Saturday, February 28, 2015

Cruciform Lectionaries and the True Cross

Cruciform text from Luke 1
in minuscule 15

(at the National Library of France)
            In a few witnesses to the text of the Gospels – specifically, in Lectionary 233, Lectionary 1635 (known as the New York Cruciform Lectionary, at the Morgan Library), Lectionary 2139, and a lectionary at the Iveron Monastery on Mount Athos which currently has no identification-number, and in uncial 047 and minuscule 15 and minuscule 2902 – the text is arranged in a cruciform shape – sometimes on every page.  What motivated the producers of these manuscripts, in the late 900s and 1000s, to abandon the traditional format of the text, and to take this impractical and inefficient step?
Fol. 42r in Lectionary 233
(at the British Library)
            It is possible that cruciform-text arrangement began as a spontaneous expression of some copyists’ Christ-centered piety.  And, occasionally, a copyist may have arranged a page’s text in a cruciform format because he wanted to artistically fill the entire page but did not have quite enough text to do so in the normal format.  (That seems to be what happened in Lectionary 150 on fol. 248v, and in several other manuscripts and lectionaries.)  However, the intriguing possibility exists that the pages of these manuscripts may have initially existed, or were intended to exist – when combined with special covers – as not only books, but as staurothekes – containers of pieces of the True Cross.
            It is not my intention here to vindicate or debunk the various legends about the True Cross; instead I will only summarize some of those stories, describe some staurothekes, and suggest how these objects may be related to the cruciform-text lectionaries.  
Lectionary 2139
(at Dumbarton Oaks)
            The tale of the discovery of the True Cross begins with Helena, the mother of Constantine, in the early 300s.  Helena, who had become a Christian around the year 313 (about the same time when her son legalized Christianity), made a pilgrimage to prominent cities of the eastern Roman Empire, arriving in Jerusalem in 326.  She stayed there for some time, not only arranging the improvements of church-buildings there (and nearby in Bethlehem) but also using her considerable wealth to help the poor and needy residents. 
047, from the 700s
             In response to a vision, Helena arranged for an excavation to be undertaken in the area of Jerusalem where it was thought that the tomb of Christ had been.  Macarius, bishop of Jerusalem, received a letter from Constantine instructing him to assist in the search for Christ’s cross, and as a result, not just one, but three crosses, were found in a cistern, along with a plaque that read “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”  Clearly these crosses had once held Jesus, Gestas (the unrepentant thief), and Dismas (the penitent thief), but which was which?  In order to determine which cross had held the Savior, each cross was presented to a severely ill woman, under the assumption that the touch of the true cross would cure her.  Nothing happened when the first two crosses touched her but at the touch of the third one, she was healed.  Helena, convinced that she had discovered the cross of  Christ, arranged for part of it to be sent to Constantinople, and another part to Rome, while the rest remained in Jerusalem, where Helena arranged the construction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.                
Lectionary 150,
fol. 248v.
          That is the gist of the story as told in 402 by Rufinus in Book 10 of his Church History.  Rufinus got his information from an earlier composition by Gelasius of Caesarea.  Cyril of Jerusalem (Gelasius’ uncle), in his 4th and 13th Catechetical Lectures, composed in the mid-300s, states (without mentioning Helena) that “the wood of the cross” was discovered in Jerusalem and “was afterwards distributed piecemeal from here to all the world.”  In 351 (in a Letter to Emperor Constantius II) Cyril specifies that “In the days of your imperial father, Constantine of blessed memory, the saving wood of the cross was found in Jerusalem.”  The story of Helena’s discovery of the cross of Christ is told by Ambrose of Milan in 395 (in his Oration on the Death of Emperor Theodosius), and by Paulinus of Nola, in 403 (in his Epistle 31, to Sulpicius Severus).  (In Paulinus’ version of the story, contact with the True Cross brings a dead woman back to life.)
A page from
Lectionary 1635
            A very similar story is told in the Doctrine of Addai, a composite work of the early 400s.  The author of Doctrine of Addai, however, instead of attributing the discovery of the True Cross to Helena in the 330’s, states that the cross was found by Protonice, the wife of Emperor Claudius, in the year 51.  He also says that after Protonice experienced this proof of Christianity, she wrote a letter telling her husband all about it, which is supposed to be why Claudius, perturbed by the Jews’ rejection of their own Messiah, banished them from Rome.
            What seems to have happened is that when someone in Syria heard the story about Helena discovering the cross, he confused Helena the mother of Constantine with Queen Helena of Adiabene (a region which on a modern map would be in eastern Turkey, northern Iraq, and northwest Iran).  According to Josephus (in Book 20 of Antiquities of the Jews), Helena of Adiabene also visited Jerusalem, and under her supervision, impressive monuments (including a tomb) were built in the city (which Josephus mentions repeatedly in Book Five of Wars of the Jews).  The Syriac story-teller adjusted and embellished the story to make it fit the first century, and explained Claudius’ expulsion of the Jews from Rome (mentioned in Acts 18:2) in the process.
            According to Ambrose, the nails which held Christ to the cross were also discovered by Helena, who sent two of them to Constantine, in settings that formed a jeweled crown and a horse-bridle; Ambrose explains this as a fulfillment of the pattern for the leader of God’s people in Psalm 21:4 (“You set a crown of pure gold upon his head”).  Theodoret, writing in the 440’s, explained the horse-bridle as an attempt to fulfill the prophetic pattern in Zechariah 14:20 (“In that day, ‘Holiness to the Lord’ shall be engraved on the horses’ bells”).
The Iron Crown of Lombardy
            Other writers state that Helena sent two nails to Constantine, and he had them fashioned into a helmet and horse-bridle.  (What about the third nail?  Some reports say that it was thrown into the sea, like Jonah, to calm a storm; others say that it was kept at Jerusalem in a silver case, and indeed such a case is still there.)
The covers of the Gospels of Theodelinda.
              According to one tradition, centuries later, Gregory the Great gave the nail-crown to Queen Theodelinda of Lombardy, expressing gratitude for her role in the conversion of her subjects.  Known as the Iron Crown of Lombardy, this relic still exists at the Duomo of Monza near Milan, Italy.  (The metal band in the interior of the crown is silver, however, not iron).  The covers of Theodelinda’s Gospels are also there; its pages, unfortunately, are not extant.
The fragment of the True Cross
in the Vatican.  Photo credit:
Ku.Ra Communicazione/AP Photo
            Paulinus of Nola mentions in his Epistle 32 (another letter to Sulpicius Severus) that he donated a tiny fragment of the True Cross to a church-altar at Primuliacum (adding it to a collection of relics), having received it from Melania, who, in the previous century, had become a resident of Jerusalem in the 360’s before she departed from there in 402 and went to Italy, where she gave the fragment to Paulinus.  The veneration of small pieces of the True Cross was very popular in medieval Christendom, especially in Europe.  Apparently very many people received cross-shavings as tokens of gratitude from church-leaders. 
            Although the story of Helena’s discovery of the True Cross was extremely well-known in medieval Christendom – the event had its own feast-day, September 14, in the Byzantine lectionary-cycle – the same cannot be said about the backgrounds of most wooden fragments that have been presented as pieces of the True Cross.  Few pieces of the True Cross have an ancient, traceable history.  Since at least the time of Leo I in the 400s, ancient fragments have been kept at Rome, where they are presently encased within a metal cross.  The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem also has a fragment (far smaller than the piece that was captured by Saladin in 1187 at the Battle of the Horns of Hattin). 
Fragments of the True Cross
on display in Jerusalem.
            On Cyprus, a silver staurotheke is viewable at the Stavrovouni Monastery.  The ornately carved Cong Cross (presently housed in Dublin, Ireland) was made as a reliquary for a fragment of the True Cross that was sent to Turlough O’Conor by Callistus II in 1123; the small wooden strip is no longer in the reliquary but the Cong Cross remains an artistic and cultural treasure.  (The basic design of the Folded Cross that was discovered in 2009 as part of the Staffordshire Hoard is reminiscent of the Cong Cross in some respects, and may have served a similar purpose.)
A Serbian staurotheke at Pienza
(Photographs by Gabriele Fattorini)
            A Serbian staurotheke at Pienza (in central Italy), also shaped like a cross, similarly has a round rock crystal at the intersection of its beams, but unlike the Cong Cross, it still contains the small wooden relic.  A monastery in Spain is said to possess a substantial piece of the True Cross.  A test on the wood of the fragment at the Santo Toribio Monastery has shown that it is cypress-wood, not black pine.  Other respectably ancient fragments are housed at the Olesnicki Chapel in Poland, in the Guelph Cross, in the Hildesheim Cross, etc.
The relatively large piece
of the True Cross at the
Santo Toribio Monastery
            As the Middle Ages commenced, a highly embellished form of the story of the True Cross was incorporated into a collection of stories known as The Golden Legend (Book 3).  To those who embraced this form of the story, if the wood in one fragment of the True Cross was different from another fragment, this only showed that the True Cross had been made of different kinds of wood.  Isaiah 60:13 was recruited into the service of this idea:  “The glory of Lebanon shall come to you, the cypress, the pine, and the box tree together, to beautify the place of My sanctuary, and I will make the place of My feet glorious.”  The phrase “the place of My feet” was interpreted by those who venerated fragments of the Holy Cross as a reference to the small bar which sometimes was placed under the feet of victims of Roman crucifixion.
            The expanded version of the story is the basis for the medallion-illustrations of Constantine and Helena in the Stavelot Triptych, a staurotheke which can be viewed in fine detail at the website of the Morgan Library.  
The Stavelot Triptych, an exquisite
relic at the Morgan Library.
            After the city of Constantinople was thoroughly looted by Crusaders in 1204, relics and fake relics virtually poured into Europe.  In 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council passed a regulation prohibiting the sale of relics, but this was far from successful.  As relics became more commonplace, they tended to be regarded as common items; relic-pendants, even those supposed to contain splinters of the True Cross, were treated like jewelry.  In Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the Pardoner candidly admits that many of the relics he encourages people to venerate and purchase are forgeries; likewise John Calvin and other leading writers in the Reformation-period ridiculed the proliferation of fragments of the True Cross.
The Fieschi Morgan Staurotheke -
outer cover and inner compartment.
The Staurotheke
of Paschal I.
            A hundred years before the Sack of Constantinople, though, the possession of a fragment of the True Cross was still a rare privilege, and the relic was considered worthy of a special display.  Reliquaries were specially designed to hold the fragment.  Typically, the rectangular box had an outer cover, decorated with a picture of Christ’s crucifixion as described in John 19:26-27:  John and Mary stand below the cross as Christ says to Mary, “Woman, behold your son,” and to John, “Behold your mother.”  Within the box, a cruciform compartment held the slightly smaller cruciform container of the fragment itself.  The Fieschi Morgan Staurotheke is a good example of this design, and the Staurotheke of Paschal I (817-824) shows some of the same artistic style, as does the Mosan Reliquary.
The Mondsee Gospels
at the Walters Art Museum
            Reliquary-crosses were designed to be used in processions; the bishop or priest could raise the cross as a banner.  On stationary display, the cross-shaped staurotheke often featured a round shield of rock crystal at its center.  Rock crystal was a particularly useful stone for reliquary-makers; not only could it be delicately carved, but when shaped into a round hemisphere or similar shape, it acted as a lens, magnifying whatever was underneath the rock crystal.     
A Gospels-cover at
the Victoria & Albert
Museum, London
            I propose that the format of the text in cruciform lectionaries was an experiment by copyists who intended for the pages to be bound within covers that served as staurothekes.  Such a book is mentioned by John Rufus in his biography of his mentor, Peter of Iberia (411-491).  Writing before 518, John Rufus states that Peter and his companions, as they traveled to Jerusalem, carried with them some relics, and “Besides this, they carried only the little book of John the Evangelist, in which was fastened a part of the wood of the holy, precious, and saving cross, by which they were guarded.” (See page 47 of  The Lives of Peter the Iberian, Theodosius of Jerusalem, and the Monk Romanus, by Cornelia Horn and Robert Phenix, Jr., © 2008 by the Society of Biblical Literature.)  
The St-Denis rock crystal
probably was made to be
placed in front of a fragment
of the True Cross
            Several extant Gospels-covers feature a cruciform design, with a round piece of rock crystal in the center.  Others lack the rock crystal itself but seem to have been designed to hold one.  The purpose of the rock crystal on these covers would have been to secure a fragment of the True Cross as part of the cover, and to magnify its appearance.  See, for example, the use of rock crystal in the Mondsee Gospels Cover, the Pax of Ariberto, the Shrine of the Stowe Missal, and the empty sockets in the cover of the Trier Gospels-Lectionary of Roger of Helmarshausen.           
The design in the St-Denis rock
crystal is very similar to this
Byzantine staurotheke-cover.
            The pages of cruciform lectionaries, and 047, were probably produced with the intention that they would be combined with a cover that featured a cruciform decoration which, at its center, contained a fragment of the True Cross housed under a protective round shield made of rock crystal.  (Or, if they were not, their producers were aware of such manuscripts, at any rate.)  This experiment was short-lived, but the few surviving examples of it may remind us, whatever we think of the value of relics, that when readers and listeners receive the words of the Gospels with thankful hearts and receptive minds, they can come into contact with Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross, and hear His invitation:  Take up your cross, and follow Me.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Passages: Coming to California in April 2015

Coming soon to the Los Angeles area.
Passages, a mobile exhibit of items in the Green Collection of Biblical artifacts, is scheduled to open this coming April in Santa Clarita, California.  This exhibit will feature some of the most significant objects in the Green Collection.  If previous displays may be considered indications of what can be expected, then visitors are in for a real treat.

            The exhibit will have four areas, each dedicated to a specific aspect of the history and impact of the Bible:  (1) the transmission of the text of the Bible, (2) the translation of the Bible, (3) the cultural impact of the Bible, and (4) controversies involving the Bible.  Aspects of all four areas can be seen in The Living Word, a beautiful video about the Bible's history and its enduring influence.  Exhibit-pieces range from cuneiform tablets to New Testament papyrus fragments, to medieval Bibles, to a letter by Martin Luther.  A working replica of Gutenberg's printing-press and the small Lunar Bible that was taken to the moon on Apollo XIV are also expected to be part of the exhibit.
            For the New Testament textual critic, the first area is bound to be the most interesting.  Visitors should be on the lookout for Papyrus 39, a fragment of text from John 8:14-22.  This fragment's text agrees with the text of Codex Vaticanus (images of which were recently placed online by the Vatican Library).  Papyrus 39 was found at Oxyrhynchus, about 120 miles south of Cairo, Egypt.
Early fragment of Greek text from the opening verses of First Samuel.
(Aggregate image from video from Museum of the Bible.)
            Old Testament manuscripts are in the Green Collection, too, including fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls, one of which contains text from Genesis 32:3-7.  The exhibit may also include a small fragment of First Samuel from the Septuagint version. (I don't know what production-date has been assigned to this fragment, but it looks very early.)  
            Pages from the Codex Climaci Rescriptus will be on display too.  Considering the age and extent of this manuscript, it is probably the most important item in the collection.  Agnes Smith Lewis encountered individual pages of the manuscript in 1895, and eventually she was able to collect the rest, which she published in 1909.
            Codex Climaci Rescriptus is, in a way, several manuscripts all rolled into one.  It contains (1) fragments of a Greek Gospels-Harmony, consisting primarily of extracts from Matthew and John, (2) the Greek text of Psalm 150, (3) part of a sermon in Palestinian Aramaic, in which the author utilized several passages from the Gospels and from the Pauline Epistles, (4) part of a legend about Peter and Paul, in Palestinian Aramaic, (5) text from Second Peter 3:16-18 in Palestinian Aramaic, (6) text from First John 1:1-9 in Palestinian Aramaic, (7) text from Second Peter 1:1-12 in Palestinian Aramaic, (8) text from Isaiah 63:9-11 in Palestinian Aramaic, and (9) Palestinian Aramaic text, arranged for liturgical reading in church-services, from the books of Hebrews, Philemon, Titus, Second Timothy, Second Thessalonians, First Thessalonians, Colossians, Philippians, Ephesians, Galatians, Second Corinthians, First Corinthians, Romans, Acts, John, Luke, Mark, and Matthew (with sporadic introductions consisting of phrases from Psalms) and excerpts from Jeremiah 11-12, Isaiah 40:1-8, First Samuel 1-4, and 6, Job 6-7, Proverbs 1, Micah 4, Deuteronomy 6-7, Leviticus 11-12, Exodus 4, and Joel 2.           
            Any one of these texts could easily be the centerpiece of a respectable private collection of artifacts.  When Codex Climaci Rescriptus was purchased in 2010 from Westminster College (where it had resided ever since being entrusted to that institution by Agnes Smith Lewis herself), the Green Collection thus acquired the second-most important New Testament manuscript in North America, second only to Codex W.
Pages from Codex Climaci Rescriptus
Photo credit:  Museum of the Bible

            The portion of Codex Climaci Rescriptus with substantial excerpts of New Testament books is generally thought to have been produced in the 500s.  Dr. Scott Carroll assigns an earlier date to this Aramaic material.  In the 2011 Passages Exhibition Catalog on page 17, he writes:  "While the Aramaic script was written in the late 4c [fourth century, that is, the 300s], the uncharacteristic script replicates a Greek biblical bookhand of the 2c [second century, that is, the 100s], suggesting that it may have been translated from a 2c Greek exemplar."  I am skeptical about such a claim, despite not knowing Palestinian Aramaic, simply because its basis seems precarious and because I have not heard a chorus of Aramaic-specialists rise in unified agreement; Lewis' initial assessment seems to have satisfied the experts in the early 1900s and today.  But even though Codex Climaci Rescriptus is not "a direct witness to a lost 2c Greek text of the Bible" (as Dr. Carroll wrote on page 16 of the 2011 Passages Exhibition Catalog), it is nevertheless a very important manuscript - and the scholars in the Green Scholars Initiative seem willing to assign part of the manuscript to the 400s.

            Codex Climaci Rescriptus has not (yet) received the level of fame given to some other early Biblical manuscripts such as Codices Vaticanus (B), Sinaiticus (À), Alexandrinus (A), Ephraimi Rescriptus (C), and Bezae (D).  There are several reasons for this -- some of which are fair, and some of which are not:
            (1)  The major uncials are older.
            (2)  The major uncials are written in Greek instead of in Palestinian Aramaic.
            (3)  The major uncials, except for C, have the Biblical text in a neat, continuous format, whereas the pages in Codex Climaci Rescriptus are not in order.
Another page from Codex Climaci Rescriptus
Photo credit:  Museum of the Bible
(Slightly altered from the original image)
            (4)  The major uncials, except for C, are not palimpsests; they remained intact as Biblical manuscripts and were not recycled.  The pages of Codex Climaci Rescriptus, however, were recycled in the early Middle Ages (probably in the 800s) when someone washed the parchment (not very thoroughly, fortunately) and re-used the parchment by writing upon it the text of translations of two compositions by John Climacus, a monk who lived in the 600s.  Gordon Campbell explains this in the second half of an online video about highlights of the 2014 Passages exhibit that was at Springfield, Missouri.
            It thus takes extra effort to read the older text in the manuscript:  not only does one need to know Palestinian Aramaic, but one needs to develop the skill to accurately read the older writing that is hidden below the younger writing.  (Fortunately Agnes Smith Lewis did all the hard work already; her 1909 transcription of the older writing -- accompanied by a retro-translation into Greek, with an apparatus indicating textual variants in the base-text! -- is a masterpiece.  It is still distributed by Cambridge University Press.)
            (5)  Technically, the New Testament text in Codex Climaci Rescriptus is formatted as a lectionary, so in the early 1900s, instead of getting a prominent letter or number to represent it in the textual apparatus, it was initially designated Lectionary 1561, which does not sound very important.  (Lectionaries are listed last in apparatus-entries, after patristic references.)  Currently it is categorized as an uncial, 0250.

            All things considered, Codex Climaci Rescriptus deserves far more attention than it has received from New Testament textual critics.  Agnes Smith Lewis' impressive work on the manuscript did not settle every question about its contents.  She noted that in some parts of the manuscript, the text was very faint and difficult to read, and advised future researchers to use care if they used a reagent (a chemical that makes the older writing more visible) on the parchment.  Last year, Jamie Klair, a student researcher at Tyndale House at the University of Cambridge found additional writing on pages of Codex Climaci Rescriptus -- texts by the Greek poet Aratus.  This led to additional research, and additional discoveries.  Avoiding chemical reagents (which risk harming the parchment), the researchers of the Green Scholars Initiative resort instead to multi-spectral imaging, which, as the name implies, uses different bandwidths of light to reveal the otherwise nigh-imperceptible writing.

            The Passages exhibit at Santa Clarita, California will be well worth visiting in 2015 -- but it is just a sample of the treasury of Bibles and Bible-related artifacts that will be housed at the Museum of the Bible, which is scheduled to open in 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Major Early Uncials of the Gospels: Online Access

This week, digital images of Codex Vaticanus (B, 03) came online, allowing viewers to see every page of that extremely important Biblical manuscript.  Most of the major early uncial parchment manuscripts containing the Greek text of the Gospels (or portions of the Gospels) are now online.  Manuscript-digitization are underway not only at the Vatican Library but also at the British Library, the University of Chicago, and other institutions.  The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts continues to add to its extensive collection of manuscript-images.      

Here is a list of embedded links to images or PDFs of some major New Testament uncials.  (Clicking on a name will take you to the images, or to a page that features a download-PDF option):
Codex Sinaiticus  (
, 01):
Codex Alexandrinus (A, 02):
Codex Vaticanus (B, 03):
Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus (C, 04)
Codex Bezae (D, 05)
Codex Seidelianus (G, 011) 

Codex Regius (L, 019)
Codex Campianus (M, 021)
Codex Guelpherbytanus B (Q, 026)
Codex Nitriensis (R, 027) 
Codex Washingtoniensis (W, 032)
Codex Monacensis (X, 033) 
Codex Sangallensis (Δ, 037)
Codex Beratinus [one of the Purple Uncials] (Φ, 043)
Codex Macedonianus (Y, 034)

Some manuscripts representing versions of the Gospels are also online:
Latin Gospels of Augustine of Canterbury
Latin Saint Cuthbert's Gospel of John
Latin Book of Kells 

Latin St. Chad/Lichfield Gospels
Coptic Lycopolitan Gospel of John 

Gothic Codex Argenteus
Syriac (Peshitta) Khabouris Codex 
Syriac (Harklean) Mingana Collection, Syriac 124
Armenian Sargis Gospels/Gospels of the Translators  
Ethiopic Tigray Gospels
Slavonic Chrysanthus Gospels

Old English Bath Gospels

In addition, images of minuscule Greek manuscripts of the Gospels, as well as manuscripts of the Gospels in other languages, can be viewed (either page-by-page, or in downloadable PDF's) at CSNTM, the Digitized Manuscripts Collection at the British Library (enter "Gospels" in the Quicksearch box), the Goodspeed Manuscript Collection, the website of the Leimonos Monastery, the Parker Library on the Web, the Digital Walters Art Museum, the World Digital Library, and the George Grey Collection.

Lots of New Testament papyri are online, too, such as the pages of Papyrus 46 at the University of Michigan.  But that's a subject for another day.

O what challenging times in which we live!  

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Surprise from Oxyrhynchus: 069, a Fragment of Mark

            Although the Byzantine Text of the Gospels is normally supported by about 85% (or more) of the extant Greek manuscripts at any given point, lists of the early Greek manuscript support for the Byzantine Text of the Gospels typically are very short, consisting mainly of Codex A (02, Alexandrinus) and (in Matthew, and in Luke 8:13-24:53) Codex W (032, Washingtoniensis), with some support from Codex C (04, Ephraimi Rescriptus).  Their testimony is often reinforced by the Gothic version and the Peshitta.  Later, in the early 500’s, comes the testimony of the Purple Uncials (N, O, Σ, Φ).  This testimony for the Byzantine Text is augmented by some patristic evidence from Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, and others.  But are there any more manuscripts from this period that support the Byzantine Text – anything at all?
            Yes, there are.  One of them is 069, a small fragment from the Gospel of Mark.  069 was the third item listed by Grenfell & Hunt when they began publishing the results of the excavations conducted at Oxyrhynchus, Egypt.  The text of 069 agrees perfectly with the text printed in 2005 by Robinson and Pierpont in The New Testament in the Original Greek - Byzantine Textform.  It was printed in Oxyrhynchus Papyri - Volume One, on pages 7-8.  Grenfell and Hunt described this fragment more or less like this: 
St. Mark’s Gospel – 10:50-51, 11:11-12
4.5 x 8.3 cm
Fragment of an early vellum codex containing part of St. Mark 10:50-51, 11:11-12, in a calligraphic uncial hand, probably of the fifth or sixth century.  The manuscript to which the fragment belonged was of the same class as Codex Alexandrinus, and the part preserved agrees with the Textus Receptus. 

[αυτου α]ναστας ηλ
θεν προς τον ιν·
και αποκριθεις λε
γει αυτω ο ις τι θ[ε
λεις ποιησω σο[ι
ο δε τυφλος ε[ιπε‾

κ[αι εις το ειρον
και [περιβλεψαμε
νος πα[ντα οψι
ας ηδη ουσης τη[ς
ωρας εξηλθεν
εις βηθανιαν με
[τ]α των δωδεκα·
[κ]αι τη επαυριον

            When Codex W was discovered, it demonstrated that the Byzantine Text of the Gospel of Matthew and Luke was known in Egypt in late 300’s/early 400’s.  The testimony of 069 has been overshadowed by W’s more famous and more substantial testimony, but 069 still should be noticed as a witness from the late 400’s or early 500’s to the existence of the Byzantine Text of Mark in Egypt.

            069 was given to the University of Chicago in the early 1900’s – one of the perks of the investment the university had made in Grenfell & Hunt’s excavation-work.  It is currently housed at the Oriental Institute Museum, as collection #2057.  Images of the manuscript are online at the website of the Goodspeed Manuscript Collection – one of the very first world-class collections of New Testament manuscripts that became accessible online.

As I mentioned before, the text of 069 agrees perfectly with the Byzantine Text.  Here is a list of its disagreements with the chief Greek representatives of other text-types.

Recto, line 2 (10:50):  069 supports αναστας but ÀBDLΔΨΘ read αναπηδήσας.
Recto, line 3 (10:50):  069 supports τον ιν but D Θ and 565 read αυτον.
Recto, line 4 (10:51):  069 supports και but Θ and 565 read ο δε.
Recto, lines 4-5 (10:51):  069 supports λεγει αυτω ο ις but ÀBLΔΨ read αυτω ο ις ειπεν. 
            Θ and 565 read λεγει αυτω.  K Π Υ 700 read ο ις λεγει αυτω.
Recto, line 5 (10:51):  069 supports τι θελεις ποιησω σοι but ÀBLΔΨ read σοι θελεις ποιησω.

Verso, line 1 (11:11): 069 supports και before εις το ειρον.  ÀBCLWΔΘ do not have και.
Verso, line 2 (11:11):  069 supports και after εις το ειρον.  D* does not have και.
Verso, lines 3-4 (11:11):  069 and B support οψιας.  ÀCL read οψε.     
Verso, lines 4-5 (11:11):  069 supports της ωρας.  B does not have της ωρας.
Verso, line 8 (11:12):  069 supports επαυριον.  W reads αυριον.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Message: Is It a Reliable Bible? Is It a Bible at All?

          The Bible is defined in different ways by different denominations.  In the fellowship of Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, the Bible is generally defined as a collection of 66 books which were produced by individuals operating under the special inspiration of God so that the resultant texts were exactly what God wanted them to be.  The Bible is considered the church’s authoritative standard for faith and practice. 
          For most Christians, however, when the Bible is consulted and studied, the text being read is a translation that was designed to convey the meaning of the inspired Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts; the proportion of Christians who interact daily with Biblical texts in their original languages is relatively low. 
          It is practical to emphasize the meaning of the inspired text:  the use of a translation allows those who do not know Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek to know and apply the message which those ancient texts convey.  The translation of the Bible into many languages has greatly advanced the spread of the gospel.  But with the benefit comes a risk:  the risk that if the base-text – the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek text – is not compiled correctly, and is not translated correctly, then the result will not convey the message that was conveyed by the original text, and that where a translation contains shortcomings, its users will not possess the Word of God. 
Most of the Bible in Contemporary English,
blended with Eugene Peterson's
comments and interpretations.
          No English translation perfectly conveys the full sense of every nuance of every word and phrase in the original text, but several English versions are sufficient for the needs of most readers.  The Message, however, is so inaccurate that it does not deserve to be considered a Bible.  To see why this is the case, let’s compare the Greek base-text of the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew to The Message.  (In the following comparison, the text of The Message is from The Message:  Remix:  The Bible in Contemporary Language, Copyright © 2003 by Eugene H. Peterson.  All rights reserved.)    

10:1a – “The prayer was no sooner prayed than it was answered.” – This sentence has no parallel in the Greek text. 

10:1b – “and sent them out into the ripe fields” – This phrase has no parallel in the Greek text.

10:1c – “and to tenderly care for the bruised and hurt lives.” – This is not a translation, but rather a replacement of what Matthew wrote, stating that the disciples were given power to heal every disease and every sickness.  The emphasis on healing in the original text has been obscured.

10:5a – “harvest hands” – This term has no parallel in the Greek text.

10:5b – “Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers.” – Jesus’ words did not pertain to distance; instead, He told His disciples on this occasion not to preach to the Gentiles – εις οδον εθνων μη απέλθητε:  into the nations’ way do not go. 

10:5c – “And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy.” – This is simply not what Jesus said.  He told them not to enter into any city of the Samaritans – και εις πόλιν Σαμαριτων μη εισέλθητε.  This is a very simple sentence.  The prohibitions against being dramatic and against tackling “some public enemy” were made up by Peterson out of thin air.

10:6 – “Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood.” – What Jesus said was, “But go instead to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  The distinction that Jesus drew on this occasion was pretty simple:  minister to those in need among fellow-Jews, not to Gentiles and Samaritans.  This is not a difficult concept to understand; nor is the sentence difficult to translate accurately – but instead of doing so, Peterson replaced the specific reference to “the house of Israel” to the vague and inaccurate, “right here in the neighborhood,” as if Jesus was referring to a place rather than an ethnic group.

10:8 – “Touch the untouchables.” – The base-text says, “Cleanse lepers” (λεπρους καθαρίζετε).  This is not a command to touch; it is a command to heal; it is about applying divine power, not human pity.  

10:9a – “Don’t think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start.” – This resembles the original text only to the extent that they both are about not acquiring money.  Jesus’ words are considerably different:  “Do not acquire gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts.”  There is nothing in The Message to correspond specifically to gold, or to silver, or to copper, or to belts.

10:9b, e – “You don’t need a lot of equipment” and, at the end of the verse, “Travel light.” – Jesus’ instructions were not this vague.  He specified that the disciples were not to take along a knapsack for the road, nor two shirts, nor sandals, nor a staff (or, in the Byzantine Text, staffs).  The Message’s paraphrase blurs Jesus’ sentence and makes it impossible for readers to perceive what He specified to His disciples.

10:9c – “You are the equipment.” – This is entirely from Peterson; nothing in the original text corresponds to this sentence.

10:9d – “and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day.” – Jesus said nothing to His disciples about eating three meals a day.  Jesus said that the worker is worthy of his food.  The reference to three daily meals is just something that Peterson threw in without any textual basis, except the reference to food.

10:10 – “don’t insist on staying at a luxury inn.  Get a modest place with some modest people” – This is not what Jesus said.  He told the disciples that whenever they enter a city or village, they should inquire about who is worthy.  No parameters are given about whether the residence is large or small, or about whether or not it is “modest.” 

10:14a – “If they don’t welcome you, quietly withdraw.  Don’t make a scene.  Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.” – Jesus’ instructions were very different.  He told His disciples that if they were not received and their words were not heeded, they were to shake the dust off their feet as they departed.  How did the early church interpret Jesus’ statement?  We do not have to guess, because Acts 13 provides an account of how Paul and Barnabas acted when their message was rejected in the city of Antioch-in-Pisidia:  in Acts 13:46, they boldly answered the Jews who opposed their message, and in Acts 13:51 “they shook the dust from their feet in protest.”  This is a far cry from the quiet shrugging of shoulders that Peterson made up out of thin air.

10:15a – “You can be sure that on Judgment Day they’ll be mighty sorry’ – Here Peterson has subtracted and added.  Jesus said that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on Judgment Day than it will be for such a city.  The Message completely skips this reference to Sodom and Gomorrah.  This does not mean that Peterson undertook his task with an agenda to eliminate or significantly reduce Biblical condemnations of sodomy, but when references such as this one in Matthew 10:15 are deliberately obscured, one wonders how different a version made with such an agenda would be from what is encountered in The Message.  

10:15b – “but it’s no concern of yours now.” – Nothing in the Greek text of Matthew 10:14 corresponds to these words.  Peterson just threw them in.

10:16 – “This is hazardous work I’m assigning you.” – This entire sentence is an insertion; once again, nothing in the Greek text corresponds to these words.

10:17 – “Some people will impugn your motives; others will smear your reputation.” – Jesus said that His disciples will be handed over to councils and that His disciples will be scourged in the synagogues.  Motive-impugning and reputation-smearing are not the actions described by Jesus in this verse, and the base-text does not justify mentioning them.  Does anyone imagine that smearing your reputation is the equivalent of scourging?    

10:18 – “Without knowing it, they’ve done you – and me – a favor” – None of this has a basis in the base-text; it is all an insertion.  Meanwhile, the phrase και τοις εθνεσιν (“and the Gentiles”) is not represented in The Message in any way.

10:21a – “When people realize that it is the living God you are presenting and not some idol that makes them feel good” – There is nothing in the base-text that corresponds to any of this.

10:21b – “They are going to turn on you, even people in your own family.” – This is an extremely blurry summary of what Jesus said.  The base-text says, “Brother will betray brother to be killed, and a father his child, and children will rise up against their parents and have them killed.”  This verse has been thoroughly abbreviated and adulterated.

10:22b – “But don’t quit.  Don’t cave in.  It is all well worth it in the end.” – This is all a fine sentiment, but it is ridiculous as a translation of what Jesus said in this verse, which is simply, “The one who endures to the end, that one shall be saved.” 

10:23 – “Be survivors!  Before you’ve run out of options, the Son of Man will have arrived.” – The imprecision here is completely unnecessary.  Did Peterson feel that the meaning of Jesus’ sentence to the disciples was deficient, and must be put at a distance?  There is a lot more to the Greek text of this verse, as follows:  “And when they persecute you in this city, flee to another.  For truly I say to you, you will not have gone through all the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”

10:24a – “A student doesn’t get a better desk than her teacher.” – Jesus’ actual sentence lack any reference to a female student; it also lacks any reference to a desk.
10:25b – The entire phrase (present in the Greek base-text), “and for the slave to be like his master,” is not represented.  It is as if a sentence in the base-text has simply vanished.

10:25c – “If they call me, the Master, ‘Dungface,’ what can the workers expect?” – The Greek word that Peterson rendered “Dungface” is Βεελζεβουλ (Beelzeboul), which is the name of a demon.  Peterson’s mistranslation completely obscures the connection between 10:25 and the Pharisees’ actions in 9:34.  In addition, the term οικοδεσποτην simply means house-master, not capital-M “Master,” as if Jesus is some sort of Ascended Master or Jedi Master.

10:27 – “So don’t hesitate to go public now.” – Can anyone seriously consider this an adequate representation of the base-text???  Here is the sentence:  “What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light, and what you hear in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops.”  (Unnecessary abridgments such as this one occur frequently in The Message.)

10:28a – “Don’t be bluffed into silence by the threats of bullies.” – This is a fine sentiment, but it leaves out a significant part of what Jesus said:  “And do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul.”  The opponents in view here are not schoolyard bullies; they are individuals with the means to kill.

10:28b – “Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life – body and soul – in his hands.”  It is difficult to overstate the inaccuracy of The Message in this verse.  Here is the Greek text of the last sentence:  Φοβεισθε δε μαλλον τον δυναμενον και ψυχην και σωμα απολέσαι εν Γεέννη, that is, “Fear, instead, the one with power to destroy both soul and body in hell.”  Besides significantly altering the nuance of the sentence, Peterson completely removed the reference to hell. 

10:29 – “What’s the price of a pet canary?  Some loose change, right?” – In the real world, Jesus referred to the price of two sparrows, not to the price of a pet canary.  (And have you seen how much canaries actually cost?  It’s more like $20, not “some loose change.”)  A literal translation of the base-text would not be difficult to understand.  Peterson’s translational choice here, as in a multitude of other passages, seems as irreverently flippant and capricious as it is inaccurate and unnecessary.

10:31 – “of all this bully talk.” – There is no basis for this in the base-text.  Peterson just threw that in there.

10:33 – “If you turn tail and run, do you think I’ll cover for you?” – Peterson has sacrificed accuracy for the sake of stylistic flair, and left a significant part of the base-text unrepresented.  Here is the sentence that he has mauled:  “And whoever will deny me before people, I also will deny him before my Father in heaven.”  Three things have happened here:  (1)  the act of making a candid denial of Christ has been turned into the act of turning tail and running, (2)  Jesus’ affirmation has been turned into a question, and (3) a reference to “my Father in heaven” has completely disappeared.

Matthew 10:38:  where did the cross go?
I thought there was something here
about taking up your cross.
10:38 – “If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me.” – Where did the cross go???  In the real world, this verse says, “And the one who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”  It’s right there:  σταυρον (“cross”).  Is Peterson’s translation-technique actual sorcery, or just sleight-of-hand?  Either way, he makes a clear reference to the cross disappear!

10:40 – “We are intimately linked in this harvest work.” – This entire sentence is an addition; nothing corresponds to it in the base-text.  Here and elsewhere, it is almost as if Peterson wrote thematic titles for various paragraphs, and inserted them into the text, slightly changed as if they were the words of Christ.

10:41 – “This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it.  It’s best to start small.” – Both of these sentences have no parallel in the base-text.  Jesus did not say these words that The Message attributes to him.  They are insertions by Eugene Peterson.

10:41 – “Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help.” – Peterson just made this up.  The Greek text of the Gospel of Matthew does not contain this, or anything like this.

10:42 – “The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice.” – This sentence has no parallel in the base-text.  It is an insertion, originating not with Jesus but with Eugene Peterson.

          So:  in Matthew 10, The Message contains 37 flaws (or more, depending on how they’re counted).  Peterson freely adds phrases and sentences which have no textual foundation.  He repeatedly fails to translate entire phrases and sentences that are in the base-text (no matter which text-type is being consulted).  He omits two references to the cross, two references to Israel, a reference to Sodom and Gomorrah, and a reference to hell. 
          These inaccuracies in Matthew 10 are not exceptions.  They are typical.  Elsewhere, The Message refers to casseroles, telescopes, pajamas, the dictionary, and on and on.  The New Testament's references to hell have been consistently watered down.  Some of Peterson’s theological biases have been smuggled in.  Inspired sentences have been left out.  From beginning to end, this version is blatantly inaccurate. 
          Can any responsible, well-informed Christian recommend The Message?  Certainly:  as a representation of Eugene Peterson’s interpretations of the Bible, it’s terrific!  If it were being marketed as a commentary, many aspects of it would be commendable.  When it is read discerningly, as a commentary, The Message can be a source of edification.  But as a Bible translation – which is what NavPress is marketing it as, and which is what many preachers treat it as – it is a disaster.  It is like a shipwreck at the bottom of the sea, with barnacles and holes from beginning to end.   
          Thus ends my review of The Message.  But there is an implication of this that should not be ignored:  the people who helped make The Message and the people who still promote it as a Bible translation must be extremely untrustworthy as evaluators of the quality and accuracy of Bible translations.  (I daresay that if you meet any scholar who recommends making The Message your primary translation for doctrinal study, run away fast and far.) 
          These individuals include – as consultants for The MessageDarrell Bock (Dallas Theological Seminary), Peter Ennes (Eastern University), Duane Garrett (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), William Klein (Denver Seminary), Tremper Longman III (Westmont College), and Rodney Whitacre (Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry).  They also include – as public promoters for The Message – Gordon FeeMichael CardLeith Anderson, and Jerry B. Jenkins.
          The individuals in these lists may be fellow believers, with impeccable credentials of every kind, and they may have wonderfully fruitful ministries; nevertheless, as evaluators of the accuracy of Bible translations, each and every one is demonstrably unworthy of the church’s trust.  


Scripture taken from THE MESSAGE, Copyright © 1993, 21994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002.  Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.  
[Normally I would not refer to The Message as Scripture, 
but this notice is probably legally required and I don’t want to get sued.]