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[textualcriticism] Alan Mugridge on early Christian manuscripts

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  • Steven Avery
    Hi, Larry Hurtado s often fascinating blog has a textual related discussion today: A Substantial Study of Early Christian Manuscripts February 7, 2013
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 7, 2013
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      Larry Hurtado's often fascinating blog has a textual related discussion today:

      A Substantial Study of Early Christian Manuscripts
      February 7, 2013

      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 sacra�).

      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 individuals.

      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. Evans.

      The World of Jesus and the Early Church: Identity and Interpretation in Early Communities of Faith (2011)
      Craig A. Evans

      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 google books)


      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.

      The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism (1995)
      Kurt Aland

      ...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 ?

      Alan posts on this:

      Near Emmaus blog.

      Early biblical manuscripts, their lifespan, and their copyist.

      Here is a paper from Larry Hurtado online that I bumped into in the same checking around.

      Manuscripts and the Sociology of Early Christian Reading
      L. W. Hurtado (University of Edinburgh)

      Steven Avery
      Bayside, NY
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