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The Scriptures and the Shrine: On the Keeping of an Authoritative Copy of the Scriptures at the Temple

Some questions have been raised by Charles Halton and T. Michael Law about the suggestion that an authoritative copy of the Scriptures would have been maintained at the temple in Jerusalem, making discussions of the canon unnecessary prior to the destruction of the temple in AD 70. Law tweeted that there is “not a shred of evidence.”

I think there is abundant evidence for this already in the Old Testament, and then the indications that the Scriptures were kept at the shrine continue in extra-biblical Jewish literature.

  • Exodus 40:20, “[Moses] took the testimony and put it into the ark . . .”
  • Deuteronomy 31:9, “Then Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel.”
  • Deuteronomy 31:24–26, “When Moses had finished writing the words of this law in a book to the very end, Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, ‘Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there for a witness against you.'”

This explains why the king was to write a copy of the Torah that would be “approved by the Levitical priests” (Deut 17:18). The priests had the authoritative scroll and were its stewards.

This process continued after Moses:

  • Joshua 24:25, “So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem. And Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. And Joshua said to all the people, ‘Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD that he spoke to us. . .'”

And the reality of the Word of God being kept in the temple is attested in Kings:

  • 1 Kings 8:9, “There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses put there at Horeb, where the LORD made a covenant with the people of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt.”

This also explains why there was a scroll for Hilkiah to find in the temple in 2 Kings 22. Incidentally, in view of the reference to the “lying pen of the scribes” in Jeremiah 8:8, I would suggest that the significance of the scroll that Hilkiah found was not that it was the only one in existence but that it was the authoritative one that could demonstrate the falsehood of the lies against which Jeremiah contended.

Milton Fisher writes:

“There is now abundant evidence from the ancient Near East of a ‘psychology of canonicity’—viz., a sensitivity to the inviolability of authoritative documents as far back as early second millennium B.C. This will not surprise the careful reader of the Bible. He finds no difficulty in statements that Moses (Deut 31:9ff. [26]), Joshua (Josh 24:25, 26), and Samuel (1 Sam 10:25) placed written covenant documents in the sanctuary, for this paralleled the common practice among surrounding peoples of that day” (Fisher, EBC 1:387).

R. K. Harrison notes

“Such language was also found in Hittite suzerainty treaties, which contained a clause requiring deposition of the text in some secure location so that in subsequent generations the treaty would be available for public reading” (Harrision, ISBE 1:593).

2 Maccabees states that Nehemiah had “founded a library,” probably a reference to the collected canonical Scriptures, and like him Judas Maccabee “collected the books that had been lost on account of the war . . . and they are in our possession.” The text reads as follows:

  • 2 Maccabees 2:13–15, “The same things are reported in the records and in the memoirs of Nehemiah, and also that he founded a library and collected the books about the kings and prophets, and the writings of David, and letters of kings about votive offerings. In the same way Judas also collected all the books that had been lost on account of the war which had come upon us, and they are in our possession. So if you have need of them, send people to get them for you.”

Roger Beckwith cites texts from Josephus, the Mishna, and the Tosephta on the point that there was “a copy of the Pentateuch in the Temple called ‘the Book of Ezra’. This was probably the oldest and most revered copy of all, traditionally believed to have been written by Ezra the Scribe. If the standardization of the Massoretic text was a process which began in Temple times, as it now seems to have been, the existence of the ‘Book of Ezra’ and the other Temple Scriptures probably had much to do with it” (OT Canon of the NT Church, 83–84).

I think this evidence shows that Moses initiated the preservation of God’s word in the ark of the covenant, making the Levitical priests the stewards of the Torah. Later OT texts indicate that God’s authoritative word was kept at the temple, resulting in it being there for Hilkiah to find in Josiah’s day. Ezra’s significance in his return to the land, seen in both Ezra and Nehemiah, included his being “a ready scribe,” one who thoroughly knew the Scriptures and could quickly find his way in them.

What evidence is there that this canonical consciousness seen in the OT texts suddenly disappeared? What evidence is there that the practice of keeping God’s authoritative word at the temple ceased to be a concern of the Jews who lived between Malachi and Jesus?

Arguments from silence based on deductions from fragmentary evidence or translation practices do not overturn the asseverations in 2 Maccabees and Josephus (along with other texts) that there was an authoritative scroll kept at the temple. See Beckwith for full documentation.

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Codex Sinaiticus: A Full Color Facsimile

Nearly all the sacred words are in these full color photos of the pounced parchment scribed with the ancient ink. Living words copied by three maybe four careful hands. God breathed words, every one true, every thought from man and from God. Every utterance worthy of trust. These leaves in these photos passed under no press but were prepared by living hands. Letters embossed by the living, for the living, from the living. This is a book written by hands to be written on hearts.

How many such manuscripts contain both Old and New Testaments of the Christian Bible? Not many. Even fewer as early as the 300’s AD. With Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus is one of the two most important manuscripts of the whole Bible in Greek. Codex Sinaiticus is a wonder of the world, a priceless treasure. More than an artifact, though, this book preserves the word of God, presenting an ancient Greek translation from the Old Testament’s Hebrew and the New Testament in its original Greek.

Unless God reveals himself, as this book claims he has, we cannot know him. Without the manuscripts that preserve God’s revelation of himself in the writings of the biblical authors, we have no access to the sacred texts. Is there anything in the world more needed than the word of God? And as one of the most ancient presentations of the word of God in Greek, what can have more value than a witness to the word such as Codex Sinaiticus?

High quality photographs of Codex Sinaiticus are being made available online, and now the British Library and Hendrickson Publishers have brought out a full size, full color facsimile of the whole manuscript. They are selling them. You can buy one. Examine it for yourself. Astonishing. Perhaps you would like to rethink whether there are more important things for you to do than examine the word of God as presented by an ancient manuscript?

The book is handsomely made and finely bound. Lovely in appearance, hefty in weight, imposing in size. The photographs are clear and the text is there for close reading. Lunate sigmas and ligatures, strike-throughs and spelling anomalies, running headers, red ink in places, binding notations from ancient craftsmen, pumice marks from the scribes who scrubbed the hide, follicles from the hair of the goats who gave their skin, tears visible where the parchment was too thin or the scribe too rough, corrections from the very scribe who made the mistake. Everything there to be seen on the thick pages with the color photos in full size.

The new full color facsimile is a vast improvement of the facsimile brought out a century ago by Helen and Kirsopp Lake. No more must a man travel to London, Leipzig, and Mount Sinai to see the whole thing. You can spread this full color facsimile of the thing on the table in front of you—you’ll need a big table.

Who should care most about such a treasure, such a privilege? Should it not be those who most love the words, those for whom these words are sweeter than honey from the comb, those who would heed the call to meditate on them day and night, build their house on the rock foundation they lay, view their world through the lens they grind, and live on the hope that rises in the east. This is our story, our book, Codex Sinaiticus our treasure. On its testimony our faith rests. These are the words that make the foolish wise unto salvation. Why not learn Greek? Why not examine the Codex?

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Review of Jongkind, Scribal Habits of Codex Sinaiticus

Dirk Jongkind, Scribal Habits of Codex Sinaiticus, Texts and Studies III.5. Piscataway: Gorgias, 2005. 323. ISBN: 9718-1-59333-422-2. $102.00. Printed Casebound.

Published in Bulletin for Biblical Research 22 (2012): 260–62.

Constantin von Tischendorf first visited St. Catherine’s monastery on Mt. Sinai in 1844. This eventually led to the 1862 publication of a typeset semi-facsimile of Codex Sinaiticus. Helen and Kirsopp Lake published a photographic facsimile of the known text of the manuscript in 1911 and 1922. Milne and Skeat published Scribes and Correctors of the Codex Sinaiticus in 1938, and in the years since new parts of the codex have come to light, high resolution digital images have been made available online at codexsinaiticus.org, and the British Library and Hendrickson Publishers have now made available a full color, life-size facsimile of the codex. David Parker has given us an authorized history of the manuscript in his book, Codex Sinaiticus: The Story of the World’s Oldest Bible [my review here], and both BibleWorks and Accordance Bible Software have made images of the facsimile available within their software, with tagged transcriptions of the Codex that are fully searchable.

Dirk Jongkind completed the dissertation under review here at Cambridge under Peter Head in 2005, prior to the appearance of the full color facsimile from Hendrickson in 2010. Jongkind relates that in most of his work he made use of the Lake facsimile, though he was privileged to use the manuscript itself, even working for the British Library as curator in the project to digitize the manuscript.

Jongkind begins with an admirable summary of the history of research on the Codex and states his intention to carry forward the work of Milne and Skeat. As the title of his book indicates, he is looking mainly at Scribal Habits. The volume’s second chapter examines the distribution of the scribal tasks, the third looks at scribal practices such as the use of nomina sacra, ligatures, spelling, the Eusebian apparatus, and division of paragraphs. Chapter 4 is a close look at the work of two of the scribes who worked on the manuscript, Scribes D and A. In the fifth chapter Jongkind reflects on his findings and engages the issues of where the manuscript was produced and whether the dictation theory can account for the production of the manuscript.

Jongkind finds that “no single, fixed procedure was followed in the production of Sinaiticus. The way in which the writing of the main text was divided up between the three scribes seems to betray a number of ad hoc decisions and attempts to cover up previous mistakes” (57). When he examines the use of nomina sacra, ligatures, itacisms, and text divisions, he finds that each scribe had his own tendencies. There was no consistent application of the use of nomina sacra. The scribes appear to have operated on their own preferences, but it is not clear whether they did entirely what they wanted or simply followed their exemplars  (83). One of the ways scribal hands can be distinguished is by the angle of the downward arm used in the kai-ligature (88). Scribe D was the best speller. It is again difficult to know whether the scribes were introducing new paragraphs or following their exemplars. The Eusebian apparatus was not fully incorporated into the Codex, and if the canon tables were ever present they have not survived. Jongkind concludes that whereas Scribe A does not appear to have interpreted the text by his use of nomina sacra and paragraphing, Scribe D’s sensitive use of these techniques does seem to reflect his understanding of the text (127–28). This kind of evidence indicates that the scribes had some freedom in the execution of their tasks.

Chapter 4 contains a detailed comparison of the work of Scribes D and A in 1 Chronicles, Psalms, Paul, and Luke. For each section Jongkind discusses orthography, nonsense word forms, leaps from same to same, additions and ommissions, harmonizations, editorial readings, substitutions, transpositions, and more. The close attention to detail in this section is remarkable. Many tables aid the reader with helpful summary presentations.

Jongkind has definitely moved our knowledge forward on the shoulders of Milne and Skeat. His particular contribution is in the “detailed profile of each scribe” (249). He points out an important reality to factor into text critical decisions: “there is not homogeneity in the quality of copying; different scribes produce a demonstrably different quality of text. . . the identity of the scribe is important” (249). He observes that from what we can see of the scribes alternating responsibilities, the dictation theory is not the best explanation for how the Codex was copied. There are also indications that the scribes corrected their work as they copied, which would not fit with the dictation theory. Jongkind raises significant considerations against the view that Sinaiticus was produced in Caesarea.

We owe gratitude and congratulations to Dirk Jongkind for producing this most significant study of Codex Sinaiticus to appear since Milne and Skeat’s 1938 Scribes and Correctors.

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The Scribes Didn’t Just Copy the Text

They also left some comments in margins, like these listed by Tommy Wasserman:

“New parchment, bad ink; I say nothing more.

“I am very cold.”

“That’s a hard page and a weary work to read it.”

“Let the reader’s voice honor the writer’s pen.”

“This page has not been written very slowly.”

“The parchment is hairy.”

“The ink is thin.”

“Thank God, it will soon be dark.”

“Oh, my hand.”

“Now I’ve written the whole thing; for Christ’s sake give me a drink.”

“Writing is excessive drudgery. It crooks your back, it dims you sight, it twists your stomach and your sides.”

“St. Patrick of Armagh, deliver me from writing.”

“While I wrote I froze, and what I could not write by the beams of the sun I finished by candlelight.”

“As the harbor is welcome to the sailor, so is the last line to the scribe.”

“This is sad! O little book! A day will come in truth when someone over your page will say, ‘The hand that wrote it is no more’.”

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Perseus Classics Free for Logos

The Perseus Collections will be released from Logos on September 30, 2011. If you pre-order them, you get them free.

You read that right – free if you pre-order.

Tony Reinke writes:

The collection is a library in itself of over 1,100 ancient Greek and Latin titles and includes many corresponding English translations and helpful commentaries. Authors include Aristotle, Cicero, Homer, Plato, Plutarch, Sophocles, Demosthenes, and many others.

The release of this massive collection is significant step for New Testament studies since many of the Greek titles are referenced in technical Greek reference works and lexicons like TDNT, BDAG, and EDNT. The folks at Logos have announced on their website that over time they plan to add lemma tags to all the Greek books and add hyperlinks to the lexical reference to correspond to the original books in the Perseus Classics Collection. So when you see a reference in TDNT to, say, Aristotle’s Metaphysics, the reference will be hyperlinked and a click will land you in Aristotle’s work to read the context for yourself.

Skilled Greek exegetes will benefit from the collection because of the tags and hyperlinks, but what about those who want to engage the classic Greek works on a less technical level? Most of the books are available as English translations. With these English translations the collection is quite accessible to all readers and offers many key books that can help sharpen your communication skills.

I downloaded Perseus classics and the Duke Databank of Documentary Papyri. I’m still amazed this stuff was free!

Thanks to Logos for serving us in these ways. You can pick the ones you want to pre-order here.

Clarification: I’ve just heard from Logos that they’ve decided this material will always be free, so even if you don’t pre-order it, the price won’t change.

Lots of info here.

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How Should the Books of the OT Be Ordered?

English translations need to revisit the way that the books of the Old Testament are ordered.

Let me put it another way:

The only basis for the way that English translations order the books of the Old Testament is modern convention.

The order we use today seems to have arisen with the printing press. There is no ancient precedent for the order of the Old Testament books we find in our English translations.

In The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church (esp. 181–234), Roger Beckwith has convincingly demonstrated that the oldest arrangement of the OT is the tripartite division into Law, Prophets, and Writings. This arrangement is reflected in the words of Jesus in Luke 24:44,

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”

This statement indicates that when Jesus thought of the Old Testament, he thought of three groups of books. These three groups of books broadly match the ordering in printed Hebrew Bibles today: Torah (Law), Neviim (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings). This is the basis of the acronym TaNaK (Torah, Neviim, Ketuvim—a list of the books is here). Ancient evidence for this tripartite division of the OT is also found in the prologue to the apocryphal book Ecclesiasticus, in the text found among the Dead Sea Scrolls known as 4QMMT, and in the Babylonian Talmud’s Baba Bathra 14b.

Another indication that Jesus thought of the OT in these terms is his statement in Matthew 23:34–36 paralleled in Luke 11:49–51. In these texts Jesus speaks of “the blood of all the prophets . . . from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah . . .” This seems to be Jesus’ way of referring to all the martyrs in the OT, from start to finish. The murder of Abel is near the beginning in Genesis 4, and the murder of Zechariah is near the end in 2 Chronicles 24. Jesus’ statement only works, though, if Chronicles is near the end of the OT. In the tripartite division of the OT into Law, Prophets, and Writings, Chronicles is in the last section, the Writings. The order of the OT books used in modern English translations makes it difficult to understand what Jesus was talking about.

So how did the order of the OT books in English translations come about? Roger Beckwith (The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church, 182) explains that once the early church lost contact with its Jewish roots (Origen and Jerome were rare among the early fathers in their ability to read Hebrew), the desire to arrange the books of the OT according to Alexandrian standards won the day.

It seems to me that three considerations argue decisively against continuing to follow the early church fathers in their rearrangement of the order of the books of the OT.

First, the order we find in English translations today doesn’t match the order we find in statements from the early church fathers. That is to say, there is no single “Christian” order of the books of the OT to be found in the writings of the early church fathers, so it is impossible to claim that modern publishers of the Bible are following Christian tradition that derives from the early church. The order given by Melito of Sardis differs from the order given by Origin, and different orders are given by Epiphanius, as is also the case with Jerome. There was not a uniform “Christian” order to the books of the OT until the rise of the printing press. The order of the books of the OT in Codex Vaticanus does not match the order of the books of the OT in Codex Sinaiticus. More evidence could be cited, but it’s all in Beckwith’s book. Here’s hoping that Beckwith’s book will continue to be widely read! So the first reason that we should adopt the tripartite division of the OT into Law, Prophets, and Writings over against a supposed “Christian” order of the books of the OT is that there is no “Christian” order of the books of the OT to be adopted.

The second reason we should adopt the tripartite division of the books of the OT (Law, Prophets, and Writings) in English translations today as opposed to a (non-existent) “Christian” order of the books of the OT has to do with the way that the Reformers delimited the Old Testament canon. Put simply, at the Reformation, the Protestants excluded the Apocrypha from the OT because they followed the Hebrew tradition rather than the Septuagint tradition. That is, the Jews never considered the Apocrypha to be part of the OT, nor does the NT indicate that the Apocryphal books were ever regarded as canonical. Beckwith helpfully suggests that the appearance of various Apocryphal works in both Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus reflects the reading habits of the early church rather than the canonical status of the Apocryphal books included (195). Still, some early church fathers regarded various Apocryphal books as belonging in the OT canon. In the same way that most Protestants today follow the Reformers in following Hebrew tradition and concluding that the Apocryphal books are not canonical, why should Protestant publishers of English translations of the Bible not follow the Hebrew tradition in the order of the books of the OT? Why should English translations of the Bible follow Hebrew tradition on the question of which books should be in the OT, but then refuse to follow Hebrew tradition on the question of how the books of the OT should be ordered? Again, we cannot claim that the order of the OT books in English translations today follows the order reflected in the Septuagint because (1) there is no uniform order in Septuagint manuscripts, and (2) Septuagint manuscripts include the Apocrypha.

The final decisive reason, to my thinking, as to why English translations should order the books of the OT today according to the tripartite structure of Law, Prophets, and Writings has already been mentioned: this is the order Jesus knew and acknowledged. Luke 24:44 and Matthew 23:34–36 (paralleled in Luke 11:49–51) indicate that Jesus knew and accepted the order of Law, Prophets, and Writings. The fact that Matthew and Luke include these statements in their gospels with no explanatory comment indicates that they expected their audiences to be familiar with this order of the OT books. Thus, I would argue that the earliest church knew and accepted the order of the OT books acknowledged by Jesus, and only once the Jewish roots were cut did the church fathers begin to rearrange the books of the OT. All this to say: why shouldn’t followers of Jesus follow him in his understanding of the order of the books of the OT? Since it is the order acknowledged by Jesus, isn’t the tripartite division into Law, Prophets, and Writings the truly Christian order of the books?

To summarize: We should accept the tripartite division of the OT into Law, Prophets, and Writings, and we should order English translations of the books of the OT accordingly because (1) the order in use by English translations now does not match the orders found in lists drawn up by early church fathers; (2) Protestants have agreed with Hebrew tradition rather than Septuagint tradition on which books should appear between the covers of the Bible, so Protestants should also agree with Hebrew tradition on how those books should be arranged; and (3) this is the order that Jesus endorsed and that Matthew and Luke expected their audiences to recognize.

If you’ve read to this point, you may be asking the valid question, “What difference does the order of the books of the OT make?” Well, David Noel Freedman has put forward the argument that Ezra and Nehemiah collaborated on the canonization of the books of the OT, and he argues that Ezra and Nehemiah built a symmetry into the OT. In other words, they put the books of the OT into an intentional order that itself communicated their view regarding the overall message of the OT. I don’t agree with everything Freedman has asserted (see a two part interview with him: part 1 and part 2), but what if he is right about Ezra and Nehemiah arranging the books of the OT such that the very arrangement of the books themselves communicates a comprehensive understanding of the OT’s message? In my view, only inspired prophets would have been able to do what Freedman suggests Ezra and Nehemiah did. If he is right that they built an intentional structure into the arrangement of the OT books, should that arrangement be considered inspired? I doubt that question will be settled, but we can ask similar questions: if the arrangement was intended by Ezra and Nehemiah, doesn’t reorganizing the books make it harder for people to understand the OT’s over-arching message? And again, even if the arrangement is not inspired, by undoing that arrangement, doesn’t reorganizing the books of the OT not make it harder to see what Jesus was saying?

I have a French translation of the Bible, La Bible en francais courant, that arranges the books of the OT according to the tripartite structure of Law, Prophets, and Writings. I would love to see an English translation of the Bible follow suit.

What do you think?

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This post originally appeared as a guest post at Moore to the Point.

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Do You Preach the Superscriptions of the Psalms?

For some reason unbeknownst to me, English translations of the Psalms decided not to number the superscriptions of the Psalms. This breaks with other printed practice, since the superscriptions are numbered in printed editions of the Hebrew text as well as the Greek and Latin translations. The verse numbers are not original to the authors of the individual Psalms, nor are they original to the collection of the Psalter. The verse references were added in the middle ages. For some reason, early English translators decided not to number the superscriptions, and they remain unnumbered down to the present. The problem with not numbering the superscriptions is that it gives the impression that they don’t belong with the biblical text.

Not only do the superscriptions go unnumbered, translations often put them in a different font, whether in small caps (such as in the ESV) or a smaller font (such as in the NASB and NIV), but one way or another the superscriptions are marked off as being somehow different from the rest of the text of the Psalm. This is fine, as long as it doesn’t result in the superscription being ignored.

My fear is that many serious students pay as much attention to the superscriptions as they do to the boldface subheadings some editors of modern translations have inserted into the text of the Psalms, that is, none! Concluding that the “real text” of the Psalms is not what the editors have added, serious students skip straight to verse 1, ignoring all that irrelevant prefatory text up top.

Some teachers of the Bible have also presented theological or literary arguments against interpreting the Psalms in light of the superscriptions. Worse still, some modern scholars have invented a whole set of supposed “genres” for Psalms, then their labels become procrustean beds on which the Psalms are made to lie. So instead of interpreting the texts as they stand, taking into account all the textual evidence present, they bring in a controlling theory of how the Psalms are to be classified, then they read the Psalms in light of their theory.

I have no interest in dissecting these arguments except to say this: the choice to ignore the superscriptions of the Psalms is nothing less than a radical text critical decision to exclude from consideration evidence that is in the text. We have no manuscript of the Psalms that lacks these superscriptions. Let me say that another way: every manuscript of the Psalms in our possession has the superscriptions. It is true that there are places where the superscriptions vary from one another, just as there are textual variants all over the rest of the Bible. But we have no warrant at the level of textual evidence to ignore the superscriptions of the Psalms.

These Psalms are not abstract installments in the world’s poetic registry. No, these Psalms are to be interpreted in the context of the canon, and the superscriptions are there to guide readers as to where the Psalms fit in the canonical story.

So here’s my conclusion: Are you a world-renowned Old Testament textual critic who has consciously decided that on the basis of your analysis of the manuscript evidence you cannot accept the superscriptions as belonging to the inspired, original text? Fine. Don’t preach them. But if that isn’t why you don’t preach the superscriptions, then my question for you is this: what reason can you give for ignoring part of the inspired text?

Preach the word! All of it. . .

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Programming note: this post originally appeared as a guest post on Moore to the Point.

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P52: The Oldest Manuscript of the New Testament

Interesting video featuring Dirk Jongkind of Tyndale House:

 

HT: JT

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Review of Accordance

Accordance 9. By Oak Tree Software. 2010. Price varies depending upon the package purchased. (877) 339-5855. http://www.accordancebible.com.

Having heard so many Mac users rave about both Apple machines and Accordance Bible Software, I determined that the next time a PC in my possession died, I would switch to a Mac to see what all the fuss was about. The day came (no surprise to Mac users), and the switch was made. In recent months I have been learning the world of Apple and Accordance. This review will focus on Accordance Bible Software, but some Mac comments will be inevitable. Along the way I will mainly compare Accordance and BibleWorks. I am also grateful to have and use Logos 4, but I will not say much more about it. The main benefit of Logos is its massive electronic library. If you don’t want a big electronic library and you operate a PC, BibleWorks is for you. If you don’t want a big electronic library and you operate a Mac, Accordance is the obvious choice. It is possible to get software that will enable you to run Accordance on a PC, or BibleWorks on a Mac, but the only reason for doing this would be if you had been using one of them and were switching platforms and did not want to purchase and learn the other software. In what follows I will comment on price, environment, my one big complaint (which really isn’t about Accordance), search capacity, and the thing that has me most excited about the switch to Accordance.

I begin with some surface level comparisons. Macs tend to cost significantly more than PC’s, and Accordance Bible Software is considerably more expensive than BibleWorks. The basic BibleWorks package comes with every English Bible translation you could imagine, while the comparably priced Accordance package comes with a couple English Bibles and you will pay $30 to $40 for each additional one. BibleWorks comes with BDB unabridged. If you want the complete BDB in Accordance, the price is $50–$70, depending on whether you are upgrading from within a package. BibleWorks comes with the Syriac Peshitta and the Aramaic Targums, the Peshitta will cost you $100 in Accordance and the Targums another $100. Somehow BibleWorks is able to bundle BDAG and HALOT and offer these two lexicons for $212. The BDAG and HALOT bundle costs $299 from Accordance. In general I think it is fair to say that less money will get more texts in BibleWorks, though more can be done with the texts you pay to get in Accordance. These observations about prices should not be taken as complaints. Workers are worthy of their wages, and these companies are rendering a tremendous service and making precious resources available at a fraction of the retail price.

PC’s are notoriously unstable, but I have always found BibleWorks reliable. It suffers only from its environment: the PC’s in my possession take a long time to wake up, often need to be restarted, and seem to be constantly downloading updates of one sort or another. The Mac knows no such instability or sluggishness. It is fast, responsive, and smooth. Accordance Bible Software has the Mac advantage, though it does come at a price.

Running Accordance on a Mac does not return us to the Garden of Eden, however, and not everything is perfect. My biggest disappointment has been the fact that Word for Mac simply will not handle right-to-left text correctly, making it impossible to copy Hebrew text from Accordance, paste it into Word for Mac, and produce a structural layout of the text. Accordance/Mac users tell me that Mellel, a word-processing software developed in Israel, can do this, but I’ve already paid twice as much for this machine and I refuse to shell out the extra cash for Mellel. The $30–$50 Mellel would cost me could be used to purchase the texts of the Apostolic Fathers in Accordance (Lightfoot ed., which comes with BibleWorks at no extra charge, the Holmes ed. costs $100 in Accordance). When I need to do a structural layout of a Hebrew text, I will be returning to my trusty copy of BibleWorks on a not-so-trusty but functional PC. I will probably go there when I need to search the Apostolic Fathers as well.

I hasten to observe that this my biggest complaint has to do with something that is a problem with Microsoft Word for Mac. It is not a problem with Accordance, which has been nothing but impressive. I also hasten to add that I still love BibleWorks and find it to be nothing but impressive. I have found the two programs comparable in terms of search capacity. If I run up against a search that I don’t know how to do, someone knows how to do it, and a google search, or a scan of instructional material, or a phone call to a knowledgeable friend quickly resolves the difficulty. I would also observe that in my years of working from Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic to teach and preach the Bible and write articles, books, and reviews, I simply have not needed to do that many complicated searches. Most searches are simple and straightforward. Admittedly, most of the time I am not doing technical grammatical work, but neither are most of the people using these programs. So I am confident that BibleWorks and Accordance can both do whatever you need them to do in the way of smart searches. Let me say, too, that the best way to learn the way words are used and how grammatical constructions work is not to spend a lot of time doing searches with powerful Bible software but to spend a lot of time reading and re-reading the biblical texts in the original languages.

What most excites me about Accordance is the way it grants access to the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament. Not only can the high-resolution photographs of the manuscripts taken by Dan Wallace and his team at the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) be integrated into Accordance, Accordance has fully tagged, fully searchable transcriptions of the NT text of Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Alexandrinus, Codex Washingtonensis, and the NT Papyri from Comfort and Barrett. At some point I read of an NT scholar in the 1800s who tried to access the NT exclusively from the manuscripts. That possibility is now open not just to those who live near a library with manuscripts but to all who have Accordance. And the tagged and searchable texts hold out astonishing promise for the study of, among other things, the nomina sacra. Reading the text from the photos in Accordance will do more for one’s understanding of the challenges involved in the task of NT text criticism than countless books and articles on the topic could ever accomplish. The images are clear and legible, but not everything appears on them. For instance, take a look at the photographs of 1 Corinthians 14 from Codex Vaticanus provided by Philip B. Payne here. Not as much can be seen in the CSNTM photograph of a facsimile of Vaticanus provided here. This, of course, is not Accordance’s fault, as they are simply integrating the CSNTM photographs.

The pricetag on both Mac and Accordance may be high, but the treasures yielded are priceless. The unique ability to search a fully tagged text of the earliest manuscripts of the NT is astonishing and unprecedented, and to my knowledge Accordance provides the only way to do it. Proverbs 16:16 insists that wisdom and understanding are better than silver and gold. Accordance Bible Software is definitely a means to wisdom and understanding, limited only by the capacity of the human who makes use of it.

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David C. Parker, Codex Sinaiticus: The Story of the World’s Oldest Bible

Hendrickson Publishers and the British Library have teamed up to produce a new facsimile of Codex Sinaiticus (best price here), an exciting piece of work I hope to say more about later.

The facsimile is one of the results of an agreement between the Archbishop of Sinai, the Chief Executive of the British Library, the Director of the Leipzig University Library, and the Deputy Director of the National Library of Russia, St Petersburg. These notables came together and agreed to collaborate in making Codex Sinaiticus available. So high-resolution photos of the manuscript are on the Codex Sinaiticus Website, the facsimile of the Codex has been produced, and now the history of the Codex has been told. The reason these dignitaries from Britain, Egypt, Germany, and Russia were involved is fully explained by David C. Parker in Codex Sinaiticus: The Story of the World’s Oldest Bible.

Parker has related the story of this Codex in way that all parties involved have endorsed, and given the convoluted history, that was no small task. He begins with a fascinating look at what would have been involved in producing this manuscript in the ancient world, and from there he tells the story of how the manuscript became known in the modern west.

Anyone interested in text criticism or in the history of the transmission of the text of the Bible will find this book delightful. The team of scribes who produced the manuscript were not just copyists but artists and craftsmen. Parker takes the reader through the whole process of preparing the parchment (which “is distinguished from leather by the fact that it is not tanned” [43]). From there, Parker walks through the work of the scribes in such matters as laying out the pages, paragraphing, ornamenting, and scripting the text. He even discusses how it appears they divided the work, how they edited their own mistakes, which scribe was the sloppier, and which one appears to have been the senior member of the crew. The volume is complemented with lovely full color plates that illustrate various things Parker discusses, such as hair follicles, veining, and preparation cuts in the parchment. Anyone who wants a fuller understanding of what goes into text criticism should read this book.

Anyone interested in church history and the intersection of diplomacy and scholarship will be romanced by the intrigue of the tale of how the manuscript was removed from St Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai in Egypt to St Petersburg in Russia, with some leaves landing in Leipzig, while the bulk of the Codex was later removed from Russia to London. Was the manuscript about to perish before Tischendorf rescued it? Did the monks mean to donate it to the Tsar? Did Tischendorf steal it? This is one of those books that kept me up past my bedtime because I had to know how this stranger-than-fiction story would reach resolution.

Parker takes a more relativistic view of the canon and the stability of the text than is warranted, and he is more skeptical of the reliability of ancient testimony than necessary. Still, you’ll find the testimony reported and discussed, and that in itself has great value. I think, too, that some of Parker’s own statements about the canon and the text’s stability undermine his fluid view and establish the antiquity and reliability of what this ancient Codex transmits.

Codex Sinaiticus is “the oldest surviving complete New Testament, and is one of the two oldest manuscripts of the whole Bible” (1). Congratulations and immense gratitude are due to the parties involved making it available, and to David Parker for his work in telling its story.

Get a copy of The Story of the World’s Oldest Bible, how it was prepared, produced, and preserved, for yourself, your pastor, and your favorite seminarian here.

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Publications of Emanuel Tov

Tommy Wasserman points to an important resource:

Emanuel Tov has graciously made available a large number of his publications on his website here, including his two volumes on Scribal Practices and Approaches Reflected in the Judean Desert.

Congratulations!

Those interested in OT Text Criticism will want to access this material.

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Free PDF of Leningrad Codex

Download a PDF of the manuscript behind BHS for free here.

I searched the database for “Leningrad Codex” and the results of the search are on this page.

It’s great to have these manuscripts, of course, but they’re worthless if unread. May we live in the book.

HT: Charles Halton

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Guide to the Dead Sea Scrolls by Craig Evans

You’ll want to avail yourself of this valuable, attractive new Holman QuickSource Guide to the Dead Sea Scrolls by recognized expert, Craig A. Evans.

Have you ever thought to yourself: I know there is a pile of scholarly information on the Dead Sea Scrolls that I could wade through, but I’d love to be able to sit down with a trusted, balanced, thoroughly informed expert on the scrolls and have him give me the lay of the land.

If you’ve had that thought, this is the book for you. It may not be as good as sitting down in person with Craig Evans, but in this book you’ll find matter-of-fact cut-to-the-chase discussions of all things related to the scrolls.

This is a handsomely produced, well illustrated volume of bite-sized chapters, and every morsel is tasty.

I recommend you buy one for yourself, and this would make a great gift for that student in your family, for your pastor, or for your Sunday School teacher.

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Are There Errors in the Bible?

I don’t think there are errors in the Bible, and I think that valid explanations can be given for difficulties that do exist. I started a new sermon series on Ezra – Nehemiah this morning at Kenwood, and I had planned to comment on some numerical discrepancies in the text. Because of time, I decided to cut this whole section from the sermon, so here’s the portion of my manuscript that got passed right over:

The material in Ezra 2 is repeated almost exactly in Nehemiah 7, but there are some differences between the two chapters. One of those differences is that in Nehemiah 7:7 there are 12 names. Many scholars think this indicates that there were probably 12 names in Ezra 2:2, and one of the names was not copied by mistake.[1] If this is correct, the fact that there were 12 leaders of the returnees represents an intentional reconstitution of the 12 tribes of Israel. Even if this wasn’t originally the case with Ezra 2:2, it is the case with Nehemiah 7:7.

Let me be very clear about what I’m saying here. I am not saying that the author of the book of Ezra made an error. I am saying that it appears that those who copied the book of Ezra made an error. This kind of thing is why evangelicals say that the Bible is inerrant in the autographs. An autograph is the hand-writing of some famous person. The autographa or autographs of the biblical manuscripts are the hand-written copies made by the authors themselves. We believe that the authors of the books of the Bible were inspired by the Holy Spirit. The inspiration of the Holy Spirit kept the authors from making errors. God is true and trustworthy, and what he communicated in the Scriptures through the biblical authors is true and trustworthy. So when we say that the Bible is inerrant in the autographs, we are simply saying that God did not inspire every scribe who copied the Bible so as to preserve them from error.

This portion of Ezra, with the numbers at the end of chapter 1 and the names in chapter 2, seems to have been a challenge for the scribes. The reason for this is that when numbers were written in ancient Hebrew, they used a system of symbols that might not have been clear to later copyists. Derek Kidner refers to “many other indications in the Old Testament that numbers were the bane of copyists.”[2] In the same way, the similarity of many Hebrew names could have caused scribes difficulty as they copied the text. We see difficulty with numbers in two ways in this section of Ezra:

First, if we add up the numbers of vessels in Ezra 1:9–10, they total 2,499, less than half the total of 5,400 given in Ezra 1:11. This could be because of scribal error,[3] or it could be that though the total number is complete, the itemization is only an excerpt.[4]

Second, if we add up the numbers in Ezra 2, we get a total of 29,818. The numbers in Nehemiah 7 total 31,089. The number in the Greek translation, 1 Esdras, totals 30,143. But all three lists state that the total number is 42,360 (Ezra 2:64; Neh 7:66; 1 Esdras 5:41). Kidner writes, “There is general agreement that the divergences are copying errors, arising from the special difficulty of understanding or reproducing numerical lists.”[5]

How should we respond to this kind of information? One way to respond is the way Bart Ehrman does: “What good is it to say that the autographs (i.e., the originals) were inspired? We don’t have the originals! We have only error-ridden copies . . .”[6] If you are looking for excuses to rebel against the Bible, you can go Ehrman’s way.

Another way to respond to this kind of information is to look at what we have and ask if what we have is enough to enable us to get at the message of Ezra? So the numbers of the temple vessels don’t add up, a name appears to have fallen out, and the numbers in Ezra 2 don’t match the total given at the end of the list. There may be valid explanations for each. The lists may be excerpts while the totals are complete. The copyists may have bungled the job. Can we understand the text in spite of these difficulties? I think we can. In fact, I think that going Ehrman’s way would be as silly as receiving a reliable written message from someone you trust, warning you about a nuclear attack, and rejecting the message because the word nuclear is misspelled. Would you risk being nuked because of a spelling error? Would you risk going to hell because there are difficulties (difficulties that have plausible explanations) in these lists in the Bible?

These difficulties do not keep us from understanding the message of the text. We can see, in spite of the question about the numbers of the vessels, that God kept his promise (Jer 27:21-22) and restored those temple vessels. We can see, in spite of the question of the numbers of the returnees, that the people of Israel are restored to their land.


[1] So Mark A. Throntveit, Ezra-Nehemiah, Interpretation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1992), 18; Kidner, Ezra and Nehemiah, 37; H. G. M. Williamson, Ezra, Nehemiah, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word, 1985), 24.

[2] Kidner, Ezra and Nehemiah, 38.

[3] So Charles Fensham, The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 46–47.

[4] See Kidner, Ezra and Nehemiah, 35 n. 1.

[5] Ibid., 43. Cf. also Fensham, Ezra and Nehemiah, 57.

[6] Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), 7.

For further reading, see my essay on inerrancy: “Still Sola Scriptura: An Evangelical Perspective on Scripture.”

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Review of Hurtado, Earliest Christian Artifacts

Larry W. Hurtado, The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006. 248pp. $22.00, paper.

Larry Hurtado is on a mission to help Christians know their own treasures. In this book Hurtado makes pertinent observations on what can be known from the earliest Christian manuscripts. The five chapters of this volume are on The Texts, The Early Christian Preference for the Codex, The Nomina Sacra, The Staurogram, and Other Scribal Features.

Hurtado argues that the physical features of these earliest Christian artifacts—the manuscripts themselves—have wider significance. For instance, from the sheer number of Christian texts that have survived from the second and third centuries, he infers that “early Christianity represented a religious movement in which texts played a large role” (24). Moreover, these texts appear to be “artifacts of Christians of recognizably mainstream, ‘orthodox’ stance” (29), which is not an insignificant point in view of the modern day champions of various heresies arguing that there was no mainstream, orthodox stance. From the fact that the only Gospels that were linked and copied together in one manuscript were those that became part of the New Testament canon, Hurtado concludes that “those Gospel texts that were copied together were regarded as in some way complementary and sufficiently compatible with one another to be so linked” (37). Notably, texts such as the Gospel of Thomas were not so treated. The manuscripts evidence that Paul’s letters were copied together and treated as a collection by the second century and perhaps late in the first, and similar evidence from the late third to early fourth century points to a Johannine corpus consisting of the letters of John, Gospel of John, and Revelation (39). This is important evidence on second and third century Christianity, and it indicates a wide use of the Old Testament and most of what was eventually recognized as the New. The “translocal” evidence from these texts indicates that the earliest Christian artifacts do not support hypothetical reconstructions of isolated “communities.”

Having described the making of a codex, Hurtado shows that the wide early Christian use of this format was a marked departure from the trend in the culture at large, which maintained a heavy preference for the roll/scroll. The manuscript evidence leads him to conclude that while “The roll seems to have been reasonably acceptable for some Christian texts,” “it appears that Christians strongly preferred the codex for those writings that they regarded as scripture . . .” (57). Having showing the weaknesses of other suggested explanations for this reality, such as the supposed practical advantages of the codex or the socioeconomic background it may reflect, Hurtado suggests that the early Christian use of the codex would have differentiated copies of Christian scripture from other writings. He is attracted to Gamble’s proposal that an early edition of Paul’s epistles in codex form set an influential precedent (80).

From there Hurtado discusses the scribal practice of abbreviating the nomina sacra (sacred names). He highlights the four most regularly abbreviated terms: God, Lord, Christ, and Jesus, noting that gradually other terms also came to be abbreviated as well. The wide margins, generous line spacing, and usual letter size in Christian manuscripts indicates that these terms were not abbreviated for space-saving considerations. He contends that the “Jewish reverential attitude reflected in the scribal handling of the Tetragrammaton and key related designations of God has a counterpart in the early prominence of the four nomina divina [divine names] . . . in the early Christian manuscripts” (104–105, 121). Hurtado notes that this is physical evidence in support of his suggestions regarding the “‘binitarian shape’ of earliest Christian piety and devotion,” since the name of Jesus is given the same treatment as names of God (105–106). Commendably, Hurtado models courteous, logical, convincing engagement with and against the proposals of others, giving several pages to Christopher Tuckett’s challenges to the consensus of opinion.

Hurtado then takes up the scribal practice of writing a rho upon a tau to create a “staurogram,” which appears to be an early abbreviation for the terms “cross” and “crucify” (stauros/stauroo). This monogram apparently gave rise to others, such as the chi-rho (Christos), the iota-chi (Iesous Christos), and the iota-eta (Iesous). Here we have a fascinating discussion of where this early pictogram appears and how it arose. Hurtado is keen to the notion that “the tau-rho device was appropriated initially because it could serve as a stylized reference to (and visual representation of) Jesus on the cross” (151). The “t” shape of the tau with the superimposed “P” shape of the rho presenting a simple picture of a man on a cross. This is powerful physical evidence against claims that “visual references to Jesus’ crucifixion do not predate the fourth century” and the idea that “there was ‘no place in the third century [or earlier] for a crucified Christ . . .’” (153). The textual evidence comes from manuscripts “at least as early as the late second century” (154).

Hurtado’s final chapter explores “what the sizes and dimensions of early Christian codices may tell us about their intended readers and uses” (156–57). From these realities it is possible to conclude that many features of surviving manuscripts indicate that they were prepared for public reading. Others appear to have been prepared for private study. Moreover, from the early scribal corrections we can deduce a high degree of concern for an accurate text, indicating that the tradition was not fluid (186–87).

This fascinating book should command the attention of all who are interested in questions of how the New Testament came into being, when the documents began to be recognized as Scripture, and what can and cannot be maintained on the basis of the actual manuscript evidence. This book deserves wide reading among those with a high view of Scripture, and we can hope that it will spur students to access the manuscripts directly and thereby to know the treasures these texts contain. We can thank Prof. Hurtado for his service in calling attention to the riches of these manuscripts. May he be rewarded with droves of students who turn their attention to the direct study of these “earliest Christian artifacts.”

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