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Some Questions on the Greek

I’M FIRMLY ENSCONCED IN LONDON NOW (JUST SAW A BRILLIANT “WINTER’S TALE” WITH SARAH, MY SHAKESPEARE SCHOLAR WIFE WHO IS TEACHING A DUKE IN LONDON THEATER PROGRAM THIS SUMMER). I’M SERIOUSLY JET-LAGGED, BUT NOT SO JET-LAGGED AS TO AVOID MY BELOVED BLOG! HERE’S ONE I’VE BEEN SAVING UP FOR A RAINY DAY. IN LONDON, IT’S *ALWAYS* A RAINY DAY…..

QUESTION:

I am curious as to what role paleography has had in dating various manuscripts from early Christian writings. As I am aware, the canonical scriptures of the New Testament were written in Koine Greek. Were there any writing style changes over the period of the composition of these works or subtle changes in the Koine dialect to assign them into known date ranges? Can scribal copies be detected this way or were most or all copied true to the original? Lastly are you aware of other languages used to compose original, non-canonical works from the earliest Christian writings?

 

RESPONSE:

There are actually four questions here, although that may not be obvious.  I’ll answer them in order.

First.  Palaeography does not involve the style or kind of Greek (e.g., Koine over classical/Attic), but deals instead with the study of ancient handwriting – much as there are modern scholars who are experts in penmanship and can detect modern forgeries (signatures of Abraham Lincoln or hand written “originals” of Edgar Allen Poe, etc.).   Palaeographers are able to study and evaluate various forms of ancient hand writing.  One of the most important things they do is to date a manuscript (i.e., a handwritten copy).  A good Greek or Latin palaeographer can date a manuscript to within about fifty years of its production.  This kind of analysis is the principle means of dating manuscripts from antiquity.   But by its very nature, it can date only the manuscript; it is unable to indicate the date of the composition of the writing found in the manuscript (that is, a manuscript may date from the second half of the eleventh century; but the texts found in the manuscript may originally have been composed a thousand years earlier).

 

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Autobiographical. Metzger and Me: Metzger’s Faith
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Comments

  1. Avatar
    James Dowden  July 18, 2012

    Welcome to the great British summer! On the plus side, we don’t tend to get hurricanes. Except when Michael Fish is broadcasting, of course.

  2. Avatar
    Mikail78  July 19, 2012

    Yo, Bart, I know this is off the subject, but I hope you don’t mind. I had lunch today with an evangelical Christian apologist, and you came up in our discussion. He referred to you as a moron, but couldn’t give one legitimate reason for why he thought that. I wonder if he’s even read any of your books. It just makes me really mad when these people act this way. Although I strongly disagree with much of the reasoning and many of the conclusions of theologically conservative and evangelical scholars, I still respect their scholarship, credentials, and accomplishments, and know I haven’t achieved half as much as they have, and I certainly wouldn’t refer to them as morons. Yet so many evangelical/fundamentalist Christians who haven’t done half the scholarship you have done feel so confident that they can just reject you and your work and call you a moron. And they do it in the loving name of Christ. 🙂 I’m not saying everyone has to agree with you on everything, but your work speaks for itself and shows that you are definitely not moron.

    Anyway, you probably shouldn’t care and you don’t need a pep talk from me, but I stuck up for you and rigorously defended you against this guy’s accusations that are not rooted in reality. Towards the end of our time, this gentleman reminded me that I was going to burn in hell. He was quite a charmer. 🙂

    Anyway, thanks for the great blog posts. Keep them coming. I really appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to interact with us laypeople on a regular basis and I apologize for this post being off the subject.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 19, 2012

      You may need some different lunch partners…. I think “moron” in these contexts usually means “someone who not only disagrees with me on matters that I consider to be eternally important but also who has views that are threatening to my entire way of looking at the world.” It’s, well, shorthand….

  3. Avatar
    Peter  July 19, 2012

    Bart.

    In relation to the dating of the four gospels….
    I recently listened to a lecture you gave about the NT. One of the subjects you referred to briefly was the dating of the gospels, by NT scholars. In the lecture you said that the (probable) reference to the destruction of the Temple gave scholars an earliest possible date(around 70 AD) for Mark, from whom Matt and Luke got most their information; you also said that scholars reasonably concluded that it must have taken 10-15 years for Mark to have circulated among Jewish and early Christian communities before his account was ‘amended’ by Matt and Luke, and another 10 years or so for John’s ‘divine’ Jesus to emerge. Now because of time constraints or technical complexities you may well have left out of the lecture other dating techniques, but I was just wondering is that all scholars have to go on? Since palaeography is of no help in dating the earliest gospels, and if ‘the Temple’ and the estimates about the time it would have taken for the stories to circulate are the only things scholars have to go on, is it plausible that all 4 gospels could have been written within a much shorter time-frame, say 5 years. So, for e.g., is it plausible that Mark was written in 70 and John in 75 AD, or that Mark was written in 90 and John in 95 AD?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 19, 2012

      It’s certainly *possible*. But Mark seems to be written sometime near the War (so there are no explicit references to the destruction of Jerusalem); and John seems pretty developed theologically — which would take some time, I should think….

      • Avatar
        gonzalogandia  July 19, 2012

        I’ve been wanting to ask you this for a while, and as I follow your Metzger posts, I’ve been wondering how fundametalist christians handle the addition of the final 12 verses of Mark. I casually looked through the blog’s archives and can’t find anything specific to the topic. It would seem pretty damning evidence against the notion that God inspired the gospels. What I’m referring to is the fact that someone (years after) felt compelled to add these verses to create continuity amongst the gospel books. It would take a huge leap of faith to not see that (once again) there were hidden agendas in the way the gospels were written. Or am I missing something?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  July 20, 2012

          When I was a fundamentalist, we knew that the last 12 verses were added later by scribes. But that just meant that they were not inspired. It was the “original” version of Mark that God had inspired. Does that answer your question?

          • Avatar
            gonzalogandia  July 20, 2012

            Yes and no. I don’t think there is a good answer. When I went to a fundamentalist church as a youth, we were told that the bible was the inerrant word of God, inspired by God but written by men. When the obvious question was asked “How can we know that there aren’t ANY parts of the bible that are NOT inspired by God?”, the answer was that it WAS ALL inspired by God, otherwise it wouldn’t make sense to follow the God mentioned within this book…if the bible had one “leak”, then the “whole boat” started taking on water. The aforementioned 12 verses is a big “leak”, clearly establishing a precedent for the idea of textual manipulation by scribes. If a scribe was allowed to change the original text to conform to the continuity of the message AND allowed to stay in the canonized version, then how do we know that there aren’t any other parts that suffered the same fate? Of course, I know the answer (the practice was widespread), but how does a christian not make the intellectual connection. It’s such an unfathomable disconnect for me…

  4. Avatar
    SHameed01  March 7, 2015

    At http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G4405&t=KJV the meaning it gives me for the Greek word, πρωΐα, is the following:

    early, pertaining to the morning, at day break

    Are these three different meanings separated by commas or what?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 7, 2015

      yes, three meanings.

      • Avatar
        SHameed01  March 8, 2015

        When it says “early” in the Gospels using the Greek word πρωΐα, what does it mean? I mean I know according to Jewish belief a day begins at evening/night, so do the Gospel authors mean “early” in terms of Jewish timing or Greek timing?

        Since in one gospel it talks about how Jesus had the passover meal and the following “early” he was taken away after being arrested and in John’s gospel he was arrested and taken away and it was “early” even according to this account, but here we are told it was “early” AND the Jews had not eaten passover yet.

        • Bart
          Bart  March 9, 2015

          I think the word usually refers to “early in the morning” (not “early in the day”).

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