Thursday, March 26, 2015

The "Gospel of Jesus' Wife" Is a Forgery

Photos of FHF can be viewed online.
            On February 27, 2015, Salon magazine published a remarkably inaccurate article about Jesus.  The author, Valerie Tarico, (a non-theist), stated at the outset that Jesus was probably married.  The first thing she mentioned as the basis for this claim was “an ancient papyrus scrap” that referred to the wife of Jesus.  She was referring to the fragment which Harvard professor Karen King – the publisher of that papyrus scrap – has labeled “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.” 
            Tarico’s Salon article is a collection of falsehoods glued together with inaccuracies and wrapped in half-truths, but her claim about this papyrus is particularly misleading.  The so-called “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” has been demonstrated to be a forgery.  Yet even after the proof of the forgery has been placed online where any journalist can access it, Salon published Tarico’s claim anyway.  If Salon were a doctor, it would be guilty of malpractice.
            The proof of the counterfeit nature of the Forged Harvard Fragment – abbreviated, for the sake of convenience, as FHF – does not consist in the date of the materials out of which it was fabricated.  Forgers have plenty of access to ancient papyrus.  Forgers can not only use ancient papyri – say, relatively cheap receipts – to write upon, but they can also burn ancient materials to create soot as a component of carbon-based ink to write with
            FHF was subjected to two Carbon-14 tests, and the results, part of the detailed analysis published in Harvard Theological Review, were wildly divergent:  one test indicated that the materials were from A.D. 650-870, and the other one indicated that the materials were from 410-200 B.C.  Neither one is consistent with a production-date in the 300’s or 400’s, which is what the Harvard professor had been proposing.     
            FHF’s carbon-14 date in 650-870 is consistent with the date of another fragment which was in the same collection of old fragments in which the FHF was brought to Karen King’s attention:  a fragment of the Sahidic (Egyptian) text of the Gospel of John.  The production-date of the papyrus used for the fragment of Sahidic John was carbon-dated consistently to somewhere between 640 and 880.  This supports the idea that the fragment of the Sahidic text of John, and the FHF, both come from the same batch of papyrus, and that the papyrus-material was produced in 640-880.  Strengthening the likeliness of this is Dr. Christian Askeland’s observation that when one looks at the fragment of the Sahidic text of John, and also at the writing in FHF, “the writing tool, ink and hand” are “exactly the same.” 
            This presents a rather large obstacle to the notion that the FHF was written in the 300’s or 400’s:  a writer in the 300’s or 400’s obviously would not have access to papyrus writing-material produced in the 600’s-800’s.  So is the solution to move the production-date of the texts into the 600’s-800’s?  That isn’t feasible either, because by that time, the dialect in which this particular fragment is written was no longer being used.  The dialect – Lycopolitan Coptic – is attested rather sparsely; it is known from a manuscript called the Qau Codex (a manuscript of the Gospel of John produced in 350-400) which was published in 1924 by Herbert Thompson
Photos of the Sahidic fragment of John are included in the report in 
Harvard Theological Review and can be viewed at several news-blogs. 
(Photo credit unknown -- Timothy Swager (?))
When we look at the Qau Codex and compare its text of the Gospel of John to the contents of the fragment of John that was made by the same person who made the FHF, we find something highly incriminating:  the line-endings in the fragment of John correspond to the line-endings in the Qau Codex.
            Even without knowledge of Coptic dialects, this can be seen via a simple comparison, as shown here.  Thus we can practically reconstruct what the forger who made FHF did as he produced FHF’s sister-forgery:  he wrote the text of the Qau Codex, and simply combined every two lines as a single line.
            On May 24, 2014, Bart Ehrman wrote about this at his blog:  “On the reverse side of the Gospel of John fragment there is writing (not from John but from another text).”  He also wrote:  “The words and letters on the left hand margin for all of 17 lines in a row of the “new discovery” match exactly those in the text that was discovered in the 20th century,” i.e., in the Qau Codex.  Both of Ehrman’s statements are problematic.  First, the fragment in question has text from the Gospel of John on both sides.  Second, the left margin of the fragment is only extant on one side.  Third, the correspondence to the Qau Codex occurs on alternating lines in the fragment, not on every line.  (One wonders if he ever even saw pictures of the fragment he was describing to his readers.)  Hopefully Dr. Ehrman will post again on this subject in a less confused state.  In the meantine, the fragment can be viewed in the online report submitted to Harvard Theological Review.
           Francis Watson has shown that the FHF’s text is similarly derivative:  the forger basically pieced together snippets from the Coptic text of the Gospel of Thomas (a Gnostic text composed in the 100’s), altering their contents to make the contents more sensational, but leaving clear traces of his source.      
            Stephen Emmel has pointed out a different path to the same conclusion:  when one reconstructs the format of the text of the Gospel of John that would be necessary in a codex in which a page has the particular passages on the front and back that this fragment contains, the codex’s pages would need to be either exceptionally tall (if the text were written in a single column) or exceptionally wide (if the text were written in two columns).  This augments the point that the person who made the Sahidic fragment of John – the same person who made FHF – did not carefully think through everything that would be required to make a convincing forgery.
           Mark Goodacre and other perceptive readers noticed that in one phrase, the FHF reads the same as the text of the Gospel of Thomas usually does, except for one unusual reading which happens to be identical to a typographical error that appeared in an online edition of the Gospel of Thomas – specifically, an edition by Mike Grondin which was first available in November of 2002.  This may indicate when and where the forger obtained his text of the Gospel of Thomas before using its component-parts in the process of putting together the text of the forgery.  Not long thereafter, Dan Brown’s deceptively marketed and fictitious work The Da Vinci Code was published – which, as Dr. Francis Watson has noted, may have given the forger the idea of using snippets of the Gospel of Thomas to create a forgery which conveyed that Jesus had a wife.

What's next, National Geographic?
                The history of the Forged Harvard Fragment was interesting and illuminating.  It showed the value – I mean, the worthlessness – of some “expert opinions,” and the worthlessness of the sort of “peer review” that can occur when the ultra-liberal “peers” thirstily want something to be true.  (James McGrath at Butler, Candida Moss at Notre Dame, James Tabor at UNC-Charlotte, and April DeConick, I’m thinking of you.  Candida Moss has finally acknowledged the obvious about FHF, in a CNN report on February 20, 2015.  Why does it seem so hard for the others?  Roger Bagnall, any comment?  And AnneMarie Luijendijk: “impossible to forge”?  Please explain.)  
            It also showed how a group of scholars (Leo Depuydt (whose has consistently maintained his early assessment that FHF is a poorly executed forgery), Francis Watson, Andrew Bernhard, Mark Goodacre, Michael Grondlin, Alin Suciu, and Christian Askeland, among others), connected by the internet, can undo the damage which the recklessness and negligence of other scholars would probably have otherwise done.  
            And, inasmuch as Salon magazine is still spreading essays that treat the Forged Harvard Fragment as something other than a proven forgery, months after the proof was provided, it also shows that there is a real need, on the part of people who engineer a sensationalistic mess, to clean up after themselves with the same level of energy that was expended in the promotion of a falsehood.  Why has there been so little, if any, acknowledgement of the proof the FHF is a forgery from the Smithsonian Channel and other media-outlets responsible for spreading false claims about this forgery?  When will the headline appear in National Geographic informing its readers that the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” is fake?)  This responsibility seems to be very much lacking in some circles of New Testament academia – which is rather ironic considering what the New Testament says about honesty.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Evangelists' Symbols: Man, Lion, Ox, Eagle

            Notice, in the frontispiece to the 1611 King James Bible pictured here, the four seated men outlined in yellow.  Each one is holding a pen, and each one has a companion:  a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle.  They represent the four authors of the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
            Very frequently, when the four Evangelists are pictured in manuscripts of the Gospels, each one is accompanied by his symbolic representative – A man (or angel) accompanies Matthew, a lion accompanies Mark; an ox accompanies Luke, and an eagle accompanies John.  These particular symbols correspond to the faces of the cherubim in visions found in the Biblical books of Ezekiel and Revelation:
            In Ezekiel 1:10, as the prophet describes a vision of the throne-chariot of God, revealed as the sovereign Ruler of all nations, he states that each of the four living creatures moving the throne (some interpreters might say that the creatures themselves are the throne) had four faces:  “Each had the face of a man; each of the four had the face of a lion on the right side, each of the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and each of the four had the face of an eagle.”
            In Revelation 4:7, as John describes a vision of God’s heavenly throne, he states that four living creatures were there:  “The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle.”  These seem to be the same angelic beings described by Ezekiel, perceived by John in a form that is different but nevertheless recognizable.  Ezekiel called them cherubim; John referred to them as living creatures, or zōē, the Greek word from which we get the word “zoo.”
Christ enthroned, surrounded by the cherubim,
as pictured at the beginning of Ezekiel
in the Bury Bible (MS 21-II) at the Parker Library.
            In the 180’s, the Christian bishop Irenaeus of Lyons (in east-central France; back then it was Lugdunum in Gaul) proposed that the fourfold pattern of angelic faces implied that God similarly ordained that four Gospels would be written to describe the incarnation of Christ.  In Against Heresies, Book Three (preserved in Latin, but composed in Greek), 11:8, Irenaeus explained the basis for this idea in some detail, beginning as follows:
            “It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are.  For since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the pillar and ground of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out eternal life on every side, and endowing men with new life.”
            He seems to be using two analogies, both drawn from Scriptural models.  First, in Ezekiel 37, in a vision in which God miraculously revives the people of Israel – pictured as a valley of dry bones which, in the vision, stand up like a skeleton-army and are then clothed with flesh – the breath of life is brought to them “from the four winds.”  Second, in Revelation 21, as John records his vision of the heavenly city, New Jerusalem, he mentions its shape:  “The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth . . . Its length, breadth, and height are equal.”  Like the Holy of Holies, it thus has four corners at its base.
            Irenaeus continues:  “From this fact, it is obvious that the Word – the Designer of everything, who sits upon the cherubim, and in whom are all things – He who was revealed to mankind – has given us the Gospel under four aspects, but bound together by one Spirit.  Just as David says [in Psalm 80:1] when asking for God to manifest His presence, ‘You who dwell between the cherubim, shine forth!’  For the cherubim were four-faced, and their faces represented how the Son of God was revealed.  For it says, ‘The first living creature was like a lion,’ symbolizing His effective working, His leadership, and royal authority.  ‘The second was like a calf,’ symbolizing His sacrificial and priestly role.  ‘The third had, as it were, the face of a man,’ which clearly describes his coming as a human being.  ‘The fourth was like a flying eagle,’ indicating the gift of the Spirit hovering with His wings over the Church.”
             So far, Irenaeus’ main point is that a divine pattern, in which men (namely, Ezekiel and John) have been brought into God’s presence with four cherubim in heaven, is expressed when men read about God’s presence in the four Gospels on earth.  But which angelic face represents which Gospel?  Irenaeus proceeds to resolve this question:
A statue of Irenaeus of Lyons,
a bishop in the 100's, in
La Madeleine Church in Paris.
            “Thus the Gospels fit the same pattern shown by the creatures among which Jesus Christ is seated.  For the Gospel according to John describes his original, effectual, glorious generation from the Father, as he declares [in John 1:], ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’  And [in John 1:3], ‘All things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made.’  And for this reason, that Gospel is full of all confidence, for such is His person.
            “But Luke’s account, emphasizing priestly responsibility, commenced with Zacharias the priest offering sacrifice to God.  For now the fatted calf was prepared, about to be slaughtered due to the return of the younger son.  [Irenaeus is referring to the fatted calf in the parable of the Prodigal Son, in Luke 16:23 – a parable which only Luke has preserved.]     
            “Matthew relates His generation as a man, saying, ‘The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham,’ [in Mt. 1:1] and also [in Mt. 1:18], ‘The birth of Jesus Christ was as follows.’  This is therefore the Gospel represented by a man, and the thematic depiction of a humble and meek man is maintained through the entire Gospel.
            “Mark, however, commences with the spirit of prophecy descending from on high to men, saying [in Mark 1:1 ~ notice the textual variants here!], ‘The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet’ – indicating the winged aspect of the Gospel.  And for this reason, he made a summarized and cursory narrative, for such is the prophetical theme. 
             “Now, before Moses, the Word of God personally conversed with the patriarchs, in accordance with Hid divinity and glory.  Under the Law, He ordained a priestly and formal order of worship.  Afterwards, when He had become man for us, He sent the gift of the heavenly Spirit over all the earth, protecting us with His wings.  In this respect the course followed by the Son of God is like the form of the living creatures, and the form of the living creatures is like the character of the Gospel.  The living creatures are squarely arrayed, and the Gospel is squarely arrayed, and so is the course that God has taken.  For there have been four principal covenants given to the human race:  first, before the Flood, under Adam; second, after the Flood, under Noah; third was the giving of the Law, under Moses.  And the fourth is the one which renovates mankind, and sums up everything else through the Gospel, carrying men and bearing them upon its wings into the heavenly kingdom.”   
          Irenaeus thus links John with the image of the confident lion, Matthew with the image of the humble man, Luke with the image of the sacrificial ox, and Mark with the image of the speedy eagle.

Augustine of Hippo
(Hippo was a city in North Africa.)
Augustine, writing in
North Africa in the year 400, agreed that the four cherubim establish a pattern of divine expression that is maintained in the divine inspiration of the four Gospels, but he did not agree completely with Irenaeus about which Gospel went with which image.  In The Harmony of the Gospels, Book One, 6:9, Augustine wrote as follows:
            “It appears to me that among the various parties who have interpreted the living creatures in Revelation as a symbolic pattern of the four Evangelists, those who have taken the lion to point to Matthew, the man to Mark, the calf to Luke, and the eagle to John, have made a more reasonable application of the figures than those who have assigned the man to Matthew, the eagle to Mark, and the lion to John.  For the second set of identifications has been chosen in accordance with just the beginnings of the books, rather than according to the complete design of each Gospel in full view, which is what should be the chief consideration. 
            “For surely it is much more appropriate that the writer who has brought the kingly character of Christ to our attention should be understood to be represented by the lion.  Accordingly, we find the lion mentioned in a reference to the royal tribe itself, in that passage of Revelation [5:5] where it is said, ‘The lion of the tribe of Judah has prevailed.’  And in Matthew’s account, the wise men are recorded to have come from the east, searching for the King, in order worship Him whose birth was revealed to them by the star.  There, too, Herod, who was also a king, is stated to have been afraid of the royal Child, and it is reported that he killed so many little children in order to ensure that the one might be slain. 
            “No one questions that Luke is signified by the calf, which refers to the pre-eminent sacrifice made by the priest.  For in that Gospel, the narration begins with Zacharias the priest.  It also mentions the relationship between Mary and Elisabeth, and it records the performance of the proper ceremonies [i.e., circumcision] being carried out by the earthly priesthood in the case of the infant Christ.  With careful examination, we would notice a variety of other points in this Gospel which made it apparent that Luke’s purpose was to deal with the role of the priest. 
            “Accordingly, it follows that Mark is plainly indicated by the man among the four living creatures.  For he has undertaken neither to describe the royal lineage, nor to go into detail about the priesthood, either concerning priestly status or consecration; he addresses the things which the man Christ did.
            “Those three living creatures – lion, man, and calf – have their course upon this earth.  Likewise, those three Evangelists chiefly describe the things which Christ did in the flesh, and report the precepts which He delivered to men who bear the burden of the flesh, in order to instruct them in the rightful exercise of this mortal life.  John, on the other hand, soars like an eagle above the clouds of human weakness, and gazes upon the light of permanent truth with those keenest and steadiest eyes of the heart.”

            Epiphanius of Salamis (on the island of Cyprus), who lived from about 315 to about 405, and who took the office of bishop in 367, found a reason to comment on the Gospel-symbols in the 35th chapter of his Treatise on Weights and Measures.  Epiphanius stated the following:
            “There are four rivers out of Eden, four quarters of the world, four seasons of the year, four watches in the night . . . . and four spiritual creatures which were composed of four faces, signifying the coming of the Messiah.  One had the face of a man, because Christ was born a man in Bethlehem, as Matthew teaches.  One had the face of a lion, as Mark proclaims him coming up from the Jordan, a lion king, as also somewhere it is written, ‘The Lord has come up as a lion from the Jordan.’ [Epiphanius is recollecting Jeremiah 49:19 and 50:44, but these passages refer to personifications of Edom and Babylon, not to the Lord.]  
Jerome, prolific writer
and translator.
            "One had the face of an ox, as Luke proclaims (and not him only, but also the other Evangelists) about He who, at the appointed time of the ninth hour, like an ox on behalf of the world, was offered up on the cross.  One had the face of an eagle, as John proclaims the Word who came from heaven and was made flesh and flew to heaven like an eagle after the resurrection with the Godhead.”

            The influential translator-scholar Jerome adopted the same identifications that Epiphanius proposed.   In the preface to his Commentary on Matthew, Jerome wrote as follows:    
            “The book of Ezekiel demonstrates that these four Gospels had been predicted much earlier.  Its first vision has the following description:  ‘And in the midst there was a likeness of four animals.  Their countenances were the face of a man and the face of a lion and the face of a calf and the face of an eagle.’  The first face of a man represents Matthew, who began his narrative as though about a man:  ‘The book of the generation of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham.’  The second, Mark, in whom the voice of a lion roaring in the wilderness is heard:  ‘A voice of one shouting in the desert:  Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.’  The third, of the calf, which prefigures that the evangelist Luke began with Zacharias the priest.  The fourth, John the evangelist, who, having taken up eagle’s wings and hastening toward higher matters, discusses the Word of God.”  [This rendering was based on pages 55-56 of Thomas P. Scheck’s Saint Jerome:  Commentary on Matthew,  Copyright © 2008 The Catholic University of America Press.]
Thomas P. Scheck's
English translation
of Jerome's commentary
on Matthew.
            Jerome’s explanation – Matthew=man, Mark=lion, Luke=ox, John=eagle – was applied by most artists from the 400’s onward, whether they were illustrating manuscripts or decorating churches.  This is why these symbols often accompany the Evangelists in miniatures (framed illustrations) in medieval Gospels-manuscripts.    
           (The term “miniature” in this context does not have anything to do with the size of the picture; the origin of the term seems to have something to do with the use of deep red ink saturated with lead, called minium, to sketch out the framework and outlines of the picture before the more detailed drawing or painting was done.)
            Sometimes, all four symbolic creatures are depicted with wings (as in the Lindisfarne Gospels).  And, sometimes, all four images have human bodies, and only the faces are different, with the result that Mark’s symbol looks like a Kzin, Luke’s symbol looks like a minotaur, and John’s symbol looks a bit like the ancient Egyptian deity Horus.  Occasionally, in Armenian manuscripts of the Gospels, the initial letter at the beginning of a Gospel will itself be transformed into the Gospel-symbol.
This preparatory sketch
of Matthew in the
George Grey Gospels
(GA 1273) shows the
use of minium.
            Although practically all Greek manuscripts that contain the Gospel-symbols use Jerome’s arrangement, in a few Old Latin copies, Mark is represented by the eagle, and John is represented by the lion.  This may be an effect of the “Western” order of the Gospels, in which the accounts by the two apostles (Matthew and John) were placed before the accounts by the apostles’ assistants (Luke and Mark).  
           One possible explanation for this is that somewhere in the Old Latin tradition, the Gospels were in the order Matthew-John-Luke-Mark, accompanied accordingly by the symbols man-eagle-ox-lion, but when Vulgate copies invaded, so to speak, copyists conformed their local texts to the Vulgate standard but did not change the order of the illustrations.  This has resulted in yet a fourth arrangement (consisting of Irenaeus’ identifications, but not in the “Western” order), found in the Book of Durrow (made in about 675):  Matthew=man, Mark=eagle, Luke=ox, and John=lion.   
            Another possibility is that the arrangement found in the Book of Durrow represents the application of Irenaeus idea about how the Gospels correspond to the four faces of the cherubim.  Before Jerome produced the Vulgate translation, Fortunatianus, bishop of Aquileia (in upper eastern Italy) from 343 to 355, expressed the same idea in his Latin commentary on the Gospels.  For a long time, scholars assumed that his commentary no longer existed, but a copy was recently discovered; its contents are being prepared for publication by Lukas J. Dorfbauer. 
            On fol. 10v of the only surviving copy of Fortunatianus’ commentary, Fortunatianus offers an interesting casual comment:  “Non inmerito, ut supra exposuimus, aquilae gerit imaginem, quia eum ad caelum volasse demonstrate,” that is, “It is not without reason that he [Mark] is holding the image of the eagle, as I explained before, because he declares that he [Jesus] flew up to heaven.”  This not only shows that Fortunatianus assigned the eagle-symbol to Mark, but also seems to indicate that Fortunatianus’ text of Mark – a witness as old as Codex Sinaiticus – included 16:19.  Earlier in his commentary, Fortunatianus identifies the symbols as follows:  Matthew=man, John=lion, Mark=eagle, and Luke=ox.
The Evangelists'
symbols in the
Book of Durrow.
Similar imagery
is used in the
Book of Birr,
but the symbols
for Mark and John
are reversed.
            Sometimes, when an Evangelist and his Gospel-symbols appear in a miniature, one or the other will hold a scroll; these scrolls typically contain the text of the opening lines of the Gospel, or, in the case of Luke, the first phrase of the fifth verse of chapter one (because the first four verses of Luke were considered a preface, rather than the beginning of the narrative).  Sometimes they simply contain the Evangelists names.

            So, the following proposals have been made regarding which angel, or angel-face, corresponds to which Evangelist:

Irenaeus (using the “Western” order), Fortunatianus, and the Book of Durrow (using the “Non-Western” order:
Matthew = man
John = lion
Luke = ox
Mark = eagle

Matthew = lion
Mark = man
Luke = calf
John = eagle

Epiphanius and Jerome (using the “Non-Western” order):
Matthew = man
Mark = lion
Luke = ox
John = eagle

Christ surrounded by symbols of the Gospels
in the Landvennec (Harkness) Gospels
(Yes, that lion looks like a duck.  

But it's a lion.)
            Augustine’s identification-scheme was his own personal idea; it never became popular.  Irenaeus’ proposal persisted in the “Western” tradition for a while, but examples of its artistic representation are rare.  The arrangement advocated by Epiphanius and Jerome (which probably is earlier than them both) was subsequently adopted by almost everyone who artistically depicted the Gospel-symbols, in Greek manuscripts and in Latin, Ethiopic, and Armenian manuscripts. 
             In closing, three points may be drawn from all this.  First, we see that even the most influential patristic writers of the early church disagreed among themselves regarding some of the finer points of Biblical interpretation; yet they did not castigate each other because of this.  Regarding such a minor concern, there was liberty.    
            The false claim that the unique authority of the four canonical Gospels was only established in the fourth century can be found at high levels of academia – even at the website of the British Library – but it is nevertheless a fictitious claim, and Christians who financially support the educational institutions where it is promoted ought to cringe at the thought that their gifts are being used to promote a pernicious fabrication.     
            Second, we see that as far as the Gospels were concerned, the canon was firmly established before the end of the second century.  On this major concern, there was unity.  Those who try to give the impression that the apostolic Christian church ever accepted dozens of heretical works, such as the so-called Gospel of ThomasGospel of PhilipGospel of Truth, etc., are either terribly misinformed, or else they are belligerent liars.
The Symbols of the Evangelists
in the exquisite Book of Kells
(fol. 27v) at Trinity College, Dublin.
           Third, we see the drawbacks and benefits of looking for typological lessons in the Biblical text.  On the one hand, it is clear that the early interpreters who interpreted the faces of the cherubim as representative of the four Gospel-writers could, with a little imaginative exercise, find reasons to justify whatever specific identifications they asserted.  On the other hand, the appeal of the basic point being conveyed is difficult to deny.  God’s heavenly manifestation, as revealed to Ezekiel and John, was accompanied by four cherubim, and God’s earthly incarnation, as revealed in Christ, was portrayed in four Gospels:  the Synoptic Gospels in one way or another thematically depict Christ as a human being, as a royal lion, and as a sacrificial ox.  John emphasized the heavenly aspects of Christ’s ministry, looking back from a greater distance of time than the others, like a sharp-eyed eagle looking down on events from a high altitude.  
            And since we are called to be Christ-like, and to be messengers of the good news, may we have a fourfold aspiration:  to be humble people, and to still be bold like the lion, to bear burdens like the ox, and to still fly toward the presence of God, perceiving lessons which our physical eyes cannot see, squinting in the light as we approach the Scriptures.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Nomina Sacra: Their Origin and Usefulness

Today we will explore a subject that has a bearing on the following twelve questions:
            ● Matthew 27:17:  did Pilate describe Barabbas as if Barabbas was also called Jesus?
            ● Mark 1:1:  did Mark describe Jesus as the Son of God, or not?
            ● Luke 23:42:  Did the dying repentant thief call Jesus “Lord,” or not?
            ● John 1:18:  does the author refer to the only-begotten Son, or to the only-begotten God? 
            ● John 9:35:  did Jesus ask the no-longer-blind man if he believed on the Son of God, or on the Son of Man? 
            ● Acts 20:28:  did Paul refer to the church of God, or to the church of the Lord, or to the church of the Lord, even God? 
            ● Romans 14:10:  Did Paul mention the judgment seat of Christ, or the judgment seat of God?
            ● First Corinthians 10:9:  Did Paul say that the Israelites in the days of Moses tempted Christ, or that they tempted the Lord, or that they tempted God?
            ● Philippians 4:13:  Did Paul specify, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” or should the final phrase be, “through the one who strengthens me”?
            ● First Timothy 3:16:  did the original text refer to “God manifest in the flesh,” or not?  
            ● First Peter 3:15:  who should we sanctify as Lord in our hearts:  Christ, or God?
            ● Jude 1:5:  did Jude state that the Lord saved a people out of Egypt, or that Jesus had done so? 
            It is not my intention to resolve any of these textual contests today.  Instead I want to explore a scribal mechanism which may have been involved in their creation:  the reverential use of contractions to write sacred names.  These contractions, which appear in almost all New Testament Greek manuscripts, are called nomina sacra (singular:  nomen sacrum), sacred names.
            Other contractions can be found in Greek manuscripts.  The words και (and) and περι (about) are often abbreviated; in chapter-lists which precede each Gospel in many manuscripts, περι is typically shortened to its first two letters, written vertically, as the first word of chapter-titles.  And very frequently, when the letter νυ is at the end of a line of text, it is represented by an overline instead of being written.  The nomina sacra, however, form a special class of contractions; they were not made in order to conserve time or materials, but as expressions of reverence.
             Even before any New Testament books were composed, copyists of books of the Old Testament already treated the name of God with special reverence.  In Hebrew, this name consists of four Hebrew letters, and for this reason is known as the Sacred Tetragrammaton.  In some of the Dead Sea Scrolls, when the Sacred Tetragrammaton appears, it is written in its own distinct script; the copyists used ordinary lettering elsewhere but for the name of God, paleo-Hebrew letters were used.  11Q Psalms, a scroll of Psalms, has many examples of this.  
The Sacred Tetragrammaton
            The ancient custom of acknowledging the presence of the name of God without audibly pronouncing it persists in English Bibles to this day in translations in which the word “Lord” appears in small capital letters to represent the presence of the Sacred Tetragrammaton in the base-text.  “Lord” in ordinary letters usually represents Adonai, a different Hebrew word.  
            In intertestamental times, the Old Testament was translated into Greek; the most popular Greek translation was known as the Septuagint.  In the first half of the 200’s, the patristic writer Origen, in his Homily on Psalm 2, as he commented about the second verse, made this observation about some copies of the Septuagint:  “In the most accurate manuscripts, the name [i.e., the name of God] occurs in Hebrew characters – not in modern-day Hebrew, but in the very ancient lettering.”
A replica of the Tetragrammaton in one of the
Dead Sea Scrolls.  See the photo by Shai Halevi 

at the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls 
Digital Library - Image B-371124.
The Habbakuk Commentary
has other examples.
             Jerome, in about 390, as he wrote his preface to the books of Kings – the Prologus Galeatus, or “Helmeted Prologue” – said something similar:  “And the name of the Lord, the Tetragrammaton, we find in certain Greek volumes written, up to now, in ancient lettering.”
            In Greek manuscripts of Old Testament books produced by Christian copyists, the name of God was replaced with the Greek word Κυριος, or with the contraction ΚΣ, accompanied by a line above the letters.  Other copyists, however, continued to give the name of God special treatment.  For example, in P. Oxy 3522 (a fragment with text from Job 42:11-12, produced in the first century A.D.) and Papyrus Fouad 266 (a fragment with text from portions of Genesis and Deuteronomy, produced in the first century B.C.), the name of God is repeatedly written in paleo-Hebrew letters, even though the main text is Greek.  The Nahal Hever Scroll of the Minor Prophets also clearly displays the use of paleo-Hebrew (or paleo-Aramaic) letters reserved for the Tetragrammaton.
            In a Greek fragment of Leviticus among the Dead Sea Scrolls (4Q120), the Sacred Name is treated differently:  the copyist wrote neither the Hebrew Tetragrammaton nor the contraction for Κυριος; instead he wrote ΙΑΩ, a series of Greek vowels which could be used to vocalize the Tetragrammaton; these letters served as a proxy for the Tetragrammaton itself.  (The IAW-vocalization is also found on some charm-talismans.)
P. Oxy 3522 (See the detail
at the Oxyrhynchus Online website
            Other copyists, either due to unfamiliarity with paleo-Hebrew, or to deliberately avoid using the Tetragrammaton itself while conveying that it was to be understood as present, but not to be pronounced, wrote the Greek letters ΠΙΠΙ instead of the Hebrew letters, due to the similarity between these Greek letters and the Hebrew letters in the Tetragrammaton.  This indicates that when the books of the New Testament were composed, a degree of fluctuation regarding the treatment of God's name already existed among Greek-writing copyists.
            Even later, in the 400’s-500’s, some copyists of Greek manuscripts still gave the Tetragrammaton special treatment.  This is seen in a fragmentary palimpsest of portions of Aquila's Translation of First & Second Kings found at the Cairo Genizah in the 1800’s and published by F. C. Burkitt in 1897.  (It was found with some other palimpsests.)  In the lower writing, which consists of text from First & Second Kings (or, Third & Fourth Kings, using the Septuagint’s titles), the Tetragrammaton, written in Hebrew letters, is repeatedly embedded in the Greek text.  
Enough of this page of Aquila's translation has
survived to show that when it was intact, it
featured the Tetragrammaton in Second Kings 23:16.
(Transcription and Plate from F. C. Burkitt.)
            Burkitt, on page 16 of his introductory description of the Cairo palimpsest, made an interesting comment about its text of Fourth Kings (i.e., Second Kings) 23:24:  “The Tetragrammaton in our MS was undoubtedly intended to be pronounced κύριος.  Not only does Origen distinctly say παρα . . . Έλληνι τη  ΚΥΡΙΟΣ εκφωνειται, but a palaeographical accident has put a piece of direct evidence before us.  Contractions are extremely infrequent in our MS, and when they occur they are always at the end of lines.  The scribe, in fact, used contractions only to avoid dividing words.  Now at the end of 4 Kings xxiii 24 (fol. 2v, col. a, line 15) there was no room to write the Tetragrammaton in full, so instead of οικω + the Sacred Tetragrammaton [Burkitt printed it in paleo-Hebrew], we find οικω κυ [with κυ overlined].  The Greek Synagogue, therefore, read the Name κύριος, just as is indicated by Origen.”
            Unfortunately, the lines containing Second Kings 23:24 are not readable in the photograph provided in Burkitt’s book.  Assuming that Burkitt’s transcript is correct, and noticing that the lines of Greek in the manuscript are not justified on the right side, this raises a new question:  why wasn’t there room for the Tetragrammaton to be added?  Or to put it another way:  why didn’t the copyist simply start the Tetragrammaton on the next line?
P. Berlin 17213, at the Papyrus Databank
of the Egyptian Museum in Berlin
            Before tackling that question, let’s look at a feature in Papyrus Berlin 17213.  This fragment, which contains text from Genesis 19:11-13 and 19:17-19, has been assigned to the 200’s.  In verse 18 (on the recto), after the word δεομαι, there is a small blank space.  Normally there would be a nomen sacrum here.  In Scribal Practices and Approaches Reflected in the Texts Found in the Judean Desert (published by E. J. Brill), Emmanuel Tov proposed that this blank space “denotes a closed paragraph after Gen. 19:18,” but he grants (in a table on page 266) that it is “possibly space left for divine name,” that is, we may see here a blank space reserved for the nomen sacrum ΚΕ (or the Tetragrammaton) that was never filled in.
            Similarly, as Tov reported on page 226, in the Dead Sea Scroll fragment 4QpIsae, “A space was left open in 6 4 where MT (32:6) has a Tetragrammaton.  This space may have been left for a Tetragrammaton, to be filled in possibly by a different scribe (or was the Tetragrammaton omitted intentionally, indicated by a space in the middle of the line?).”  
Pages 226-229 of the 
Kacmarcik Codex, produced in 1344, 
contain a guide to writing 
the nomina sacra.
            Tov also observed that in the Dead Sea Scroll 11QPsa, “It appears that the scribe left irregular spaces, and that at a later stage someone, possibly the original scribe himself, penned in the Tetragrammata, sometimes squeezing them in between the surrounding words.”  Tov also noticed the extra space surrounding the occurrences of the Tetragrammaton in P. Fouad 266b.  He concluded:  “The above evidence shows that at least in some Qumran texts, the Tetragrammaton was filled in after the writing of the main text, and this was also the case in one manuscript of the LXX.” [Bold print added.]  (This explains why the copyist of Papyrus Berlin 17213 did not simply move along to the next line:  the next line had already been written.)           
            The practice of leaving blank spaces, to be filled in later with the Tetragrammaton, developed as an improvement of the scribal custom of reserving one pen exclusively for writing the Tetragrammaton.  As an alternative to putting down the primary pen, picking up the reserved pen, testing it, and writing the Tetragrammaton with it, putting it down, and picking up the primary pen again, over and over, efficiency was greatly increased by leaving blank spaces, and then, when the text was proof-read, inserting all the occurrences of the Tetragrammaton with the specially reserved pen.
            Did this phenomenon have something to do with the origin of nomina sacra in New Testament manuscripts?  I believe that it did, to a limited extent.  As I describe the effects of this phenomenon, keep in mind that we can’t interview the ancient copyists; some things have been deduced and some of the deductions are calculated guesses.
            Very early in the transmission-history of the Gospels, Christian copyists developed four names to be treated in a manner congruent to the Judaic treatment of the Tetragrammaton; the first four Christian nomina sacra probably appeared as a group:  ΚΣ , ΘΣ, ΙΣ, and ΧΣ.  It was at this early stage that some Christian copyists (probably copyists who were already engaged in the production of copies of the Septuagint), modifying the practice of leaving space for the Tetragrammaton and adding it in a second copying-stage, left overlined space for these four words in the first copying-stage, and they were added during the proof-reading stage.  Occasionally the proof-reader worked from memory and interchanged the names, or failed to insert a contraction in the space reserved for it.   
            The next words to become nomina sacra were Πατηρ, Υιος, and Πνευμα.  Following this, the group of contracted words was expanded to include words that were components of titles of Christ – the Son of Man, the Son of David – or which were paralleled in the Gospels by a sacred name (as, frequently, Matthew refers to the kingdom of heaven where Mark refers to the kingdom of God).  The contraction of Σωτηρ probably began at the same time, in the same way; it was considered a title of God and/or Christ. 
            The contractions of “Jerusalem” and “Israel” may have originated as ordinary abbreviations of names which obtained the same format as the nomina sacra to keep format-variations to a minimum.  (The presence of the letters ι and η in these two nomina sacra may have had something to do with their adoption, too.)  The contraction of μητηρ was a result of increased devotion to the Virgin Mary.  This leaves the origin of one nomen sacrum unaccounted for:  why would σταυρος be considered a word worth venerating?
            The answer might have something to do with Greek numerals.  The Greek numerals from 1-999 were written as combinations of the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet, combined with three obsolete letters to make the system work.  Thus, as shown in the accompanying chart, each letter had a numerical value.  This was no secret code; it was the normal way to write numerals.   
              In the second-century composition The Epistle of Barnabas, 9:7, the author mentions an allegorical, Christ-centered interpretation of Genesis 14:14; the author interpreted the unusual term “dedicated” (or “trained”) to mean that they were circumcised.  The number 318, he says, illustrates a pattern of salvation; the idea is that just as Abraham’s servants rescued Lot from captivity, Jesus on the cross rescues souls held captive by sin, and this is shown by considering the component-parts of the quanitity of 318:  “300” is the cross-shaped letter tau (300) and the letters iota and eta are the first two letters in the name Ιησους (that is, “Jesus” in Greek).
            In addition to the idea that Jesus and the cross, together, had a spiritual significance, the numerical value of the word σταυρος may have had something to do with its adoption as a nomen sacrum.  Using the normal list of numerical values, the total value of the letters in σταυρος is 1,270.  But if the first two letters are combined as the obsolete letter stau, or stigma, then the numerical value of ϛ+α+υ+ρ+ο+ς = 6+1+400+100+70+200 = 777, which, to copyists in the 100’s, might be seen as a sufficient reason to place it alongside Jesus’ name (the numeric value of which is 888) among the nomina sacra.

Four Peripheral Subjects:

(1)  Three-letter Forms
            The main nomina sacra (ΚΣ , ΘΣ, ΙΣ, ΧΣ) do not always appear as two overlined letters.  The copyist of Papyrus 45 switched between two-letter and three-letter forms.  In Papyrus 66, two-letter forms are used.  In Papyrus 46, three-letter forms (such as ΚΡΣ , ΙΗΣ, ΧΡΣ usually consisting of the first two letters plus its last letter) are used.    This might be explained in a number of ways:  (1)  The three-letter forms might be the original forms of the nomina sacra, or (2) Copyists slightly expanded some nomina sacra to make them a little easier to read, or (3) In a location where Greek and Latin were both spoken and written developed, some of the Latin nomina sacra were expanded to lower the risk that one would be confused with another, and a sense of tidiness motivated scribes to similarly expand their Greek counterparts.
(2)  The Copyist of Codex Vaticanus and the Nomen Sacrum for Πνευμα
The copyist of Papyrus 66 probably did not read
the contraction for PNEUMA in his exemplar.
The contraction of Πνευμα was introduced very early; it is a nomen sacrum in Papyrus 4.  The copyist of Papyrus 46 may have been using an exemplar in which the word Πνευμα was not contracted; sometimes he contracted it, and sometimes he wrote the entire word, suggesting that the copyist of P46 was introducing the contraction for Πνευμα as he wrote.  The copyist of Papyrus 66 may have been doing the same thing, or at least he felt free to use his own judgment about when the word should or should not be contracted.  By the early 300’s, the contraction of Πνευμα was normal; in Codex Sinaiticus it is contracted almost every time it appears.  So why, in the New Testament text of Codex Vaticanus, is this word hardly ever contracted? 
            We don’t know.  Perhaps the copyist held what Larry Hurtado has called a “binitarian” approach to devotional expression, and was not quite willing to express the same level of devotion to the Holy Spirit that he gave to the Father and the Son.  Or, perhaps the copyist felt that the status of Πνευμα as a nomen sacrum caused too many interpretive difficulties, because the word often refers to unclean spirits and to the human spirit (but he could have chosen to not contract the word in those passages, like some other copyists).  Likewise he may have felt that references to ordinary men, fathers, and sons were best left uncontracted, and to avoid making case-by-case decisions according to context, he decided not to contract any of them. 
            Or, possibly, the copyist of Vaticanus carefully followed exemplars which had been made in an era when only ΚΣ , ΘΣ, ΙΣ, and ΧΣ were contracted – exemplars so early that they sometimes exhibited signs of the very first stage of the usage of nomina sacra in copies of New Testament books, when copyists left blank spaces for the nomina sacra, to be added during proof-reading.  Several variants in Vaticanus may support this idea; its reading in James 5:14 (where Vaticanus does not have the words του Κυ) is particularly interesting.

(3)  Unusual Treatments of Nomina Sacra

            Ludwig Traube, on page 22 of his groundbreaking 1907 book Nomina Sacra (written in German), mentioned the unusual treatment given to some of the nomina sacra in Codex N (022), a deluxe Gospels-manuscript probably produced in the mid-500’s.  Its text, written on purple-dyed parchment, is mostly written in silver ink, but the nomina sacra Κς, Θς, Ις, Χς, Πηρ, Υς, and Πνα are written in gold.  The production of such manuscripts, in such a format, must have involved two stages of production – the first using silver, and the second using gold.  (The use of gold and silver ink, besides being a display of imperial wealth, may have been inspired by a statement in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, Book 12, chapter 2 (which in turn seems to be dependent upon The Letter of Aristeas, part 176), stating that when a group of men from Eleazar the high priest visited Ptolemy in Egypt, they brought with them parchment copies of the Law, written in golden letters.) 
            Relatively few such ornate copies of the Scriptures in Greek have survived to the present day.   Purple Codices (which, besides the Greek manuscripts N, O, Σ, and Φ, also include the Gothic Codex Argenteus, Old Latin i, Codex Vindobonensis 1235, and others) were being made not only in the mid-500’s but also earlier, in Jerome’s lifetime, for he complains about them in his Preface to Job, with words to this effect:  “Whoever wants to keep the old books, let him keep them, whether written on purple skins with gold and silver, or in uncial letters, as they are called, with plenty of lettering but not a lot of letters.  Let them leave to me and mine our modest little pages which are not so beautiful, but are carefully proof-read.”  Perhaps Jerome realized that the copyists of the deluxe purple codices who added the nomina sacra (in Old Testament volumes, such as the Psalterium Turicense, as well as in New Testament books) were thus distracted from the task of proof-reading. 
(4)  Were the nomina sacra in P46 added during the proof-reading stage? 

In P46, the nomina sacra frequently are
accompanied by extra space, which may indicate
that they were added in a secondary copying-stage.
            Although the custom of skipping sacred names in the initial copying-stage and adding them in the proof-reading stage was probably limited to only a few generations in a few locations, it may have endured long enough to be maintained by the copyist of Papyrus 46 (sometime in the late 100’s), one of the most important early manuscripts of the Epistles of Paul.
            Repeatedly, unnecessarily large space surrounds a nomen sacra in P46, and this is accounted for by the theory that the copyist initially left an overlined blank space at this point, and filled in the blank spaces in a secondary copying-stage.  Some examples, from pages of P46 at the University of Michigan, are shown here.  This phenomenon also explains the occasional insertion of the wrong nomina sacra, as seen in Hebrews 12:24.      

Concluding Remarks

            The nomina sacra are a significant part of a manuscript’s meta-text.  In descriptions of a manuscript’s format and secondary features (such as chapter-titles, section-numbers, lectionary apparatus, decorations, etc.), its copyists’ treatment of the nomina sacra should also be noted.  Unusual treatments of the nomina sacra shared by manuscripts may indicate a link between them
Nomina sacra were used not only in Scriptures,
but also in inscriptions such as this one, from
a mosaic in Megiddo which was part of
the floor of a building used for
Christian gatherings in the late 200's
“Akeptous, she who loves God,
has offered the table to God Jesus Christ
as a memorial.”

            In addition, if the theory that some early copyists added the nomina sacra at a secondary copying-stage can be maintained, then some special considerations should come into play in the evaluation of variant-units that involve nomina sacra
            (1)  Even a text that is otherwise excellent may not be reliable where nomina sacra are involved; during the proof-reading stage of an ancestor-manuscript, when the nomina sacra were added, the proof-reader might have relied on his memory to a greater degree than the copyist relied on his exemplar.  (For example, Codices B and À, in the hands of their initial copyists, both read Ις Χς in Matthew 16:21.)
            (2)  Evidence of secondary-stage insertion of nomina sacra, either in the production of an extant manuscript or in the production of a manuscript’s ancestor, might be detected via the detection of nomina sacra which are uniquely out-of-place.  (For example, ΚΩ where the text should be ΚΥ in Matthew 21:42 in À, and ΠΝΚΟΣ in First Corinthians 15:47 and ΧΡΥ in Ephesians 5:17 in P46.)
            (3)  Evidence of secondary-stage insertion of nomina sacra, either in the production of an extant manuscript or in the production of a manuscript’s ancestor, might also be detected via the detection of the loss of otherwise secure nomina sacra; the explanation being that a copyist, in the secondary copying-stage, simply failed to notice the overlined blank space.  (See, for example, the loss and subsequent insertion of Κε in À in John 13:6 and 13:9.)
            (4)  The text, as read with nomina sacra, must be considered when evaluating rival variants.  Sometimes a nomen sacrum could elicit a parableptic error which would not be elicited without the contraction.  For this reason, publishers of Greek texts for textual critics ought to consider printing the nomina sacra in the text and in the apparatus.
            (5)  In a close contest between ancient rival variants which both (or all) consist of nomina sacra, when a form of Κυ is one of the readings, it should be preferred, on the grounds that it is the less specific reading.
            (6)  Inconsistencies in a copyist’s contraction or non-contraction of nomina sacra are sometimes opaquely arbitrary; something, though, they may indicate how the copyist, or the copyist of his exemplar or ancestor-copy, interpreted the text.  Similarly, anomalous treatments of nomina sacra may alert researchers to other anomalies.  (The non-contraction of Ιησουν in Mark 16:6 in À, for example, is part of the copyist’s attempt to stretch the text into the following column.) 
            (7)  In passages where several nomina sacra occur in close proximity, a contraction could be lost if the overlines were not neatly separated, as the proof-reader, encountering what appeared to be one overline, casually assumed that one overline implied that one name should be inserted.     
            (8)  If an overline and blank space were longer than necessary, the proof-reader might assume that two nomina sacra were called for.  This, rather than a natural tendency for embellishment, may have contributed to expansions from one name to two names.