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  • Kodex und Kanon: Das Buch im frühen Christentum by Martin Wallraff
  • Brent Nongbri
Martin Wallraff Kodex und Kanon: Das Buch im frühen Christentum Hans-Lietzmann-Vorlesungen 12 Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2013 Pp. xv + 78. $28.00.

This slim volume presents the 2010 Hans Lietzmann Lecture delivered by Martin Wallraff. A foreword by Christoph Markschies (series editor) introduces the lecture series and provides a brief biography and bibliography of Wallraff. The book’s subject matter, the place of the codex in early Christian culture, has had no shortage of attention in recent years, having been addressed in monographs by historians, biblical scholars, and papyrologists. Yet, Wallraff’s treatment of the topic is often innovative and always insightful.

The book is divided into six sections. The first (“Medienhistorische Vorüberlegungen”) situates the discussion in terms of media history, noting that in our present moment of flux between print and digital media, we may be especially well placed to see previously neglected aspects of the shift from roll to codex that coincided with the first centuries of the Christian era. The second section (“Der Kodex im frühen Christentum”) begins by presenting data and charts derived from the Leuven Database of Ancient Books to demonstrate the early Christian preference for the codex format over the roll. Noting that attempts to explain this preference have inspired sober minds to “erstaunlicher Hypothesenfreudigkeit” (16), Wallraff argues that probably no single reason accounts for the Christian preference for the codex, but rather a combination of reasons, and he raises the possibility that Christians tended to produce their literature in codex format because it was not regarded as sacred. As is well known, for the earliest followers of Jesus, the “scriptures” were texts of the Hebrew Bible, which were characteristically produced in rolls. This suggestion is intriguing, but Wallraff does not account for identifiably Christian copies of Septuagint texts in codex form that have been assigned quite early dates. [End Page 480]

The third section (“Der Kanon im frühen Christentum”) offers a fascinating overview of evidence that has been neglected in discussions of the development of the Christian canon, beginning with term itself. Wallraff notes that in addition to its oft-cited definition as “a measure” or “rule,” kanōn also could mean “table” or “synopsis.” This observation leads to an illuminating discussion of “canons” (i.e., tables) from antiquity, such as Ptolemy’s astronomical tables, followed by a more detailed discussion of the use of tables by Eusebius of Caesarea. Wallraff first directs attention to the use of parallel columns in Eusebius’s Chronicon before turning to his Canons of the Psalms and Canons of the Gospels, which function essentially as indices for these works and presuppose the codex format. The fourth section (“Der spätantike Buch als Gesamtkunstwerk”) opens by pointing out that very few complete Bibles survive from antiquity, and there is no good reason to think very many more were produced. Here Wallraff sensibly dissents from the view that Eusebius (Vit. Const. 4.36) unquestionably refers to the production of complete Bibles. Thus, the notion of “canon” as authoritative text was much more an ideal list than a material reality. Yet, even if complete Bibles were rarer than we may have imagined, the codex was still a crucial part of elite Christian sensibilities. In this regard, Wallraff returns to Eusebius’s canon tables, pointing out that they were likely the earliest truly illuminated manuscripts. The originals, of course, do not survive, but because of the consistent layout and decorations on the extant manuscripts (similar scenes of Jesus’ birth, baptism, and resurrection), it is reasonable to conclude that they give evidence of an earlier prototype.

The fifth section (“Performative Valenz der Buches”) explores the role of Christian books beyond the acts of writing and reading. Wallraff notes the central place of books as objects of veneration in church councils, as carriers of miraculous power, and, according to a colophon in the late twelfth-century Lemberger gospels, as the physical manifestation of the body of Jesus. These observations make for a smooth transition to the final section, “Ausblick: Kodex und Koran.” Wallraff here explores a number of interesting tensions surrounding...


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