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The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins [Paperback]

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Item Number 50298  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   248
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.94" Width: 6.08" Height: 0.65"
Weight:   0.76 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Nov 1, 2006
ISBN  0802828957  
EAN  9780802828958  

Availability  1 units.
Availability accurate as of Jan 21, 2018 05:45.
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Item Description...
An informed look at the physical-visual features of early Christian manuscripts.

Publishers Description
Much attention has been paid to the words of the earliest Christian canonical and extracanonical texts, yet Larry Hurtado points out that an even more telling story is being overlooked -- the story of the physical texts themselves. Widely recognized for his outstanding scholarship, Hurtado combines his comprehensive knowledge of Christian origins with an archivist's eye to make sense of these earliest objects of the faith. He introduces readers to the staurogram, possibly the first representation of the cross, the nomina sacra, a textual abbreviation system, and the puzzling Christian preference for book-like texts over scrolls. Drawing on studies by papyrologists and palaeographers as well as New Testament scholars -- and including photographic plates of selected manuscripts -- The Earliest Christian Artifacts astutely introduces the distinctive physical features of early Christian manuscripts, illustrating their relevance for wider inquiry into the complex origins of Christianity.

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More About Larry W. Hurtado

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Larry W. Hurtado is Emeritus Professor of New Testament Language, Literature & Theology in the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Born in Kansas City (Missouri), he now lives in Edinburgh.

Larry W. Hurtado was born in 1943.

Larry W. Hurtado has published or released items in the following series...

  1. Library of Biblical Theology
  2. London Lectures in Contemporary Christianity
  3. New International Biblical Commentary: New Testament
  4. T&t Clark Cornerstones

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Manuscripts as Artifacts  Jan 3, 2007
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. However large margins do not indicate a writer concerned about saving costs. Hurtado argues that the Christian preference for the codex was heavy and early and reflected a belief that the text had "scriptural status."

In addition to a codex format, early Christians added other characteristics to their manuscripts, nomina sacra and the staurogram. Nomina sacra are typically abbreviations composed of the first and last letter of a word. Those used with far greater regularity are God, Lord, Christ, and Jesus. This early practice is connected to the Jewish practice of treating the divine name in a special way. Hurtado notes that at an early stage Christ and Jesus were put on the same plane as God and Lord. The staurogram is a compendium formed by superimposing a Greek rho over a Greek tau. In later Christianity the chi-rho became better known. Hurtado believes that the cross over the T formation was a visual reference for the early Christian to the crucifixion of Jesus.

Very early Christians chose a particular format for their sacred writings and implanted into them code devices of their own faith.
Manuscripts as Evidence  Dec 16, 2006
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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