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Moving to My Next Book

As I mentioned some time ago, I’ve decided to slow down a bit and enjoy life a bit more.   Since 1992 – that is, over the past 25 years – I have written or edited thirty books.  I’m not going to stop.  But I’m thinkin’ it’s time to ease off a bit.  Is there a reason I publish a book a year?  Not that I can think of. I’ve done it because it’s my passion.  Well, one of my passions.  I am a bit obsessed with the history of early Christianity and all that it entails.  My books have covered a wide range of fields within that broader area.  And I have tried to keep up publishing three different kinds of books: scholarly books for the academics; textbooks for the colleges students; and trade books for the general reading public. It’s been hard to balance all that, especially since I’ve tried to publish a new trade book every two years.  I’ve had to do the other books in my spare time, such as it is, [...]

The First Textual Variant in the Gospel of Mark

I have been talking about some of the textual variants in Mark, and wanted to address the very first one that can be found in our textual witnesses, one that occurs in the first verse of the Gospel.  I have decided to do so by showing how a relatively hard-core argument is made by textual scholars.  To do that I have copied in my discussion of the passage in my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.  This was not a Barnes & Noble book, but was written for academics.  But I think it’s useful to get a sense for that kind of discourse on occasion (OK: rare occasion) on the blog.  So here it is.  As you’ll see, it presupposes some knowledge of adoptionistic Christologies, the topic of yesterday’s post.  (I have eliminated part of the discussion that gets particularly technical, involving the surviving manuscripts that evidence the textual variant) (And apologies for the odd spacing...) ***************************************************************** The vast majority of manuscripts introduce the Gospel of Mark with the words: “The beginning of the Gospel [...]

2020-04-03T02:34:16-04:00February 27th, 2017|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts, Public Forum|

Christians Who Thought Jesus Was Adopted by God: A Blast From the Past

I have been talking about some of the textual variants in the Gospel of Mark, and I want to discuss the very first one in the Gospel, whether Mark 1:1 calls Jesus the "Son of God" or not.  But to make sense of what I want to say about that matter, I need to provide some background that at first sight may not seem all that relevant.  But it's highly relevant.  It has to do with how some early Christians understood Jesus not to be innately the Son of God, but the Son of God because God "adopted" him, the man Jesus, to be his son at some point of his life.  I've covered that issue before on the blog, and so this is a blast from the past: ****************************************************************************** For some posts now I have been talking about “docetic” Christologies in the early church – views of Christ that said he was so much divine that he was not really a human – and about how these influenced proto-orthodox scribes who changed their texts [...]

2020-04-03T02:34:25-04:00February 26th, 2017|Heresy and Orthodoxy, Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Jesus’ Teaching in Aramaic and the Books of the Canon: Mailbag February 24, 2017

There are two interesting questions in this week’s Readers’ Mailbag: one about Jesus’ teaching in Aramaic and the other about which books did not make it into the New Testament.  If you have a question yourself, ask it as a comment and I will add it to the burgeoning list!   QUESTION: Even though Christ taught in Aramaic, was there absolutely nothing written down in Aramaic? Is there much of a language translation problem going from Aramaic to Greek? (Again, it’s mind boggling to consider how many opportunities for error to creep in by accident or design)   RESPONSE: Yes, I’m afraid that’s right: we don’t have any writings from any early Christians in the language that Jesus spoke, Aramaic.  That makes things rather complicated when it comes to deciding what Jesus really said – that is, if we want to have an idea of his exact words.  Let me make two points about that. First, there are some passages in the Gospels where the author will preserve an Aramaic word or phrase on Jesus’ [...]

An Interesting Scribal Change at the Beginning of Mark

Since I’ve started saying something about how scribes altered the Gospel of Mark over the years as they copied it (yesterday I mentioned eight changes made by scribes in just the five verses, Mark 14:27-31) I would like to pursue this theme a bit, and talk about some of the more interesting changes.   In this post I’ll pick just one that occurs right at the beginning of the Gospel.  It’s an interesting change because scribes appear to have made it in order to eliminate a possible contradiction that was originally found in the Gospel – already in verse 2! The first verse of Mark’s Gospel is often understood to be a kind of title for the entire account: “The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”  To that opening statement, most manuscripts add the words “the Son of God.”  I’ll talk about that textual variant in my next post, because it is complicated and interesting too – were those additional words originally found in v. 1 or not?   And why would it matter?  It turns [...]

2020-04-03T02:34:33-04:00February 22nd, 2017|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts, Public Forum|

How Variant Readings are Noted in the Greek New Testament

In this post I’m going to try to do something I’ve never done before: actually explain by way of example the extent and kind of variations you find in our surviving Greek manuscripts.  In doing so I hope to show: (a) there are lots of variations and (b) most of them involve nuances of meaning but rarely anything of huge significance (and lots of them don’t affect the meaning at all). By way of introduction: I have previously indicated that virtually all translators use the Greek text established by an international committee of scholars for the United Bible Societies.  I have also mentioned that this form of the text comes in two published versions.  One is for translators around the world who are translating the NT into various languages into which it has not yet appeared.  This is the kind of “student” edition that many first year Greek students use.  That one is called the United Bible Societies Greek New Testament, and it is now in its fifth edition.  That’s the one I’ve been describing. [...]

2020-04-03T02:34:41-04:00February 21st, 2017|New Testament Manuscripts, Public Forum|

A Text That Doesn’t Exist! What Do NT Translators Actually Translate?

In my previous post I began to explain that virtually all translators of the New Testament – except fundamentalists who continue to appeal to the Textus Receptus (the inferior form of the Greek text based on the original publication of Erasmus back in 1516, which does not take into account, obviously, discoveries of newer manuscripts) – rely on the form of the Greek text established by an international group of scholars from 1955-1965.  This edition has been revised since then, but not significantly.  The text is pretty much the same now as then, with a few changes here and there. Two points I would like to stress about this United Bible Societies text of the New Testament.  The first point is in response to a question I received, by someone who asked with understandable incredulity: do you mean every translator simply takes the committee’s word for it?  Do they simply translate what others have decided was the original text?  The answer to that question is both yes and no.  It’s actually not quite that simple. [...]

How Do We Know When the Gospels Were Written: A Mailbag Blast from the Past

I occasionally get asked how we know when the Gospels were written.  Why do scholars date them when they do?  I answered that question here on the blog over four years ago now.  Most of you weren't on the blog then.  And if you were, and you're like me, you'll have no recollection at all about what was said four years ago!  So here is the post I made back in May 2012. **************************************************************************** QUESTION: How are the dates that the Gospels were composed determined? I've read that Mark is usually dated to 70 or later because of the reference to the destruction of the temple. Is this the only factor that leads scholars to conclude that it was composed in 70 CE or later or are there other factors? I've heard that Luke and Matthew are likewise dated aroun 80-85 CE to give time for Mark to have been in circulation enough to be a source for them. Is this accurate? How is John usually dated to around 95 CE (or whatever the correct [...]

2020-04-03T02:34:57-04:00February 19th, 2017|Canonical Gospels, Reader’s Questions|

The Gospel Truth: Sometimes A Little Hazy

One of my all-time favorite interviewers is Terry Gross, the host and co-executive producer of Fresh Air on NPR.  I have done her show six times over the years for various books I've written, and it has been a terrific experience each time.  She is an amazing interviewer.  She asks really perceptive questions and knows how to get to what is especially interesting about a guest's work. If you've listened to her show, you'll know that it always sounds like she is in the same radio studio with the person she is interviewing, talking to them face to face.  That's not how it is.  The person being interviewed is physically somewhere else, in a radio studio in their own location, and the interview is happening over headphones and cable hookups.  It certainly never seems that way!  But I've never met her face to face. Here is an interview I did with her on March 4th, 2009 about my book "Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don't Know About Them)." [...]

The Standard Greek New Testament Today

All of these threads within threads are connected with the question that I started with a long while ago: when translators today produce a version of the Bible in English (or any other modern language) what is it that they are translating?  One of the manuscripts?  Several of the manuscripts?  Something else? The answer, in virtually every instance, is the same.  They are translating an edition of the Greek New Testament published since 1965 (with revisions since then) produced by a small but international team of textual scholars assembled and commissioned by the United Bible Societies (various countries have a Bible Society – an organization devoted to the distribution of Bibles and the promotion of knowledge about the Bible: there is one in America, one in Britain, one in Germany, one in the Netherlands, etc; the “United” Bible Societies is the overarching organization with representatives of each country). The team was assembled in 1955 in order to produce a standard edition of the Greek New Testament, based on an intense study of the available Greek [...]

What We Now Know about the Manuscripts of the New Testament

I have talked about how the Greek New Testament was first published by Erasmus in 1516, and about how scholars began to realize, soon after that, just how many differences there were in our surviving manuscripts, with a key moment coming in 1707 with the publication of John Mill’s Greek New Testament, which noted 30,000 places where the manuscripts Mill had examined had alternative readings.    I should stress, Mill did not cite every place he found a difference in the manuscripts.  Only the differences he thought were significant.  Really. So where do we stand today?   Here is my summary of the modern textual situation, over three hundred years later, as drawn from my book Misquoting Jesus. ****************************************************** Whereas Mill knew of or examined some 100 Greek manuscripts to uncover his 30,000 variations, today we know of far, far more.  At last count there have been over 5700 Greek manuscripts discovered and catalogued.  That’s fifty-seven times as many as Mill knew about in 1707.  These 5700 include everything from the smallest fragments of manuscripts – the [...]

2020-04-03T02:35:17-04:00February 14th, 2017|New Testament Manuscripts, Public Forum|

Free Memberships: Still Available!

I still have a few free memberships to the blog available to give out to those who need them, thanks to the incredible generosity of several members of the blog.  These have been donated for a single purpose: to allow those who cannot afford the annual membership fee to participate on the blog for a year.   I will assign these memberships strictly on the honor system: if you truly cannot afford the membership fee, but very much want to have full access to the blog, then please contact me. Do NOT reply here, on the blog, as a comment.   Send me a separate email, privately, at [email protected]   In your email, let me know your situation (why you would like to take advantage of this offer) and then provide me with the following information: 1)      Your first and last name. 2)      Your preferred personal email. 3)      Your preferred user name (no spaces). 4)      Your preferred password (should be 8 or more characters, no spaces). The donors will remain anonymous, but here let me publicly extend my [...]

2017-02-13T07:28:34-05:00February 13th, 2017|Public Forum|

My Work Habits the Letter allegedly by Jesus’ Own Brother: Mailbag 2/12/2017

I will be addressing two quite disparate questions in this week’s Readers’ Mailbag: one about my work habits and one about the New Testament epistle of James: how do we know that the author expected his readers to think (or know) that he was actually the brother of Jesus himself?  If you have questions you’d like me to address in a future Mailbag, send them along!   QUESTION: I notice you seem to get quite a bit done in a day (more than most people I know,) and that you have been doing that from a fairly young age (at one point you even experimented with decreasing your sleeping hours, If memory serves). The biggest hindrance to productivity for me is procrastination (like right now for example). How do you deal with it? You must feel it too sometimes. Did you always have an easier time concentrating than other folks? Did you learn it early in life (maybe by watching your parents)? If so, what techniques do you employ to deal with it?   RESPONSE: [...]

A Major Controversy in New Testament Textual Criticism

After my post yesterday about the 1707 publication by John Mill of his edition of the Greek New Testament, in which he identified some 30,000 places where the manuscripts known in his day differed from one another, my plan was to talk about Greek editions available now, over three centuries later.  But it occurred to me that some readers might be interested in the controversy that was stirred by Mill’s rather alarming publication.  So that’s what this post will be.  Again, this is from my book Misquoting Jesus.   ***********************************************   The impact of Mill’s publication was immediately felt, although he himself did not live to see the drama play out.  He died just two weeks after his massive publication, the victim of stroke.  His untimely death (said by one observer to have been brought on by “drinking too much coffee”!) did not prevent detractors from coming to the fore, however.  The most scathing attack came three years after Mill’s publication, in a learned volume by a controversialist named Daniel Whitby, who in 1710 published [...]

2020-04-03T02:35:26-04:00February 10th, 2017|New Testament Manuscripts, Public Forum|

Better Editions of the Greek New Testament

I have been dealing with a thread within a thread within a thread, and now I want to get back for a few of posts to the thread itself.  My initial question was about what it is translators are translating when they translate the New Testament into English.  I have talked about the fact that there are thousands of manuscripts of the New Testament that are now known; and I have indicated that the King James Version was based on only a few of these manuscripts, and these ones were not of high quality.  . But what is it that modern translators -- for example for the New Revised Standard Version or the New International Version or the Jerusalem Bible or any one of the other gazillion translations now available -- actually translate?  Do they choose one of the manuscripts?  A couple of them?  Which ones?  Why?  Or do they do something else? They do something else.  They translate a printed text of the Greek New Testament that is widely available today, one you yourself [...]

Major Scribal Corruptions in the New Revised Standard Version

In my previous posts I have indicated that the King James Version includes verses in some places that are almost certainly not “original” – that is, passages that were not written by the original authors but were added by later scribes.  I chose three of the most outstanding and famous examples: the explicit reference to the Trinity in 1 John 5:7-8; the story of the woman taken in adultery in John 7:53-8:11; and Jesus’ resurrection appearance in the longer ending of Mark’s Gospel, Mark 16:9-20. The thread actually began somewhere else, with my discussing not the King James Bible but the New Revised Standard Version, which is my preferred translation.  One might ask: how are these three passages presented in the NRSV?   Since virtually all scholars agree the passages were not original to the New Testament, are they printed there? As it turns out, the three passages are handled differently.   The first, the affirmation of the doctrine of the Trinity (1 John 5:7-8), is not in any of our most ancient manuscripts at all.  It [...]

Responses to Misquoting Jesus: Readers’ Mailbag

As I understand the question in this Readers’ Mailbag, it is about why my claims about scribes who changed the texts they were copying are so controversial, with some (conservative evangelical) scholars claiming that I overemphasize the differences in our New Testament manuscripts.  Here is the question:   QUESTION I was wondering how textual critics can even know how the text of the New Testament probably wasn’t corrupted a lot as you would say. What would make it probable? RESPONSE: One of the most interesting things in the rather loud and vociferous denunciations of my book Misquoting Jesus by conservative Christian scholars is that rarely (I can’t remember a single instance, in fact – maybe someone else knows of some) did they dispute any of the facts I marshal in the book.  So far as I know, the facts are not in dispute. There were three books written in response to my book, one called Misquoting Truth; another called Misquotes in Misquoting Jesus; and another called Lost in Transmission.  I think there was another as [...]

Drew Marshall Show – Jesus Before The Gospels

I was a guest on the The Drew Marshall Show on March 12, 2016 for an interview about my book Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Early Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior.  The broadcast was recorded from the studio of CJYE based in Oakville, Ontario Canada. Like the book, the interview discusses both what we know about the phenomenon of memory, based on research done in the fields of psychology, anthropology, and sociology, and how this research can be applied to the Gospel stories of Jesus.  Did the followers of Jesus -- both those who knew him and those who heard the stories told and retold about him in the decades before our accounts were actually written -- remember accurately what they heard?  Did the stories about Jesus change as memories failed and as story-tellers molded their tales for their audiences?   Obviously what is involved is the historical accuracy of the Gospels, the way we read and think about them, and how we view history. Please adjust gear icon for [...]

2017-09-22T13:32:25-04:00February 5th, 2017|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus, Video Media|

The Ending of Mark in the King James Bible

I have been talking about passages of the New Testament that can be found in the King James Bible but were not in the “original” text of the New Testament.  I should stress, there are not thousands of these:  among the hundreds of thousands of differences among our manuscripts, most are not significantly expanded texts that hugely affect a passage/book.  But some areAmong those is the entire ending of the Gospel of Mark, as found in later manuscripts and the KJV.  Here is what I say about it in my book Misquoting Jesus.   The Last Twelve Verses of Mark The next example that I will consider may not be as familiar to the casual reader of the Bible, but it has been highly influential in the history of biblical interpretation and poses comparable problems for the scholar of the textual tradition of the New Testament.  This example comes from the Gospel of Mark, and concerns its ending. In Mark’s account of Jesus’ passion, we are told that he is crucified and then buried by [...]

2020-04-03T02:40:06-04:00February 4th, 2017|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts, Public Forum|

The Woman Taken in Adultery in the King James Version

Among the most popular stories about Jesus that you will find in the King James Version is one that, alas, was not originally in the Bible, but was added by scribes.  This is the famous account of Jesus and the Woman Taken in Adultery.  The story is so well known that even most modern translations will include it – but place it in brackets with a footnote indicating there are doubts about its originality or, in some translations, making an even stronger note that it probably does not belong in the New Testament. In fact, even though it is technically true that the passage “probably” does not belong in the New Testament, the reality is that it is not a debated point among textual scholars and translators.  The passage was not part of the Gospel of John originally.  Or any other Gospel.  People know it so well principally because it appeared in the KJV Here is what I say about the passage in my book Misquoting Jesus. ****************************** The Woman Taken in Adultery The story [...]

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