Book Review -- By: Anonymous
SBJT 21:4 (Winter 2017) p. 187
Copying Early Christian Texts: A Study of Scribal Practice. By Alan Mugridge. WUNT 362. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2016. 558 pp., $239.00. cloth
Blame the scribes! That has been a refrain for quite some time in the field of New Testament Textual Criticism. Now, Alan Mugridge, Senior Lecturer of New Testament at Sydney Missionary and Bible College, attempts to find out what we can actually know about those who penned the manuscripts.
The purpose of the volume, according to Mugridge, “is to examine the extant Christian papyri, along with a number of allied papyri as a control set, in order to ascertain what kinds of writers actually copied or wrote them” (2). By “Christian papyri,” he means the ones bearing Christian texts: Old Testament, New Testament, apocryphal, patristic, hagiographic, liturgical, gnostic, Manichaean, and unidentified texts. By “allied papyri,” he means those addressing a deity or deities for help in life: amulets, magical texts, Jewish texts (OT and other), and school texts.
To non-experts, there is still much to consider in this work beyond the papyrological particulars provided in the catalogue of 548 papyri that dominate the book (155-410). Mugridge eagerly contests widely held beliefs about the copying of early Christian texts—the idea that early Christians had their texts copied “in house” (i.e., by themselves without much scribal expertise)—and he refutes the persistent suspicion that the copyists of some NT papyri deliberately changed the text to comply with their theology because they were Christians. The reality, he argues, is that the copyists of early Christian texts were not typically Christians. Rather, the majority of them were trained, professional scribes, who probably had a variety of religious convictions.
These arguments will no doubt elicit howls of protest from other specialists, but touches upon one of the book’s greatest strengths. Mugridge offers a remarkably rich discussion of scribal features and of how the copying of Christian texts took shape over time (1-154). He shows how complex of a topic it really is, and presents his case through a closer reading of more manuscripts than most can claim. He hopes that readers will come away with
SBJT 21:4 (Winter 2017) p. 188
a better understanding about how Christians had their texts copied during the second to fourth centuries AD, as well as the kinds of people who would have had the ability and opportunity to copy them.
In this work, we also learn that “there are so few examples of Christian or Jewish papyri [at least up to the end of the fourth century AD] with regular and clear spacing between words” (71). While that news...
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