Larry Hurtado’s preliminary review of Nestle Aland 28, the latest critical edition of the Greek New Testament.
I may have a chance to see this display next month, of papyrus in Demotic Egyptian, the basis of a new dictionary.
While in graduate school in the 1970s, Johnson began the project using as a springboard a 700-page demotic glossary published in 1954. Her new version is an updated 4,500-page volume that is now only available free online (www.oi.uchicago.edu). She said it eventually will be published in book form by the University of Chicago Press.
In a paper soon to be published Professor Karen King describes a fourth-century Coptic papyrus fragment which quotes Jesus as referring to “my wife.” The fragment is of course important to historians of early Christianity. It verifies what was already known about certain Coptic-speaking Christian sects, namely that they had a fascination with Mary Magdalene and the possibility that Jesus and she were married.
Professor King is quick to point out that
“this fragment should not be taken as proof that Jesus, the historical person, was actually married. The text was probably written centuries after Jesus lived, and all other early, historically reliable Christian literature is silent on the question, she said.”
The article also points out that the “provenance of the papyrus fragment is a mystery.” What that means is, somebody in a dark robe went up to somebody in a dark alley and said,
Hey buddy, you look like a scholar –You talking to me? –Yeah, you, you’re a scholar right? –Uh, yeah. –You wanna buy a papyrus fragment? For you my friend, I’ll make you a special deal . . .
Or something like that. Professor Chris Rollston is an expert on forgeries. Technically he is an expert on epigraphy, meaning ancient inscriptions. Within that realm his expertise is more in Hebrew, or even Aramaic and Akkadian texts written on stone or pottery. He’s not a Coptic specialist, but he knows a lot about real, forged, and uncertain ancient writings. His policy is generally if it’s unprovenanced, its inadmissible in the court of history. In particular, dramatic claims require dramatic evidence. He has an interesting review of a book based on another dramatic claim about an ancient inscription purported to mention Jesus and Mary Magdalene.
Back to the papyrus, Professor King and other experts say the text has all the signs of being authentic. Professor AnneMarie Luijendijk of Princeton examined the fragment and concluded “It would be impossible to forge.” That may well be true. There are probably a few Coptic scholars in the world who know the language well enough to compose a grammatically correct fragment. I would guess the directory of Coptic scholars in the U.S. (and Australia!), for example, would only take a page or two. But there must also be many Coptic monks unknown to the world of Academia. Who’s to say that one of them with time on his hands may not have tried a little exercise?
But I will defer to the experts and assume it is genuine and interesting. It gives us a window of the beliefs of some fringe-group of Christians living in Southern Egypt several centuries after the age of Christ. And we should be grateful for that historical window.
Thanks to my colleague Wes for passing on this link: http://www.forbes.com/sites/johnfarrell/2012/02/27/fragments-of-marks-gospel-may-date-to-1st-century/
One of my students asked me about this. I’m trying to catch up with my students.
Here it is–the official Dead Sea Scrolls site:
You can look at the five most important scrolls: The great Isaiah Scroll, the War Scroll, the Rule of the Community, the Temple Scroll, and the Commentary on Habakkuk.
Thanks to Kasey Portenier and Karre Schaeffer for giving me the tip.
Thanks to Kevin Mace for notifying me of the AP article that accompanies this picture: “Scholars Seek to Correct ‘Mistakes’ in the Bible.”
The article has some interesting information, but is sensationalized as is the title. Scholars have know–forever, I guess–of variations among hand-written copies of the Bible. The prophet Jeremiah in the 7th century before Christ complained of deliberate corruptions in the text by “lying scribes.” The book of Jeremiah’s prophecies itself testifies to at least three editions within the prophet’s lifetime.
But to be “news” journalists have to make it sound like a bold new discovery. Nevertheless, the article provides a good introduction to textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible.
Joe just sent me a tip that the British Library has placed many ancient Greek manuscripts online:
(AP) LONDON – One of the world’s most important caches of Greek manuscripts is going online, part of a growing number of ancient documents to hit the Web in recent years.
The British Library said Monday that it was making more than a quarter of its 1,000 volume-strong collection of handwritten Greek texts available online free of charge, something curators there hope will be a boon to historians, biblical scholars and students of classical Greece alike. (Yahoo News)
The British Library’s browser is way cool, but it takes some time to get used to it.
Jeremiah had told the residents of Judah to submit to the yoke of Babylon, to accept captivity as God’s will, to pack there bags and trust that the Lord will go with them to Babylon and bless them there. After many exiles were taken, he even told some of the survivors they could stay in the land and he would protect them. Instead they chose to flee to Egypt and forced Jeremiah and Baruch to go with them (Jeremiah 42-43). Jeremiah did maintain some contact with the Jews in Babylon (Jeremiah 51:59-64).
Evidently the Jews in Babylon took with them an edition of the writings of Jeremiah, as did the Jews who went down to Egypt taking Jeremiah and Baruch with them. Eventually in Egypt the Hebrew text of Jeremiah was translated into Greek (which had become the main language of the immigrants around Alexandria, which was where many Jews eventually settled.)
Meanwhile the scribes in Babylon continued to study and copy the writings of Jeremiah, along with the other books of the Bible.
Scholars who study the Septuagint (Greek) text of Jeremiah note that it is notably different from the Hebrew text. In particular, whole chapters (especially the “foreign oracles in chapters ) are in a different order. In addition, the Hebrew text has additional words–and the words seem to be glosses, scholarly explanations and definitions.
We can speak of a Septuagint text-type and a Babylonian text type. It gets more complicated here: some Hebrew fragments of Jeremiah found at Qumran (home of the Dead Sea Scrolls) agree with the Septuagint text-type and some agree with the Babylonian text type.
So we have to assume that there were eventually two distinct editions of Jeremiah: an Egyptian edition and a Babylonian edition.
We have already seen that there were at least three editions of Jeremiah; now we have to allow for four.
Again, these are not scholarly conjectures or hypotheses. The existence of three editions is based on the words that can be plainly found in our English versions of the Bible. It is not a dark secret, it is clearly indicated in the Bible we read. To learn about the distinct Babylonian and Egyptian editions requires some reading beyond our English Bibles–but it is based on facts on the ground–manuscripts that can be examined–not on abstract speculation.
This is the way God chose to reveal and preserve the message he gave through Jeremiah–first to the people of his lifetime, then to us also.