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Papyri in the second century (was Comfort's book)

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  • William L. Petersen
    ... Clarity is no minor thing...I never would have guessed what you meant by authoritative figures. Scribes are usually fairly anonymous, insignificant
    Message 1 of 3 , Apr 30, 1997
      Re Perry L. Stepp's comments/message:

      >Here I in my obtuseness refer to *scribes* who copied texts--"authoritative
      >figures" was an infelicitous choice, I admit.

      Clarity is no minor thing...I never would have guessed what you meant by
      "authoritative figures." Scribes are usually fairly anonymous,
      insignificant creatures: I cannot *name* any scribes from antiquity who
      would even remotely be classified as an "authority figure"...

      I largely agree with you that there is a difference between scribes
      (sometimes mindlessly copying...) and evangelists/patristic figures. But I
      don't see how any of this fits into your criticism of my assertion.

      I'm not sure we can drop Comfort from the discussion, for my statement was
      made in the context of *his* claim that the "original text" is the
      "published text" (see my review or his book, p. 19). Hence, the evangelists
      themselves--preaching, modifying, etc.--are out of the picture. He is
      talking about the transmission of the fixed text, once they got done with
      it. It is at that point that I criticized his scenario, according to which
      certain works (he names the gospels and Acts) were "copied with reverential
      fidelity" *because* they were "considered inspired literature from the
      outset"--this is where he gets the "evidence" for his assertion that "the
      eraly period of textual transmission...was not completely marred by textual
      indifelity and scribal liberty" (p. 21 in Comfort, also cited in the
      review). This is the context in which the statement was made, and my reply
      was crafted to meet it.

      You then characterize my request for specific evidence of such texts as

      > caustic sarcasm! Heat without light! Allllllright!....I enjoy a
      long-distance spitting contest as much as > the next person

      ...which I shall ignore... You continue by stating:

      >The *facts* are:
      >a-We have practically no New Testament material from the second century
      >that was not copied for primarily polemical purposes--the early papyri
      >(which you so casually dismiss) are *it*. They are the only *empirical*
      >evidence of how early *scribes* understood the inspiration and authority of
      >the text. They are the only *empirical* evidence--with a few patristic
      >exceptions--of how the practices attending the transmission of the text
      >intersected with the Church's view of inspiration.

      There are two assumptions here which are, to my mind, highly questionable.

      (1) Apparently you view *all* (or nearly all) of the patristic/apocryphal
      material is polemical. This is not correct: many of these works were pious,
      esoteric, paraenetic, etc.; what is the Didache? Not polemic. What is the
      Diatessaron? Not polemic. What is the Gospel of Thomas? Parts *may* be
      polemic, but others certainly are not....

      (2) Your statement indicates that you think polemic works, *a priori,*
      cannot transmit the text accurately. This is not true. When Luther
      supposedly carved "Hoc est corpus meum" on a table top in his meeting with
      Zwingli, in their nearly-violent debate over the nature of the eucharist
      [symbolic or "real presence"], he was *certainly* involved in polemic; did
      he, however, change the scripture for his benefit? Answer: No. *What
      evdience* [this is the second time I am asking for evidence, and now on a
      second topic...] do you have for your assertion?

      I will be the first to say that texts were sometimes changed for polemic or
      other purposes, but one *cannot* dismiss *all* patristic and apocryphal
      citations by [1] erroneously characterizing them as "polemic"; and then [2]
      incorrectly asserting that all polemic works have inaccurate citations,
      changed for the sake of polemic!

      You continue:

      >The *facts* are:
      >a-We have practically no New Testament material from the second century
      >that was not copied for primarily polemical purposes--the early papyri
      >(which you so casually dismiss) are *it*.

      (We have already dealt with your dismissal of allegedly "polemic"
      literature, but it is instructive to see how it guides your thinking on this

      Your use the word "papyri" here intrigues me. Will you please tell me how
      many papyr*i* are dated to the second century? (If there is a range, then
      please give the mid-point of the range: e.g., Martin and Kasser date P75 to
      *between* 175 and 225, so its midpoint is 200...).

      To the best of my knowlege, there is only *one* papyrus (singular)--not
      papyri (plural)--which stems from the second century. Again,--no sarcasm,
      or long-distance spitting--but please, tell me: where are you discovering
      more than one papyrus from the second century (i.e., pre-200; 199 and

      As *I* understand it, we have *only one* papyr*us*, namely P52, which is
      clearly second century--and it contains only seven fragmentary lines... P75
      is about 200 (+/- 25 years), P32 is "um 200", as are P46, P 64+67, and P66.

      Moving on: I would appreciate your reaction to my chapter "What Text Can
      New Testament Textual Criticism Reach?" in B. Aland & J. Delobel, *New
      Testament Textual Criticism, Exegesis, and Early Church History* (1994), pp.
      136-152, which explicitly deals with the early papyri, the link *some* of
      them have with B, and the patristic evidence; since it is in print, there
      is no need to reproduce the evidence and argumentation here. Similarly, I
      would appreciate your comment on pp. 1-26, in my book *Tatian's Diatessaron*
      (1994), which explores the same terrain, but from the standpoint of
      patristic/apocryphal evidence.

      Back to your statement, however: the papyri are *not* "it" for two reasons:
      (1) there is only one papyrus which is clearly second century; (2) we have
      abundant patristic/apocryphal material, some polemic, some not, some
      reliable, some not. Why "dismiss" it (to use the word you used to
      characterize what you *assume* to be my view of the papyri...)?

      >b-We have a small group of early papyrii that are almost identical to one
      >another and almost identical to Vaticanus. These mss are quite
      >fragmentary, but they're there. (Remember, I'm not the one who
      >claimed that it was a "point of fact" that "*all* of our *empirical*
      >evidence indicates *exactly the opposite*!!!") Their uniformity is the
      >opposite of Byzantine uniformity: the latter is the result of recensional
      >activity, the former is the result of a very respectful, controlled,
      >careful attitude toward the copying of texts.

      I have already dealt with the "early papyri"--which are not so early, and
      also not "almost identical"--unless you take a very liberal view of that term...

      More interesting is your claim that one can detect a difference between the
      "uniformity" of the papyri--whose uniformity comes from a "very respectful,
      controlled, careful attitude toward the copying of texts," and the
      uniformity of the Byzantine text, whose uniformity is the result of
      "recensional activity." Maurice Robinson may have something to say about
      the Byzantine text *not* being the result of a "very respectful, controlled,
      careful attitude toward the copying of texts"... How do you *know* what
      motives were in the mind of the copyist of a papyrus??? (And, of course, the
      presumption you express that the text of the papyri is "uniform" is one with
      which I would quibble....)

      Finally, I note that you have not acceded to my request, which I ask once
      again (concrete examples, not rhetoric are the deciding matters):

      > So I ask
      > you: tell me, please, where, in the first or second century (for by
      > 200, I am sure you would agreethat the "text" has been "published"
      > [harkening back to Comfort's definition]) there is evidence--
      > *empirical textual evidence in citations or manuscripts*--that the
      > Gospels or Acts were "copied with reverential fidelity." Obviously
      > you must know of such instances, otherwise you would not
      > have written what you did...

      I have given you examples from the second-century Fathers and even the
      earliest gospel mss in Latin, which agree with them. My publications contain
      other readings which appear to be second-century, for they are attested by
      multiple second-century authors. But now I ask for your evidence. Maybe
      there are more second-century papyri; maybe there are examples which show
      "reverential fidelity"--but I have not yet come across them. You must feel
      you have, so please, share them.

      --Petersen, Penn State Univ.
    • Joe_Adler@tvo.org
      Message 2 of 3 , May 1, 1997
        Please "unscribe" me.
      • Jim West
        ... OK- Yours unscribed ! Jim +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Jim West, ThD Pastor, Petros Baptist Church jwest@highland.net
        Message 3 of 3 , May 1, 1997
          At 04:17 PM 5/1/97 +0000, you wrote:
          >Please "unscribe" me.

          OK- Yours "unscribed"!



          Jim West, ThD
          Pastor, Petros Baptist Church
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