Editor's Note: This is the second review of Kim Haines-Eitzen's book to appear in TC. The first, by David Parker, can be found at http://purl.org/TC/vol07/Haines-Eitzen2002rev.html. The editors hope that the contrasting evaluations expressed in these two reviews will stimulate discussion about the important topics raised in the book.

This article is also available in transliteration and text-only format.

Kim Haines-Eitzen. Guardians of Letters: Literacy, Power, and the Transmitters of Early Christian Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Pp. x + 212. ISBN 0-19-513564-4. US $52.00.1

1. Kim Haines-Eitzen's book is the published version of a dissertation done under Bart Ehrman. The author sets out to assess the roles of early Christian scribes within the broader context of contemporary Greco-Roman culture. One may even call the project a sociological sketch of Early Christian scribal performances. "The central theses . . . are that the scribes who copied early Christian literature were also the users of this literature and that these scribes formed private networks for the transmission of Early Christian literature during the second and third centuries" (16). The author develops her case in five chapters: 1: "Locating the Copyists of Early Christian Literature" (21-39); 2: "Female Scribes in Roman Antiquity and Early Christianity" (41-51); 3: "The Education and Training of Early Christian Scribes" (53-75); 4: "Private Scribal Networks and the Transmission of Early Christian Literature" (77-103); 5: "Contested Readings, Authoritative Texts, and Early Christian Scribes" (105-127). A four page "Conclusion," "Notes," a "Selected Bibliography," and a two-page "Index" conclude the book.

2. The first three chapters are devoted to discussing questions like "Who were the scribes (Christian as well as Greco-Roman)?" "What was their social standing?" "What skills did they display?" This part of the study is generally well argued. A good case is made for the multifunctionality of early Christian scribes, based on the observation that "our earliest Christian papyri . . . all exhibit the influences of literary and documentary styles, and they all seem to be located in the middle of the spectrum of experience and level of skills" (75). Although I was initially a bit hesitant to accept the author's overall theses, after reading through the first three chapters I was ready to embrace them, simply because of the careful and balanced judgments that she presented to that point. Thus, my expectations were high when I began reading chapters four and five, the main pillars of her case. Unfortunately, in those critical chapters the author does not present a case that convinces me.

3. The overarching problem is that the author concentrates so much on the scribes that she almost completely neglects other agents in early Christian churches, such as bishops, presbyters, deacons, and readers, who also played important roles in the care and transmission of the text. Although it is quite understandable from the focus of the study that scribes and their "world" are brought to the fore, other social networks within Christianity have not received sufficient attention. As a result, a meaningful picture of the purported scribal networks cannot be placed in a realistic historical context, and this failure is detrimental to the author's argument.

4. Another weakness in the author's presentation is that she does not adequately distinguish the various roles of the different individuals who are involved with a text after it has been authored. This lack is operative on two levels. First, the author fails to distinguish editing a book from manufacturing a book. The former involves intellectual work, such as selecting the texts, subdividing them into books or chapters, adding titles and prefaces, and so forth. The latter involves the actual physical work, such as preparing the sheets, ruling the pages, and transcribing the texts. Second, the author does not discuss the distinction between producing a book (i.e., editing + manufacturing) and using a book. Using a book may include such activities as reading it, working through its text, exchanging it, using it for teaching purposes, or annotating it. Although one and the same individual could perform more than one role, these are nevertheless different roles that need to be kept separate in order to draw a meaningful and sensible picture of the social life of texts. Unfortunately, the author adopted what I would call a "scribes-only perspective" that results in a series of forced interpretations of the source material.

5. The following detailed critique of chapters four and five is intended to justify the present reviewer's essentially negative evaluation of the author's overall theses as cited above. Moreover, it is hoped that the issues, which need to be accounted for when assessing the roles of the scribes of early Christian literature, will become very clear.

Who contributed what and when to a manuscript? - On the roles of scribes, correctors, readers, and owners of manuscripts

6. Although the author is perfectly aware that we have to differentiate between the roles of individuals that lay their hands on a given manuscript, she only occasionally makes use of that knowledge. On page 86, for example, the author mentions the owners of (literary) manuscripts as being most prominent among those who annotate and correct manuscripts. Yet this example of distinguishing the different roles of those who contribute to a manuscript is not elaborated further. For example, what do different hands tell us about the different roles? Is it possible to distinguish owners' notes or corrections from those of (professional or non-professional) scribes? Instead, the author almost immediately falls back into her scribes-only approach.

7. This is especially apparent in her interpretation of the marginal note at Hebrews 1:3 in Codex Vaticanus, which reads, "Ignoramus and knave, leave the old [reading], and do not change it!" referring to the person who corrected a reading in the manuscript. The author introduces this note on page 53 with the words, "Inscribed in the margins of the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus are the words of one scribe to another. . . ." Let me ask then: What qualifies this note as a "scribal" product? Why was it a "scribe" and not the owner or a reader or a corrector who never acted as "scribe" in the rest of the manuscript or beyond? Moreover, the aforementioned note refers to some sort of a "corrector." Who is to say that the corrector should be called a scribe? To put it boldly, not everybody who is able to read and write, even when leaving traces in a manuscript, is performing the role of a scribe.

8. In this very case an additional point bothers me as well. The author simply does not pay enough attention to the dates of the corrections and the marginal note in Codex Vaticanus. Although she seems to be aware that the second correction is dated to the 13th century, she nevertheless interprets the phenomenon at Hebrews 1:3 as a "scribal contest over readings" (110). She even goes on to say: "With a simple erasure, the scribes [sic] of Vaticanus . . . " (111), as if the 10th/11th century reader/corrector that changed the original reading and the 13th century reader/corrector that returned to the original not only performed the roles of scribes, but actually both belonged to the scribes of Codex Vaticanus. This is a serious violation of basic paleographical rules. Hands within a manuscript that are not contemporary are under no circumstances "scribes" of that manuscript. The same is true for the 15th century "scribe" that added missing parts of Codex Vaticanus. He or she is not a scribe of Codex Vaticanus. It may seem pedantic to insist on that difference. But the author's scribes-only perspective in this case creates not only considerable paleographical confusion, it produces anachronistic, even contradictory results with respect to her portrait of scribal performances.

9. Let me briefly elaborate on that. The study under review promises to relate the Christian scribal performances of the first three centuries CE to the contexts of those times. The most important contexts in the author's view, however, were the theological/ideological controversies that eventually resulted in the emergence of the so-called "orthodoxy" as the winning party. In the author's judgment the performance of scribes of early Christian literature was constrained and shaped by these controversies; with the readings from their pens they were even directly investing in these controversies (cf. 16, 111-124). Using evidence from the second millennium to illustrate that point ("scribal contest over readings"), however, must be seen as a serious challenge to the author's case. Even if, for the sake of argument, we concede that the data in Codex Vaticanus could indeed be perceived as "scribal" activity, this then would be a "scribal contest over readings" that took place seven to ten centuries after the period the author is interested in. Here her scribes-only perspective changes into an early-scribes-only perspective. This is not only anachronistic, but it also identifies the first three centuries--the time of the supposed "theologically invested" scribes (16)--and the second millennium--the time for which Codex Vaticanus provides evidence of "scribal contests over readings." What then is so special about the first three centuries regarding "theologically invested" scribes?

10. In marked contrast to the extensive discussion of a thirteenth century marginal note, the author makes only superficial use of marginal notes in our early NT papyri. In passing, she mentions a few marginal notes from P72 on page 103, yet without assessing them in their entirety. Moreover, she completely ignores those found in P75. It is true that there are very few marginal notes in this manuscript, yet among them is a very striking example in the story of the cleansing of the ten lepers. A cursive ("documentary") hand, perhaps still from the third century, added to the lower margin: "I will: Be clean! And instantly they became clean" (Qe/lw kaqari/sqhte: kai\ eu0qe/wj e0kaqari/sqhsan). This addition to Lk 17:14 evokes phrasing found in an earlier story of the cleansing of one leper in Lk 5:13 (D 05) || Mk 1:41-42. If scribal performances of the first three centuries are under scrutiny, why not explore the marginalia of the papyri?

11. The author seems to have a rather Manichaean concept of early Christian manuscript production and distribution: it is either privately and informally organized among the scribes themselves, or it is formally and professionally organized via scriptoria. Consequently, the problem of appropriate distinctions between editing and manufacturing a book becomes apparent. The author devotes some effort to downplaying evidence that points to centralized editing efforts involving early Christian literature (evidence for scriptoria, use of nomina sacra, and the codex form). Instead she promotes the "Bodmer 'miscellany'" (96-104) as a model for her thesis: "Transmission of Christian literature . . . appears to have proceeded along the personal channels of friendships and acquaintances" (104). According to this theory the editorial process--by which individual writings have been selected, named, and combined--apparently remains within those private and informal "scribal" circles as well. It is unclear to the present reviewer how editorial decisions made within such channels, especially with respect to superscribed book titles, should have gained the level of unanimity and stability that is displayed by the textual transmission of the NT without centralized efforts (Trobisch 2000). Moreover, what about the second-century editions of NT writings like Marcion's NT and Tatian's Diatessaron? Marcion's NT remained essentially stable and intact, and thus identifiable, from the end of the second century (Tertullian) till the second half of the fourth century (Epiphanius), at least. How does the concept of private scribal networks account for an edition as complex as this, which includes theologically re-edited versions of ten letters of Paul plus a re-edited version of Luke? This last point introduces my second point of concern with the author's concept of private scribal networks.

What are "private channels of text transmission," "active scribal networks," and who exerted power by what means? - The quest for appropriate sociological categories within Early Christianity

12. Under the heading "The primacy of individual and private channels of text transmission," the author analyzes the communication between the two churches in Philomelium and Smyrna, which resulted in the compilation of a written account about Polycarp's martyrdom. She portrays "the initial stage of writing" as "a group effort: a circle of readers and writers at Smyrna prepare a written text and send it to the Philomelians, who in turn pass it on to other 'brethren'" (80). From an analysis of the writing's postscript the author seems to imply that this was an informal initiative among a couple of interested individuals. I can hardly see that this interpretation adequately deals with the rhetorical situation of that writing. Gerd Buschmann's recent analysis of the terminology used in the postscript makes it very likely that we are dealing here with a letter of the genos "Paideutikon" between churches (and not individuals), invoking an authoritative substructure (Buschmann 1998:357-358). Moreover, even without rhetorical analysis I keep wondering how the two names of the compiler ("brother Markion [or Marcianus]") and the scribe ("Evaristos") mentioned in the postscript justify the sweeping expression "readers and writers at Smyrna," let alone the designation "circle."

13. Besides a postscript, the Martyrdom of Polycarp has colophon endings (22.2-4), where it is said that a certain Gaius transcribed the account from the writings of Irenaeus, a certain Socrates copied it in Corinth from the copies of Gaius, and finally a certain Pionius wrote it, "after searching for it, according to a revelation of the blessed Polycarp . . . and I gathered it together when they had already been worn out with age." The author interprets the colophons as indicative of "an active scribal network" (81, my emphasis), speaking of an "implied relationship--. . . an impersonal connection--between Gaius and Socrates." To ask the obvious, what does "active scribal network" mean, if some 50 to 100 years lay between the two individuals in question? I ask this question because the author is obviously inclined to include even the "relationship" between Socrates and Pionius in the same "scribal network," although it is obvious that Pionius is completely disconnected from any notion of an "active scribal network" that makes sense. After all he needed a revelation to find a copy that had "already been worn out with age." Moreover, the author immediately compares these "relationships between scribes" (i.e., Gaius, Socrates, and Pionius) with "the circle of readers in upper Egypt who correspond about obtaining copies of books" (81) as expressed in a letter from Oxyrhynchus (P. Oxy. 2192). I must admit that I was flabbergasted to read this, because the most important aspects of the "circle of readers" as displayed by the Oxyrhynchus letter are that they really did correspond with each other, because they knew each other and were alive at the time of their correspondence, none of which is attested for the "relationship" between Gaius, Socrates, and Pionius.

14. The author's scribes-only perspective provides a stunning interpretation (126) of the debate between Serapion of Antioch and the church of Rhossos over the Gospel of Peter (cf. Eusebius, H.E. 6.12), when Serapion, although originally permitting the reading of this gospel, subsequently changed his mind and wrote to warn against the use of the Gospel of Peter. The author's interpretation is as follows: "This incident shows not only the power that literate Christians wielded in Early Christianity (by excluding certain books from the canon and disallowing their use), but also the important ramifications of the debates and decisions of literate Christians (those who could read and write had the power to ensure longevity of their notion of 'orthodoxy')." This interpretation seems to assume that literacy was the means by which Serapion of Antioch exerted his power, completely ignoring the fact that Serapion was the reigning bishop of Antioch. It was his official duty to communicate about what was right or wrong in the church, what should be allowed to be read and what should be disallowed. Even if Serapion had been illiterate--which in all likelihood he was not--he would have had his staff to ensure his "functionality" as leading bishop. The author simply does not pay close enough attention to the role-models of the relevant functional elites in Early Christianity. Besides, does the author really think that literacy was the means of ensuring the survival of a certain belief? Is the reverse true as well, that those that have been excluded (because of alleged heterodoxy) suffered their fate because they were not literate, or at least literate enough to ensure the longevity of their notion of "orthodoxy"? What about second century Gnostics like Valentinus and Basilides and their schools? What about Marcion, who edited a NT? Did their ideas pass away because they were barely literate? This would, no doubt, counter one of the few accepted convictions of scholars of ancient Christianity, namely that second- and third-century "heterodoxy" displays much more learning and advanced intellectual standing than the so-called "orthodoxy."

15. To sum up, the author's enthusiasm for the scribes, all too often neglected figures in the study of ancient literature, pushes the pendulum too far to the other side. Unfortunately, the results are some rather troubling blind spots in her attempt to produce a comprehensive picture of the various roles played by the agents of ancient literary production and Early Christian institutions. Despite the aforementioned criticisms, I would like to thank the author for providing me with a lot of food for thought. The roles of scribes and other users of Early Christian literature, no doubt, need closer attention when it comes to assessing the history of these texts.

© TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 2002.


1This is a slightly revised and augmented version of a review, which was publicly presented at the panel review session of the New Testament Textual Criticism Section at the SBL meeting in Nashville, TN, on Sunday, November 19, 2000. I would like to thank Michael Holmes, the chairman of the session for inviting me to that presentation, the SBL for awarding a travel grant, and the participants in that session, who encouraged me to publish my review.


Buschmann, Gerd 1998. Das Martyrium des Polykarp. Kommentar zu den Apostolischen Vätern 6. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Trobisch, David 2000. The First Edition of the New Testament. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Translation of Die Endredaktion des Neuen Testaments: Eine Untersuchung zur Entstehung der christlichen Bibel. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht/Fribourg: Universitätsverlag, 1996.

Ulrich Schmid
Research Fellow
Graduate Institute for Theology and Religion
The University of Birmingham, UK