Derek Krueger and Robert S. Nelson, editors. The New Testament in Byzantium. Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Symposia and Colloquia. Harvard University Press, 2016.
In the spring of 2013, Dumbarton Oaks dedicated its annual symposium to the New Testament in Byzantium. This volume of collected essays represents the fruit of that gathering, a counterpart to a previous symposium and volume, The Old Testament in Byzantium (2010). The introduction by the volume’s editors, Derek Krueger and Robert S. Nelson, maps the challenges of studying the New Testament within Byzantine culture. Krueger and Nelson observe that contemporary scholarship on the Bible, informed by post-Reformation text-centered approaches, often obscures the “living” nature of biblical texts in Byzantine world. The included essays model how accounts of the materiality of manuscripts, liturgical performance, and reception can mutually illumine the cultural, religious, and intellectual force of biblical literature.
The essays in the first half of the volume introduce the textual and material complexities of studying Byzantine Christianity. David Parker’s contribution troubles uncritical assumptions about the form of the New Testament text in Byzantium since the “concept of a unified Byzantine text is barely tenable” (28). Since early modernity, western scholarship has been preoccupied with establishing a stable text of the original Greek New Testament. The textus receptus found in modern editions, however,differs from the recensions of the Byzantine world, and the version produced by Erasmus (emended by Stephanus and Beza) “is not really a Byzantine text at all, but a version printed in a location far beyond the furthest limit of Byzantium nearly two centuries after the empire’s destruction” (22). In contrast with the history of text-critical scholarship on the New Testament, and taking into account various “ancient and unusual” readings, Parker urges the reader to view the “Byzantine” New Testament texts as multiform. Such an approach engages the text as transmitted rather than as reconstructed by later philologists and text critics: “variation is not unwanted debris to be thrown away in the quest for an original text, but represents the actual forms of text that were copied, read, heard, interpreted, and transmitted, and are a vital testimony to the tradition that is the only medium through which we receive a report of Jesus’ words and sayings” (27).
Scribes, illuminators, and scribal practices inspired Kathleen Maxwell to investigate the production of illuminated Byzantine Gospel books from the sixth through the thirteenth centuries. Like Parker, Maxwell uses the “T&T Mss. Clusters tool” to trace textual relationships among Greek gospel books (34). This tool, developed by the University of Münster’s Institute for New Testament Research (INTF), provides new avenues for analyzing relationship among extant manuscripts and establishing “textual relatives” (70-71). Robert S. Nelson introduces the lectionary manuscripts of medieval Constantinople. His overview of liturgical and art historical scholarship on patriarchal lectionaries showcases paleographical research by both established scholars and recent doctoral dissertations. Unlike manuscripts of biblical texts, Nelson suggests, lectionaries grant us access to the oral culture of Christians through the “dense network of associations” the lectionary forms between the liturgy, cult of saints, and devotional rhythms (115). More than repositories for cycles of devotional reading and manuscript illuminations, these texts emerge as the “most important technology that connected the Bible with its public in Byzantium” (115). Later in the volume, William Lamb’s piece on New Testament Catenae marginales (marginal “chains” of commentary) returns to this language of “technology” to approach lectionaries and catenae as evidence for how the Bible was read and understood. Traditional scholarship on catenae, Lamb notes, has focused on date, recensions, and relationships among manuscripts. Rather than “dismembering” catenae to reconstruct commentaries, future work might follow Françoise Petit’s foundational efforts in recognizing the diversity of the sources in the catenae, especially where compilers included opposing readings.
In a sumptuously illustrated essay, Nadezhda Kavrus-Hoffman turns to the production of New Testament manuscripts in Byzantium, highlighting the materiality and social history of these artifacts. Kavrus-Hoffman underscores known features of scribal culture (both private and monastic), the material resources required, and the use and patronage of consumers. For those composing syllabi on book culture in the ancient world, this essay complements essential readings about traditions in Syriac, Armenian, Coptic, and Latin. It should be noted, however, that the examples largely come from later periods, since there is a paucity of information about Greek New Testament manuscript production prior to the ninth century.
The chapters in the second half of the volume deal with the reception of the New Testament, beginning with Fr. Maximos Constas’s exposition of the “Byzantine portrait of Paul.” While modern New Testament scholarship usually counts seven authentically Pauline epistles, Fr. Constas notes that Byzantine Christians imagined the life and teachings of Paul through fourteen epistles and the Book of Acts, all the while wrestling with contradictions and difference within the biblical accounts. Offering a diachronic study, Fr. Constas begins with Origen and proceeds through pivotal preachers and exegetes such as John Chrysostom, Dionysios the Areopagite, and Maximos the Confessor as well as important figures of the Byzantine period such as Theophylaktos of Ohrid (b. ca. 1050) and Euthymios Zigabenos (fl. ca. 1100). Fr. Constas delicately extracts the essential Pauline threads – the binaries, themes, and concepts – that shape these later Byzantine treatments. His discussion of the often overlooked Dionysios the Areopagite is especially noteworthy given the connections between the interpretation of Pauline epistemology in 1 Cor 1:25 (“The foolishness of God is wiser than men”) and Dionysian apophatic theology. Fr. Constas also examines Byzantine interpretations of and meditation upon Paul’s visionary experiences as fundamental to understanding later Byzantine theological controversies. 
Pressing the concept of genre, Derek Krueger explores intertextual links between biblical stories and Byzantine hagiography of the late sixth and early seventh centuries. Since most Christians learned scripture through sermons and readings during the liturgy, lectionaries and hagiographies help us better understand the “place and reception of the bible in various levels of society, in literary culture, and in popular piety” (178). Krueger studies the frequency of biblical quotations to show how these texts “assume and construct an elite audience, well versed in scripture, ecclesiastical politics, and some of the finer points of theological controversy” (179). Acknowledging the difficulty of studying biblical quotations and allusions given the elusive nature of echoes and the presence of variants, Krueger’s analysis provides insight into sites of intertextual “density” and trends of reception, particularly variance in citation of the Christian “Old” and “New” Testaments.
The performance of biblical texts in the liturgy acts as a leitmotif in several of these essays. Mary B. Cunningham’s invaluable essay on the interpretation of New Testament literature in Byzantine preaching offers a comprehensive overview of scholarship on rhetoric and biblical exegesis. Rather than offering a typology of Byzantine preaching, Cunningham emphasizes the breadth of style and practice: “Although preachers often emphasized one method of exegesis more than another in response to the liturgical setting, they could also create a contrapuntal texture of historical, moral, allegorical, and typological interpretation within the same oration” (193). Familiar figures like John Chrysostom share the stage with less familiar preachers like Andrew of Crete and Germanos. Cunningham’s nuanced treatment of homiletic traditions around Mary, the mother of Jesus, serves as a bridge to the essay on New Testament women in Byzantine Hymnography by Susan Ashbrook Harvey. Focusing on Ephrem the Syrian (d. 373) and Romanos the Melodist (d. ca. 555), Harvey reminds us that the Byzantine world encompassed Christians composing in languages other than Greek. Not only does Harvey introduce the forms of poetry in Syriac and Greek, but she also focuses our attention on how hymnography served as a site for discourses on gender and the Nachleben of biblical women. Harvey’s careful readings of Ephrem and Romanos highlight the contours of liturgical poetry, and she punctuates her treatment with comparative insights to ponder. This comparative methodology draws attention to trans-linguistic poetic trends, as well as artistic individuality. Harvey observes:
In the hymns concerned with biblical women, Ephrem’s verses give a clear sense that the congregation should sing with an outward orientation, as a community seeking unity amid the fourth century’s disorder. For Romanos, the strongest sense of conflict appears to be in the Christian’s own self, amid the interior battles of the individual’s own quest for a more perfect life of faith (217).
As Harvey persuasively demonstrates, poetic re-narration of New Testament stories was a powerful force for constructing identities, negotiating behavioral norms, and forming Christian selves.
Combining evidence from commentaries on liturgy and iconography, Charles Barber shows how the contemplation of Christ’s entire life was a central theme within Byzantine visual and literary culture. Concentrating on the eleventh and early twelfth century, Barber’s model blends material and textual evidence to capture the fullness of devotional practice, a method of use to scholars of late antiquity. Nektarios Zarras studies narrative cycles depicting scenes from the life of Christ in middle and late Byzantine Church decoration. Exploring the architecture and spatial negotiation of Byzantine artists in detail provides Zarras a vantage point from which to consider the aftermath of theological controversies around Christology and Iconoclasm. He focuses on the Christological cycles in mid-eleventh-century mosaics at the Nea Moni in Chios and the Daphni monastery (ca. 1100) near Athens. In conversation with scholars such as Kurt Weitzmann and Herbert Kessler, with copious citations, Zarras introduces the reader to broader conversations about visual art and narrativity.
The volume concludes with Stephen Shoemaker’s essay, “The Afterlife of the Apocalypse of John in Byzantium.” Charting the uneven and critical reception of the Apocalypse among Christians in the eastern Mediterranean, including its absence from lectionaries, Shoemaker shows how the fluctuations in the political climate of the Empire and a changing religious landscape conditioned Byzantine reception of the text. Manuscript evidence shows that the number of copies and commentaries of the Apocalypse increases greatly in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, an event that “stoked apocalyptic hopes and fears among the Eastern Christians” (304). Shoemaker directs the reader to scholarship on the intersection of liturgy and apocalyptic imagery as well as features shared with Jewish apocalypses as potential directions for research.
This volume, replete with color images and detailed charts, is both a resource and an invitation for further research. The range of expertise offered by the volume’s contributors testifies to the interdisciplinarity that animates Byzantine Studies, and aptly demonstrates that, as the editors put so well, “Byzantium’s Bible was a Bible before print, a Bible so diverse, multifarious, multitudinous, that it cannot be easily imagined, explained, or encapsulated by one accounting” (1). Although much of the volume reaches beyond antiquity, scholars of the late antique world will find here workable models to better understand and re-imagine the reproduction, function, and reception of biblical texts.
 Fr. Constas’s treatment of the pivotal authors of the Hesychast controversy, Gregory of Palamas (b. ca. 1296, d. November 14, 1357) and Barlaam of Calabria (b. ca. 1290, d. June 1348) is extraordinarily useful for understanding later debates about Christian religious experience and theological methodology. Since this is beyond the period covered by AJR, I will forgo further treatment and instead encourage you to read this essay yourself.
Erin Galgay Walsh is a Ph.D. candidate at Duke University in Early Christianity and a junior fellow in Byzantine Studies at Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection of Harvard University. Specializing in Syriac Christianity, she concentrates on the reception of biblical literature and issues of gender in the Eastern Mediterranean. Erin also works as an executive editor at Ancient Jew Review. Follow her on Twitter @ErinCGW