Book Culture in Early Christianity: Text, Technology, and Early
Recent advances in codicology and the history of literacy in early Christianity offer new paradigms for the study of early Christian origins and New Testament theology. This paper will summarize key historical propositions from these fields of scholarship and the nature of their relation to early Christian faith and practice. Much of the data concerning the writing culture of early Christianity, scribal practices in antiquity, and literacy rates in different areas of the Roman Empire has been part of New Testament studies for quite some time, but the means by which this data can deepen our appreciation of the development and spread of early Christian theology has not. This paper will propose several ways in which these rich fields of study can affect New Testament criticism and interpretation.
I did not have room in the abstract to toss in a sentence or two on my introduction to the paper, but I have been increasingly struck by how analogous the period of transition from scroll to codex in Greco-Roman culture is to our contemporary limbo between written and online publishing. In each historical context you have an authority granted to one medium or technology that is only slowly being granted to the other. Part of this textual transition is a complete redefinition of publishing, writing, and reading, and the cultural or semiotic authority that attends these activities. At the very least, thinking of a few early Christian scribal tendencies from this perspective is provocative. I won't have the time on this occasion to explore that thought in great detail, but perhaps at another conference.