1177Re: P52 and date of John
- Sep 3, 2005Hello,
I've finally gotten my hands on a copy of the article. Here are my thoughts
and responses to others who've commented on it.
< Thus, a summary of my position on this matter is: P52 is of
no use in dating the Gospel of John. >
<Of course, I think we all agree on that. This is more something apologists
Me(now): Forgive me if I'm stating the obvious, Wieland, but if this were
simply taken for granted by all, I really doubt Nongbri would have begun his
article by discussing how D. Moody Smith and Raymond Brown "view P52 as the
main evidence for an early dating of John. Many scholars have followed this
judgment." (The "many scholars" at least include Metzger, Kuemmel, and
Hengel also use P52 to date the gospel). So, no, I don't think everybody
agrees about this, even if you and I do.
<But the value of the article as a whole is less certain. It seems as
if we know less at the end of it than we did at the start, and we
gain no clear overview of how we might better date these papyri.>
I would state this slightly differently: We know less at the end of it than
we THOUGHT we did at the start.
<Unless I am mistaken, the article seems to attack in a general way
the value of paleography as a way to date Greek papyri, and uses
arguments that apply to all bookhands in every period to do so --
length of life of scribe, etc. But isn't this rather like anti-
scholarship? How is this different from debunking paleography? I
wonder what the paleographers think of this? Do we apply the same
uncertainty to all papyri? To medieval bookhands? Or only to P52?>
I don't think Nogbri's "debunking paleography" any more than Heisenberg was
"debunking physics" with his uncertainty principle. No, I think Nongbri is
trying to make New Testament scholars aware of the level of uncertainty
involved in paleographic dating (every papyrologist knows this). Is
paleography worthless? Of course not: no paleographer thinks P52 was copied
in the 5th century. Can paleography tell us what year a literary text was
copied? Of course not: paleographers disagree about what decade in the
second century P52 was copied. This is not a discussion of whether
paleographic dating is valid or invald; it is a discussion of how precise
results it can give us . . . and they don't give results that are as precise
as some New Testament scholars (and apologists) would have us belive.
And yes, we should apply the same uncertainty to all papyri (and medieval
books). Not only should we, but I think papyrologists in fact do just this.
People just don't tend to get all upset about whether a New Testament
manuscript was copied in the fifth or sixth century (and they tend to care
even less with non-biblical texts). There are some unique circumstances that
have caused people to want more precision with P52. However, paleographic
dating just isn't precise enough to satisfy their desires.
<How do we set our dating on a more secure framework, if we can no
longer trust the paleographers? Nongbri does not answer this
question, and indeed seems to suggest he is not interested in it.>
Nongbri does not answer this question because paleography is still the most
precise way we have to date most papyri (if they have a date already written
on them, that tends to help), it just isn't as precise as well would all
like. If he suggests he is not interested in it, he probably isn't because
in most cases it's a matter of little consequense (ok, that's my opinion,
not necessary his).
<Somewhat worryingly Nongbri also tells us that his purpose is to
make it possible to assert that John was not composed until the late
second century . . . Are we all comfortable that advancing an agenda like
this is the
right way to start a review of the dating of P52, or a debate on the
value of paleography for Greek papyri?>
Advancing an agenda? He's saying that a legitimate scholarly debate was cut
short because papyrological evidence (which most New Testament scholars
apparently are not competent to evaluate) was misunderstood. Agenda or not,
I don't see any other way to resurrect the original legitimate debate
without clearing up the confusion about the misunderstood evidence.
<The ball is now with the professional paleographers, in my view. >
Ha, well, then all hope is lost because they won't agree.
< unfortunately Nongbri doesn't actually propose any particular date for
P52. This seems strange as after all the work it would have been useful to
get his considered opinion on this. >
I don't think this is strange. I think it is wise. What's the point of
throwing in one more conjectured date. He's proposed a date range, which I
think is the best we can do.
<. . . it is hardly the last word on the subject.>
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