripts all being dated wrong
is a shared, non-independent error factor behind them all
. In other words, again, they have to claim that paleography does not have a
scientific basis.
I have established above that there are subjective elements in palaeographic assessment.
Since you brought up the subject in this example of a "shared, non-independent error factor behind them all"
I will point out one possible subjective hypothesis shared by these palaeographers which is
again articulated by the palaeographer in the second paragraph of his book ....
Eric G. Turner wrote:"Let me be quite clear. I do not mean to reopen the question of the origin of the codex. C.H. Roberts in his British Academy paper on "The Codex" of 1954 has set out a series of attractive hypotheses which are likely to hold the field until new evidence is forthcoming.. Pointing to the fact that almost all Christian texts found in Egypt (beginning in the second century of the Christian era) are in codex, not roll form, at a time when parallel finds from the same source show that the codex form was scarcely used at all for Greek and Latin literature, he has suggested that the codex was a deliberate innovation of Christian evangelists, who evolved it from the parchment notebook."
The codex was a deliberate innovation of Christian evangelists ?????
This (subjective) hypothesis is essentially shared by all modern palaeographers.
What if this hypothesis is not correct?


According to "Libraries in the Ancient World" by Lionel Casson [2002]

Lionel Casson wrote:
p.126/127

"The finds from Egypt enable us to trace the gradual replacement
of the roll by the codex. It made its appearance there not long
after Martial's day, in the second century CE, at the very earliest
toward the end of the first. Over 1,330 pieces of Greek literary,
scientific, and other such writings have been discovered that date
to the first and second centuries; all are on rolls save less that
twenty, a mere 1.5 %, on codices. In the third century the percentage
rises from 1.5 % to about 17%: clearly the codex was gaining favour.
Around 300 CE the percentage has climbed to 50% ..... By 400 CE it
is up to 80% and by 500 CE to 90%."
This statistical distribution of rolls to codices in Greek literary
and scientific writing in the early centuries may be graphed as
follows.

Image

If we had no special pleading on behalf of the Christians in antiquity
in relation to their use of the codex, we would have to allow that,
since (practically) all of the Christian manuscripts are from codices,
then the Christian codices, along with the Greek literary and science
codices, appeared substantially in the 4th century.

However there is an hypothesis of special pleading, namely that
"the codex was a deliberate innovation of Christian evangelists".

How did the hypothesis arise? Because of the early palaeographic dates for christian codices.
What evidence do we have that the Christians innovated the use of the codex?
Well, we have palaeographical evidence, arrived at with certain subjectivities.

This is a circular argument.

Hence the importance of independent C14 tests.
A "cobbler of fables" [Augustine]; "Leucius is the disciple of the devil" [Decretum Gelasianum]; and his books "should be utterly swept away and burned" [Pope Leo I]; they are the "source and mother of all heresy" [Photius]
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Peter Kirby
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Re: A Critique of Theological Palaeography

Post by Peter Kirby »

Fascinating!

Since it's story time at BC&H, here's mine...

http://peterkirby.com/a-chance-meeting-in-90-ad.html

No special pleading involved! Just plain old regular pleading. Hence the importance. Hence!
"... almost every critical biblical position was earlier advanced by skeptics." - Raymond Brown
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Re: A Critique of Theological Palaeography

Post by Roger Pearse »

Nongbri's article is a depressing thing to read. He openly states that his problem is not with paleography, but rather that paleography makes it impossible to date P52 as late as he would like, thereby precluding the theory that John's gospel was written ca. 170 AD. In order to get past this barrier, he sets out to rubbish the generally accepted dates of papyri, by whatever means. Once there are no reliable paleographical dates, of course, he is happy; and takes no further interest in the question of "how do we date Greek papyri".

Anyone who has read the articles by people like Colin Roberts and T.C. Skeat will not think very well of such bare-faced manipulation of data for a cause.
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Re: A Critique of Theological Palaeography

Post by Leucius Charinus »

From another thread ....
Peter Kirby wrote:Rejects paleography as the work of tendentious scribblers ...
This a complete misrepresentation of the assessment I have assembled above, and which you probably did not even read.
Above I have quoted Eric Turner from "The Typology of the Codex".

I do not reject palaeography as one of a series of very useful tools by which the chronology of scribal manuscripts may be approximated.

What I reject is the following: for the reasons provided ...

1) Palaeography is not a science: it is an art which is supported by science.

2) Palaeography is not an objective art: it is a subjective art as evidenced by disagreements among palaeographers on the dating of various manuscripts (Above I furnished five separate examples put forward by Eric Turner, who himself is a very well respected palaeographer. The largest variance was five centuries.

3) Palaeography cannot escape circular reasoning: lack of firm data necessitates circularity. (Above I have cited Turner explaining this)


To be absolutely clear here ... I do not reject the contributions of palaeographical assessment but I do reject any insistence that these dates are either scientific, objective or not prone to circular reasoning.
A "cobbler of fables" [Augustine]; "Leucius is the disciple of the devil" [Decretum Gelasianum]; and his books "should be utterly swept away and burned" [Pope Leo I]; they are the "source and mother of all heresy" [Photius]
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Re: A Critique of Theological Palaeography

Post by Peter Kirby »

Leucius Charinus wrote:From another thread ....
Peter Kirby wrote:Rejects paleography as the work of tendentious scribblers ...
This a complete misrepresentation of the assessment I have assembled above, and which you probably did not even read.
I read it, and you are in an untenable position. On the one hand, there is the extreme skeptic, the one that is really just a hard-nosed lover of science at heart, who has no interest in the subject other than to point out the absence of evidence sufficient to convince him. That is the person who can with consistency take a skeptical stance towards dating any of the manuscripts prior to the fourth century. On the other hand, there's just a flat-out crank, who strings together thoughts and speculations in a way worse than the average historian and much worse than a paleographer when it comes to the validity of the evidence presented. The personality of the skeptic and the crank do not belong in the same body, but, hypocritically, they do.
"... almost every critical biblical position was earlier advanced by skeptics." - Raymond Brown
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Leucius Charinus
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Re: A Critique of Theological Palaeography

Post by Leucius Charinus »

Peter Kirby wrote:I read it, and you are in an untenable position. On the one hand, there is the extreme skeptic, the one that is really just a hard-nosed lover of science at heart, who has no interest in the subject other than to point out the absence of evidence sufficient to convince him. That is the person who can with consistency take a skeptical stance towards dating any of the manuscripts prior to the fourth century. On the other hand, there's just a flat-out crank, who strings together thoughts and speculations in a way worse than the average historian and much worse than a paleographer when it comes to the validity of the evidence presented.
Above I have cited Eric Turner - a renown palaeographer - in his own words, providing his own reasons - not mine.

So what's with the "Crank Card"?



.
A "cobbler of fables" [Augustine]; "Leucius is the disciple of the devil" [Decretum Gelasianum]; and his books "should be utterly swept away and burned" [Pope Leo I]; they are the "source and mother of all heresy" [Photius]
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Re: A Critique of Theological Palaeography

Post by Steven Avery »

One problem is narrow dating e.g. only 50 or 100 years considered possible.

The basic issue is simple.
The terminus post quem can be a rather solid date, since nobody can write in a future script.

The terminus ante quem, however, is a totally different matter. A script can last for hundreds of years, or even be copied and in use 1500 years later. This happens with replicas and forgeries by skilled calligraphers.

If there is no external dating point ("I am going shopping at the Cesar Augustus Bazaar today") and the materials are not doing the dating, then relying only on the script for a short terminus ante quem will be questionable scholarship.

I discussed this a while back with Brent Nongbri. He placed some of the controversial papyri with a rather late terminus ante quem, perhaps AD 500, even though they could have been written c. AD 200.
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Re: A Critique of Theological Palaeography

Post by Steven Avery »

The dating of Hellenistic and Roman inscriptions according to allegedly key developments of particular letter forms is notoriously difficult and unreliable because older letter forms persist alongside new forms ... it is not possible to date inscriptions precisely on the basis of letter forms. Older masons often continued or even revived the use of letter forms, formulae, layouts, and spellings characteristic of earlier periods, sometimes even mixing them indiscriminately with contemporary letter forms. This tendency may represent an attempt to make inscriptions look older and more venerable than they really were. For example, from Hadrian’s reign onward, there was a general archaizing tendency, in society, resulting in the use of archaic letter forms in inscriptions.31
31 Bradley McLean, An Introduction to Greek Epigraphy of the Hellenistic and Roman Periods from Alexander the Great down to the Reign of Constantine 323 B.C. - A.D. 337 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002), 42-43.
https://books.google.com/books?id=x2AD3M77TgMC&pg=PA42

This quote was given in a paper by Christian Askeland:

‘Dating early Greek and Coptic literary hands’ (2018)
https://www.academia.edu/11164615/_Dati ... ary_hands_
Last edited by Steven Avery on Wed Nov 16, 2022 7:10 am, edited 1 time in total.
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