I’ve been slowly working my way through Hill & Kruger’s The Early Text of the New Testament (amazon.com). (A review copy from Oxford University Press, see previous posts here and here). I say “slowly working” on purpose. This is not a book you read straight through, it is a book you work through and savor. There is much going on in the text, and careful attention will reap dividends.
I’m now over halfway through, and can report on the essays in the first two parts of the book. Part I is “The Textual and Scribal Culture of Early Christianity”; Part II is “The Manuscript Tradition”. This won’t be a blow-by-blow report of each essay, just some thoughts and highlights.
Harry Y. Gamble’s essay, “The Book Trade in the Roman Empire” was fascinating. We normally don’t stop to think about how books originated and were disseminated throughout early Christianity. We’re usually hunkered down in the variants themselves, getting lost in the details. Gamble’s essay was good to get some ideas out there about how books were written, published, and distributed; all things we know far too little about.
The other three articles in Part I (by Scott Charlesworth, Larry Hurtado, and Michael J. Kruger) were also good. The four articles together stimulate thinking about the culture in which the manuscripts that form the basis of modern editions of the Greek New Testament came about, and what we can learn about the people who made the manuscripts from the manuscripts themselves.
Part II is wholly about how the early manuscripts — and here “early” really means before the major uncials, Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, come on the scene in the fourth century. The articles in this Part are as follows:
II. The Manuscript Tradition
5. The Early Text of Matthew , Tommy Wasserman
6. The Early Text of Mark , Peter Head
7. The Early Text of Luke , Juan Hernandez
8. The Early Text of John , Juan Chapa
9. The Early Text of Acts , Christopher Tuckett
10. The Early Text of Paul (and Hebrews) , James R. Royse
11. The Early Text of the Catholic Epistles , J. K. Elliott
12. The Early Text of Revelation , Tobias Nicklas
13. Where Two or Three Are Gathered Together: Evaluating Agreements between Two or More Early Versions , Peter Williams
There is no set method for the author; each are left to their own devices to work through and present the evidence. And these articles are again why I say I’m “slowly working” through the book. Most of these articles stop and examine points of difference between the text commonly accepted today, and the text of the early papyri. As such, they are fascinating. As a group, they are invaluable.
I’m working through Part III now, which is really where my main interest lies, and I love it. I’ll write more later. But I do want to say that I sincerely hope that Oxford will publish a reasonably-priced paperback edition of this title. While it does belong in libraries, at its present price that’s the only place it’ll end up (well, apart from review copies to lucky guys like me). The book really deserves a wider distribution; I hope some day it gets it.