Witherington Reviews “The Early Text of the New Testament”

Michael J. Kruger

Posted on

February 14, 2013

My recent book (c0-edited with my friend Chuck Hill) is The Early Text of the New Testament (Oxford, 2012).   That volume is a collection of essays designed to address the state of the NT text at the earliest observable stages.  Unfortunately, one might have to mortgage their home to purchase it at $140 (ouch).  Sorry, seminary students.

As a result of the high price, I am particularly grateful when someone takes the time to get a copy and review it.  Ben Witherington has recently reviewed the book over at his website and I am appreciative of his kind remarks.  Here are some excerpts:

Technical monographs are important, not least because they are usually repositories of detailed information that you can’t very easily get elsewhere, or would have to get from a variety of sources. The new volume just published by Oxford U. Press entitled The Early Text of the New Testament (eds. C.E. Hill and M.J. Krueger, 2012) is such a work. What we have in this important work is a detailed study of the manuscript evidence for all the books of the NT up to and including the period of the great codexes (Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, etc.). The evidence presented is up to date (the authors take into account the latest edition of Nestle-Aland, and recent papyri finds) and generally speaking the assessments of the evidence is fair and balanced.

While pp. 81-413 provide us with a series of chapters on the state of the text of all the NT books followed by the citation of said books in other early Christian literature (e.g. the apocryphal Gospels or Barnabas etc.) for me the most helpful portions of the book are found in the first 80 pages where we have excellent essays by Harry Gamble, Larry Hurtado, and Michael Kruger.

Gamble’s essay entitled ‘The Book Trade in the Roman Empire’ reviews briefly the usual evidence for said trade in Rome (see the previous reviews of the works of William Johnson on this blog), and then he goes on to discuss the Christian book trade…Even so, as Gamble goes on to point out, there are remarks both about copying and sharing the documents, and also about not altering the documents (see Rev. 22.18-19). Despite all this, Gamble admits that there is clear evidence that these documents were widely disseminated within Christian circles.

Hurtado hypothesizes, perhaps rightly, that the codex form was chosen in part because even literate non-elite persons (e.g. educated slaves) would be expected to read these texts, at least to the other members of their Christian household. Hurtado in fact produces startling evidence of the ubiquity of the codex in Christian circles— of 41 Christian mss. from the second century, 77% are codexes only 23% rolls (which is about the opposite of the case with pagan documents). While Christian documents make up only about 2% of all second century documents, they make up 27% of all the codices and in the third century 38% of all the codices. Hurtado is able to show as well that Christians used the codex for their scriptures, but were o.k. with using rolls for for non-scriptural Christian texts. Further, he points out how Christian documents do not reflect a professional hand, by and large. A fair copy yes, a calligraphic one, not so much. There was much more concern about the content being clear than the form being aesthetically pleasing. The use of abbreviations of sacred names for Jesus and God (the nomina sacra) show as well that these are insider documents, documents not meant for the world in general, but for those within the Christian circles who would know what the abbreviations stood for.

There is much more of this sort of fascinating data in this book, and it is a great pity that you would need to take out a bank loan to buy it (on sale at Amazon, it’s $140 large). Nevertheless, this book is yet further proof that while real education is expensive, ignorance is even more so.

You can read the whole review here.


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