Monday, January 31, 2011

Rex Howe on Bagnall’s Early Christian Books In Egypt (2009)

Rex Howe is reviewing Bagnall’s  Early Christian Books In Egypt (2009) in an ongoing series of posts over at his blog,  Level Paths

Turning to the subject of the cost and market for books in the 2nd century, he summarizes and discusses it as follows:

"Bagnall’s book is worth its weight in gold because he has gathered so much information from the most current research regarding the economics of ancient book production. His bibliography and research on the primary sources available are priceless. He is precise and to the point—such a technical discussion could…effectively…bog down…the…reader, but Bagnall shares the necessary information and moves on to make his point. For the sake of not simply repeating what he has so perfectly summarized, allow me to simply give you some bullet points on ancient book economics:
  • Ancient book prices are rarely preserved, so the database of information with which to work is limited.
  • Apophthegmata Patrum owned by Abba Gelasios is a complete parchment Bible priced at 18 gold solidi, or 72 Roman grams of gold [1 solidus = 4 grams of gold from Constantine (272–337) onward].
  • John Moschus (Pratum sprituale, PG 87/3.2997) values a New Testament at 3 solidi. A New Testament is about 19% of the total Bible; thus, implying a value of 15.6 solidi for an entire Bible—not differing greatly from Gelasios’ Bible (18 solidi).
  • These prices should be accepted only with caution; however, the consistency of the two witnesses is encouraging.
  • Testimony from the ostraka found in the Theban West Bank (credit given to Anne  Boud’hors) informs us of prices that, at first, appear a bit cheaper; however, two important factors raise questions about such “door-buster” prices: (1) it is uncertain that the prices listed included binding, which typically doubled the price, and (2) it is uncertain that such affordable prices would have applied to complete Bibles.
  • Bagnall has a very helpful section on the prices of parchment and papyrus (54–56).
  • For the sake of space, several other factors come into play when researching the economics of ancient book production: (1) material: parchment or papyrus, (2) the cost of labor, (3) accuracy of the ancient records that provide us with testimony about the prices of ancient book production, (4) the size/format of the sheet chosen for the production of a book, (5) the quality of copying desired (6) the practice of recycling writing materials—palimpsests, stuffing for binding and the Panopolis practice of gluing written sides of papyrus together in order to create one, new, thicker, “blank” leaf—and (7) the possible low cost of monastic labor (but see page 60).
  • On page 57, Bagnall provides readers with a helpful table (3.1) that illustrates the “Cost Estimates (in Solidi) for One Bible” based upon the style of the desired handwriting, the material chosen for production, and the cost of labor.
  • Bagnall proposes that the savings one would retain from choosing papyrus over parchment is correlated to the style of hand desired in the copying of the Bible.
The bullet points do not do justice to the thorough discussion of Bagnall, but hopefully, you feel a little more acquainted with factors one must consider when thinking about ancient book production. So, just how expensive were books? This is a key turning point in Bagnall’s argument in chapter three. Who would have owned Christian books? Bagnall insists that the prices of books were expensive enough that copies of the Scriptures would have been possessed, in most cases, only by churches and monasteries. Churches were concerned with charity and financial support for their clergy—thus making clergymen the most likely owners of Christian books. Listen to this quote from Bagnall:
"At the lower end, let us imagine a reader who received 10 solidi per year. A complete Bible would cost him half a year’s income. Such a purchase would have been entirely out of reach. Even an unbound short book, a single gospel on papyrus of the sort that cost a third of a solidus in the ostraka cited by Anne Boud’hors, would amount to one-thirtieth of a year’s income—in proportionate terms (although not in purchasing power) the equivalent of $1,000 today, let us say, for someone earning $35,000. People at that sort of income level do not buy books at that price. Even the best-paid of academics do not buy books at that price (62)."
Further, it is most likely that we must look to the high clergy (e.g., the office of bishop) for those who may have been able to purchase books in ancient Egypt. Thus, Bagnall returns to his thesis: with this in mind, how many Christian books should we expect to find in and around Alexandria? Three factors immediately come to the forefront:
(1) the number of high clergy Christian communities in the region,
(2) the salary of high clergy, such as bishops, in the region, and
(3) the presence of other, well-educated (and therefore, wealthy) Alexandrian Christians in the second century.
These factors coupled with Bagnall’s view that the Church as an institution was underdeveloped reinforce that the “probability of finding many Christian books truly datable to the 2nd century is very low” (65).
Prior to ending the chapter, Bagnall takes time to “redeem” the third century. A considerable amount manuscripts have come to us from the third century. Apart from the influence of Demetrios’ bishopric, Bagnall proposes another interesting explanation for the apparent increase in Christian book production—some among the urban elite became interested. He offers two examples: (1) well-educated, Alexandrian Christian like Origen and Clement most likely did not live in isolation and (2) even more intriguing is the testimony of a bilingual, book-owning, experienced writer about whom we learn via Chester Beatty Papyrus VII, which is a Greek codex of Isaiah that contains marginal glosses written in Coptic.
Thus, for Bagnall, the 2nd century Christians in Egypt simply did not possess the Church structure or finances needed to establish a respectable library. However, the 3rd century saw the development of the Church as an institution and the growing interest among the urban elite which led to an increase in Christian book production. Speculations abound in certain areas of his argumentation; however, he is quick to recognize this. Yet, his reasoning is convincing."
 - Rex Howe

What does this discussion tell us?  I would take away two important points:

(1) the scarcity of copies and lack of production in the 2nd century has consequences.  It means practically speaking that most copying errors and differentiation of text-lines must have happened in the late 2nd or early 3rd century, and not earlier.
(2) Corrupt textual lines like those behind Codex Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, were likely to have evolved later, and not earlier, and so they don't really reflect significantly older text-types, even when they appear to present a common ancestor-text.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Digging into Sinaiticus

As a spin-off from our previous post, we revisit the same page of Sinaiticus again:

A far more interesting and illustrative shot of the top-left of the same page can be seen below (Acts 3:9b fwd)

Click to Enlarge this, then backbutton to return
Line 1:   a small "o" and an overhanging dash replace the last "N" to keep the line from being overlong.
Line 2:  "ΘΕΟΝ" is contracted to "ΘΝ" with a short horizontal dash marking the abbreviation.
Line 3:  "ΑΥΤΟΝ" is written above the line with an "λ" above the line to mark the intended point of insertion of the accidentally omitted word.
Line 5: "οc" is written very small to keep the line from being overlong.
Line 6: letters bleed through from the back obscuring the "N" twice.
Line 7: an umlaut is used here to mark the accent and beginning of "ιερου".
Line 9: is cut short to end the sentence disconnecting it from the following "ΚΑΙ", which has been wrongly identified as a semitic construction indicating a new sentence.
Line 10: "ΚΑΙ" has been written outdented as per note in line 9.
Line 12:  a special "Dot & Space" has been copied from the original master, possibly previously copied from a papyrus, correctly indicating a new paragraph.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

MS Production in 4th century Scriptoriums

Here is a succinct and very clear description of manuscript production and correction in the typical Scriptorium environment, provided by F.H.A. Scrivener in his Collation of Codex Sinaiticus (1864):

(1) Corrections by the original scribe, prima manu (p. m., 'first hand') as they are termed, can hardly be deemed variant readings. The penman, proceeding with his monotonous task rapidly and perhaps a little heedlessly, falls into some clerical error, which he immediately discovers and proceeds to set right ; in a few manuscripts (e. g. Codex D) by washing out the writing fluid, which was rather a kind of paint than ink, so that what he first copied can only just be perceived under his amended reading: in others, (e. g. Codex א), by placing points or some such marks over the letters or words he wishes to revoke (e. g. 'ÄÖ') .
To give one instance out of thousands: In Acts. 4:3 (א), the text being την αυριον ην γαρ, while he was writing the first ην, the copyist allowed his eye to wander over αυριον to the second ην, and so he hegins to write γαρ : finding out his mistake as soon as γ is finished, he simply places a point over that letter to cancel it, and proceeds with αυριον ην γαρ as if no error had been made.  ...
(Here Scrivener has given the most obscure example possible at this point.  The text here has faded so much that the mark is all but invisible now:)

"(2) The next class of corrections is far more important. When a manuscript was completely written, it seems to have been subjected to two kinds of revision-process. (a) It was collated first with the master-copy from which it was derived, in order to eliminate whatever mere clerical blunders had not been noted at the time of writing; the person who executed this office was named the 'comparer' (ο αντιβαλλων), being usually the scribe himself. 
(b) The second process was that of the διορθωτης, ("deorthotes") or corrector, seldom the same person as the comparer, whose business was to revise the text, often by the aid of a second manuscript varying a little from that first employed."  (- F.H.A. Scrivener, p. xix-xxiii)


Monday, January 17, 2011

Codex B Borders (cont.) & Mark's Ending

Here is a photo of the Ending of Mark, showing one of the rare places where the scribe(s) has left a whole blank column between books.  This is unusual, as the photos of every other border show.  (Click on the slideshow on right for a good look at the borders between O.T. books for instance).

In discussing this blank column, James Snapp Jr. quotes Dean John Burgon as follows:
P. 87 ~ RE: The size of the blank space after Mark 16:8 in Codex Vaticanus. “It requires to be stated that the scribe, whose plan is found to have been to begin every fresh book of the Bible at the top of the next ensuing column to that which contained the concluding words of the preceding book, has at the close of S. Mark’s Gospel deviated from his else invariable practice. He has left in this place one column entirely vacant. It is the only vacant column in the whole manuscript; - a blank space abundantly sufficient to contain the twelve verses which he nevertheless withheld.”
John Burgon, (italics - James')
The Last Twelve Verses...Vindicated (1871), p 87
  James goes on to give a more accurate and updated explanation of the last column of Mark in Codex Vaticanus (B):
"Technically, three other blank spaces exist in Vaticanus, in the Old Testament portion, but they constitute space leftover from where a copyist had finished his assigned books. Because one [the same] copyist was writing before and after the blank space at the end of Mark, on the front and back of the same page, [the blank column] is indeed unique.
Burgon’s statement that the blank space is “abundantly sufficient” to include Mark 16:9-20 is, however, inaccurate. A copyist could fit the passage into the blank space, by slightly reducing the size of his lettering. But a copyist who wrote with the same rate of letters per column that the copyist normally displays would not fit the entire passage into the blank space; when he reached the end of the last line on the page, he would still have four lines of text unwritten.
(On the very first page of his 1871 book, Burgon states that although he had seen a photograph of the end of Mark in Sinaiticus, “Every endeavour to obtain a Photograph of the corresponding page of the Codex Vaticanus, B, (MS 1209 in the Vatican,) has proved unavailing.” Thus it seems clear that he made the claim about the “abundantly sufficient” space without the benefit of a photograph.)"

Interestingly, below, I have taken a font which closely mimics Codex B, and used appropriate word, letter and line spacing, and then also allowed for narrower spacing for some letters such as IOTA as the scribe of B does, occasional additional letters at the end of lines written smaller, and finally, three expected contractions of Kurios/THeos.    The result is we only have two lines left over, including the Amen, which could easily be spread between the two columns (one extra line each).

Click to Enlarge, & Backbutton to return
Note that the last column is the same width as that bleeding through on the opposing side. It seems a reasonably good scribe could easily accomodate the passage without distorting the format or over-using the margin.  In fact, if we squeeze just one extra letter in on 29 of the new lines, and place the "Amen" right below (or omit it), we can fit the ending snugly in the correct number of lines, without reducing the size of 98% of the text.

Perhaps Burgon's natural instinct was essentially right after all.


Nazaroo examined my efforts, and suggested that if I were a scribe in training, and he were a diohortes, or overseer, I would be cleaning the stables until I learned not to waste valuable vellum.

So I have made a second effort, and by copying more closely the actual style of the letters in the first two columns, and tightening the column-width, I was able to get all but 9 letters and the amen into the space.   I have only randomly shrunk the last 1, 2, or 3 letters in every other line, just as the original scribe has habitually done to keep the columns better justified.   That was all it took to absorb another line, and this is perfectly consistent with what the original scribe would have done in any case.

Click to Enlarge, etc.
Of course these nine extra letters will probably mean nine extra lashes from the Abbot.

 Addendum 2:

James Snapp Jr. has added the following points on TC-Alt, to keep things real:
Mr. Scrivener:

To see what sort of letter-compression is needed to fit Mk. 16:9-20 into the blank space in B after 16:8, see

- where I have provided reconstructions using the copyist's usual rate of letters-per-column, and using slightly compressed lettering, with  normal use of smaller lettering at the ends of some lines.

Remember, btw, that since every indication is that the copyist would be recollecting a copy with the Alexandrian text, the phrase "και εν ταις χερσιν" should be included. Also, the word "ουρανον" should not be contracted, since the copyist tends not to do that elsewhere in the NT.

Also, the statement that I made about the blank spaces in B in the OT-portion, as cited by Naz, needs to be corrected/clarified along the lines of what I have already written (in, among other places, my review of Dr. Wallace's analysis in the 2008 "Perspectives" book about the ending of Mark):
The three blank spaces in the OT-portion occur (1) where one copyist completed his assigned portion of text and had some leftover space, (2) where the format changes from three-columns-per-page to two-columns-per-page, and (3) at the end of the entire OT-portion, where a blank column or columns would be left (unless the copyist happened to finish the text in the final column) because Matthew, and the NT-portion, would begin on a fresh page.

Thus all three blank spaces in the OT-portion are essentially "seams" elicited by special factors in the production-process, and not one of those factors is in effect after Mark and before Luke, where the copyist left an entire blank column between two books of the same genre, in the same format.

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.

In order to improve the work further I've made one more effort, incorporating Mr. Snapp's points here:

Click to Enlarge etc.

 Alexandrian readings included (shown in red), text style, size, and line spacing is retained, small letters at line-end are used, abbreviations are as elsewhere in the MS, and the extra text is split, one extra line in each column.

Mr. Scrivener

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Dr. Robinson and Colwell on accidental vs. deliberate omissions

Nazaroo's response to Dr. Maurice Robinson's critique of his claim of over 75-80 homoeoteleuton errors has been posted on the homoioteleuton blog.

Dr. Maurice Robinson on homoeoteleuton in Aleph/B

I wanted to respond to one point made there regarding the question of the number of accidental vs. deliberate (theological) changes supposed to have been made in the Alexandrian text.

(Dr. Robinson claimed that most of the omissions, both h.t. and non-h.t. under question were deliberate edits, rather than accidents, as a counter-claim to Nazaroo's count. So the homoeoteleuton features were mere coincidences in some large or at least significant number of cases.)

Here is a quote from Everett Harrison, (1971):
"Re: Doctrinal Alterations: There is considerable divergence of opinion on this matter. Are there places where the text has been changed in the interest of doctrinal viewpoint? E.C. Colwell goes so far as to say, "The majority of the variant readings in the NT were created for theological or dogmatic reasons."  He surely cannot mean by this the actual majority, for the vast majority are devoid of all theological significance, being matters of orthography, synonyms, easily confused words, etc. A recent work by C.S.C. Williams, Alterations to the Text of the Synoptic Gospels and Acts (1951), deals with this problem. Even if all his contentions are admitted, the amount of such alteration is not great."

- E.F. Harrison, Introduction to the NT,(Eerdmans, 1971) p.86.

  Harrison is doubtless right about Colwell's sloppy claim here. Most variants are indeed accidental or at least grammatical, not deliberate theological edits at all.

The question that remains is, what about the specific 200 omissions in the WH text? Are the majority of those accidental or deliberate?

If 40% of them have homoeoteleuton features, then 60% don't. But that doesn't mean that the majority of non-h.t. omissions are deliberate.

I have shown some serious evidence that exposes the patterns of line-length, which is spread across both groups of readings (ht. and non ht.).

Colwell himself showed that (significant) singular readings are mostly accidental haplography omissions across all early MSS. But there is no reason not to extend such results to non-singular readings, since these are often simply errors that were not caught until they were copied for a few generations and proliferated.

We should apply what we know about immediate scribal habits (1st generation errors) to more distant variants (2nd/3rd generation errors). There is no good reason not to assume that the immediate predecessors of extant scribal work did not have the very same common faults.


Monday, January 3, 2011 - Busted Again!

Who is this anonymous 'expert' at

Well, he says here something quite remarkable:

"when Aleph and B agree, their combined testimony must go back quite far. Westcott and Hort estimated that their agreement went back ten generations and must be located near the beginning of the second century."
Again in another 'expert answer':
"I would concur with Westcott and Hort that the common ancestor between these two MSS must be at least ten generations back. I hope this point is clear."

Aargh!!!!.. Why is it the people at are such fabricators?

I have just gone through Hort's longwinded BS about Aleph/B, all the way from para 204/205 (B/Aleph) to para 374.

He makes no such claim that we can find. On the contrary, he does say a few things:

a) B and Aleph are entirely different in regard to their subsequent history,   i.e., 'post-nearest common ancestor'. For B he makes incredible claims of purity and FEWNESS of generations:

"The ancestry of B posterior to the common archetype was probably a chain of very few links indeed;..." (Hort, Introduction, ¶ 328. pg 248-9, ).

Again, speaking primarily of B's unique/subsingular readings, he says,
"the sources of corruption in B are for the most part of a sporadic and indeterminate character (cf. 204)." (Hort, Intro, ¶ 328, p.250)

This hardly sounds like Hort has detected 10 layers/generations (or any other number beyond 'more than one'). He goes on:

"Finally, the absence of any external criterion for referring the various singular and subsingular readings of either MS to one or other of the two possible origins*, combined with the exceptional antiquity and purity of the fundamental text which they both preserve intact in a very large though unequal proportions,..." (etc., ibid).

This clearly doesn't sound anything like a detailed detection of a half-dozen or more layers is even possible in Hort's view.

For Aleph he says (ibid.),

"On the other hand...the ancestry of Aleph posterior to the common archetype must, at one or more points in its history, have been exposed to contact with at least two early aberrant texts"

Neither of these descriptions sounds anything like "at least ten generations back".

In fact, Hort goes on to say quite clearly that 'generations' per se are not
actually detectable:

"Except from extraneous sources, which here have no existence [i.e., pre 2nd cent.], it is never possible to know how many transcriptions [generations of copy] intervened between the autograph and the latest common ancestor..." (Hort, Intro. ¶ 367, p.281).

Hort does repeatedly insist that the Aleph/B text is "early 2nd century", but not on the basis of the number of generations he has been able to detect anywhere.

Looks like the anonymous 'expert' claims are another attempt at making up stuff to enhance an entrenched position, - that is,



Saturday, January 1, 2011

Codex B: Book-Borders O.T.

You will notice on the right-hand side now, we have a slide-show giving pictures of the seam between every O.T. book in Codex Vaticanus.

The photos can be viewed larger by clicking on the slide-show box, which should direct you to Flickr, which hosts the photos.  From there you can view them at your leisure in any order, or again as a slide-show.

These seams have significance for the question of the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20.  For details one should consult Mr. James Snapp Jr.'s prolific work on this issue.  Many of his articles are available at TC-Alternate-List, which anyone can sign up for, and download articles and photos from.

Just a reminder that the whole book of John for codex B is online at our website too.