Monday, March 21, 2011

Codex W and Greek Enoch? ...I don't think so

In his palaeographic analysis, Sanders (1912) compared Codex W to several older Greek manuscripts, including P. Cair. 10759. (Greek Enoch, Gosp.Peter etc.).  To give a standard sample for manuscripts of this early period, we offer the following example, P. Chester Beatty XII, leaf 3:
Typical earlier Greek Papyrus:  Click to Enlarge
The first thing to note about early calligraphy, is the startling difference between using a soft brush or reed (earlier papyri) and using a hard nib or quill (4th - 5th century and beyond).   This stylizes the writing more than any other single factor.   Its the difference between painting, which is soft and blob-like, allowing the ink/paint to flow and leading it with the brush, versus the firm and hard controlled strokes of the pen, using a thinner more ink-like medium.

paint-brush versus quill  - Click to Enlarge

This softer paint-like writing was practically necessary, because of the relative roughness and fragility of papyrus, which was a primitive paper-like material, as opposed to later parchment and vellum (animal skins).

It is true that sometimes the early Egyptian scribe using papyrus would give a slight to moderate tilt or angle to the letters, but this varies from scribe to scribe, and can hardly be defined even as a conscious choice.   The tilt is probably based on practical factors like right- or left-handedness, and not issues of style at all.   The early slight to moderate tilt may be quite noticeable in more extreme cases, but does not seem to be a choice based on anything but writing convenience and speed.   There is no dispute however, that slanted writing was popular quite early, as a few samples of P45 can illustrate:

P45 - Click to Enlarge
Again, the thickness of the letters may vary widely, from elegant like this, to bloated and clumsy, but the same 'painted on' look dominates the calligraphic style and feel, regardless of incidentals like letter-shape or tilt.   As well, P45 (or the group of pages so designated) involves a variety of books and hands, all dated roughly to the 3rd century, of which only Luke/Acts is tilted.   It is not possible to make any conclusion at all regarding date based on tilt or angle of writing.

 P45 wasn't available to Sanders (P45 was discovered in 1930), but probably would have been preferred by him as an example of early slanted writing over the Greek Enoch fragments from P. Cair. 10759 below:

Papyrus Cairo 10759
Gospel of Peter  (Click to Enlarge)
Enoch (Click to Enlarge)
 P. Cair. 10759 also spans several books and hands, but the Enoch pages have the closest similarity to Codex W.   Of particular interest is one feature, namely the variation in line thickness based on the angle of the 'nib' or quill used to write the letters.   This itself seems to suggest a much later date for this section of 10759, than may have been at first assigned to it.   The other pages (e.g. Peter) show instead the typical 'painted on' look of a brush-like implement or soft quill.   Indeed, Enoch resembles more the typical hand of the late 3rd or 4th century scriptorium than the early papyri.

We have already referred to Schmid's excellent and thorough article in  The Freer Biblical Manuscripts (2006), Ed. Larry W. Hurtado, and we will quote his passage of Sanders here:
"Hand 'c' [of Enoch] bears a much closer resemblance to the hands of W...The ease, grace, and slope of the hand remind one strongly of the first hand of W, but the shapes of many of the letters, notably  γ ε κ μ σ ω  are far closer to [the 1st quire of John in W]. I see no reason for not considering the two hands of the Enoch fragment contemporary.  It [Enoch] has been dated to the 6th century, but though both hands are somewhat more developed types than the hands of W, I should not place the date later than the end of the 5th [century]." (Sanders, 137-8, in Schmid, p. 239)
Here Sanders is already jockeying to secure an earlier date for his Codex W, but the problem of the anachronism of P. Cair. 10759 is quite glaring!  -  It has already been dated to the 6th century A.D., and yet it is probably the closest thing to Quire 1 of John in Codex W we are ever going to find.  In other words, despite Sanders' cleverness, this is really evidence for dating W to the 6th century palaeographically, not the 5th century.

And if so, trying to make Codex W the archetype of other 5th/6th century witnesses is a naive and flimsy proposal.   But why does it matter?   Because Codex W is now no longer an early "4th or 5th century" witness to other palaeographic features, such as outdented and enlarged letters, slanted varying-width styles, etc.  - But rather, a very late witness.


1 comment:

  1. if you don't mind me asking, where did you find the images of P45?