Book Note: The Earliest Christian Artifacts (Larry Hurtado)

Professor Larry Hurtado has written a helpful guide to the manuscript tradition in early Christianity. The book is called The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins. He gives an outline of our earliest manuscripts in chapter one. Then he discusses the rise of the Codex and its desirability among Christians. He asks why the Codex became an early Christian convention. He suggests that one of the main reasons was its portability, that modest-sized codices may have been attractive and serviceable for itinerant Christian teachers and evangelists, perhaps even as early as the first century. But that this factor becomes less of an issue in the second and third centuries when Hurtado argues that books were being prepared for Christians in residence (p. 67). He includes chapters on the Nomina Sacra and the Staurogram, subjects which he has explored in earlier publications and presentations. His final chapter describes other scribal features such as Codex size, use of columns, margins, lines per page, reader's aids, and corrections.

His work is highly interpretative, since one of the main goals of the work appears to me to understand why the Christian scribes used the Codex, why they used the abbreviations they did, what the size of the manuscript means, and so forth. His conclusions suggest that these can tell us something significant about their faith and its performance, that the specific nature of the manuscript is an artifact of early Christian usage and religious life (p. 189).