Archive for June, 2015

Empty heavens in P72 at 2 Peter 3:13?

Recently, through the kind provision of Stan Rosenberg and under the guidance of Alison Salvesen, a group of NT graduate students spent a few afternoons in a workshop examining high-quality facsimile reproductions of P72, one of the Bodmer codices that contains, among other things, 1-2 Peter and Jude. I’ll be quick to say that I’m not a textual critic or a manuscript expert by any stretch of the imagination, which is one reason why the sessions were so much fun. The orthography of the scribe is highly various, which may suggest that the manuscript or its text went through an aural process of transmission at some point. Along these lines, there is a fun orthographic variant at 2 Peter 3:13. The NA28 here reads καινοὺς δὲ οὐρανοὺς καὶ γῆν καινὴν κατὰ τὸ ἐπάγγελμα αὐτοῦ προσδοκῶμεν ἐν οἷς δικαιοσύνη κατοικεῖ (we await a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells, according to what he promised). But here, P72 reads κενους δε ουρανους και γην καινην: an empty heavens and a new earth. Given the amount of orthographic variation elsewhere in the Petrine epistles, the most probable explanation is that the scribe has simply written ε for αι. But given that he gets it ‘right’ in mentioning the γην καινην, it at least causes one to pause and wonder what the scribe might have understood here, or perhaps better how a reader might have subsequently taken it. Could it be that someone who heard this read out might have thought of righteousness vacating heaven to come down to earth and dwell there, and so an ’empty heaven’ might express a utopian hope for a better future? Against this, of course, one would want to note the ἐν οἷς would suggest that righteousness dwells in both heaven and earth, presumably. It’s wild speculation about what is in all probability a mere orthographic variation (of the sort that could easily be paralleled in the scribe’s activity elsewhere), but also a bit of fun to ponder.



Early Christianity without the Septuagint: a counterfactual thought experiment

If we cast our minds back to the Alexandrian Jewish community in, say, the third century BCE, we might envisage a counterfactual history like the following: a group of Jewish elders considers the way in which the whole community carries on its conversation, its business, its worship in Greek. Most of our people struggle to understand the holy books, one says. Shall we translate them into Greek? An aged man steps forward and declares: No, the Holy One, blessed be He, delivered these oracles to Moses and the prophets in the holy language, the language of patriarchs and angels, Hebrew, and his holy word must be preserved. No translation is possible. We shall have to teach our people to understand the holy tongue, since to render it into Greek would be a deep profanation. The meeting is swayed by the pious reflections, and agree to an aggressive programme of Hebrew instruction and withdrawal from the broader Alexandrian community. The message is clear: like the Quran a thousand years later, the Hebrew Bible is untranslateable. The sentiment spreads, and in time the halakhic judgment against the propriety of non-Hebrew languages for Scripture becomes widespread. The earliest followers of Jesus see, therefore, no rationale for translating their master’s sayings into Greek, early Christian mission takes as its emphasis Hebrew-speaking communities, who, n.b., have a much more insular relationship to their setting in the Western diaspora because of the linguistic gap. The apostle Paul heads east rather than west, and the New Testament eventually comes to be written, in a curtailed form, in Hebrew rather than Greek, and the emergence of Christianity is firmly rooted in Palestine and the eastern Diaspora, rather than in the Hellenized west. Needless to say, early Christianity would have taken a much different form. In some ways, it is easier to imagine an early Christianity without the apostle Paul than one without the Septuagint.

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To Read the Bible Like Any Other book: Before Jowett

Much has been made of Benjamin Jowett’s notorious or celebrated essay ‘On the Interpretation of Scripture’, in his contribution to the 1860 Essays and Reviews. There, Jowett urged that the Bible should be read as any other book, and once we do so we will discover that it is unlike any other book. His axiom, ‘to interpret the Bible like any other book’ has been celebrated by some (e.g., James Barr, “Jowett and the ‘Original Meaning’ of Scripture” Religious Studies 18 (1982): 433-37 and “Jowett and the Reading of the Bible ‘Like Any Other Book’,” Horizons in Biblical Theology 4/5 (1982-83): 1-44) and criticised by others (e.g., Walter Moberly, “‘Interpret the Bible like Any Other Book’? Requiem for an Axiom,” Journal of Theological Interpretation 4 (2010): 91–110). But while Jowett’s splash was the largest, he was not all that original in his contention. Moses Stuart, conservative American Protestant scholar who taught at Andover in the first half of the 19th century, published an essay in 1832 in which he asked, in the title question,”Are the Same Priniciples of Interpretation to be applied to the Bible as to Other Books?” American Biblical Repository 2 (January 1832): 124–37. He goes on to affirm that such principles are indeed to be applied to the BIble: “If the Bible is not a book which is intelligible in the same way as other books are, then it is difficult indeed to see how it is a revelation” (129). “If their [i.e., the Scriptures’] contents are peculiar, (as they are,) still we apply the same laws to them as to other books that are peculiar, i.e. we construe them in accordance iwth the matter which they contain” (137). And Stuart himself, early in the essay, presents his view as a commonplace since at least Ernesti. The essay is also remarkable for its invocation of the common sense realism that was so attractive to 19th century American interpreters of the Bible. Perhaps when read in the context of Anglican theology of the 1860s, and with the broad splash that Essays and Reviews made, Jowett’s dictum seemed radical, but viewed in the history of hermeneutical reflection, it is far from innovative.

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Desiderata III: Prosopography of Individuals in Early Christian Literature in the First Three Centuries CE

In reading through some accounts of martyrs in the second and third centuries for a graduate colloquium recently, it struck me that it would be useful to have a prosopographical tool covering the literature and material remains of Christians for the first three centuries or so. As far as I can see, such a tool doesn’t currently exist, but I would be grateful if someone could point me in its direction if one does exist.

There are various prosopographical dictionaries of the later period, like the multi-volume Prosopographie chrétienne, which is arranged geographically and takes its start on the whole from the fourth century. There are also a few partial examples that supply an excellent example of how one might approach the task: Richard Bauckham, “Prosopography of the Jerusalem Church,” and Reidar Hvalvik, “Prosopography of Jewish Believers Connected with Paul and His Mission” in their contributions to the edited collection, Jewish Believers in Jesus. Or again, Jörg Rüpke’s Fasti Sacerdotum: A Prosopography of Pagan, Jewish, and Christian Religious Officials in the City of Rome, 300 BC to AD 499. Jeremiah Coogan rightly mentions to me Preisigke’s Namenbuch which covers some of this territory as well.

But I think none of these quite does what I have in mind. Ideally someone with a digital humanities bent could make this an online, open-access database. Anyone?