The Making of Corpus Christologicum

A few weeks ago I announced the release of Corpus Christologicum: Texts and Translations for the Study of Jewish Messianism and Early Christology (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2021).

The project was unlike anything else I’ve ever worked on in terms of complexity and workflow (the closest is Septuaginta: A Reader’s Edition). As a way of reflecting on the process on my own, and perhaps as a benefit to others who might be interested in things like this, I thought I’d jot down a summary of how the sausage was made, as they say. I won’t cover all the steps, but here is a basic summary of how it came together.

1. Developing the Idea

As I delved into the topic of early Christology for my doctoral thesis, one thing I kept noticing was how scholars like Dunn, Hurtado, Bauckham, and others paid (what I then thought was) an extraordinary amount of attention to non-biblical sources–many of which were unfamiliar to me (as a recent seminary graduate). Even though I was working in an amazingly well-stocked library (the Tyndale House), I struggled with figuring out how to track down all these cross-references, from 1 Enoch to Life of Adam and Eve to Philo to various Dead Sea scrolls. It was hard enough in English, but it was even harder to know where to look for the original languages.

I began jotting down passages that seemed to show up a lot. And I also began noticing how various scholars (in monographs) or even translators (in, say, Charlesworth) were very inconsistent in how they rendered key things, such as mashiach or “son of man” phrases. I eventually realized that the translational conundrum was half the battle.

Anyhow, in 2014 I started chewing on the idea of trying to bring together the key passages and organize them in some usable way. As I was tracking down various uses of “Messiah” language or “horn” metaphors (as one example), I kept coming back to the idea of producing something that I would have found useful at the start of my efforts. I didn’t know it would take 6 years…but I suppose therein lies part of the value of the final product!

2. Collecting the Initial Data (in Excel)

My thesis ultimately stayed relatively narrow, but I decided to keep track of cross references in some organized way for future use. Excel was, of course, the logical choice. I no longer have the bare-bones original version, but a more mature version of my tracking file looked like this:

3. Pitching to Hendrickson

While in Cambridge, I fairly quietly floated the idea to my doctoral supervisor as well as PhD friends, and the premise of collecting all these texts as a “sourcebook” of sorts seemed to resonate. I had been engaged with Hendrickson on the Septuagint project, and they seemed to be a natural fit given their specialization in primary source-related projects.

I developed a proposal and mocked up around 20 sample passages in Word as a proof-of-concept, and the project was given the green light officially in 2017.

(Note: I didn’t even have the Latin of the title correct at this stage!)
(Not too far off from the final format, actually!)

4. Switching to Airtable for the Real Data Collection

Once I had an official go-ahead, I realized I needed a better way to track data than Excel. I had gotten wind of Airtable as a new web-based database platform, so I gave it a spin. An aspect of this platform that really sealed the deal was its ability to store images, not just text. As I began collecting scans of primary sources, this feature proved invaluable. It also has far more powerful sorting and filtering features than Excel. I was also able to track each entry through the workflow.

Basic layout of my data table
Image viewer within AirTable (super valuable!)
Tracking the workflow from start to finish for each passage

5. Collecting Primary Sources

The essence of this project is, of course, providing access to primary sources (Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, Latin, Ethiopic, and Coptic; I had no interest in learning Armenian or Slavonic). Though I was able to scramble around Cambridge before leaving to scan (with my phone!) as many excerpts as I could, the bulk of the work of collecting primary sources fell to our awesome RTS-Orlando library, Michael Farrell. He can get basically anything. So for about a year I kept him busy tracking down DJD volumes and loads of other things. In fact, one summer he resorted to using a hand truck to bring volumes up from the library to my office. He receives a hearty shout-out in the book’s introduction–couldn’t have done it without him. Wherever possible, I consulted multiple primary editions, and I occasionally went to original manuscripts when needed. In many respects this was the most enjoyable part of the process: studying the original sources across ~250 critical editions.

A lot of this!
I occasionally spotted some interest things in the manuscripts that the critical editions didn’t note (this is from Leiden Or. 7420 of the Jerusalem Talmud, where a repetition of “Jacob” is scratched out)

6. Crafting the Book in InDesign

Given the complexity of the book, particularly in the number of different languages it involves (both left-to-right and right-to-left), I agreed with Hendrickson from the outset that I would take the lead in typesetting the book. It seemed foolish and error-prone to try to do it in Word and have someone else convert it to InDesign. So…I had a crash course in InDesign and spent the bulk of the project working directly on the final version rather than mocking it up in Word. Doing it this way offered numerous advantages, particularly in precise control over page design and footnotes for the critical apparatus. But if you have ever worked in InDesign, you’ll know that it has many quirks–so I had to deal with those as well. Eventually I turned the file over to Hendrickson’s team to finalize things (nice job Phil Frank!).

7. Fleshing out Secondary Sources

Over the course of the years working on this project, I was also documenting journal articles, monographs, etc. that deal directly or tangentially with the passages that formed part of Corpus. I also did a spinoff article on the Testament of Job for (NovT), once I realized that very little had been done with it in terms of Christology.

8. Proofing the Drafts

Once the ~300 passages were drafted in InDesign, the proofreading process began. Jonathan Kline (at Hendrickson) was the main proofreader for Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. Srecko Koralija (Cambridge) assisted with Ethiopic and Syriac, and Jesse Atkinson (a former student of mine, now with Wycliffe) assisted with Latin.

This process involved a lot of back-and-forth in PDF, as you’d imagine. Once I printed the whole thing on paper for the final run-through (sorry, trees).

A LOT of Adobe comment bubbles!
Apologies to the pines

9. Pressing “Print” During a Pandemic

In early 2021 we declared the project “done” and sent it to the printer. Ships were stuck in the Suez Canal, supply chains got messed up, everything got backlogged, Amazon pretended it didn’t have the book for months, and so on. It was frustrating. But it’s finally available!

You should buy it. I can’t say it’ll change your life…but I can’t say it won’t either.

Amazon’s product page said this for months…even though it wasn’t true. But Amazon gonna Amazon.

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