With some judicious editing and better-quality printing of the photographs, this could easily become a five-star book. Before summarising some of the details that let it down, let us focus on the positive.
A key to understanding what this book offers is to read the subtitle: "An Introduction to New Testament Paleography & Textual Criticism". So it has two distinct focuses:
- introduction to paleography
- introduction to textual criticism.
In the opinion of the present reviewer, it is more successful in its second focus than in its first.
The first chapter (54 pages) gives a general description of the production of manuscripts in New Testament times.
The next two chapters (144 pages) give an overview of (apparently) all the New Testament manuscripts from approximately the first 300 years, also explaining dating decisions. Chapter two consists of a brief introduction to some of the principal manuscripts, followed by a summary of key information for each manuscript. I read this through in full, and would recommend that readers do the same. However, it will subsequently prove to be a very good quick reference for the purpose of finding the key facts about any manuscript.
It is only in chapter three that we actually see reproductions of single pages from some manuscripts, and the whole of some tiny fragments. This is a disappointment for several reasons:
- I would have expected to have seen more pages and manuscripts reproduced than are actually in the book.
- The quality of reproduction is generally not good. The chief cause of this is the paper that is used, which is fine for normal text but not up to the job of reproducing photographs with sufficient clarity.
- One MS (P Rylands 547 on page 185) consists of a blurred photograph in which the camera has clearly moved during the exposure: focus is correct, but there is a double image.
- References in the text to the reproductions often give no page number and occasionally give the wrong page number. (This is one of the places where the publisher should have done a better job of editing the text.)
- It would be better if the illustrations were on the page on which they are discussed, or on the facing page. As different paper is not used for them, there is no justification for grouping them together, far from the relevant descriptions.
Chapter four (a little over 54 pages) is a fascinating introduction to the use of "nomina sacra" in the manuscripts. This is a major plus point of the book, in the opinion of the present reviewer. Thoroughly recommended.
The last three chapters (one hundred pages) are an excellent introduction to textual criticism in relation to the New Testament.
The book has a glossary. However, some key terms are missing from it (e.g., stichoi).
There is an index of Scripture passages that are discussed. However, this is incomplete. Thus, there is a significant discussion of John 1:18 on page 328, but this is not listed in the Scripture references index. Likewise, John 8:58 is discussed on page 339, but this is not listed in the index.
The book is lacking a general subject index, which I view as a serious flaw. Thus there are, for example, scattered throughout the book comments on the work of Westcott & Hort. But there is no way to track these down, nor indeed the comments on other major topics and writers referred to (Metzger, the Alands, etc.).
The book has one extremely odd characteristic. Whole paragraphs, sometimes whole pages of text, are repeated verbatim in different parts of the book. One must assume that the author pasted in text from another document that he had written, and then forgot that he had already done this - on numerous occasions. Thus, for example, many paragraphs on pp. 47-48 are identical with those on pp 276-7. Likewise, part of page 49 is identical to page 278. The last paragraph of p. 97 and the first paragraph of p. 98 are identical with sections of two paragraphs on p. 278. Many paragraphs of pp 281-2 = pp. 296-7.
Taking the book through a proper editing process should also result in the correction of the relatively small number of spelling errors (including in German and French), and the correction of non-standard punctuation in places (as, for instance, when a full stop is followed by the first letter of the next sentence, without a space). I also note that an unusual Greek font is used in which the final "s" of words has the form of a Latin script "s" (or perhaps they accidentally selected the wrong font for that letter?).
So, the book is definitely worth reading, but I hope that a second edition will be produced in which the errors will be eliminated and a subject index added. It taught me less about actually reading Greek manuscripts than I expected. For that, it would have been necessary to present more manuscripts, and some of them would have needed to be worked through with the reader.
Perhaps what I was expecting to find is in another book by the same author, which he repeatedly refers to, "The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts" (co-authored with David Barrett). In yet another typo, this is referred to on the back cover of this book as "The TEST of the Earliest New Testament Manuscripts"(!) - capitals mine, perhaps typical of the lack of care by the publishers (note also that the word "Greek" is missing). Perhaps this is not what I was expecting. I would advise reading the reviews on Amazon.com before purchasing.
In spite of the limitations referred to above, "Encountering the Manuscripts" is a good starting-point as an introduction to New Testament Greek manuscripts.