Interview with J.K. Elliott

After serving the IGNTP Committee for 43 years in various roles as editor, secretary and member, J. Keith Elliott stepped down from the committee at the meeting in November 2020, to continue as a corresponding member. At the meeting, held via Zoom, the Chair Peter Williams emphasized that no words were enough to express thanks for all the dedication, competence and “corporate memory” Keith has brought to the Committee. David Parker reminded the committee that without Keith’s stepping forward in the 1970s the IGNTP edition of Luke might never have happened, and the IGNTP might not be here today at all.

Keith Elliott

The current Secretary, Tommy Wasserman, took the occasion to ask his predecessor to share a few memories of his long service to the IGNTP.


Can you tell us a bit about how you came to join the British Committee of the IGNTP in 1977? Who were the members then and what work were you involved in?

I was approached to join the IGNTP (British) Committee in 1977, during a trip on the Seine by Bateau-Mouche when I was (deliberately?) seated next to Matthew Black (then a member of the IGNTP committee) during SNTS's conference outing at the end of its Meeting in Paris. Skeat's Introduction to Volume 1 of Luke tells you about most issues prior to then.

I did indeed join the committee and enabled the IGNTP Luke volumes to be published. Volume 1 appeared in 1984 and, three years later, Volume 2 appeared as OUP (Clarendon Press) publications. I reported progress to the committees as work was underway. That also means the US committee: we joined them for one Meeting per annum during the North American SBL jamborees. The two volumes appeared as the work of both the British and North American committees. Neville Birdsall had started work on Luke's earliest chapters. In the beginning of my time on it, the committee comprised Jack Plumley in the chair and, apart from me, regular attenders were Hedley Sparks and George Kilpatrick (from Oxford), Tom Pattie (British Museum/British Library) and Lionel North. Bill Elliott (no relation) joined slightly later, as too did David Parker.

Usually we held our (British) meetings twice per year. These took place in the British Academy's rooms in London: first, Burlington House, then to Regents Park and then to its current site on Carleton House Terrace. Latterly we met in the British Museum, London (regularly), at Leeds University (occasionally) and Birmingham University (irregularly). Reviews of the Luke volume that I keep here show the high quality of the reviewers invited to submit items by the various Classics and Theology journals. With a politician's wisdom of hindsight, I suspect that the apparatus would today be shorter, not least in my obediently including most of the inner-versional variants. I soon noted that the two Oxford Professors did not "hit it off"; the comments made by them at our committee meetings required much tact from the minute-takers!

Colin Roberts was also a Committee member but for only my first meeting. Theodore Skeat was not a member although he remained active on the Luke project for years, including as a most effective proof-reader. I had relied on him also as the committee's memory. He it was who wrote much of the prefatory material in Vol. 1. It will be noted that a list is provided -- predominantly of North American scholars and students who collated many manuscripts. This work still continues not least with the collating of lectionaries.

I also got involved in Oxford's re-edition of M.R. James' Apocryphal New Testament. I suspect that Sparks put my name forward as I proved to him that I am a relatively accurate and brisk scholar to produce this parallel to his own Apocryphal Old Testament.

David Parker took over from me in 1987 and began work on the Fourth Gospel. (Legg had published his apparatus to Mt and to Mk, but his handwritten copy of Luke sits forlornly in my study after I inherited his sheets that were rejected by OUP.) Since 1987 David and Hugh have obtained both cash-grants and personnel to be Mitarbeiter with them. Klaus Wachtel's comment that computers need not be quicker, albeit are likely to be more accurate than mere humans, bears fruit here. I send David and his co-workers my best wishes.

What have been the highlights of your work for the committee? Do you have any other special anecdotes?

As far as highlights and anecdotes are concerned, clearly the launch/lunch of the Luke volumes must be a highlight. especially that special meal in Plumley's Cambridge College (Pembroke). Another headline ought to be when John's Gospel is finally printed and published – we/you must follow that by a lunch together too!

Another anecdote comes to mind, apart from my trip down the Seine. This concerns Muenster. I paid several visits there, as too did Bill Elliott. That was to both buildings where Kurt Aland's Institut was housed. I had dared to criticise Kurt Aland in print. As a consequence I possess in my files at home his justifications and vituperative ripostes. (Later, Barbara Aland, embarrassingly, used to address me with the familiar "Du" form of verbs, whenever we wrote or met.) It was Kurt Aland, though, who usually asked his fellow Mitarbeiter, Klaus Junack, which "Elliott" it was who was expected. Bill (E.) was always welcome! (I recently read that thanks to KA's plots, the NA and UBS committees could be acrimonious, although Black and Metzger were too gentlemanly to say so, at least publicly.)

Can you tell us a bit about your current work?

With active proposals under way for 2021 (thanks largely to Covid19's having delayed editors?) that year should be an annus mirabilis as far as my publications are concerned. My many entries (on NT textual criticism) should see light of day in the 4th edition of the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Also next year should appear the essays (again on NT textual matters) in the bilingual (English-German) series STT, following my lectures (in German) in October 2019 in Stuttgart. I am also preparing a book on a NT apocryphal text for Brepols: that too should be published next year (2021). As Books Review editor for Novum Testamentum I think that some of that year's twelve or so titles will be my "Book Notes" in its reviews!