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The Early Text of the New Testament (Charles Hill & Michael Kruger ed.)

Charles E. Hill and Michael J. Kruger, ed. The Early Text of the New Testament. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2012. 498 pp. $50.00.

Early TextIn response to the recent burgeoning of new textual materials and renewed scholarly interest in NT textual criticism, editors Charles Hill and Michael Kruger felt that it was time for a radical and thorough review in light of the major text types. The Early Text of the New Testament brings together some of the best scholars of the early NT texts to present an impressively comprehensive set of essays that “provide an inventory and some analysis of the evidence available for understanding the pre-fourth-century period of the transmission of the NT materials” (2).

In Part I, four essays cover the textual and scribal culture of early Christianity. First, Harry Gamble discusses the book trade in the Roman empire, addressing the commercial book trade, the non-commercial book trade, and finally the publication and dissemination of early Christian books. Early Christian texts “were produced and disseminated in much the same way as other literature in the larger socio-cultural environment,” (31) and hence susceptible to the same hazards. Next, Scott Charlesworth examines indicators of “catholicity” in early Gospel manuscripts. He notes that the use of standard-sized codices and standardized nomina sacra in the early manuscripts of the canonical gospels prove the notion of “catholic” consensus and collaboration among early Christians. This catholicity, Charlesworth points out, does not indicate uniformity. The upshot of all this is that “[t]he evidence for later second- and second/third-century “catholicity” presents real problems for the Bauer thesis” (46).

In the third essay Larry Hurtado focuses on the sociology of early Christian reading, arguing that “there is a distinguishable Christian reading-culture, another ‘specific sociocultural context,’ and that early Christian manuscripts are direct artefacts of it” (49). In the final essay of the first part, Michael Kruger addresses early Christian attitudes toward the scribal process. He examines early testimony regarding the scriptural status of NT texts (such as 2 Peter 3:16 and The Epistle of Barnabas 1:14), and early testimony regarding the reproduction of NT texts such as the Deuteronomy 4:2 formula. Kruger concludes that “a high view of these texts (and concerns over their transmission is not mutually exclusive with the existence of significant textual variation” (79).

Part 2 comprises eight chapters devoted to a detailed and up-to-date assessment the early manuscript tradition of the NT, proceeding by book or groups of books. These essays are quite technical and detailed and are not as accessible as Part 1 and Part 3 to the nonspecialist. This section concludes with an essay on the witness of the early versions by Peter Williams in which he issues some words of warning in regards to Bruce Metzer’s The Early Versions of the New Testament and that particular tradition of using the early versions. Specifically, Williams argues that “while the early versions are indeed important for historical, cultural, and linguistice reasons, in one respect their contribution has been overestimated: they have been held to play an important role in deciding between Greek variants concerning which actually they give no clear testimony” (239).

The final sections contain eight essays that deal with early citation and use of the NT writings. In the first essay of this section, Charles Hill examines methods and standards of citation in the second century. He first looks at the Greek tradition and provides examples such as Homer and Herodotus to demonstrate that accuracy in reproducing another author’s words was not part of the tradition of classical Greek. To show that this same tendency characterized the citation of sacred literature, Hill brings forth examples from sources such as Philo and Josephus. Hence, “even a stated and sincerely held regard for the sacredness of a text did not necessarily affect an author’s practice of what we would call loose or adaptive citation” (277). Hill concludes his essay with some important implications for not only attempts to extract an underlying text, but also for the study of reception history of biblical writings as well. The rest of the chapters examine the citation and use of the NT in a variety of early writings: the Apostolic Fathers (Paul Foster), Marcion (Dieter Roth), Justin Martyr’s 1 Apol. 15:1-8 (Joseph Verheyden), Tatian’s Diatessaron (Tjitze Baarda), early apocryphal Gospels (Stanley Porter), Irenaeus’s Adversus haeresus (D. Jeffrey Bingham and Billy R. Todd, Jr.), and Clement of Alexandria (Carl Cosaert).

The Early Text of the New Testament is a must-read for students and scholars of the NT and particularly for those with interest in the early manuscripts and early citation of the NT texts. While some of the essays (mainly the ones in Part 2) are quite technical, the essays in Part 1 have broader appeal and could benefit the thinking lay Christian and pastor who is curious about the scribal culture during NT times, canon formation, and apologetic issues surrounding Scripture (and the NT in particular). This book presents the latest research on the early manuscript tradition of the entire NT and also addresses key issues in the discipline of textual criticism. As such, I think it’s essential reading for those taking a New Testament textual criticism course at the seminary level. One final note: this book was originally published as a hardcover retailing at $175 (standard for academic monographs). Last year OUP published a much more affordable paperback that retails at $50, which is a steal for this type of book. Buy this book if you’re a serious academic student of the NT, and especially if you’re interested in the manuscript tradition.

Thanks to Oxford University Press for the review copy!

Purchase: Amazon

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