Thursday, February 18, 2010

Book Review: Early Christian Books in Egypt

Scholia Reviews (Review by Jonathan More)

Scholia Reviews ns 19 (2010) 1.

Roger S. Bagnall, Early Christian Books in Egypt. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2009.

Christian manuscripts discovered in the Egyptian desert have supplied students of early Christianity with previously unknown texts. They have also attracted the attention of those concerned with establishing the original text of the canonical New Testament as accurately as possible. But these manuscripts have increasingly been recognised as artefacts in their own right and scholars have turned to them to understand more about the social and economic life of the communities for which they were produced. It is to this field that Roger Bagnall, doyen of things papyrological and Egyptian (and, since 2007, Director of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University, where he is also Professor of Ancient History), has contributed a series of four provocative studies addressing some disputed issues surrounding early Christian manuscripts. The four chapters of the book are based on lectures delivered by Bagnall at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in May 2006.

Current knowledge of second-century Egyptian Christianity is based almost exclusively on various literary traditions, with very little documentary and archaeological evidence surviving. The first chapter of this book, 'The Dating of the Earliest Christian Books in Egypt' (pp. 1-24), examines this problem more closely.

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