Volume 15 of the Journal of Coptic Studies has just been published, in which I am delighted to have an article of my own. My article—"Two Sahidic Fragments of John 13:29–14:2: Garrett Coptic MS 6"—is an edition of two previously unpublished Coptic codex fragments of the Gospel of John. The codex fragments are housed at Princeton University and I came across them last year when I was going through their collection. I was unsuccessful in linking the fragments with a larger codex (or fragments thereof), so if any of my readers has a suggestion, please let me know.
I have uploaded the published version of the article to the "Publications" section of my site here. Please note that images of these beautiful fragments are included in the publication.
A 1,500 year old Byzantine basilica has been discovered in the village of Aluma, near Tel Aviv, Israel. Interestingly, archaeologists also discovered there an ornate floor mosaic, which contains, among other things, a "Christogram."
In a Yahoo! news article reporting the discovery (appearing originally on LiveScience), excavator Davida Eisenberg Degen claims the christogram is a "type of monogram of the name of Jesus," but this is incorrect. That same Yahoo! news article claims that the christogram is a "like a 'chi rho' symbol, which puts together the first two captial [sic] letters in the Greek word for Christ, and often looks like an X superimposed on a P." Later in the news article, the author refers to the symbol as a "chi rho." This description is also incorrect, as it is not a "chi-rho" device at all. Rather, this symbol is a stand-alone staurogram that occurs quite frequently in early Christian art and manuscripts. The tau-rho compendium is formed by superimposing the Greek letter rho onto the tau.
From what we can observe, it seems that in its earliest form the staurogram was written by Christian scribes as part of a nomen sacrum ("sacred name") for the words "cross" (σταύρος) and "crucify" (σταυρόω) in reference to Jesus' death on the cross. But the symbol eventually came to be used as a standalone visual reference to Jesus' crucifixion, which is precisely what we have here in the floor mosaic discovered in Aluma. Here is an example of a standalone staurogram or tau-rho device:
Contra Degen, the staurogram is not a "type of monogram of the name of Jesus." In his book The Earliest Christian Artifacts, Larry Hurtado, who has written about the staurogram more than anyone else, explains that "[the staurogram's] component letters neither derive from nor refer to Jesus' name or any of the familiar christological titles...and therefore the tau-rho is not a monogram in the proper sense" (pp. 139-140). Therefore, it is not a monogram or chi-rho. In my opinion, the title of the Yahoo! news article is also misleading ("Ancient Church Mosaic with Symbol of Jesus Uncovered in Israel"), since the symbol is not one of Jesus per se.
The find is certainly significant and my comments are not meant to detract from it. But the explanations and designations of this device are incorrect and I would encourage the media to consult scholars for additional opinions on such matters before taking it straight to the public. For those interested in learning more about the Christian staurogram, see chapter 4 in Larry W. Hurtado, The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006).
In the latest issue of Novum Testamentum, there is an article by Wally V. Cirafesi titled, "The Bilingual Character and Liturgical Function of 'Hermeneiai' in Johannine Papyrus Manuscripts." Wally and I exchanged our articles on the hermeneiai because I learned that we were both about to have pieces published on the same topic—mine in NTS, his in NovT! Moreover, I later learned that my friend Kevin W. Wilkinson of Toronto also has a forthcoming article on the hermeneiai! So, this must be the age of hermeneia manuscript research. In any case, what sets my piece apart from Wally's and Kevin's is that it is really an edition of a Coptic parchment manuscript containing hermeneia, fronted with a general discussion about the hermeneia system (I have introduced it here), while their essays focus directly on the function and structure of these enigmatic manuscripts. I am grateful that Wally gave me a shoutout in footnote 70 of his essay, which he has graciously made available online here. It is a good read and I encourage my readers take a look. Here is the abstract:
"In contrast to previous studies, this article argues that the use of ἑρμηνεῖαι in a group of Johannine papyrus manuscripts is fundamentally characterized by their occurrence in bilingual manuscripts or manuscripts influenced by a bilingual social setting (Greek- Coptic or Greek-Latin). Rather than seeing them as some sort of biblical commentary or oracular statements used for divination, it is suggested that, in light of their bilingual character, the Johannine ἑρμηνεῖαι functioned as liturgical tools to facilitate early Christian worship services needing to accommodate the use of two languages within a particular community."
Someone recently asked me about some points made in a lecture on YouTube by a prominent evangelical pastor named John MacArthur, who is also a well-known author in fundamentalist/evangelical camps. Let it be known: MacArthur is not a scholar. He does not have a PhD and his theological training is from fundamentalist institutions such as Bob Jones University. So, it absolutely amazes me that people continue to buy this guy's books and invite him onto reputable news programs like CNN to learn from him. His agenda is purely apologetic and he is a militant opponent of anything that goes against the Bible (e.g., evolution, homosexuality, etc.).
The lecture here is on the ending of Mark, and the question to me concerned the part where MacArthur is talking about the numbers of extant manuscripts of the NT over against those of classical literature. Now, I could only listen to a few minutes of this so I don't know everything that MacArthur says in the lecture (nor would I really want to). In any case, he is trying to show that we have far more manuscripts of the NT than classical texts. So here are a few excerpts from the lecture, which you can view on the YouTube video beginning at 19:45:
"The writings of the early church fathers also confirm the accuracy of the gospels. There are over 19,000 quotations from the gospels in the writings of the fathers. So whether you’re reading a Greek manuscript, a Syriac Bible, or whether you’re looking at a Latin Vulgate or whether you’re reading a quote from a church father, it is crystal clear that they all had the same thing. They would be reading essentially in their language what you’re reading today in yours because yours is drawn from those ancient manuscripts.
Now let me give you something to compare with all of that. The second most common ancient document in the manuscript world is Homer’s Iliad. Remember that when you went to college and you had to read that epic poem called the Iliad by Homer? Next to the New Testament, there are more copies of Homer's Iliad than any other piece of literature. Oh, by the way, there are 643 of them. 643? Small change, compared to 25,000. And oh, by the way, the oldest one is from the 13th century A.D. and Homer wrote in the 8th century B.C. We don’t have anything even close to when Homer wrote. Who knows whether Homer ever said any of that?
Some of you may have heard of Herodotus the Greek historian. He wrote history. In fact, Herodotus could be the father of historians…He wrote in the 5th century before Christ and we have 8 manuscripts of Herodotus’ Histories and the earliest is 1,300 years after he wrote.
No one bothered to protect those [classical texts]. Nobody bothered to preserve those. But boy did they work hard to protect the word of the living God. They knew what they had. With so many accurate manuscripts you can know with no hesitation that the Bible you hold in your hand is a true English translation of the original autographs, as they’re called, preserved accurately."
McArthur thinks every ancient New Testament manuscript in every ancient language preserves the exact same text ("they all had the same thing"), which is also the same text we have in modern English versions. Wow.
Just a few points.
A check this morning in the Leuven Database of Ancient Books (LDAB) brought up 1,549 manuscripts of Homer's Iliad—far more than 643. The first one in that list (P.Köln Gr. 3 125) dates to 2nd-1st century B.C.E.—about 15 centuries earlier than what MacArthur claims is the date of the earliest copy of the Iliad! I myself have published a 3rd century C.E. papyrus of the Iliad.
Another check in the LDAB brought up 53 manuscripts of Herodotus (not 8) and the second one in that list (P.Duke 756) dates to 2nd-1st century B.C.E., about 11 centuries earlier than what MacArthur claims is the date of the earliest copy of Herodotus!
MacArthur's facts are flat out wrong, his analysis of the evidence is flawed, and his presentation of the evidence is extremely manipulative. If MacArthur is an example of Christian teaching then Houston, we have a problem. Of course this is not even the biggest problem with MacArthur, but I do not have the time, energy, or desire to open that can of worms.