Roger S. Bagnall, Early Christian Books in Egypt. Princeton/Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2009. Pp. xv, 100. ISBN 9780691140261. $29.95.This part in particular is of interest:
Reviewed by Benjamin Garstad, Grant MacEwan University (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Roger Bagnall is one of the foremost authorities on the written remains of Roman Egypt and the evidence they offer us for a lost world, but in this slender volume he wears his formidable learning lightly. The four essays that make up the book are adapted from lectures he gave at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris in 2006. They offer engaging and approachable insights into a field of research in which even professional classicists are compelled to defer to the training and experience of experts, but which remains of interest to many. With a sweeping breadth that sacrifices remarkably little in the way of convincing depth, Bagnall makes an up-to-date survey of the topic of early Christian books in Egypt, indicates where (and why) research may have gone astray in the past, and points the way forward for future work.
Bagnall follows his argument for the paucity of Christian literary remains we should expect before the turn of the second century with a pair of case studies. The first concerns Carsten Peter Thiede's attempt to date the Magdalen papyrus fragment of the Gospel of Matthew to the first century and support his overall contention that the Gospel was composed before the fall of Jerusalem in 71. I can only imagine that it was the notoriety of this case which suggested it as an example of a private or partisan agenda skewing the scholarship of early Christian papyri toward an early date. It certainly required no subtlety for Bagnall to demolish Thiede's claims for the benefit of the reader. Indeed, it might be considered a mean-spirited exaggeration to describe an affair which might have been dismissed with a shrug as "gruesome" and "horrifying" and to characterize Thiede's ZPE article as a parody of academic form with none of its substance, particularly in light of his recent death. De mortuis nihil nisi bonum, after all. Without lash in hand Bagnall seems, by contrast, inconclusive in his treatment of Antonio Carlini's suggestion that a fragment of the Shepherd of Hermas might belong to the first half of the second century. Carlini himself concedes that the palaeographic evidence is at odds with the testimony of the Muratorian Canon (dated to near the end of the second century) that the Shepherd was written during the episcopate of Pius in Rome (142-55). Bagnall offers a generous hearing to Carlini's resolution of the problem with reference to the composite nature of the Shepherd and the possibility that we might find remains of its independently circulating parts. The Hermas fragments highlight the complications of serious and disinterested scholarship. The contrasting examples of early dating might have played well to the audience of a lecture, but are perhaps not so instructive in the less ephemeral format of a written essay.The late Prof. Thiede's attempts to find fragments of the Greek New Testament among the Dead Sea Scrolls have also not been found persuasive. Also, the Muratorian Canon has been redated to the fourth century by some scholars.
An early codex of the book of Isaiah also figures in the book.