From My Diary

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.


9 thoughts on “From My Diary

  1. I know nothing about this subject, Roger, but when someone says they can’t find something that’s a challenge. You’ve been at this internet searching business at least as long as I have, I know, but in case I can help: translates with Google and say that Theotokos is a pre-Ephesian term, and refers to (the article by) Giamberardini.

    Regesta Imperii has rthe reference as:
    Il “Sub tuum praesidium” e il titolo “Theotokos” nella tradizione egiziana
    Giamberardini, Gabriele. (1969) – In: Marianum vol. 31 (1969) p. 324-362
    Although the URL for the journal is incorrect, the first part is and although there’s no link to the journal there’s an email which, if you speak Italian or have access to an Italian speaker, would be the way forward, since the journal itself seems to have escaped the internet has a reference on page 58:
    142 Pp. 348ff in “II ‘Sub tuum praesidium’ e il titolo ‘Theotokos’ nella tradizione egiziana” in MM, 31 (1969), 324-362, as cited in: O’Carroll, Michael, Theotokos: A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2000, P. 336. The entry in this reads:

    The fragment of papyrus reproduced as
    the frontispiece of this book was acquired by
    the John Rylands Library, Manchester, in 1917
    and published in 1938.! In the following year
    it was identified as an early Greek version of the
    Sub Tuum, hitherto considered a medieval
    prayer.2, The commentator, Dom Mercenier,
    based his judgement on comparison of the words
    on the torn fragment with the version of the
    prayer used in the Byzantine liturgy; he also
    attempted a reconstruction.
    This is the first instance of a prayer to Our
    Lady, expressing belief in her intercessory
    power, applying to her the word rysai, (deliver)
    of the Pater Noster, Mt 6:13. The text contains
    the word Theotokos in the vocative case (qv),
    the title which was to provoke so much controversy at Ephesus.
    The dating is debated.3 M.C.H. Roberts, the
    editor, quoted E. Lobel, a papyrologist, as
    favouring the third century. He chose the fourth
    because he thought it “almost incredible that a
    prayer addressed so directly to the Virgin in
    these terms could be written in the third century.”4 G. Giamberardini, specialist in early
    Egyptian Christianity, maintains that there was
    no reason, literary or theological, why the
    papyrus should not be put back to the third
    century. His reconstruction may be translated
    thus: “Under your mercy, we take refuge,
    Mother of God, do not reject our supplications
    in necessity. But deliver us from danger. [You]
    alone chaste, alone blessed.”> The common tr. of
    the accepted Latin version is: “We fly to thy
    patronage, O holy Mother of God, despise not
    our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us
    from all danger, O ever glorious and blessed
    LG VIII, 66, has: “Indeed from most ancient
    times the Blessed Virgin has been venerated
    under the title of ‘God-bearer’. In all perils and
    difficulties the faithful have fled prayerfully to
    her protection.” The note says “We fly to thy protection” (Sub tuum praesidium confugimus).
    ‘Catalogue of the Greek and Latin Papyri in the John
    Rylands Library, Manchester (Manchester, 1938) III,
    46ff.2F. Mercenier, O.S.B., “L’Antienne mariale grecque
    la plus ancienne” in Le Museon, 52(1939), 229-233. 3Cf.
    O. Stegmiller, “Sub Tuum Praesidium. Bemerkungen zur
    altesten Uberlieferung” in Zeitschrift ftir kath. Theol.
    74(1952), 76-82. 4Op. cit., 46. °Pp. 348ff in “Il ‘Sub tuum
    praesidium’ e il titolo “‘Theotokos’ nella tradizione egiziana”™
    in MM, 31(1969), 324-362.

    Since this seems to be a standard reference in modern papers I think I might chase up the Giamberardini paper, particularly since everyone says he has ‘reconstructed the text’ on which they rely. Good luck!

  2. @Paul, thank you so much for looking. But yes, that’s just a couple of articles, not the volume. Thanks for the info on the TLL.

    @Diego, I’d not seen that article – thank you. On a quick glance, it doesn’t look to me as if the author has actually read Förster, or even Stegmüller. But I’ll read it more carefully this afternoon.

  3. Papyrological dating based on paleography. I really wish I could give you real citations beyond the article in the Oxford Handbook of Papyrology and several articles I’ve run into the internet, mostly at the Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists (which is available free online) but the gist is that this is a “I know it when I see it” situation. At first papyrologists and paleographers are able to give a description based on things like the ligature of letters on what century this is from, but as they get more experienced they have trouble actually describing in words how they came to the dating. I am not surprised, as someone who has done aerial photo interpretation and remote sensing, after a point I have trouble describing what I see and why but I can come to a conclusion. Now there are also confounding factors that mess this up.

    First of all paleographically dating assumes that the author decided to make the handwriting of his era. From time to time scribes get fancy, the Oxford handbook had a picture of a papyrus that papyrologist dated as handwriting to the 2nd century AD but per the content it could not possibly be earlier than the 4th century AD. The scribe most likely had some ancient piece of paper and decided to go archaic. Also while for Greek papyri papyrological dating is rather well established because we have a lot of dated manuscripts, this is not the case with Coptic papyri because we have far fewer dated documents.

    Finally I remember another paper about datings by Grenfell and Hunt. It was an evaluation by contemporary papyrologists of their paleographic datings. They generally accepted the dates they gave a century ago to the various papyri they published and called them downright prescient. On the other hand biblical papyrologist do not accept their dating of the Christian papyri they published and the authors, after reviewing the paleography of several of them, came to the conclusion that the Grenfell and Hunt dates are more accurate than those given by biblical papyrologists. I really wish I could give a citation, all I have is my memory and it can prove faulty.

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