Muratorian Fragment as Fraud

Tonight at Duke University’s New Testament and Jewish Studies Colloquium, Clare Rothschild presented on “Muratorian Fragment as Fraud”; Professor Rothschild is Professor of Theology at Lewis University and Professor Extraordinary in the Department of Ancient Studies at Stellenbosch University. Rothschild provides an abstract for the paper:

duke-chapel-smScholars are divided as to the origin of the most famous canon list in the history of the Church, dubbed the “Muratorian Fragment” by the Ambrosian librarian Ludovico Antonio Muratori its purported discoverer. Approximately half accept a second-century Roman provenance—on the basis of views held by, for example, Adolf von Harnack and Samuel Tregelles. The other half following A. C. Sundberg Jr. (1968) accept a fourth-century Eastern provenance. One of Sundberg’s key defenses for his position is that if the Muratorian Fragment originated in the second century in the West, it is anomalous—the only example of its kind from this time and place. In a brief rebuttal article appearing frequently in literature on the debate, E. Ferguson refutes Sundberg’s sui generis claim. Brief as the refutation is, Bruce M. Metzger refers to it as all but demolishing Sundberg’s thesis. Nevertheless, Geoffrey M. Hahneman devoted an entire monograph to defending and developing Sundberg’s claim. Garnering the support of Robert M. Grant, J. K. Elliott and others, Hahneman’s book appeared to sway the consensus. G. A. Robbins’s encyclopedia article on the Fragment (ABD 1992) offers a case in point. Robbins summarizes:

Until quite recently, Roman provenance and a late 2d or early 3d century date (180-200 C.E.) were taken for granted. It was assumed that the Fragment represented the earliest datable canon list. Those assumptions have now largely eroded, and a new consensus appears to be emerging, one which sees the Muratorian Fragment as a 4th-century, Eastern (either Syria or Palestine) list. (ABD 4.928-29)

Although in 2003 Joseph Verheyden stated that “the few” arguing for a later date “have long been silenced,” it is, perhaps, more accurate to say that today scholarship has reached an impasse. This project adopts a conciliating position to that adopted by those arguing either a second- or fourth-century origin. Drawing on ideas that have arisen in discussions of the Fragment but have never, to my knowledge, been defended, it argues that the Fragment represents a fictitious attempt to provide a venerable second-century precedent for a later position on canon. Like the Pseudo-Isidoriana and other forgeries, it betrays itself through anachronisms, including use of the Vulgate, clichés, mistakes as well as plagiarism, that is, an arbitrary array of sentences, phrases and words freely excerpted from older writings, not just the Bible and writings of late antique Christians but also abridgments and collections such as florilegia and anthologies both genuine and apocryphal without attribution. The Muratorian Fragment is an epitomic mosaic of ideas seeking to trace canon publication standards of a later date to the bishopric of Pius. The first part of the project undertakes the heretofore unexplored question of the fragment’s transmission history. Its initial publication by Ludovico A. Muratori and the unusual circumstances surrounding Samuel P. Tregelles’ later facsimile publication suggest modern awareness of the fraud. The second part of the project pursues philological questions, explores anachronisms and compares the Latin text with other examples of forgery.

Rothschild’s presentation raised some interesting questions, especially regarding the discrepancies among the early transcriptions of the fragment. She plans on producing a monograph with the results of her research.

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