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Ms half-lives

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  • Timothy John Finney
    I sent a message a week ago, but I don t think that it got through to everyone. D.C. Parker seems to have got it as he says he doesn t believe that there was a
    Message 1 of 1714 , Jan 8, 1997
      I sent a message a week ago, but I don't think that it got through to
      everyone. D.C. Parker seems to have got it as he says he doesn't believe
      that there was a standard life time for a papyrus manuscript.

      Just in case my earlier post didn't get through to everyone, here is a

      I made a histogram of extant NT papyri and uncials, plotting number vs
      century. (When a ms was dated c. 200 I said it was 2nd C., etc.) Instead
      of seeing a gradual increase in number vs. time, as I was expecting, I
      saw something completely different.

      For the papyri, the number increases in what looks like an exponential
      fashion for the 2nd and 3rd centuries, peaks, drops down, peaks again
      around the 6th/7th C. then falls away.

      For the uncials, the number peaks around the 4th C. and drops away, but
      flattens out for a couple of later centuries (6th and 7th again?) before
      dropping down to zero.

      Upon reflection I interpreted this as follows (thanks to my friend Tim
      Sullivan for suggesting the word saturation):

      The papyri picture might be explained in terms of maximum likelihood of
      deposition in the sand, and, consequently, maximum likelihood of digging
      up later, corresponding with a couple of historical events: the
      persecutions of the 3rd C. and the Moslem conquest around 640.

      The uncial histogram might be explained as rapid production within an
      organisation that has suddenly changed from being illegal and poor (hence
      use of papyrus) to being legal and supported. It can be interpreted as
      being consistent with large scale parchment scripture production
      continuing until saturation was reached in the 5th century i.e. everyone
      who had the resources to commission one (probably beyond individuals but
      within reach of bishops) had one. After that, production was for new
      churches and replacement of worn out mss.

      Now for the contentious point. We have about 18 uncials from the 4th
      century. Du Placy estimated 1600 - 2000 mss were produced in the 4th C.
      That means a 1% survival rate. At this point my rusty physics suggested
      that a situation analogous to radioactive decay was at hand. If 1% of mss
      have survived the random destruction process after 1600 years, then
      assuming exponential decay (i.e. number lost proportional to number extant
      in any given time period) leads to a NT uncial half-life of about 250

      This is an estimate of the average life span. In fact there is an average
      life of all NT uncials ever produced. There must be. We don't know it, but
      the number I derived is a reasonable estimate provided that the no. of mss
      lost in a given time period is proportional to the no. extant in that

      As to how long an individual ms will last, all the wiles that beset mss
      will come into play, resulting in some living shorter, some longer than
      this estimate, according to some kind of statistical distribution

      Another point. Looking at the initial rise in numbers, exponential growth
      seems to be at play. That is, the rise might be explained as a doubling
      every X years. How big is X? Strangely, it is about the same for the
      uncials and papyri: just over twenty years. This might be interpreted as
      reflecting the doubling time of the Church in Egypt in the 2nd C., but is
      probably not much to do with the Church's population in the case of the

      And, to the glee of the weary reader, a last point. I did a histogram for
      the minuscules given in the UBS4 insert. The same kind of picture emerges
      but with a much slower initial growth. The peak is reached at about the
      11th C. then drops down again -- perhaps the decline can be interpreted as
      due to the contraction of demand for Greek New Testament mss.

      In conclusion, histograms of date vs number for the Greek New Testament mss
      represent samples of the original population. Assuming exponential growth
      and decay of this population allows a doubling time and half-life for the
      class of mss under study to be derived. The half-life estimate depends on
      an estimate of the total population at some point. I used Du Placy's
      estimate of 4 to 5 copies per century for 400 sees in the 4th C. Happily,
      his estimate of 4 - 5 copies per century is consistent with the doubling
      time that can be derived from the initial portion of the uncial
      histogram. All This relies on the mss being correctly dated in general.
      It can be looked on as a confirmation that the datings are sound,
      especially the correspondence of population peaks in the papyri with
      known times when mss would be likely to end up in the sand.

      Profuse apologies for this monstrous post.

      Tim Finney

      Baptist Theological College
      and Murdoch University
      Perth, W. Australia
    • Julian Goldberg
      The complete Hebrew Scriptures (Hebrew Bible) or TANAKH (Torah-Law, Neviim-Prophets, Ketuvim-Writings) based on the Masoretic Hebrew text with vowels and
      Message 1714 of 1714 , Feb 4, 1997
        The complete Hebrew Scriptures (Hebrew Bible) or TANAKH (Torah-Law,
        Neviim-Prophets, Ketuvim-Writings) based on the Masoretic Hebrew text
        with vowels and cantillation marks in one complete compact black hard
        covered volume which measures 12 cm x 19 cm with over 1360 pages that
        have been arranged according to traditional chapter and verse divisions
        along with larger Hebrew letter printing and thicker paper pages for a
        volume of this size. Each book is $ 20.00 (U.S.) postpaid ($ 15.50 for
        the book plus $ 4.50 for postage) and can be ordered directly from:

        Julian Goldberg, 260 Adelaide St., E., # 215, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
        M5A 1N0.

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