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My Role in Editing My Most Important Book that No One Has Heard Of.

Just one question in this week’s blog, about a book that I edited that most readers of the blog have never heard of, let alone read, but that is probably one of the most important books I’ve ever been involved with.

 

QUESTION:

Dr. Ehrman, in your first and second edition of The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis that you co-edited with Dr. Michael Holmes, what was your role in editing, especially since some articles were beyond your admitted expertise?

RESPONSE:

This is actually a terrific question, but before addressing it directly I need to provide a bit of background.  The book this person is asking about is in the field of “textual criticism” in its technical sense, that is, the study of how to reconstruct the original text of the New Testament given the fact that we don’t have the originals but only much later copies all of which have mistakes.  I have repeatedly said on the blog that this discipline is very specialized, but I’ve never really given any indication of how it is, or in what sense.  That’s what this particular book makes very clear indeed.  The book is not for the faint of heart.

More background: for anyone wanting to learn the basics of New Testament textual criticism the best place to start is with Bruce Metzger’s classic: The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration.  This is the book that both undergraduate students who have taken Greek and graduate students in the field read first to learn all the basics:

  • How were books made in antiquity (what kinds of writing materials, inks, etc.)?
  • How were they put in circulation?
  • What kinds of manuscripts from antiquity do we have (papyrus, parchment, etc)?
  • What are the surviving manuscripts of the New Testament?
  • Specifically what can we say about some of the most important individual manuscripts (codex Vaticanus, codes Sinaiticus, the individual papyri etc)?
  • Into what ancient languages was the New Testament translated (e.g., Latin, Syriac, Coptic)?

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    DavidBeaman  June 25, 2017

    You, Dr. Ehrman, are amazing in the amount and quality of work you have done and do. You truly are an epitome of a scholar in your field.

  2. Avatar
    Judith  June 25, 2017

    What a tribute to Dr. Metzger!

  3. Avatar
    Steefen  June 26, 2017

    https://www.amazon.com/Text-New-Testament-Contemporary-Research/dp/900425840X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1498470068&sr=8-1&keywords=the+text+of+the+new+testament+in+contemporary+research

    We cannot see the Table of Contents because this book does not have the amazon dot com “Look Inside” feature.

    The review section also needs to be cleaned up because Brice C. Jones’ review appears twice.

  4. Avatar
    Steefen  June 26, 2017

    Hi,
    Please let us know if there is one or more Italian scholars in this work.
    Second, are there any Vatican scholars?
    Would this book make it into the Vatican Library?
    Thank you.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 26, 2017

      No, no Italians. We had American, Canadian, English, Dutch, German, and South African. There’d be no reason for it not to be in the Vatican Library.

  5. Avatar
    exPCman  June 26, 2017

    Absolutely fascinating! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Avatar
    Judith  June 26, 2017

    Could you tell Dr. Metzger understood the magnitude of what you and Dr. Holmes accomplished with that Festchriften?

  7. Avatar
    Judith  June 26, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, the earlier question should have had appreciated instead of understood. Some people are head and shoulders beyond all the rest and whatever achievement, they could have done it better. What you and Dr. Holmes did sounded to me like the equivalent of hitting the ball out of the park. Was Dr. Metzger impressed?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 27, 2017

      Yes, he fully recognized the value of the collection and was deeply touched that we had done it in his honor.

      • Avatar
        Judith  June 27, 2017

        Then that’s great because it certainly was a huge undertaking.

  8. webo112
    webo112  June 26, 2017

    Great post, great background and wonderful accomplishment. I now have both of those books on my wish list.

  9. Lev
    Lev  June 26, 2017

    I love this fascinating post Bart! These are the kind of insights us lay people never get see – more of this please!!

    Have you considered maintaining a list on your website of the elite scholars (alive and publishing) in every major subfield within the field of New Testament textual criticism? I reckon it would be tremendously popular – perhaps those who appear on the list would see their name on ‘The Ehrman list’ as the scholarly equivalent to the Oscars?

    I suspect you’d make a lot of new friends to whom you bestow the honours to – but the danger is you make new enemies of those not on the list, and those who drop off it!

  10. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  June 27, 2017

    Holy cow! What a project! How in the world does one go about getting such a book published and who published it?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 28, 2017

      The first edition was published by Eerdmans and the second by E. J. Brill. It actually sells reasonably well, since anyone interested in textual criticism needs it.

  11. Avatar
    John  June 28, 2017

    Hi Bart

    A question popped up in discussion about 2 Cor 12:12. Is Paul saying here that he carried out miracles i.e signs, wonders and mighty works?

    Leaving aside Acts, I didn’t think Paul talked about miracles in his letters and since he was writing to a group who he had already met, presumably they knew what he was referring to here.

    Can you shed any light on this odd verse?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 30, 2017

      Here’s a bit from my forthcoming book on just this topic:

      In Paul’s letter to the Romans, where he indicates he had preached the gospel throughout the eastern Mediterranean from Jerusalem to Illyricum, he claims he converted people not only “by word” but also by “deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:18-19). It is hard to imagine what “signs, wonders, and Spirit-power” would be if not miracles.

      So too in his first letter to the Corinthians Paul admits his speaking abilities were rather feeble, but his words were backed up by incredible acts, “I was with you in weakness and fear and great trembling, and my word and preaching was not in persuasive words of wisdom but also in a show of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:3-4). Again, Spirit and power, as a supplement to his preaching. Then, more emphatically, in his second letter to the Corinthians, while reminding his readers of his apostolic ministry among them, Paul states that “the signs of an apostles were performed among you in all patience: signs, and wonders, and miracles” (2 Corinthians 12:12). What was Paul actually doing in these peoples’ presence? We have no record and no clue. Whatever it was, it must have been stupendous. And it proved convincing. He was, after all, converting people and establishing churches, in city after city.

      • Avatar
        John  June 30, 2017

        Thanks Bart,but as an expert on the first century writings and knowledge of Paul, what is your opinion about what he is saying, though?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 2, 2017

          I think he’s saying that he did miracles and these proved that what he was preaching was true.

          • Avatar
            John  July 2, 2017

            But this would be first hand, direct evidence of someone doing a miracle, would it not? How would a historian view that?

          • Bart
            Bart  July 2, 2017

            The same way the historian would view any modern miracle worker and his claims (say, Oral Roberts).

  12. Avatar
    JamesSnappJr  July 7, 2017

    Bart,
    Any chance that The Text of the New Testament will ever be re-edited?
    In the copies I’ve seen of the latest edition, there’s still an erroneous statement to the effect that some Ethiopic manuscripts end the text of Mark at 16:8, despite Metzger’s 1980 essay to the contrary. Page 120 gets it right (but still needs to be updated in light of the redating of the Garima Gospels) but page 322 is still wrong.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 7, 2017

      No, there is no revision in the works. My sense is that someone needs to write an entirely new one — but that’s not going to be me; I’ve moved on to other things and am not actively working in textual criticism any more.

  13. Avatar
    Hngerhman  March 13, 2019

    Dr Ehrman –

    Question 1: Looking at this work today, which areas/topics have seen the most substantial change since 2013/2014? Granted that’s only 5ish years, but curious.

    Question 2: For the sufficiently motivated layperson, is there an order in which you’d recommend attacking the papers? I ask because I was sufficiently motivated to purchase it in paperback…

    Thanks!

    • Bart
      Bart  March 16, 2019

      1. The biggest developments have involved the increasing popularity of the Coherence Based Genealogical Method, an entirely new way of deciding which variant reading is the oldest and therefore most likely original. But the method is massively and famously complicated; no way I could even explain it on the blog!

      2. Strongest suggestion: start with the articles that sound the most interesting to *you*. No sequence required.

      • Avatar
        Hngerhman  May 16, 2019

        Dr Ehrman –

        Since your reply, I’ve had a chance to look into the CBGM a bit. As a fairly quantitative person, I’m intrigued by this statistical-logical algorithmic approach.

        My quick reactions: It seems at once both (a) a massive technological leap forward in terms of the firepower that can be brought to bear on textual traditions (for NT studies, but also, in the abstract, the study of any symbolically-represented – in the linguistic/information-theoretic sense – composition that admits of genealogical dependence), as well as (b) a potential way to easily unwittingly smuggle in qualitative judgments under the guise of quantitative machinery, if used without careful reflection (reminds me of many branches of quantitative economics – both in the pros and cons).

        Curious your high-level thoughts on the approach itself, its usefulness and its breakthroughs, if any? Or, if any reading on it you’d particularly recommend?

        • Bart
          Bart  May 17, 2019

          I agree with both your judgments. I have not intensely studied the method to the degree I would need to in order to offer a critique. There are two books out there about it that might be worth reading, one by Tommy Wasserman and Peter Gurry and a more technical one by Peter Gurry himself.

          • Avatar
            Hngerhman  May 17, 2019

            Fantastic – thank you!

  14. Avatar
    Hngerhman  March 16, 2019

    Phenomenal, thank you!

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