The Telegraph has an interesting piece here on the antiquities market, with a focus on the buying and selling of papyri. There are some interesting comments from an antiquities dealer as well as eBay. And I get dubbed as "an online scrolls sleuth." Some details and descriptions are inaccurate, but overall it's good to bring public awareness to the issues at stake.
Update: See now also this Daily Mail article.
Since Christmas is quickly approaching, I thought I would point my readers, as I do every year, to a fantastic article by Stephen Carlson published in NTS in 2010 titled, "The Accommodations of Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem: Κατάλυμα in Luke 2.7." Carlson's study turns the traditional interpretation of the "inn" as being a kind of ancient hotel on its head. He also denies the view that Jesus was born in a stable or barn. Through a detailed lexical and semantic analysis of κατάλυμα and Jewish patrilocal marital customs during the time of Jesus, Carlson demonstrates that the reference to κατάλυμα in Luke 2.7 alludes to a marital chamber built on top, or onto the side of, the main room of a family village home. According to Carlson, the phrase διότι οὐκ ἦν αὐτοῖς τόπος ἐν τῷ καταλύματι should be rendered "because they did not have room in their place to stay." The reference to "their place" is the marital chamber attached to the family village home of Joseph where the married couple would have stayed for some time before finding their own place. Since there was no space in their room, Mary had to give birth in the larger main room of the house, where the rest of the family slept. Carlson also shows that it was common for a "manger" to be present in the main room of most Jewish homes and so this detail of the birth account is in keeping with Jewish living customs. I quote Carlson's conclusion found on page 342 of the article:
"Luke's infancy narrative therefore presupposes the following events. Joseph took his betrothed Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem (2.5). Bethlehem was his hometown (v. 3) and, in accordance with the patrilocal marital customs of the day, it must also have been the place where they finalized their matrimonial arrangements by bringing her into his home. As a newly married man, he no longer would have to sleep in the main room of the village house with his other relatives, but he and his bride could stay in a marital chamber attached to the house until they could get a place of their own. They stayed there for some time until she came to full term (v. 6), and she gave birth to Jesus in the main room of the house rather than in her marital apartment because it was too small, and she laid the newborn in one of those mangers (v. 7) common to the main room of an ancient farmhouse. After staying at least another forty days in Bethlehem (v. 22; cf. Lev 12.2–8), Joseph and Mary eventually moved to Nazareth to make their home together in her family's town (v. 39; cf. 1.26–27). To be sure, this scenario as presupposed in Luke's infancy account diverges greatly from the conventional Christmas story. There is no inn, no innkeeper, and no stable. But it is grounded in a careful exegesis of the text."
This is one of those articles that can be described as being truly groundbreaking. Carlson's conclusions are so convincing that it would take considerable evidence to overturn them. Indeed, some may be uncomfortable with how this evidence changes the face of the traditional Christmas story, but it is, as Carlson admits, "grounded in a careful exegesis of the text." This article needs to be circulated widely, not only among academics, but also pastors and lay people alike, because it has serious implications for how we should understand this story as told by Luke. Carlson has posted this article on his personal website and it can be found here. Happy reading and happy holidays to all!
My latest article has just been published in the Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists. I have uploaded a PDF to the "Publications" section of this website. It is an edition of an unpublished documentary papyrus, a private letter from the 2nd-3rd century CE housed at Yale University. It is a letter from Harpalos and Sarapion to Harpalos and Ellious (the latter name being very uncommon). The papyrus features a couple interesting grammatical issues, which are discussed in the notes section of the edition, but I thought I would draw attention to one feature in the text, namely, a phrase that is found verbatim in Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians. In lines 6-10 of our papyrus the text reads:
In 1 Thess. 4:1, Paul writes:
Thus, in both our papyrus and Paul's letter to the Thessalonians we find the identical phrase ἐρωτῶμεν ὑμᾶς καὶ παρακαλοῦμεν. This does not mean that the writer of our papyrus letter was a Christian and knew Paul's writings. For all we know, the writer was not Christian. Moreover, the phrase ἐρωτῶμεν ὑμᾶς καὶ παρακαλοῦμεν is not unique to Paul. It is found in many letters from antiquity (e.g., O.Ber. 2.129.14, O.Did. 410.3, P.Col. 8.215.21, P.Oxy. 4.744.7, SB 24.16293.3). But what this does tell us is that Paul was drawing on epistolary formulae that were commonly employed in documents of the time. It demonstrates the influence that such practices and usages had on one of the most influential Christian writers of all time. Adolf Deissmann was really the first to show the significance of the papyri for the study of the New Testament and his Bible Studies (1903, 2nd ed.) is exemplary in this regard. Of course Deissmann's comparative analyses led him to believe that the New Testament writings were "popular" and "non-literary," a claim that would later be challenged in New Testament scholarship (see Harry Gamble's discussion of this in the first chapter of his Books and Readers in the Early Church [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995]). In recent times, New Testament scholars have begun to approach Paul's letters from a rhetorical perspective in an attempt to understand Paul's use of specific rhetorical categories and how they function within his letters. The utility of such an approach has been aptly demonstrated, but one of the drawbacks is that the shift to rhetorical analysis has meant, for some, a jettisoning of epistolary analysis. There is a recent volume of essays that attempts to re-highlight the significance of epistolary theory and formulae for Paul's letters and it does so by purposefully not engaging with the rhetorical methodological perspective: Stanley E. Porter and Sean A. Adams (eds.), Paul and the Ancient Letter Form (PAST 6; Leiden: Brill, 2010).
In any case, the new papyrus demonstrates that we need not ignore the epistolary qualities of Paul's writings. It also means that we would do well to study documentary papyri, knowing that they can help us understand Paul's world in more ways than one. Deissmann may have been ultimately wrong in his conclusions about the literary character of the New Testament writings, but he was most certainly right about the significance of the papyri for our understanding of Paul's literary framework.
Several months ago, I blogged about an event called "Discover the Evidence" that took place on 5-6 December 2013. Readers may remember that it was at this event that hundreds of papyrus fragments were apparently extracted from mummy masks by Scott Carroll, a controversial American collector of antiquities. It was reported that "each attendee actually participated in the extraction of papyri fragments [sic] from ancient artifacts." [This last quote was taken from Christian apologist Josh McDowell's website before it was later quietly deleted.]
A reader of this blog has brought to my attention a booklet titled "Discovering a Living Treasure," which has now been made available through Josh McDowell's website. For those who are following my posts about the Green Collection, Scott Carroll, mummy masks, cultural artifacts and heritage, ethical practices in the acquisition and use of papyri and other antiquities, and so on—this piece will be of interest to you. The booklet, authored by Josh McDowell, gives many more details about the "Discover the Evidence" event, the artifacts handled there, and those who were involved (note especially McDowell and Carroll's involvement). We learn that Josh McDowell is now the owner of Christian papyri. We also learn more about how he intends to use them. Readers can take it from here. I think everyone knows how I feel about these issues already.