About a week ago, I blogged about receiving a review copy of Charles E. Hill and Michael J. Kruger’s The Early Text of the New Testament (amazon.com). At that time I mentioned I’d already read Stanley Porter’s article in the book:
Porter, Stanley E. “Early Apocryphal Gospels and the New Testament Text.” Pages 350–70 in The Early Text of the New Testament. Edited by Charles E. Hill and Michael J. Kruger. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
Why did I read this article first? Well, it is Porter, and his stuff is solid and deserves to be interacted with. But in reality, I read it because with my own edition of the Greek Apocryphal Gospels under way, I have been living in the available Greek fragments of the noncanonical/apocryphal gospels for awhile now (see here and here (1/2) and here (2/2) and also here), so Porter’s article seemed just the place to start.
Porter focuses on “early” apocryphal gospels. His corpus includes various fragmentary papyri, including:
- Gospel of Peter (P.Cair 10759, a parchment with 9 pages of GPeter, but with some reference to P.Oxy 2949)
- P.Egerton 2
- P.Vindob. G 2325. Some have suggested this may be part of the Gospel of Peter, but the claim lies on supposition and reconstructions. As Porter does, it should be treated separately from GPeter.
- P.Merton 51
- P.Oxy 1224
- Greek Fragments of Gospel of Thomas: P.Oxy 1, 654 and 655.
- Protevangelium of James
I was disappointed to not see Dura Parchment 24 included (dates to 257 CE at the latest); but as many consider this to be a portion of Tatian’s Diatesseron (instead of an unknown harmony) I can understand why it wasn’t included, and only hope it is included in Tjitze Baarda’s article on Tatian’s Diatesseron and the Gospels.
Porter’s method is to identify similarities between noncanonical material in his corpus and the Greek New Testament. Previous to his section on GPeter, He mentions, “I do not include allusive instances where the texts have one or two words in common.” This is a good thing, but he doesn’t really identify what he considers to be “allusive” as there are two-word parallels listed: GPeter 2.5, which is associated with Luke 23:54; and GPeter 5.19, associated with Mark 15:34.
From here, Porter isolates material in the remaining fragments that have at least topical similarity with canonical accounts; he then works each portion of similar material in comparison with the NT text, discussing variations between the two. It really is meticulous and difficult work, and, given the nature of it, Porter does well in conveying the similarities and differences of the apocryphal material with likely shared canonical material.
This is difficult stuff, though, and it is hard to simply read—especially if you are not familiar with the apocryphal gospel texts. If really interested, one should dig into the footnotes, locate the editions Porter bases his study on (typically Kraus, Kruger and Nicklas’ Gospel Fragments (amazon.com); though Prot. James is a different source), the GNT, and let Porter be the guide through the actual comparison of both texts.
One quibble I have with Porter’s overall discussion, though, is his use of OpenText.org terminology* in his discussion of syntactic relations between the NT and the apocryphal gospel material. Specifically I’m thinking of terms like head term, complement, adjunct, modifier, subject, predicate, etc.; as well as combinations of these terms in component order discussions (e.g. “subject-predicator”, “predicator-subject”, “predicator-complement-subject” on p. 359). I understand it is Porter’s framework and he is heavily invested in it. However, it is in the minority when it comes to discussions of syntactic relations; the article would be better if more generic terminology was used or if the terminology was at least explained or cited in a footnote. While the terms are based on relatively standard linguistic terminology, Porter’s use is relatively specific to his own Systemic-Functional linguistic framework. Simply changing “predicator” to “verb” and, where appropriate, “complement” to “object” would’ve gone a long way to make such discussions more generically approachable.
With all of that said, the article is excellent. One would expect no less from Porter. If you’re dealing with the intersection of apocryphal/noncanonical gospels and the New Testament (and I am), then you’ve got to carefully work through this article (and I have, and I am).
* Regarding OpenText.org, I am abundantly familiar with it as back in 2005/2006, I implemented Porter/Reed/O’Donnell/Tan/Smith’s syntactic analysis of the Greek NT for Logos Bible Software. I learned a lot from doing it, and Porter’s use of the terminology in the article was no problem for me. But even though its terminology is much more approachable than that of the standard discussion of syntactic relations in the GNT, if one isn’t familiar with it (and many aren’t) it is a speed bump to understanding.