Were the Earliest Christians Illiterate?

In the 1979 film Rocky II, the newly famous Rocky Balboa, fresh off his split-decision loss to Apollo Creed, is hired to do a TV commercial. During the filming of the commercial it quickly becomes clear that he can’t read the cue cards. The director, frustrated by how long the filming is taking, ruthlessly mocks Rocky: “You cost us thousands of dollars because you can’t read!”

Rocky is humiliated and embarrassed. Why? Because in our modern, western society most people can read. Reading is the norm. Illiteracy is the exception. It doesn’t matter how famous you are, or how talented you are. If you can’t read, you feel like an …

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The Dead Sea Scrolls, the Book of Esther, and the Argument from Silence

When we want to know how the New Testament canon developed, we have a number of sources at our disposal. Most fundamentally, we have patristic sources—the writings of the church fathers—which can show us when books were known, read, and cited.

We also have archaeological evidence at our disposal. We continue to find manuscripts of the New Testament, particularly at the site of Oxyrhynchus among other places, showing that early Christians knew and used these books in some fashion.

But what do we do when a particular book is missing from either of these sources? For example, Irenaeus does not mention (or quote from) the book of Philemon. Should we …

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Announcing My New Book with Oxford University Press

Since this blog is primarily designed to put out lay-level content on the origins of the New Testament (among other issues), I don’t normally talk about the more technical scholarly projects I am working on behind the scenes. So, here’s a little update on what I’ve been up to academically.

1. First, I am pleased to announce that I have signed a contract with Oxford University Press for a forthcoming volume entitled, Miniature Codices in Early Christianity. The volume will be appearing in the Oxford Early Christian Studies series.

I have been working on the subject of miniature codices for more than twenty years now, ever since doing my …

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One of the Core Markers of Early Christian Identity

One of the most notable features of early Christianity is that it was a religion concerned with books. Particularly, scriptural books.

As Margaret Mitchell observed, “Christianity was a religious movement with texts at its very heart and soul, in its background and foreground. Its communities were characterized by a pervading, even obsessive preoccupation with and habitus for sacred literature.”

Now, to modern ears, this doesn’t seem all that noteworthy. Given our historical situation—a world dominated by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—it seems quite normal for a religion to be bookish.

But it was not always so. In the ancient Greco-Roman world, books were rarely used in religious settings. Other than …

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Recent Books on the Paratextual Features of Early Christian Manuscripts

There is more to a text than merely the words on the page.

This is a principle that is often missed, even by modern readers. When a person reads a book, of course the intellectual attention is primarily centered upon the words and the meaning of those words. But, most readers don’t realize that there are many factors beyond the words that affect one’s reading experience. Such factors often go unnoticed as they operate in the background, often imperceptibly.

Some examples of such “paratextual” features: the size of the page, the size of the font, the spacing between lines, the margins/borders, the use/non-use of color, section headings, chapter headings, the …

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