Since it is fairly short, I will place
in the whole text.
The url will take you to any comments and discussion, which can be quite
good on the blog.
A few years ago I served as an examiner on a
noteworthy PhD thesis produced by Alan Mugridge, working in the
University of New England (Australia) under supervision of Professor Greg
Horsley: �Stages of Development in Scribal Professionalism in Early
Christian Circles� (submitted 2009). This is a massive, 2 vol.
study, comprising 350 pp. of analysis/discussion plus a 2nd volume of
appendices comprising another 211 pp. I have been hoping and
waiting for Mugridge to publish the study, and he is at work on
this. But I understand that his progress is slowed by other heavy
demands on his time. Because I find his study so valuable, and with
his permission, I want to give some advance reference to it.
Essentially, Mugridge�s aim in the thesis was to provide a well-founded
answer to some key questions about how earliest Christian Greek
manuscripts were copied. More specifically, his question was how
much these manuscripts were copied ad hoc (so to speak) and �in
house� informally, by amateur/inexperienced copyists, and how much by
trained/experienced copyists. The larger issues involve the culture
and setting of earliest Christian book-production, how they regarded,
handled, and transmitted their scriptural texts. To answer these
questions, Mugridge examined with impressive care the physical and visual
features of 516 manuscripts , which amount to every published copy of a
Christian literary text from the first four centuries CE.
In the heart of his thesis (�Part B�), Mugridge analyses the 516
manuscripts according to a very wide list of features, showing that the
great majority exhibit features that reflect trained, experienced and
skilled copyists. For each manuscript he examined the copyist�s
�hand�, the size/dimensions of the manuscript, page layout, any �reader�s
aids� (e.g., titles/headings, paragraph markers, sense-lines,
stichometric counts, punctuation, diaeresis, apostrophe, breathing
marks), letter-height, interlinear spacing, letters per line, lines per
column, and other textual features such as line-fillers, critical signs
and corrections, marginal notes, decorations, and abbreviations
(especially the distinctive Christian abbreviated forms called �nomina
His key conclusion is that the great majority of early Christian literary
texts were copied by experienced, trained copyists, although often not
those of highest calligraphic abilities. This is not really a new
view, but Mugridge provides by far the most thorough-going accumulation
of data in defence of it. The matter has been disputed, with some
claiming that early Christian manuscripts exhibit a lack of regard for
the texts in question, and/or that the copyists were untrained
amateurs. Mugrdige seems to me, however, to have established
securely the fundamental point that the copyists of early Christian
literary texts were, in the main, trained and skilled
I want to encourage Mugridge to persevere with the arduous task of
revising his thesis for publication, as I judge that it represents a
significant contribution to knowledge about earliest Christianity,
especially questions about the treatment of texts. It will be the
sort of work that only �geeks� like me will enjoy. But, hey, there
are some signs that being such a �geek� is becoming cool!
Here is a related and helpful complementary discussion from Craig A.
In his PhD thesis completed in the University of New England (Australia),
Alan Mugriilge surveyed well over five hundred early Christian
manuscripts of the first four centuries or so to determine the quality
and character of the copyists' hands. Classifying ancient copyists into
three broad categories, calligrapher-quality, professional but less
skilful than calligraphers, and unskilled, Mugridge demonstrates
persuasively that the great majority are what he calls professional
quality. (continues, not all available in
Earlier, Mugridge had published : What is a Scriptorium in the
Proceedings of the 24th International Congress of Papyrology,
Helsinki, 1-7 August, 2004
A basic question, I wonder how you could tell much from "the first
four centuries" of manuscripts, since they are so localized in
Egypt. In the context of anachronisms in text type analysis Kurt Aland
warns us of the gnostic influence in Egypt. This concern about an unusual
spiritual environment would seem to make general extrapolations for any
purpose a bit dicey.
...apart from 0212 (found at Dura Europus) .... the early witnesses ...
are from Egypt, where the hot, dry sands preserved the papyri through the
centuries (similar climatic conditions are found in the Judaean desert
where papyri have also been discovered). From other major centers of the
early Christian church nothing has survived. This raises the question
whether and to what extent we can generalize from the Egyptian situation.
Egypt was distinguished from other provinces of the Church, so far as we
can judge, by the early dominance of gnosticism; this was not broken
until about A.D. 200. when Bishop Demetrius succeeded in reorganizing the
diocese and establishing communications with the other churches.
And clearly, gnostic influence could be a
major factor after 200 AD as well.
Another question is how textual consistency is considered, since there is
such wide variation in those manuscripts. Actually there are many
interesting questions that could be considered. Does Alan Mugridge
come up with new analysis and ideas that can help us understand the
transmissional process ?
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