Appreciation: The Reverend Professor Carsten Peter Thiede

A headline of the Christmas Eve issue of The Times in 1994 was news of a discovery by Carsten Thiede, Director of the Institut fur Wissenschaftstheoretische Grundlagenforschung (the Institute for Basic Epistemological Research) at Paderborn, Germany. He demonstrated that the three fragments of papyrus preserved in the library of Magdalen College, Oxford (Magdalen Greek 17, P64) scraps identifiable as parts of Matthew 26, should be dated as having been written before the Fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, probably AD 66.

This announcement, backed by exact scholarship, meant that we should think of this Gospel, at least, as written by men who had personal contact with Jesus. It produced a storm of controversy, which rose to gale force with the publication of a book-length version in 1996 by Professor Thiede, with Matthew d’Ancona (then of The Times, now at The Sunday Telegraph) under the title The Jesus Papyrus, quickly a best-seller internationally, and now in its fifteenth edition. His position had already been well set out in his Rekindling the Word (1995).

What surprised many Christians was not so much how exhilarating Professor Thiede’s thinking was, and especially to what new understandings it might lead, but how intemperate his critics were. Calling down fire from heaven was mild in comparison. Professor Graham Stanton of King’s College, London, to take one example, rushed out his denunciation, Gospel Truth?, in order to be ahead of the publication of The Jesus Papyrus.

With good grounds, Carsten Thiede’s ‘new paradigm’ was challenging the standard twentieth-century scholarly view, that the Gospels were late, written at dates well into the second century, expressing ‘unreliable’ oral traditions, little more than folklore, and in any case heavily edited.

I had heard Carsten Thiede spoken of with admiration in 1993, while making a Radio 3 programme on Tyndale at the BBC. When I met him, like a host of other people across the world, I was instantly made a friend. I invited him to give a paper at the Tyndale Society’s first Oxford Conference in 1994. In it, he revealed his long-standing admiration for William Tyndale as translator and Bible scholar. That lecture, By Prayer and Fasting: William Tyndale’s translation of Mark 9:29 and its consequences’ (printed in TSJ No 13, August 1999, 17-23) demonstrated his skill with evaluating Greek textual evidence. He convincingly showed that, as Tyndale understood, ‘and fasting’ should not be omitted, as it usually is today.

Carsten was an early and enthusiastic member of the Tyndale Society. He and I shared a dream of holding a conference of Luther and Tyndale scholars at Worms, as yet unrealised. He gave the Third Lambeth Tyndale Lecture in October 1996, a splendid scholarly account of the importance of Bible translations in the European Reformation (printed in Reformation 2, 1997, 283-300). His conclusion described Tyndale as

‘an uncompromising, clearsighted and circumspect philologist, analyst, translator, and interpreter of the groundwork of our Christian faith—Holy Scripture’.

Born in West Berlin in 1952, Carsten first studied Comparative Literature at Berlin University. A German scholarship took him in 1976 to research at Queen’s College, Oxford, and then in 1978 he was appointed Lecturer in Comparative Literature at Geneva, followed by a Chair of Papyrology at the Independent Academy of Theology at Basle and, at the same time, at Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheba, southern Israel.

In 1982 he married Franziska Campbell: they lived part of each year in England, a marriage and a location which both gave him great happiness. His love and understanding of England meant that he was regularly commissioned by the German government to write about Europe and English themes — one of his early gifts to me was his Religion in England (1994): the title and the book are both in German. His energies and intellectual grasp of many fields were extraordinary. He worked at the Institute for Germanic Studies in London. In his last seven years he co-coordinated the analysis of the Dead Sea Scrolls for the Israeli Antiquities Authority.

His Jesus Papyrus became a television documentary, presented by him. Channel 4 commissioned his more recent The Quest for the True Cross, based on his book of that title, in which he argues that the ‘Titulus’, the headboard at Jesus’ crucifixion, held at the church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, in Rome, is in no way a quaint medieval forgery: the more it is analysed, the closer does it appear to the real thing.

Carsten Thiede’s concern for re-evaluating Christian origins led him to think freshly about New Testament papyri. Undeterred by the closed minds of some historians of early Christianity, he happily imported to the field forensic techniques from other disciplines. A skilled archaeologist, he was also at home with an electronic microscope, and, with the Professor of Biology at Paderborn, he invented a new kind of laser microscope, which enabled him to analyse manuscript and papyrus writing in three dimensions: an unforgettable demonstration of this technique and its results for dating was given by him at the second Geneva Tyndale Conference, 2001.

Knowing his love for the Church of England, expressed in his writings and conversation, his friends were not too surprised when he was ordained priestby the Bishop to the Armed Forces in 2000. He became Chaplain to the British forces at the army base in Paderborn, regularising the pastoral work he had been doing for a long time with the soldiers, especially those from the front line in the Balkans: he saw service in Iraq.

Many people will, like me, miss his excellent essays each month in the Church of England Newspaper, written always from the position of the fullest understanding of Gospels in Greek. He continued to produce challenging books. His The Resurrection of Jesus—Fiction or Fact—Two Views, in German with Gerd Ludermann, came out in 2002. (There is no room here to list his many publications in German.) Shortly before he died, The Cosmopolitan World of Jesus was published by SPCK.

Mercifully completed just before he died, at home, of a heart attack on 14 December 2004, at the age of 52, is probably his finest book, The Emmaus Mystery (ISBN 0 8264 6797 0), on his cherished discovery of the location of the village of Emmaus, so important in Luke’s resurrection accounts in chapter 24. Exactly where Luke meant has always been a puzzle. Not only did Carsten locate it at the present village of Motza-Kolona, three and a half miles west of Jerusalem: he supported his textual, historical and topographical findings with archaeological digs over several seasons—and, characteristically and crucially, gave practical support as, with a group of his Basle students, he retraced the steps of the disciples, there and back in one evening.

His smiling presence was always powerful, and always instructive. Not only did one learn about the original Christian communities and their records: as a friend put it, to walk about an ancient city with him was a rare and unforgettable experience; he would know where to find a church in Jerusalem, where Assyrian is still spoken, and how to get a table at the best Jewish restaurant in Rome. The epigraph of his Jesus: Life or Legend (1990) is the classical scholar George Kennedy’s ‘Ancient writers sometimes meant what they said, and occasionally even knew what they were talking about.’ Carsten was fond of quoting it.

For his widow Franziska, and his children Miriam, Emily and Frederick, we continue to offer prayers of support, and of thanksgiving for such a life of blessing.

David Daniell, June 2005.

Editor’s Note
We have reprinted elsewhere in this Journal one of Carsten Thiede’s many articles to the <<span class="b i">Church of England Newspaper no 5725 July 2004 entitled The Greek Bible: A plea for the rediscovery of 1st century roots. The paper he gave at the Geneva Tyndale Conference 2001 Books for Burning was entitled The Progress of Vernacular Bibles from Tyndale and Luther to the Present Day: St John’s Gospel as a Case Study in the Textual Tradition. A summary of this paper was published in the TSJ No 20 December 2001 and a photocopy of the full typescript can be obtained on request from the UK office at Hertford College, Oxford.

A tribute to Justin Howes


It was with a sense of tremendous loss that we heard recently of the passing of Justin Howes at the all too early age of 41. He will be remembered by calligraphers and students of the printed word around the world with gratitude and a deep admiration for his work and expertise in so many fields.

One of his culminating achievements was to design the stunning dust jackets and typefaces for the Tyndale Society’s editions of the Wycliffe New Testament of 1388, and William Tyndale’s 1526 New Testament (both published by the British Library and still available). All of us who knew him and worked with him will remember his kindness and patience – and his unbounded interest in and enthusiasm for the written word. When I last spoke with him, he was beginning the daunting project of replicating the typeface of Tyndale’s original 1526 New Testament—the fruits of which labour would undoubtedly have taken their place in the Type Museum (London), of which he had been part-time curator.

Justin had begun a doctoral dissertation at Reading University and, as part of his research for that, was about to spend six months or so in Amsterdam studying the 16th and 17th-century typefaces kept there. But it was not to be. Justin died at his studies of a heart attack, and although the world of scholarship is much poorer for that, it is also that much richer for his having passed this way.

Justin is survived by both his parents to whom we extend our heartfelt condolences.

Bill Cooper, March 2005

Appreciation: Justin Howes

Justin Howes, who has died at the age of 4l, was outstanding in the world of typographical design and history. He will always be gratefully remembered—among many other things—for restoring Caslon Old Face, a clear type first cut by William Caslon in the 18th century, and eagerly received by London’s printers. Weakened in successive generations, Caslon was purified by Justin for digital use.

He was an early and enthusiastic member of the Tyndale Society, which, with the British Library, owes him large thanks for his design of what The Times called ‘the immaculate editions of the Tyndale and Wycliffe translations of the New Testament, both edited by William Cooper’. These were steps in his journey of making computer based typography and book design as truly beautiful as print technology had in the past been able to make them. He personally designed several sets of software, all massive tasks.

Educated at Dulwich College and Christ Church, Oxford, he showed his mastery even at 18, corresponding with associates of Eric Gill. Supported by important and valuable grants (Leverhulme, the Pilgrim Trust) he held research fellowships at the Crafts Study Centre at Bath University, Manchester Metropolitan University, and the Type Museum (for which he was a parttime curator). He designed and wrote for the British Library. He was Chairman of the Friends of St Bride Printing Library (a society he founded) where he did remarkable work with their vast holdings of Eric Gill material. His list of important publications is long—to mention only one: his definitive study in 2000 of Edward Johnston’s type for the London Underground. He lectured widely, including at Oxford, the RCA and the V&A, and in New York. At the University of Virginia his title was, characteristically, ‘Things that go bump in the night’. He was working on research for a doctorate at Reading University on 18th century lettering.

I vividly recall one day in the late 1990s. Justin and I were at the British Library with Alan Sterenberg, Head of Exhibitions there. We had ideas about a possible facility at the BL (never achieved) whereby Justin would design a page of type from the 1526 Tyndale New Testament, to be fitted to the replica press there: members of the public, for a small fee, and under supervision, could pull their own sheet (as can happen at the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp, to which Justin was to go for six months).

After five happy years in Edinburgh at the University Press, he lived in a deserted shoe factory in Rushden, Northamptonshire. It was a place quite lacking modern amenities, but he had cleared out a thousand pairs of shoes to make space for two presses, a ton of type, and all his growing computer equipment, in order to complete more remarkable work. Increasingly troubled by ill-health, however, including diabetes from childhood, he had to abandon the solitary adventure, and moved to London to be near his parents. He died at his desk, of a heart attack, on 21 February. His moving memorial service at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, on 9 May, was largely attended, including, from the Tyndale Society, Sir Rowland Whitehead and myself. I gave tribute from us all, and read the first lesson, part of the first chapter of John’s Gospel, from Justin’s Tyndale.

He was a thinker, and a supremely practical one. His understanding of all aspects of typography and its history was profound: but he was happiest working a press. Many people will always remember him with affection and admiration. We send our thoughts and prayers to his brother and his father and mother, Brian and Mimi.

David Daniell, June 2005.

A Printer’s Epitaph

Vpon The ingeniovs and lvdiciovs
Haviland sometimes INCVMBENT
Anag; Iohn Havylande:hold ay in heav’n
Obijt Nov 15 Ao.Dni 1638
None Printed More And Erred Lesse In Print
None Led A Life That Had Lesse Error In’t.
None Had A State That Did More Good With It,
None Lesse Appearing And More Full Of Wit,
None Lesse Affected To Phantastick Fashion.
None More Addresst To Christian Compassion,
None Better Known To Th’Mystery Of His Art,
None Of A Stronger Braine, A Clearer Hart;
Well Has He Finish’d Then His Pilgrim Race,
Who Ever Liv’d In Forme And Dide In Case.
This Constant Impreze Then Shall Seale His Grave,
Each Yeare My Works Must New Impressions Have.

The editor is grateful to David Green for sending a transcription of this memorial found in St Bartholomew’s Church, Winstone, Gloucestershire.