Theodore Cressy Skeat: AKA T. C. Skeat (1907 — 2003) was a librarian at the British Museum, where he worked as Assistant Keeper (from 1931), Deputy Keeper (from 1948), and Keeper of Manuscripts and Egerton Librarian (from 1961 to 1972). If you have never heard of T. C. Skeat; then, you have barely scratched the surface of New Testament Textual Studies. Skeat’s name and work can be found many dozens upon dozens of times and in some cases 200+ times in many modern NT textual criticism books. Read what lies below and learn of one of the greatest textual scholars of the 20th century.
Skeat was educated at Whitgift School, Croydon and Christ’s College, Cambridge, where he graduated with a Second-class BA in the Classical Tripos in 1929. Following a further short spell as a student at the British School of Archaeology in Athens, he was recruited by the British Museum in 1931. His work coincided with two important acquisitions by the Trustees of the aforementioned institution, namely the Codex Sinaiticus and the apocryphal Gospel Egerton 2 Papyrus (a.k.a. the Egerton Gospel). He made a name for himself with important contributions to paleography, papyrology, and codicology, particularly—but not only—in relation to these two acquisitions. He was the grandson of noted philologist Walter William Skeat.
Skeat was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1963 but resigned (along with his friend Colin Roberts) in 1979, in protest against its decision not to expel Anthony Blunt after the latter was exposed as a former Soviet spy.
Early in his career as a librarian, two momentous acquisitions put his name in the public arena. He helped H. Idris Bell edit a newly purchased apocryphal gospel now known as the Egerton 2 Papyrus, but then published under the title Fragments of an Unknown Gospel. This collection of hitherto unknown sayings of Jesus caused great public interest. As these fragments are probably the oldest Christian writing extant, the publication has maintained its popularity and influence.
It was during his early years at the library that the famous fourth-century biblical Greek Manuscript Codex Sinaiticus, now on permanent display at the British Library, was purchased from the Soviet government, and it arrived in London at Christmastide 1933. Skeat and his colleague H. J. M. Milne were responsible for rebinding and reconditioning the manuscript. Their reading of its contents and their skilled detective work identified the work undertaken on the manuscript subsequent to its original writing. Their findings were set out in Scribes and Correctors of the Codex Sinaiticus, published in 1938. That work is still regularly cited in books on biblical manuscripts. Skeat himself maintained his interest in the manuscript and continued to write about it during his thirty years of retirement. One of his last articles (published in 2000) was on the nineteenth-century discovery of Sinaiticus at St Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai. In 1999 the centennial volume of the Journal of Theological Studies carried a magisterial article by him discussing the provenance of Sinaiticus and of a comparable biblical manuscript, Codex Vaticanus. As a consequence of that article, a colloquium was organized in Geneva to consider his conclusions. Skeat had also been an advisor to the Vatican library during their preparations to publish a facsimile of Codex Vaticanus for the Millennium.
Some of Skeat’s output of nearly one hundred published articles and books relate to holdings in the British Library, classical texts as well as papers relating to English literature and history; several deal with ancient calendars, especially Ptolemaic chronology; and all bear witness to his meticulous and painstaking scholarship. He came from a background of learning: his grandfather was Professor W. W. Skeat, the famous Anglo-Saxon specialist.
Skeat’s Papyri from Panopolis in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, and his Catalogue of Greek Papyri in the British Museum, volume VII: The Zenon Archive showed him to be a skilled and productive papyrologist, and it was as such that he was regularly consulted by scholars throughout the world.
He was also involved in publishing new biblical finds in the Oxyrhynchus and Chester Beatty collections. But it is his more wide-ranging studies of the techniques of ancient book production and his essays on such matters as dictation, the origins of the codex, or the cost of papyrus that continue to be influential in any subsequent discussions, especially of early Christian literature and of book production. His co-authorship (with Colin Roberts) of The Birth of the Codex, now reprinted several times, stands as a significant monograph. His chapter on early Christian book production in the influential Cambridge History of the Bible is a monumental article.
Skeat’s interest in New Testament textual criticism resulted in his being a member of the Critical Greek New Testament Project, a committee of the British Academy, and he helped further its task of assembling a thesaurus of textual variants in Luke’s Gospel. Skeat in his own right also contributed perceptive articles on text-critical cruces such as the ending of Mark, the beginning of Philippians and the meaning of Mark 7:3 in the Greek New Testament. Even two weeks before his death, he was planning further articles on other variant readings.
The long-lasting significance of Skeat’s work is exemplified in his article on the enigmatic text and original form of Jesus’ saying about the lilies of the field at Matthew 6:28. He first wrote on that verse in 1948. In 2000, a major edition of the Gospels’ sayings source ‘Q’ by James Robinson gave great prominence to Skeat’s pioneering reconstruction of the saying from fifty years earlier.
By Keith Elliott
There is no Q Document, see WHAT IS THE SYNOPTIC PROBLEM OF MATTHEW, MARK, AND LUKE AND WHAT IS THE HYPOTHETICAL Q DOCUMENT?
For a far deeper look into the so-called Q Document, the sayings of Jesus, the synoptic problem, see …
- I. Bell, and T. C. Skeat (eds.), Fragments of an Unknown Gospel and other early Christian papyri, London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1935.
- J. M. Milne, and T. C. Skeat, Scribes and Correctors of the Codex Sinaiticus, London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1938.
- H. Roberts, and T. C. Skeat, The Birth of the Codex, Oxford University Press, New York – Cambridge 1983.
- C. Skeat, The collected Biblical writings of T. C. Skeat, ed. J. K. Elliott, Supplements to Novum Testamentum 113, Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2004
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