Day Conference on TC and the NA Text (1 of 3)

On April 27, the Center for the Study of Christian Origins hosted a day conference here at New College featuring two scholars from the Institute fur neutestamentliche Textforschung. This laser-focused and well-recieved set of three papers from Klaus Wachtel and Holger Strutwolf garnered a fantastic amount of applause after the final Q and A, undoubtedly setting a new record for applause recieved by a paper delivered at New College. It may be that whatever tacit social cue that enables a group to stop clapping in a timely manner simply eluded us for a moment, or it may be that everyone else enjoyed the papers as much as I did. Let's just assume the latter. For me, the most beneficial aspect of the short conference was the clear visual and theoretical explanation of the primary features of projects related to the print and digitial versions of NA 28 and the Editio Critica Maior. After getting it straight from the INTF, I feel far more capable in my use of NA databases and look forward to having their full package in the far future.

Over the next three posts I will summarize the three papers and a few points of interest from their Q and A sessions. I might as well take this chance to address a few questions that Wachtel and Strufwolf did not have time to answer fully.

Reconstructing the Intitial Text in the Editio Critica Maior of the New Testament Using the Coherence-Based Genealogical Method.

Klaus Wachtel


This first paper was by far the most challenging of the three, and served two functions. Wachtel first used some very helpful visual guides to introduce us to the mechanics of the digital NA prototype. After immersing us in the logic of its promising design, he then turned to a lengthy description of the critical process that lies behind this new resource. Wachtel pointed out that the Editio Critica Maior of the Catholic Epistles features 23 different readings from the NA 27 text, and as the Catholic Epistles are the only texts currently published in the series, one may extrapolate this to predict the amount of changes that may be in place once the entire NT canon has been evaluated. Thus even at this early stage, the fruit of the Editio Critica Maior's detailed labor is readily apparent and is becoming accessible online.

Section 1: The Resource

In the first section, Wachtel led us step by step through the remarkable features of the digitial NA prototype, that will someday be blessed with the full resources of the Editio Critica Maior. With perhaps his only nod to classic text critical principles, he raised the point that text criticism has two tasks: publishing the evidence of manuscript transmission, and reconstructing the original text. The prototype aims at fulfilling the first task by being a remarkably flexible repository for all the transmission data behind every NT manuscript variant, more on this in the third paper.

Section 2: The Methodology

In the second section, Wachtel addressed the second task in a brief introduction to the complicated Coherence-Based Genealogical Method. It seems that the most basic unique feature of both the prototype and the CBGM is that they allow the two tasks of text criticism (publishing transmission evidence, reconstructing the orgiginal text) to interface at every level of critical inquiry. While the CBGM is a process that potentially enables us to make more definitive decisions regarding variant NT readings, it is also a database of coherence-based genealogies that can be visualized and assessed in a variety of formats. Thus there is a constant interaction in this method between the actual publishing of variants in a database format and the actual use of these variants in constructing the most probable original text.

Much more could be said about this that I will reserve for future comment, but suffice it to say now that my initial impression is that the CBGM exists as a result of the use of emerging database technology, and certain emerging database technologies have taken shape based on the inherent logic to the CBGM. Perhaps it is this link between technology and praxis which has long been discussed in the work of Vattimo, McLuhan, Postman and others that is re-shaping our perspective on NT text criticism rather than any particular ideology or material discovery. This technological distinctive is what distinguishes the CBGM from other genealogical methods.

As far as the actual Coherence-Based Genealogical Method is concerned, I will thankfully defer to Gerd Mink's online introduction. At first the CBGM seems a bit more technically complicated than other genealogical methods, but it does result in elegant renderings of large amounts of manuscript data. Mink's introduction can be distilled into two points (quoting from the above link):

1. Elements of a genealogical hypothesis are not the manuscripts but the states of the text that they convey and that may be far older than the respective manuscript. The text with its respective state will be referred to here as witness, not the manuscript.

2. A hypothesis is called a stemma if it links witnesses or variants genealogically. For a hypothesis about a genealogical connection not only the connection itself but its quality is relevant. This quality has to be documented by adequate data. This complexity is integrated into this understanding of stemma. Consequently, a stemma in the sense of a graphical connection of witnesses is merely a simplified representation of a stemma in the more complex sense.

I will leave you to read the rest of Mink's introduction at your leisure, as these two introductory points are sufficient for the moment. Wachtel pointed out that this method is specifically geared towards the idiosyncracies of our current NT manuscript holdings. While there is a great wealth of NT manuscripts available, there are also far more that haven't survived. This bald fact makes it difficult for us to connect early manuscripts with later readings without relying on a fair bit of conjecture. On the other hand we must be clear that all surviving witness are related to each other in some fashion, there are always elements of coherence. Contamination simply "emerges from those texts at the disposal of the scribe." This leaves us with the working principle of establishing the genealogy of a reading based on every extant permutation of that text through hypotheses represented stemmatically. In these various print and online projects, the INTF has become uniquely capable of such representations.

The trickier areas of the CBGM involve discerning between pre-genealogical and genealogical coherence, and navigating prior and posterior variance within a given stemma. I don't have the clearest grasp of some of these finer points, but the method allows one to establish the potential anscestors of broad groups of variants for a particular reading and work one's way back to the most probable ancestor for the entire group of readings. The most probable ancestor is usually a relatively small group of manuscripts that can thus be regarded as closest to the original text. I hope that these stemmatic diagrams for key NT variants will be published as an additional resource, as they enable very efficient insight into textual relationships and grant easy access into the legwork behind the Editio Critica Maior.


Wachtel had an excellent slide that visually summarized the CBGM, but essentially it is a system of checks and balances between Internal Criteria (explantions for given variants) and External Criteria (pre-concieved text critical ideologies and pre-genealogical coherence). Both Internal and External Criteria establish local stemmata, then genealogical coherence within these stemmata, and then revise our preconcieved notions regarding any particular reading which leads to clarified relationships between manuscript variants. But as the CBGM is a methodology both linked to and part of a database, we are constantly able to revise our External Criteria based on the evidences of Internal Criteria. And we are also able to consistently reapply our revised External Criteria to the stemmatic diagramming of particular readings. It is a completely iterative process.

To conclude, Wachtel made two points regarding the methodology:

1. One problem with text criticism is the intrusion of subjective reasoning when gaps in the data emerge. In the CBGM, however, some of the more subjective elements involved with establishing geneaological coherence is offset by the presence of the objective facts of pre-genealogical coherence that are represented in this set of statistical databases.
2. The Editio Critica Maior has been criticized for not having many differences from N-A 27. But the CBGM is not just a "mopping up exercise" of clarifying and supporting existent readings based on this brilliant new database. The CBGM shows us what we are actually dealing with in terms of variants in a variety of statistical and visual formats, and shows us that we are dealing with probabilities rather than certainties. Wacthel didn't say this, but my impression is that while they are probabilities, they are darn good ones and far more helpful than the "certainties" of past text critical enterprises. The CBGM is simply "a tool that allows us to be coherent in our argument."

Q and A session
(This is just a sampling.)

1. How does the "original text" or "reconstructed text" relate to the most probable ancestors of a given reading? Are they on the same footing?

No, the most probable ancestor is a hypothetical stemmatic rendering of all the extant data. But, it does best explain the variants. The "ancestor" is a hypothesis of what the texts looked like before transmission.

2. What about where the uthor himself makes a spelling or grammar error, and thus the "ancestor" will be incorrect even if original?

In the Editio Critica Maior of James there are 15 points at which such situations are simply referred to as "lacunae." There is allowance in the process that the original text had spelling or grammar errors. (And it seems that the CBGM is very capable of charting the inevitable corrections stemmatically. This is another point at which the CBGM is simply a way of constructing more coherent transmission histories.)


Top Ten Online Biblical Studies Resources

I don't suppose these are in any particular order, and they are definitely not arranged by frequency of use. I am, though, particularly keen on the first few. For this list I have selected websites that serve as helpful Biblical Studies resources because they monopolize on convenient features of the internet. For some of these resources, form is function and vice-versa. The internet has granted us access to a remarkable number of Biblical and related texts in tagged, translated, and searchable forms. Some sites have managed to transpose this material to the internet environment better than others. The internet has also given us instant access to images of papyri and other manuscripts that were previously only available in grainy, expensive photos or microfiche. Some of these online collections now even provide focusing and imaging tools that make even the amateur paleographer a potential expert. There are also now audio and visual materials on Biblical texts and history that were previously too unwieldy to collate outside of museum or archive settings.

1. Digital Nestle-Aland prototype

For a long time I thought of Tony Fisher's Greek New Testament as the bee's knees. Based on the NA 26 it simply could not be beaten for instant ease of use. But unfortunately this resource may be reduced to a zipped .tar file in the near future. Thankfully, the University of Muenster INTTR has raised the bar with their Digital Nestle-Aland prototype. This resource has a fairly steep learning curve, but a helpful guide will ease you into the process. A key feature of this ("yet another") online GNT is what amounts to a very handy toolbar that enables one to browse the entire critical apparatus (both the variants and the NA positive apparatus) behind a given text click by click. Unfortunately, the only text currently available in this system is 1 John. The Digital NA also works in tandem with the NT transcripts prototype, a somewhat more simplified database that allows one to work text by text and word for word through the NA 27 apparatus. Once this has evolved beyond the prototype stage it is hard to imagine something more efficient.

2. Perseus.

Perseus is like the Yankees of online Biblical Studies resources, always everyone's favorite. They are well-stacked, have LSJ on the mound, and the deepest bench in the league as far as primary and secondary resources go. One's first few forays into Perseus can be a bit intimidating, and it is helpful to spend the time getting the right fonts configured for the system, but it is eventually worth it.

3. Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon

Just take a look at this page, and click on "search the CAL databases" for an example of how helpful this site can be. There are assorted lexicons and search features there, but if you click on "texts" you can see the incredible range of Aramaic/Syriac texts available, most of which come with a brief morphological analysis pop-up. The "Targumic Studies Module" is a virtual cheat sheet for various Targums, and it includes an online version of Sokoloff's A Dictionary of Jewish Palestinian Aramaic. The only drawback to the site is its unfortunate design, and if viewed on high-resolution (as most monitors are these days), the Hebrew/Aramaic fonts can be a bit tiny. If granted a redesign, the CAL could be a very helpful research hub.

4. Excepting Willker's Online Images and Decker's MSS photos one would be hard-pressed to find a listing of all manuscript photos online. (Mark Goodacre brings many of them together at Text Criticism: Online Images.) As some of these sites have a few broken links, and there are certainly a few more fragments online now than are represented by them, it may be time for a massive update. There are a few places intent on producing large online databases of high-resolution digital manuscript photos, such as The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. But until then the laudable efforts of Willker, Decker, and Goodacre will have to suffice.

5. Four-Color Synopsis

In the real world, I am still joined to the hip with my NA Synopsis. But in the virtual world I have enjoyed using this pleasant synopsis by Carlson. Its design is helpful and gives one a sense of getting the big picture fairly quickly due to its colorful arrangement.

6. Audio GNT

A cousin to Greek and Latin Audio Online, this remarkably helpful teaching aid makes great use of the flexibility of the internet. Voiced by Marilyn Phemister, I will require all future 1st year Greek students to sleep with this cd playing. There is a cd set available by Jonathan Pennington that takes one through NT Greek vocabulary, but Audio GNT uniquely permits one to be an audience to what usually is an object of study.

7. Morphological Analysis of the LXX

One of many helpful resources on the UPenn servers is this little gem. I recommend printing out the file that explains the tagging system, but once one gets used to it this resource becomes a searchable analytical titan as far as online LXX studies are concerned.

8. Net Bible

There are a lot of online bibles out there. I consistently recommend this one to professionals and lay-people simply due to its user-friendly apparatus that tracks translation choices made verse by verse. Not only is it a good translation, but its running textual commentary seems designed to key scholars into NetBible's rationale as well as giving the layperson an insider's glimpse into how a text makes it from the original languages into English.

9. Google Scholar

This tool has turned out to be handier that it initially seemed, and not just for vanity searches. It can provide a bird's eye view over disciplines outside of one's speciality as well as specific bibliographic details of essays, papers, and lectures. As more and more scholarly material becomes part of the internet, this resource is going to become handier every month.

10. Ancient Maps of Jerusalem or Handbook of Biblical Numismatics

If you are as dorky as I am, then you will spend ages scouring the Ancient Maps of Jerusalem, scratching your heads for lost bits of schoolboy Latin and just generally having a good time. And even better, you can brag about the Handbook of Biblical Numismatics on your next date, see how well that goes over. But if I learned anything from working in the rare book room at Trinity International Unversity and stumbling across a copy of Gleason Archer's "A Descriptive Catalog of the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School Biblical Coin Collection," (a rather incredible collection) it is that coins really are fascinating and we can learn quite a bit about ancient cultures through numismatics. Hopefully, this last website will convince you of this.


Online Resources

General texts:
Net Bible ; Unbound Bible ; Blue Letter Bible ; Online Parallel Bible

Jewish Texts:
Early Jewish Writings ; Texts of Judaism ; Sepherot ha-Qadosh ; Mishneh ; Y. Talmud ; B. Talmud ; Talmud Trans. ; Newsletter for Targum and Cognate Studies ; The Zohar ; Bar/Bat Mitzvah tutor! ; Mikra'ot Gedolot ; Early Hebrew Printing ; Audio Hebrew Bible

LXX ; The Septuagint Online ; Morphological LXX ; Textual Mechanics of LXX/OG

Critical Pseudepigrapha

Digital NA Proto. ; NT Transcripts Proto. ; Fisher's Analytical Greek New Testament ; The Online Greek Bible ; Zhubert ; Biblon 2000 ; Parallel GNT ; GNT/LXX ; Online GNT ; Greek/Latin Audio Online ; Audio GNT

NT Trans.:
Peshitta ; Syriac Peshitta ; Vulgate ; Vulgate

NT Resources:
NT Gateway ; Synoptic Problem ; Four Color Synopsis ; Five Gospels Parallel ; Early Christian Gospels ; NT Apocrypha ; the Paul Page

Open Scrolls ; DSS ; Great Isaiah Scroll

Nag Hammadi:
Bibliotheque copte de Nag Hammadi ; Gnostic Society Library ; G. Thomas ; GThomas Commentary

Early Christian Writings ; Early Church Fathers ; More Fathers ; Ecole Initiative ; NT Cit. in CF ; NT Canon ; Canon Cross-Ref.

Papyri Coll./Images:
Carlsberg ; Schoyen ; CSAM ; JRUL ; Early Greek Bible Manuscripts Project ; Biblical Manuscripts Project ; CSNTM ; U. Penn

Man. Images:
Papyri List ; Papyri List ; Goodacre's Online Images List ; Codex Vaticanus ; Codex W (032) - Mark ; Aleppo Codex ; Leningrad Codex

Text Criticism:
TCG ; Student's Guide to Variants ; Variant Comparison ; Man. Ordered by Century ; Swanson's Errata list ; Kurz. L. Update ; Lectionaries ; Ency. of NT Textual Criticism ; Text Types ; Ancient Writing ; Byz. Paleography ; Schoyen Paleography primer ; Man. Number Conv. Table ; IAM ; OT/NT text criticism ; TC intro ; Greek Bible in G-R World ; Conversion tables ; Lectionaries ; Kenyon ; Textual Commentary ; Majority Textual Commentary

Unicode Converter ; Hebrew Script ; Hebrew Cantillation Marks

Liddell-Scott Online/Perseus ; TLG ; Homeric Lexicon ; Greek Grammar ; Classical/Koine Greek ; Unicode Converter ; Greek Lexicography

Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon ; Syriac Script Intro.

Coptic Lexicon ; Bohairic Lexicon ; Plumley ; Coptic Intro. ; Coptic Intro. ; Coptic Resources ; Unicode Converter ; Nova Sahidica ; Coptic GJohn

Assyrian Aramaic ; Ras Shamra ; Cuneiform Digital Library ; ABZU ; BAS ; Inscriptitfact ; Handbook of Biblical Numismatics ; WSRP ; Numismatics

ANE ; Aramaic ; B-Greek ; G. Megillot ; Hugoye ; Iudaios-L ; TC List

Brian's Biblical Links ; DSS links ; Explorator ; Greek Manuscripts Gateway ; iTanakh ; NT Gateway ; Paleojudaica ; U. Mich. Papyrology links ; Hebrew OT Links ; Bib. Studies Carnival ; Jewish Texts and History

Journal Abbreviations


Jewish, Biblical, and Early Christian Texts Online

Tanakh ML

Early Jewish Writings



Y. Talmud

Talmud Trans.


Net Bible

Greek New Testament

Greek New Testament




Early Church Fathers

Additional Early Church Fathers

GJudas: The Unsettling Conclusion (The Robinson Contribution)

After corresponding with several people involved, checking their responses against both Robinson's book and all the insider information (the "van Rijn angle") that has been made public, I am convinced of two things: Firstly, everyone who is comfortable with actually talking about the current state of the GJudas "find" as it relates to its troubled history has said all they are going to say at this point (including Roberty, Ferrell, and Ferrini, who hasn't said anything). Secondly, there is a lot more that could be said that hasn't.

As a result of this, we can only conclude that the National Geographic press about GJudas has been hopelessly edited for public consumption and the current codicological and papyrological analysis of the GJudas manuscript is really only an analysis of what is left of the original find. The Mathematical Treatise has been split and sold off to two different collections. It is highly probable that Ferrini sold leaves from some or all of the manuscripts that were in his possession at one point, people to whom these have been purportedly sold have not been forthcoming in responding to this allegation. And of course, the Gospel of Judas has lost a bit of weight over its journey through neglect and other means.

Investigative journalism is not my metier, but it has been revealing (and somewhat more exciting than thesis research) to spend the last week sniffing through all the data relevant to this "find" and substantiating Robinson's original paper on GJudas as well as related hearsay. Now I am extremely curious as to what extent the history of NT fragment discovery is seeded with analogous skullduggery, I have simply glossed over this facet of NT textual-criticism history with the swashbuckling image of Tischendorf wheedling manuscripts out of unsuspecting monks. It also seems that this sanitized image exists as a consensus simply for lack of an alternative. Perhaps there are other major and minor finds with similar grey-market histories, and have finally landed in the hands of scholarship a few leaves or fragments short of their original condition. That sounds like a book I would read, any interested publishers please feel free to contact me for a proposal.

Roberty confirmed via email that a critical edition of the whole codex will be done May 2006, to be released the following September, including unidentifiable fragments. Over the next few weeks, more information is going to surface regarding the "who sold what when" question (see previous posts), and I will fill in the gaps in previous posts accordingly.

(Update 4/20: R. Pearse has posted this interesting piece about Robinson's involvement with the Jung Codex debacle. It makes for interesting background reading to the GJudas issue.)
(Update 4/20: The Plain Dealer is reporting that Ferrini (or at least his reciever) is coughing up a few fragments of GJudas that he had laying about. This confirms our suspicion that he did manage to keep a few fragments and/or leaves from the manuscripts related to Codex Tchacos. Where's the rest?)


GJudas: The R. Pearse Investigation.

Pearse has chronicled the details of his search for more info on the manuscripts physically related to the GJudas "find." Contact with van Rijn leads me to believe all this is correct. Here are some of the highlights:

From an anonymous source:

Everything except the so-called mathematical codex is in the hands of the Swiss foundation. Ferrini sold off the math codex in fragments, but I think most of it (I dare not say all) wound up in two collections, one a private collector in (I believe) Baltimore, the other the Lloyd Cotsen collection of children's literature in the Princeton University Library. It was a truly despicable act to break it up in this fashion...It has been said that all four were found together. But I am inclined to be skeptical about such a claim, unless there is irrefutable evidence for it. This question was not raised in 1983, and I have not read Herb Krosney's book to see what he has to report from his investigations into the provenance.

I am still having trouble understanding precisely how Ferrini fits into this, but apparently I am not the only one. Pearse notes,

"...if this is correct, then something strange happened. Frieda Tchacos Nussberger sold 4 mss to Ferrini, including the codex Tchacos; Ferrini didn't pay for at least the latter; Frieda then recovered the codex Tchacos. Ferrini sold the Mathematical Codex. Frieda (i.e. Roberty) acquires the other two. Is it really possible that Ferrini paid Frieda for the Exodus and Paul; then Frieda bought them back from Ferrini? Or can we speculate that Ferrini was merely Frieda's agent for whatever he could sell, and returned whatever he couldn't? Who knows?"

From what I can gather, we can only say with confidence that Ferrini never paid for the codex Tchacos, even though he may have sold a few leaves out of it. That latter point is conjecture though and I wouldn't want to make any false statements about the brokerage of the other texts.

More as this develops...

(Update 4/14: Pearse has posted an email response from Ferrell denying any involvement with the Exodus manuscript even though he had been linked with it rather early on. There is, however, some alleged precedent for Ferrell's involvement with such stories.)
(Update 4/14: I did recieve a possible explanation of Ferrini's involvement from an anonymous someone "in-the-know": "Ferrini, knowing he had Frieda by the balls, because of the provenance of the manuscripts, squeezed her out of the mathematical treatise and pages of the Exodus for peanuts, and Frieda, afraid to be exposed and lose the manuscripts, (Ferrini played kamikaze... all or nothing) accepted the cut up Gospel as he handed it to her.")


GJudas: The Tchacos-N./Roberty Solution.

So now the NYT has picked up on this story. I bet they were reading my blog this morning. Excerpts from the article:

"I went through hell and back, and I saved something for humanity," Ms. Tchacos Nussberger said in a telephone interview. "I would have given it for nothing to someone who would have saved it."

Last week, National Geographic began a large campaign for the Gospel of Judas, featuring it in two new books, a television documentary, an exhibition and the May issue of National Geographic magazine.

The organization did not buy the document. Instead, it paid $1 million to the Maecenas Foundation, effectively for the manuscript's contents. Part of the revenues generated by the National Geographic projects go to the foundation.

The foundation was set up some years ago by Ms. Tchacos Nussberger's lawyer, Mario Roberty, well before it became involved with the Gospel of Judas. Mr. Roberty is the only official of the foundation, which he said was involved in projects like returning antiquities to their countries of origin. He said that when Ms. Tchacos Nussberger turned over the document to the foundation in 2001, he quickly contacted officials in Egypt and assured them that the manuscript would be returned there. He said the foundation had clear legal title to the document.

To quote Col. John "Hannibal" Smith: "I love it when a plan comes together!"

"'I think I was chosen by Judas to rehabilitate him,'" Ms. Tchacos Nussberger, 65, is quoted as saying in one of the society's books, "The Lost Gospel," by Herbert Krosney. Mr. Krosney is also an independent television producer who brought the gospel project to National Geographic.

Missing from the book is any mention of an incident in 2001 when Ms. Tchacos Nussberger was detained in Cyprus at the request of Italian officials, who wanted to question her as part of a broader investigation into antiquities that had been illegally taken out of Italy and sold elsewhere. Paolo Ferri, the Rome-based prosecutor in the case, said she was charged with several violations involving antiquities but was given a reduced sentence that was suspended because she had, among other things, previously agreed to return an artifact claimed by Italy.

I am willing to bet that the "van Rijn angle" is also missing from Krosney's book.

Then in 2001, Ms. Tchacos Nussberger sold it to an antiquities dealer in Ohio for $2.5 million, but the deal fell apart when the dealer did not make good on the payments.

There is Ferrini again, but according to Ferrini it was more a matter of questions concerning the provenance (which the Yale reps also had) than a cash issue. Given the reports concerning his bankruptcy, it may have been a bit of both.

All in all, I am not quite sure why the NYT overlooked Robinson's book and involvement with exposing some of this information, it is an important part of the story. I still have problems with the claim that National Geographic is sponsoring a full codicological OR papyrological analysis of this manuscript. They simply don't have enough of it to make a comprehensive assessment.

GJudas: The Michel van Rijn Angle.

The Angle

(Disclaimer: I am simply summarizing here what I have gleaned from van Rijn and others, as I haven't yet read Robinson's book on the same subject, I am not quite clear on what really are the details. Read this as "historical fiction," if you will, kind of like The Da Vinci Code.)

Michel van Rijn brought the possibility of fraudulent dealing behind the GJudas sale to the public's attention via the infamous Artnews all the way back in 2001 (Well, as public as possible for a site that Google doesn't refer to. Please see James M. Robinson's paper linked in a previous post that covers some of this same material and adds in a few wrinkles.) In his first comment on the news item, in Jan. 2001, he hears about Ferrini's initial attempt to purchase this set of six manuscripts. By Sep. 2001, van Rijn uncovers a bit more information and reveals that the manuscript deal he had been tracking in Jan. through Roberty was actually been stolen from a dealer named Hanna in Egypt and smuggled into Geneva years ago before being sent to a safety-deposit box in New York. Then in Dec. 2001, van Rijn finds out that despite this information becoming public Roberty and Tchacos are trying to sell it to a US dealer, who I assume is Bruce Ferrini, it has since come to light that a few others were also approached. There is nothing until Dec. 2004, when van Rijn summarizes the whole affair in light of all the information he has gathered so far, even bringing us up to date with the parallel efforts of Kasser and Charles Hedrick to translate and publicize the text. With Hedrick's permission van Rijn uploaded some of these early images and translations.

So in van Rijn's narration we start with the stolen and smuggled manuscript from Egypt, seen by Tchacos in 1982, which then makes its way to a safety-deposit box in New York. I am not a curator, but that may not be the best place for a manuscript of this sort. The orginal owner of the manuscript, Hanna, then reclaims it and tries to sell it again in 1990 until Tchacos eventually picks it up for $300,000. Her efforts then to sell it off to others brings it into Bruce Ferrini's orbit in 1999 and apparently later in 2001. Ferrini pops up in Henk Sutton's article on GJudas translated from the Dutch by van Rijn:

"Ferrini suspects that in the meantime several single pages of the manuscript were put on the market. 'When I saw the work for the first time in 1999, only 25 pages remained intact, so at least half of them were missing. I cannot be absolutely sure if the manuscript was found incomplete or if its writing was never finished. But from time to time new pages would appear. Five or six different documents in total without page numbers, it was just a mess.' Ferrini hesitated for a long time. He signed the deal, but then refrained from purchasing. 'Frieda and Roberty could not provide him with any clear indication about its origin. We didn't buy the manuscript, because we didn't buy their story.'"

This explanation at least provides a plausible excuse for Ferrini's "stalling" that Roberty records in the emails below. Eventually, the Maecenas Foundation (a nice way of saying "Tchacos and Roberty") turns to alternative solutions and with Kasser's efforts this find then becomes National Geographic's cashcow. As it turns out, Tchacos actually bought the manuscript from its original owner and not its subsequent smuggler who showed it to her the first time, good thing she didn't buy it back then. Because of this, I wonder if van Rijn's original indictment of her still stands. Unless I am missing something. And now the codex will soon be back in Egypt anyway.

The Emails

The story of Michel van Rijn's involvement with the GJudas "find" is colorfully illustrated by this series of emails between van Rijn and Roberty (an initial broker of the manuscript) back in Jan. 2001 that have been faithfully recorded by Pearse here. At this point in the story Tchacos is handing over the manuscripts to Ferrini for "safekeeping." They had already been stolen, smuggled, and stashed in a safety-deposit box in Hicksville, New York for almost 20 years.

It is interesting enough to read through the emails in toto, but the gist is as follows:

Email 2. Roberty begins by suggesting a modification to van Rijn's first story about Ferrini's sale of the GJudas manuscript and related leaves and fragments. This story catalogs the contents as one codex containing the lost Gospel of Judas, the First Apocalypse of James, and the Epistle of Peter to Philip. (Henceforth known as the Tchakos Codex.) Along with this codex is the Book of Exodus in Greek, Letters of Paul in Sahidic Coptic, and a Mathematical Treatise in Greek. Whether or not these are all contained in a second codex is not stated. The suggested piece characterizes Ferrini rather negatively:

"Last fall, Zurich based antiques dealer Frieda Chakos entrusts priceless papyrus manuscripts which had been in a Bank vault in New York for almost 20 years to the “safe” facilities of Akron/Ohio based manuscript dealer Bruce P. Ferrini. She is approached by Ferrini through a middleman and doesn’t have a clue that by this time Ferrini is already in deep financial troubles. The news had not hit the papers yet. Ferrini takes advantage of the secrecy of the art-market and offers to help Frieda ‘in preserving these manuscripts for the benefit [of] mankind’"

The original piece that inspired this email can be read here, and the actual deal mentioned in this email can be read here.

Email 4: Roberty checks in again, unhappy that van Rijn has made public what he could only have possibly learned through his secret network of antiquities spies:

"Your first paragraph reveals such information that obviously could only be fed in by my side and this could make negotiations starting tomorrow (i.e. today) even more difficult. On the other hand, this quite precise technical info is of little importance or impact to the public."

Van Rijn also posted the letter that entails "Charlie's contribution" as mentioned in the email. I bet this Charles Hill, "former head of New Scotland Yard Art & Antiques Squad," has a few cool stories to tell.

Email 5: Further vilification of Ferrini ensues as Roberty encounters complications in actually getting the cash for the sale from Ferrini. (It is still not clear why Ferrini was not forthcoming with the payment, there are three options: Ferrini didn't have the money. Ferrini was worried about the provenance. Ferrini was seeing what he could obtain and sell with only paying as little as possible.) Roberty claims:

The overdue payment has been done because of a confusion with dealings Bruce has with Bill Veres. Bill claims Bruce owing him money and pretends having paid Frieda on behalf on Bruce USD 90" (which is not true !) and Bruce claims Bill owing him lots of money. Bill had introduced Bruce to Frieda and pretends to be his partner. At the same time he pretends feeling responsible towards Frieda for the mess she is in. For reasons completely independent of Bruce, Bill owes Frieda about USD 150". All this confusion is basically bullshit and is being used by Bruce just to avoid payment. By the way, he pretends that the sales price obtained by Sam Fogg is not of USD 900" and that the sale was not to Thompson.

We know now though from Henk Schutten's article that Ferrini's hesitancy may be plausibly explained by van Rijn's original warning: "You buy? You touch? You will be prosecuted! And damned..." Which apparently is arts and antiquities dealer lingo for: "the provenance of this manuscript is uncertain." This was certainly why others didn't buy the manuscripts after previous offers.

The Point

All this is to say that that the National Geographic version of events seems to be fairly sanitized:

The codex, containing the Gospel of Judas, was discovered in the 1970s near El Minya, Egypt, and moved from Egypt to Europe to the United States. Once in the United States, it was kept in a safe-deposit box for 16 years on Long Island, New York, until antiquities dealer Frieda Nussberger-Tchacos bought it in April 2000. After two unsuccessful resale attempts, Nussberger-Tchacos----alarmed by the codex's rapidly deteriorating state----transferred it to the Maecenas Foundation for Ancient Art in Basel, Switzerland, in February 2001, for restoration and translation. The manuscript will be delivered to Egypt and housed in Cairo's Coptic Museum.

Several pages of the Gospel of Judas as well as pages from the other three texts in the codex will be on exhibit at National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C., beginning Friday, April 7, 2006, for a limited engagement. After Kasser and his team complete conserving and translating the manuscript, the codex will be given to Egypt, where it will be housed in Cairo's Coptic Museum.

While this version nicely ties up all the loose ends and cuts through some of the gaps left in van Rijn's thrilling reportage, it doesn't quite fit the facts. Or at least it fits the fewest, nicest facts possible. They would have been better served ditching the "this manuscript will revolutionize our understanding of early Christianity" angle and just publicizing its remarkable backstory. At least that way they could have sold the rights to the story to Universal.

UPDATE 4/14: National Geographic does have a version of the tangled story of the Tchacos Codex posted, and while it is an admirable attempt to spin what are otherwise much less saccharine facts, it still doesn't deal with the problems raised by the "van Rijn angle."

You can read much of this information from Artnews on R. Pearse's exhaustive page. I believe he is at work tracking down exactly what is happening with the other five texts that are related to the GJudas manuscript, more on that later. Any corrections on this post are invited and appreciated.


GJudas: The Mr. Bruce Ferrini File.

I hit the jackpot here with what appears to be a few more archived articles, and then a purported list of all fragments and such sold by Ferrini on Ebay until January 2006. He has enough Coptic fragments that Pearse's link (see previous post) could really be to any text.

There is some interesting commentary at the bottom, which provides a little backstory to Ferrini's collection on Ebay:

Late in 2005 Bruce P. Ferrini, an antiquities dealer in Akron OH, declared bankruptcy and began to offer items from his collections on eBay. A significant percentage of these offerings were papyri -- cartonnage as well as fragments in demotic, coptic, greek and arabic -- along with some related items on linen and lead. Without knowing, or being able to find out, how extensive the collection might be, I began to catalog the items offered and to offload the (generally excellent) images that were provided. My hope was that although the materials would end up with a large number of purchasers, presumably mostly private, it would still be possible to know what items had been sold and possibly to trace their distribution. I also bid on some pieces, especially cartonnage, to use in an upcoming seminar on papyrology at the University of Pennsylvania as well as to have on hand for study.

I am not quite sure who the "I" is here. I have a great guess, but it is a bit confusing towards the end of the webpage. Extremely interesting nonetheless.

(Update: The UPenn. page is by Dr. Robert Kraft. What a great idea to keep a record of where all these fragments have gone.)
(Update 4/18: The Beacon-Journal has published a lengthy biography of Ferrini. It is a tale of woe, and...validates the "van Rijn angle.")

GJudas: Ancient Coptic Manuscripts on Ebay? The Mysterious Case of Mr. Bruce Ferrini, Et Al.

An Answer

I just stumbled across this post from Chris Weimer's blog, which really answers my question from yesterday concerning the other manuscripts physically related to the Gospel of Judas (physically related as a "manuscript" not socio-historically as a "text," though ultimately there may not be a difference in this case). Here he relays some information from the mysterious van Rijn via the incredible Roger Pearse (who is emerging is a bit of a hero in the midst of all this misdirected publicity) from a peculiar message board. In one frightfully helpful post, Pearse says:

"Few people seem to be aware that the codex containing the ps.Gospel of Judas came with a second codex containing further texts:

- the 'Book of Exodus' in Greek
- 'Letters of Paul' in Sahidic dialect and a
- 'Mathematical Treatise' in Greek.

Yesterday I wrote to art dealer Michel van Rijn, who has been recording the dodgy dealings around this find, asking if he knew how to contact Bruce Ferrini, the last known owner of these texts. Michel kindly replied, and allowed me to reproduce this interesting (but appalling) comment:

"Thanks your email. Ferrini is keeping himself unreachable... Yes Ferrini sold pages of the Judas, Exodus and mathematical treatise.

"Pages of the Exodus were sold to James E. Ferrell and are now part of the Ink and Blood traveling exhibition... The mathematical treatise was sold by Ferrini together with Samm Fogg, London, to Lord Thomson of Fleet, Canada.

"And Getty sponsor, Lloyd Cotsen, bought several pages. Judas?"

None of this is good news. I imagine that the codex has been reduced to a pile of fragments, of which saleable leaves are being sold, and the remainder, no doubt, thrown away. Can nothing be done to stop this destruction?"

This brings us to a total of six reported texts that are physically related to the Gospel of Judas, the two early Christian texts mentioned below (which are also named in the description of the National Geographic volume on GJudas along with something they are calling the "Book of Allogenes"), and the three listed above as part of the second codex by Pearse. Any correction on this point is appreciated.

A Sale!

Now here is the interesting bit, on this same thread, Pearse links to a sale on Ebay of a fragment at this link that he says is from Ferrini. The item here is actually a Coptic fragment (not Greek as the original title claims) in a rather free cursive script which certainly provides an interesting late example of papyrus construction, as you can see so clearly how the fibers run in perpendicular directions. It would make a handy educational aid. And at this link there is one of a few other 5/6 century Coptic fragments on sale. Frankly, there are enough different hands here that it seems unlikely one could definitively land something from the GJudas codex (which would be a nice addition to anyone's library). How curious that one can pick up these fragments of history with a few clicks of the mouse button.

(4/12 Update: This really is Ferrini's Ebay account.)

A Cast of Characters

This post is starting to wander, but it is worth it. Perhaps the most interesting result of this whole Gospel of Judas situation is the fantastic host of characters it has brought into the limelight. We have Rudolph Kasser working on a manuscript, Roger Pearse following the story for years (credit should also be given to Davila at Paleojudaica who picked up the story early), Michael van Rijn doing whatever mysterious thing it is that van Rijn does, and then this guy Bruce Ferrini who keeps popping up in ancient manuscript intrigues. It is worth scrolling down the page here to read a few articles about Ferrini and the ill-fated From the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Forbidden Book exhibit. There is a very interesting post from Lee Biondi (Ferrini's partner in the DSS exhibition) here, in which he mentions Ferrini and the DSS controversy. Van Rijn also makes a special anonymous appearance towards the beginning of Biondi's comments. Other than that, Ferrini seems to have an interesting job and I would love to browse his current stock, not least of which because some think he still has a few bits of these two codices. Perhaps there really is more to this story then meets the eye. Still looking...

Justin Martyr Conference

New College is an invigorating place to be right now. We have a TC conference in a few weeks (see previous post), ISBL at the beginning of July, and the first dedicated Justin Martyr conference at the end of July (undertaken with the help of a grant from the British Academy). I would like to deliver a short paper, but the current lineup is somewhat intimidating to a NT student only periodically sidelighting in issues that late:

"The conference will feature presentations by the following scholars: Prof. Michael Slusser, Dr. Denis Minns, Dr. Paul Parvis, Dr. Paul Foster, Prof. Larry Hurtado, Prof. Graham Stanton, Prof. Judith Lieu, Prof. Cristoph Markschies, Dr. Sara Parvis, and Prof. J. Rebecca Lyman. Additionally, limited spaces are available for short papers (15–20 min. in length) on relevant topics."

A schedule is available in a .pdf at the conference webpage, and it looks like it will provide a comprehensive to the state of the art of Justin scholarship. I will post more on the conference when it rolls around.


GJudas: Hurtado on Judas

Prof. Larry Hurtado has weighed in on Judas at Slate (honestly, you have to be pretty hip to be a senior NT scholar writing for Slate Magazine):
The Gospel of Judas has genuine historical value—as one of several bits of evidence showing the diversity of early Christianity, like the writings of such figures as Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyons in about 180 A.D. The text's depiction of Judas as the disciple to whom Jesus gave unique mystical revelations is not itself really unique. It somewhat resembles the portrayal of Thomas in the Gospel of Thomas. Nor is there evidence that the Gospel of Judas ever enjoyed much popularity as an alternative to the canon of the New Testament or was considered for inclusion in that canon. This text reflects a profoundly elitist viewpoint, claiming a specially conveyed revelation of religious truths withheld from ordinary Christians and their leaders.

I am looking forward to reading a traditional papyrological description of the manuscript, as I wonder what else this text was bound with. Apparently it also contains a variant of the Epistle to Philip and the Revelation of Jacob, the rest being unreadable, but I have been unable to track down Kasser's original comments on this point.

(Update 4/14: It turns out there is good reason that news on these manuscripts has been so sketchy. No one seems to know who has what and how or when they got it. See above post for more on this.)

The Genizah Collection

Hey, look at this, more news about ancient manuscripts. Well, most of these aren't anywhere close to ancient, but many of them do shed light on ancient near east issues. The Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit has had a website for a while, but this large new grant from the AHRC will provide the resources to catalog and digitize a bunch of these fragments (including interesting things like the "Zadokite" fragment):

"Professor Stefan Reif, Founder Director of the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection, said: “The Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection at Cambridge University Library offers a window on the world of the 10th–13th centuries. The largest and most important collection of medieval Jewish, Hebrew and Arabic documents in the world, it is at least equal in importance to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Whilst the Dead Sea Scrolls chronicled the life of a dissident sect that cut itself off from the world, the Genizah fragments tell the story of ordinary people dealing with everyday life, love and lore."

The collection has taught us more about people like Maimonides, given us greater textual clarity on Talmud literature, and even afforded us access to a few Greek and Syriac texts that had been scraped and reused by later scribes (palimpsests). The relation of the collection to New Testament studies is limited, but it certainly helps to add dimension to what we already know about the language and customs of that era.

It will be especially interesting to see some of these fragments in greater detail, as some of them are amulets made of cloth (this particular one "has the aim of making the heart of the loved one burn with passion", others are rather well preserved pages of paper and vellum. With this large range of materials and manuscript types, I look forward to seeing the variety of book formats represented by this collection.


GJudas: Obligatory Gospel of Judas Nod...

The "Unveiling"

One would be hard pressed to put together anything much better than Mark Goodacre's characteristically comprehensive rundown of the Gospel of Judas from academic bloggers seriously "in the know." As I was not able to see the National Geographic documentary, his summary is rather helpful. He certainly hasn't missed much on this one.

I have little other to add that hasn't already been said: "publicity stunt," "we have known about the text ever since Irenaeus" (A.H. I.31), "this particular manuscript has been discussed since Rudolph Kasser delivered a paper on the manuscript in 2004," "Michael van Rijn has followed this story for ages," and "a guy named Roger Pearse has had a site on the manuscript (with images and transcriptions!) for quite some time." All right, a few of those may be new to you. I had actually poked through the images on that last site a week or two before the National Geographic site was launched.

The Skullduggery

The Christian Century even had an article on it in the Dec. 27, 2005 issue. In this article there is an interesting anecdote about James Robinson's first experience with the text and its publication strategy:

"But in 2004, Rodolphe Kasser of the University of Geneva announced in Paris that by the end of 2005 he would be publishing translations of the Coptic-language version of the Gospel of Judas. As it turned out, the owner was a Swiss foundation, and the torn and tattered papyrus text had been hawked to potential buyers in North America and Europe for decades after it was found at Muhazafat Al Minya in Middle Egypt.

The "Judas" saga was confirmed in detail last month at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Philadelphia. Retired Claremont Graduate University professor James Robinson, general editor of the English edition of the Nag Hammadi Library, said he was first contacted in 1983 about negotiations to buy certain texts, including the Gospel of Judas. Many years later, he saw blurry photographs of part of the text.

Robinson said that early in November he learned that Kasser and several European, Canadian and U.S. scholars had signed agreements with the National Geographic Society to assist with a documentary film and a National Geographic article for an Easter 2006 release and a succession of three books.

Robinson was critical of the secrecy and inaccessibility surrounding the document—a recurring academic problem that delayed for decades the publishing of translations of some Dead Sea Scrolls and many Nag Hammadi codices. In his talk, Robinson called the practice "skullduggery"—with a glance at fellow panelist Marvin Meyer of Chapman University, a longtime colleague in the field and one of the contracted authors."

And apparently, the plot thickened quite some time ago. In a paper delivered at the 2005 SBL Congress (in particular the "Al-Minya discovery"), James M. Robinson works through some of the material that has become his book on the subject:

The first information about the existence of this text, which is in a papyrus codex along with a version of 1 Apoc. Jas. and a dialogue of Jesus with his disciples not identical with NCH III 5, was given by J. M. Robinson and S. Emmel at the Third International Congress of Coptic Studies in Warsaw in August 1984.

Koenen later sent me some almost completely illegible photographs he had obtained of some of the Coptic material. I made copies of them available to Wolf-Peter Funk. Ultimately, I turned over my copies, for safekeeping, to Stephen Emmel, at the quadrennial congress of the International Association for Coptic Studies meeting in Paris, on June 27, 2004. For he was the person involved from the very beginning, and has subsequently become the Editor of the Newsletter of the International Association for Coptic Studies. Hence, the Institut für Ägyptologie und Koptologie that he directs at the University of Münster, Germany is in effect the Secretariat of the International Association for Coptic Studies.

I had long since forwarded in March 1991 what I could read to Marvin W. Meyer, who was preparing the critical edition of The Letter of Peter to Philip:

According to the reports of James M. Robinson and Stephen Emmel, a somewhat divergent Coptic text of the Letter of Peter to Philip is to be found in a papyrus codex which at the present time is neither published nor available for study.


On July 1, 2004, at the quadrennial congress of the International Association for Coptic Studies held this time in Paris, Rodolphe Kasser announced that he was publishing The Gospel of Judas late in 2005. Given his slow track record in publishing the Tripartite Tractate of the Jung Codex (Nag Hammadi Codex I), no one has expected him to meet that deadline. It has already been rescheduled for early in 2006. He has added a co-editor, Gregor Wurst, which gives some hope that his edition will ultimately appear and make the text available to the rest of us.

Kasser’s report has led to all-too-sensational German articles in journals for a larger non-scholarly public, first by Ralph Pöhner in FACTS, then by Roger Thiede in Focus.

Thiede included an interview with Stephen Emmel. Although Emmel displays in exemplary form the necessary academic caution concerning a text that is not yet available, Pöhner and Thiede do the very reverse, with disastrous results. And of course Gilles Quispel got into the act, in another sensational essay by the Dutch journalist Hank Schutten.

Pöhner had interviewed me by phone from Zürich, and yet what he reports about my involvement is so littered with errors that one must be very tentative in using what he reports anywhere in his article. Of course one would hope that he might be in better control of the facts insofar as they have to do with his own Switzerland.

There is a lot more there. Robinson goes on to tell the twisted tale of how this text surfaced in the recent antiquities market. The long and the short of it is that this set of manuscripts has been so badly handled, unless we can chart "who sold what when" a full codicological description of the "find" in its entirety will never be possible. They need to shelve The Da Vinci Code, I want to see this movie. Donald Sutherland would probably make a good James Robinson.

The Fallout

It is unfortunate that the terrifically shady publication strategy of this otherwise interesting manuscript has perverted public (read: non-specialist) perception of what the Gospel of Judas actually is. If only this kind of cash and publicity could get thrown at any number of far more important early Christian manuscripts, things like The Da Vinci Code would be more immediately recognized by the non-specialist public for what they are: Foucault's Pendulum rip-offs featuring far less invigorating hermeneutical acrobatics. Imagine having such an accessible dedicated manuscript site for the Freer holdings, for example. Is it wrong to sense irony in the fact that the greatest early Christian manuscript publicity scam involves The Gospel of Judas? I think not.

I don't want to downplay the significance of actually having this text. It was one thing to have Irenaeus' mention of it, as we have always understood the theological nature of the text. But now that the manuscript is available to the same critical methodologies that have opened up the relationship between things like the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, or the Odes of Solomon and the canonical Jesus traditions, we may actually have some interesting scholarship emerge. It may also shed further light on a project I am currently engaged in, namely assessing the characterization of apostle figures in late gospel writing.

And perhaps what may be most important about this find is the light that it has shed on the means by which such texts finally make it into the hands of scholars. Who is to say what NT fragments have never surfaced due to the vicissitudes of grey market antiquities dealings? Any excitment about this particular find should be tempered by the fact that we don't have as much of it as we should.


Crossing Our "t's" In The Passion Narrative

A new study by the Royal Society of Medicine calls into question the traditional imagery of Jesus' crucifixion. Since there is evidence that the Romans crucified villians in a remarkable variety of ways, there is no way of knowing exactly how Jesus was crucified. Thus the macabre "head-up" depiction passed down to us by tradition may have no basis in the ancient history of criminal torture. As this article sees it, the fact is:

"only one piece of archaeological evidence has ever been found about a crucifixion, mainly because crucified people were not formally buried but left on a rubbish dump to be eaten by wild dogs and hyenas, say Masien and Mitchell.

This case entails a young Jewish man, whose inscription on an ossuary, found near Giv'at ha-Mivtar in Israel, suggests his name was probably Yehonanan ben Hagkol.

The clue to his demise comes from an 11.5-centimetre (4.8-inch) iron nail that had been hammered through one of his heels, attaching it to the side of the cross. But there are no signs of any nail holes in the bones of the wrist or the forearm."

The sad tale of Jehohanan ben HGQWL can be seen in more detail here and here at Frontline's From Jesus to Christ series (a reprint of an Expository Times article). In this article, Charlesworth concludes:

"In conclusion, we now have empirical evidence of a crucifixion. Death on a cross could be prolonged or swift. The crucifixion of Josephus' acquaintance who survived should not be projected to the crucifixion of Jesus. The major extrabiblical paradigm for crucifixion is no longer Josephus; it is the archaeological data summarized above. The crucifixion of Jesus, who did not possess a gladiator's physique and stamina, did not commence but culminated when he was nailed to the cross. After the brutal, all night scourging by Roman soldiers, who would have relished an opportunity to vent their hatred of the Jews and disgust for Palestinian life, Jesus was practically dead. I see not reason why the Synoptic account does not contain one of the few bruta facta from his life when it reports that, as he began to stagger from Herod's palace to Golgotha, he was too weak to carry the cross; Simon of Cyrene carried it for him. Metaphors should not be confused with actualities nor faith with history. It is not a confession of faith to affirm that Jesus died on Golgotha that Friday afternoon; it is a probability obtained by the highest canons of scientific historical research."

To be fair, the findings of the RSM are reasonable, as crucifixion imagery does depend more on the visual tradition of the earliest church than say, an actual diagram in the margin of an early manuscript of the Gospel of John. Yet there argument from silence falls apart in the claim that "Given the uncertainty as to exactly how he was crucified, the answer may only ever come if some new archaeological evidence or piece of writing emerges from the shadows of the past, it says."

As far as a "piece of writing," I wonder if the Gospel descriptions count. They each simply use the verb "to crucify," but John 19:33-35 and Luke 24:39 (along with John's parallel) at least put us in the ballpark. After the New Testament We do have reference in Clement of Alexandria to the cross as the "symbol of the Lord" (somewhere in the Stromata), and Tertullian speaks of the cross as a symbol of Christian suffering, and object worth of adoration (Apology). It is also Tertullian that speaks of the cross specifically as sort of an early Christian identity marker (in De Corona). But we don't have any explicit reference to the cross in early Christian artwork until the fifth century, they tended to depict Jesus pastorally or would use lamb imagery when referring to his suffering. We may find reason for this in the criticism levelled against Christians often found in Tertullian's apologies, namely that they were "cross worshippers." Thus we find things like the anchor, trident, and various monograms of Jesus name (such as the "chi/rho") in which the cross is more implicit.

The RSM though might have overlooked a crucial bit of evidence found in the use of the staurogram in some of our earliest manuscripts. This "tau/rho" combination looks remarkably like the cross found again in fifth century artwork. Perhaps it is this unique manuscript marker that serves as a link between eyewitness accounts of the crucifixion and later Christian imagery. I'll see if I can scratch up some images...


SBL 2006 Papers

I'll go ahead in joining the biblioblogging trend of posting what seminar I will be participating in this year in DC. Mark Goodacre posted a few other announcements. There are four or five of us coming over from New College to deliver papers on our work this year at SBL, but I am not sure if they would be comfortable in having their topics broadcast at this point.

The Bible in Ancient and Modern Media section asked for papers on the use of the Bible in films that really don't have much to do with the Bible. (I suppose the frogs at the end of Magnolia are a good example of what they are looking for.) So I tossed together this:

"Jesus Beyond His Genre: The Non-Canonical Jesus Films."

There is an interesting sub-genre of "Jesus films" that relates well to the "treatment of biblical themes in films that are not expressly biblical." This genre is distinct both from films that attempt to directly adapt the canonical gospels to the screen, and from films that simply feature a discernable Christ figure as a central theme. The films that populate this sub-genre rest somewhere in between, being filmed narratives that have nothing else to do with Jesus other than the suggestion of a title, a set of visual themes, or an abstract yet fully intentional nod to the nature of Jesus. This paper will outline the contours of this interesting genre by looking at three of its most effective examples, and attempt to identify the hermeneutics at play in such profoundly inter-textual works of art. At first glimpse, Bruno Dumont's controversial realist masterpiece "La vie de Jesus" is only related to Jesus by title. But beneath the surface of the film lies commentary about mortality and materiality that expands to fill the Christological brackets set by Dumont in the title. Gus van Sant's recent film “Last Days” narrates the last few days of Kurt Cobain’s life in the context of a loosely fictional stand-in that becomes increasingly cloaked in Jesus imagery until a final resurrection scene. And finally, Bresson’s “Au hazard Balthazar” quite boldly turns a dilapidated donkey into a provocative metaphor for the odd presence of Christ in contemporary culture. All three of these films are intentional and provocative allusions to Jesus in decidedly non-biblical narrative worlds. This paper will track the reflective strategies of this "non-canonical" genre through these three close readings in their appropriate film theoretical context, and articulate the rich potential for re-narrating Jesus by means of the startling generic conflict embodied by these films.

I should have added in the abstract that Dumont's film reportedly takes its title from Ernst Renan's famous volume of the life of Jesus. But I look forward to (briefly) covering this overlooked section of Jesus films. I don't think I will exhaust the range of explanations for this anomaly in the above paper, but ever since being exposed to these films I have always wondered how they manage to catch aspects of Jesus' life as narrated in the Gospels and tradition far more incisively than their more "faithful" counterparts produced by Christians seeking to tell the story of Jesus visually.

We may be able to add The Last Temptation of Christ and Jesus of Montreal to this list, but the key feature of the above films is that while not providing a metanarrative of Jesus' life and purpose, they do focus in on specific elements that add an intertextual dimension to the primary narrative. I would want to argue that, as Kazantzakis poses it, The Last Temptation of Christ is less about Jesus than it is about the human experience of spirituality. But that is a different paper for a different time, each context deserves closer scrutiny. And to be honest, I have a hard time with Jesus of Montreal as it is my least favorite of Arcand's films and its mimicry of the Gospel narratives seems to lack grounding in a broader sense of redemption or social justice. I am more than open to correction on this point.