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Did Jesus Sweat Blood? “Intrinsic” Evidence for Textual Variants

In yesterday’s post I mentioned some of the kinds of “external” evidence that textual scholars look at when trying to establish the “original” text of a document (that is, the wording of the text as the author originally wrote it) when different manuscripts have different wordings for this or that passage.  In this post I’ll talk about one kind of “internal” evidence that is used to assist in making this kind of decision.  With internal evidence, instead of looking at what the *attestation* of a passage is in the surviving witnesses (i.e., manuscripts of various kinds) you look at the passage itself, to see what about it can suggest which of the different ways of wording it is probably the “original” and which are the changes made by scribes.

There are two kinds of internal evidence that are usually called (1) intrinsic probabilities and (2) transcriptional probabilities.   For now, I’ll focus on the first.

Intrinsic probabilities involve determining which of two (or more) forms of the text found in the manuscripts is the one that the author himself was more likely to have written.   Suppose you have a verse worded in two different ways.   If one of the ways uses the vocabulary and the writing style found elsewhere in the author, and presents ideas that he otherwise attests, whereas the other way includes words and grammatical constructions and ideas that are alien to the author, then the first is obviously more likely (though not certainly) the thing he wrote.

To determine such things requires the critic to have an intimate knowledge of the author’s work – his vocabulary, grammatical style, and theology (ideas).   And that requires exegesis – the literary interpretation of the author’s work.  That’s why to be a decent textual critic a scholar has to be expert in exegesis.

I’ll give just one example.   The first article I ever published…

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Jesus “Sweating Blood”: Which Text Would *Scribes* Have Preferred?
How Manuscripts Matter for Knowing What an Author Wrote

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Bernice Templeman  March 10, 2020

    If Jesus is people’s God, and they become like Jesus… then they may end up suffering… be in
    “deep agony (read for yourself: Mark 14:32-42). Mark indicates that when he came to the Garden of Gethsemane after the Last Supper, Jesus “began to be distressed and agitated.” He tells his disciples that he is “deeply grieved, even to death.”

    There are a lot of people with depression, anxiety, pain, grief, etc.
    I read a lot of positive psychology articles. It is not my area of study but I use it to be positive and optimistic.

  2. Avatar
    thelad2  March 10, 2020

    Hello Bart. Thanks, as always, for the interesting post. On a side topic, wanted to know your take on your colleague, Hugo Mendez’s, recent paper on the Gospel of John (see link). Pretty much sounds like what you’ve been saying, but it appears to be causing a stir. https://uncnews.unc.edu/2020/03/06/qa-was-the-bibles-gospel-of-john-author-fake/

    • Bart
      Bart  March 11, 2020

      His work is really more on the epistles of John, and I agree with him they are forgeries. The most revolutionary claims he makes are not ones that would make sense to people who are not deeply familiar with NT scholarship, about the non-existence of the “Johannine community.” It’s a big deal for NT scholars but would take some explaining for others….

      • Avatar
        meohanlon  March 13, 2020

        Well, that´s a bit surprising. Wouldn´t the gospels have each been written within and for a particular community of followers, who would´ve already branched off from the other communities at some point? It´s hard to imagine that any of the gospels were written in isolation (especially the fourth one with its intricate theology) by one person to the Christians in general (which was a natural assumption I made before I really started investigating Biblical scholarship) – but maybe he´s on to something?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 13, 2020

          Yes, he agrees with that. That’s why I was saying the “Johannine Community” is a term used in a very specific way by scholars that outsiders wouldn’t have any access to unless it was explained, and in these short interviews he wouldn’t have been able to explain it. I will be getting to it myself soon.

  3. Avatar
    AstaKask  March 10, 2020

    Do you think Jesus cleansed the Temple and threw out everyone? Did he preach against the Temple? Or was all this added later to explain why the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 11, 2020

      I do think he preached that hte temple would be destroyed and did some kind of small act of disruption. but there’s no way he could have thrown everyone out. The place was huge. If he tried anything serious like that, he woudl have been arrested on the spot. I talk about this in some detail in both Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium and, more recently, in Jesus Before The Gospels.

  4. Avatar
    fizikci  March 10, 2020

    Not directly related to this post, but I read the following article today and I was wondering if you’d blog about it some time. The article mentions your work and it is based on a publication from one of your colleagues at UNC, Dr. Hugo Mendez: https://www.thedailybeast.com/everyones-favorite-gospel-the-gospel-of-john-is-a-forgery-according-to-new-research?ref=scroll

  5. Avatar
    fishician  March 10, 2020

    I suppose it’s impossible to know for sure, but might the sweating blood/angel addition in Luke be an attempt to counter docetism? Luke’s version of peaceful Jesus might otherwise be used to support that view.

  6. Avatar
    Hormiga  March 10, 2020

    A trivial question not related to your point, but is there any analysis of what “sweat blood” was supposed to mean? It sounds forbidding, but was it an expression in wider use at the time, are there medical examples of red sweat, or…?

    • Avatar
      Hormiga  March 10, 2020

      Oops, I should have checked before asking. Yes, bloody sweat is a real if rare thing.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hematidrosis

    • Bart
      Bart  March 11, 2020

      The text actually doesn’t talk about him sweating blood, even though that’s how it’s always discussed (and is where the term “sweating blood” comes from). It says instead that he “sweat great drops as if of blood.” Not the same thing!

      • Avatar
        Hormiga  March 11, 2020

        OK, but I still don’t see how “as if of blood” works as an intensifier for drops of sweat.

        • Bart
          Bart  March 13, 2020

          Not sure I do either. Never noticed much of a difference, but I’m not sure I’ve paid much attention to it. Especially when I’m bleeding….

  7. Avatar
    Stephen  March 10, 2020

    Off topic sorry. I read someone today who made the comment that not all of Origen’s works have as yet been translated into English. Is that correct? I understand some of his works have been lost, but untranslated? Origen?

    Thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  March 11, 2020

      Oh yes. Lots lost. Lots not in translation. he wrote TONS.

  8. Tuskensp
    Tuskensp  March 10, 2020

    The Baylor theology department emailed me today saying your event has been pushed to the fall (I assume because of Coronavirus concerns). Are you going to post an update on any other changes to your upcoming public speaking schedule?

  9. Robert
    Robert  March 11, 2020

    We would love to hear your thoughts on Hugo Mendez’ (your colleague at UNC) article on the Johannine forgeries. If I recall correctly, I think you agree about 1 John being a non-pseudepigraphic forgery, but I don’t recall seeing your opinion on the gospel of John.

    https://uncnews.unc.edu/2020/03/06/qa-was-the-bibles-gospel-of-john-author-fake/

    • Bart
      Bart  March 11, 2020

      Yup, he’s on the blog. He’s an incredibly perceptive and learned scholar — my younger colleague! I completely agree about 1 John. I very much disagree about the Gospel of John, as I’ve told him. The Gospel decidedly does *not* claim to be written by the Beloved Disciple. On the contrary, when the author speaks of the Beloved disciple it is about a person *other* than himself (John 21:24; “this disciple” stands over against “we”). I don’t recall what his response to this is.

      • Robert
        Robert  March 11, 2020

        Bart: “… He’s an incredibly perceptive and learned scholar …”

        Professor Neirynck would especially like this part of his conclusion: “If we can no longer reconstruct the external world of the Johannines from their narrative worlds, a new history of these texts must be written. That history should begin with a single individual: an author who drew on various sources, including the Synoptics, to compose a new gospel. His knowledge of the Synoptics indicates …”

      • Robert
        Robert  March 11, 2020

        Bart: “… The Gospel decidedly does *not* claim to be written by the Beloved Disciple. On the contrary, when the author speaks of the Beloved disciple it is about a person *other* than himself (John 21:24; “this disciple” stands over against “we”). I don’t recall what his response to this is.”

        I suspect he probably said something like this:

        Note 18. “Citing a shift from the first- to third-person in 21.24 (‘we know that his testimony is true’), some argue that the gospel does not construct the author as an eyewitness but as one who ‘bases his material directly on an identifiable eyewitness’ (Litwa 2018: 345; cf. Brown 2003: 192-96; Ehrman 2012: 270-71). Although compatible with the thesis of this article, this reading overlooks 1.14 and relies on data from ch. 21, a secondary appendix. Assuming ch. 21’s later composition, another interpretation is possible: the shift from the first to third person reflects an attempt to reconcile the ‘we’ of 1.14 and ‘he’ of 19.35. Alternatively, the ‘we’ may be associative (‘you and I’), coaxing an affirmative response from the reader (Jackson 1999: 1-34). 3 John 12 makes a similar rhetorical move: ‘you know that our testimony is true’.”

        • Bart
          Bart  March 13, 2020

          Not sure I get the last point? “You” and “our” are clear differentiations of two groups.

          • Robert
            Robert  March 13, 2020

            Bart: “Not sure I get the last point? “You” and “our” are clear differentiations of two groups.”

            Take it up with your younger colleague. I wa quoting him. His point is indeed subtle. I make a much simpler (and more devastating?) point below.

      • Avatar
        brenmcg  March 11, 2020

        John 21:24 is part of the epilogue – speaking about the rest of the gospel proper.

        I think its fairly easy to deduce the “disciple who Jesus loved” is supposed to be John son of Zebedee.

        A disciple referring to himself as “the one Jesus loved” would likely cause tension among the other 12.
        In all three synoptics we see tension between the two zebedee brothers and the rest of twelve. Matthew 20:24, Mark 10:41. Luke 9:54-55. The Zebedee’s seeing themselves as superior to the rest.

        Secondly the epilogue makes sure to mention these sons of zebedee, where they havent been mentioned in the gospel proper. John 21:20-22 indicates that the “disciple loved by Jesus” is the one to take over the leadership of the church after Peter’s death. He is the one following them who may remain til Jesus returns but Peter must follow Jesus now. (Peter John and James being the pillars of the church).

        Both of these points can only apply to John son of Zebedee.

      • Robert
        Robert  March 11, 2020

        Bart: “The Gospel decidedly does *not* claim to be written by the Beloved Disciple. On the contrary, when the author speaks of the Beloved disciple it is about a person *other* than himself (John 21:24; ‘this disciple’ stands over against ‘we’).”

        But in this very verse he does claim that ‘this disciple’ wrote part (presumably most) of the work:

        John 21,24: “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them (ὁ γράψας ταῦτα), and we know that his testimony is true.”

        Why don’t you think this constitutes a false authorial claim, thus a non-pseudepigraphic forgery?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 13, 2020

          I don’t think he’s claiming that the BD wrote anything . He is giving oral testimony, and the author is writing some of it down.

          • Robert
            Robert  March 14, 2020

            Bart: “I don’t think he’s claiming that the BD wrote anything . He is giving oral testimony, and the author is writing some of it down.”

            That is not at all what the Greek says in this verse (Jn 21,24):

            Οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ μαθητὴς ὁ μαρτυρῶν περὶ τούτων καὶ ὁ γράψας ταῦτα, καὶ οἴδαμεν ὅτι ἀληθὴς αὐτοῦ ἡ μαρτυρία ἐστίν.

            This one is is the disciple the one who is testifying concerning these things and the one who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.

            Yes, I know some have tried to stretch the Greek to make it say something more like G. Schrenk, “graphō,” TWNTE I, 743, who “asks whether this verse of John ‘might not simply mean that the Beloved Disciple and his recollections stand behind this Gospel and are the occasion of its writing. This is a very possible view so long as we do not weaken unduly the second aspect [the occasion of its writing] (Brown, John XIII-XXI (AB 29A), p 1123, emphasis mine). Thus, even assuming Raymond Brown’s view of the community of the Beloved Disciple, the occasion of it’s writing is still making an non-pseudepigraphic authorial claim, unless you actually believe that John the son of Zebedee and his recollections stand behind this gospel.

            But, with a more straightforward reading of the Greek, we can dispense with such contortions and affirm simply that this a is false authorial claim, a non-pseudepigraphic forgery. Surely you must finally agree. If not, please post another view even if it ends up being even more contorted than the view of Raymond Brown.

          • Bart
            Bart  March 15, 2020

            Ah, right, sorry — should have looked. Yes, the disciple was currently giving testimony, he had once in the past written some of the testimony down, adn the author is climaing to be someone *other* than that person. He is still not claiming to *be* that person. (since he differentiates between “him” and “we”)

      • Avatar
        Stewiegriffin  March 11, 2020

        Is it possible that this beloved disciple is actually Lazerus?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 13, 2020

          Some have argued that, but it doesn’t seem to work when you actually look at all the references. Among other things, the Beloved Disciple appears to be one of the TWelve, but Lazarus was not.

  10. Avatar
    ddecker54  March 11, 2020

    Approaching this story from a (perhaps) even more basic angle, one must ask “Who was there to record the event?” Events recorded without witnesses occur frequently in the NT (Jesus’ temptation in the desert, Jesus’ conversations with Pilate, etc.) and I have always wondered how/why readers can possibly accept them as described. Described by whom??? Appealing to divine inspiration only begs the question. They are lovely stories but they must obviously be stories only.

  11. Avatar
    XanderKastan  March 11, 2020

    About Jesus’ prayer in Mark 14 vs. Luke 12, when I read it in English, I see all the contrasts you mention, except the part about Luke, prefacing with “if you be willing”. The NRSV in Mark also has that Jesus “prayed rhat if it were possible…” How are those substantially different? I don’t know whether you see this part as a contrast as well, but Mark’s “yet not what I want, but what you want” seems similarly to express the same sentiment as Luke’s “yet not my will, but yours be done”. It seems to me (not knowing Greek, of course) that in both of those elements, Luke changed the exact words, but not the basic idea. If it is possible to do without a lot of study, I would love to learn why I am wrong about that.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 13, 2020

      Yes, it’s a bit hard to see in English translation, but the Greek of Mark’s prayer is much more emphatic than Luke’s: not what *I* want but whatever you do.

  12. Avatar
    Judith  March 12, 2020

    “…live long and happy.” !!

  13. sschullery
    sschullery  March 12, 2020

    There is a further complication to the sweating-like-blood story: the physical chemistry is all wrong. I assume that what was meant by the passage’s “sweating like blood” phrase was the dramatic visual impact of large drops splatting heavily on the ground, like a dripping wound. The problem is that drop size is a function of surface tension, with higher surface tension liquids being able to support larger drops. But, blood has a significantly lower surface tension (56) than water (72) or sweat (69), so under comparable conditions, blood will form smaller drops. Thus, to the extent the metaphor, or simile, relies on LARGE drops for its impact, it was inappropriate in the first place, and any scribe who had taken a physical chemistry course might have been motivated to just drop it.

  14. Avatar
    meohanlon  March 13, 2020

    Dr. Ehrman- Question about the Gethsemane/agony in the garden part: I don´t think it can be answered with any certainty, but I am interested in your thoughts on the matter: Was this based on a real memory of Jesus in his last week(s), but due to the particular outcome of events, its meaning had been revised accordingly? Jesus´ apocalyptic (+messianic?) expectations motivated a potentially lethal trip to Jerusalem at Passover. Although we may never know what really compelled him to go there, preach and take some major risks so that the governing powers (Roman and Judean) would surely notice, was he expecting something on his watch, that never came to fruition? Perhaps a sign that he was on the right track, if not the arrival of the kingdom in some form, after having preached and staged certain prophetic events, at the very epicenter of his faith – but by the time we get to the garden, major doubts had started to set in? I don´t think things necessarily transpired as written in the gospels, but it seems likely his followers had remembered the gist of what happened, and eventually such a setting and scenario was written around it. Maybe scripturally supported by his cry of abandonment on the cross – though the memory of it may have actually stemmed from the events before his arrest (as it seems unlikely his words on the cross would´ve been heard, let alone preserved by the right witnesses).

    • Bart
      Bart  March 13, 2020

      No, I don’t think we have any idea about what Jesus was actually doing or saying prior to his arrest. Our accounts come decades later from people living in different parts of the world who did not know anyone who was there (if anyone was) but who have heard stories in circulation — and the accounts are very much at odds with one another. I wish we *did* know, but I’m afraid we don’t.

  15. Avatar
    MindfulBerean  March 14, 2020

    I’ve always disliked this passage for three reasons:

    As one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, when I tried asking about this and was told Jesus was experiencing this stress-related bloody sweat and I asked how that was possible if he was perfect. Got the stink eye.

    Who could have seen dripping sweat/blood when he prayed a little ways from his companions and prayed in the dark alone?

    What’s the deal with the angel coming and strengthening him? AFTER he angel comforted/strengthened/encouraged Jesus, the poor guy became more anguished to the point where blood was emerging from his pores? I hope God fired that angel. “You had ONE JOB! Go and comfort him, and look what happened! He got more agitated! You’re on desk duty for thirty days. Give me your halo and sword.”

  16. Avatar
    Niceguy  March 15, 2020

    I *hope* you are right, Professor(agnostic here)HELL seems extreme. . .

    I don’t know what Steven Hawking was talking about in “A Brief History of Time”. . . I’ve never taken a physics class.

  17. Robert
    Robert  March 15, 2020

    Bart: “Ah, right, sorry — should have looked. Yes, the disciple was currently giving testimony, he had once in the past written some of the testimony down, adn the author is climaing to be someone *other* than that person. He is still not claiming to *be* that person. (since he differentiates between “him” and “we”).”

    The point is the text contains a false authorial claim, unless you really believe that this beloved disciple actually did write part of the the fourth gospel. Already in the first chapter, the author spoke in the first person plural as if he had been among the disciples of John and Jesus from the beginning (Jn 1,14). Then the author of the epilogue claims that it was this beloved disciple who had written the gospel prior to his death (21,24).

    • Bart
      Bart  March 16, 2020

      No, I think we’re miscommunicating here. I’m arguing that the verse does *not* claim that the BD wrote part of the fourth Gospel. He wrote down something that the author of the fourth Gospel claims to know about (doesn’t actually *claim* to have read it, but surely that would be sensibly inferred). Yes, 1:14 does seem to make an authorial claim. But it has nothing to do with the BD. And no, 21:24 explicitly *distances* the author from the BD. If I say (as in 21:24), “Robert was saying this, and we think he is right,” that would mean that I, teh one saying that, am specifically claiing NOT to be Robert.

  18. Robert
    Robert  March 16, 2020

    Bart: “No, I think we’re miscommunicating here. I’m arguing that the verse does *not* claim that the BD wrote part of the fourth Gospel. He wrote down something that the author of the fourth Gospel claims to know about (doesn’t actually *claim* to have read it, but surely that would be sensibly inferred). Yes, 1:14 does seem to make an authorial claim. But it has nothing to do with the BD. And no, 21:24 explicitly *distances* the author from the BD. If I say (as in 21:24), “Robert was saying this, and we think he is right,” that would mean that I, teh one saying that, am specifically claiing NOT to be Robert.”

    I get all that, but I definitely think it makes sense to connect the ‘we’ of 1,14 to the beloved disciple and the other original disciples. One does not need to always and everywhere see the terminology of the beloved disciple to recognize false implicit authorial claims. Thus Neirynck also connects the anonymous ‘other disciple known to the high priest’ of Chapter 18 with the beloved disciple; it is the same type of implied eye-witness that the author implies he had access to for his account. In Jn 1,14 and elsewhere, just as in the ‘we’-sections of Acts, the real author of this passage of the gospel is falsely implying that he was among the disciples of John the Baptist and of Jesus. This is very similar to the implied claim made at the beginning of the letter of 1 John. Unless you actually believe that this/these anonymous eye-witness(es) and his/their recollections stand behind this gospel, you have to admit that the author has been perpetrating a literary fraud of sorts. In Jn 21, the narrator/pretend redactor tries to bury the evidence by allowing the beloved disciple ‘who wrote these things’ be killed off, but we should not be fooled.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 17, 2020

      Well, OK. I would argue that no one would ever read 1:14 as having any connection to the BD by simply reading the text. The author of 1;14 is claiming to be someone who has beheld the glory of Christ. Then again, my preacher used to claim that too. But in either event, neither the author of 1:14 (and btw, in my opinion the Prologue was written by someone *other* than the author of the Gospels; but that doesn’t matter for the current back and forth) nor my preacher ever hinted that he was teh BD, adn when authorship *is* mentioned in relation to the BD it is only to refer to something that he once had written that the author of the Gospel mentions, in a way that shows he was not the one who wrote it (since he says “we” believe that that other fellow said)

      • Robert
        Robert  March 17, 2020

        Bart: “I would argue that no one would ever read 1:14 as having any connection to the BD by simply reading the text.”

        Robert: It is only an indirect connection to implied narrator and the disciples.

        With respect to your preacher’s ‘glory’ language, note what Mendez says here:

        “By linking the coming of Jesus in the flesh to the narrator’s sight of his glory, the syntax implies that the narrator actually saw Jesus in the flesh. This coheres with later claims that Jesus manifested his glory to others through his miraculous ‘signs’: ‘Jesus performed this, the first of his signs, at Cana in Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him’ (2.11; cf. 11.40). In the claim ‘we have seen his glory’, then, the text constructs its narrator – and, in turn, implied author – as an eyewitness to these signs.”

        Jn 2,11 καὶ ἐφανέρωσεν τὴν δόξαν αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἐπίστευσαν εἰς αὐτὸν οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ.

        11,40 λέγει αὐτῇ ὁ Ἰησοῦς· οὐκ εἶπόν σοι ὅτι ἐὰν πιστεύσῃς ὄψῃ τὴν δόξαν τοῦ θεοῦ;

        17,22 κἀγὼ τὴν δόξαν ἣν δέδωκάς μοι δέδωκα αὐτοῖς, ἵνα ὦσιν ἓν καθὼς ἡμεῖς ἕν·

        17,24 Πάτερ, ὃ δέδωκάς μοι, θέλω ἵνα ὅπου εἰμὶ ἐγὼ κἀκεῖνοι ὦσιν με ἐμοῦ, ἵνα θεωρῶσιν τὴν δόξαν τὴν ἐμήν, ἣν δέδωκάς μοι ὅτι ἠγάπησάς με πρὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου.

        The final redactor, whether he is chronologically later as most suppose or not (Neirynck), still takes up the voice of the narrator after the apparently unexpected death of the fictional beloved disciple. The narrator has committed the perfect crime by killing off this fictional beloved disciple. There can be no evidence to disprove his fraud. That last part may be too clever by half, but I couldn’t resist.

        I’m done, unless you want to continue. Perhaps it would be cool if you invited Hugo Mendez to make a guest post to explain his views further to the blog members. Even more interesting, since you remain unconvinced, would be a discussion (not a tiresome debate) between the two of you on the blog. I will donate a bottle of Bruichladdich Octomore to the winner and another contribution to the blog charities. Cheers!

        • Bart
          Bart  March 18, 2020

          Yup, he’s going to! But for now, just send me the Brichladdich….

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