Thursday, August 13, 2009

Christian Book Production in Ancient Egypt

Roger Bagnall, a papyrologist formerly at Columbia University and now at NYU, is releasing a new book on ancient Christian book production in Egypt from Princeton University Press:

For the past hundred years, much has been written about the early
editions of Christian texts discovered in the region that was once
Roman Egypt. Scholars have cited these papyrus manuscripts--containing
the Bible and other Christian works--as evidence of Christianity's
presence in that historic area during the first three centuries AD. In
Early Christian Books in Egypt, distinguished papyrologist Roger
Bagnall shows that a great deal of this discussion and scholarship has
been misdirected, biased, and at odds with the realities of the
ancient world. Providing a detailed picture of the social, economic,
and intellectual climate in which these manuscripts were written and
circulated, he reveals that the number of Christian books from this
period is likely fewer than previously believed.

Bagnall explains why papyrus manuscripts have routinely been dated too
early, how the role of Christians in the history of the codex has been
misrepresented, and how the place of books in ancient society has been
misunderstood. The author offers a realistic reappraisal of the number
of Christians in Egypt during early Christianity, and provides a
thorough picture of the economics of book production during the period
in order to determine the number of Christian papyri likely to have
existed. Supporting a more conservative approach to dating surviving
papyri, Bagnall examines the dramatic consequences of these findings
for the historical understanding of the Christian church in Egypt.

Roger S. Bagnall is professor of ancient history and director of the
Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University.
His books include Egypt in Late Antiquity (Princeton).

It looks like it is a rather short book, but, as all his work, I'm sure well worth the read. His Egypt in Late Antiquity is a must-read for anyone working in that period and place.

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