New Docs Interview: Jim Harrison (Part 1)

by | Jan 3, 2022 | Biblical Studies

Anyone who knows about the New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity series (commonly abbreviated New Docs) knows these ten books are lexical gold, shedding light onto the words of the New Testament beyond what our lexicons and workbooks offer. (You can read a short post I wrote on the series here.) The original overly-ambitious plan to release one volume every year soon faltered and ultimately fizzled with the last book in the series appearing in 2012. But the wonderful news is that after a lengthy hiatus, six more volumes of New Docs are planned for release! The well-qualified chief-editor and architect of the project, Prof. Jim Harrison, kindly sat down for an interview to discuss his work. He’s answered my questions, which will appear on my website in two parts. Part 1 appears below. (Part 2 is now available here.) Thank you, Prof. Harrison, for sharing the exciting news of this project!

1. Would you give us a brief history of New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity (New Docs)? How and when did this project come about? Why did it come to a halt?

The beginning of New Docs was instigated by a comment of Dr. Bruce Winter, the internationally famous Australian New Testament scholar and Warden of Tyndale House (1987-2006). In 1979 Bruce had recently finished his Masters thesis at Singapore and was undertaking his doctoral studies at Macquarie University (Macquarie Park, Sydney, Australia).  He observed to Professor Edwin Judge, Head of Department, in 1979 that the famous Lexicon of Moulton and Milligan (=MM), along with the Lexicon of Ceslas Spicq, did not explain the difference in meaning between oikos and oikia.  Winter ventured the need for a revision of MM, suggesting that the papyrological resources of the Macquarie University Ancient History Documentary Research Centre could be used to revise MM.

A significant ripple of disquiet was sent through the scholarly echelons at Macquarie and Yale Universities in 1980, both of whom were in contact with each other at the time. Was Winter’s radical challenge to the scholarly consensus regarding MM’s undisputed and authoritative status as a Lexicon actually correct? The opinion of Winter was tested by the research of the British scholar, Dr. Colin Hemer, carried out during his three-month visit to Macquarie University as a research fellow in 1980. Hemer concluded, contrary to his initial assumption, that Winter was indeed correct regarding the necessity of a revision of MM. He reported the results of his investigation (“Towards a New Moulton and Milligan”) in Novum Testamentum 24.2 (1982): 97-123. A plan to revise MM was instigated, the revision of which is still being undertaken by Professor Greg Horsley to this day. In the meantime, New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity (= New Docs) was launched as a crucial preliminary step to revising MM. Its studies of newly published papyri, inscriptions, and ostraca would make an invaluable contribution to the ultimate revision of MM.

The first two chief-editors of New Docs were Greg Horsley (Vols 1-5) and Stephen Llewelyn (Vols 6-10). Initially, these editorial appointments were funded by Australian government grants, but changes to the criteria for the achievement of such grants meant that no more New Docs volumes would appear beyond Volume 10.

How we have moved to the establishment of a further seven volumes is outlined below.

2. Could you tell us about your professional background and how you came to be involved in this project?

I studied Ancient History at Macquarie University and graduated from the doctoral program in 1997. I am a Professor of Biblical Studies and the Research Director at the Sydney College of Divinity (Macquarie Park, Sydney, Australia). I am responsible for running our doctoral programme, caring for our research candidates, and encouraging research culture among our member colleges. Previously I was Head of Theology at an arts/theology college called Wesley Institute (Drummoyne, Sydney, Australia) for a decade, teaching there for 15 years. My monographs include Paul and the Language of Grace in Its Graeco-Roman Context (Mohr Siebeck, 2003), Paul and the Imperial Authorities at Thessalonica and Rome (Mohr Siebeck, 2011), Paul and the Ancient Celebrity Circuit (Mohr Siebeck, 2019), and Reading Romans with Roman Eyes (Fortress, 2020)I am also the co-editor, along with L. L. Welborn (Fordham University, USA), of the SBL Press series The First Urban Churches (Vols 1-7, 2015-2022; Vols 8-9 forthcoming). I am also the editor of several other books and the author of many book chapters and articles.

I came to be involved in this project as a member of the New Docs Committee, while being the co-editor, with Stephen Llewelyn (the chief-editor), of New Docs Vol 10. When it was apparent that there was no further government funding for the production of another five New Docs volumes through the employment of a new chief-editor for the series, it seemed that the series was over. However, I offered to edit a final crowning volume on Ephesus, ending the series at Volume 11. But, after further consideration, I came back to the New Docs Committee with a new direction for and strategy for completing the series (i.e. Vols 11-17), knowing that I had the resources, contacts, and time to achieve the project. The structure and rationale for the new series is set out below. The Committee graciously endorsed the proposal and we were off and running!

3. How will these seven new volumes differ from the previous ten volumes? Can you share the individual focus of each volume?

A new focus

Under the New Docs editorship of Greg Horsley (Vols 1-5) and Stephen Llewelyn (Vols 6-10), each pentad presented translations of and commentaries on new papyri, inscriptions, and ostraca published over a period of time. The series, written by Australian scholars associated with the Macquarie University Ancient History Department, rapidly acquired an enviable international reputation for its incisive contribution to classical, New Testament, and Jewish studies.

With a re-focused title, New Documents Illustrating the History of Early Christianity, Volumes 11-17 will concentrate on the epigraphic evidence of the major eastern Mediterranean cities that were the centres of the early Christian mission in the first century CE. Rather than just being a production of Australian scholars, the new series also draws upon an international team of scholars who have expertise in the epigraphy of each urban centre. At any time, two volumes are being worked upon concurrently, with a view to finishing the entire seven volumes within a decade.

The material evidence relevant to the history and culture of each city–archaeology, iconography, and numismatics–is now for the first time in the New Docs series brought into play in scholarly discussions of the local epigraphy and its relation to the New Testament documents. The aim of the new series is to equip New Testament exegetes to situate more accurately the texts they are analysing in their historical, social, and religious context, as well as to make its own unique contribution to scholarship on urban antiquity.

The new series remains a production of the Committee for New Documents Illustrating the History of Early Christianity, Macquarie University, Australia.

A new structure

The structure of each volume, comprising two books in each case (Part A and Part B), will have

  • an introduction detailing the history of the city/cities, including its excavation, based upon its epigraphy, archaeology, and literature (Part A);
  • a section of (minimally) 25 translated inscriptions, with original texts, and accompanying commentary (Part A);
  • a section of thematic essays, drawing on the local epigraphic evidence, relating to the religious, political, social, cultural, and economic life of each city (Part B);
  • a section of exegetical essays, drawing on the local epigraphic evidence, discussing the New Testament documents relevant to each city (Part B).

The new and final series

The new and final series, Volumes 11-17, is as follows:

  • New Documents Illustrating the History of Early Christianity. Volume 11 (Parts A&B): Ephesus, ed. James R. Harrison and Bradley J. Bitner. Projected publication date: 2023.
  • New Documents Illustrating the History of Early Christianity. Volume 12 (Parts A&B): Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis, ed. James R. Harrison, Alan Cadwallader, Rosemary Canavan, and Michael Trainor. Projected publication date: 2024.
  • New Documents Illustrating the History of Early Christianity. Volume 13 (Parts A&B): Philippi, ed. James R. Harrison, Benjamin Schliesser, and Niklas Walder. Projected publication date: 2026.
  • New Documents Illustrating the History of Early Christianity. Volume 14 (Parts A&B): Rome, Ostia, Puteoli, and Pompeii, James R. Harrison and Mark Reasoner. Projected publication date: 2026.
  • New Documents Illustrating the History of Early Christianity. Volume 15 (Parts A&B): Galatia, including Ancyra, Pessinous, and Pisidian Antioch and Iconium, ed. James R. Harrison and Clint Burnett. Projected publication date: 2028.
  • New Documents Illustrating the History of Early Christianity. Volume 16 (Parts A&B): Thessalonica, ed. James R. Harrison and David Evans. Projected publication date: 2029.
  • New Documents Illustrating the History of Early Christianity. Volume 17 (Parts A&B): Corinth, Cenchrea and Isthmia, ed. James R. Harrison and Bradley J. Bitner. Projected publication date: 2030.

With the completion of Volume 17, the entire New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity (Vols 1-10: Horsley/Llewelyn/Harrison) and New Documents Illustrating the History of Early Christianity (Vols 11-17: Harrison et al.) will come to its culmination and there will be no further volumes beyond these.

Part 2 available here:

New Docs Interview: Jim Harrison (Part 2)

In the second part of this interview, Prof. Harrison will explain the practicalities of producing ten new volumes in the New Docs series (workflow, funding, and timeline) and the benefits he hopes the project will bring (along with a fun bonus question). Stay tuned!


Image Credit: Jim Harrison


Brent Niedergall

Pastor, Grammarian, Runner

Brent Niedergall, MDiv, is Chief Editor at Positive Action for Christ in Whitakers, North Carolina. He’s gone to war in Afghanistan, felled towering trees, and parsed Greek verbs.


Brent Niedergall