On Creating an Annotated Edition of the Greek Acts of Pilate

As I shared in a previous post, one of my projects for 2018 (and 2019, likely) is an introduction, translation, and brief commentary on the Acts of Pilate, which is also known as the Gospel of Nicodemus in its Latin tradition.

Most of you know that my day job for the past two decades (wow, now I feel old) involves processing and analysis of texts in the Biblical languages (Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin) and also English. So I’m a little peculiar in how I approach a project like this.

If I’m translating something, I want a transcription of the Greek text I can use. And by “use” I mean analyze, correct, and append. I want a basic edition of the Greek text annotated with dictionary/lemma forms, with morphology data, and with English glosses. I’ll use this data as I work through the translation.

Unfortunately, creating and annotating the electronic edition is usually the most labor intensive portion of the whole task. But it is also, to me, the most valuable. If I didn’t care about the annotation data (and possible derivatives, like a Greek Readers Edition), I’d just work the text and translate away. But creating the annotation gives me an anchor to look back on. I’ll remember when I looked up that weird word that is likely a Latin loanword (this happens more than I’d realized in the Acts of Pilate), and I find this important.

So I find or make a transcription. Sometimes this even involves typing the Greek or some portion thereof, which can be slow-going, but is also good for familiarizing oneself with the text.

Next step: A few passes looking for typos and correcting them. I’m definitely old-school here; I just see typos much easier on paper than on the screen. So I usually print out the transcription at a larger-than-normal font size (typos scream when they’re bigger, trust me), and mark it up. Then I incorporate those changes back in the transcription.

When that feels good, then it’s write some code to compare words against existing morphological databases. James Tauber’s MorphGNT.org is one source, Perseus is another. If you have half an idea what you’re doing (and understand a bit about Greek and Unicode), you can grab these sources and create a fairly decent dictionary to do brute-force lookups to initially populate a new Greek text with lemma and morphology data. Since I’d like to think I have at least half an idea on these things, this is the way I roll.

Note I say initially because, particularly for participles, nouns, and adjectives, there is need to review and revise based on context (particularly when drawing from Perseus data). And it won’t populate for every word, which means you’ll need to devise a system to track missed items and re-integrate them back into your data. I’ve been doing this long enough that it isn’t usually a big deal (cross your fingers, Brannan!).

Once all of this is done, I have an initial edition of the text to start a translation from. I’ll write some code to output the transcription with morphology and glosses as an HTML document, and that’s what I’ll consult as I translate (and review the morphology data and glosses). It looks sort of like this:


By the time I get to the translation, I’ve already spent a fair amount of time in the Greek text, which I think is beneficial.

My approach with the Acts of Pilate will be slightly different, however.

Thanks to our good friend (to whom all NT and Early Christianity folks are in immense debt), Constantine Tischendorf, there are two (yes, two!) editions of the Acts of Pilate, commonly referred to as Acts of Pilate (A) and Acts of Pilate (B). Most translations/editions focus on Acts of Pilate (A) for the first 16 chapters, but snag the 11-chapter piece known as The Descent of Christ to Hades from Acts of Pilate (B) because it isn’t in the Acts of Pilate (A).

I’m not planning on doing that. I’m planning on giving the full treatment to both Acts of Pilate (A) and Acts of Pilate (B). This means I’ll have to get text for B. My current plan is to complete the draft translation of Acts of Pilate (A) and then start the transcription of Acts of Pilate (B).

My ultimate plan/hope (if the typesetter is adventurous enough) is to table the “A” and “B” portions in the translation, so the differences can be more easily seen in the shared portions of the text. Arranging the translation(s) as such should also help me more easily isolate the areas of difference that require comment.

(For the record, apart from noting differences between A and B, and perhaps some text-critical interaction, my hope for the commentary portion is to focus on the use of OT and NT material in the progression of the narrative. But we’ll see if that happens.)

After all of this is done, then I’ll have to write the introduction, without getting too carried away. After all, the Acts of Pilate, whether you know it or not, was a very popular text in antiquity (and straight through to modern times). There are scads of different versions of it in scads of different languages.

Apparently people were really curious about what happened during the trial, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Who’d’ve thunk it?


SBL 2017 Paper: Sounding Biblical: The Use of Stock Phrases in Christian Apocrypha

Update (2017-09-11): Due to a family situation, I will not be attending SBL in Boston this November. This paper will likely be presented at a future SBL.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my proposal for the open Christian Apocrypha session was accepted. I described it to a friend like this: “Hey, I snuck a corpus linguistics paper into the Christian Apocrypha section!”

Here’s the abstract for those interested:

There are certain phrases that, due to familiarity and usage, seem biblical upon hearing or reading them. That is, they sound like language used in the Bible. Phrases like “in the beginning,” “all the creeping things that creep,” and “truly, I say to you.” This paper uses a variation on what are known as n-grams to isolate stock phrases and explore their use and effect in apocryphal works. The First Apocryphal Apocalypse of John (1AAJn), which the author is presently researching for volume 2 of the “More New Testament Apocrypha” project, is used as a test case. The entirety of the Septuagint and Greek New Testament are used to identify five-word clusters of shared vocabulary that repeat with some frequency in biblical literature (“stock phrases”). 1AAJn is then compared to the biblical literature to locate possible stock phrase usage within 1AAJn. If time and space permit, Greek editions of other writings (Apocryphal Gospels, Apostolic Fathers, possibly some non-Christian writings) will also be evaluated at a high level to determine use or non-use of stock phrases in composition.


The Conference Season is upon Us

If you have any connection at all with the world of Biblical Studies, particularly the “academic” variety, then you already know that it is that magical time of year when thousands of folks who study the Bible and related texts descend on a particular city, walk around in tweed, run to make paper presentations, mercilessly hawk publishing proposals at any breathing target, fawn over the 15 books Michael Bird published in the last three weeks, and drink copious amounts of coffee (and other beverages, depending on time of day).

Yes, it’s time for the Society of Biblical Literature’s (SBL) annual meeting, this year in San Antonio. These meetings co-occur with the American Academy of Religion (AAR), and religious booksellers the world over vie for coveted corner and entry-door exhibit spaces to sell their wares at discount to folks who reflexively pull out credit cards and buy books.

Previous to the SBL and AAR joint meetings are the meetings of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS). Several smaller societies (IBR, for one) also meet during these times.

The first time I attended SBL was when it was last in San Antonio (2006? 2005?). I’ve learned a lot about going to these conferences since then. If you’re a rookie, then you need to know the secret: The real power of these conferences is not in hearing some paper (though yeah, you should be diligent and go to papers in your area(s)). The real power of these conferences is in meeting people. Networking. You know, an introvert’s nightmare.

I can say this because I am, most assuredly, an introvert.

But now is the time you need to put your big girl / big boy pants on, and get over it because it is that important to the development of your future career. This is where you meet people who may in later years be on hiring committees for jobs you’re applying for. They may be on the committee reviewing your PhD application. They may be the person you’d like to have supervising your doctoral work, or at least have as an external examiner.

Find any excuse to meet these people. Go to their paper. Ask them to coffee. But do it right. Don’t fawn all over them. Be genuine. And if someone seems unapproachable, find their grad students and take them to coffee. Or sit and chat with them outside the book exhibit. Go to whatever paper they’re giving, listen, and ask them a real question privately afterwards.

Very rarely will you have a place where pretty much everyone who could possibly make a future for you will be in the same city, but Biblical Studies folks do it every year. This is it. So, have fun. Find good papers to hear. Hang out some evenings with your friends and colleagues. But use your time too, because it is an opportunity that few other industries have. Start to build relationships not only because people are interesting, but because you know you’ll run into them in the future.

Me? I’m not teaching anywhere. I’m not a grad student. But I’ve got a great gig wrangling all sorts of data and producing products that people in Biblical Studies find useful (some of them essential).

I’m happy to chat with anyone about almost anything, just use the contact form, or email me: rick@faithlife.com and we can set up a time. I’m happy to chat about self-publishing, writing, editing, textual criticism, Greek, Apostolic Fathers, datasets, databases, programming and tools, my job at Faithlife and opportunities here, or whatever. Seriously.

See you in San Antonio!