Spamming to promote the NIV bible?

I have written a couple of times before about the collapse in confidence in the New International Version (NIV) of the bible.  This happened after Zondervan, the publishers, decided to revise it to be “gender neutral.”  As I wrote in my last such post:

… “gender neutrality” is not a principle of text criticism, nor of biblical theology, but a principle of the modern political movement referred to as “political correctness”.  So the publisher has acted to corrupt the translation in the interests of a modern political lobby – an incredible thing to do.

It is now the 50th anniversary of the publication of the NIV.  It is, of course, a sad anniversary, considering what has happened.  Zondervan have been trying to boost the “translation” by having a website,, which is of course their right.  The site is conspicuously silent about the controversy, I note, which is not so acceptable.

They have also, even less forgiveably, employed a PR industry firm to pester bloggers.

A few months ago I received a communication from a PR flack, via my contact form.  The message professed to be all excited about how wonderful my site was, and then seamlessly went on to say how I might like to engage with their new site, etc etc.

In other words, they sent me a spam email.  The content suggested to me that they had mined the lists of top 50 biblioblogs, and spammed the lot.  I deleted it, and thought no more of it.

Today I received another one, from the same PR flack, with the same dishonest message, professing again to be giving feedback and actually trying to get me to visit etc that sad old website.  I must confess to feeling contempt for such attempts to gain my support by such threadbare flattery.

I fear that Dante would have assigned an imaginative fate, for those who brought this about, in the Inferno. Perhaps he would have depicted them being endlessly sodomized by (gender neutral!) demons.  But then I am less imaginative than the Florentine master.

English translation of Cramer’s catena on Galatians published

John Litteral writes to tell me that a complete translation of Cramer’s catena-commentary on Galatians has been made by Bill Berg, and is available at a trivial price ($12)on Amazon here (US) and here (UK).

Some will be unaware of what a catena is.  The medieval church created its bible commentaries by stringing together chains of quotations from the fathers.  These chain-commentaries are known today as catenas (from the Latin for chain).  These often reference now lost works, and so are of value as a source for lost early Christian commentary on scripture.  They tend to be found in the margins of Greek bible manuscripts; but sometimes standalone.  The author of each excerpt is indicated by an abbreviation at the start.

It’s pretty hard to work with the catenas.  The text is often corrupt, the author marks even more often corrupt, and the editions are all old – sometimes very old – and difficult to access.  So … scholars have ducked the task of producing modern editions.

In the 19th century John Cramer published a set of catenas on all the books of the New Testament, in eight volumes.  Bill Berg has attacked the catena on Galatians.

The authors cited in this catena include John Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and Severian of Gabala, among others.

So … if ancient biblical commentary is your thing, pick up a copy.  It should certainly encourage work on this subject!

A first century fragment of Mark’s gospel? Some thoughts by an outsider

An article in Live Science two days ago:

Mummy Mask May Reveal Oldest Known Gospel

A text that may be the oldest copy of a gospel known to exist — a fragment of the Gospel of Mark that was written during the first century, before the year 90 — is set to be published. …

This first-century gospel fragment was written on a sheet of papyrus that was later reused to create a mask that was worn by a mummy.

Some sensible words of caution are here; and here at ETC, where it is suggested that the article at Live Science may be entirely derived from some public presentations.  There has also been some curious snarking from one or two papyrologists, who are not involved in the discovery, presumably out of sour grapes.

Is this a genuine discovery?  Who knows?  But I have some concerns about all this, even based on the story as we have it.

Mark’s gospel was completed ca. 70 AD, in Alexandria, according to the ancient literary sources, and to me there seems no pressing reason to suppose that they are wrong.  So it is possible, in principle, that a piece of an early copy could be found in waste papyrus in Egypt.  There’s no real reason why not.

But … surely it is somewhat improbable that one of the few copies of this text in existence at that date should happen to turn up in the limited amount of mummy cartonnage that has so far been dismantled?  Isn’t it?  Consider the vast output of papyrus made every year in ancient Egypt, of which a certain proportion ended up as waste papyrus.  What, statistically, are the chances of a 1st century copy of Mark being in that proportion?  They must be slim.

We’re told that portions of Homer have turned up, and this is not a surprise.  Likewise that documentary texts are found: this too does not surprise.  But something that must always have been a very rare item?

Of course probability is just that; a calculation based on averages.  All the same, it’s troubling.

In general, when a discovery is made which bears on matters of current interest or controversy (rather than something which was controversial in antiquity), it is wise to consider the possibility of forgery.   In the renaissance people forged stone monuments supposedly from well-known figures of classical antiquity, in order to make money.  Forgeries of papyri are not at all unknown.

There is a fingerprint for forgery, noted by Stephen C. Carlson.  By its very nature, a forgery must be of something which is exciting to people in the period in which it is “discovered”.   That’s where the money is.  Nobody is going to forge something that nobody is interested in.  But it is often the case that this modern excitement is over something that would not have been exciting in antiquity.  It is this dichotomy that marks out a forgery.

So any “discovery” that is of current interest, that fits squarely into a matter of current agitation, or fits the political or religious views of the discoverer particularly well, must be scrutinised with rational but exceptional caution.  Otherwise we will all be hoodwinked by those enterprising gentlemen in Turkey and Palestine whose attempts at forgery regularly attract interest from specialists.

A discovery of a first century fragment of a gospel fits that profile squarely.  A first century gospel could not have been of special interest in antiquity, when they were composed, but it would be very interesting today!

It is, therefore, of the utmost importance to do things right; to establish the provenance of the item, to look for signs of forgery, to get a range of experts involved, and, above all, to shed as much light as possible on the item.

When P52 was identified in the 1930s, the discoverer, Colin Roberts, proceeded with extreme care.  He did not publish, nor did he announce his find, until it had been examined by all the leading paleographers of the day, and a consensus reached.  The wisdom of his approach is evident: his result has not been seriously questioned in 80 years, even though it contradicted the established wisdom of biblical studies at the time, and reinforced the fondest wishes of Christians.

By contrast the way in which this supposed first century fragment is being made known raises in me the worst suspicions.

The papyrus trade is a secretive one, partly because of the foolishness of the Egyptian government in declaring all finds the property of state officials, and partly because of the stupidity of western activists, who harass those involved in the black market that has inevitably arisen.  It is, therefore, entirely understandable that nothing should be announced until everything is ready.  And if that silence is used, as Colin Roberts did, to determine the facts and build consensus, then well and good.  That’s one way to publish.

The alternative is better.  It is to shine a bright light on everything.  Publish the fragments now, without any very firm attributions, as soon as possible, with the provenance, and crowd-source an examination of every element of it.  The truth will out, and a consensus will come into being rather rapidly, as it did for the forgery known as the “gospel of Jesus’ wife”.

Either approach is acceptable.  But we seem to have neither.  Instead we have the worst of both worlds.

On the one hand we have a drip-drip of non-academic reportage, excitedly making all sorts of claims, possibly based on no more than a video by somebody who may (or may not) be involved in the project at all.  This feeds the fever of speculation; which, of course, increases the price that may be asked for publication, and generally increases the commercial value of the property.  It seems to benefit nobody in any other way that I can see.

On the other hand, we have an entire silence on all the matters that would allow professionals to form a judgement.

It is reminiscent of some of the hype around the Coptic Gospel of Judas.  That was a genuine text, and this mixture of whispers and real information is what we tended to get.  I suppose, in fairness, that this may be how Americans do things, for all I know.

But it is also reminiscent of how forgers operate: people whose sole aim is to boost the value of their merchandise and make a quick buck while the going is good.  For all I know, there is some Turkish forger at work, using some clever Swiss lawyer (or whatever) to control the whole process via “confidentiality agreements”, and manipulating the scholars at the far end who seek merely to recover knowledge.

If the discovery is genuine, then it is wonderful.  Any recovery of lost texts from antiquity is a joy, and any very early witness to any important text is to be treasured.

But is it genuine?  We cannot say.  But the manner in which it is becoming known to the public does nothing to give me confidence.

So I think we need to hold our horses, and await proper publication.  To me, all this is too good to be true.  But let’s hope not.

Augustine to Jerome on the inspiration of scripture

An interesting article at draws together some useful quotations from St. Augustine on the inspiration of scripture.

The quotations come from Augustine’s letter 82, addressed to St. Jerome himself.

For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it.

As to all other writings, in reading them, however great the superiority of the authors to myself in sanctity and learning, I do not accept their teaching as true on the mere ground of the opinion being held by them; but only because they have succeeded in convincing my judgment of its truth either by means of these canonical writings themselves, or by arguments addressed to my reason.

I believe, my brother, that this is your own opinion as well as mine. I do not need to say that I do not suppose you to wish your books to be read like those of prophets or of apostles, concerning which it would be wrong to doubt that they are free from error … (82.3)

But you will say it is better to believe that the Apostle Paul wrote what was not true, than to believe that the Apostle Peter did what was not right. On this principle, we must say (which far be it from us to say), that it is better to believe that the gospel history is false, than to believe that Christ was denied by Peter; and better to charge the book of Kings with false statements, than believe that so great a prophet, and one so signally chosen by the Lord God as David was, committed adultery in lusting after and taking away the wife of another, and committed such detestable homicide in procuring the death of her husband.

Better far that I should read with certainty and persuasion of its truth the Holy Scripture, placed on the highest (even the heavenly) pinnacle of authority, and should, without questioning the trustworthiness of its statements, learn from it that men have been either commended, or corrected, or condemned, than that, through fear of believing that by men, who, though of most praiseworthy excellence, were no more than men, actions deserving rebuke might sometimes be done, I should admit suspicions affecting the trustworthiness of the whole oracles of God. (82.5)

The translation is the 19th century one, which may be found online here.

I have never collected ancient statements concerned with the inspiration of scripture; doing so would certainly be an interesting and useful exercise.  But I do recall another passage of Augustine on scripture which deserves quotation here.  It is from De genesim ad litteram (On Genesis, literally expounded), book 2, chapter 9:

It is frequently asked what our belief must be about the form and shape of heaven according to Sacred Scripture. Many scholars engaged in lengthy discussions on these matter, but the sacred writers with their deeper wisdom have omitted them. Such subjects are of no profit for those who seek beatitude, and, what is worse, they take up precious time that ought to be given to what is spiritually beneficial. What concern is it of mine whether heaven is a sphere and the earth is enclosed by it and suspended in the middle of the universe, or whether heaven like a disk above the earth covers it on one side?

But the credibility of Scripture is at stake, and as I have indicated more than once, there is danger that a man uninstructed in divine revelation, discovering something in Scripture or hearing from it something that seems to be at variance with the knowledge that he has acquired, may resolutely withhold his assent in other matters where Scripture presents useful admonitions, narratives, or declarations. Hence, I must say briefly that in the matter of the shape of heaven the sacred writers knew the truth, but that the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, did not wish to teach men these facts that would be of no avail to their salvation.

This translation is as translated by J.H.Taylor, 1982.

All of this is sensible stuff.

We must always remember that there are only two groups of Christians; those whose ultimate authority is the word of scripture, and those who have come to think it is not the ultimate authority, and so, inevitably, give the last word elsewhere — invariably to the world, then to the flesh, and finally to the devil.  It is not enough to mean well; we must think well also.  It isn’t very clever to be so clever that we talk ourselves out of salvation.

A list of translations into Arabic of biblical texts from Graf’s GCAL

Seven years ago I placed online the table of contents to volume 2 of Graf’s GCAL,[1], which lists the original compositions in Arabic by Christian writers up to the 15th century.  I then promptly forgot all about it.

This evening I have been looking at volume 1.  This contains details of the translations into Arabic of Christian material from other languages.  I thought that it might be interesting to give what he says about biblical translations into Arabic.  Few know what exists, after all.

I include the page numbers from Graf, straggly though this makes the content, as it gives an idea of how much material there is under each section.

Complete bibles

Hunain ibn Ishaq         89
Melkite complete bible 89
Coptic complete bible 92
Polyglots of Paris and London 83
Propaganda edition 96
Raphael Tuki 97
Protestant editions 98
Dominican edition (Mosul) 99
Jesuit edition (Beirut)

A. Old Testament

1. Pentateuch translations……………………………101-108 —
by Gaon Saadia………………………………..101
from the Greek…………………………….103
from the Coptic………………………………103
from the Syriac………………………………104
by al-Harit ibn Sinan ibn Sinbat………………….107
from the Latin Vulgate……………………….108
of unknown origin…………………………..108

2. The other historical books…………………………108-114 —
Kings and Chronicles………………………………111
I and II Esdras………………………………..112
Tobit…………………………………………113 Judith…………………………………………113 Esther…………………………………………113 II Maccabees……………………………………114

3. Psalms…………………………………………..114-126 —
Oldest translation…………………………….114
Abu ‘l-Fath ‘Abdallah ibn al-Fadl………………….116
Coptic-Arabic Psalters……………………..119
Psalterium octaplum………………………………120
Roman edition (1614)…………………………121
Edition by Quzhaiya (1610)……………………..121
Other translations from Syriac…………..123
Mozarabic Psalter…………………………….124
Translations from Hebrew………………….124
Translations of unknown origin………………125

4. Job translations………………………………….126-127 —
from a syro-hexaplaric basis………………….126
by Pethion (Fatyun ibn Aiyub)……………………126
from the Syriac………………………………127
from the Coptic………………………………127
of unknown origin…………………………..127

5. Wisdom literature translations………… 127-131 —
from the Septuagint………………………………127
by al-Harit ibn Sinan ihn Sinbat………………….129
by Pethion……………………………………..130
of unknown origin…………………………..130

6. The Prophets translations……………131-137 —
by al-‘Alam……………………………………131
from the Septuagint……………………..133
from the Coptic………………………………133
from the Syriac………………………………134
from the Latin…………………………….136
of unknown origin…………………………..136

B. New Testament 138-185

2. Gospels translations…………………………….142-170 —
from Greek…………………………….142
from Syriac………………………………150
from Coptic………………………………155
in polished prose………………………………163
from Latin…………………………….167
of unknown origin…………………………..169

3. Acts translations…………………………..170-181 —
from Greek…………………………….170
from Syriac …………………………..172
from Coptic ……………………178
from Latin…………………………….179
of unknown origin…………………………..180

4. Revelation translations……………..182-184
from Greek ………………………..182
from Syriac………………………………182
from Coptic………………………………182
of unknown origin…………………………..184

5. Translations and editions of portions of the N.T. in vulgar Arabic dialects………………………………..194

Now that’s slightly more than 100 pages of detailed information.  And it ought to exist in English.  Really it should.

So … why doesn’t it?

  1. [1]Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Litteratur.  The contents may be found here.

Fortunatianus of Aquileia and his lost gospel commentary

From Quasten’s Patrology 4, p.572:

According to Jerome (De vir. into 97), Fortunatianus, an African was bishop of Aquileia in the mid-fourth century at the time of the Emperor Constantius. and Pope Liberius. He died, it seems, shortly before 368. Fortunatianus was at first a strong defender of Nicene orthodoxy and received Athanasius as a guest at Aquileia after the Synod of Serdica of 343. However, at the time of the council at Milan in 355, he succumbed to the threats of Constantius and signed the condemnation of Athanasius. He subsequently proved instrumental in persuading the exiled Pope Liberius to sign the Arian creed of Sirmium of 357.

There remain only three fragments of Fortunatianus’ commentary on the Gospels, which Jerome describes as a “margaritam de evangelio” (Ep. 10, 3) and which he read in preparation for his own commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (praef: PL 26, 20C).

Editions: Cf. CPL 104. — A. Wilmart, B. Bischoff, CCL 9(1957)365-370. — PLS I, 239, 217.
Studies: L. Duchesne, Libere et Fortunatien: MAH 28(1908)31-78 (cf. P. Glorieux, Hilaire et Libere: MSR 1[1944]7-34). – J. Lemarie, Italie. Aquilee: DSp 7(1971 )2161.

This is the entire entry for this obscure 4th century bishop and his now lost “pearl on the gospel”.

Why do I give this?

Today I discovered the CSEL site at the university of Salzburg, and the following page contained these interesting remarks.

An anonymous commentary on the Gospels in MS Köln, Erzbischöfliche Diözesan- und Dombibl. 17 (s. IX1/3) has now been identified by Lukas J. Dorfbauer as the work of bishop Fortunatianus of Aquileia.

It was thought that this commentary, of which only three fragments were known, had already been lost in its entirety by Carolingian times.

Thus, Fortunatianus’ work becomes the apparently oldest commentary on the Gospels written in the Latin West which is still extant; it amplifies our knowledge of ancient Christianity and its literature in many respects.

A critical edition of the text – in fact, the “editio princeps” – is currently in preparation for the CSEL. For now, please cf.

  • L. J. Dorfbauer,  Der Evangelienkommentar des Bischofs Fortunatian von Aquileia (Mitte 4. Jh.). Ein Neufund auf dem Gebiet der patristischen Literatur, Wiener Studien 126 (2013), 177-198).
  • Ders., Der Codex Köln, Erzbischöfliche Diözesan- und Dombibl. 17. Ein Beitrag zur Überlieferung des Evangelienkommentars des Bischofs Fortunatian von Aquileia, to be published in: Mittelalterliche Handschriften der Kölner Dombibliothek. Fünftes Symposion November 2012 (estimated for 2014).

A full digital reproduction of the manuscript in question can be found online via the homepage of Codices Electronici Ecclesiae Coloniensis:

Well done, the CSEL, for giving the link to the online manuscript, rather than meanly concealing it.  It means that the text is accessible, if not in critical form.

It is always a delight to see something rescued from the losses of antiquity.  Congratulations Dr. Dorfbauer and the CSEL.  You have done something well worth doing.

I wonder if anyone will translate it into English?

Cramer’s catena on Mark translated into English!

It’s remarkable what you can find on Google books if you look.  An idle search for “catena” yesterday revealed that someone has translated the entirety of Cramer’s catena on Mark into English!  Yay!

But first, a few words about catenas!

Not everyone will know what a “catena” (the word means “chain”) is.  The term itself is modern.  It refers to medieval Greek biblical commentaries.  These are composed entirely of extracts from earlier writers, chained together by slight wording alterations at the ends.  They usually appear in the margins of Greek bibles; or, rather, the biblical text appears in a small box in the centre of the page, surrounded by a mass of small writing!  The author of each catena entry is indicated, usually using the first letter of their name or something of the kind.  This of course gives plenty of scope for misattribution!  Often the main author used is John Chrysostom.

Catenas seem to arise in the 6th century, and often incorporate very interesting material.  There can be several catenas for each book of the bible, and the relationships between them are tangled things.

In 1840 Cramer published the Greek text of catenas on all the books of the New Testament in 8 volumes.  The work was shoddily done, as John Burgon among others remarked; but it was still an achievement, and Cramer’s work can be found on  But … it was the Greek text only.

The man who has made this translation is a certain William Lamb, The Catena in Marcum: A Byzantine Anthology of Early Commentary on Mark, Brill 2012 (Preview here).

Lamb doesn’t try to edit the text, which is probably a wise decision.  Pages 27-45 discuss what, precisely, it is that we are looking at.

Cramer published his catena on Mark under the name of Cyril of Alexandria, because a couple of the manuscripts attributed it to him.  But Cyril is too early.  Burgon suggested the little-known Victor of Antioch; and Lamb suggests (p.33) that we probably are mistaken to suppose that the work, in anything like its current form, was the work of any one man.

There is much in this.  Burgon took the view that even a compilation must have an author.  But this is to neglect the physical form in which the catena was transmitted; as a massive collection of marginalia.  Marginalia exist in most manuscripts anyway.  But bibles are a special case.

Most printed bibles belonging to members of modern Christian Unions bore the marks of ownership – underlinings, scribbled notes in the margins, and so forth.  Ancient readers had much the same needs in this respect as modern ones.  So it seems idle to doubt that notes on the meaning of the text would not arise spontaneously in manuscript copies of the scriptures.  A copy in a monastic library might well acquire marginalia from several hands, all of it excerpted from other books in that library, and placed in the (wide) margins where they would be useful.  Over time, we may suppose, some of these bibles could acquire quite a lot of marginal items.

Would a scribe copy such marginalia?  Surely he might.  Because the marginalia were not idle scribblings, but useful commentary.  Scholia get copied, as we know.

A body of marginalia may, quite naturally, evolve into the sort of catena that we see in medieval manuscripts.  If so, then there may indeed be no original author.

Later, of course, someone may decide to compose a set of marginalia.  Such a task is well within the capabilities of medieval scholarship, after all.

It’s hard to be sure.  All this is speculative.  But it is far from impossible.

If any of this is true, however, it does point to the exceeding difficulty in editing such a “text” – because it isn’t really a text at all.  It is whatever somebody thought worth adding to a bible margin.

Lamb’s book is a great deal more than just a translation.  The translation is the item of permanent value, for scholarship ages; but the scholarship in the book is also very welcome.  Chapter 2, which surveys the scholarship and the manuscript tradition, is interesting throughout and I refer you to the online preview.

It is a book to which I wish I had access.  The price is not as bad as some; but at $163 on, it is still prohibitive.

I look forward to seeing bootleg PDF’s in circulation!

Farewell to the NIV?

The New International Version of the bible was on course to become the new standard English translation; until, in an act of incredible hubris and folly, the publishers, Zondervan, decided to tinker with it and keep tinkering with it.  Not, one might add, in the interests of greater accuracy, but to make it “gender neutral”.   But “gender neutrality” is not a principle of text criticism, nor of biblical theology, but a principle of the modern political movement referred to as “political correctness”.  So the publisher has acted to corrupt the translation in the interests of a modern political lobby – an incredible thing to do.  It went down about as well as you might expect; and I have written here about the story.

This week I came across an interesting blog post entitled “Farewell NIV”.

The version that many grew up reading has finally ridden off into the sunset, never to return. Zondervan has phased it out, buried it, and replaced it with something else.

Many people denied that a significant change had taken place, and tried to act like the Bible being sold now as the NIV is indeed the NIV they grew up with. That myth was sustainable for a while, but eventually it just didn’t work. This year many Christian schools finally dropped the NIV, and replaced it with something else. Even AWANA was forced to make the change.  …

[This] is a FAQ guide to the NIV, with an explanation for why churches and ministries are dropping it:

Why did so many churches and schools change their translation this year?  

Because Zondervan, the company that makes the NIV, stopped publishing it last year. It was widely used in churches and schools, and this changed forced those that used to find a new translation.

What do you mean they stopped publishing it? I see the NIV still for sale in book stores.

A brief history of the NIV: Translated in 1984, it quickly became one of the most popular versions, especially in schools. Then in 2002 Zondervan released an update (TNIV), which went over as well as New Coke, and the beloved NIV was resurrected. This time Zondervan learned from their errors, and released an update that they called the NIV2011, and for one year they sold both it and the NIV. But with a name like NIV2011, shelf-life was obviously not in view, and last year they simply dropped the old and beloved NIV, and then shrewdly dropped the “2011” from the updated one. In short, they pulled a switcheroo. What you see on shelves today is the new version which is sold and marketed as the NIV.

How is the NIV on the shelves now different from the one I’ve been reading for 20 years?

There have been deniers about the demise of the NIV. Many people have tried to hold onto the idea that the new one is the same as the old. After all, they have the same names, so how could they be that different? But the more people have tried to use the new one, the more the changes are evident.

Here are the stats: 40% of verses have been changed from the ’84 edition of the NIV. The stat that Zondervan gives is that 95% of the Bible remains unchanged. I assume they are counting words and not verses, but even so I’m not sure how they got that number. When you consider individual words, the new version is 9% new. That might not seem like a lot, but in schools and with curriculum,  verses are what is important, and that means that 4 out of 10 passages needed to be updated.

The whole post is worth reading, and makes me deeply sad.  I have used the NIV since my first days as a believer.  I too feel loss.

But who can now trust the “new NIV”, under whatever marketing name it is produced?  Who will trust any translation labelled “NIV”?

This sort of thing should not happen.  The author is quite right to say that Zondervan have destroyed the NIV; because, since you can’t buy it, and none of us want the TNIV (or whatever they call it), it is effectively dead.

On a humorous note, old copies of the Gideons’ bible may suddenly become rather valuable!

I cannot avoid feeling that Zondervan have not acted with integrity.  It pains me to say this, since I know otherwise only good things about them.  But you don’t address a real question of the utmost urgency — is this a corrupt version? — by the sort of “switcheroo” tactics that have been employed.  No: to do that is to railroad opposition; it is the kind of tactics used by lobby groups to force unpopular measures on a democracy which is denied the opportunity to vote.

Very, very sad.  I imagine we will all use the ESV instead now.  But I preferred the old NIV.

A 2-3rd c. papyrus “title page”?

An extremely interesting article on the Brice C. Jones blog about a piece of papyrus, found inside a leather binding, which is blank except for “Gospel according to Matthew” in Greek on the recto.  Simon Gathercole has written about it.[1]  The suggestion is that this is the “cover-leaf” for a papyrus codex, and that the title was written on the outside.

Jones rightly queries one element in this: the suggestion that the first page of the codex had the title on the recto, and a blank verso, before the text began.

Now I have seen quite a few parchment codices where folio 1 recto is blank, and the text begins on the verso.  Indeed this is the case in British Library Addit. 12150, which the colophon dates to 411 A.D.  The reason for it is undoubtedly to protect the text.

All the same, the title of ancient works was often placed outside the work altogether, on a sittybos, or slip of parchment hung from one of the wooden ends on which the roll was wound.  So it seems possible that someone got creative here.   If this is not a fly-leaf, then what is it?

  1. [1]Simon Gathercole, “The Earliest Manuscript Title of Matthew’s Gospel (BnF Suppl. gr. 1120 ii 3/P4),” Novum Testamentum.

Stephen Langton and the modern chapter divisions of the bible

If you read any book on the text of the bible, you will sooner or later come across a statement that the chapter divisions in our modern bibles are not ancient, but are the work of Cardinal Stephen Langton, the medieval Archbishop of Canterbury, who died in 1228 AD.  I have never seen this claim referenced to primary sources, however, which means that it is hard to check.

One of the better versions of this story is in Metzger’s Early versions of the New Testament.[1]  It reads as follows:

The custom of referring to chapters when quoting from the Scriptures was rare before the twelfth century. [1] The development of the lecture and reportatio method, however, must have shown the convenience of such a practice. The chief difficulty to its adoption arose from the lack of one generally agreed-upon system, for several systems of chapter-division from late antiquity and the early medieval period were current. The diversity was felt most acutely at the University of Paris, where the international provenance of the student body showed most clearly the absolute need for a standardized system of capitulation,[2] as well as a standardized canonical order of scriptural books.[3]  Uniformity was introduced amid such chaotic conditions by the Paris scholars, notably, as it appears,[4] by Stephen Langton (d. 1228), then a doctor of the University of Paris, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the barons in the struggle which gave birth to the Magna Carta. His system, which is substantially the one in use today, was adopted in the earliest printed editions of the Vulgate. The chapters were at first subdivided into seven portions (not paragraphs), marked in the margin by the letters a, b, c, d, c, f, g, reference being made by the chapter number and the letter under which the passage occurred. In the shorter Psalms, however, the division did not always extend to seven.

[1] Cf. O. Schmidt, Über verschiedene Eintheilungen der heiligen Schrift (Graz, 1892), and A. Landgraf, ‘Die Schriftzitate in der Scholastik um die Wende des 12. zum 13. Jahrh.’, Bib., xviii (1937), 74-94.
[2] On the diversity of earlier chapter divisions, see the tabulation of differences in P. Martin, ‘Le texte parisien de la Vulgate latine’, Mu, viii (1889),444-66, and ix (1890), 55-70, and especially the important monographs by De Bruyne, Sommaires, divisions et rubriques de la Bible latine (Namur, 1920); for a summary of part of De Bruyne’s research, see Patrick McGurk, Latin Gospel Books from A.D. 400 to A.D. 800 (Les Publications de Scriptorium, vol. v; Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam, 1961), pp. 110-21.
[3] For a list of 284 different sequences of scriptural books in Latin manuscripts, see Berger, Histoire de la Vulgate, pp. 331-9; and for a list of twenty different sequences of the Pauline Epistles in Greek, Latin, and Coptic manuscripts, see H. J. Frede, Vetus Latina, xxiv/2, 4te Lieferung (Freiburg, 1969), pp. 290-303, and id., ‘Die Ordnung der Paulusbricfe’, Studia Evangelica, vi, ed. by E. A. Livingstone (TU cxii; Berlin, 1973), pp. 122-7.
[4] On the ambiguous evidence supporting the attribution to Langton, see Beryl Smalley, The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages, 2nd edn. (New York, 1952), pp. 222-4.

The absence of primary sources in this bibliography may be noted.

Recently I was reading Diana Albino’s article on chapter divisions and chapter titles in ancient texts[2] and found some interesting statements:

The modern division into chapters of the books of the Bible was carried out in the West by Cardinal Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury (+ 1228), rather than by Lanfranc, also Archbishop of Canterbury (+ 1089), to whom it has been erroneously attributed.

In a manuscript in the Bodleian, no. 487, probably written in 1448, we find this precise testimony: “1228: Magister Stephanus de Langueton, archiepiscopus centuariensis obiit qui biblia apud parisium quotavit.” [28]. (I.e. “1228: Master Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury died, who divided up the bible at Paris.”)

Another witness, equally precise and also older, is that of Nicolas Trivet (1258-1328) [29], who wrote about Stephen Langton: “Hic super totam Bibliam postillas fecit et eam per capitula, quibus nunc utuntur moderni distinxit; ….”. (“Here he made postillas throughout the whole bible, and split it into chapters, which are now used by modern people; …”)

Otto Schmid [30] has collected the evidence of the manuscripts of the Bible, from which we may deduce with certainty that Stephen Langton divided the Bible into chapters.

We also know that the work was performed in 1204-1205, when he was a professor at the University of Paris [31]. This information was obtained by Martin from manuscript 1417 of the National Library of Paris. The Langtonian division into chapters was introduced in 1226 in the edition of the Vulgate known as the Paris Bible.

[28] According to the lexicon of Du Cange, “quotare” means: to divide into chapters and verses.
[29] N. Trivet, Annales sex regum angliae, ed. A. Hall, Oxford, 1719, p. 182.  [; p.216 of the 1845 reprint]
[30] O. Schmid, Ueber verschieden Einteilungen der heiligen Schrift, insbesondere über die Capitel-Einteilung Stephan Langtone im XIII Jahrhunderte, Graz, 1892, p. 56-106. [Google books]
[31] Paulin Martin: Introduction à la critique générale de l’Ancien Testament, Paris, 1887-1888, t. II, p. 461-474.

These statements are very interesting, but for more details we need to refer to Schmid’s work, On the divisions of Holy Scripture and the chapter divisions of Stephen Langton in the 13th c.

Schmid states on p.56 that the first statement may be found on fol. 110 of Ms. Bodl. 487.  On p.58 he states that it first became known to scholarship via Casimir Oudin, Comment. de scriptoribus eccles., Lips. 1772, vol. 2, col. 1702.  This was repeated by later scholars.

According to Schmid, Trivet’s statement was also copied by a considerable number of scholars, whom he lists.

Schmid also has something to say about Paulin Martin’s statement.  Notably the ms. is not 1447, as Albino gives it, but Ms. Paris, BNF lat. 14417.  This codex is a 13th c. miscellaneous codex of 316 folios, originally from St. Victor.  On f. 125v-126v there is a list of chapters of scripture. (This is followed by commentary on scripture by Langton)  The list of chapters is headed, Capitula Canthuar. archiepiscopi super bibliotec. (Chapters of the archbishop of Canterbury on the bible.)  Schmid then gives an edition of the chapter title list verbatim on p.59-92. He then goes on to say (p.92):

From this list it will be seen that the chapter divisions of Stephan Langton are generally the same as those contained in the Clementine Vulgate, but are not the same in terms of both number of chapters of individual sacred books, as well as with regard to the beginnings of some chapters of the same. The difference is most striking for Judith and Esther.  The books Paralip., Esdras and Nehemiah are counted as one book, but otherwise the difference in the number of chapters is usually only 1. We give below a brief overview of the difference in the number of chapters, where there is one, between Langton’s division and the Clementine Vulgate. ….

We cannot decide whether Langton made and published a number of versions of his division of scripture into chapters, nor whether the version above is a later redaction of it, or the only version.  However it certainly leaves us with the question of when and where he worked out the division.

Trivet (see p.56) in his report leaves it vague as to where Langton worked on his chapter division.  But H. Knyghton  specifies Paris explicitly; apud Parisium quotavit.  This gives us a guide to determine the date.  Langton was made a cardinal on 22nd June 1206 by his patron Innocent III, who had studied in Paris and probably had Langton as a colleague.  This meant that Langton in 1207, when there were great disputes about the next appointment to the see of Canterbury, was elected to it in Rome.

From this he concludes that the work was done not long after 1201, probably in 1204-5, while he was teaching in Paris.  Robert de Courson, also an Englishman, quotes passages of scripture using the new system in his Summa, written between 1198-1216 (since it refers to Petrus Cantor, d. 1197, and a council held in 1201, but not to the revocation of a decretal in 1216).  It is extant in Ms. lat. Bibliotheque Nationale 8268, 8269 and other mss.  He adds:

Denifle in his Archiv für Literatur und Kirchengeschichte, l. c., p. 291, expresses the opinion that Langton’s divisions were propagated to France and other countries through the Paris Bible, the Exemplar Parisiense (so-called by Roger Bacon), on which Denifle’s thorough investigations have shed new light.  This view can only be accepted, since Paris and France in the 11th century, as in the 12th and 13th century, was the seat and centre of theological learning, where many distinguished men settled and where anyone who sought to study theology would choose to come.

The returning students, who had learned and used the new division in Paris, brought it back to their homes.  Langton’s work was also disseminated by the numerous copies of the Paris bible.  Sam. Berger has found confirmation of the author of the new division in ms. 340 of the town library of Lyons, in which the proverbs begin with the words, Incipiunt parabole Salomonis distincte per capitula secundum mag. Stephanum archiepis. (Here begin the parables of Solomon split into chapters according [to the system of] master Stephen the archbishop.)  The divisions are also found in the Paris, Bibliotheque Mazarine ms. 29, written in 1231 AD.  Certainly it will have appeared in bible manuscripts before this date.

It is not clear what inspired Langton’s work.  Perhaps it was the wish of the Paris theologians to have a simpler system by which to cite the scriptures, or, as some think, the chaos of different divisions and numbers in the manuscripts caused a need for a unified system.  Perhaps it was the industrious Langton’s studies on scripture – we have glosses from him on almost the whole of scripture – which led him to consider a simpler division as desirable.

Denifle, in his work, Die Universitäten des Mittelalters, Berlin 1886, and in other places, and in his Chartularium Univers. Paris., tom. I, Paris. 1889, Introd. p. VIII-X, notes that the university of Paris was born from the union of different teachers between 1200-1208, pretty much around the time when Langton was teaching in Paris and performing his division of the scripture into chapters.  Possibly it was this circumstance that caused Langton to perform his work for the newly formed institution.

He continues that in the 13th century older divisions are still seen, but either the new ones are added and the old erased, or else the new ones would be added in the margin.  This was so even in old manuscripts like the Codex Amiatinus, where the new divisions appear in the margins.  In the new 13th c. mss. the new divisions were placed right in the text.  In older mss. notes appeared in the margin: hic non notatur/signatur capitolum (here the chapter is not marked); hic non incipit cap. (here the chapter does not begin); or, secundum libros bene correctos hic debet incipit cap.( according to well-corrected mss, here the chapter should begin.)  Mixed witnesses appear in some mss., such as ms. Graz c. 186.  Writing a bible took time.  In this case it was begun with capitulationem at the start of the book and stichometric numbers at the end, and divided according to older systems.  Suddenly the new system appears, and the old Capitula, Tituli, Breves  and verse numbering is omitted.

Schmid then discusses the evidence for further tweaking of the system from the manuscripts.  Some books that he had treated as one were divided into  two (e.g. Esdras).  But the difference between the original and the Clementine Vulgate is usually only a verse or two.  He says that there is still some variation, even once printing begins.

The new divisions also made their way into Hebrew mss. of the Old Testament, although only marked in the margins by Christian hands.  The first printed edition of the Hebrew bible to have them was the 1523 Venice edition by Dom. Bomberg.

Greek manuscripts of the New Testament acquired these divisions only in the 15th century, especially after the fall of Constantinople, as Greeks fled to the west with their manuscripts.

Interestingly Schmid also discusses (p.108) the modern division into verses by Robert Stephanus, the printer.  In the preface to his 1551 bilingual edition of the New Testament, Greek and Latin, Stephanus states:

Quod autem per quosdam ut vocant versiculos opus distinximus, id vetustissima Graeca Latinaque exemplaria secuti fecimus, eo autem libentius sumus imitati, quod hac ratione utraque translatio posset omnino e regione graeco contextui respondere.

That is, he split the work into what are called “versiculos”, because in this way anyone could cross-reference the translation and the corresponding passage of Greek.

Schmid then continues with further details of how the division into verses appeared in the early editions, but at this point we must leave him.

  1. [1]B. Metzger, The early versions of the New Testament: Their origin, transmission and limitations, Oxford University Press (1977), p.347.
  2. [2] D. ALBINO, La divisione in capitoli nelle opera degli Antichi, in Università di Napoli. Annali della Facoltà di lettere e filosofia 10 (1962-63), pp. 219-234; see p.232.