The Question of Question Marks in Greek Manuscripts

I’ve been meaning to post for quite some time on a fascinating video from the 2021 Birmingham Colloquium on New Testament Textual Criticism. Elijah Hixson presented on P50, a papyrus bifolium containing Acts 8:26-32 and 10:26-31 kept at Yale’s Beinecke Library (P.CtYBR inv. 1543, LDAB 2861). It was bought in Paris from Maurice Nahman in 1933. It’s generally assigned to the fourth century, but Hixson argued this piece might be a modern fake. I think he’s right.

I don’t want to give away too many of the details. Hixson builds a cautious cumulative case for forgery that is definitely worth watching, either in the original Birmingham presentation here or a more recent version here.

I just want to dwell on one issue that came up in the video that has been of interest to me for a while. In both videos, Elijah comments upon the presence of the symbol ; used to mark questions on two occasions in P50, the end of Acts 8:31 and the end of Acts 10:21.

As Elijah notes, this seems out of place in a fourth century manuscript. In fact, as far as I know, this would be unique among papyrus manuscripts of the fourth century, as the “semicolon”-style question mark does not occur regularly in Greek manuscripts until much later. This seems to me to be, by itself, a strong indication of that P50 is a modern forgery.

But I have wondered for a while: When, exactly, do we start seeing the ; symbol as question mark in Greek manuscripts? The textbooks have not been especially helpful. The clearest statement I have seen is Edward Maunde Thompson writing in 1912 (An Introduction to Greek and Latin Palaeography):

“The mark of interrogation also first appears about the eighth or ninth century” (p. 60).

Frustratingly, Thompson does not provide any examples. The earliest instance I know of is a manuscript of Genesis in the Bodleian Library at Oxford (Bodleian Library MS. Auct. T. inf. 2). This is a parchment manuscript copied partially in majuscules and partially in minuscules. Some authorities assign it to the 9th century, others to the 10th century.

Bodleian Library MS. Auct. T. inf. 2. 1; image source: Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

The “semicolon”-style question mark regularly appears at the end of interrogative sentences, for instance in Genesis 3:11:

Detail of Genesis 3:11 in Bodleian Library MS. Auct. T. inf. 2. 1image source: Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

The phrase ἀδαμ ποῦ εἶ is already marked as a question by the circumflex accent over the diphthong in ποῦ (“Adam, where are you?”), but the copyist has also added the ; symbol. As I noted, this is the earliest piece I have been able to find with the ; question mark. But there must be some earlier examples that Thompson had in mind. Does anyone know of any?

Posted in Fakes and Forgeries, Punctuation | 7 Comments

The Strange “nu” Story of 7Q5

Someone has done a real number on the Wikipedia page for 7Q5. [[Update 20 March 2022: I see that a good citizen has cleaned up some of the Wikipedia page. The version I cited is here. Let’s hope the page keeps improving.]] Some older versions of the page were both more informative and much less cluttered. Now it is a mess. So it goes with Wikipedia.

For those who might not know this manuscript, it was one of several small fragments of papyrus found when archaeologists excavated Cave 7Q at Qumran. The profile of the manuscripts from this cave was a bit different from that of the other caves near Qumran. The Cave 7 manuscripts were all papyrus (as opposed to animal skin) and all in Greek (as opposed to Hebrew or Aramaic). Maurice Baillet (1923-1998) published the 7Q texts in 1962. He was able to identify two texts (7Q1=Exodus, 7Q2=Letter of Jeremiah). Unfortunately, many of the fragments contain just a few letters and could not be identified with known texts with any degree of confidence. Among these was 7Q5, a small fragment that Baillet published with the assistance of Marie-Émile Boismard (1916-2004). Here is the plate published in DJD alongside the editors’ transcription:

Beginning in 1972, José O’Callaghan (1922-2001) tried to identify several of the 7Q scraps as New Testament texts. Because the material in the caves near Qumran is generally thought to have been deposited before or during the war against Rome in the 60s CE, any manuscripts found there could in theory be assigned on objective grounds to a period before the war. Hence, O’Callaghan was claiming to have identified the earliest surviving Christian manuscripts, allegedly copied within thirty years of the death of Jesus. O’Callaghan’s claims thus attracted a great deal of attention. Most specialists were not persuaded by O’Callaghan’s arguments, and some of his proposed identifications have been conclusively refuted (for instance, 7Q4 and 7Q8, which O’Callaghan identified as parts of 1 Timothy and James, are now widely regarded as both being part of a roll that contained 1 Enoch). But the identification that has received the most attention was O’Callaghan’s claim that 7Q5 was a fragment containing the remains of Mark 6:52-53. O’Callaghan’s diplomatic transcription is below at left, and his transcription with reconstruction is at right.

This proposed identification provoked a strong reaction. The vast majority of qualified scholars emphatically rejected O’Callaghan’s arguments for several reasons. O’Callaghan’s reconstruction

  • depended upon highly suspect readings of several letters (such as the proposed nu in the second line, omitted in O’Callaghan’s diplomatic transcription but present in his contextual transcription).
  • required the existence of an otherwise unattested textual variant (the absence of the words επι την γην in Mark 6:53).
  • necessitated that one of the nine undisputed letters on the papyrus must be a scribal error (tau for delta in line 3).

After a flurry of articles in the 1970s demonstrating the problems with O’Callaghan’s thesis, the guild moved on. But the idea was resurrected by Carsten Peter Thiede (1952-2004) in the late 1980s and 1990s. Thiede made his case mostly through a sensationalist media campaign. This effort again elicited an overwhelmingly negative response from scholars, but, as the current version of the Wikipedia page indicates, the theory refuses to die in some circles, despite its documented weakness.

Over the years, much of the discussion about the papyrus has revolved around the identity of the letters after the omega in line 2. O’Callaghan read a nu while the original editors read an iota-space-alpha. If the nu is not present, then O’Callaghan’s already shaky identification loses any plausibility. In the years after O’Callaghan’s proposal, better images of the fragment were made available (such as the one below), and the original editors’ reading of an iota after the omega has been accepted by nearly all specialists. But the palaeographic argument–to the extent that there even is a meaningful argument–is not what got my attention in this story.

7Q5; image source: Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library (photographer: Tsila Sagiv)

In a short pamphlet published in 1989, Stuart Pickering and Rosalie Cook of Macquarie University pointed out something that I had not noticed before: Much (or all?) of the hoopla surrounding this fragment was based on O’Callaghan’s misreading of a printed text. It’s kind of amazing. The whole debacle of this proposed identification seems to have resulted from O’Callaghan’s inability to properly equate a photographic plate with a printed transcription. Let me unpack this a little. Here is what O’Callaghan wrote back in his 1972 article criticizing the original edition of the papyrus:

“After the ⲱ, the ⲁ suggested by the editors seems inadmissible. The traces of the facsimile are too uncertain to allow a satisfactory reading, even though one comes to discover the left vertical stroke and the peculiar descending contour of a ⲛ similar to that of line 4. However, I am not quite able to explain the movement of this inner stroke, which rises too much in its last phase. For all these reasons, in the new transcription, I prefer to limit myself to putting a dot instead of a letter.” (“Detrás de la ⲱ la ⲁ sugerida por los editores parece inadmisible. Los trazos del facsímil son demasiado inciertos para permitir una lectura satisfactoria, a pesar de que se llega a descubrir el palo vertical izquierdo y el peculiar contorneo descendente de una ⲛ semejante al de la línea 4. Sin embargo, no me acabo de explicar el repliegue de este trazo interior que en su última fase sube demasiado. Por todo ello, en la nueva transcripción prefiero limitarme a poner un punto en vez de una letra.”)

O’Callaghan seems to have mistakenly thought that in the view of Baillet and Boismard, an alpha followed immediately after the omega in line 2. So, it’s not the case that O’Callaghan judged the editors’ omegaiota-space-alpha sequence to be a bad reading in need of improvement. Rather, he appears to have failed to understand that Baillet and Boismard rendered the script ⲱⲓ (omegaiota) by means of a printed ῳ employing the iota subscript. O’Callaghan took the printed ῳ to represent just one letter–ⲱ–and then believed the editors had misconstrued the following vertical line (“el palo vertical”) as part of an alpha. Amazing. So much ink spilled as a result of nothing more than a silly error.

But wait! There’s more! In the following issue of Biblica, Baillet, one of the original editors, weighed in and actually pointed out O’Callaghan’s mistake: “After the omega, the reading ⲛⲏ is absolutely impossible. There is first of all an iota, which is adscript in the document but subscript in the edition, and which J. O’Callaghan has completely ignored. The iota is certain, and it is absurd to see it as the left stroke of a nu.” (“Après l’oméga, la lecture ⲛⲏ est absolument impossible. Il y a d’abord un iota, qui est adscrit dans le document, mais souscrit dans l’édition, et que J. O’Callaghan a complètement négligé. Cet iota est sûr, et il est absurde d’y voir le jambage gauche d’un nu.”)

With this mistake pointed out already in 1972, the same year of O’Callaghan’s publication, the matter should have ended there. A quick retraction from O’Callaghan would have been appropriate. But O’Callaghan did not admit to his initial mistake. Instead, after his own visit to see the papyrus in person, O’Callaghan defended his readings, even this obvious error, in a series of subsequent publications (though in 1976, he allowed that some of his other 7Q identifications were open to question).

We all make mistakes, and if we’re lucky, the peer review system catches them before they go into print. It is disappointing that the journal editors and peer reviewers did not catch this particular error and save all of us a great deal of time and energy.

Sources mentioned:

Baillet, Maurice. “Les manuscrits de la Grotte 7 de Qumrân et le Nouveau Testament.” Biblica 53.4 (1972), 508-516.

Baillet, Maurice, J.T. Milik, and R. de Vaux (eds.). Les ‘petit grottes’ de Qumrân, DJD 3.2. Oxford: Clarendon, 1962.

O’Callaghan, José. “The Identifications of 7Q.” Aegyptus 56.1 (1976), 287-294.

O’Callaghan, José. “¿Papiros neotestamentarios en la cueva 7 de Qumrān?” Biblica 53.1 (1972), 91-100.

Pickering Stuart R. and Rosalie R.E. Cook. Has a Fragment of the Gospel of Mark Been Found at Qumran? Sydney: Macquarie University Ancient History Documentary Research Centre, 1989.

Posted in 7Q5, Dead Sea Scrolls, José O'Callaghan | 11 Comments

Radiocarbon Dating of the Cologne Mani Codex

In volume 220 of Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik (2021), there is a short article by Cornelia Römer: “Die Datierung des Kölner Mani-Kodex” (pp. 94-96).

The article reports the results of AMS radiocarbon analysis of the Cologne Mani codex. For those who don’t know this remarkable little book (TM 64574): It is a miniature parchment codex whose leaves are about 3.8 cm wide and 4.5 cm high. It contains a biography of the prophet Mani (c. 216-276 CE) in Greek. It is copied in finely executed letters that are just 1 millimeter high.

Cologne Mani Codex before and after conservation (Kölner Papyrussammlung)

The codex was reportedly bought in Egypt in the late 1960s, but the details are very sketchy. According to Albert Henrichs (in 1979) “next to nothing is known about the fate of the Mani Codex before it reached Cologne.” Rumors that the codex had been subjected to radiocarbon analysis have been circulating since the 1990s, but no publication had appeared. Until now.

To briefly recap the ranges of dates that have been proposed for the codex: When the existence of the codex was first reported in 1970, Albert Henrichs and Ludwig Koenen believed on the basis of its script that the codex was likely produced in the fifth century CE (“Aus paläographischen Gründen ist er wahrscheinlich dem 5. Jh. zuzuweisen”). In 1977, Eric Turner opted for fourth century or fourth-fifth century. In 1990, B.L. Fonkič and F.B. Poljakov assigned the copying of the codex to the eighth century CE. More recently, Pasquale Orsini has argued that the codex preserves the work of two copyists working in two different periods. One hand that “could be dated to the sixth century” was the initial copyist, and then “some time between the second half of the eighth century and the beginning of the ninth century” a second copyist, probably “intervened later to ‘restore’ parts at the beginning and end of the codex which had been damaged.”

Now to the radiocarbon analysis: The process was undertaken at the initiative of Ludwig Koenen in 1995. What was sent off for analysis was a 7.25 mg sample taken from the binding thread of the codex. To supplement the report provided in ZPE: It is very important to recall that the codex was in a delicate state when it was purchased, and it underwent an extensive process of conservation in the hands of Anton Fackelmann. I am not aware if there is a detailed and reliable account of the exact procedures used for conservation. In 1979, Albert Henrichs reported that the codex arrived in Vienna as a collection of four clumps of leaves gummed together. Then, “with the help of a chemical solvent manufactured in the United States, Dr. Fackelmann managed to soften the brittle material. …[T]he pages came off much faster than I could transcribe them.” It would be very good to know what exactly this chemical solvent was–and whether it came into contact with the binding thread of the codex. If the solvent contained carbon, the possibility of contamination arises.

The results of the analysis were reported as follows in a letter from the AMS facility at the University of Arizona dated 20 January 1996:

“Radiocarbon Age: 1,652 ± 60 yr BP”

“Calibrated Age: 267 – 434 AD (1 sigma, 68% confidence)
240 – 540 AD (2 sigma, 95% confidence)”

Römer supplements these results with a more recent IntCal13 calibration expressed in the following way:

“Für die 2 Sigma Fehlergrenzen (95%) erhält man folgendes detaillierte Resultat:

263 – 274 AD (0,048)
330 – 432 AD (0,745)
490 – 533 AD (0,207)”

We can now adjust again with the still more recent IntCal20 data using the OxCal v4.4.4 program:

The estimated date ranges at 95.4% probability are:

251 – 294 CE (09.7%)
314 – 555 CE (85.7%)

The results across all three sets of calibration data are relatively uniform. The latest calibration offers a slightly wider range of possible dates–from the middle of the third century to the middle of the sixth century. The third century dates can probably be safely excluded, as the biography of Mani contained in the codex is generally thought to have been composed in the fourth century.

The original date assigned by the editors (fifth century) along with Turner’s wider range (fourth-fifth century) are both consistent with the radiocarbon data. That the codex was originally produced in the eighth century, as Fonkič and Poljakov had argued, now seems most unlikely. These radiocarbon results do not, however, rule out Orsini’s hypothesis (that the book was originally copied in the sixth century and then damaged with portions later recopied in the eighth or ninth century). If, however, the codex (or a part of it) was disassembled and rebound, it would be somewhat surprising that the same (older) thread would be used again. But the report does not inform us of the exact place from which the sample of thread was taken (that is: From which of the several quires that have thread preserved was this sample taken?). This would be very helpful information to know, along with the identity of the aforementioned chemical used to separate the leaves. It would also be interesting to test further samples from the quires assigned to different copyists.

Finally, what is the best way to describe the date of the codex in light of all the data (palaeographic and radiocarbon)? We can now say with a high degree of confidence: “fourth century to mid-sixth century.”

Despite the remaining questions, it is good to have this new data more widely available.

Sources mentioned:

Fonkič, B.L. and F.B. Poljakov. “Paläographische Grundlagen der Datierung des Kölner Mani-Kodex.” Byzantinische Zeitschrift 83 (1990), 22-30.

Henrichs, Albert. “The Cologne Mani Codex Reconsidered.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 83 (1979), 339-367.

Henrich, Albert and Ludwig Koenen. “Ein griechischer Mani-Codex (P. Colon. inv. nr. 4780).” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 5 (1970), 97-216.

Orsini, Pasquale. Studies on Greek and Coptic Majuscule Scripts and Books, trans. Stephen Parkin and Laura Nuvoloni. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2019.

Römer, Cornelia. “Die Datierung des Kölner Mani-Kodex.” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 220 (2021), 94-96.

Turner, Eric G. The Typology of the Early Codex. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1977.

Posted in Anton Fackelmann, Codices, Codicology, Cologne Mani Codex, Radiocarbon analysis | 3 Comments

New Article on the Dead Sea Scrolls said to come from Cave 1Q

I’m happy to report that the first 2022 issue of Harvard Theological Review contains my article on the Dead Sea Scrolls said to come from Cave 1 at Qumran:

“How the ‘Jerusalem Scrolls’ Became the Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran Cave 1: Archaeology, the Antiquities Market, and the Spaces In Between”

This paper emerged out of The Lying Pen of Scribes project. A big thank you to Årstein Justnes for encouraging me to dig into these questions back in 2020, and thanks also to Eibert Tigchelaar and Stephen Reed for spending a good deal of time answering questions and generally helping me out.

I workshopped a number of ideas related to this article on this blog over the last couple years, and I’m very grateful for the input of many people in the comments and via email. I thought this might be a good occasion to gather those posts in an organized way (and also to add some updates to a couple of the posts):

A few other posts from the last several months touch on related topics, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls that Mar Samuel, the Archbishop of the Syrian church, kept in the US:

Then there is the video footage of the more famous Scrolls that Mar Samuel brought to the US and then sold:

As a follow up to that post, I should add that Alexander Schick subsequently alerted me to the existence of video footage of William Brownlee and John Trever with the Scrolls in Jerusalem in the very early days. He noticed that some of this footage was presented on YouTube by Orit Rosengarten. The archival footage begins at 14:31:

There is also a freely available online copy of Trever’s photos of the “Cave 1” scrolls:

And I came across a newspaper article that identified by name some of the lesser known excavators of Cave 1:

…And finally a photo shoot from the 1950s involving Cave 1 materials staged in a “natural setting”:

In connection with this photo shoot, I should add that Alexander Schick, while working through the estate of Claus-Hunno Hunzinger, has located a publication that used these pictures, a pamphlet produced by the Jordan Tourist Department under the title “Qumran und die Schriftrollen vom Toten Meer”:

Brochure with PAM images from 1950s photo shoot; image courtesy of Alexander Schick

This was a very enjoyable project. Thanks again to everyone for putting up with my questions!

Posted in Antiquities Market, Archaeological context, Dead Sea Scrolls, Khalil Eskander Shahin (Kando) | 1 Comment

Digital Images of P64

I noted before that the Bodleian Library at Oxford had made images of several of their manuscripts freely available online. I see now that they also have put up excellent high resolution digital images of P64, that is, the Magdalen College fragments of the Gospel According to Matthew (with a scale!!).

These have apparently been up since 2017 (right around the time that I ordered new digital photography of them for use in my book–thanks Australian Research Council!). In any event, thanks to the Bodleian for making these images available!

Another set of fragments that probably came from the same codex (P.Monts.Roca inv. 1, P67), can be viewed online through the Ductus project here.

To the best of my knowledge, good quality color images of the other fragments sometimes associated with this book (the Gospel According to Luke, BnF Ms. Suppl. grec 1120 [2], a.k.a. P4) are nowhere to be found online. Some older image of the codex of Philo of Alexandria inside which these fragments of Luke were found can be seen online.

For those who don’t know these fragments, there is a chapter in my book that tells their story, which is pretty wild (provenance! palaeography!): “Fabricating a Second-Century Codex of the Four Gospels.”

Posted in Magdalen College Matthew Papyrus, Palaeography | 4 Comments

The New Facsimiles of the Beatty Biblical Papyri

My first post of 2021 was a notice that new facsimiles of some of the Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri had appeared. At the time, I had not seen the books in person, and all I could do was note their existence and lament the price tag. But with the benefit of a sizable conference discount and the opportunity to examine the volumes in person, I decided to buy a copy. So, for my first post of 2022, I’ll offer a brief review of these volumes.

Stratton L. Ladewig, Robert D. Marcello, Daniel B. Wallace (eds.). New Testament Papyri Facsimiles: P45, P46, P47. The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts / Hendrickson Academic, 2020. 2 volumes. ISBN 9781619708440. $399 USD.

This facsimile presents new photographs of three of the eleven “Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri,” the codex of the gospels and Acts (P45), the codex of the Pauline epistles (P46), and the codex containing Revelation (P47). The photographs were made as a part of the ongoing work of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM). The set of two volumes comes in in a sturdy cardboard slipcase. The books are nicely bound and consist of 312 pages each. The two volumes are identical except for the fact that in one volume the photographs of the manuscripts have a white background and in the other the photographs are on a black background. The 30 pages of introductory matter are the same in both volumes.

The introduction is concise and informative. It gives a brief history of the discovery of the papyri and lays out the need for improved images. The editors briskly and sensibly discuss the estimated dates of the manuscripts, provide charts coordinating the folios with shelf numbers, and offer a short description of the digitization process. The introduction concludes with a new edition of folio 8 of the gospels-Acts codex based on repositioned and newly discovered fragments.

The facsimile images themselves are attractively produced. The pages are laid out with the manuscript folio number provided in the outer upper margin (along with an arrow indicating fiber direction), with scriptural references in the inner upper margin for ease of navigation. The page number of the facsimile edition itself is in the lower outer margin. The images of the papyri stand alone on the background (there are no scales or color palettes). The quality of the photos is usually excellent, as a comparison with Kenyon’s plates indicates. Kenyon’s plates were very good by 1930s standards, but they tended to highlight the contrast between the ink and the writing surface at the expense of washing out the texture of the papyrus.

CSNTM / Hendrickson Academic facsimile page (left) compared to Kenyon / Emery Walker facsimile page (right)
CSNTM / Hendrickson Academic facsimile detail (top) compared to Kenyon / Emery Walker facsimile detail (bottom)

In the cases when bifolia have survived intact, these are reproduced at a reduced size at the conclusion of each set of plates. This is a very nice touch and something that sets this new facsimile apart from the plates that accompanied Kenyon’s editions.

I don’t really have many critical comments, just a bit of curiosity about some of the decisions that went into the production.

First, the decision to produce two volumes with different background colors. I generally find a white background preferable when looking at photos of papyri, as a black background can sometimes lead to confusion between ink marks and holes in the papyrus. Aesthetically, some of the more damaged papyrus leaves of the Beatty papyri do look better against a black background (this is especially true of the badly damaged leaves of the Gospels-Acts codex, which can sometimes be difficult to read against a bright white background). But for the majority of the leaves, photos on the white background are more than adequate, especially in light of the fact that the CSNTM has provided good digital images of the codices online (against both a white background and a black background). Those who need to study particular readings in detail can do so with the high resolution images online. I’m not sure if a cost-benefit calculation would justify producing a second volume with the images on a black background. If you’re prepared for the extra expense of making more than one volume, I think I would have preferred just one copy of the images, but a copy that was physically divided in a way that reflects the actual ancient manuscripts.

This brings me to a second decision: Why bind photos of the three distinct manuscripts as one physical volume? This decision renders the volumes a little less useful in the classroom. When I talk with students about the Beatty Biblical Papyri (and the Bodmer Papyri), one of the things I point out is that the earliest Christian books seem to have circulated in single units (for instance, Revelation) or smaller groups (for instance, the Pauline letters). Showing Kenyon’s three separate volumes in class reinforces this point. Binding the books together as a single unit (in fact a “New Testament,” as the title of the new facsimile indicates) has a certain familiarizing effect.

This effect is amplified by a third decision regarding the presentation of the images of the Gospels-Acts codex. The editors describe the decision and the reasoning behind it:

“Although the original order of the Gospels in P45 was likely the Western order (Matthew, John, Luke, Mark), the order in this presentation is traditional, following the lead of Kenyon. Since the folio numbers have been standardized, deviation from that in this publication would not have been prudent.”

The evidence for the order of the gospels in this codex is not absolutely conclusive, but it is reasonably strong and worth examining. The facsimile editors cite Kenyon’s edition and Theodore Skeat’s codicological discussion. Kenyon wrote only the following:

“With regard to the order of the books, the only evidence lies in the fact that Mark and Acts were closely associated in the papyrus as brought to England. This makes it probable that Mark stood last among the Gospels, as in the Freer MS. at Washington (W), where the order of the books is Matthew, John, Luke, Mark, the so-called Western order, which is found in the Codex Bezae and several MSS. of the Old Latin version” (Kenyon, The Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri, Fasc. II: The Gospels and Acts, p. viii).

In 1993, Theodore Skeat gave a much more detailed codicological reconstruction confirming Kenyon’s view, though Skeat’s reconstruction is not without anomalies. One of the key observations that Skeat made was that the pattern of preservation in the surviving leaves clearly suggests that Mark and Acts stood next to one another in the bound codex.

So, as the editors of the facsimile state, the gospels in this codex were most likely in the “Western” order. The decision to print the images in the order Matthew-Mark-Luke-John feels like a missed opportunity to be more true than Kenyon was to the probable appearance of the ancient book. The editors voice a concern for potential confusion in shuffling the numbers of the folia, but in this case I think the benefits of a more plausible codicological reconstruction probably outweigh the costs of a reassignment of numbers that could be relatively easily explained with a chart of equivalencies.

And finally, what about the decision to make a physical facsimile at all? Do we need a print facsimile when the CSNTM’s quality digital images are available online? Here I think the answer is yes. Even if physical copies of Kenyon’s plates were more widely available (digital copies of Kenyon’s plates are online), the improved quality of the CSNTM photos justifies the production of a new facsimile. It is always good to be reminded of the materiality and three dimensionality of these ancient manuscripts. Dan Wallace signed off his preface to the volume on “22 May 2020, Feast Day of Saint Rita of Cascia, Patroness of Impossible Causes.” And with a project like this, it is indeed impossible to please everyone completely. It is clear that a lot of hard work went into the production of these volumes, and we (that is, those who can afford a copy or have access to a good library) can be grateful for the results.

Posted in Chester Beatty Papyri, Codices, Codicology, Frederic Kenyon | 5 Comments

Christianity Today on the Hobby Lobby vs. Obbink Case

Christianity Today has just published an article summarizing recent events in the case of Hobby Lobby vs. Obbink. The article, which contains some details from the most recent court documents, can be found here.

Image source: Christianity Today
Posted in Antiquities Market, Dirk Obbink, Oxyrhynchus Papyri | 1 Comment

Update on Hobby Lobby vs. Obbink Case

A number of people have notified me in recent days that attorneys for Hobby Lobby have requested a certificate of default in their case against Dirk Obbink, who has apparently not responded the summons served in September. A couple days ago, the court granted that certificate: “the default of defendant Dirk D. Obbink is hereby noted.” Thus, Prof. Obbink now owes Hobby Lobby $7 million USD. The updated docket is visible here (once again, I have not viewed the individual documents behind the paywall).

I think many of us hoped that a trial might bring to light further information on the whereabouts of the roughly 80 Oxyrhynchus papyri that still seem to be missing.

For readers of German, a helpful summary of the whole affair by Susanna Kinzig recently appeared in Die Zeit.

Posted in Dirk Obbink, Oxyrhynchus Papyri | 6 Comments

New Book on the Faddan More Psalter

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the Faddan More Psalter, a parchment codex containing the Psalms in Latin that was found in an Irish bog in 2006. John Gillis noted in the comments that he has a book coming out on the Psalter very soon.

Thanks to Stephen Goranson for alerting me that The Guardian has a wonderfully illustrated article out today by Lisa O’Carroll on this forthcoming book.

In my earlier post, I mentioned that “metallic inks can damage or destroy the parchment over time. But under the conditions of the bog, the ink of the Faddan More Psalter sometimes preserved the parchment, such that only the isolated letters survive while the surrounding uninscribed parchment has disintegrated.” The article has an incredible image of this “alphabet soup” phenomenon:

Surviving parchment letters from the Faddan More Psalter; image source: The Guardian

I’m very excited to see the forthcoming book, called The Faddan More Psalter, The Discovery and Conservation of a Medieval Treasure.

Posted in Faddan More Psalter | 1 Comment

Chancery Writing and Greek Literature

Having spent some time in my last post looking at P.Berol. inv. 11532 and its remarkable handwriting, I am reminded of a couple classic articles by formidable palaeographic experts. The first is a long and in depth study of this type of this type of script (sometimes called “the Alexandrian chancery script of Subatianus Aquila”) by Guglielmo Cavallo, “La scrittura del P. Berol. 11532: Contributo allo studio dello stile di cancelleria nei papiri greci di età romana” published in 1965 (not freely available online as far as I can tell, but purchasable for a not entirely unreasonable price here). Cavallo made a detailed description of the script and brought together several photographic plates containing many samples of similar writing.

P.Berol. inv. 11532; image source: Berliner Papyrusdatenbank

The second article that was on my mind is a short but interesting piece by Eric Turner published in 1956. Turner drew attention to P.Ryl. I 59, small fragment of papyrus published by Arthur S. Hunt in 1911 (Hunt’s original publication can be viewed online here). The papyrus contains the opening words of Demosthenes, De corona copied six times in a hand that shares a number of features with that of P.Berol. inv. 11532.

Writing exercise on papyrus, P.Ryl. Gr. I 59; Copyright of the University of Manchester; image source: John Rylands Research Institute and Library, University of Manchester

Turner notes the similarities and differences as follows:

“Comparison of the Rylands fragment with [P.Berol. inv. 11532] shows the same exaggerated narrowness and tallness of letters like ο, θ, σ (while η, ν, and τ are allowed to remain fairly broad), a compression probably governed by the desire to keep all the letters within the limits of two generously spaced parallel lines and at the same time to make them fill the vertical distance between these lines. Again, in both examples, the pen has been allowed to rest for a moment at the instant of contact, forming oblique series or circlets in the Rylands text, hooks in that in Berlin. Two letters in the Rylands exercise have a form closer to that of bookhand than their counterparts in the Berlin order: α (which unlike the Berlin α remains firmly planted on the lower line and does not float to the surface of the upper line) has no loop or cross-bar and is strikingly like a contemporary Roman a; ε, if less elongated, could be paralleled from many an example of the so-called ‘severe’ style…”

Turner draws several lessons from this piece (his full article can be viewed online here), but I will emphasize just one: “The fact that a budding chancery scribe should practise by copying a line of Demosthenes seems to confirm that principle of the absence in the ancient world of a sharp division between bookhands and documentary hands.”

This quotation in turn reminds me of another writing exercise that I’ve mentioned here before, P.Oxy. 31.2604, a badly damaged papyrus fragment. Here is how its editors described it:

“On the recto, a document, almost wholly effaced; the few remaining traces are of writing in a practised upright official hand of the third century A.D., written with a very fine pen….It is probably the same scribe who has written on the verso (again with a fine pen) a hexameter line three times; the first in cramped, tall, upright letters of ‘chancery’ type; the second time in similar writing, but a little larger; and finally in large uncial letters, decorated with serifs; the Θ is of an archaic shape, with a central dot instead of a cross-bar.”

Pieces like these writing exercises serve as useful reminders that many ancient copyists were capable of writing in different styles, and many may have been proficient in copying different kinds of texts that included both documents and literary works.

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