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Very Important Information

31 Jul

We do a lot of reading/listening of other people’s work and one of the authors/speakers we enjoy is Dr. Craig Evans. Almost everything he writes is good, informative and explained in a very clear-cut manner so that his message is easy to understand. The article,

How Long Were
Late Antique Books in Use?
Possible Implications for
New Testament Textual Criticism,

we just finished reading and will quote some very important information from shortly is no exception. We do not agree 100% with Dr. Evans but then we do not expect people to agree with us 100% of the time either and we do question things like

Most of the manuscripts were prepared by professional scribes; many of these manuscripts were proofread by the original
scribe and then by a second scribe called a διορθωτής7 It should be noted that these professionally prepared manuscripts are bookrolls, not codices.
We are not sure of the exact role of the scribes and we doubt the illiteracy claims most archaeologists claim was evidence in the ancient periods.There are other things in that article we question but those are for another day. This post is more about providing some important information that Dr. Evans has recorded in that article.
#1. At the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century nearly a
half million documents were recovered from rubbish heaps on the outskirts
of the ancient city of Oxyrhynchus…, a few kilometers west of the Nile River and about 200 kilometers
southwest of modern Cairo. Only a small portion of this rich trove of
documents, made up mostly of papyri, has been published to date
#2. In recent studies George Houston argues plausibly that the evidence suggests that in each case someone in
antiquity
was clearing texts, old or no longer wanted, out of his library, and had them taken out together and thrown on the dump
Support for the possibility of coherent collections being preserved in dumps comes from the large numbers of similar bodies of documentary materials, in which specific names and dates often prove that the papyri in
the concentration belonged together and came from a single original archive

#3.Many of these manuscripts give evidence of being carefully studied The texts are glossed and corrected and sometimes are accompanied with exegetical notes11 There is evidence that readers compared duplicate texts and engaged in what we today call textual criticism12 Perhaps the biggest surprise has been the discovery of how long these manuscripts were in use before being retired During excavations by Grenfell and Hunt at Oxyrhynchus, a collection of second and third-century manuscripts was found in a layer of fill that was dated to the fourth and fifth centuries 13A number of other collections or libraries were found suggesting similar longevity of their manuscripts In some cases, datedcorrespondence added support to the evidence of stratigraphy

#4.Houston finds that literary manuscripts were in use anywhere from 75 to 500 years, with the average of about 150 years14 Almost all of these libraries and collections were multigenerational, being handed down todescendants or in some cases purchased in their entirety by a new family or collector

#5.The chronology and history of usage of archival documents, as op  posed to libraries and book collections of literary works, are usually not too difficult to determine This is because business and legal papers—the typical contents of archives—are almost always dated

#6.In most cases, the longevity of archival documents is not great This is especially so in reference to business and legal papers The papers found in the archives of Phanesis, Zenon, and Babatha date over periods of 10(or 11), 31 (or 32), and 38 (or 39) years, respectively The family archives of Patron and Philosarapis exhibit much greater longevity We may speculate that business and legal archives were in active use for shorter periods oftime simply because contracts expired and legal matters were concluded, either in court or in death

#7.Besides the evidence offered by the remains of ancient libraries and book collections, we actually have a few references in the ancient literature itself that directly bear on the question of the longevity of papyrus manuscripts First-century Pliny the Elder (died in A D79) claims to have seen autographs of some of the Gracchi letters, which in his time would havebeen about 200 years old (Nat. Hist. 13 83) Late second-century Galen tells us that “some also had desired to find very old volumes, written three hundred years ago,

#8. The same holds in the case of a number of Christian Bibles Fourth-century Codex Vaticanus was reinked in the 10th century, which shows that it was still being read and studied some 600 years after it had been produced 19 Indeed, in the case of Vaticanus, missing leaves were added in the 15th century Correctors worked on Sinaiticus as late as the 7th century 20

The great codex remained in use for many centuries more, as witnessed by the annotations of a monk named Dionysius in the 12th century

#9. If manuscripts were in use for two or three centuries before their destruction or retirement, we must entertain the possibility, perhaps even probability, that the autographs and first copies of first-century NT writings continued to circulate, to be studied, and to be copied throughout the second century and, in some cases, even on into the third century

This means that the original copy of the Gospel of Matthew—let us suppose written and first circulated in A D 75—may actually have remained in use until the time of the production of픓45, approximately 150 years later

#10 I can hardly fault Holmes for deciding against autograph The idea that autographs of as many as six of Paul’s letters survived some 130 to 140 years would have struck Holmes and other scholars in the late 19th century as most improbable, if not altogether impossible But the papyri, which at the time Holmes was translating Tertullian, were only beginning to be recovered from the dry sands of Egypt

31 Study of these many thousands of documents, including the remarkable discoveries of dozens of book collections and libraries, has forced scholars to reconsider the longevity of literary manuscripts that circulated in late antiquity
It turns out, as we have seen, that books in late antiquity often did remain in use, being read, copied, and studied for 100 years or more Some of the autographs of Paul’s letters could have survived to the end of the second century, as Tertullian asserted

#11 There is yet another testimony in which a NT autograph is mentioned In a Paschal treatise, of which only fragments are extant, Peter, Bishop of Alexandria (died in A D 311), is remembered to have said the following:

Now it was the preparation [cf John 19:14, 31], about the third hour [cf Mark 15:25], as the accurate books have it, and the autograph
copy itself of the evangelist John, which up to this day has by divine grace been preserved in the most holy church of Ephesus, and is there adored by the faithful (frag5 2) 34
At the time Bishop Peter wrote (circa A D 300?), the autograph of the Gospel of John would have been about 200 years old Given the longevity of literary manuscripts, the Bishop of Alexandria could well have
been correct
#12 It seems to me that recognition of the probable survival of several NT autographs on into the second and, in some cases, into the third century should throw the text-critical question into a new light The supposition that some scholars entertain, that the transmission of the text of the Gospels and other NT writings in the first two centuries or so was without any controls, is highly improbable

#13 Autographs and first copies may well have remained in circulation until the end of the second century, even the beginning of the third century The evidence also suggests that late second and early to mid-third century manuscripts, such as 픓45,픓46,픓66, and픓75

may well have remained in circulation until the fourth century, when the great codices such as Vaticanus
and Sinaiticus were being produced If so, the implications for textual criticism are significant

#14 The sample is admittedly small, but the evidence so far as it goes seems to show significant instability in the Gnostic manuscripts—in marked contrast to the NT manuscripts, whose text is considerably more stable Why is this? The NT manuscripts were probably more numerous and—unlike the secretive and private Gnostic writings—were read in public Public reading may well have created something like a “standardized” text42 and undoubtedly facilitated memorization, which would also have a stabilizing

affect on the text 43 Perhaps also, the NT writings were taken more seriously by their readers and copyists, with the Gnostic writings—probably read and studied in private—seen more or less as “interpretations” of the dominical and apostolic traditions
#15 Given the evidence that we have and taking into consideration the probability that the autographs and first copies circulated and were in use for one century or longer, there really is no justification for supposing that the text of the NT writings underwent major changes in the first and second centuries
We hope you take the time to read the whole article but what Dr. Evans is saying is that the original autographs, the ones most scholars like Bart Ehrman say we do not have anymore, lasted far beyond what we thought and may have been preserved into the 4th century AD. If this is so that may change many people’s perspective on the Bible.
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Posted by on July 31, 2016 in academics, archaeology, Bible, church, education, faith, history, leadership, theology

 

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