Bagnall on Early Christian Books

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(Larry Hurtado):  Roger Bagnall’s recent book, Early Christian Books in Egypt (Princeton University Press, 2009) has now received a good deal of interest.  So, I thought I’d give a pointer to the review I wrote of it for Review of Biblical Literature:  http://www.bookreviews.org/pdf/7289_7933.pdf.

As will be clear from that review, I have strongly mixed feelings about Bagnall’s book.  No question, Bagnall is an important figure in papyrology, and one disagrees with him at one’s risk.  But this particular little tome seems to me seriously flawed.  His attempt to calculate how many Christian copies of books we ought to expect from 2nd-century Egypt seems to me a wierd exercise in sheer speculation with no probative force at all.

It is a more serious objection that Bagnall seems to present the late Carsten Thiede’s lamentable efforts to re-date certain NT papyri earlier than commonly accepted as if this is indicative of biblical scholars’ attitudes toward the dating of Christian papyri.  Bagnall alleges that biblical scholars don’t take sufficient account of professional papyrologists.  But the best scholars in NT and Christian origins that I know who work on early Christian manuscripts try in fact to keep abreast of papyrological developments.  It seems to me that it is Bagnall who hasn’t made the effort to obtain a more representative sense of the matter.  In short, Bagnall’s exhortations to treat the dating of early papyri with caution and to avoid pushing the dates too early are all welcome, but hardly new to me or others who work with these items.

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About larryhurtado

I'm a scholar in New Testament and Christian Origins, currently Professor of New Testament Language, Literature & Theology in the University of Edinburgh (since 1996), and previously Professor in the Department of Relgiion, University of Manitoba.

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