[HJMatMeth] Central Manuscript Control?
- Dear Dr. Crossan,
In The Birth of Christianity, Chapter 8, Relating Gospel Contents, you begin by quoting an incendiary critique by Luke Timothy Johnson, one that includes the charge that "the game is fixed," to which you answered, with admirable restraint I believe, that including extracanonical gospels is "rather controversial." Responding to his charge, you then lay out the groundwork of the methods used, summing up with six clearly stated presuppositions about sources. The systematic, scholarly evolution of these hypotheses over the last two hundred years is also clearly summarized. Chapter 9, Comparing Gospel Manuscripts, continues the argument for including the apocryphal gospels by making the point that the earliest fragments of intra- and extracanonical texts are both found in almost exclusively codex format, and both contain virtually the same distinctive nomina sacra, characteristics which distinguish these early gospels from other contemporary secular or religious texts. There seems to be no difference between the way the intra- and extracanonical gospels were copied and prepared, and in fact both appear to adhere to the same standards of preparation. Thus far I follow the argument for their inclusion and find it convincing.
The end of Chapter 9 explores what these common characteristics between canonical and apocryphal gospels might mean. The possibility that the uniform format of these early gospels can be attributed to their being copied based on some exemplar such as a Pauline epistle or Mark's gospel is noted but not explored. The hypothesis that some early church authority controlled the production of both intra- and extracononical gospels seems to be your preferred explanation. After assessing the sources of church authority as can be gleaned from Acts 15 and 1 Clement, you conclude "In that first century, it seems to me, only Jerusalem had the authority, be it exemplary of peremptory, to establish such striking novelties as papyrus codices and sacred abbreviations widely across Christian communities." How wide is meant by "widely?"
The ten fragments listed on page 125 of BofC were all discovered in the Egyptian Fayuum. (The location of the discovery of the later complete Coptic Gospel of Thomas was still further south in Egypt.) Granted that the extraordinary combination of dry climate and circumstance that yielded the very early papyrus in Egypt are not likely to be duplicated in Asia Minor or perhaps anywhere else in the Empire, is it safe to extrapolate those finds, specific to the Fayuum, to the rest of the early church? Have there been discoveries of second century gospel texts in say, Antioch or Ephesus, or lacking such discoveries, is there reason to expect that the sorts of finds made in Egypt reflect the type of gospels then in widespread circulation throughout the early church?