17.11.14, Krueger and Nelson, eds., The New Testament in Byzantium

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Karin Krause

The Medieval Review 17.11.14

Krueger, Derek and Robert S. Nelson, eds. The New Testament in Byzantium. Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Symposia and Colloquia . Washington, D.C.: Harvard University Press, 2016. pp. 334. ISBN: 978-0-88402-414-9 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Karin Krause
The University of Chicago

This book comprises thirteen essays from a Byzantine Studies symposium held in 2013 at Dumbarton Oaks. Dedicated to the writings of the Greek New Testament, it complements an earlier volume on The Old Testament in Byzantium, which also emerged from a Dumbarton Oaks symposium (edited by Paul Magdalino and Robert S. Nelson, published in 2010). However, despite what the titles of these volumes might suggest--and unlike the common modern printed editions of the complete Christian Bible--the Bible, or its two major parts, were almost never copied as a whole in Byzantium, but split up into multiple volumes of varying content. The articles gathered in The New Testament in Byzantium illuminate why not only this publication but the subject in general is relevant for scholars from a variety of disciplines who are interested in the text of the Bible, as well as in the history and modes of its reception (in textual criticism, theology, exegesis, the visual arts, hagiography, the liturgy, etc.).

Chapter 1, "New Testaments of Byzantium. Seen, Heard, Written, Excerpted, Interpreted" (1-20), co-authored by Derek Krueger and Robert Nelson, provides an informative introduction to the significance of the NT for Byzantine culture, and it contextualizes the individual contributions to this volume that investigate the subject from highly diverse perspectives. The editors emphasize the need for a scholarly reassessment of the Greek NT and its transmission (in fact, among the most important merits of this publication are the open questions and future directions for research outlined by the individual authors). Starting from the important observation that "Christianity is not so much the religion of the New Testament as the religion of its use" (2), the editors highlight the importance of the oral transmission of its contents and its exegesis through liturgical readings from the NT itself, hymns, and homilies. By far the most important book to contain NT writings, rearranged in the order of the ecclesiastical year, was the gospel lectionary (euangelion), with 45% of all NT manuscripts preserved from Byzantium being lectionaries; in contrast, texts from the OT were rare among the liturgical readings. Since the authors emphasize the significant role visual images played in a primarily oral culture for the transmission of NT stories and teachings, it is somewhat regrettable that only two essays in this volume are dedicated specifically to these matters.

In chapter 2, "New Testament Textual Traditions in Byzantium" (21-32), David Parker draws attention to the fact that, although most of the manuscript material available to philologists originates from Byzantium, the wealth and variety of the Byzantine textual tradition has been significantly underappreciated in scholarship. He emphasizes that the so-called "Byzantine text" (termed the textus receptus, or majority text)--basically the text of Erasmus's 1516 edition, the first Greek NT to appear in print--"is not really a Byzantine text at all" (22). Countering the highly influential assumption of Westcott and Hort (the editors of the New Testament in the Original Greek, 1881) that there existed throughout the history of Byzantium a Greek standard version of the NT, Parker clarifies that "the concept of a unified Byzantine text is barely tenable" (28). He calls for a different, more flexible understanding of the distinctive text forms of NT writings circulating in Byzantium, in order to profit from the evidence that the Greek manuscript tradition can contribute to textual criticism. By means of concrete examples, the author demonstrates how this revised approach is helpful to substantiate variant readings known from other sources, or to supply additional (late) testimonies of unusual early text forms.

In chapter 3, "The Textual Affiliation of Deluxe Byzantine Gospel Books" (33-85), Kathleen Maxwell uses multi-disciplinary approaches in order to examine gospel books from the Early to the Late Byzantine period, outstanding exemplars along with ones that are less-well known. She inquires whether or not the interrelations established between certain deluxe manuscripts by art historians based on their figural and ornamental decoration are substantiated by textual criticism, or, put differently, to what extent text and decoration were copied from one and the same source. Including codicological and palaeographical data along with the textual and artistic evidence, she is able to demonstrate that one and the same scribe could be involved in the production of both deluxe and ordinary codices, based on the same textual exemplar. In fact, while Maxwell does discuss exceptions, she shows that it is relatively rare for codices that have been grouped together based on their figural and non-figural ornaments to also share textual profiles. Due to certain textual consistencies and relationships that exist among disparate manuscripts, Maxwell argues that scribes of both deluxe and more ordinary gospel books must have made use of older books of outstanding significance which were likely kept in "some common repository of manuscripts in Constantinople" (71).

Chapter 4 by Robert S. Nelson investigates the "Patriarchal Lectionaries of Constantinople. History, Attributions, and Prospects" (87-115). The author revisits scholarship that since the early 1980s has identified a relatively small number of manuscripts, mostly of luxurious design, as representatives of the so-called patriarchal lectionary. As a phenomenon that appears to be largely limited to the eleventh century, such manuscripts are believed to have been made for use by the patriarchs of Constantinople. This purpose is suggested by distinct features in the calendar and readings contained in these manuscripts, especially the preponderance of rubrics that refer to specific Constantinopolitan rites and assign certain pericopes to be read by the patriarch himself. Aiming to identify more patriarchal lectionaries, Nelson has examined roughly 130 manuscripts produced in the Middle and Late Byzantine periods that are likely of Constantinopolitan origin. He employed what he refers to as "the sampling method" (114), i.e. a survey focused on 16 diagnostic readings that have been identified as hallmarks typical of lectionaries assigned to the patriarchal group. The rich material presented in this article and the questions arising from it clearly merit further study as Nelson's discussion of select examples reveals certain methodological difficulties. Consequently, it is difficult to arrive at firm conclusions concerning what qualifies as a "patriarchal lectionary," especially in the case of ambiguous codices, whose contents only partly conform to the hallmarks defining the category. The complications of the category as such are perhaps most obvious when one considers that lectionaries with rubrics referring to rites and commemorations in the capital could be copied and used elsewhere, and such cases do exist. Similarly, the fact that certain pericopes are explicitly identified as readings by the patriarch, might not necessarily exclude the possibility that such books were from the start intended for use by others (in this context, it might be important to note that the list of lections on a page from a patriarchal lectionary now in Kiev, which is depicted in Fig. 4.7, is introduced by the remark that these pericopes are to be read "by the patriarch and the bishops"). It would be worthwhile to explore further the limits of the category of the patriarchal lectionary and its relation to "ordinary" gospel lectionaries, including questions of purpose and usage.

In chapter 5, "Producing New Testament Manuscripts in Byzantium. Scribes, Scriptoria, and Patrons" (117-145), Nadezhda Kavrus-Hoffmann approaches the subject from the practical side, an endeavor complicated by the fact that few Byzantine codices are equipped with colophons that would reveal the details about their origins scholars would so much like to learn more about. Assessing evidence from manuscripts containing NT writings and building upon previous studies by herself and others, the author distinguishes three basic types of scriptoria, those that were located in monasteries and produced codices for their institution's own library, "independent ones" (139) of commercial nature, producing for private individuals as well as monasteries, and finally monastic scriptoria that worked to supply both their own institution and outside patrons. While Kavrus-Hoffmann furnishes illuminating examples for each type based on her intimate familiarity with a substantial number of original Byzantine manuscripts, one wonders whether such clear-cut distinctions were the rule in Byzantium. In fact, the author herself reconstructs scenarios of collaboration, for example between monastic scribes and lay illustrators. Her argument raises questions regarding the organizational practicalities of these production centers--especially the "independent" ones, about which "very little" (140) is known--but also in light of the terminology employed in this article. "Ergasteria" is the term the author normally uses for "workshops" of laypersons, apparently to distinguish them from monastic production centers, which she refers to as "scriptoria." Aside from the fact that these terms seem somewhat tendentious, their implied distinctions according to the individuals involved, their purpose, and outreach are in fact not supported by Byzantine sources (nor does the author use them in an entirely consistent manner). However, whereas the reconstruction of production scenarios necessarily remains hypothetical, especially as far as more general conclusions are concerned, this article presents valuable new insight into the features of a large number of individual manuscripts, their codicological and paleographical characteristics, their interconnections with other books, and the practicalities governing their creation.

Authored by Fr. Maximos Constas, the sixth chapter, "The Reception of Paul and of Pauline Theology in the Byzantine Period" (147-176), is one of the few contributions to the volume that explore Byzantine biblical exegesis beyond the patristic age. It focuses on a biblical author, who, as Constas argues, "stands at the very center of the Byzantine exegetical and theological tradition" (147). During the Early Byzantine period, he identifies the contribution of (Ps.) Dionysios the Areopagite as "a significant but still largely unrecognized milestone" (153). Constas goes on briefly to discuss the last Byzantine commentaries on the letters of Paul drawn up in the eleventh and twelfth centuries by Theophylaktos of Ohrid and Euthymios Zigabenos, which are usually dismissed by scholars as derivative. Summarizing some of the merits of these commentaries, he invites scholars to recognize them "as works in their own right" (161), which also applies to the catenae (extracts compiled from a variety of different sources). However, the main focus of Constas's essay is on the Late Byzantine period, which, as he argues, "was marked by an extraordinary appropriation of Pauline theology that has hitherto escaped scholarly notice" (176). Through careful analysis of key passages from the Triads by Gregory Palamas (1338/40), especially the first Triad, Constas unravels the profound influence Paul's letters had on Palamas' theology, prompting the author to even suggest that the Hesychast controversy "should be seen as a debate about who was the true follower of Paul" (162).

In chapter 7 on "The Hagiographer's Bible: Intertextuality and Scriptural Culture in the Late Sixth and the First Half of the Seventh Century" (177-189), Derek Krueger examines the intertwinings of hagiography and the Bible with an analysis of five sample texts written for varying audiences. Krueger argues that the authors of these saints' lives took into account the respective social milieu and level of familiarity their intended audience had with the texts of the Bible, usually through liturgical readings; he suggests that future systematic study of NT quotations in early saints' lifes associated with the capital might shed light on the development of the lectionary cycle, of which little is known before the tenth century. Krueger's analysis pays attention solely to direct biblical quotations, the frequency of which greatly varies in these selected writings, being especially dense in Eustratios's Life of Eutychios that has ca. one quotation per 100 words. While the insight Krueger's intertextual analysis of selected passages is illuminating as to the aims and strategies of Early Byzantine hagiographers, the limitation, here, to the analysis of "verbatim or near verbatim" (182) biblical quotations gives rise to concerns as to possible interpretive distortions. In fact, the author himself addresses a number of "caveats" (182) with his own chosen approach, the implications of which for his overall argument are, however, considered only briefly in his intertextual analysis. One wonders, for instance, how in the saints' lives discussed here, other forms of reference to biblical writings (e.g. paraphrase, allusion) relate--in number and relevance--to the "accurate" quotations present in these texts, to what degree such indirect citations may be important for the author's rhetorical strategy, and whether such differences mattered at all to those who were exposed to the text. Likewise, can the intended audience and its familiarity with the Bible always be circumscribed--or reconstructed--with clarity? Would hagiographers not have taken into account the likelihood of different levels of (biblical) education within their target group (e.g. a monastic community, as in the case of John Moschos's Spiritual Meadow which forms part of the author's sample texts), or aimed to write for multiple audiences that possibly shifted over time?

The features of biblical exegesis employed by Byzantine preachers are the subject of chapter 8, Mary B. Cunningham's essay "The Interpretation of the New Testament in Byzantine Preaching. Mediating an Encounter with the Word" (191-203). She discusses how in Byzantium biblical interpretation both continues and deviates from methods originating from the patristic era. It must be said, though, that her analysis is limited almost exclusively to sample texts from the works of early exegetes, up to the ninth century. Although the methods of biblical exegesis were never formally defined in Byzantium, preachers employed basically four distinct approaches, often within one and the same sermon: literal/historical exegesis, moral/ethical interpretation, allegory, and typology (the latter--revealing how NT persons or events are foreshadowed in the OT--being a modern concept, which was in antiquity considered a form of allegory). She argues that different liturgical contexts led preachers to use different techniques of exegesis, without, however, adhering to a rigid rule: sermons delivered on the great feast days of the liturgical calendar tended to favor the typological method, thus revealing the didactic aims of preachers who on such occasions emphasized the "timeless symbolism" (202) of scripture, whereas sermons on more ordinary days or festal homilies delivered during Lent were aimed at moral instruction, sometimes mixed with allegorical interpretation.

Chapter 9, "Bearing Witness. New Testament Women in Early Byzantine Hymnography" (205-219), by Susan Ashbrook Harvey explores works by two outstanding hymnographers, Ephrem the Syrian, active in fourth-century Nisibis and Edessa, and Romanos the Melodist, writing in sixth-century Constantinople. Both poets are known for their hymns honoring the Virgin Mary, but they also write about other biblical women, including those of the NT, who interacted with Christ. Given that these latter women are usually only mentioned briefly in the NT narratives, the rich elaboration of these encountered in Ephrem's and Romanos's hymns is remarkable. Ashbrook Harvey examines these texts, written for public performance during vigil (night) services, as mirrors of their respective civic context, and she reveals how in these works women serve as "especially powerful models for Christian self-presentation amid a rapidly changing social order" (206). Two compilations of Ephrem's hymns highlight biblical women and, significantly, were also voiced by female choirs, his twenty-eight Hymns on the Nativity dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and fifty-two Hymns on Virginity. As an exegetical strategy, Ephrem often intertwined women of the OT and NT in order to emphasize the unity of both testaments (an issue that was still disputed in his context). Biblical women commonly serve in these hymns as "figures righteously devoted in the face of grave public opposition" (209), and NT women in particular are "models for apostolic faith" (209), who unfailingly witness and proclaim Christ. Ashbrook Harvey views them as instructive role models within the larger contemporary context of the orthodox church, being "maligned and scorned by her rivals and foes, yet perfect in her faithfulness" (214). In contrast, Romanos composed his hymns at a time of normative Christian orthodoxy, which is reflected in his tendency to highlight subjectivity and the individual Christian's aspiration toward spiritual perfection. Focusing on the example of Romanos's presentation of the Samaritan Woman, Ashbrook Harvey shows how the poet transposes his audience into the gospel account that provides "a frame through which to fashion self-understanding" (215).

In chapter 10, "Contemplating the Life of Christ in the Icons of the Twelve Feasts of Our Lord" (221-237), Charles Barber demonstrates the enhanced interest in eleventh-century Byzantium in underscoring the value of the totality of Christ's life for religious contemplation. This tendency is evident in Nicholas of Andida's Protheoria, a commentary on the Divine Liturgy drawn up in Constantinople during the second half of the eleventh century. The text is especially remarkable because, unlike earlier commentaries, it seeks to map Christ's entire life onto the liturgy that unfolds as a parallel to this life. The commentary is also noteworthy for its allusions to icon painting and the explicit parallels it draws between the liturgy and narrative icons that depict episodes from the life of Christ. Barber views Nicholas's commentary in direct relation to contemporary innovations in the realm of icon painting, particularly the cycles on templon beams that emerge around the same time. Atop icon screens, these beams display twelve scenes from the life of Christ which are arranged in the order of the liturgical feasts. Intended to be read as a unity, the individual scenes that are organized around the central image of the Deesis (depicting the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist flanking Christ and performing prayers on behalf of mankind). As Barber argues, the combination of this intercessory image with select images from the life of Christ "proposes a connection between the contemplation of that life and the prospect of salvation for the one contemplating that life" (226); individual salvation thus correlates directly with the entirety of Christ's life on earth as exemplified on icons and reenacted in the liturgy. In chapter 11, "Narrating the Sacred Story. New Testament Cycles in Middle and Late Byzantine Church Decoration" (239-275), Nektarios Zarras sets out to examine the influence of sermons and other liturgical texts on monumental art. From the twelfth century on, new scenes and cycles expand the core scenes and restricted narratives that were common in earlier centuries. The author attempts to cover a lot of material in just one article and significant parts of his argument have been relegated to the footnotes that also contain a rich bibliographical apparatus. In the first half of this essay, Zarras discusses various aspects of the mosaic cycles in the monastery churches of the Nea Moni on Chios (ca. 1050) and Daphni, near Athens (ca. 1100), along with the Resurrection cycle of the destroyed church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople, once one of the largest and most important churches of the capital. As evidence for the latter, he refers to the ekphrasis (rhetorical description) composed by Nicholas Mesarites around 1200. It is not explained what motivations triggered this particular selection of examples from the Middle Byzantine period, and it should perhaps have been problematized that the programs of the Nea Moni and Daphni survive in a badly damaged and fragmentary condition. In addition, of the preserved scenes and figures, the author only discusses a selection in each case, also leaving out the greater part of the Christological cycle that once adorned the Holy Apostles. Zarras's references to the mosaics of this Constantinopolitan church make the reader almost forget that these images are long gone in their entirety. Some remarks as to the reliability of Mesarites's ekphrasis for the purpose of reconstruction and iconographical analysis would have been useful, therefore, especially given the well-known pitfalls created by this literary genre for art historians. The fact that these three churches varied in function, architectural type, and size, could have also been explored more, including with regard to matters of accessibility, visibility, and viewer response. Two drawings that visualize the arrangement of scenes in the vaults of the Nea Moni and at Daphni, respectively (Figs. 11.1 and 11.5), are helpful for following Zarras's reasoning on how theological concepts guided the selection of scenes and their distribution in these spaces. For instance, in the case of Nea Moni, he argues that the most significant events were purposefully arranged in the conches on the main axes of the building, with the scene of the Nativity located opposite the Crucifixion and the Baptism facing the Resurrection. The author's theological and liturgical argument regarding the two pairings is convincingly substantiated by patristic writings. In other cases, however, combinations of scenes might in the first place be the result of their chronological order within the cycle, for instance in the case of the Presentation and Deposition at Nea Moni which are arranged diagonally opposite each other. The extract from a sermon of (Ps.-)John Chrysostom Zarras quotes to explain what he sees as a purposeful combination of images appears to rather allude to the events of the Annunciation and Crucifixion. This is just one example of several in this article, where primary writings seem to have been chosen somewhat randomly in relation to iconography. Zarras's conclusions that the design of the cycle at Nea Moni reveals the "dominant concept of the humanity and divinity of Christ" (240), while convincing, holds basically true for most, if not all, Christological cycles of medieval Byzantium, and it is thus difficult to see why the author characterizes this program as "emphatically orthodox" (248). At Daphni, Zarras argues, the designer intended "to extol in equal measure Christ and Mary" (253), and he views the doctrine of the incarnation as "the basic concept animating the program" (253). The odd inclusion in the Christological cycle of the scene of the Birth of the Virgin (situated in proximity to the Annunciation and Nativity of Christ) seems to support these conclusions, whereas the mosaics of the Virgin and Christ Child in the apse and the Dormition of the Virgin (Koimesis) on the West wall, which the author likewise interprets in support of his theory, are commonplace topics found in these spaces in various Byzantine churches. It therefore seems a stretch to refer to these images as an "extensive mariological cycle" (261). These critiques acknowledged, however, the second part of this article presents an insightful overview of some of the main characteristics of Late Byzantine monumental art, focusing on important examples of NT cycles from the periphery of the empire, including Serbia and Crete. In the Late Byzantine period, painters often faced the challenge of having to cover the enlarged surfaces that resulted from larger church buildings. These demands, along with the introduction of new liturgical readings, resulted in a significant expansion of visual narratives. In describing how textual narratives are turned into complex visual cycles, the author also highlights the importance of inscriptions as an integral part of monumental art that displays a "verbal-visual dialogue" (265).

Chapter 12, "Conservation and Conversation. New Testament Catenae in Byzantium" (277-299), authored by William Lamb, is an insightful study of a form of interpretation of the NT that was very common in Byzantium, yet remains much neglected by scholars (in contrast to the study of OT catenae which was significantly advanced in the past century). In this essay, Lamb provides a comprehensive survey of the existing catenae for the writings of the NT, listing in charts the surviving manuscripts testifying to different types and recensions. This useful overview is framed by a critical assessment of previous scholarship on this form of biblical commentary that emerged in the fifth and sixth centuries. Likening them to Wikipedia, Lamb characterizes the catenae as a phenomenon of continuous additions and amendments resulting in a "chaotic manuscript tradition" (277) with no two copies being exactly identical. Following and expanding upon their positive assessment by Robert Devreesse, the author credits the catenae mostly for their "wealth of evidence about the ways in which biblical commentators in the Byzantine world responded to the interpretations of earlier commentators" (278). Countering the view that catenists uncritically compiled material excerpted from various sources in a doctrinally neutral way, Lamb honors them for alerting "the reader to the density of meaning within the scriptures" (298) and he values the compilers' scholastic efforts at generating a theological conversation. Based on examples taken from the Catena in Marcum (cf. the edition and translation published by the same author in 2012), Lamb points out that the compilation was by no means arbitrary, but "a highly selective exercise" (296).

In chapter 13, "The Afterlife of the Apocalypse of John in Byzantium" (301-316), Stephen Shoemaker recapitulates the difficult history of the Apocalypse within the NT canon. In fact, it "remains the most controversial and debated book of the New Testament" (302) even today. With the exception of the Coptic Church, the text is absent from the liturgical readings of Eastern Christianity (and it should perhaps be added that the text of the Apocalypse was also never illustrated in Byzantium, in contrast to the rich pictorial tradition encountered in the Latin West). The marginalization of the Apocalypse in the Greek East, as scholars have argued, is largely owed to Eusebius' critical assessment of its status in his influential Ecclesiastical History, and doubts regarding its canonicity persist throughout the Byzantine period. Only from the eleventh century was the text copied more frequently in Byzantium, and almost never was it united with other biblical writings in the same manuscript. A "dramatic increase" (304) of the number of testimonies can be observed in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, likely resulting from the trauma brought about by the fall of Constantinople in 1453. There exist four Byzantine commentaries on the Apocalypse drawn up between the sixth and the thirteenth century, of which that authored by Andrew of Caesarea (ca. 600) offered the standard interpretation in Byzantine Orthodoxy. While the Apocalypse of John had almost no influence on the apocalyptic literature of Byzantium, scholars have pointed out parallels with the Jewish apocalyptic tradition (Sefer Zerubbabel; Sefer Eliyyahu).

Several contributions to this book have made profitable use of the rich tools and resources on Greek NT manuscripts provided by the >Institute for New Testament Textual Research (INTF) in Münster, which are constantly being updated and increasingly made available online: http://ntvmr.uni-muenster.de/home). This collection of essays is equipped with a detailed General Index and an Index of Manuscripts. With regard to the book's future use, it would have been beneficial to also include an index listing the GA numbers of codices (according to the common cataloging system of Greek NT codices first devised by Caspar René Gregory and continued by Kurt Aland), especially since these numbers are normally supplied in the individual contributions and also facilitate access to the INTF's electronic databases. The book was edited with great care, however, and is beautifully designed and generously illustrated, including many figures in color.

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