ï~~Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 47 (2010) 351-353
Roger S. Bagnall, Early Christian Books in Egypt. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2009. xvi + 110 pages. ISBN 978 -0-691-14026-1.
The four chapters comprising Roger Bagnall's Early Christian Books in
Egypt are based on four lectures delivered in May 2006 at the Ecole Pratique
des Hautes Etudes (5e section). Since the chapters preserve the general character and style of the lecture series, this book is a fairly straightforward and
easy read that is readily accessible to the non-specialist. This does not imply,
however, that it is of little or no value to the specialist, as Bagnall periodically
challenges the status quo by inviting specialists in the field to rethink some
of their assumptions about the early Christian literary remains from Egypt.
In Chapter One, "The Dating of the Earliest Christian Books in Egypt:
General Considerations," Bagnall declares that as a result of the current state of
scholarship, which he provocatively characterizes as "self-enclosed" and lacking in "self-awareness,' he feels compelled to wade into this subject matter. In
this chapter Bagnall is principally troubled with the assumption/conclusion
allegedly pervasive in scholarship that the presence of early Christian fragments from various locations in the chora necessarily implies that already in
the second century Christians had a significant presence throughout Egypt. He
counters by pointing out that some of these "early" Christian fragments probably date to the third century. He also suggests that the proportional number of
early Christian fragments can be potentially misleading since whenever such a
fragment is found it tends to be published immediately whereas non-Christian
literary fragments from the same period are not pursued and published with
such urgency. Bagnall therefore argues that Christian texts could actually be
proportionally overrepresented in the second century and thus give a misleading impression about the actual number of Christians in the chora at this time.
In the second chapter, "Two Case Studies," Bagnall seeks to highlight how
there are sometimes hidden agendas at play in the palaeographically based
dates assigned to early Christian documents. He therefore assesses the controversial dating of some early pieces by Carsten Thiede to underscore this point.
He convincingly shows how Thiede's attempt to redate two fragments of Matthew (P64 and P67), first to the late first century, then to the mid first century,
was based more on a theological agenda that sought to establish an early date
for this Gospel than it was on a rigorous and sincere attempt to correctly date
these two fragments. Bagnall then juxtaposes this episode with Nikolaos Gonis' judicious and impartial dating of certain early fragments belonging to the
Shepherd of Hermas (POxy. 69.4706) to demonstrate how paleographical dating should ideally be conducted. Bagnall concludes the chapter with a warning