I have started discussing “intentional” changes of the text of the New Testament – that is alterations found in manuscripts of the New Testament that appear to have been made by scribes who *wanted* to change the text, presumably in order to make it say (more closely) what they wanted it to say. Let me illustrate my discussion by dealing with three of the most interesting textual variants in the Gospel of Mark, one of which is an easy problem to solve, one that is a bit more difficult, and one that has generated a lot of discussion over the years and no firm consensus. This will take a couple of posts. In a still later post I will talk about the criteria and arguments that scholars typically use in order to resolve these questions. I will be alluding to those criteria and arguments here in my explanations of why one form of the text appears to be what the author originally wrote, and the other form of the text appears to be the scribal [...]
I’m getting back now, with this post, to the thread that I started a full month ago in response to a question a member of the blog had related to the field about one of my books that deals with the textual criticism of the New Testament. Just to bring us all back up to speed, I will here repeat the question and briefly summarize what I have covered so far. 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? RESPONSE: To start with, I have devoted a number of posts to unpacking what the title of my actually means. First, in several posts, I’ve explained what the term “orthodoxy” means to scholars of early Christianity, and what it doesn’t mean. To sum up as succinctly as I can (for fuller [...]
My plan is to make this the final post for now on the issue of the Qur’an fragments discovered at the University of Birmingham. Obviously the discussion could go on forever (it’s been going on for 1500 years and is not likely to stop any time soon). But I’m not a scholar of the Qur’an or of Islam, and I would prefer sticking to topics that are within my realm of expertise. I know that comment itself will prompt emails from two groups of people, (a) from Muslims urging me to study the Qur’an so I will see that it is true and convert to Islam and (b) from Christians urging me to subject the Qur’an to the same kind of scrutiny to which critical scholars have subjected the NT, in order to show that Islam too has abundant problems. The reason I know this will happen is because I get both kinds of emails, *all* the time! But I’m sorry to say, I’m not going to convert to Islam and I’m not going to [...]
When, three days ago, I posted my comments about the discovery of a two-page manuscript fragment of the Qur’an that, according to new reports, can be dated (technically, the parchment on which the text is written can be dated) to the lifetime of the prophet Mohammed or to a decade or so later, I had no idea that the post would be such a big deal. The Facebook version of the post has had nearly245,000 hits. and counting. Who would-a thought? There are, as you might imagine, many many comments being made. And it strikes me that many, many of these comments are simply wrong. I won’t be taking them on one at a time. I want simply to say something about a strain of comment that I’m getting (including in private email) from fundamentalists. There are various ways that one can define fundamentalism. (I often say, in jest, that the easiest definition is that a fundamentalist is: “no fun, too much damn, and not enough mental.”) I don’t need to go into a lot [...]
Possibly of interest to someone in the Dallas area. It's some serious mula, but again it is not to line my pockets -- I will be giving all of the money to charity: https://www.secularbackstage.com/tools/au/Bo/SecularBackstage/euoLfNpv .
My post on Saturday about the discovery of two pages of the Qur’an in the library of the University of Birmingham that appear to date from the time of Mohammed himself. or a decade or so later, evoked more than the usual response. My facebook post has received nearly 260,000 hits. I think before that my previous highest hit total was 25,000 or so. Amazing amount of interest in this. And so I’m going to do something I’ve never done before on the 3+ years of the blog: I’m going to post several comments that I have received (on the assumption that many people reading the blog do not read all the comments and my responses to them) (if I’m completely wrong about that, I’d like to know) (though I’m not sure how I could ever get enough responses to see that I’m *completely* wrong. :-) ) will say something about each one – the first two are typical of several that I’ve gotten. The last two are hard-hitting and particularly informative. (I will not [...]
Those of you who follow the news have heard that a truly great manuscript discovery has been made public this week, coming out of the University of Birmingham, England. The university has a very important collection of manuscripts, and for New Testament scholars it is famous for its Institute devoted to the study, analysis, and editing of Gospel manuscripts, an institute headed by my long-time friend and colleague David Parker, indisputably one of the top NT textual scholars in the world. But the discovery that has been made is not connected to the New Testament. It is connected to the Qur’an. Since 1932 the university has had, among its collected works, a virtually full two page fragment of the Qur’an. Recently they decided to see if they could come up with a (relatively) precise date for these pages. And so they had a carbon-14 dating done. The results are nothing less than astounding. See, e.g., http://edition.cnn.com/2015/07/23/opinions/quran-manuscript-analysis/index.html Let me say that carbon-14 dating is indeed a science, but it’s not a highly exact science. It dates [...]
As I stressed in my most recent post, the vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of differences among out surviving manuscripts (and versions, and patristic citations) are of very little or no importance in trying to establish what the authors of the NT originally wrote. There are others that matter, and matter a lot. Those tend to be the ones that are the most interesting. But there are many, many more differences that are easy to detect and of no real significance. Most of these differences appear simply to be accidental mistakes. We can never be absolutely certain, of course, if a change was made by accident or not. But in a huge majority of cases, there seems to be little reason to doubt it. The *reasons* mistakes were made are not hard to detect, but are nonetheless hugely interesting for a reason I will explain in my next post. The reality is that scribes were human beings and they made mistakes. Of course, in theory, they didn’t *have* to make mistakes. Throughout the [...]
Yesterday I discussed very briefly the benefits and difficulties of versional evidence for establishing the text of the New Testament. As it turns out, it is a very big and complex issue, or rather sets of issues. There are large and difficult books written on very small aspects of the versions. One, still authoritative, treatment of the whole shooting match, with extensive bibliography (which is now, of course, out of date), is one of the magna opera of my mentor, Bruce Metzger, The Early Versions of the New Testament: Their Origin, Transmission, and Limitations (1977). It’s a great book, arguably his most impressive. In this post I would like, to move into a very brief discussion of one other area of evidence for the text of the New Testament, the Patristic sources. The term “patristic” stands for “fathers” (Latin: patres) of the church – that is, the early church authors who quoted the books of the New Testament in the course of their writings. This too is an exceedingly thorny area of scholarly investigation, and [...]
When scholars try to establish what an ancient author wrote, they can do so only on the basis of the surviving evidence. That seems, well, rather obvious, but the reality is that most people have never thought about that. It just seems that if you pick up a copy of Plato, or Euripides, or Cicero, that you’re simply reading what they wrote. But it’s not that simple. In none of these cases, or in any other case for any other book from the ancient world, do we actually have the person’s actual writing. All we have are later copies, and invariably these copies are filled with scribal mistakes. Scholars who are “textual critics” try to reconstruct the text that the author produced, to the best of their ability. I have been talking about the challenges of doing that with the New Testament. In many, many ways we are much better situated with the New Testament than with any other ancient book (or set of books) from the ancient world. We have WAY more evidence – [...]
On April 7, 2011, I visited the Google Cambridge l in Cambridge, MA to discuss my book Forged. In my talk I explain how ancient writers sometimes falsely claimed to be a famous person in order to encourage people to read their books. This practice of "literary forgery" was relatively common in the ancient world, but it was also widely condemned. In my book I focus on instances of this practice in early Christianity -- some of them appearing within the New Testament. Please adjust gear icon for high-definition.
In my previous post I started talking about the different kinds of manuscripts of the New Testament we have, as a prelude to my discussion of my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. I now want to say something further about these manuscripts and how they can help us reconstruct what the authors of the NT originally wrote (and why they pose problems for us to that end). Below is what I say about the matter in my textbook on the New Testament, in the new sixth edition that has just appeared. **************************************************** When trying to reconstruct what the authors of the New Testament actually wrote, based on the surviving copies, we have both good news and bad news. The good news: We have more manuscripts for the New Testament than for any other book from the ancient world—many, many more manuscripts than we have for the writings of Homer, Plato, Cicero, or any other important author. We have something like 5,700 manuscripts of the New Testament—from small fragments of tiny parts of a single [...]
Before I start explaining what The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture was about, why I wrote it, what motivated me, and what I wanted to accomplish I (quite obviously, you may be noticing) have to provide a lot of background information. We’ve now moved on from talking about early Christian diversity (orthodoxy and heresy) and are now into discussing “textual criticism,” the academic discipline that tries to establish what an author actually wrote if you don’t have his original but only copies made from later times. To set the stage for what I really want to talk about, first I have to summarize some of the most important information about the textual “witnesses” to the text of the New Testament. I won’t be going into this information at any serious length. We could have many, many, many posts on virtually every single detail that I mention. But trust me, you don’t want that. There are three kinds of witnesses to the text of the New Testament, that is to say, three kinds of documents that can [...]
In discussing the background to my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture I have so far been talking about the issue of early Christian diversity, so as to explain what the term “orthodox” in the title means. I now want to turn more fully to a discussion of the term “corruption,” and to do that I need to provide some basics about the general field of inquiry that the book is devoted to, the textual criticism of the New Testament. The first thing to emphasize is that the term “textual criticism” is a technical term with a very specific meaning. Lay people often misuse the term, not knowing that it refers to a particular and highly specialized field of study. The term does *not* simply mean “the study of texts” or “literary analysis of texts” or anything similar. Thus, if someone is engaged, for example, in the interpretation of a text, that is *not* “textual criticism.” Instead, textual criticism is the discipline that seeks to reconstruct the text that an author wrote when we no [...]
Orthodoxy and Proto-Orthodoxy - the current thread on the diversity of early Christianity actually began as a response to a question raised by a reader, which was the following: 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 initial thought was that I would be able to answer the question in roughly five or six posts. But here it is, two weeks later, and I haven’t even started to answer it because it has taken this long to describe what I mean by the term “orthodox.” And I haven’t finished doing even that! But I hope to do so with this post. Orthodoxy and Proto Orthodoxy - Right Belief vs False Belief To this point I have tried to explain why so many scholars for the past 80 years or so have been convinced that we cannot [...]
In keeping with the current topic of the diversity of early Christianity, I thought I could say something about a book that I just read that I found to be unusually interesting and enlightening. It is by two Italian scholars, married to each other, who teach at the Università di Bologna, Adriana Destro, an anthropologist, and Mauro Pesce, a New Testament specialist whose teaching position is in the History of Christianity. Their book is called Il racconto e la scrittura: Introduzione alla lettura dei vangeli. It is about all the things I am currently interested in: the life of Jesus as recounted by his earliest followers, the oral traditions of Jesus, and the Gospels as founded on these oral traditions. In it they develop a theory that I had never thought of before. I’m not sure all the evidence is completely compelling, but the overall view is very interesting and very much worth thinking about. As an anthropologist Prof Destro looks at things in ways differently from most of us who are text-people; and she [...]
I am now getting back to the question of early Christian diversity – all in the context of setting up the answer to the question I got about what I had in mind when I decided to write my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. I have been discussing the views of Walter Bauer, in his classic work, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, who maintained that from the earliest of times, so far as we can tell from our surviving records, Christianity was not a single unitary thing with one set of doctrines that everyone believed (orthodoxy), except for occasional groups that sprang up as followers of false teachers who corrupted that truth they had inherited (heresies). Instead, as far back as we can trace the history of theology, Christianity was always a widely disparate collection of various beliefs (and practices). In the struggle for converts, one form of the Christian faith ended up becoming dominant. When it did so, it declared itself orthodox and all other forms of the faith heretical; and then [...]
I am happy to announce a milestone in the life of the blog. As everyone who has been on the blog for any length of time has heard me say ad nauseum, the principal reason I started the blog, and continue to do it, is not – is decidedly not – because I feel constantly driven to post my views about the intellectual matters that are important to me: the historical Jesus, the writings of Paul, the formation of the New Testament, the early Christian apocrypha, the Apostolic Fathers, the history of early Christianity, the manuscript tradition of the early Christian writings, etc. etc. I started the blog, instead, as a way of raising money. And I continue to do it in order to raise money. I don’t mean to sound crass about it, but if it wasn’t for the money, I wouldn’t do it. There’s no way on God’s Green Earth I would do it. I continue to post 5-6 times a week, almost always around 1000 words per post. That takes about an [...]
While I'm on the issue of early Christian diversity, I thought it might be useful to post a video that I did over ten years ago now on my first book written to address that theme, Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew" . On August 29, 2004, I was invited to appear on North Carolina Bookwatch, hosted by D.G. Martin. [Episode: 239]. In the discussion I talked about early (alternative) forms of Christianity and about how they came to be suppressed, reformed, or forgotten. All of these groups insisted, of course, that they upheld the teachings of Jesus and his apostles, and they all possessed writings that bore out their claims, books reputedly produced by Jesus's own followers. D. G. Martin is the host of UNC-TV’s “North Carolina Bookwatch.” He is a really good guy, interesting and interested. He is a retired lawyer, politician, and university administrator. Please adjust gear icon for high-definition.
In my previous post I started to show why it is difficult to use the New Testament itself as evidence that Christianity started out as an original unity, only to come to be fragmented with the passage of time into the second and third Christian centuries. It is true that the NT is the earliest set of Christian writings that we have, and that most of the books can probably be dated to the first Christian century. We don’t have any other books (well, virtually any other books) this early (I don’t think the Gospel of Thomas can date to the first century; the one exception to the rule would probably be 1 Clement, which is usually dated to the mid 90s CE, and which is, indeed, a proto-orthodox writing). The two problems I’ve isolated with using the NT to demonstrate early Christian unity are that: 1) The reason we have these books and no others from the time is that these are the books that later orthodox church fathers deemed scripture and worked to [...]