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How Do You Research Orthodox Corruptions?

When I finished my dissertation on a technical area within textual criticism – it was an analysis of the quotations of the Gospels in the writings of the fourth-century church father Didymus the Blind, in an attempt to demonstrate what the manuscripts at his disposal in Alexandria Egypt must have been like – I very much wanted to continue to work in the field of textual criticism, but I wanted to do some research that had some broader applicability and wider interest to scholars who were not purely technicians in this one rather arcane subdiscipline within New Testament studies.

I had always been especially interested in the detective work involved in solving textual problems in the New Testament.  Where there are important passages that have important variants among the various manuscripts, how do you decide which variants are “original”?  I’ve always loved that kind of problem, maybe because I’ve always been such an inveterate debater, and arguing for a plausible solution to a textual conundrum involves, virtually every time, mounting a convincing argument in the face of other options taken by other scholars.

What I realized in thinking about the next project was that a number of the textual variations that I found to be really important involved issues connected to understandings of Christology – the Christian understandings of who Christ was.  I’ve mentioned one such variant at length on the blog, the so-called “bloody sweat” in Luke’s Gospel, where Jesus is portrayed as very human indeed, in two verses that were (in my judgment) probably not originally in the Gospel, but were added by later scribes.

After some intensive thought, I realized there were other variants that were also concerned with showing who Christ really was.  And I started wondering: how many such variants *are* there exactly?  I had no idea.  And neither had anyone else.   So I decided to try to find out.  This was the beginning of my work that eventuated in The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.

How does one go about acquiring such information?  You can’t…

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On Falsification and Forgery
Magic and Manuscripts



  1. Avatar
    James  September 21, 2015

    How much effort did you put into checking that Tischendorf/Soden/the UBS committee hadn’t made mistakes of their own in the variants you were interested in?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 22, 2015

      I didn’t collate manuscripts myself, but I did note where the various editions had differences and then checked the mss as best I could

  2. gmatthews
    gmatthews  September 21, 2015

    Haven’t all of these manuscripts been digitized by now? If not, roughly what percentage do you think have been digitized? 30%? 50%? 75%? Seems like comparing variants would be easy these days if you could bring up every Matthew 1:1 in every manuscript, use a simple perl script to analyze them all, determine the oldest or most common and then list the ways all the others differ.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 22, 2015

      No, not most of them. I’m not sure what the percentage is at this point.

  3. Avatar
    luigi  September 22, 2015

    Is all this stuff online now?

  4. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  September 22, 2015

    This is very interesting and, having followed your work for years, your scholarly diligence with these three Greek New Testament sources does not surprise me. I know some Greek, but am far from being a Greek scholar so I am not qualified to examine texts myself. I am, however, interested in the process you describe, probably for an odd reason. In medicine, researchers often depend on a foundation of work done by other previous experts in a given field. This can save a lot of time. On the other hand, it can get researches off track if the foundation is not correct. So, I was wondering how one goes about getting the foundation to do a textual Biblical study. One cannot get access to and have the time to review every ancient text so one has to depend on work summarized by others. So the question becomes what others? Are they always reliable? Are they biased? Today’s blog gives many of the answers. Thanks

  5. Avatar
    godspell  September 22, 2015

    Bart, do you and other biblical scholars ever utilize software that analyzes writing styles and word use in your studies?

    There’s been some attention given to the use of such software to determine the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays–at least to determine that the same person wrote them all, and that person probably wasn’t Christopher Marlowe, Sir Francis Bacon, or the Earl of Oxford.

    That’s a very different field, of course, and they’re asking somewhat different questions of the source material, but I was just curious.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 22, 2015

      Some have tried over the years, but it’s never been enormously convincing.

      • Avatar
        godspell  September 22, 2015

        I wonder if that’s partly because there have been so many changes to the text that literary style and vocabulary (the main thing the softwares look for) is much harder to identify? Also, with due respect to the gospel authors, some of whom were genuinely great writers, they ain’t Shakespeare. 😉

        • Bart
          Bart  September 23, 2015

          It’s not so much that I think; it’s more that there is such a limited data base with most writers of the NT

          • Avatar
            godspell  September 23, 2015

            Should have thought of that. I myself brought up here a respected Jesuit scholar who said he considered going into NT scholarship, but ended up studying later Christian writers, because there was so little material in the NT to work with.

            And yet so much to say about it.

    • Avatar
      Hank_Z  September 23, 2015

      godspell, interesting question.

  6. Avatar
    Jason  September 23, 2015

    Sorry I’m late to the party on this one, but do you know of any efforts to use modern data collection and analysis techniques to get a better handle on the variations and patterns of variations in the most important or broadest collections of early manuscripts? Have there been any (no pun intended) revelations from applying mathematical technologies to early texts?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 23, 2015

      Yes, there are some sophisticated use of cladistics, about which I am hopelessly ignorant when it comes to the details. But my student Stephen Carlson is a leader in the field

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