Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2014.08.13 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.08.13

Johannes de Vries, Martin Karrer (ed.), Textual History and the Reception of Scripture in Early Christianity / Textgeschichte und Schriftrezeption im frühen Christentum. Society of Biblical Literature. Septuagint and cognate studies, 60​.   Atlanta:  Society of Biblical Literature, 2013.  Pp. xi, 434.  ISBN 9781589839045.  €54.95 (pb).  

Reviewed by Geert Lernout, University of Antwerp (


This book represents the preliminary findings of an ambitious research project on the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Jewish Tanakh. As Johannes de Vries and Martin Karrer explain in their introduction, the Wuppertal Research Project (in cooperation with the universities of Koblenz and Saarbücken) began as the translation and annotation of the Septuagint, but soon textual, theological and historical issues came into focus as well. In the stage of the project which this book reports on, scholars look closely at the 449 relatively certain quotations of 357 different verses from the Septuagint (or LXX) in 389 verses of the New Testament.

Although the international project only began operation at the end of the previous century, 2006 it started to publish reports in the form of conference proceedings: the present bi-lingual volume is the fourth in that series. On the basis of the detailed study of the quotations from the Septuagint in early Christianity (New Testament writers and a selection of Christian authors from the second century), important conclusions emerge that will be of interest to everybody concerned with the textual history of a book that, in the case of the New Testament, has survived in almost ten times more manuscripts than any other classical text.

On the basis of the detailed work of the members of this research group, the editors are now able to claim (fully aware of the pitfalls), that “the New Testament turns out to be the best source for analyzing the text of Israel’s scriptures.” The important questions that need to be asked are: first, what was the form of the Jewish texts used by the early Christians and second, “was the LXX text (the source text) transmitted independently from the New Testament text or the text of other early Christian writings (the quotations), or were the two confused in the textual transmission” (4)?

To some extent the editors are able to answer these questions; they conclude that the transmission of the books of the Septuagint and the New Testament “occurred, in large measure, independently to at least the 5th and 6th centuries” (8): the first full bible manuscripts (Alexandrinus, Sinaiticus and Vaticanus) did not harmonize the quotations with their originals and neither did the later correctors, with the exception of mostly stylistic corrections in both Septuagint and New Testament. In addition the project showed that these early authors must have had access to a variety of different textual forms: the Old Greek, and the later Christian redactions of the Septuagint, most often the so-called Antiochene text.

In the rest of the balanced and clear introduction the editors formulate the first answers to these questions, which the different authors then address in a much more focused and detailed fashion. Most of them make excellent use of the Wuppertal database of Septuagint quotations in the New Testament. This is obviously the case in a report by one of the editors (Martin Karrer) with a more detailed report about the research project on the influence of the Septuagint in the book of the Apocalypse. This is a particularly difficult task because in contrast to most of the other early Christian writers, the author of the final text in the New Testament seems to avoid direct quotation. One of the results of the work was that the need for a new edition of the text of the Apocalypse has become apparent, another that we now have a full databank of all citations on the website of the Kirchliche Hochschule.

The first section of the book studies these different issues in a close reading of individual manuscripts or texts, beginning with an article by the other editor, Johannes de Vries, on Codex Ambrosianus F. Of the 101 Pentateuch verses quoted in the New Testament, of which this manuscript has 69, with 60 clearly linked with a NT quotation. A close study of five examples where Ambrosianus differs from the Old Greek allows the author to argue that the variant in the former is not a Christian adaptation but independent and pre-Christian .The conclusion is that Ambrosianus F is “an independent and important witness” to a text form that was used by several Christian authors, at least Paul and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews.

In a second article Johannes de Vries turns his attention to another early witness, Papyrus 46 (c. 200 CE). In this case, variants in the quotations in the papyrus were compared with the modern critical text (Nestle-Aland). Again the variants are studied in detail and, with the help of the database, compared to the texts in other witnesses. De Vries finds that most of the variant readings in P46 are not the result of harmonization with the Septuagint. Instead he finds in Papyrus 46 “the same dynamics oscillating between controlled diligence and careless liberties which characterize the New Testament textual history of the second century in general” (90). It was only by the middle of the fourth century (with the use of indentation, diplai and the emergence of “complete” bibles) that the conditions for harmonization were in place.

Diplai are also studied in the contribution by Alexander Stokowski who studies the use of these signs in Codex Vaticanus Graecus 1209(B), research that was made possible (or at least considerably easier) by the publication of a facsimile and of digital images. Most of the article consists of a detailed list of all 156 instances of the diple in this manuscript.

Ronald H. van den Bergh then turns to the use of quotations from the Minor Prophets in Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis, a Greek and Latin uncial manuscript, mostly of the four Gospels and Acts in which the quotations from Old Testament are clearly indicated in the text’s layout by indentation, “albeit only for quotations from Isa and the Pss” (115). Van den Bergh makes use of the as yet unpublished collations of the Editio Critica Maior of Acts of the Institut für Neutestamentliche Textforschung in Münster. Four instances are studied in detail with particular attention to the layout of the quoted passage and a comparison with the other versions.

In a second article van den Bergh then studies “The Influence of the Greek OT Traditions on the Explicit Quotations in Codex E08”. Codex Laudianus is a younger manuscript containing Acts in both Latin and Greek, but since the Latin seems to be no more than a translation, only the Greek text is considered. In separate sections van den Bergh looks at quotations that show “little or no influence” from the Septuagint, quotations where such influence is “probable” and finally where it is “clear.” In this sixth century manuscript van den Bergh finds that the influence of the Septuagint is unmistakably present, but less clear is the degree of such influence. Of 26 quotations only four show clear influence.

In the second large section, the text of the Septuagint is compared to the New Testament quotations, opening in a collaborative listing of all the references in the Rahlfs/Hanhart and the Göttingen edition of the Septuagint, which are listed in three tables. Siegfried Kreuzer then writes about the role of the Antiochene recension which is one of the traditionally accepted text types also known as the Byzantine or Lucianic or koine text. On the basis of a reading of early manuscripts in Qumran, Kreuzer comes to the conclusion that we now know that the earliest Septuagint was a relatively free translation (close to the Lucianic text) that was later (but still in pre-Christian times) brought closer to the Hebrew word order and sense in the kaige recension (a point that was originally made in 1963 by Dominique Barthélemy).

Darius Müller looks more closely at the different ways in which the authors of the New Testament mark quotations. They made use of a standard Jewish practice at the time, but developed several different ways of marking a quotation, which Müller conveniently lists. In his contribution to this section Arie van der Kooij focuses on the quotation from Isaiah in Matthew 12, in which he finds that it was probably the author of the gospel who composed this “new” version of the text. Heinz-Josef Fabry looks at another Isaiah quotation in Matthew 4:15f to conclude that the author must have used a “proto-Alexandrian” version which shows the first signs of the Antiochene text.

Matthias Millard widens the discussion considerably by reading Luther’s interpretation of the crucial verse of Romans 1:17 in the light of its reliance on Hab 2:4b (against all the New Testament witnesses), as part of a tradition that includes Paul and the Haggadist rabbi Simlai. Martin Vahrenhorst looks at the references to the Septuagint in 1 Peter to show that its author makes a rather liberal use of biblical materials, but at the same time he shows the closest correspondence to the Septuagint text.

The final section in the book studies the Septuagint quotations in second century Christian literature, with Horacio E. Lona looking at the quotations in the first epistle of Clement. Although he opens his article by admitting that at the time the epistle was written the New Testament did not exist yet, he studies the apparent quotations and ends his essay with two further questions: both the author of this text and the addressees must have had Greek translations of all the cited Old Testament books or of testimonia, collections of Old Testament passages. The latter fact shows, Lona believes, that at this early date the Christians must have had some kind of school which may have been due to the influence of the Alexandrian Jewish community in Rome.

Maarten J.J. Menken does a similar exercise with the epistle of Barnabas: he is less interested in the textual forms than in their function in the text, with the purpose of trying to establish whether the writer of the epistle makes use of a common tradition or is quoting from the New Testament. Whereas Menken finds considerable continuity in the use of these quotations, there is novelty as well, especially in terms of a more developed anti-Jewish polemic

In the final three sections Martin Meiser looks at Justin Martyr (whose works survived in a single manuscript) and his possible use of testimonia: he comes to similar conclusion as Menken. Felix Albrecht studies the influence of the Minor Prophets on Justin and he finds evidence for the use of a kaige recension. In the final essay Ferdinand R. Prostmeier discusses the role of the first three chapters of Genesis in the apologetic work by Theophilus of Antioch. On the basis of the available manuscript evidence, Prostmeier believes that the Genesis text used by the author was a version that had witnesses in the North African Vetus Latina and he ends his article, and the book, with a call to study his author’s biblical quotations in a thorough comparison with those of Flavius Josephus, the Jewish pseudepigrapha, the apocrypha and the Syriac translations.

This useful collection of papers and interim reports on an important and ambitious research project ends with an index of references, one of manuscripts and another set of “modern authors” and “subjects.”

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