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…..
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?
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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