I intend to write a post about the often repeated date of a papyrus, R.Ryl. III 407, which uses the word “Theotokos”. As part of this, I’ve been collecting journal articles in order to find out what the actual arguments are, and what scholarship has been done. It begins to look very much as if only three people have ever made a serious attempt at a paleographical dating – E. Lobel in the original publication in 1929, Otto Stegmüller in 1952, and above all Hans Förster in 1995 and 2005.
But retrieving the literature is not a simple task, even though most of the articles are decades old. Indeed I have rather given up attempting to access two articles:
- F. Mercennier, “L’Antienne mariale grecque la plus ancienne.,” Le Muséon, 52 (1939), pp. 229-233
- G. Giamberardini, “Sub tuum praesidium” e il titolo “theotokos”, in: Marianum: ephemerides Mariologiae 31 (1969) 324-362.
Mercennier’s paper is today of no importance, I believe. Hopefully Giamberardini does not contain anything essential. A kind colleague supplied me with Stegmüller. But I was obliged to write to Dr. Förster last year in order to obtain his second article. The first article – I didn’t know it existed when I wrote to him – just cost me $20 for a PDF containing 6 page-scans, courtesy of a research library. At least they scanned and sent it within 24 hours. There’s a way to go before scholarship is available to us all.
But reading through what I have, I find that none of the other papers sometimes cited qualify as serious discussion. This is because they just do not carry out the serious comparison of letter forms and dated/dateable manuscripts. Indeed I have just read one article in which the author casually asserts a random dating without troubling to offer either reference or argumentation. This won’t do. How many dates for papyri rest on very slender scholarship?
One of the articles that I could obtain was not really useful, but the author cited the scholarship on this very papyrus as an example of how the paleography of Greek papyri is mostly rubbish and all the dates need to be completely rethought. The author will not want for examples, I am sure. There may be something in this, but as a non-paleographer I cannot know. But unfortunately I do know that the author is one of a small group of US academics making this demand whose motives are less than scholarly. Indeed I can think of two people involved – there are probably others – who fairly seethe with partisan hatred. It’s easy to destroy, but hard to build.
It sometimes seems to me almost as if there are many people in the humanities, especially in the USA, who should not hold teaching posts. They just do not seem to love scholarship for its own sake. They do not seem concerned to advance scholarship, nor to increase knowledge, or even to uphold the reputation of the humanities. Rather they behave like wreckers, or else researchers for some political-religious agenda. The universities themselves seem to be in the hands of administrators rather than scholars, which leads to strange distortions of all kinds, many of which work to the disadvantage of researchers and indeed students. The financial side seems horrific, of wealthy clerks and starving scholars. But I see nothing of the desire for improvement anywhere; only to apportion the spoils of office differently. The younger generation seem likely to be the victims. It makes me very glad to be retired! These are strange times, aren’t they.
But we are also blessed in ways unimaginable. This morning I went into search of my old Thesaurus Linguae Graecae disks, and fired up Diogenes, and did a word search for “theoto/ko”. It produced a huge number of results, mostly late, of course. It produced the catena fragments of Origen on Luke that I was talking about a few days ago. I wish that I’d thought of it then!
I don’t intend to spend an endless amount of time on the theotokos issue, but I’d like to verify the date of the papyrus. I’m not a paleographer, and I don’t intend to dabble. But it should be possible to report what the scholarship actually is.