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Minns-Parvis edition of Justin Martyr’s “Apologies”: An exemplar for presenting religious texts.

April 19, 2013

I am very impressed by the Denis Minns and Paul Parvis edition of Justin Martyr’s Apologies (part of the Oxford Early Christian Texts series)Not only is the text interesting on its own terms, but it strikes me as a model of how to present Christian religious texts (other religions, such as Judaism, have well-established models of how to present texts, e.g., Rabbinic Bibles, Vilna edition Talmud, etc). 

I have long been interested in the writings of Justin Martyr (particularly his Dialogue with Trypho); but have at times faced the difficulties that all readers of Justin Martyr face:  the texts have undergone obvious serious corruption.  Minns and Parvis present a conservatively edited version of Apologies while still providing sufficient support to understand the work as a whole.  Apologies emerges as a libellus [petition] to the emperor that includesa defense of Christianity at a time in which it was a minor religion (the efforts early Christians made to distribute their message should not be underestimated – recall Tertullian’s statement nearly a half-century later “No one comes to our books unless he is already a Christian.” (De Testimonio Animae 1):

So in the First Apology we are clearly dealing with a petition – an abnormally long one, to be sure, but still recognizably a petition.  What Justin has done is to adopt the conventions of a normal libellus, but greatly to expand it by the insertion of catechetical and other explanatory material.  And in so doing he has managed to hijack a normal piece of Roman administrative procedure and turn it into a device for getting his message, literally and symbolically, to the heart of the Roman world.

The core of this work is a new edited text of the Apologies in Greek and English translation.  The text is heavily annotated – the Greek has a full apparatus; the English is heavily (and usefully) annotated.  In addition to historical notes, textual notes, and interpretive notes, the editors also mark up the text to indicate likely lacuna in the version of the text we have.

The editors have very intelligently edited the Greek text; and this version of the Greek text is better than my previous “go to” edition edited by Miroslav Marcovich’s edition (now published in an omnibus edition with the Dialogue with Trypho).  Marcovich’s edition arguably reads too smoothly (Marchovich deploying better Greek than Justin himself used!)

The question of the relationship between the so-called First Apology and Second Apology has long troubled readers; with some advocates arguing that the two apologies form one work; others arguing that the two works stand on their own, and Marcovich arguing that the Second Apology is merely an appendix to the First.  Minns and Parvis persuasively argue for a “cutting-room floor” theory:

We have in the edition taken the fairly radical decision to move the last two chapters of the Second Apology (14 and 15) to the end of the First, where we think they fit quite well.  We will explain in a moment the codicological considerations that led us to make that move in the first place and which, we hope, make it less temerarious than might at first appear.  That leaves the Second Apology as a series of disconnected fragments, which is precisely what we believe it to be.  Justin, we think, kept tinkering with his original apology, adapting it and perhaps expanding it.  And he would have kept notes – perhaps a notebook – of materials excised and resources that could be deployed in street-corner or bathhouse debate – precisely the sort of debate described in the Second Apology itself in the account of his dealings with the Cynic Crescens.

That could explain why the Second Apology seems so disjointed.  It could explain why there is so much overlap with and repetition from the First.  It could explain why so much of the Second has an eye on hostile, philosophically minded interlocutors.  And it could presence of the tale of the unnamed woman and her marital troubles.  That story – so precious to us and, fortunately, to Eusebius – may have come to seem dated once the dust had settled.  That would mean that, instead of being a postscript, [the Second Apology] actually contains some earlier material accumulated for use in debate.  Justin, after all, must have continued to teach and debate for another ten or twelve years between the first composition of the Apology and his martyrdom.  At some point the material was gathered up and published, perhaps by disciples after his death, as a monument to Justin “philosopher and martyr.”

Minns and Parvis also include full supplementary material, including a lengthy introduction explaining the history of the text and its criticism, a biography of Justin and critique of his work, and a description of  the mid-second century setting of the Christian theology of the period.

All in all, this is a work that is highly accessible for the reader, while still being of strong scholarly interest.  Even if one does not agree with the “cutting-room floor” theory of Minns and Parvis, one can still use this text as a guide to the apologies simply by reading the two chapters in question as part of the Second Apology rather than the First

I have only rarely seen Christian texts presented in such a useful and serious way, with full notes, apparatus, and supplementary material.   Editors would do well to emulate Minns and Parvis in stylistic approach.

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