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Encountering the Manuscripts

Encountering the ManuscriptsEncountering the Manuscripts: An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism

Author: Philip Comfort
Hardcover: 420 pages
Publisher: Broadman & Holman
ISBN-10: 0-8054-3145-4
ISBN-13: 978-0-8054-3145-2

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My thanks go out to the people over at B&H for allowing me the opportunity to review this title.  Also, I would like to thank those who have been patient with me while I read this book and published this review.  I’m glad to finally get this out to you.

Encountering the Manuscripts was written when a gap existed where those interested in textual criticism and paleography had no way of learning about it, aside from those lucky few who were studying under a scholar already in the field.  Philip Comfort simply states:

The overall purpose of the book is to help students interact with the New Testament text first by knowing and working with the manuscripts themselves and then by knowing and working with the tools of textual criticism.  [viii]

Comfort, leaving no holds barred, spends the next 350 pages training his reader in all major points of textual criticism.  In his first chapter, Comfort deals with the publication and distribution of the autographs and the manuscript copies (and copies of copies) of them.

Next, Comfort familiarizes his reader “with the most important manuscripts of the New Testament”  [55].  He lists papyri, uncials, and other ancient versions important to textual critics.  With each, Comfort gives the siglum, the editio principes, where the manuscript is located, a date for the manuscript, and important comments.  This chapter also covers more recent editions of the Greek New Testament, namely the Textus Receptus; Bengel, Lachman, Tregelles, Tischendorf, and Alford’s texts; Westcott and Hort’s The New Testament in the Original Greek; Nestle’s Novum Testamentum Graece, and the coming together of this text and the UBS text in NA26/UBS3 and NA27/UBS4.  Comfort gives his reader some background on each of these and his own comments on each.

Encountering the Manuscripts now turns to detailing each of the New Testament manuscripts that Comfort dates from the beginning of the 2nd century to the end of the 3rd.  He says:

Students need to understand how a manuscript is dated, then they will be able to appreciate what paleographers and papyrologists have contributed to the field of New Testament textual studies.  [103]

Here Comfort holds back from jumping straight into the manuscripts.  Instead, he first talks about what kind of evidences can help date a manuscript such as handwriting styles (which he spends a good amount of time on).  He still holds his readers hand as they move into the pool of manuscript dating by dealing with Christian Old Testament and noncanonical writings first.  Finally, Comfort pulls his reader into the deep end, writing about 66 different manuscripts and spending extensive time on how each is dated.

After this is over, Encountering the Manuscripts turns to the Nomina Sacra of the New Testament manuscripts.  These nomina sacra are shorthand ways that the scribes of these manuscripts used to signify divinity usually (or at very least importance).  Comfort says:

The names kurios (Lord), Iēsous (Jesus), Christos (Christ), and theos (God) are written in this unique fashion.  These four titles are the primary and most primitive divine names to be written in a special way; they can be seen in all the earliest Greek manuscripts.  [199]

He spends the time in this chapter saying where and when the nomina sacra are used in the New Testament manuscripts and how the developed.  Some other nomina sacra developed with time as well, including ones for pneuma (Spirit), patēr (Father), huios (Son), stauros (cross), staurōmai (crucify), and others.  This shorthand was an abbreviation, as in the case of kurios it would be ΚΣ.

The fifth chapter of Encountering the Manuscripts pertains to variations in the manuscripts of the New Testament.  Comfort seeks to help his reader see how textual criticism attempts to reconstruct the original text of the autographs.  Comfort talks about influences on the scribes who made the copies as well as the different types of scribes who would be more or less efficient and precise in their work.  Comfort suggests that some of these scribes would have changed the text, intentionally or unintentionally.  He points to the pericope adulterae as the “prime example” of an intentional change.

Next Comfort turns to how to do textual criticism.  He discusses and compares Kurt Aland’s local-genealogical method with Bruce Metzger’s categorization of texts into types.  After this, Comfort espouses his view that documentary evidence must be what decides which manuscripts contain the correct or closest wording to the originals.  Through the end of the chapter Comfort looks at how variants in secondary manuscripts match up with primary manuscripts.  For instance, when dealing with the Gospels, Comfort uses \mathfrak{P}75 and B (Codex Vaticanus)as primary manuscripts, which he sees as the best witnesses for this section.  Next he compares several manuscripts to these to see how many variants there are in order to determine which are the most reliable.

In his last chapter, Comfort shows his readers the praxis of New Testament textual criticism.  He actually does textual criticism, showing his reader where it applies and how important it is.  He begins by listing different types of transcriptional errors and purposeful alterations.  Then he goes through many passages comparing the Nestle-Aland text to variant readings.  He discusses them each and makes a decision as to which he believes is the closer reading.

Encountering the Manuscripts is a great introduction to textual criticism.  It covers everything (at least to some extent) that a new student to the field would need to know in order to research manuscripts without worrying about not knowing what they are doing.  It’s chapter on Nomina Sacra especially is very enlightening.

However, this book is not for the faint of heart.  One should not think that Comfort will take it easy on his readers.  He expects them to keep up with him without dilly-dallying.  One cannot zone out in this book for any length of time without having to go back to the beginning of whatever section and start over.  Needless to say, this is not light reading.

I want to recommend this book to those of you who feel driven to discover what New Testament criticism is all about.  It will take its reader on a wild ride, but in the end it is worth it.  I personally feel confident that I can tackle the New Testament with my Nestle-Aland text in one hand and a photocopy of a manuscript in the other after reading this book.

Grade: A

MSE

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4 Responses

  1. sounds like an important book – did you get contact info for the Exodus book?

    • Hey Brian, yeah I did get it. Last week was just crazy and I was without a car all week to drive to the post office. I took the book to there today. Sorry for the long wait.

  2. I’ve got to say, it’s a tough book to work through. It’s great and I learned so much, but be ready. Lol.

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