Dec 8, 2009 Rick Bennett

The Search for ‘Sacred Names’

Last year, almost to the day, I wrote a blog post on our release of Comfort and Barrett's, The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts. In that post I highlighted some of our enhancements to the book, which included creating a separate corpus of morphologically-tagged Greek texts that are contained in the book (collated in canonical and manuscript order).

As soon as I became aware of this project I started thinking of ways in which this resource could be used to contribute to the field of New Testament textual criticism. At the SBL Annual Meeting in Boston I ran some of these ideas by a friend in the field and received a positive response. So, I drafted them up as a paper proposal for the International Meeting in Rome, which was subsequently accepted.

At the meeting in Rome I presented on how this resource can be used to search for and analyze the distribution and form of nomina sacra (Latin for "sacred names") in early New Testament papyri. The scribal convention of writing certain words in an abbreviated form with a supralinear stroke is one of the visible distinctions of Biblical manuscripts, and has long captivated the attention of scholars in this field. My paper set out to show the chain of research on this phenomenon, and how the Accordance version of Comfort and Barrett's work makes it possible to analyze, in one place, all the occurrences of nomina sacra in New Testament papyri up to the 3rd century.

One of the other highlights of my paper was that I revealed a further enhancement of the Accordance edition of Comfort and Barrett's work, namely the inclusion of five new papyri not included in the print edition: 𝔓118-121, and 𝔓123. During the Annual Meeting in Boston I was able to show Philip Comfort our work, and asked him to consider creating new transcriptions of papyri that had been discovered since his work was published that fit within his date criteria (up to c. 3rd century). This he graciously agreed to do. In Rome I was working with a prototype of this module with the new papyri, but wasn't able to announce this new enhancement until our official release (now included as a free update of the module). The new papyri added by Philip Comfort have been grammatically tagged, and recent updates to Accordance offer enhanced searching for nomina sacra-two developments that were indispensible for my research.

Because I showed how this tool was able to meet a perceived need in the field of textual criticism instead of merely giving a demonstration of its general features, I believe it was well received. In the discussion that followed we were also able to identify an error in the transcription in the first edition of one of the papyri. You can see some additional details on my paper, along with others in the Working with Biblical Manuscripts section, at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog

While I have attended various SBL meetings during the last several years, it was a privilege to be able to present for the first time at the International Meeting in Rome. I would like to thank both Accordance and Reformed Theological Seminary for this unique opportunity.

Those interested in studying the text of the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament can now do so in an unparalleled fashion, including access to these additional papyri with the unlock of this module on the Primary 8.4 DVD.

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