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Bruce Metzger and Me: Finding a Dissertation

Bruce Metzger, my mentor in graduate school, for both my Master’s degree and my PhD, has been invoked a number of times in recent comments on the blog.  I thought it might be interesting to repost a few reminiscences I made about my work with him.  These come from posts that appeared six years ago — when most of you weren’t on the blog.   They will all be on my dissertation.

When I entered my PhD program at Princeton Theological Seminary, I knew already that I wanted to specialize in the study of the Greek manuscript tradition of the New Testament. As I indicated in my earlier posts, that’s why I went there, because Metzger was the country’s leading expert in this field, and one could argue the leading expert in the world (some Germans would contest the point!).

While doing my Master’s thesis for Metzger I read widely in the secondary literature on textual criticism, and came to be highly influenced by a scholar named Gordon Fee. Fee is an interesting and important figure. As it turns out, he is a very committed Pentecostal Christian, who preaches and evangelizes. But when he’s not doing that, he’s doing scholarship, and he’s an amazing scholar. At the time of my master’s work, he was one of the top textual critics in the country, right behind Metzger (the generation, or so, behind him).

One of the things Fee had worked on was the Patristic evidence for the New Testament.  These are the quotations of the New Testament by the ancient church fathers.  Fee convincingly showed that these quotations were extremely important for reconstructing the original text of the New Testament and determining places where the text had been changed over the centuries.  This is because …

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The Core of My Dissertation on The Gospel Quotations of Didymus the Blind
More on the Historical Problem of Miracles

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Comments

  1. fishician  August 14, 2018

    I enjoy learning the history of the early church (first few centuries), but I’ve never been in a church that taught anything about it or discussed the writings outside of the Bible, except maybe something about Nicea, and even then the details are usually skewed. Many (most?) of your scholar colleagues retain their faith, so why are churches so hesitant to delve into these matters? (I suspect one reason is that church leaders themselves are not educated in such matters?)

    • Bart
      Bart  August 15, 2018

      My guess is that it’s because they don’t know much about them, what they know they don’t think is very intersting, and is certainly not relevant to anything they want to the parishioners to know/think.

      • mannix  August 20, 2018

        For the past few years I have, on and off, participated in a weekly “Homily Prep” (Roman Catholic) wherein the readings of the following Sunday are reflected upon. The tone is mostly devotional. Shortly after I began this, I started reading your books and watching your Great Courses. Consequently, I began commenting in these sessions in an historical/textual criticism mode. Nothing deep or profound, and avoided any “sensitive” points. A week ago at a dinner gathering celebrating the 8 year-old program, the leader of the “Prep” group pointed me out to the others as a “biblical scholar”.

        I was mortified and shook my head as I recalled your posts describing what you and other REAL scholars go through to earn that title. One of the deacons came up to me and said something like “you bring up other points of view we never thought of”. So someone like me, not even close to being as wannabe scholar, can impress others to such a degree by only positing a few historical and textual points?

        In specific response to your comment above, I think the average parishioner CAN handle historical and textual criticism without falling apart…I suspect the clergy are not giving us enough credit.

        • Bart
          Bart  August 20, 2018

          Great! I”m glad to hear it. And welcome to the elite corps, the few, the proud, the scholars….

  2. forthfading  August 14, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Dr. Metzger is considered by many to be the foremost 20th century English speaking scholar. During your time under his guidance, is this something you realized or understood about him? If so, how did it impact your scholarly work?

    Thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  August 15, 2018

      Do you mean the foremost scholar of the manuscript tradition of the New Testament? Yes, I think he was that. And that’s why I went to study with him.

  3. Liam Foley
    Liam Foley  August 14, 2018

    I read this with excitement for you! You truly were in some ground breaking territory! This post also demonstrates the complexities and the intricacies of historical studies and textual criticism!

    Are there examples of Early Church Fathers quoting or paraphrasing scriptures that do not correlate to any known scripture either canon or non-canonical?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 15, 2018

      Yes indeed. Even in the New Testament there are quotations of “Scripture” that are not found in scripture (e.g. Matthew 2:23)

  4. psauer  August 14, 2018

    Your post brought back some wonderful memories. I had the privilege of studying under Dr. Fee while at Wheaton both at the undergrad and grad level in the early 70’s. His teaching on textual criticism greatly challenged my understanding of what inspiration and inerrancy was all about. Like you, I admired him for his scholarship and quest for truth no matter where it led.. Often he would critique his own denomination (Assemblies of God) and yet maintain his Pentecostal theology. I was in his 1972 class that was used as a basis for his commentary on I and II Corinthians.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 15, 2018

      I”m sure he was amazing in the classroom.

      • SidDhartha1953  August 17, 2018

        I wonder if you have any thoughts on the role of a believing scholar’s personal theology in her ability to change hats when doing critical scholarship. It seems to me that a Pentecostal Christian might be more open to challenging the received texts because Pentecostals believe new revelations are still possible. So deliberate changes in copying could be expected of a scribe who thought God was giving him a better reading.

        • Bart
          Bart  August 17, 2018

          It really depends from one person to the next. Although offhand, apart from Fee I don’t think I can recall another Pentecostal who was a critical biblical scholar.

          • Robert
            Robert  August 17, 2018

            “Although offhand, apart from Fee I don’t think I can recall another Pentecostal who was a critical biblical scholar.”

            Larry Hurtado also comes from a Pentacostal background and, like Fee, also studied under Epp. Not sure if Larry would still affirm this affiliation or not. And I think you used to be charismatic for a while, which is sort of like Pentacostal-lite, I suppose.

            @SidDhartha1953. In my experience, most pentacostals are very conservative, fundamentalist in their approach to scripture and probably would not think that the Bible is subject to ongoing changes in revelation. But maybe some take this approach?

          • Bart
            Bart  August 19, 2018

            Interesitng. I’ve known Larry for probably 35 years, and either didn’t know or had forgotten he was originally Pentecostal; I’ve thought of him as more mainstream evangelical.

  5. Franz Liszt  August 15, 2018

    Bart, I was wondering how much, if any, historicity you assign to the trial (or the meeting, I know Mark never uses the word ‘trial’) with the Sanhedrin?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 15, 2018

      Not much. I think the Gospel writers are simply trying to imagine the sort of thing that might have happened. It’s hard to know what kind of reliable source of information there could have been, since none of the members of the Sanhedrin later probably converted or told stories to inquiring Christians who may have wanted to know.

      • Franz Liszt  August 15, 2018

        So then do you think there was some questioning by Jewish leaders before Jesus was crucified by Rome? Just that the details of that encounter are probably unknowable?

  6. John4
    John4  August 15, 2018

    *Metzger and Me*, Bart, would make a nice little book. Just collect your Metzger columns and clean them up a bit.

    Great stuff. 🙂

  7. rivercrowman  August 15, 2018

    Bart, which of your books contains the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, and hopefully some commentary about it from you? Thanks!

    • Bart
      Bart  August 15, 2018

      YOu can find it in the first volume of my Apostolic Fathers (Harvard Press), where I make the most comments on it.

  8. jmmarine1  August 15, 2018

    It has been a long while since I’ve seen the book, but did you contribute to the Festschriften to Prof. Metzger edited by Epp & Fee? If so, what was the topic of your article?

  9. prestonp  August 15, 2018

    prestonp August 13, 2018
    Bart, what would happen if you asked Christ to reveal Himself to you? Would your answer be that He couldn’t? Would you say that because He was an apocalypticist and not God, not the risen, not the resurrected Savior of the world, there is no way He could?

    But, say you were truly curious, and you really, really wanted to know if you were right. If you were to ask Him to come into your heart, sincerely-which is the only way you would do such a thing-what do you think would happen?

    I think that would be a fair test. If your understanding of Christ is correct, He couldn’t respond, of course, because He is dead. Long gone. There’s nothing He could do, period, end of story, see you later, that’s all she wrote! Right? Nothing to worry about plain and simple. That’s if you are correct. You wouldn’t lose a thing. Would you? What is the worst thing that could happen? You’d merely be reassured.

    Say you were willing to conduct this test of sorts and gave it a go. Say you just wanted to be absolutely positive that you are on the right track. Not that you don’t know that you are. You do. You’ve researched these issues for decades and by golly you know deep down you are on target. But, say just as a true scholar thoroughly committed to investigate these matters fairly and objectively, if you earnestly wrote in a letter to Him or just said to Him, “Jesus, if You are real, if You really did rise from the dead, if You can hear me, show me!”, what do you think would happen?

    Bart August 14, 2018
    You do know that I was a very devout born again Christian who asked Jesus into his heart and committed his life to him as his lord and savior, don’t you?

    Of course.

    Any thoughts?

    10
    • Bart
      Bart  August 15, 2018

      Then you know I’ve done that already.

      • Iskander Robertson  August 15, 2018

        Bart, in hindu beliefs is it true that the gods come down many times to mix and mingle with people? Do you reckon the one hindu god who takes on many finite forms is probably more attractive idea than the idea of a dying god who used to be brutal in ot and then turned other cheek in nt?

        • Bart
          Bart  August 17, 2018

          1. I’m not a scholar of Hinduism and prefer to speak only what I know about 2. I suppose it depends on the person.

      • prestonp  August 15, 2018

        “Bart August 14, 2018
        You do know that I was a very devout born again Christian who asked Jesus into his heart and committed his life to him as his lord and savior, don’t you?”

        Of course.

        Any thoughts?

        “Then you know I’ve done that already.” Bart

        He made Himself real to you. “At that point Jesus became not only my Lord and Savior, but also my best friend and closest ally.”

        Could He make Himself real to you again?

        • Bart
          Bart  August 17, 2018

          How ’bout we limit how much we talk about personal faith issues on the blog, and prioritize history? There are other blogs that would be more appropriate for a constant attention to personal faith.

          10
          1
    • flcombs  August 16, 2018

      Prestonp: “what would happen if you asked Christ to reveal Himself to you?”

      Interesting that people are supposed to assume in advance that Jesus exists. That explains a lot. People that believe in something strongly enough will get a message of course. That’s why billions of people that pray every day get messages from gods other than Jesus. People do things all the time that hear voices saying god told them to do this or that, like kill people.

      If I pray to Jesus to reveal himself and he says he is a false god, should I believe him?

      3
      1
    • Alemin
      Alemin  August 17, 2018

      @prestonp “if you earnestly wrote in a letter to Him or just said to Him, “Jesus, if You are real, if You really did rise from the dead, if You can hear me, show me!”, what do you think would happen?”

      How would Bart know that Jesus was responding, and not Satan tricking him?

      Also, prestonp, Mormons do this (kind of thing) all the time to check whether or not Mormonism is the true faith. Do you think those results are valid?

      2
      1
  10. RonaldTaska  August 15, 2018

    Wow! Quite an experience! A miracle?

  11. Steefen  August 15, 2018

    Mystery Cults as per Cumont
    – a dying or creator god who acted on behalf of humanity
    – notions of an afterlife and redemption
    – seen as ecstatic/enthusiastic, irrational, and non-classical, more exciting (better music)
    – Initiates chose to join the cult and there were rites
    – Proselytize to recruit members

    When the followers of Jesus try to interpret his death, they do so along the lines of the characteristics of mystery cults (with the mystery cult of Mithra arriving in Rome during the Flavian Age when the canonical gospels were being written).

    For the gospel of John, when Jesus died, he must have been a dying god dying on behalf of humanity (For God so loved the world that he gave the life of his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him shall be redeemed from perishing and have an afterlife everlasting.)

    Would John, Acts, and Paul show mystery cult characteristics but not the Synoptic Gospels (because there is no Jn 3: 16 equivalent in the Synoptic Gospels)?
    Where do you inform readers about the influence of mystery cults on Christianity?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 15, 2018

      Modern scholarship on the mystery cults has reappraised the views of earlier scholars. One very big problem is that we have very few ancient sources of informatoin, and those we have are very sparse indeed. You might start with Marvin Meyer’s wonderful collection The Ancient Mysteries.

      • Steefen  August 16, 2018

        So Meyer and yourself would not agree with Franz Cumont’s (b. 1868 d. 1947) first three characteristics of a mystery cult?

        I’m leaning towards Paul being acquainted not only with cult ceremonies in Ephesus but some acquaintance with mystery cults and borrowing from its trend of meeting more popular needs than traditional paganism to interpret the meaning of Jesus’ death for the popular success of Pauline Gentile Christianity. Whoever wrote the gospel of John also was not behind the times.

        The book is at the library at the campus where you spoke in Frisco, TX a few years back. I’ll try to work from that library tomorrow.

        • Bart
          Bart  August 17, 2018

          The problem is that we don’t have sources of information that can tell us definitively what all these cults were like.

  12. Iskander Robertson  August 15, 2018

    Dr ehrman,

    I have a question on the name y h w h.

    the scholars reconstruct the pronunciation as yahway

    Is this a guess on how it probably was pronounced?

    are there many words in hebrew which we dont know how their original prounounciation was?

    In the manuscript evidenxce is there consistency on how the word was spelled? Was it always spelled with yah ha wa or were different letters used ?

  13. SidDhartha1953  August 17, 2018

    What a generous act on Koenen’s part! I had the privilege of reading an unpublished typescript by the philosopher John Lachs and participating in a series of interactive lectures he gave at Furman University ca. 1976. My professor, who had been a student of Lachs’s, told a story of Lachs leaving the only existing ms. of a book he was about to mail to the publisher in a brief case in his car in Paris. Someone broke into the car and stole the briefcase. He attempted to reconstruct the book, but I don’t think he was able to do so. The Remembered Village, by M.N. Srinavas, was written as a replacement for a scholarly monograph that was lost in a fire, which Srinavas could not reproduce because his field notes were also lost. As I say, Koenen was amazingly generous.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 17, 2018

      Yeah, I was pretty amazed. And I have heard of other stories of mss being lost. Life changing disaster.

      • Hormiga  August 18, 2018

        > And I have heard of other stories of mss being lost. Life changing disaster.

        Maybe be sure to back up the mss and supporting material onto a Cloud-based storage service every night? Modern technology does have some good things to offer.

  14. roy  August 27, 2018

    If Jesus traveled around in a relatively small geographic area performing miracles before crowds numbering up into the thousands why would there not have been some writings from someone (priests or romans) about these incredible events? I realize there was a very limited number of people who could read or write, but as I understand there were absolutely no written accounts of his exploits until 30 years after his death. one might think these events would have generated tremendous attention if they actually occurred

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