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.
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?
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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