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What is An Orthodox Corruption of Scripture?

READER’S QUESTION: Dr. Ehrman, I do not know if others would find this interesting, but I would love to know how you developed the idea for _The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture_. How did you go about researching it? How long did it take? Is it a once in a lifetime work?   MY RESPONSE: Ah, this is a great question and it will take a number of posts to lay it all out, as it is a very complicated affair.   But it could make for an interesting thread.  We’ll see! To begin with, I need to say something about what the book was about.   I will have a lot more to say about that in subsequent posts.  At this point I’ll simply try to give the whole thing in a nutshell. First let me clarify the key terms of the title, which in full was :  The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture:  The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament.   By “Scripture” I was referring only to the specifically Christian Scriptures, [...]

Guest Post by Brice Jones on the Reliability of the Early Manuscripts

Here is a second guest-written post dealing with manuscripts.   We are unusually lucky over the past two days!  This one is by Brice Jones, another ancient manuscript person who happens to be on the blog.   Brice runs his own blog devoted to issues related to papyrology (roughly: the study of ancient papyri manuscripts).   His very useful blogsite is: Brice here is responding to some rather extravagant claims made by Craig Evans (my friend and erstwhile debate opponent) about whether we know what the original manuscripts of the NT said, based on a book recently published by George Houston (who is also – though neither Craig nor Brice knew this – also a friend and erstwhile colleague: he was a longtime member of the Classics department at UNC and is a very bright fellow, even if his work sometimes gets misused by others).   In any event, Brice summarizes Craig’s just-published article and shows some of the reasons it is problematic. - Brice Jones is the author of New Testament Texts on Greek Amulets from Late [...]

Guest Post – Brent Nongbri on Manuscript Discoveries

Today we have a guest post – another one from Brent Nongbri, who, if you remember, did his PhD in New Testament at Yale and is currently an Australian Research Council (ARC) Research Fellow in the Department of Ancient History at MacQuarie University in Sydney Australia.  He is one of the leading researchers on ancient manuscripts in the world, and among his other many fine virtues, is a member of the blog. He's also the author of Before Religion: A History of a Modern Concept and God's Library: The Archaeology of the Earliest Christian Manuscripts. You may recall that I raised the question a week or ten days ago about why archaeologists don’t set out to find manuscripts any more, the way Grenfell and Hunt did in the late 1890s, leading to the spectacular discovery of the Oxyrhynchus papyri, in a trash heap outside of the city of Oxyrhynchus, a discovery that was so massive that scholars are still publishing the uncovered papyri today.   Brent has the answer.   Here’s what he has to say.   [...]

2020-05-26T13:41:03-04:00June 28th, 2015|Public Forum|

Kickstarting a Debate

I periodically get asked to have a public debate with a mythicist on the question of their real concern:  Did Jesus Exist?   I have regularly declined these offers, for a variety of reasons: The question is not really a matter of dispute among experts, even though mythicists as a rule would like it to be and sometimes even insist it is. But the reality is this:  if you were to look at the program of the annual meeting of (the many thousands of English-speaking) professors of Biblical Studies, the Society of Biblical Literature meeting (this year in Atlanta), you will not find a session (out of thousands) devoted to arguing both sides of this issue.   That’s because there is no debate. There is debate generated by the mythicists themselves, of course, and in recent years there have been two bona fide scholars in relevant fields (out of the tens of thousands of scholars in relevant fields) who have become outspoken in support of a mythicist view.  But like it or not (most mythicists don’t) (quite [...]

2017-11-29T21:34:43-05:00June 26th, 2015|Bart's Debates, Mythicism, Public Forum|

Questions on the Discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library

I have received a number of questions from readers about the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library, arising out of my earlier discussion of it and the beginning of the back and forth I’m having with Mark Goodacre (as we await his reply to my initial response; he is overseas attending an academic conference and has his hands tied up just now).   Here I will deal with two questions, one that’s a zinger and the other that has been asked by several readers. First the zinger.   The reader noted that I indicated that the books of the library were manufactured in the fourth century; we know this because the leather bindings on the books had their spines strengthened with scrap papyrus (and is therefore called the cartonnage) and some of these papyri were dated receipts.  And so the reader’s question:   QUESTION: Just out of curiosity – what form of dating did the compilers of the books use, that would correspond to our “341 CE” and so on? I’m assuming they weren’t using Roman dates. [...]

Contradictory Stories and Historical Method

I was surprised and intrigued to see the reactions I received to my post in which I responded to Mark Goodacre’s five points calling into question the traditional story of the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library.  In it I pointed out that just because a story changes over time does not mean that the gist of the story is false.  If some tellings indicate that the jar was two feet tall and others that it was six, or that there were two people involved or seven, this does not indicate that the story is, at its heart, false, only that it has been changed in the retelling. A number of readers to the blog reacted by saying that the arguments Mark was making about the discovery of the library are precisely the kind of arguments that I (and critical scholars generally, including, probably Mark!) would make, and have made, against the stories of the Gospels about Jesus.   If I want to use those kinds of argument against the historicity of the Gospel accounts, what [...]

The Dead Sea Scrolls

In my previous several posts I discussed the discovery and contents of the Nag Hammadi Library.  A lot of people on the blog know about all that, since it is a major topic of discussion among scholars of early Christianity.  But the reality is that among the general populace, no one really knows about it.  People may have heard about the “Gnostic Gospels,” but they don’t realize that there is such a *thing* as the Nag Hammadi Library (or, obviously, why it is called that). On the other hand, everyone has heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls, even if they have no clue what the scrolls are, what they contain, and how they were found. The Dead Sea Scrolls are by virtual consensus the most significant manuscript discovery of the twentieth century.  And they are decidedly *not* to be confused with the Nag Hammadi Library!   Here is what I say about the scrolls in my New Testament textbook.  (These paragraphs actually say more about the Essenes that produced the scrolls than the scrolls themselves.)   [...]

2020-04-03T13:35:36-04:00June 23rd, 2015|Early Judaism, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Public Forum|

My Response To Mark Goodacre on the Discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library

A couple of days ago we enjoyed a guest post on the blog by Mark Goodacre, Professor of New Testament at Duke University.  In this post Mark provided five reasons for doubting if the story of the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library – as that story has been recounted by scholars for many years – is in fact accurate.  Mark’s post was a summary of a longer, more detailed, and scholarly article that he has published on the subject. I asked Mark’s permission to respond to his five points, and he gladly agreed; I in turn have agreed to let him respond to my responses.   Rather than asking you to reread his post, I have reproduced each of his five reasons here, and then dealt with them one at a time.   Mark will later post a response to each of my responses. Let me say that I really don’t have a horse in this race, and my sense is that Mark doesn’t either.  We would both love to be able to keep telling the [...]

Mark Goodacre: Questioning the Discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library

A few days ago I posted about the Discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library, giving the remarkable story that scholars -- for as long as I myself have been a scholar -- have been telling about how it happened.  I also mentioned that my New Testament colleague at Duke, Mark Goodacre – who is on this blog and who has an important blog of his own, as well as the most important website on the New Testament on the entire Internet – has written an article calling this story into question. I asked Mark if he would be willing to summarize his objections to the story as it is typically recited, and he has done so in the following post.   In my next post I will respond to his objections, and then Mark will respond to my response.  Isn’t scholarship great? Here’s Mark’s post on the matter: - Mark Goodacre is the author of several books, including The Case Against Q, and Thomas and the Gospels.   **************************************************************************   Five Reasons to Question the Story [...]

2021-01-29T02:33:30-05:00June 20th, 2015|History of Christianity (100-300CE), Public Forum|

The Contents of the Nag Hammadi Library

In my last post I gave the story typically recited by NT scholars for the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library.   As I pointed out, some scholars have doubted the story, most recently Mark Goodacre.  He has agreed to do a guest post on the blog in which he shows why this story – which  has been told by probably every NT scholar to every Introduction to NT class for undergraduates for the past thirty years! – is problematic and, well, possibly not true.   That post will come by way of tomorrow’s blog. For today’s post, first, I want to say something about the contents of the Nag Hammadi library.  This, at least, is not in dispute.  Here is what I say in my undergraduate textbook on the matter.  **************************************************************  What was this ancient collection of books?  The short answer is that it is the most significant collection of lost Christian writings to turn up in modern times.  It included several Gospels about Jesus that had never before been seen by any Western scholar, books [...]

The Discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library

In this thread on the discovery of ancient Christian texts, I have mentioned the serendipitous discovery of both the Nag Hammadi Library in Egypt and the Dead Sea Scrolls in what is now Israel.   It might be useful for me to say something about both of these discoveries.  In this post and the next I will talk about the Nag Hammadi Library.  I have taken this discussion from my New Testament textbook. But let me reproduce the discussion with a warning.  Caveat lector!   My friend Mark Goodacre, NT scholar at Duke and inveterate destroyer of New Testament scholarly myths, has called this account (which is the standard account found among NT scholars) into question.  Mark is on the blog.  Maybe he will be inspired to respond! In any event, here is the tale of the discovery from my undergraduate textbook: ************************************************ It is an intriguing story, this chance discovery of a cache of ancient Christian documents in 1945, in a remote part of Upper Egypt, a story of serendipity, ineptitude, secrecy, ignorance, scholarly brilliance, murder, [...]

What I Saw at St. Catherine’s Monastery

In my last post I began to relate an anecdote about a traveling adventure I had several years ago, when giving lectures for a UNC trip to Egypt and Jordan with a stop at the famed St. Catherine’s monastery in the southern part of the Sinai peninsula, the place where Tischendorf had discovered the biblical manuscript codex Sinaiticus in the mid 19th century, and where a fire at the monastery in the 1970s had uncovered a hidden room found to contain manuscripts, including the pages from the Old Testament of the codex Sinaiticus that Tischendorf had not come away with from the monastery when he took the bulk of the manuscript with him back to Russian.   (That is the longest sentence I’ve ever produced on the blog; it’s because I’m reading Proust right now….) For me, one of the highlights of this trip was to be a visit to the monastery, a place that I had wanted to see for years.   It is located in a completely barren location in the wilderness and is the [...]

St. Catherine’s Monastery

In my previous post I talked about Constantin von Tischendorf and his discovery of the Codex Sinaiticus in St. Catherine’s Monastery on the Sinai peninsula in 1844 and then 1859.   I have a personal anecdote to relate about the manuscript, one of the most interesting things every to happen to me on my various travels hither and yon. To make sense of the anecdote I need to provide some background information.   As I indicated in my previous post, when Tischendorf discovered the codex Sinaiticus (as it was later called), he considered it to be the most ancient biblical manuscript then known to exist.  He was right.  It was. Tischendorf claimed that the manuscript was gifted to him by the head of the monastery.   The monastery later claimed, and still claims to this day, that he stole it from them. The manuscript consists of... THE REST OF THIS POST IS FOR MEMBERS ONLY.  If you don't belong yet, JOIN!!!  It doesn't cost much at all, and every penny goes to charity!! The manuscript consists of both [...]

Tischendorf and the Discovery of Codex Sinaiticus

PLEASE NOTE: I am incommunicado for a few days on a gulet in the Aegean Sea on the west coast of Turkey. I have asked Steven, our blog support, to add some posts for me in my absence; I prepared these in advance knowing I would be out of reach. Here is one of them. I’m afraid I will not be able to respond to comments on the next few posts until I return to some form of civilization that supports Internet and all things electronic. So sorry! **************************************************** In my previous post on the discovery of biblical manuscripts, I mentioned the most intrepid of manuscript-hunters of modern times, Tischendorf. His story is very interesting. Here is what I say about him and his most famous discovery in my book Misquoting Jesus. The one nineteenth-century scholar who was most assiduous in discovering biblical manuscripts and publishing their texts had the interesting name Lobegott Friedrich Constantin von Tischendorf (1815-74). He was called “Lobegott” (German for “Praise God”) because before he was born, his mother had seen [...]

How Are Manuscripts Discovered

PLEASE NOTE: I am incommunicado for a few days on a gulet in the Aegean Sea on the west coast of Turkey. I have asked Steven, our blog support, to add some posts for me in my absence; I prepared these in advance knowing I would be out of reach. Here is one of them. I’m afraid I will not be able to respond to comments on the next few posts until I return to some form of civilization that supports Internet and all things electronic. So sorry! **************************************************** In this thread I have been discussing documents from early Christianity that I would very much like to have discovered. In my last post I mentioned the fact that documents that *do* tend to be discovered are either texts that we already have copies of (the Gospel of John, the book of Revelation, etc.) or of books that we did not previously know existed (the Letter of Diognetus, or most of the writings in the Nag Hammadi library). Here is a related question from a reader [...]

The Discovery of Lost Documents

PLEASE NOTE: I am incommunicado for a few days on a gulet in the Aegean Sea on the west coast of Turkey.  I have asked Steven, our blog support, to add some posts for me in my absence; I prepared these in advance knowing I would be out of reach.  Here is one of them.  I’m afraid I will not be able to respond to comments on the next few posts until I return to some form of civilization that supports Internet and all things electronic.  So sorry! **************************************************** I’ve been discussing lost books from early Christianity that I very much wish would be discovered.   Like everyone else interested in this field, I would of course love to have *all* the now-lost books to be turned up.  Unfortunately, we probably don’t even know what the majority of the lost books even were, and have no concrete reason for thinking that they ever existed.  Here is a related question that a member of the blog asked a couple of weeks ago: QUESTION: What do you think are the odds that a really startling discovery like [...]

Papias and the Eyewitnesses

I have been discussing the writings of Papias, his lost five-volume Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord.  Scholars of the New Testament have long ascribed huge significance to this work, in no small part because Papias claims to have ties to eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus.   In my view this championing of Papias is misguided.   I say something about that in my new book on Jesus Before the Gospels (or whatever we end up calling it); I will probably be going into a more sustained analysis in my scholarly book that I’m working on next on memory and the historical Jesus. The excitement over Papias as a link to our eyewitnesses is based largely on the following passage that is quoted from his writing by Eusebius in his early-fourth-century Church History.  This was written about 200 years after Papias, but Eusebius had read Papias’s book and so could quote from it.   In his discussion of the book Eusebius mentions the references to Papias in the writings of Irenaeus, from around 180 CE, just [...]

Lecture: Jesus and the Historian

On Tuesday, February 25, 2014 I gave a lecture at Dickinson College (Carlisle Pennsylvania) on "Jesus and the Historian,"  in the Anita Tuvin Schlechter Auditorium.  In the lecture I deal with the historical problems posed by the surviving Gospels for evaluating the evidence for the life and teachings of Jesus. Please adjust gear icon for 720p High-Definition (The quality is not as good as one might hope, but it's the best we can do given the original source)  

Wine in the Kingdom

Writing my last post on Papias made me think of something that is rather humorous even if it is only very tangentially related.   If you recall, Papias claimed that Jesus taught the following about the future utopian kingdom on earth:  The days are coming when vines will come forth, each with ten thousand boughs; and on a single bough will be ten thousand branches.  And indeed, on a single branch will be ten thousand shoots and on every shoot ten thousand clusters; and in every cluster will be ten thousand grapes, and every grape, when pressed, will yield twenty-five measures of wine.  When I was writing up that post, I was reminded of the story in the Gospel of John in which Jesus turns the water into wine.   Jesus appears to have enjoyed wine in great abundance. The story in John is particularly interesting, and what is humorous to me is how I’ve heard it interpreted by well-meaning conservative Christians who were certain that Jesus would not ever encourage people to partake of alcoholic beverages. [...]

2017-11-29T21:42:39-05:00June 6th, 2015|Canonical Gospels|

A Fantastic Saying of Jesus in Papias

I have mentioned one of the intriguing traditions found in the now-lost Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord by the early second century proto-orthodox church father Papias (his account of the death of Judas).  Here is another one. In this one Papias is relating what he has heard that Jesus taught.  As you’ll see, it is not a teaching that is found in the New Testament Gospels, or in fact in any other Gospel source we have. What is most striking, in some ways, is that Papias claims that he has a clear line of tradition going straight back to Jesus to confirm the reliability of the saying:  he learned this from “elders” (that is, senior Christians) who heard from John the son of Zebedee, one of Jesus’ closest disciples, that this is something Jesus used to say.   So this is not an “eyewitness” account (or, rather, not an “earwitness” account) – it is an account that we get from Papias who got it from others who got it from John who got it [...]

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