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The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins Paperback – November 2, 2006

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About the Author

Larry W. Hurtado is professor emeritus of New Testament language, literature, and theology at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 262 pages
  • Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (November 2, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802828957
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802828958
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6.1 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #305,496 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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49 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Virgil Brown VINE VOICE on January 2, 2007
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The stage needs to be set. Hurtado argues that it is hard to identify any art, architecture, epigraphical evidence or whatever before 200 CE/AD. The earliest building dates to the middle of the third century. Manuscripts that can be dated with any confidence are dated to the third century. However there are some 400 papyri that can be dated to the time before the official recognition of Christianity by the Emperor Constantine. A growing number can be dated to the second century. Hurtado claims it is these which are the earliest Christian artifacts, and he focuses not on textual criticism but what can be found in the texts.

It is a fluke of history that most of the earliest Christian manuscripts come from Egypt due to the weather. Of these it appears that many came from a refuse dump of an ancient city called Oxyrhynchus. Thousands of manuscripts have been found there deposited over six centuries. Do these reflect broader Christian use? Hurtado does not intend to treat early Christian preferences monolithically, but he does argue that there are sufficient reasons for treating the manuscript evidence from Egypt as being practiced widely. For example, Christian networking brought a copy of Iranaeus' Against Heresies from Lyon to Oxyrhynchus within a few years.

The most outstanding feature of Christian manuscripts is that they are codex in form. A codex is unlike a rolled scroll. A codex is folded leaves attached by binding materials much like modern books. Christians did not invent the codex but by the second century, over 70 per cent of Christian writings were codices compared to only 5 per cent of the total number of manuscripts. It has been argued that Christians preferred the codex for such reasons as the expense of writing.
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38 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Steve Jackson on December 16, 2006
Format: Paperback
If, like me, you find the study of New Testament textual criticism somewhat less than thrilling, you might enjoy this new study by Professor Larry Hurtado. Prof. Hurtado focuses on a neglected aspect of New Testament studies: the ancient manuscripts as artifacts. This involves a number of features, such as the physical form of the manuscript (the codex, the roll, and opisthograph), corrections and mistakes in copying, words that were emphasized in certain ways, and the location of the manuscript. These "artifactual" features of the texts give insight into the early Christian movement.

While it doesn't appear that more intense study of early Christian manuscripts will lead to any bombshells for the study of Christian origins, Prof. Hurtado's findings and conclusions are interesting. Consider the question of gnosticism. The "Gnostic" Christians didn't make extensive use of John's Gospel. In fact, it was more popular among the "orthodox" Christians. In addition, it doesn't appear that any apocryphal Gospel texts were physically attached to the canonical Gospels.

A study of the ancient texts raises a number of questions as well. For example, most ancient manuscripts from the time of the NT texts are in roll form, however the early Christians preferred the codex (the precursor to our books) for reasons that remain unclear. In addition, the number of manuscripts of certain NT works - such as Hebrews, and Revelation - is quite interesting in light of later controversies that developed surrounding them. I saw surprised to learn that there are more copies of the Shepherd of Hermas than almost any NT book.

Prof. Hurtado provides an interesting case study of the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas. Although any conclusions are preliminary given that only three manuscripts are extant, a study of them tends to indicate that it wasn't viewed as scripture (at least by those groups connected to the manuscripts).
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Jeri VINE VOICE on May 12, 2008
Format: Paperback
Hurtado has written a number of brilliant books on the subject of earliest Christianity. Now he asks an obvious question: why not consider all the evidence?

There are some 400 Christian related pieces of papyri dated to before Constantine. From the second and third centuries we have 12 fragments of Matthew, 1 of Mark, 7 of Luke, 16 of John, and 7 of Acts, 4 of Hebrews, not to mention many others. Hermas, for example, is well represented.
Why is this evidence so rarely used?

Investigating the subject, Hurtado makes many interesting points. While the orthodox Christian writings seem to have been transmitted with great care, the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas "was transmitted with a noticeable fluidity in contents and arrangement" (p 34).

It appears that Paul's epistles were bound together in codex form sometime around 100 and "this edition of Pauline epistles was prepared with a concern for textual accuracy" (p 39), as Zuntz has argued. Hurtado wonders if this might have been one of the reasons the early Christians preferred the codex to the roll. Various scholars have suggested other reasons the codex was preferred. It might have been less costly, held more text, or perhaps it was simply a familiar form, as an early missionary carried a traveling codex. Hurtado can only suggest the possibilities; no one can yet give a reason for the Christian preference for the codex.

The nomina sacra is yet one more textual mystery. Christian scribes abbreviated the first and final letters of some word, something like a contraction. It is likely that "the abbreviation of Jesus' name as lH arose from early Christian piety" (p 118). The tau-rho is yet another example of Christian piety and seems to have spread widely and quickly among scribes.
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