Over the last decade or so, a number of scholars have emphasized the study of early Christian manuscripts as artifacts of ancient Christianity. NT textual criticism has tended to focus on NT manuscripts and mainly for the wording of NT texts. But in this newer emphasis all Christian manuscripts are relevant, and their physical and visual features (which might be called “para-textual data”) are important as well. My own book, The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), lays out the basics of what is involved and I illustrate how early manuscripts cast valuable light on a number of wider historical questions about early Christianity.
I’ve just finished reviewing (for Theologische Literaturzeitung) an excellent volume that carries forward this emphasis: Early Christian Manuscripts: Examples of Applied Method and Approach, eds. Thomas J. Kraus & Tobias Nicklas (Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2010). Kraus and Niclas are major figures in bringing the study of early Christian manuscrpts into the scope of NT scholarship. This book follows on from a previous multi-author volume, New Testament Manuscripts: Their Texts and Their World (Leiden: Brill, 2006).The present volume includes nine contributions from scholars in Europe, North America and Australia, reflecting the international dimensions of this area of research. There isn’t space here for a full review, so I’ll confine myself to a very brief description of the contributions.
Kraus’s opening essay highlights the difficulties and dangers in trying to reconstruct the wording of fragmentary manuscripts, and Rachel Yuen-Collingridge illustrates this in her discussion of dubious scholarly attempts to posit P.Egerton 2 as a writing of Origen (early third century Christian writer). My colleague, Paul Foster, gives a master class in the analysis of ancient papyri in his study of P.Oxyrhynchus 1224 (a fragmentary copy of some unknown gospel-like text).
John Granger Cook critically probes the bases for identifying P.Yale I 3 (P50) as an amulet, and Theodore de Bruyn offers a full survey of various types of items with biblical texts that appear to have been used as amulets (dated 4th to 8th centuries).
Lincoln Blumell finds wanting the claims that P.Oxyrhynchus 3057 is the earliest Christian letter. Don Barker looks at some examples of the reuse of Christian texts for various personal purposes in early Christian circles.
Malcolm Choat and Yuen-Collingridge collaborate in a particularly valuable review of early manuscripts of the fascinating text, Shepherd of Hermas, the third most frequently found Christian text in early manuscripts. Stanley Porter’s concluding essay presents a comparison of grammatical features of the koine Greek of the NT, non-Christian Egyptian papyri, and Greek documents in the Babatha archive (from ancient Judea), showing that the NT generally reflects the broad koine Greek of its time (not some special form of Greek).
Thanks to Kraus and Nicklas for organizing and editing this very helpful volume.