How it is possible to step into these evolutionary streams at various points in order to derive firm “historical” details and conclusions is a major problem. In addition to the complex problems of continuities and discontinuities of ideas and perspectives, of “borrowing” and “adapting” earlier materials, we often neglect to take into consideration the “physical” realities of the worlds with which we deal. How shall we think about “bible” in a world of individual scrolls and similarly constrained early codices?3 Where there is no general educational system in place -- if, indeed, that was the situation -- how do traditions get transmitted and presentational methods developed? Where most of our written evidence comes from copies of copies that have been transmitted and possibly transformed over centuries of time through many generations of users—and sometimes only in translations, even translations of translations -- how confident can we be of materials that on other grounds can be shown to have been problematic at some stages in the process?1 Gilbert and Sullivan, “H.M.S. Pinafore” (1878) [variant, "Things are seldom as they seem"]
2 Barnabas and the Didache (1965) 1.
While I am not an advocate of complete historical skepticism and despair, my hope is that these essays may at least encourage the readers and users to become more self-conscious about how they approach <>such materials and issues, in hopes that more solid -- or at least less [] unstable -- grounds can be established for moving the study of these subjects forward. New tools are becoming available for the tasks, the potential of which has only begun to be tapped. In some areas of study, what took untold hours for the giants on whose shoulters we stand to accomplish (in searching for relevant parallels, for example) can now be done in minutes, leaving us with more time and opportunity to evaluate the older syntheses and hypotheses and develop new approaches, if needed. New information is being discovered as well as created, and equally important, is increasingly available electronically to the discriminating searcher. “Armchair archaeology,” and similar “armchair” manuscript study, is becoming a necessary commonplace to which the researcher can contribute as well drawing from it. The horizon is bright, but desired destinations cannot be reached automatically or effortlessly. May we all proceed with deliberate speed and due caution in the task of understanding the complex past in the context of our equally complex present and future.43 See my “The Codex and Canon Consciousness” (2002) for some aspects of this problem.
4 Further musings on the situation may be found in my 2006 SBL Presidential Address, “Para-Mania: Beside, Before, and Beyond Bible Studies,” JBL 126 (2007) 5–27 [available as a full electronic version with linked images].