Carmichael-Walling Lectures & Inaugural Events
Abilene Christian University’s Center for the Study of Ancient Religious Texts launched November 2-3 in a series of events on the university campus that included the 30th annual Carmichael-Walling Lectures on New Testament and Early Christianity.
Father Justin gave the Carmichael-Walling Lectures as part of an inaugural celebration featuring special events, distinguished speakers, and an opportunity to see rare book and manuscript treasures. Father Justin is librarian in the venerable monastery of St. Catharine’s at Mt. Sinai in Egypt. One of the world’s foremost experts on ancient Christian manuscripts, he gave lectures focusing on biblical discoveries, John Climacus’ Ladder of Divine Ascent, eastern Christian art, and the imagery of Sinai in scripture as seen from the perspective of someone who resides at Sinai:
- Illustrating the Ladder of Divine Ascent: An Illuminated Manuscript of a Spiritual Classic (Sinai Greek 418)
- Newly Recovered Manuscripts of the Scriptures from Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai
- ‘For Moses Wrote of Me;’ Reflections From Mount Sinai
CSART Student Scholars and Faculty Fellows enjoyed dinner with Father Justin, during which the conversation focused on such things as Christian-Muslim relations in the Middle East.
Dr. Mark Hamilton, the Robert and Kay Onstead Professor of Old Testament in ACU’s Graduate School of Theology, delivered the CSART inaugural lecture, entitled “Who’s Afraid of Ancient Texts? Rediscovering Old Words for a New Era.” ACU students Ryne Parrish and Daniel Marolf reported on their research in Greek patristic citations, the Ethiopic version of the Bible, and editing the Syriac spiritual author, John of Apamea.
Dr. Curt Niccum, Professor of New Testament in ACU’s Department of Bible, Missions, and Ministry introduced CSART to ACU faculty. His presentation, “Burning Bushes; Building Bridges: Mt. Sinai and ACU,” clarified the importance of St. Catharine’s Monastery and highlighting the emerging partnerships between CSART, the Monastery, and the Museum of the Bible.
CSART’s inaugural events culminated in a reception. In collaboration with the Museum of the Bible and the Special Collections and Archives of ACU’s Brown Library, a select number of rare books and ancient manuscripts were on display. These included a Greek Bodmer papyrus manuscript of the Psalms, the famous palimpsest manuscript, Codex Climaci Rescriptus, a Greek 11th-century Greek Psalter, and an Ethiopic Psalter.
A Cure for Sheep Disease
Written into the official documents of the Benedictine monastery of Eynsham in central Oxfordshire is a late 13-century ceremony for warding off sheep disease. After conducting a mass in honor of the Holy Spirit and making an offering, the priest gathers the sheep into a cote and performs a complex charm, commencing with a recitation from the beginning of Jn 1, In principio… (“In the beginning…”).
The occurrence of a text from John’s Gospel in a medieval charm against sheep murrain is not surprising. Even today, the Gospel of the Beloved Apostle is also one of the most beloved Gospels. People are drawn to its charming characters and colorful stories. Jesus’ teaching as presented in John is powerful and compelling. Yet the Gospel of John has seemingly always held a special fascination for its readers.
Long before monks settled in Eynsham, objects containing texts were revered as relics of mysterious power. Portions of scripture could serve as amulets and biblical codices were thought to manifest the divine presence in oath-swearing contexts and at ecumenical councils. Central to these uses is the materiality of the objects themselves, connected to but transcending the specific textual contents of the books.
Although a variety of biblical texts and textual objects containing scripture were put to what may be called “bibliomantic” uses, the Gospel of John has held a special status in this regard, perhaps due to the mystical qualities of its language. For instance:
- Augustine of Hippo († 430) exhorts his hearers to cure their headaches by sleeping with a copy of the Gospel rather than using other amulets (In Joh. tr. 7.12).
- The smallest extant Latin biblical manuscript is the Chartres St. John, a tiny codex of John (71 x 51 mm) from the late 5th or early 6th century. It probably served as an amulet before it was put into the reliquary of the Virgin’s shirt at Chartres in the 11th century.
- The famous Stonyhurst Gospel is similar. Often described as the oldest intact European book, this diminutive Latin codex of John (138 x 92 mm) was apparently buried with St. Cuthbert (†687) when he was reinterred at Lindisfarne in 698.
These books containing John’s Gospel appear to have functioned as relics, material objects bearing special power.
The actual text of John was seen to be especially potent also. For instance, John’s opening statements of power feature prominently in early Coptic amulets with scriptural incipits. They were used apotropaically in Syriac healing charms and Arabic amulets. In the early 17th century, a certain sorcerer in Nottingham was known for selling copies of John’s Gospel for ten shillings apiece as protection against witchcraft.
Perhaps more than any other biblical book, the Gospel of John has been used in ways that reveal an enduring belief in its mystical power—including its role in practices of divination, the subject of another post.