Archive for the ‘Greek Language’ Category

Ancient Christian Apologist Tertullian on Human Damage to the Environment

July 15, 2017

Some of the most vocal opponents of environmentalism and climate change in the US are politically Conservative Christians. They object to it, not just on the grounds that they believe it to be wrong scientifically, but also because they are highly suspicious of it on political and religious grounds. It is argued that the Green movement is really a pagan movement, or else a way of sneaking Socialism in through the back door through stressing the need for legislation and the regulation of industry to protect the environment. It’s also denounced as a form of Nazism, because the Nazis were also eager to protect the German environment.

It’s true that Green politics has strongly influenced some contemporary neo-Pagan religious movements, particularly Wicca, whose deities consist of an Earth mother and horned god. However, the scientific evidence on which the Green movement is based is separate and independent from any one particular religious or political group. And modern Green politics began with books such as Silent Spring in the 1960s and the Club of Rome, a gathering of concerned scientists, in the early ’70s, and not with Hitler and the Nazis.

Furthermore, writers and philosophers long before the Nazis were also acutely concerned with the threat of overpopulation and the damage humans were doing to the environment. One of them was the early Christian apologist, Tertullian, who wrote

‘Most convincing as evidence of populousness, we have become a burden to the Earth. The fruits of nature hardly suffice to sustain us, and there is a general pressure of scarcity giving rise to complaints. Need we be astonished that plague and famine, warfare and earthquake, come to be regarded as remedies, serving to prune the superfluity of population?’

This quotation was dug up by Adrian Berry, a fellow of the Interplanetary Society, Royal Astronomical Society and Royal Geographical Society. Berry is very much a man of the right, who used to write for the Torygraph. He used it to argue that people have always had exaggerated fears about the threat to society. Or alternatively, they could also be extremely complacent, such as the 2nd century AD Roman writer Pliny. Pliny wrote of the enduring splendor of the Roman Empire just before it began to collapse. Jonathan Margolis also cites in his chapter on predictions of environmental catastrophe, ‘Global Warning’, in his A Brief History of Tomorrow: The Future, Past and Present (London: Bloomsbury 2000) 89, where he also discusses the possibility that predictions of environmental collapse may be wrong.

At the moment, the majority of the world’s scientists are convinced that climate change and environmental damage caused by humanity are real, and a genuine threat to the planet, its flora and fauna, and ultimately humanity itself. Furthermore, archaeologists become increasingly aware how global changes to the environment have caused civilizations to collapse. The early Viking colonies in Greenland were destroyed in the 14th century, when the environment in the northern hemisphere became colder, making it impossible to practice European-style agriculture so far north.

Similarly, the highly developed Pueblo Indian cultures in the Chaco canyon in what is now the southwestern US collapsed and were abandoned when the climate became hostile in the 13th century. The cultures existed in an arid region of the US, using extensive irrigation canals to water their crops. The area suffered an intense drought, and unable to support themselves, the inhabitants moved away.

As for ancient Rome, one of the causes for the barbarian invasions may well have been climate change. The environment became colder from the 3rd century onwards. Central Asian tribes, such as the Huns, moved west, crossing the steppes into Europe and moving south to attack China. This displaced other tribes, such as Goths, who were settled around the Black Sea. The sea levels began to rise, so that the Frisians and other Germanic tribes settled in what is now the Netherlands, were forced to abandon low-lying farms and villages on the coasts. This may have been one of the causes of the Anglo-Saxon migrations to Britain.

In the Greek-speaking eastern Roman Empire, towns shrank, while in the west there was a movement away from the cities, partly through economic grounds. Historians have argued whether the Roman population was decimated by disease. Certainly in Rome itself, located amidst swampland, malaria was endemic, and the sheer size of the population meant that it was periodically subject to outbreaks of other diseases. And the city depended on a steady influx of new immigrants to replenish its population. And there was a constant threat of starvation. The free Roman masses depended on shipments of grain from Egypt and north Africa, and one of the elected officials in the city was responsible for securing the grain supply. Amongst the graffiti found scrawled on walls in Pompeii are election slogans urging men to vote for a particular candidate because ‘he gets good bread’.

Tertullian may well have been absolutely right about the dangers of overpopulation. And regardless of whether he was or wasn’t, the fact that he, one of the great defenders of Christian faith and doctrine in the Roman Empire, was prepared to accept and argue that overpopulation and environmental damage were a danger, shows that there is nothing inherently anti-Christian in the Green movement. This was shown a few weeks ago when the current pope, Pope Francis, criticized Trump’s government for ignoring science and failing to tackle climate change. There’s an irony here in a religious figure attacking the elected leader of a supposedly secular state for having an anti-scientific attitude. And it remains true that there is nothing fundamentally contrary to Christianity about Green politics regardless of the support for Green politics amongst peoples of other religions or none.

Vox Political on the Government’s Plan to Waste Money Writing on Vellum

February 15, 2016

Earlier today Mike posted up on his website a piece from the Guardian, reporting that the government had blocked proposals from the House of Lords, which would hav seen the official copies of acts of parliament switched from being written on vellum, to printed on archival paper. The change would save about £80,000 a year. However, Matt Hancock, a spokesman for the Cabinet Office, stated that some traditions were too important to change.

Now I actually do believe in tradition, always depending, of course, on what the tradition is. But this is just nonsensical. I’ve used vellum myself – it’s a very tough, very durable material. There are documents written on vellum that have survived for more than a thousand years, like the Domesday Book, the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells. But the archival paper they wish to use to replace vellum sounds almost as tough, if not as. This will last 500 hundred years. I can believe it, because as an historian and archaeologist, I’ve examined documents written on early paper. By and large, the paper used in Britain from the 16th to the mid-19th century is extremely tough and durable. Of course it depends on how it’s treated, but it doesn’t degrade easily and some of the documents from the 19th century are better preserved than modern printed material.

And if we’re talking about the long-term survival of paper documents, just think about the Oxyrhinchus Papyri. These are Graeco-Roman and ancient Egyptian documents on papyrus from ancient Egypt, which date from the 3-4th centuries AD. Scholars are still going through them and discovering new, and often previously lost texts illuminating the life of people in Egypt and generally in the Roman Empire from well over a millennium and a half ago. And this is despite the fact that the stuff was thrown out on the fields and used as fertiliser.

Really, when ordinary citizens are suffering serious cuts to their benefits, cuts that threaten their very lives, it’s ridiculous for parliament to waste such amounts of money on tradition. This just shows the Cabinet to be obstinate, bloody-minded and indifferent to the suffering of ordinary people, but indulgent when it comes to their own petty tastes. Traditions change and evolve. So must this.

Book on Medieval Nubian Literature and Literacy

March 14, 2015

One of the pieces I wrote a few years ago on this blog and which is still being read was an article on the churches and monasteries of medieval Nubia. From the early Middle Ages to the fifteenth century, when the area was finally conquered by Islam, there were a group of three civilisations stretched along the Nile in ancient Nubia. These were literate kingdoms, who appeared to have adopted monophysite Christianity from Coptic Egypt. They built churches, monasteries and palaces, and were in communion with the other Eastern orthodox Christian churches, whose literature they translated into Nubian.

Archaeologists have been studying and attempting to piece together this culture since the 1960s. A number of sites have been excavated, including the ancient capital, Soba, and Arminna West. Four years ago in 2011 the Journal of Juristic Papyrology published a collection of papers on Nubian literature and writings, Nubian Voices: Studies in Nubian Christian Civilisation, by Adam Lajtar, Giovanni Rufini, and J van der Vliet. The blurb for it in the Oxbow Books Catalogue for Egypt, the Near East, Islam and the Middle East, says of it:

This book is a collection of articles dealing with various aspects of medieval Nubian literacy. It contains eleven articles by an international group of scholars, representing different areas of language studies (Greek and Latin epigraphy, Coptology, Old Nubian studies). The articles contain both editions of new textual finds and reconsiderations of well-known sources. The chronology of the texts discussed in the books spans a few hundred years of medieval Nubian history (from the 7th until the 15th century) and their topographical distribution covers a large part of the Middle Nile Valley (from Qasr Ibrim in the north to Banganarti in the south) and beyond (northern Kordofan). The typological variety of the sources, with epitaphs, sepulchral crosses, legal documents, visitors’ inscriptions, and depinti on pottery, provides an insight into the richness of the Christian Nubian civilisation.

At £50, this way beyond my pocket, and I imagine most peoples. Still, you might be able to get it on interlibrary loan, or find a secondhand copy somewhere.

The Greek Texts as God’s Word: A Reply to ‘Submit’

July 11, 2013

I had this comment posted by ‘Submit’ to my post Christianity and the Survival of Ancient Learning: Part Two

Are Greek texts pure word of God. Where is Logia of Jesus in Aramaic. Where is Matthew’s Aramaic gospel?

P46 (175CE) is Greek manuscript with the largest percentage of difference on record. This just proved that Church have been changing words since early 2nd century at will.

Here is the words of the early church father, Origen (3rd century CE):
“The differences among the manuscripts have become great, either through the negligence of some copyists or through the perverse audacity of others; they either neglect to check over what they have transcribed, or, in the process of checking, they make additions or deletions as they please.” Origen, early church father in “Commentary on Matthew.”

Regarding the oldest surviving fragment, Colin Roberts compared P52 writings using ONLY 5 samples from the early 2nd century CE back in 1935 and concluded based on those 5 samples; P52 was from the early 2nd century.

(Brent Nongbri’s 2005. The Use and Abuse of P52: Papyrological Pitfalls in the Dating of the Fourth Gospel)
What I have done is to show that any serious consideration of the window of possible dates for P52 must include dates in the later second and early third centuries. – Brent

Compare with 4th century codexes. You will be surprise how Holy Spirit inside the scribes fail to prevent them from changing words of God ever since the beginning.

‘Submit’s’ Question and Muslim Attitudes to the Gospels

Now it occurs to me that there’s a bit of Muslim polemic in here. ‘Submission’ is the English translation of the Arabic term, Islam, and while it’s possible that ‘Submit’ took his or her name from the ‘Submit’ button on the comments box, it could also be a reference to Islam’s name. One of the tenets of Islam is that it preserves the original teaching of the Jesus and the other Judaeo-Christian prophets, which the Jews and Christians have deliberately altered. Now I have to say that with arguments like those, I suspect there may be a double standard considering the penalties some Muslim societies have placed on the critical examination of Islam’s own sacred texts in the way the Bible has by Western scholars.

Now let’s examine some of ‘Submit’s’ claims and questions.

Where is Logia of Jesus in Aramaic. Where is Matthew’s Aramaic gospel?

They haven’t survived, but there’s no reason to believe that they were deliberately suppressed. The canon of scripture was formed from the books the churches used for preaching, learning about the Lord, and worship. There was no formal process in which Christian scholars deliberately decided which books to include in the canon, and which to exclude. Now the lingua franca of Jews outside Palestine, and indeed of the eastern Mediterranean in general, was koine Greek. The early Christian communities used the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Bible that had been composed for the Jewish community in Alexandria in Egypt. Some scholars have suggested that the division between the Greek and Hebrew communities mentioned in Acts may not refer to ethnic divisions in the early Christian community, but between Greek and Hebrew-speaking Jews. There is still some debate amongst scholars over how far Rabbinic Judaism was hostile to the early Christian communities. Some Jewish scholars have maintained that the Birakat ha-Minim, or 12th Benediction in the Talmud, was not written against Christians. The Birakat ha-Minim condemns ‘Nazarenes’ and other heretics. Earlier scholars have seen it as an attempt by the rabbis to combat the growth of Christianity. As I said, it’s disputed by Jewish scholars, who have argued that Christians were still welcome in the synagogues until the early 2nd century. The church historian Eusebius mentions Jewish Christians, such as the bishop, Hegesippus. Robin Lane Fox in his book, Pagans and Christians, notes that the Jews were largely hostile and unresponsive to Christian mission. Christian preaching to Jews in the synagogues appears to cease with St. Paul. Given that the wider language of the Jewish diaspora was Greek and that after the First century Gentile Christians exceeded Jewish Christians, it appears to me that Matthew’s Aramaic Gospel may not have survived, not because it was deliberately suppressed, but because it wasn’t relevant to the wider Christian community. Its use by Aramaic-speaking Jews would have meant that it would have died out when their community did.

Syriac, the Peshitta, and the Hebrew Gospels

There is also the general point that the Patristic sources, which mention this version of the Matthew’s Gospel simply states that it was written for the Jews ‘in their own language’. This could be Aramaic, or possibly Hebrew. It may also mean that the Gospel was superseded by the Peshitta, the Syriac language version of the Bible used by Assyrian and other Eastern Orthodox churches. Syriac is descended from Aramaic, and developed around the city of Edessa after 200 AD.

Problems of Assuming Bible first Written in Aramaic

Now there is the problem in that ‘Submit’ assumes that the Bible, at least in its earliest stages and elements was composed first in Aramaic, then translated into Greek. But this need not necessarily have been the case. AS I have said, koine Greek was the international language of the eastern Mediterranean. The language of the imperial administration, up to the Muslim conquest in the 7th century AD was also Greek. It is possible that Christ may have known some Greek, and part of his answers when tried by Pilate may also have been in Greek. It’s thus possible that the first logia composed by the Christian community may have been in the Semitic koine Greek used by the Jewish communities there, rather than in Aramaic or Hebrew.

Differences in Gospel Copies due to Scribal Errors, Not Invention

Now let’s deal with his contention that there are major differences in the various copies of the Gospels. In fact what he is describing, and what Origen was trying to correct, are copying errors. Manuscripts were frequently copied through dictation. This allowed a single reader, dictating to a number of scribes at the same time, to produce many copies of the same book, rather than a single scribe laboriously copying out the text for one book after another. The problem with that process, however, is that words that sound the same could be confused. Furthermore, Greek texts from the ancient world can be extremely difficult to read. There’s very little punctuation, and no gaps between words. It’s also true that some scribes may have slightly altered the text to make the passage clearer. Despite this, there are no major differences. About 97 to 99 per cent of the text in all the extant copies of the Greek Bible is the same, and there are no differences when it comes to the fundamentals of the faith.

As for scribes changing the text of the Bible ‘at will’, this also isn’t true. The scribal changes follow the conventions of three different stylist families, resulting from the different scriptoria that produced them. If the scribes were introducing such changes at will, they would be much more random and it would be much more difficult to group them into families.

Conclusion: Gospel Texts Accurate with only Minor Differences

So the early Greek texts were not altered at will, but largely through scribal error, and these differences do not altered the fundamental meaning of the Gospels themselves. They remain largely accurate copies of the original documents.