Thursday, June 23, 2011

The canonical collection of scriptures as 'library' among early Christians?

Craig A. Evans has posted a piece that suggests that the collection of literatures written by the apostles and earliest followers of Jesus were perhaps served as a library to be referred to by the community.

Evans' suggestion came by the appropriation of George W. Houston's research over,

"fifty collections and libraries (mostly) from the second century BCE to the third century CE. These were libraries and collections that were thrown out intact and centuries later recovered more or less intact. In addition to literary works were dated correspondence, notes, and commentaries that have made it possible in many cases to determine when manuscripts were copied and how long they were in use before being replaced or discarded. Houston finds that literary manuscripts were in use anywhere from 150 to 500 years, with the average usually 200 to 300 years."

If this is indeed the practice of the ancient Church, then that means the original writings, the autographs, were highly probably still in existent up till the third century A. D. This is significant because if this is true, then the transmission gap is much narrow than some presumed.

There are two implications. First, the content of the scriptures were more stable and less likely to be corrupted through the hand of the copyists because the original writings were still around for reference up to the third century A. D. That is Evans' point.

Second, which is my conjecture, is that the canonization process can be traced through this 'libraries' and hence explains the exclusion of other writings like those found in Nag Hammadi. These other writings were not recognized as canonical simply because they were not in those ancient collection.

If these two implications are correct, then it is not only that the transmission of the scriptures is stable but the collection of the canon itself existed very early and persistent.

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