Jun 092015

featherOf all the techniques that could be used to study ancient texts, there are a few that stand out as being both very important and largely understudied, being either ignored in practice or taken on faith due to the lack of relevant expertise or accessible tools. The ones that come to my mind right now are these:

  • Paleography. Understood in general terms and largely regarded as a matter of deference to the experts, this may not have an abundance of practitioners but is at least widely respected and has a huge impact on historical studies. The other two mentioned may be envious of such wide respect and acceptance.
  • Computer-Aided Textual Criticism. There are those who truly believe that completely-thoroughgoing eclecticism is the only answer, there are those who would like to do something more but have no idea how yet, and then there are the few who come back from their tours through the land of “CoherenceBased Genealogical Method” textual criticism and try to convince the other two that it’s really worth visiting sometime.
  • Stylometry. Of the three, perhaps the most confusion surrounds these techniques, and a large part of it is due to the confusion and unresolved questions that still persist among the experts. Due to a combination of widespread superficial familiarity with the studies and the contradictions from those using some kind stylometric method to reach controversial conclusions, stylometric “results” are most often cited with some degree of skepticism (except, of course, when credulously cited as a conversation-stopper).

The first of these two subjects truly are fascinating in their own right, and there are no doubt some others like these that I didn’t mention. But let’s talk about stylometry.

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Dec 302013

ImprovedI’ve been busy extending the timeline of the Early Christian Writings website down to the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. It’s now at a milestone, as the site has gone from having 153 entries to having 200 entries, including several noteworthy writers such as Cyprian and Eusebius.

I still have 26 Nag Hammadi Library texts to add to the site (the rest of the NHL codices) and a few odds and ends (some fragments and quotations that had been overlooked or which have been discovered since 2001). I expect to put some of the archaeological data from the Physical Evidence of Early Christianity post on the website. I also need to improve the existing pages and fill in the “At a Glance” information boxes with good data. After that, who knows what the future might bring?

Here’s the 47 new additions to the website. Continue reading »

Nov 132013

saint_polycarpIt doesn’t receive much direct investigation, but given how little actually survives from the second century of early Christianity, any text with a claim to such antiquity should receive attention, including the Martyrdom of Polycarp.

Godfrey Gets Me Wondering…

Recently Neil Godfrey offered a couple arguments for a third or fourth century context to the famous Martyrdom of Polycarp (also called the Letter of the Smyrnaeans). They are worth considering. One of them:

Quintus [in the text of the Martyrdom of Polycarp] was one who rushed to martyrdom. He believed Christians should actively seek out martyrdom. … It may be significant, too, that Quintus is singled out as a Phyrgian. It was in Phrygia that the anarchic Montanist movement began from around 168 CE. The Montanists were notorious for their wild prophetic utterances and zealous seeking of martyrdom.

The problem of suicidal volunteering for martyrdom was a phenomenon of the late second and third centuries. Polycarp was supposed to have been martyred 155 CE. Continue reading »

Nov 122013

The-Seven-Ecumenical-Councils1There is a long history of looking back to the New Testament and other writings of the era for information on leadership positions and their titles. The Reformation took this study up in earnest when attempting to discover the proper hierarchy for the contemporary church. The results have been various. Variety is indeed what comes through in the sources. This table of leadership roles (more properly, of the terms given to them) in the early Christian writings has been compiled in an attempt to capture a sense of this variety.

I have already released A Table of Christological Titles and also A Table of Self-Identifications. These looked at some ways of referring to Jesus, some ways in which early Christian writers distinguished their group from other people, and where these are attested.

This table has a similar purpose. It is a way into the sources. It is also a way to organize a study of the sources so that the student can trace the development of an idea or relate it to other ideas also found in the same texts. Because of the layer of interpretation that takes place in making a table like this one, as well as the possibility of error, I encourage reference back to the sources if there is any question of how a particular entry in the table relates to the texts themselves. Continue reading »

Nov 092013

ChristianSymbolsWhich texts refer to Catholic or Gnostics, to Christians or to Nazarenes? Which texts mention the Gospel, Knowledge, or Belief? Where do we find Synagogues and Churches mentioned? Discussion of the way, of the spiritual, or of the kingdom? Who refers to insiders as brothers, holy ones, or chosen?

Earlier I produced A Table of Christological Titles in Early Christian Writings. This table concerns the kind of references found in these texts to refer to insiders and their distinguishing characteristics. Sometimes I’ve had to note substantial differences in the reference such as, for example, when a term is mentioned in a negative context. Several of the entries involve a layer of interpretation instead of a simple word search, so please compare always against the original texts for an exact sense of what this table is supposed to represent.

The New Testament results were obtained with a search on the Greek lemma in the Bibleworks program. The other results came from a search for the English equivalent or synonyms in English translation. One desideratum, of course, is to found all the results on an original language footing. I may be able to do this when I revisit particular columns for closer examination.

As before, I welcome corrections of my errors quite eagerly, as I know there are mistakes in the table.

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Nov 072013

M30fd1eb86edf375c8ec8f32307b782bdThere are good presentations about Hegesippus online already, particularly that of Ben C. Smith’s Text Excavation. I’d like, however, to present the possibility that Clement of Alexandria or Origen preserve fragments of Hegesippus alongside those fragments that are more commonly attributed to him.

There is at least one known case of the names “Josephus” and “Hegesippus” being confused, in the direction traveling from Josephus to Hegesippus. That is the text known to be from “Pseudo-Hegesippus,” a Latin text also known as “On the Ruin of the City of Jerusalem” that recycles much material from Josephus’ Jewish Wars, which some scribes have attributed to a “Hegesippus.”

This should at least alert us to the possibility of the names being confused at times. For patristic references to Josephus, if they don’t cite the particular context or book or work of Josephus and don’t mention material that is otherwise attested in the manuscripts of Josephus, we should be ready to consider the possibility that the person being called Josephus is in fact another author. One of the most likely authors to be confused with Josephus is someone called Hegesippus. Continue reading »

Nov 052013

papias… yet another collection of the fragments of Papias, indebted to Chronicon and Text Excavation and Hypotyposeis and, of course, the giants whose shoulders they stand on. The translations are copied from T.C. Schmidt’s Chronicon page and Ben C. Smith’s Text Excavation page except where otherwise indicated; those translations that are under copyright are presented here under the fair use doctrine. Please refer to these sources for more information about the quotes, their translations, and some of the original language texts.

The purpose of this list is that a different arrangement, by book and subject matter in Papias, could help me study the fragments of Papias better. I hope it helps others also. I have tried to err on the side of caution when attributing references to a certain book in Papias, going by the indications in the writers who quote Papias instead of devising a hypothesis about the scheme of the author’s work, which must be derived from such data.

I’ve made an attempt at being inclusive regarding hypothetical and even dubious claims of fragments belonging to Papias, which are presented for the reader to test for themselves and keep what is good.

See also the Early Christian Writings page on Papias.

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Nov 042013

albert_einsteinWhen we come to the second book of Irenaeus, where he argues from tradition and the Gospel of John that Christ “did not then wont much of being fifty years old,” the modern reader generally has one of two base reactions. On the one hand, the reader that does not think much of the patristic writers generally will harbor a suspicion regarding Irenaeus that he is a man of small mind, much as Eusebius describes Papias owing to the latter’s chiliast opinion of a 1000-year paradise on earth (an opinion shared by Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Victorinus of Pettau). On the other, the one that exalts the Church Fathers will find a way to harmonize Irenaeus with the dominant post-Nicene church tradition and interpretation of the New Testament, whether that is by misunderstanding or marginalizing the author. One finds a hard time getting through the impasse created by the polemicist who giggles and the apologist who gags Irenaeus. Still it is the only genuine option open to us as critics that we steer clear of the gaping errors on both sides here and press on to reach an understanding of Irenaeus in his historical context.

I’ve used the picture of Einstein simply because the photo is a modern representation of a mature, noble “master” of a man, the very kind of picture of Jesus that Irenaeus held. We can understand the argument of Irenaeus more clearly by looking at similar church tradition and by comparing it with knowledge about the stages of life current in the era. Continue reading »

Nov 022013

mapOfGalileeVespJosephus writes:

There was one Judas, a Galilean, of a city whose name was Gamala, … (Antiquities 18.4)

Again, Josephus:

Judas the Galilean was the author of the fourth branch of Jewish philosophy. These men agree in all other things with the Pharisaic notions; but they have an inviolable attachment to liberty, and say that God is to be their only Ruler and Lord. They also do not value dying any kinds of death, nor indeed do they heed the deaths of their relations and friends, nor can any such fear make them call any man lord. (Antiquities 18.23)

Josephus calls it a fourth branch that arose later than the sects of Sadducees, Essenes, and Pharisees. Some have noted that the appearance of self-identified “Zealots” occurs during the first Jewish revolt, indicating that the Zealots may have formed their identity in the 60s AD in the events leading up to the revolt, though Josephus cites prior rebels as founders of their movement.

The author of Acts mentions this Galilean:

Some time ago, Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. (Acts 5:36-37)

The references in Josephus and Acts do not prove the connection, but they certainly raise the question whether the consistent reference to “Judas the Galilean” may have been taken by others to denote his cause as “Galilean,” even if only by misunderstanding. The question then is whether the term Galilean ever functioned as another name for Zealot, even if it does not so function in Josephus or the New Testament. Continue reading »

Oct 282013

claudius_etal3Polycrates of Ephesus gives us a description of John:

and there was also John, who rested upon the breast of the Lord, who became a priest who wore the plate, both martyr and teacher; he sleeps in Ephesus.

ετι δε και Ιωαννης, ο επι το στηθος του κυριου αναπεσων, ος εγενηθη ιυρευς το πεταλον πεφορεκως και μαρτυς και διδασκαλος, ουτος εν Εφεσω κεκοιμηται. (from Ben Smith’s Text Excavation)

Many have taken το πεταλον as a reference to the “plate of pure gold” of the high priest’s Tzitz, which in the Septuagint of Exodus 28:36 is translated into Greek as πέταλον (leaf) χρυσοῦν (of gold) καθαρὸν (pure).

And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and engrave upon it, like the engravings of a signet: HOLY TO THE LORD.

καὶ ποιήσεις πέταλον χρυσοῦν καθαρὸν καὶ ἐκτυπώσεις ἐν αὐτῷ ἐκτύπωμα σφραγῖδος ἁγίασμα κυρίου

The high priest was to wear it when entering the holy of holies.

This is a possible understanding of the Greek, but there is another image that would come to the mind of hearers among his audience in second century Roman Asia Minor. That image is the dress of Greek priests at the time. When this fact is compared against what we know about John otherwise, which would not suggest his participation in a Greek cult, the description is seen to suit a person who held the distinction of being both a Jewish priest by birth and a Greek elder by rank.

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