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  1. Avatar
    Scott F  May 1, 2012

    I can’t help thinking that Dan Wallace and company would not gain much by obtaining the original autographs. Once you have the papyrus or whatever in your hands you are stuck with the fact that Luke and Matthew (and John!) were twisted their received tradition (and each other) to fit each authors very specific interpretation of Jesus’ significance. Even our oldest gospel, Mark, cannot be considered a straightforward chronicle of Jesus’ life and ministry.

    What happens at the intersection of textual scholarship and other forms of criticism? For instance, when can we apply the criterion of embarrassment and when should we conclude that the author might have simply missed the embarrassing aspects of his narrative in pursuit of his main theme?

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    ntuser  May 1, 2012

    What do you mean by certainty and absolute certainty in this context and how are you differentiating these terms? I’ve forgotten much of what I learned about epistemology but isn’t that the rub here?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 1, 2012

      I don’t have anything very scientific in mind here. Some things I’m pretty/relatively certain about (my university is generally regarded as one of the five best state research universities in the country) and other things I’m absolutely certain about (we did not win the NCAA championship this year). (But we *should* have…)

      • Avatar
        ntuser  May 1, 2012

        What if 2000 years from now someone wanted to know if Chapel Hill won this year and all they had was the brackets you filled out that they found in a garbage dump, and the paper was full of rot holes? (I’m assuming you put UNC in the middle)

        It’s hard to understand the debate over the certainty of knowing what the original text if you can’t agree first on what original text means and what would be a good test for knowing it with reasonable certainty. I can understand it will go on for a while though.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  May 2, 2012

          If they know anything about history, they would conclude that this was one person’s predictions and hopes, and that it has / had no bearing on the the question of who actually won the tournament! I sometimes wonder if I’ve instilled *too* many doubts in people’s minds by Misquoting Jesus….

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            Adam  May 2, 2012

            one thing i find difficult with evangelical christianity today is it’s fundamental claims are based on whether a historical event happened (1 Cor 15:1-2). given the nature of history, it is not possible to determine with certainty the historical claims. absolute certainty on every detail is not possible for ancient history.

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    bholly72  May 1, 2012

    So, Dr. Ehrman, what’s the story with texts like the Vaticanus and Sianaticus? Where do they fall?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 1, 2012

      They are mid-fourth century manuscripts, in many places of the NT the best witnesses we have.

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    jimmo  May 1, 2012

    I would be interested in your views of Dr. Wallace’s book ‘Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament’. It’s on my wishlist at Amazon. He actually recommended it himself when I said to him it seems that we cannot possible know what was in the originals, only what was in the oldest MSS.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 2, 2012

      It pretty much states what he says in the debates with me, as I recall. Which means, among other things, that I think he’s far too sanguine about the possibility of knowing for certain the “originals.” The reason this matters is because there are people who think the “originals” are the inerrant revelatin from God; if you don’t have them, I think it’s a bit hard to maintain that God originally inspired them.

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    SJB  May 1, 2012

    So Prof Ehrman what would be the “Holy Grail” for you? By that I mean if you found out that another cache of manuscripts had been discovered along the lines of the Nag Hammadi find what would you wish to be included and be able to hold in your hand?

    A early version of Mark?

    An authentic non-canonical Pauline letter?

    A sayings document, aka “Q”? ((In Aramaic!)

    Got a specific wish list?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 2, 2012

      Yes to all the above! And other Gospels from the first century; and writings by other contemporaries of Jesus who knew him (dictated letters by Peter and John, for example); and — well, let your own imagination run wild!

      • Avatar
        ntuser  May 2, 2012

        One thing I don’t understand Prof is this:
        Both you and Dr. Wallace are experts in Textual Criticism (New Testament). This is field that is concerned with the identification and removal of transcription errors in the texts of ancient manuscripts and the construction of critical editions of originals that we don’t have. But you demand the originals from the first century for this to succeed to your satisfaction.
        Isn’t this a circular in some way? Or wishful (maybe magical) thinking? If we had the originals your specialty wouldn’t need to exist.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  May 2, 2012

          Yes, it wouldn’t need to exist, and that would be a good thing! (EXCEPT –and this is a big EXCEPTION — we would *still* want to know how the originals got changed over the years by scribes, as that can tell us about all sorts of important theological, social, and historical aspects of different periods of Christendom; and it is this particular interest that has driven most of my own research in the field). As it turns out, textual criticism is not the area I am doing research on these days in any event. For the past six or seven years, my work instead has been in a completely different area, the use of literary forgery in the early Christian tradition. Equally interesting and compelling! My tradebook on the topic came out last year; my serious monograph (much harder hitting, longer, and written for scholars) will be out, gods willing, in the Fall.

          • Avatar
            ntuser  May 3, 2012

            Thanks for answering!
            I hope to see more debates between you and other scholars in the near future.
            Your popular books are a great read and very thought provoking. The references cited in this blog by you and others, such as to the work of John Dominic Crossen, are very worthwhile as well.

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    Mikail78  May 2, 2012

    I apologize in advance if I’m committing a fallacy here, but sometimes I wonder if ANYONE from Dallas Theological Seminary (Dr. Wallace’s employer) deserves to be taken seriously. This institution strongly promotes and teaches premillennial dispensationalism, or what is commonly know as Left behind eschatology/theology. This is the intellectually infantile bullshit we read about in those stupid novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. This system of thought is so obviously stupid that many evangelical/fundamentalist Christians realize it and mock it. Hell, it’s not even Biblical.

    • Avatar
      ntuser  May 3, 2012

      Dr. Wallace seems OK. I googled daniel wallace inerrancy and got this:
      You can skip down to the Specific Charges part. He seems to be on the defensive from the type you’re talking about. Jesus’ words colored in pink – that’s a classic!
      The fallacy is Guilt By Association.

    • Avatar
      J.W. Peterson  May 3, 2012

      I can’t believe I am actually responding to this. Simply take a look at the roster of their New Testament department, arguably the best around. I make no claims about the other departments but their languages are very strong. And, yes, you are committing multiple fallacies. For one, the fact that a number of people mock a certain thing does not therefore make that thing false. Also, to argue that dispensationalism is unbiblical shows your ignorance of the issue; it may be wrong but it is a possible biblical hermeneutic. I know you will never do it, as your type don’t care and don’t want to interact with something you have already labeled as “intellectually infantile bullshit,” but for others who do want to actually be informed, read “Progressive Dispensationalism” by Bock (one of the aforementioned NT department profs).

      I felt like someone needed to reply to this; I will not do a follow up, unless it is someone other than the OP who responds with an actual reply.

      • Avatar
        Mikail78  May 5, 2012

        YO, JW. I already basically said that I was committing a fallacy, and even apologized for it. As humans, we are prone to fallacies and this is one I need to make sure I avoid, but some fallacies are harder to avoid than others, and this is one of them for me. Yes, we have to evaluate Wallace’s arguments as they are, despite what his employer says.

        You are ignorant in saying I’m ignorant of dispensationalism. As a Christian, I spent time in churches that taught dispensationalism, and I believe this system of thought myself. Even as a Christian, through study of the Bible, I realized it’s false. It also does noting to resolve the problem of the failed apocalyptic prophecies of the New Testament. Even from a conservative Christian viewpoint, dispensationalism is unbiblical, and many conservative Christians agree with me. Perhaps it is really you who don’t know half of what you think you know.

        • Avatar
          Mikail78  May 5, 2012

          OOPS!!! I need to correct a typo. In my last post, I said, “s a Christian, I spent time in churches that taught dispensationalism, and I believe this system of thought myself.”

          What I meant to say was, “s a Christian, I spent time in churches that taught dispensationalism, and I BELIEVED this system of thought myself.”

          Sorry for the confusion!

      • Avatar
        Mikail78  May 5, 2012

        Oh, and I’m pretty familiar with progressive dispensationsalism. There are slight differences but it’s still VERY similar to classic dispensationalism. At the end of the day, they are both false, for SEVERAL reasons. By the way, did you hear the radio debate/dialogue between Dr. Ehrman and Dr. Bock? Dr. Ehrman handles Bock pretty well, like he does with all Christian apologists.

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    whatnow  May 2, 2012

    Dr. Ehrman—Can you recommend some resources that delve into things like the cultural attitudes towards the written word (given the level of literacy of the time) and the use of rhetorical speech in the Middle East during the “CIA” period? I recall a conservative author (I think it was James Freeman/”Manners and Customs of the Bible”) saying that hyperbolic rhetoric was (and still is) a hallmark of the region’s culture. I’m sure sure he didn’t intend to question the reliability of the supposed eye-witness accounts of the Gospels, but it makes me wonder. While it would be great to have some original manuscripts, people always look at the ancient world through our modern lenses. Thoughts?

    By the way, years ago when my struggles with Christianity were coming to an end, your books and DVDs (through the Great Courses) were a trusted guide which finally help me resolve my questions. Thank you!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 2, 2012

      I’m glad you’ve found my books useful. Off hand, I can’t thihk of a book like you’re looking for written for a lay audience (i.e., non-scholars). But I’ll think some more — and maybe someone else on the blog has some ideas! If so, let us know.

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    whatnow  May 4, 2012

    Far more than useful. Were I still a believer, I would characterize it as a “God Thing”—I just had to get over my initial disconnect with your first name! (the only association I had was with that other famous Bart)

    I had not heard of your book “Forged”. Though it doesn’t sound like it covers the material I’m looking for, it does bump up against some related themes. I’ll be reading with interest. Also, I did find some interesting and related material in Adolph Harnack’s “Mission and Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries”. I guess what I’m seeking is more a synthesis of materials from multiple sources.

  9. Avatar
    RyanBrown  May 5, 2012

    Dr. Ehrman, there’s something I’ve been pondering for a long while. Why didn’t the authors of the gospels attach their names to their texts, at least a signature? Or, were those perhaps left out when scribes made copies? And, in a related question, why didn’t scribes sign their documents?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 5, 2012

      The second question is easier: scribes typically did not sign their names, since in theory they were not producing a writing but simply copying it. In my book Forged I speculate that the Gospel writers did not sign their names because they understood themselves to be writing continuations of biblical history, and these histories (in the Hebrew Bible) are never written in the name of their authors (e.g., Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings). But its just an educated guess: they obviously never tell us why! Wish we knew for sure.

  10. Avatar
    Keith Collura  May 13, 2012

    Dr Ehrman:

    Maybe I missed it mentioned here but Dan Wallace mentioned toward the end of your debate that there were 1st century manuscripts found and someone is writing a book about it, etc and he wasn’t able to give you the details because he was sworn to secrecy, etc? Did anything wind up coming out of this or is it “still in the works”? Wouldn’t all scholars have access to this info? Why does only Dan and a few others know about this exclusively? Does that in itself raise the skeptical eyebrow?….not sure how these procedures work within the scholarly community so I thought I’d ask before jumping to any conclusions. When I heard him say this I was shocked because I had an apologist student mention this to me and when pressed further he had no more answers to share, so I automatically assumed he was making something up to counter my claims regarding non-existent records of Jesus in the 1st century.


    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 14, 2012

      Yes, these are the issues I have been addressing and asking in my various posts. (I don’t think he’s making things up; I just don’t understand why he needs to keep it a BIG SECRET…)

      • Avatar
        Keith Collura  May 16, 2012

        Well I just hope they aren’t “editing” them or doing anything dishonest since they arent revealing it to other critics. Just like the conspiracy theory I read regarding the Dead Sea Scrolls, about the Jesus cover-up. I hope they arent “beefing up” their manuscripts.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  May 16, 2012

          No fear of that I think. These are honest people. But secretive just now!

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    Cephas  November 14, 2012

    Let’s not forget about that terrible bug-bear of the monastic scribes, periblepsis causing homoeoteleuton.
    (Woo hoo! I finally got to use ’em! In the one sentence! That’s double points right there! ;))

    On a more serious note, would you mind terribly if I asked you for the name of your last paper (or, at least, the paper you mentioned in Forged – or both, if they’re different monographs)? I’m just a simple soul, but I’ve spent the last few months absorbing all the papers and training materials I can lay my hands on in an effort to get up to speed in neurology, neuroanatomy, and neurochemistry, so I would really appreciate a diversion to my other passion, biblical scholarship, and I’m not scared of peer-reviewed papers, if that’s a concern for you. Of course, if it’s only available as a full purchase, I’ll probably have to give it a miss (I’m subsisting on an embarrassingly miserable invalid pension, so I have to watch the pennies more than most!). Even so, if I know what to look for, that’s a step in the right direction! Many thanks!

    • Avatar
      Cephas  November 14, 2012

      Ah, mea maxima culpa… I kept reading, and lo! and behold! you mention the same a couple of posts down the track. I’ll get in touch with Oxford Press and see what’s what. Cool! I’m really excited!

  12. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  May 15, 2017

    Another reason, or maybe another way of expressing your reason, the later manuscripts are more consistent with one another, though less valuable as keys to the originals, I think, would be that the Orthodox scribes of the 9th century and later were more invested in preserving the fiction that what they were copying were the exact words of the originals. Also, since they were not just beginning to regard these as scripture, but fully committed to that notion, they did not presume the same liberty to alter or embellish passages with which they disagreed or thought they could clarify. Am I on the right track?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 15, 2017

      Yes, I think by that time they had developed a heightened reverence for the text.

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