Book Review: New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity Volume 10 (Part 1)

S. R. Llewelyn and J. R. Harrison, with E. J. Bridge, ed. New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity Volume 10. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2013, 269 pp., paperback, $40.00.  Link

After a more than ten year wait, a new volume of the New Documents series has finally been released. New Documents Volume 9 came out in 2002, covering Greek inscriptions of interest to Early Christianity published in 1986-87; this new volume covers 1988 through 1992. To give you some perspective on how important this series is, I did a search in A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (BDAG), the current edition of the standard lexicon for New Testament Studies in English. There were 354 hits in 323 articles in the lexicon. BDAG only included material through volume 8 of the New Documents series. The New Documents series provides a database on which future lexical studies will rely.

Because this is such an important book, my review is quite long.  I have therefore decided to break it into two parts, the second appears here.

NewDocs 10For those unaware of the New Documents series, it began under the editorship of G. H. R. Horsley in 1981. E. A. Judge was a contributor to that first volume and now serves as the director of the project. He wrote the preface to the first volume explaining the rationale for the series. Since the publication of Deissmann’s Light from the Ancient Near East (1908) and Moulton and Milligan’s Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament illustrated by the Papyri (1930), there has been a flood of new published papyri documents and inscriptions, many which are important to historians of early Christianity as well as interpreters of the New Testament. The New Document series proposed to survey newly published material and collate that material into a single printed volume as a “fresh digest of the ancient evidence.”

That first volume covered documents published in 1976.  After more than thirty years, the series now has ten volumes which cover published material through 1992.  The tenth volume covers more years than the last and contains about 50 pages more in the main section than volume nine.  In addition, Volume ten contains six cumulative indices for volumes 6-10, including subjects, words (sub-divided into Greek, Latin, Hebrew and Aramaic), ancient authors, inscriptions, papyri, and biblical works (sub-divided into Hebrew Bible, Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Qumran, Rabbinic literature, and the New Testament).  My suggestion to E. A. Judge and the New Documents project is to merge the index for the first five volumes with this index and move the whole thing online. That would allow scholars to search the whole series from a single index, and the index could be edited and expanded.  In addition, moving the indices online would save nearly 100 pages in this volume which could be used for additional articles!

Each volume is sub-divided into sections, although the sections are unique to each installment.  For example, volume nine had two long sections for inscriptions and papyri; volume ten divides the material topically. Each entry begins with an entry number and a title for the article.  The entry begins with a physical description of the item including location, media (papyri, inscription, etc.) and suggested date. A transcription of the text is printed with the translation in a parallel column. The author of the article then provides a running commentary on the item, intentionally drawing out implications for the study of the New Testament or Early Christianity (the stated goals of the series).

In the first section of Volume 10, E. A. Judge contributes two articles on Philosophy. The second describes an inscription on a marble block from Philadelphia (Lydia) from the early first century.  The inscription celebrates a person who has become wise, but more interesting is the arrangement of the site where the inscription was found.  There is a narrow, straight path between illustrations to the left of ἀσωτία, distractions to wisdom (Luke 15:13,the prodigal son, Eph 5:18, Titus 1:6, 1 Peter 4:4), and illustrations to the right of ἀρετή, excellence of character (Phil 4:8). This illustrates the “two ways” found in a number of philosophical and biblical texts.  Judge suggests that the arrangement of the site illustrates Jesus’ metaphor of ethical life as the “narrow way” (Matt 7:13-14).

There are three articles on magic, including an interesting note on “overcoming the strong man” by J. R. Harrison. This article describes an inscription on a cameo dated A. D. 25-50 calling on Iao and Adonai (Greek transliteration of names for the God of the Hebrew Bible) to protect the wearer, one Vibia Paulina. All of the names on this early first century amulet are found in later magical texts, indicating that these sorts of “power words” were used to ward off evil.  This illustrates the use of “Jesus whom Paul preaches” in Acts 19, but also the words of the demon in Mark 1:24. In that text the demon indicates that he has knowledge of Jesus’ real name, the “Holy One of God.” The amulet uses the phrase “holy name” as one of the powerful names invoked to protect the wearer. Harrison points out a close parallel: “I know you Hermes, who you are and where you come from and what your city is, Hermopolis” (PGM VIII 13).

Conclusion (Part 1). Even though I plan to continue this overview of the book tomorrow, let me conclude this first section by saying that virtually every section of New Documents Volume 10 is worthy of attention.  The entries make for fascinating reading and they all contribute to our understanding of the world of the New Testament and early Christianity. I highly recommend this volume to students and scholars. Every serious library should own all ten volumes of this important series.

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