Stuff Early Christians Read: An Update

P.CtYBR inv. 1360(A)

P.CtYBR inv. 1360(A) (aka P.Yale inv. 1360)

I finally finished my Lexical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles: Second Timothy, and it is available for purchase. This means two things: First, it means I still have to write the Titus volume in order to complete the project. Second, it means I can take some time to dig back into the project that really has my attention, the Stuff Early Christians Read project.

The really good news is that while I was at SBL talking with friends and colleagues, I mentioned this project a few times and was able to talk through it. There was generally a good amount of interest, but more importantly, while I was talking about it I had that flash of insight one always wants before starting a project. It’s that insight that one comes back to at all points in a project, from conception, to research, to writing, to excising (yep, it happens), to editing, to everything. After chatting one afternoon with someone, I realized the spark. That night I went back to my hotel room, ordered a pizza, and wrote the introduction to the book, right then and there. Now, that’s not likely the version of the introduction that will get published, but being able to write an introduction to something that is only an idea is a very important step. It means the idea has solidified, and it can be described. Anyway, it’s big, at least for me, because it provides some focus for what I need to do from here on out to pull off this project.

So, what do I need to do?

I need to sift through a lot more papyri to make this work. I mean, a lot more. I had ~60 papyri on a list, but I need to review scads more than that in order to find the right items to include in this volume. So I took the plunge. One volume (in French, from 1976) that aggregates a collection of Jewish and Christian papyri is known as “Van Haelst,” after the editor/compiler. The title is Catalogue des papyrus littéraires juifs et chrétiens. The really good news is that Trismegistos (a site with tons of information on papyri) does note papyri it catalogues that are mentioned in Van Haelst. The bad news is that it’s really tough to get a list of them all in a format that one can do something with.

So, I wrote code. Of course. I was able to retrieve the TM and LDAB numbers for all the entries that cited Van Haelst, and I was able to scrape all the LDAB pages for more information. Then I was able to query that data and build a subset of books that looked interesting. It went from 1688 papyri that cited Van Haelst to around 140 entries. First, some simple keyword/field exclusions (or inclusions):

  • Were not Bible manuscripts
  • Were not codex volumes
  • Were not authored by Hermas or Irenaeus
  • Were not ostracon (sorry, had to draw the line somewhere)
  • Were papyrus or parchment manuscripts

Then, a multilevel query that reported (of the material that remained):

  • Language recorded as Greek
  • Religion recorded as “christian”
  • Were dated in the 2nd–5th centuries AD

I’ve worked through a portion of the remaining list, digging for as much information as I can find sitting at my kitchen table at home, and that’s a whole lot more than you’d expect. Papyrologists have been busy with putting databases, museum archives, journal archives, and tons of images online, and you can get more than you’d think from 6 free JSTOR articles a month (OK, I have two different email addresses registered, so it’s 12). All of that, plus the generosity of folks on Twitter and Facebook who respond to pleas of help for difficult-to-locate articles, and this thing could actually happen.

One of the papyri I located that may be included is shown above, P.CtYBR inv. 1360(A). Images and metadata are available at Yale, but the article in the Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists is really interesting (note, though, you’ll have to spend a JSTOR free article to get the first page, which is inexplicably missing on the BASP site). This could be a eulogy for Christian martrys, which would be fascinating. We learn a lot from understanding how a community thinks of and honors their dead, so it could be interesting to look into.

All that said, I have a lot of research and writing before me on this project. I’m unsure of the timeline, but doubt 2019 at this point. But, I have the spark. I have scads of material to sift. I have a well-worked-over book proposal that is just missing a few pieces. And I even have a new title for the project, but I’m hesitant to share it at this point.

Several readers have contacted me to tell me they appreciated the Stuff Early Christians Read project, and wanted me to continue with it. I hope to do that now, even though I do have to spend some time in the Epistle to Titus in 2019 (another post on that on another day).


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