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Re: [textualcriticism] Question for BART D. EHRMANN

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  • Edward Andrews
    Bart: What it actually comes down to is that you see the glass as almost empty; while others see it as almost full. It is almost like a person who leaves a
    Message 1 of 104 , Nov 2, 2008
      What it actually comes down to is that you see the glass as almost empty; while others see it as almost full. It is almost like a person who leaves a religious organization because of one issue that get's under his skin and before he knows it; he starts speaking as though that religious organization has never been right about one thing. This is being clouded over by emotions to the point that this one is now thinking irrationally, but believes he is thinking rationally.
        “With the abundance of evidence, what can we say about the total number of variants known today? Scholars differ significantly in their estimates -- some say there are 200,000 variants known, some say 300,000, some say 400,000 or more! We do not know for sure because, despite impressive developments in computer technology, no one has yet been able to count them all. Perhaps, as I indicated earlier, it is best simply to leave the matter in comparative terms. There are more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.”1
        1 MISQUOTING JESUS: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, Bart Ehrman (HarperSanFrancisco: 2005), 89-90.

      It is the numbers game in your book. First, in your book, you do not present every variant. However, if one were to look at everyone you did present, they should find the posterboy for the impression you left with the reader. In fact, you present 42 texts; which you claim contain up to a few hundred variants. Actually, the total number of words in the texts presented is more like 1,200. This is less than one percent of the words in the Greek NT (.01).

      If we were to subtract words that have never really been a textual issue from your 1,200 words (John 7:53-8:11; Mark 16:9-20; 1 John 5:7-8 580 words), we would have 620 words remaining. Next, if one were to remove words of variants that are trivial in nature, being most obvious, being found in only a handful of mss and having no impact on the text whatsoever; this would bring us down to 380 words after nocking off another 240 words. The last to be removed is  the geneaology of Luke (3:23-38 -340 words) that has never been an issue in Bible translation. Therefore, we are now down to 40 words remaining.

      In the end, you have 40 words that are of any real concern. This is what one is left with after all of those big numbers throughout your book. If we were to focus on your book with numbers being our goal, you presented 99.9% of words that have 0% of an impact on textual criticism. Yet, managed to set up an atmosphere ("There are more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament”), which only paints a hopeless picture. I know you did not put forth all of the evidence; but it is a good sampling that makes it all too clear that by your choice of words and the context of the things said; you did not go the extra mile to help the reader understand the inconsequential variants are like picking apples from a tree, very clear. In fact, it has all the earmarks of leaving the reader with the opposite understanding.

      The difference between you and Wallace, Lightfoot, Jones, Wright, Evans and others is the fact that they are trying to build up. I will not say you are trying to tear down, but a "happy agnostic" does not have much money in the game. I will use Neil R. Lightfoot as my example. He will address the variants, but he always makes sure that the reader is grasping the picture that 99% of all variants are "trivial;" other variants are 'substantial but have no consequence' and there are a handful of variants that are 'substantial and have a bearing on the text.' These few present no problem to those that see the Bible as God's Word, but it is hyped up in the opposite direction by those that see it as the word of man. You see a large number of manuscripts as a threat; whereas the others see it as an aid.

      If you were walking a person into heart surgery and the odds of their survival is 95%; but you keep repeating the 5% over and over again; what do you think the patient's disposition will be. Just because you are "a happy agnostic" does not mean that others are. For millions the Bible has had a changing power in their lives. No other book has affected mankind for the better. It has helped many a person to cope with this world we live in; it has helped many a person to overcome personality disorders, to rebuild a failing marriage, to overcome a life of crime, to recover from being a victim of another; whether it be rape, child abuse, or spousal abuse. So, these words mean everything to these ones. SO, YES, I expect you to repeat the inconsequential over and over again. The patient wants to hear that s/he has a 95% success rate going into surgery.

      You are like the doctor that walks into the hospital room and uses medical terms; being very analytical and not seeing the beating heart of the patient; the tears welling up in his eyes as he does not understand your words, but it is enough to help him realize that all is lost. It has to be a nurse that comes in later, to comfort him and reexplain your analysis in layman terms, so that he can appreciate that his is going to live.

      Edward Andrews

      Liberty University

      ----- Original Message -----
      Sent: Sunday, November 02, 2008 2:35 PM
      Subject: RE: [textualcriticism] Question for BART D. EHRMANN

         A lot of people have said this about Misquoting Jesus, but I've never quite understood it:  I say at the very outset of the book that the majority of the variant readings in the tradition are "immaterial and insignificant. "  I think maybe that since I end up speaking about significant variants, rather than dealing at length with insignificant ones (and wouldn't *that* be an interesting book to read!  One that dealt with insignificance! ), people forget that I've already emphasized that most variants don't matter for much apart from showing us that scribes in antiquity could spell no better than most people can today....  So in reply to your comment -- I completely agree (I'm not an idiot!) and I thought (in fact I think) that I did make the distinction you're asking for.  I guess people wanted me to say it over and over again (maybe to reassure readers?)
      -- Bart
      Bart D. Ehrman
      James A. Gray Professor
      Department of Religious Studies
      University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

      From: textualcriticism@ yahoogroups. com [mailto:textualcrit icism@yahoogroup s.com] On Behalf Of George F Somsel
      Sent: Sunday, November 02, 2008 10:48 AM
      To: textualcriticism@ yahoogroups. com
      Subject: Re: [textualcriticism] Question for BART D. EHRMANN

      You are correct regarding the number of variants.  I do, however, think that you are guilty of presenting the variants as being more significant than they truly are.  There are absolute variants and there are significant variants.  The significant variants are not nearly so quantitatively overwhelming as the absolute variants.  The text-critically unsophisticated might conclude that the text is in a very precarious state indeed if he simply looks at the number of absolute variants.  In all fairness to the reader, I think you should make some such distinction.  Of course, that would not be nearly so provocative.

      … search for truth, hear truth,
      learn truth, love truth, speak the truth, hold the truth,
      defend the truth till death.

      - Jan Hus

      From: Bart Ehrman <behrman@email. unc.edu>
      To: textualcriticism@ yahoogroups. com
      Sent: Sunday, November 2, 2008 9:54:30 AM
      Subject: RE: [textualcriticism] Question for BART D. EHRMANN

      Mr. Andrews,
          Yes, you have the right to trust whomever you want.  But I hope you don't throw logic out the window to do so.  If you can explain to me how we can be 99% sure (or *any* percentage sure) of the text of the NT when we don't have any of the earliest copies -- the ones most likely to be changed, as almost anyone on this list can explain -- then I'd be more inclined to be sympathetic.  So -- explain that to me: how do you get to your percentage?  (Note: I don't give an opposing percentage, so it's a bit much to think that I'm *playing* with the percentages)
          BTW, one variant found in 2000 mss is not 2000 variants; it is one variant.  When Mill's apparatus located 30,000 places of variation, it was not simply 30 varianst found in 1000 manuscripts.
          I'm sorry that you think I'm willful.  I'm afraid it shows that you don't know me.
      -- Bart Ehrman
      Bart D. Ehrman
      James A. Gray Professor
      Department of Religious Studies
      University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

      From: textualcriticism@ yahoogroups. com [mailto:textualcrit icism@yahoogroup s.com] On Behalf Of Edward Andrews
      Sent: Sunday, November 02, 2008 9:35 AM
      To: textualcriticism@ yahoogroups. com
      Subject: Re: [textualcriticism] Question for BART D. EHRMANN

      Bart Ehrmann:
      I have a comment on your opinion below. We may not be able to ever say 100% with certainty and; I have never heard any Critic argue for 100%: Metzger, Aland Greenlee, Comfort and so on. But one thing we need not do is play with the statistics to be misleading in the opposite direct either. First, I will give you an abuse of statistics to warm up to the subject (based on crime, as criminal law was my former career). These statistics are are for illustration only. If I were to tell you that N Carolina was 14% black and 80% white in population; but the prison system is 76% black in population and 10% white; what could one conclude. It would be easy to jump to the belief that more crime is committed by the Black population in the extreme. Now, I held back some statistics that will affect that belief. 85% of every black defendant that goes to court; regardless of first-time offense and the like; will go to prison, with 15 getting probation or a halfway house. 20% of the whites who go before a judge will go to prison; while 80% will get probation or a halfway house.
      In misquoting Jesus you do the opposite of what you are claiming others do. You over estimate, in the extreme, the difference in manuscripts. You estimate 400,000 variations within our manuscripts. While this may be numerically correct; it is misleading to the lay reader; who does not understand how one can get such numbers; or even the significance of those variants.
      • Most by far of those 400,000 variants come from spelling, word order, or noun and DA relationship and so on.
      • In example only, if I have a variant at Matthew 7:2, it is one variant in 1,132 manuscripts. But one can be misleading the reader by jacking up the numbers and calling this 1,132 variants; this, getting high numbers like 400,000.
      You have the audacity to claim that some over estimate the percentage of reflecting the original and; thus, misleading the reader as to the trustworthiness of the text; while in the same breath, you are misleading the readers into losing heart at a text that is far from reflecting the original according to your assessment. Personally, I will trust the word of Metzger, Greenlee, Comfort, Wallace, Evans, Wright and Timothy Paul Jones; than one who willfully works in opposition to God's Word.
      Edward Andrews
      Liberty University
      ----- Original Message -----
      Sent: Saturday, November 01, 2008 6:43 PM
      Subject: RE: [textualcriticism] Question for BART D. EHRMANN

         The key thing to remember in a debate of this sort is that even if you were 100% sure of what the NT originally said, that still would not mean that the NT is reliable!  Suppose you could reconstruce with 100% certainty what John McCain said in a particular speech last month.  Would that mean that you could trust that his speech was *right*??  No, only that you knew what it was.
         With the NT, I don't know what percentage we have right -- and either does anyone else.  Whoever puts a statistic on it is simply trying to make people feel better about the issue.  But the reality is that we don't know how much the texts got changed in all those decades/centuries *before* our earliest manuscripts, and we have no way of knowing.
         I hope this helps.  All best,
      -- Bart Ehrman

      Greetings Professor Ehrmann

      As one of the undoubtedly leading if not one of the best Biblical scholars in the world today, you probably have seen almost every argument for and against the authenticity of the biblical text. Being an individual involved in debate on a limited level, I regularly come across the views of Christian apologists and fundamentalists whose chief line of defence for the textual accuracy and reliability of the New Testament is their subscription to the abundance of Greek new Testament manuscripts. They point to the abundance of NT manuscripts (5400) as opposed to ancient classics such as Homer’s Iliad (643 m.s.) People such as FF Bruce, Norman Geisler, William Lane Craig and Jay Smith even go to the extent of bastardising Bruce Metzger’s works by claiming that HE estimated the textual reliability of the NT at 99.5%. How accurate is this line of argument? When variations and omissions are pointed out to them, they appeal to the fact that this does not amt. to or have any effect on doctrinal issues. For eg. (The Ascension—if Marks and Lukes account are fabricated—Acts has a reference, or if the verse on The Trinity (1 John 5:7)is proved to be an interpolations one “still” has an implied reference in the great commission or “Baptising them in the name of the father, son and holy ghost”. The bizarre claim that all of the NT can be reproduced by means of the patristic citations if the manuscript are thrown away! The allegation that there is not much difference bet. The Byzantine text type and the Alexandrian text-type(?)

      Your clarity on these issues will be appreciated.

      Kind regrds

      Yusuf Ismail                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          &nbs! p;                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       &nb! sp;  ;                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

    • Larry Swain
      ...       Well, I don t find this kind of polemical shotgun back and forth (he said / she said, on multiple fronts) to be all that useful as a mode of
      Message 104 of 104 , Nov 30, 2008
        Bart Ehrman wrote:

            Well, I don't find this kind of polemical shotgun back and forth (he said / she said, on multiple fronts) to be all that useful as a mode of discourse.<<

        Nor do I and I wish you'd cease from engaging in it. I made 2 points. That's all. In both, you've been quite defensive and even petulant.

        Nor is this present a mere "he said/she said" disagreement: its a "Bart said vs. Bart said" disagreement that you keep attempting to slide past. The best thing it seems to me to do would be either clarify the apparent contradiction, or just simply admit that your response to my comment responding to Tommy Wasserman was a bit overstated and in need of qualification. Easily done. In such a format, everyone makes statements that need qualification.

         >> But if you have a specific issue you'd like me to address, I'd be happy to.<<

        I believe I've already raised them. And let's recall that it was *you* who responded to my response to Tommy Wasserman regarding ancient and medieval scribal practices.
        >> I will, though, deal with the final question you raise.  Just to recount the conversation up to this point, to make sure we're on the same page.  You indicated that I claimed that there had been a "wholesale, seamless rewriting of the original" somewhere in the manuscript tradition; I asked you what gave you the idea that that was something I claimed, and your reply (below) is that you got the idea from me.  And you would like me to clarify.<<

        Good so far.

        >>  So to clarify: I don't know where you are getting the idea from that I think there was a wholesale seamless rewriting of the original;<<

        In hind sight, perhaps I overstated it. Are you not introducing the possibility that such happened when you claim that our ignorance is such that we have no inkling what happened after the autograph was made. Further you stated: "If someone can explain to me the logic of appealing to an author's style when you don't think you can get back to his words (hence his style), I'll eat my Westcott and Hort!"

        This suggests that it the author's text is unrecoverable in any real sense: i. e. that it was changed, that we can not recover it, and that such change is undetectable since we can not make appeals to the author's style etc. Now you state that "seamless rewriting" is not what you had in mind, ok, fair enough. But it doesn't let you off the hook. Your statements that you can't get back to the author's words and so therefore can't appeal to an author's style suggest that a) the process of reconstructing a text can not get back to the author and b) if we can not get back to the author, its suggests a stage or stages of more than mere interpolation and a few changes. If we take seriously the notion that in the period between author's copy and initial text considerable changes may have taken place that left no trace in the textual tradition, then we have to apply other tools, such as authorial style. If that isn't applicable, however, then we have to posit that those changes between authorial copy and initial copy were so thorough and complete as to be indistinguishable on close study of style, syntax, vocabulary etc. Possible, but given again what we know about ancient scribal practices (and even those making personal copies), is this likely on anything except a theoretical level?

        >> I don't recall ever saying such a thing, and don't recall ever thinking such a thing, and so I don't know what you're referring to.  If I *did* say this, I guess I'll have to defend it!<<

        That's illogical. There are many other responses possible besides defense.

        >> I just don't remember ever being certain that we know what happened in the early stages of the tradition.  So does that clarify it?<<

        It does somewhat, but not entirely. Certitude, however, was not what I was suggesting or after. Certitude isn't possible. Probabilities however are.

        >>  I don't *know* what happened in the earliest decades when the text was being copied (I certainly don't know that their was a wholesale seamless rewriting of the autographs; and I equally don't know that there wasn't).  And I don't believe you know either!  *Do* you think you know?  If so, how do you know?<<
        Do I know? Of course not. But I don't know that the planet on which I dwell will continue to rotate on its axis in the same motion and the same speed so that the sun will give the appearance of "rising" in the morning over what is to me my eastern horizon. But based on the current evidence available to me, I can make a probable prediction that no appreciable change will occur between now and then as to change the nature of that rotation. Likewise, given what we know, we can speak in probabilities about textual reconstructions too. With Dr. Wasserman, I think the best and simplest explanation is that there is no significant difference between authorial copy and initial copy, and that it is more likely that redactional activity between authorial copy and initial copy are detectable...and hence appeal to an author's style remains a valid tool.

        Larry Swain

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