As I mentioned previously, providence supplied me with a copy of this book from Oxford University Press, so I have been reading it. I’m through the introductory material, the edition (with extensive editional apparatus) and translation, and the notes. It seemed like a good time to write a post about the material I’ve read thus far. This post will be about the introduction. A subsequent post will be about the text, apparatus, translation, and textual notes. I have the commentary proper left to read, and will have a final post on that at some point in the future.
Here is some information about the book:
- Title: The Epistle to Diognetus (with the Fragment of Quadratus): Introduction, Text, and Commentary
- Author/Editor: Clayton N. Jefford
- Series: Oxford Apostolic Fathers
- Publisher: Oxford University Press
- Pages: ix, 281
- Indices: Ancient Sources, pp. 265–278; Modern Authors Cited, pp. 279–281
- Bibliography: pp. 257–264
The introduction is in eight parts and spans 120+ pages. The eight parts are as follows:
- General Background
- Authorship, Date, and Provenance
- Structural Elements
- Integrity and Purpose
- Theology and Themes
- Relationship to Scripture
- Analysis of Historical Trajectory
1. General Background
Jefford sets the context for his discussion well. There has only ever been one manuscript that contained this material, and it was subsequently lost in a fire. Thus we are constrained to three early transcriptions of the text and subsequent editions based on that material. Further — and anyone who has spent time with the text of Epistle to Diognetus will agree — the Greek isn’t easy. Apparently the manuscript itself was even harder to read and decipher, and was more lacunose than notes in modern editions lead one to believe. Jefford tracks the publication history of transcriptions and editions of the text. This is valuable information that has not, to my knowledge, been so deeply delved to this date.
2. Authorship, Date, and Provenance
Perhaps more so with Diognetus, it is difficult to speak of authorship, date, and provenance. There is no manuscript anymore, there is little known about where it came from, and only qualified guessing can be done on any of these topics. There have been several possible authors suggested, all of them supposition. Intelligently argued, many of them, but all constrained to the incredibly small pool of names we actually know and settings we actually understand. Jefford does a good job navigating this tension and reviewing the options and the cases for and against them. I was happy to see some extended interaction with Hill’s thesis of authorship, which points to Polycarp, and which I’m sympathetic to. I think Hill provides some good insight on the setting from which the work may have come, though I’m hesitant to tie a specific name to the writing. Jefford, always cautious (at least in my reading of other books he’s written), seems to share this hesitancy to point to specific, named people as the author of this work.
3. Structural Elements
Jefford breaks the text of Diognetus into seven sections:
- Prologue (1.1–2)
- On Greeks (2.1–10)
- On Jews (3.1–4.6)
- On Christians (5.1–6.10)
- About God’s Power (7.1–9.6)
- About God’s Plan (10.1–8)
- The Witness of the Word (11.1–12.9)
It is in this chapter that Jefford begins to lay the groundwork for his view of the development of Diognetus. It begins by isolating areas that seem too good to be normal prose, so must reflect existing tradition. These are poetic and confessional materials that add to the text but may not be strictly necessary. He will come back to these later in §8, where he establishes his view of the composition and development of the text.
4. Integrity and Purpose
The majority of scholars of early Christianity see Diognetus as two parts: §§1–10, and §§11–12. It is well known that the manuscript had a large lacuna with a marginal note from a scribe about this break. The lacuna has led several to argue that the latter sections were not written by the same author as the previous sections, that they were appended either through happenstance or through later editorial work. Hill has recently and somewhat persuasively argued that these two sections, despite the lacuna, are of the same author and they should be considered as a whole. Jefford upholds the consensus that the two parts are not directly related, using the standard sorts of arguments (genre, subject matter, and vocabulary, largely) that Hill has largely anticipated in his work asserting their unity. Regarding integrity, though, Jefford hints at the end again about his development theory, noting that while the latter portion is an edition, he does allow for extensive editorial action to conform the first section with the last section more seamlessly.
5. Theology and Themes
This was the least interesting section to me, personally. So, on to the next.
6. Relationship to Scripture
Jefford dutifully searches for and finds an amazing number of places where Diognetus may have some relationship to canonical material. I’m familiar with the text of Diognetus, and much of these possible ties (particularly to specific OT passages/authors) were news to me. Sometimes, depending on one’s criteria, you can find what you’re looking for. I applaud Jefford for the work he’s done here, but it is a bit over the top. Kudos to him for his interaction with Mike Bird’s material on the use of Paul in Diognetus in Paul and the Second Century. Also, the well-known reflection of Johannine language, particularly in §§11–12, is handled well by Jefford.
7. Analysis of Historical Trajectory
Because we only ever had one manuscript of Diognetus, and because we have no citations of it in the known historical record, this section is largely an examination of where other apologists said things that are similar to what Diognetus says. Further, it is a review of where others have posited conceptual or parallel relationships between Diognetus and other authors/historical works. As such, it is all very tenuous and built on little foundation — not out of any fault of Jefford, but simply because there is no foundation to put it on.
This is the part where Jefford moves from review of scholarship and development into positing his own ideas on Diognetus. Jefford posits an original ‘core’ to the material that was probably original and delivered in oral form, and then posits layers of editorial development to the text over time.
Jefford, though his examination of structure, development, integrity, and relation to Scripture in the introduction, identifies material that he sees as largely secondary and not necessary for the core of the work. He isolates and removes this material, leaving just the core, which he considers “the rough form of what may once have been oral performance” (117). That rough form includes:
- 3.1–5.2, 4, 16–17
- 6.1–2, 5–10
- 7.1–2b, 2d–4a; 8.1–2a, 2c–9.4, 5b–6c
- 10.1–2a, 4–8
Jefford has well defended his reasons for this, but I think suggestions like this prompt more questions than they solve. There are the obvious questions about any revision/edit and who might have made it (if, in fact, these things happened). If oral, did the original author expand the edition for written publication? When did these editorial expansions happen, and why? What source did they come from? The most poetic/prosaic of the material would be great for oral presentation, so why cut it? If we don’t know anything about the author, how can we conclude with any certainty what he would or wouldn’t have said? If this much revision and development took place over time, where is the manuscript evidence or citation evidence for it?
As a disclaimer, I’m much more of an analyze-what-we-have kind of guy. The rest is guesswork, particularly with no manuscripts at all to deal with. So I’m predisposed to not like proposals like this. Again I’ll say that I understand how Jeffords gets here and appreciate the discussion his notions of its development of the text from the oral stage into the written stage. And he does well to say that this proposal is not a certainty, and that he is largely more convinced of the generalities of it than any specifics he may elucidate in the discussion. But that sort of language is my problem. It seems more like a thought exercise than anything that could be certainly posited and used to help understand more definitely the text itself — an interesting aside, but not overly or directly helpful for understanding the text we actually have.
Next: At some future point I’ll have a post where I look at Jefford’s edition of the text of Diognetus, the apparatus he provides, his translation, and his textual notes.