A Threat to Bibliolatry
I appreciate your willingness to publish the vitriolic letters of the subscription cancelers. Be assured that there are plenty of us who deeply appreciate your publication and read it with zest.
Letters such as “AR [Atheist Review] Instead of BR?” (Readers Reply, BR 13:01) help me to appreciate what a threat BR is to bibliolatry. Keep up the good work!
On a Roll
As an Evangelical Christian, I want to thank you for the outstanding February 1997 BR. The articles by J. Harold Ellens, Thomas Schmidt, C. Bruce Hunter and Bradley Stein were wonderfully informative and well written (see “The Ancient Library of Alexandria;” “Jesus’ Triumphal March to Crucifixion;” “Jefferson’s Bible;” “Who the Devil Is Beelzebul?”). The photos of historical art were beautiful and effective in relation to the subjects. The magazine layouts were excellent and professional. This kind of work is a service to us all!
And the Oscar Goes to…
I’ve been a subscriber to BR for several years now, and look forward to receiving each issue. I’m writing this note just to offer the following personal accolades:
1. Best issue ever: February 1997.
2. Best article ever: J. Harold Ellens, “The Ancient Library of Alexandria,” BR 13:01.
From Logos to Christ
“The Ancient Library of Alexandria,” BR 13:01, by J. Harold Ellens, is one of the finest articles ever published in BR. It is scholarly, informative, readable—in short, delightful in every way.
And now, as you may have already guessed, here comes the “however.” Near the end of a lengthy discussion of the relationship between the Greek notion of Logos and the Hebrew concept of Wisdom, Ellens states that “it is the influence of Philo’s theological and philosophical model (mediated through Clement and Origen to the bishops who met at the great councils), combined with the very speculative allegorical interpretation of scripture under the influence of Neoplatonism (typical of the outlook in Alexandria), that explains the theological move of the councils from a Jesus who was filled with the Logos to a Christ who was the being of God.” That “theological move,” however, did not result from conciliar discussion and debate. Centuries before the ecumenical councils were convened, John 1:1–18 declared that Jesus Christ, the “Word” (Greek Logos), “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). Indeed, “in the beginning the Logos already existed, and the Logos was with God, and God was the Logos” (John 1:1; see also 1 John 1:1–3).
The above comments are not meant to detract from the overall excellence of Ellens’s article. I make them only to point out what I consider to be a glaring omission in a piece submitted to a journal that underscores biblical connections and relationships.
Professor of Old Testament
Bethel Theological Seminary
San Diego, California
J. Harold Ellens responds:
For Christianity, of course, the question Dr. Youngblood raises is the most central and important question of all. He points out that the assertions regarding the exalted nature of Jesus Christ are already present in the New Testament, at least in the prologue of John’s gospel and the introductory verses of John’s First Epistle.
I cannot, in one short reply, adequately review the long scholarly discussion on this 006problem in the last two decades in particular and in the last two centuries more generally. For that I refer readers to the works of James M. Robinson on the historical Jesus discussion, E.P. Sanders on Jesus and Judaism, Raymond E. Brown on the birth and death of the Messiah, and Jarl Fossum and Gabriele Boccaccini on the theologies of Second Temple Judaism that give meaning to the titles accorded Jesus by the early Christian Church.
The issue comes down to four points. First, that the Johannine passages are almost certainly second-century texts does not change the issue very much. Second, the titles applied to Jesus in the Gospels have now been traced back in the history and polytheistic theology of Second Temple Judaism (300 B.C.E.–100 C.E.), which Boccaccini calls Middle Judaism,a and have been identified as titles with specific meaning, applied to numerous people who were thought to be imbued with the divine spirit. These titles include Son of God, Son of Man, the Man from Heaven, and those who were filled with Sophia or with the Logos of God. This was a common set of titles. Most of them were not identified with the expected Messiah, but they all indicated that angelic figures and human persons to whom they were applied, such as Metatron, Yahoel, Simon Magus and Jesus of Nazareth, were figures in whom the Logos of God was working to accomplish the redemptive and sometimes magical work of Yahweh.
Third, the crucial point is that in Second Temple Judaism, one form of which became the Christian movement, these titles were never meant to designate the figures to whom they were applied as divine beings. They meant rather that these figures were imbued with divine spirit, or the Logos. The titles referred to their function and character as men of God, not to their being God. Hebrew notions about these things were anthropomorphic and metaphoric, not ontological.
Fourth, thinking of a human as being or becoming God or a god, ontologically, was strictly a Greek or Hellenistic notion. Thus, the early theological debates from the middle of the second century on were largely between Antioch, a center of Jewish Christianity, albeit probably Hellenistic Jewish Christianity, on the one hand, and Alexandrian Christianity, heavily colored by Neoplatonic speculation, on the other. For the most part, the Jewish Christian argument tended to be that they had known Jesus and his family and that he was a human being, a great teacher, one filled with the divine Logos, as Moses and others had been before him, but that he was not divine in the ontological sense, as the Alexandrians insisted. This argument persisted in one form or another until Cyril of Alexandria’s faction finally won the day for a highly mythologized Jesus of divine ontological being. Cyril was capable of murdering his fellow bishops to get his way.
I claimed in my article that Philo’s attempt to wed Hellenistic Judaism with Middle Platonism produced a model for theological speculation and allegorical hermeneutics that was followed by Clement and Origen. The central issue of Philo’s project was that the action of God in this material universe, in creation, providence and salvation, was mediated by the Logos, which Philo saw as the force of rationality and physical and moral order—and the reordering of the disordered and sinful. Clement took this model and applied the notion to Jesus as a man imbued with the Logos in a very special but probably not unique way. Origen identified Philo’s Logos specifically 007and virtually uniquely with Jesus of Nazareth. By the time of the Council of Nicea in 325 C.E., this Alexandrian perspective of high Christology was dominant but not uncontested by the Antiochian perspective of low Christology. From Nicea to Chalcedon the speculative and Neoplatonist perspective of Alexandrian Christology gained increasing ground and became orthodox Christian dogma in 451 C.E.
Unfortunately, what the theologians of the great ecumenical councils meant by such creedal titles as Son of God was remote from what those same titles meant in the Gospels. The creeds were speaking in Greek philosophical terms; the Gospels were speaking in Second Temple Judaism terms. The Gospels were talking about God visiting us in the man from Nazareth in a special and perhaps unique way; the creeds were talking about this man having the being of God. The bishops of the councils should have realized that they had shifted the ground from Hebrew metaphor to Greek ontology and, in effect, betrayed the real Jesus Christ.
Your editorial staff made one of its rare mistakes in the February issue. In “The Ancient Library of Alexandria,” BR 13:01, there is a detail of Alexander the Great from the Pompeiian mosaic depicting the battle of Issus (Alexander is at left in the photo below). The caption begins, “Spear upraised, the youthful Alexander is pictured…” However, the upraised spear does not belong to Alexander. If you look closely, you will see part of a horse’s head between Alexander’s shoulder and the raised arm and spear. The arm obviously belongs to a soldier accompanying Alexander. If the editor who wrote the caption had looked at a reproduction of the complete mosaic, he or she would have seen that Alexander’s arm goes downward, holding his spear at the level of his hips.
This mosaic is almost certainly a copy of a painting (now lost) produced during Alexander’s lifetime by a court painter (probably Aristides of Thebes or his pupil Philoxenus). In the original, Alexander’s arm and spear probably were upraised, for this is the position in which Alexander is depicted on the tomb of his father, Philip, at Vergina, in a painting probably done by Aristides. A sculptured copy of the central scene of the lost painting of Alexander at Issus also exists on the Alexander Sarcophagus carved for the king of Sidon. There Alexander and his horse are in the same position as in the Pompeiian mosaic except that Alexander has his right arm and spear upraised. For his own reasons (perhaps to avoid having the spear obscure part of Alexander’s head), the artist who did the mosaic seems to have changed the position of Alexander’s arm so that he is holding his spear down at hip level rather than up by his head.
The moral of all this is that one should never make a description of an artistic detail without looking at the whole image from which it is taken.
Keep up the good work with both BR and Biblical Archaeology Review.
Professor of History
University of New Orleans
Saved from the Flames
Sorry, I’m not canceling! I found the article on Jefferson’s Bible extremely interesting (Bruce Hunter, “Jefferson’s Bible,” BR 13:01). As an undergraduate at Hunter College in New York City, I “redeemed” a copy of this 1904 congressional publication consigned to the basement furnace! There is a stamp on the 010inside cover that indicates the book had been “withdrawn” and therefore “destroyed.” I dearly hope this policy has been changed! There is no dedication or number of copies imprinted, but penciled in a left margin is the name Pierce V. Scopen, 3–22-39 $5, indicating the date of acquisition, I would guess, by Hunter College.
It is in very good condition and is a nice “testament” to the genius of one of our greatest presidents.
According to the introduction by Cyrus Adler, 9,000 were printed; 3,000 were given to the Senate and 6,000 to the House. I’d be curious to know if any bibliophiles might tell me how many copies are extant.
Let me congratulate all of you involved in both Biblical Archaeology Review and BR. These magazines fill a needed rational approach to a very volatile subject.
East Meadow, New York
Jefferson as Excavator
C. Bruce Hunter wrote that Thomas Jefferson was “very much the scientist.” Archaeology was one of his sciences. His Notes on the State of Virginia (1781) contains the account of his excavation of an Indian mound and his interpretation of the findings, including a recognition of the importance of stratigraphy and an anticipation of dendrochronology (tree-ring dating). European scholars apparently were unaware of Jefferson’s work. It took more than a century for professional archaeologists (most of whom were in Europe) to catch up with Jefferson’s insight. It was almost another century before a professional archaeologist (the great British methodologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler, in his 1962 book, Archaeology from the Earth) recognized Jefferson’s achievement.
You will appreciate the fact that Jefferson published his excavation promptly. Professional archaeology has yet to equal him on that score!
For more on Jefferson as archaeologist, see William H. Stiebing, Jr., “Who First Excavated Stratigraphically?” BAR 07:01.—Ed.
Debating the Age of New Testament Manuscripts
I have only now received a copy of the August 1996 BR with Bruce Metzger’s review of Eyewitness to Jesus (see Bible Books, BR 12:04). He asks an interesting question: “Do three fragments of the Gospel of Matthew date to just after the time of Jesus?” He thinks that I and my co-author, British historian Matthew d’Ancona, answer “Yes.” But we don’t. All we are suggesting, in our book Eyewitness to Jesus (Doubleday, 1996) and in related publications, is a date of these papyrus fragments before 70 A.D., in the mid-60s of the first century. And this is not “just after the time of Jesus” but more than 30 years later. And 30 years, as historians of antiquity know, was the average active life expectancy (after childhood and adolescence) of a man at the time of Jesus. Beyond the debate about the papyri as such, we recognize an area where everyone, experts as much as interested laypeople, should tread with care: It is the way we use our 011terminology. Those who date the Gospels to the period before the destruction of Jerusalem are often called “early daters” or are adorned with similar epithets carrying negative undertones. But such dates are still very, very late. In the 40-year period between the death of Jesus, 30 A.D., and the fall of Jerusalem, 70 A.D., the literary tradition of what later came to be known as the “New Testament” developed from shorthand notes and collections of sayings to complete gospels. Papyrologists agree that the Christian scroll and the Christian codex existed before 70 A.D.
Theologians who claim that the Gospels, Matthew, Luke and John in particular, are late community creations of the 80s and 90s A.D., have no historical or literary ground to stand on, and they know it. But historical arguments and logical thinking are elements of circumstantial evidence, whereas papyri are visible, concrete objects. The debate about the three Oxford fragments of Matthew’s gospel is important because it is a debate about visual evidence. However, it is not a debate about the possible existence of such papyri. What we must debate, within the context of the fact that such “early” papyri did indeed exist, is simply whether those three scraps are this material evidence or whether we shall have to wait for other manuscripts.
Professor Metzger highlights the famous Qumran fragment 7Q5, a papyrus that must be older than 68 A.D. (when the Romans destroyed Qumran). He claims that José O’Callaghan (the papyrologist who first identified the papyrus with Mark 6:52–53) and I “have had to make a number of assumptions concerning doubtful letters and variant readings of the fragments—assumptions that most other scholars have found quite unpersuasive.” Assumptions—yes of course: This is the daily bread and butter of papyrologists who are dealing with damaged fragments. Another fragment from Qumran Cave 7 (7Q2), identified as a passage from the apocryphal Letter of Jeremiah, is as small as 7Q5 but has many more, and decidedly less explicable, variant readings than those to be found in the Markan fragment 7Q5. And yet, no one doubts that 7Q2 is from the Letter of Jeremiah: A prime example of double standards if ever there was one.
Computer-assisted studies have shown that there is not a single text from Greek literature that could even tentatively claim to be identified with 7Q5 except, of course, Mark 6:52–53. And thus, one of the world’s leading papyrologists, Orsolina Montevecchi, honorary president of the International Papyrologists’ Association and editor of the specialist journal Aegyptus, has demanded in writing that the Münster Institute, quoted by Bruce Metzger, which oddly enough is allowed to monopolize the list of New Testament papyri, must give an official “P” number to 7Q5. And Professor Montevecchi is not alone in this. Those “most other scholars” alluded to by Metzger are fast becoming a vociferous, unconvincing minority, I am afraid.
Thus, we already have one gospel papyrus that predates 70 A.D.: the Markan fragment 7Q5 from Qumran. It is from a scroll, whereas the Oxford papyrus of Matthew’s gospel is from a codex, the predecessor of our modern book. To do justice to this important change of format, we analyze the historical background in Greek and 012Roman literature, in Jewish culture and among Christians throughout the Roman Empire.
This highly relevant material prepares the ground for a discussion of the fragments themselves. And here we follow the well-tested procedures of all paleographers, summarized by Bruce Metzger: “The analysis of a hand depends not only on the shape of letters, but also on their formation—on the sequence of letter strokes and their comparative thickness, on the proportions of height and breadth in characters, and on the use of serifs and flourishes at the ends of strokes.” Precisely!
However, it is an error of logic that, according to Professor Metzger, “an important part in the comparison of two hands is that a comparison of all the letters of the alphabet is required.” Small fragments, such as those from Oxford, simply do not contain all the letters of the alphabet. All we can (and indeed must) compare are all the letters of the fragment. It is equally erroneous to claim that “paleographers usually allow an outer limit of 50 years on each side of a proposed date for a manuscript.” One would do this half a century ago; today, refined methods allow a higher degree of precision. Particularly the distinction between an early, high and late style within a particular “fashion” in handwriting has helped papyrologists. Concerning the Oxford fragments of Matthew’s gospel, we can show that the handwriting belongs to the late type of style that flourished at the beginning of the century and that a manuscript dated to 66 A.D.—a peasant’s application signed by three officials—reprinted in volume 2 of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, in my own book, Jésus selon Matthieu (Paris: F.-X. de Guibert, 1996), and in many other publications—is the latest similar and precisely dated document known today. In other words, giving the date as “about 66” (or earlier) is entirely legitimate.
When we discuss the so-called Biblical Uncial style (a chapter apparently overlooked by Metzger, since he claims that he looked for it in vain), we show not only that it is a misnomer but also, for a series of reasons given by us, that it is not applicable to the Oxford papyrus. Even Colin Roberts, the first editor of the papyrus in 1953, knew that it was a precursor of that style. The papyri that Metzger finds in Cavallo’s book on the Biblical Uncial are clearly later than the Oxford papyrus and—what is even more important—they are neither dated from their contents nor datable from an archaeological context. In other words, their own date is open to a new and serious debate and may easily be much too late to begin with.
A discussion of arguments becomes difficult when the arguments are distorted. Bruce Metzger accuses us of writing that the horizontal strokes are as thick as the vertical ones. We say no such thing. As can be seen from the quote, and from a glance at the reproduction in the book, we state the obvious: The horizontal strokes (on the one hand) and the vertical strokes (on the other) are “equally thick.” Those who have seen our book will also recognize that Metzger’s second accusation is completely untrue. Small ornamental strokes are added to several letters. They are so glaringly evident that I do not understand why Metzger denies their existence: In the alpha, delta and lamda, they can be seen without a magnifying glass. The kappa and gamma also have them.
Our book introduces a wider public to the origins of the literary gospel tradition and to the work of historians, papyrologists and theologians. Some of our results may be uncomfortable to the protagonists of other schools of thought. 013But this is no excuse for a polemical distortion of what we are saying.
Institute for Basic Epistemological Research
Bruce Metzger responds:
The mistakes in Eyewitness to Jesus to which I drew attention are only a fraction of the scores of errors, large and small, which Dr. J. Keith Elliott of the University of Leeds subsequently identified in a lengthy review article published in the quarterly journal Novum Testamentum (vol. 38 , pp. 393–399). Elliott’s verdict is that the work “is a tendentious, pompous, carelessly executed, and flawed book.”
As for the Greek fragment from Qumran (7Q5), the only definitive statement that can be made is that it contains the word kai (and). Beyond that, in order to show that it comes from Mark 6:52–53, one must assume what the original size of the page had been and the length of the lines in which the surviving twelve letters, eight of them fragmentary, could have fitted.
There are at least three prima facie objections to the supposition that the fragment is a copy of Mark 6:52–53. First, in at least two places, Thiede postulates unlikely resolutions of doubtful letters. Second, in order to fit the reconstructed text into the assumed size of the page, three words that are present in all major manuscripts of Mark must be omitted. Third, the inclusion of Mark’s word diaperasantes (when they had crossed over) can be accomplished only by assuming an orthographic variation involving the first of the only two surviving letters of the word, namely, that the scribe wrote ti instead of di—as if one would write the English word “diamond” as “tiamond.” In view of such implausible assumptions, it is understandable why the Münster Institute has not placed 7Q5 in the official register of New Testament papyri.
In the fourth paragraph from the close of Thiede’s letter, he misses the point of my comment: Prudence and caution are called for when making a judgment based on a limited amount of text. Furthermore, the handwriting of the Oxyrhynchus papyrus, dated 66 A.D., is said to be similar (in Thiede’s book, it is described as “almost like a twin”) to the Oxford fragments of Matthew. Actually, it is difficult to see any resemblance at all!
In the next to the last paragraph, Thiede charges me with distorting his argument. The reader can judge who is doing the distorting by comparing what Thiede wrote on p. 120 of Eyewitness to Jesus with what he now says he meant to write. In my review I quoted verbatim: “Unlike typical examples of second-, third-, and fourth-century Uncials, the letters on [the Oxford fragments] are drawn in an even manner—the horizontal and vertical strokes are equally ‘thick.’” I still say that this is simply untrue, as can be seen from a glance at Thiede’s own reproductions, which show that the vertical strokes are regularly thicker than the horizontal—an assessment with which Elliott, T.C. Skeat and other paleographers are in total agreement.
Finally, Thiede’s insistence that the Magdalen papyrus does contain small ornamental strokes added to several letters is most curious. Many other scholars—including Skeat, Elliott and D.C. Parker—are also unable to see them. This reminds one of the emperor’s new clothes!
For more on this debate, see the Queries and Comments section of our sister publication, BAR, 23:02—Ed.
A Threat to Bibliolatry
I appreciate your willingness to publish the vitriolic letters of the subscription cancelers. Be assured that there are plenty of us who deeply appreciate your publication and read it with zest.