YCAS 2015 Profiles 4: Ross Ponder

This is the fourth in a series of profiles of the presenters at the upcoming 2015 York University Christian Apocrypha Symposium to be held September 25-26 at York University in Toronto. Remember, if you register for the symposium, you will receive drafts of the papers in advance, thus enabling you to participate more fully in the discussions that follow. For registration information, visit the YCAS 2015 web site (HERE).

Ponder HeadshotRoss Ponder is one of three student presenters at this year’s Symposium. Noting the high level of graduate student involvement in the previous symposia, we believed it would be beneficial to invite students to also present papers. Ponder is currently an advanced Ph.D. student in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, specializing in in the cultural history and artifacts of early Judaism and Christianity. He holds a M.A. in Religious Studies from UT-Austin, a M.Div. in early Christian studies from Boston University, and a B.A. in Classics from UT-Austin.

Ponder’s research usually revolves around the textual and material evidence of ancient Christianity. His interests include papyrology, apocryphal narratives, and understanding ancient cultures with the help of modern social theory. Ponder continues work on several projects: an analysis of the rhetoric of divine benefaction and patronage in Paul’s letter to Philemon; an examination of the competing cultural memories for the martyr Vibia Perpetua in late antiquity; a queer reading of the reproduction process in the parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-20); and a reexamination of the text of Papyrus 69 (P.Oxy. 2383).

While he is primarily interested in the social history of ancient Christianity, Ponder’s current research focuses on the creation and reception of literary papyri. “I’ve recently become interested in the way that small papyrus fragments reveal about how they were used in antiquity,” he says citing P.Oxy. 5072. “This fragmented text is otherwise unknown to us. It is one of the most recently published apocryphal gospels, and bears nomina sacra as well as readers’ aids that we find in fragments of canonical early Christian texts. These similarities provide promising clues for the use of such ancient manuscripts.” Ponder anticipates this work on P.Oxy. 5072 will become part of a larger project on the possibilities and limitations of reconstructing fragments of literary papyri.

In addition to research and teaching, Ponder currently serves as the Chair of the Student Advisory Board for the Society of Biblical Literature. During summers, he has edited papyri in the collection at the University of Oxford, and excavated at the synagogue in Ostia Antica, Italy.

Abstract

“Reconsidering P. Oxy. 5072: Creation and Reception, Visual and Physical Features”

The recently published Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 5072 (P.Oxy. 5072) comprises 24 fragmentary lines, preserving evidence of an unidentified apocryphal gospel fragment. It contains writing on both sides, likely part of a codex, with material similar to but distinct from the canonical gospels: an exorcism scene on one side, and some sayings about discipleship on the other side. Chapa in the editio princeps argued (1) that some ancient Christians likely composed the apocryphal gospel fragment from memory and/or (2) used it for private catechetical instruction. Ensuing scholarship has expanded Chapa’s suggestion that scribes composed P.Oxy. 5072 from memory of the canonical gospels, yet the claim that ancient Christians used the papyrus for catechetical/private purposes has been unexamined. This paper, using a fresh edition of the papyrus based on autopsy examination, proposes that Chapa’s two claims are in need of revision. Larry Hurtado’s claim that ancient Christians performed or recited early Christian gospels from memory rests upon an incomplete understanding of Roman reading practices. Furthermore, examination of the visual and physical features of early gospel manuscripts helps determine for which context—either liturgical/public reading or catechetical/private reading—ancient Christians intended a manuscript. The fact that a scribe included readers’ aids in P.Oxy. 5072 (i.e., paragraphos marker, diaieresis, and slashes) could mean that it was intended for liturgical/public reading. While P.Oxy. 5072 bears similarities to other apocryphal gospel fragments (i.e., both P.Oxy. 5072 and P.Egerton 2 preserve the same forms of uncommon nomina sacra), the readers’ aids within the papyrus itself contain understudied parallels to early canonical gospel fragments. This apocryphal gospel fragment, likely used for public/liturgical contexts, received reverence and authority for an ancient Christian community at Oxyrhynchus. The study, then, reconsiders the creation and reception of this apocryphal gospel fragment by attending to the papyrus’s visual and physical features.

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