As I stressed in my most recent post, the vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of differences among out surviving manuscripts (and versions, and patristic citations) are of very little or no importance in trying to establish what the authors of the NT originally wrote.  There are others that matter, and matter a lot.  Those tend to be the ones that are the most interesting.  But there are many, many more differences that are easy to detect and of no real significance. Most of these differences appear simply to be accidental scribal errors.  We can never be absolutely certain, of course, if a change was made by accident or not.  But in a huge majority of cases, there seems to be little reason to doubt it.

Why Are There Mistakes in Manuscripts?

The *reasons* mistakes were made are not hard to detect, but are nonetheless  hugely interesting for a reason I will explain in my next post.  The reality is that scribes were human beings and they made mistakes.  Of course, in theory, they didn’t *have* to make mistakes.  Throughout the middle ages, Jewish scribes of the Torah and Muslim scribes of the Qur’an were *unbelievably* careful not to make mistakes.  But not the Christian scribes.  Their human faults are all too easy to see on the page of virtually any manuscript.  The reasons they made their mistakes: some scribes were not very competent; some were not highly educated; some were not careful; some were not attentive; some were tired and worn out; some had other things on their minds; and on and on and on.

As a result, there are lots of mistakes in our surviving manuscripts.  Here is a point very much worth making:  the earliest copies we have are the worst, when it comes to accidental mistakes.  By the time we get down to the twelfth, thirteen, or fourteenth century or so, most scribes are highly trained, highly diligent, and highly accurate.  Not all, but most.  That cannot be said of our earliest scribes – which is a great pity, because our earliest manuscripts (made by those early scribes) are the ones we are most interested in since they are closest both in terms of time and genealogy to the original texts.  But alas, many of the early scribes were not as scrupulous or skilled as we wish.

And so they made lots of accidental scribal errors.

Reasons for Scribal Errors

The mistakes were exacerbated, no doubt, by the way ancient books were written, in what is called scriptio continua (= continuous writing).  Ancient writing did not use punctuation, as a rule, or separate paragraphs from one another, or sentences, or even words.   For examples, see   That style of writing obviously could lead to problems of interpretation.   As my teacher Bruce Metzger used to point out:


could mean two contradictory things, depending on whether you read it to say “no where” or “now here.”   My own favorite quandary of interpretation based on scriptio continua is this question:


I personally have seen one of the options but not the other.

The use of scriptio continua could

make it difficult on scribes copying a text, leading to all sorts of accidental mistakes: misspelled words, accidental omission of a letter or group of letters, accidental omission of a word or a group of words, accidental repetition of the same word or a group of words, and so on.

Most of the time, when reading a manuscript, it is possible to detect the mistake without much effort, and even to figure out why it was made.  For example, sometimes a scribe would be copying a passage where two sentences ended with exactly the same words.  Thus, Luke 12:8-9, where Jesus indicates that if anyone acknowledged him (as Lord) that person would be acknowledged before God’s angels, but anyone who denied him would be denied before the angels.  He goes on to say that anyone who says something negative about the Son of man… etc.

Some manuscripts happened to have lines ending with “before the angels of God,” as follows.

… will acknowledge before the angels of God

… me will be denied before the angels of God

And everyone who speaks a word against the Son

What sometimes happened is that a scribe would copy down the end of the first line (“before the angels of God”) and then when his eye went back to the page, it alighted on the *second* line that ended the same way, and he thought that he had just copied that line, and so he proceeded to copy the *next* line (“And everyone who speaks.”).   By doing so, he left out the second line, so that his text read:

… will acknowledge before the angels of God

And everyone who speaks a word against the Son

That kind scribal error because of “eye skip” is called “parablepsis.”  Moreover, when lines end the same way, that is called “homoeoteleuton.”  So this kind of accidental scribal mistake is called “parablepsis occasioned by homoeoteleuton.”  Sometimes lines *began* with the same words (instead of ending with the same words).  That is called homoeoarcton.  Try not to forget any of that.  It will all be on the final exam.

A Question of Accuracy

So let me wrap up this discussion of accidental changes by stressing my earlier observation and then raising a really interesting question about it.

As I have pointed out:  the earliest scribes were on average far, far worse than our later scribes.  They made lots more mistakes.  Their manuscripts differ more significantly from later manuscripts than later manuscripts differ from one another.   And, as important, the earliest manuscripts differ from *each other* more than later manuscripts, as a rule, differ from each other.

The reason for this is not hard to figure out.  By the high middle ages, the copyists of manuscripts, by and large, were experts who were trained to do the job and who took their work very seriously.  Of course, they too made mistakes.  They too were human.  But they made far fewer.

So here is my question: if it’s true that when you go from the 12th century to the 4th century to the 3rd century to the 2nd century you tend to find worse scribes (not always: of course, some early scribes were good at what they did and careful; but the worse scribes *tend* to be the earliest).  Then here’s my question: what were the *VERY* earliest scribes like?  Copyists, say, of Paul’s letters or the Gospels who were copying these books two or twelve years (rather than one or two centuries) after they were originally put in circulation?  Are they likely to have been as skilled and accurate as, say, scribes writing twelve or fourteen centuries later?

One reason that matters: all of our surviving manuscripts are based on earlier ones.  And we don’t have any of the earliest ones.  Were they likely to be accurate?  If not, then what is the textual basis for establishing what the authors of the NT wrote?  Ultimately, don’t our manuscripts go back to copies that were made by scribes from the earliest weeks, months, and years in which these books were placed in circulation?  If they made lots of mistakes, and later scribes copied some of their mistakes, where does that leave us?

It’s a genuine question I have.  It becomes more acute when we are not simply dealing with accidental scribal errors in the text, but intentional changes.

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2022-10-31T10:27:42-04:00November 12th, 2022|New Testament Manuscripts|

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  1. rivercrowman November 12, 2022 at 8:45 am

    This is an excellent post and series of posts. And you end on the question of intentional changes in the earliest church history. I now have a hunch some passages of Mark, in particular 13:30 and 8:38, may have escaped the earliest scribes’ intentional editing. Am I onto something?

    • BDEhrman November 14, 2022 at 4:53 pm

      I’d say there are a lot of passages that one would *expect* to have been changed that managed to come through untouched (at least in the *survivign* manuscripts). In part that shows that there was no systematic effort to alter the text, but usually only occasional impulses acting on one scribe or another.

  2. KingJohn November 12, 2022 at 10:29 am

    Dr. Ehrman: Well this is kind of odd, but I thought I would ask. (It has taken a lot of courage to do this!) Would you be willing to write a post about what the Biblical view is on Mental Illness and Suicide? No biblical scholars ever talk about it? Would you please consider it? 65 MILLION Americans suffer from some form of mental illness. I would be immensely grateful for you even taken this under consideration.

    • BDEhrman November 14, 2022 at 5:04 pm

      I have no qualms at all about doing so per se; the problem is that the NT doesn’t talk about mental illness in the sense we think of it; most of the time various mental illnesses (say schizophrenia, bi-polar, serious depression, psychoses of various kinds) were attributed to demon possession or other spiritual forces.

  3. Seeker1952 November 12, 2022 at 10:34 am

    I don’t subscribe to the divine command theory of morality. There are plenty of good reasons to be moral, including: enlightened self-interest, empathy/sympathy/compassion, need for cooperation, certain innate inhibitions and compulsions, the importance of being honest-with yourself and others, a sense of integrity, etc.

    But it does seem to me that, for many/most people much/most of the time, there is at least an “element” of being required to or prohibited from do(ing) something by an “authority” of some kind. Call it conscience, superego, a sense of social approval/ disapproval, guilt/shame/fear or praise, etc.

    But I don’t think that’s anywhere near the whole story either.

    Anyway, I don’t know that this is something of peculiar interest to a NT scholar. But, as someone who seems to have thought long and hard about ethics, what are your thoughts about this issue?

    • Seeker1952 November 14, 2022 at 10:14 am

      In case it’s not clear what my specific question is, do you think morality often/typically involves an element of authority even if morality is far more than divine command theory.

      • BDEhrman November 14, 2022 at 6:00 pm

        IN some circles. But fewer and fewer these days.

    • BDEhrman November 14, 2022 at 5:09 pm

      There is a large range of positions on ethics going back to classical Greece (Socrates and Plato, but especially Aristotle), up through hellenistic philosophical schools, and during the Englightenment revived and transformed into teh wide varieties you find today in the various philosophical traditions (Hume, Kant, Mill, and on ward). I’d say most committed Bible believers do believe that morality is to be directed by the almighty; nearly everyone else, though, has different ways of figuring out how best to live. Not sure if you kjnow the lingo, but Kant’s categorical imperative; Mill’s utilitarianism; other kinds of consequentialism; social contract; virtue ethics, etc. etc. My concern with most of them (not all) is that they are far more concerned about what it means for *ME* to be moral than about what I and everyone else should do for the *OTHER*. The ethics of Jesus, despire its lack of philosophical underpinnings and rigor, was all about helping others, not about making sure you yourself were virtuous or good or happy.

      • Seeker1952 November 17, 2022 at 10:32 am

        Thank you. One more question. Are you familiar with what is often called evolutionary ethics? I think the main ideas are that evolution selected for people who were substantially (not entirely) cooperative and at least somewhat altruistic. Human survival and reproductive opportunities depended strongly on human cooperation.

        I find it very intriguing and attractive. It seems to say that human beings are not innately and entirely selfish. Ethical behavior is at least somewhat “natural.”

        • BDEhrman November 22, 2022 at 5:31 pm

          Yes, I’ve read a good bit on evolutionary psychology. It’s a very complicated business though when it comes to altruism. Some of the classic discussions are Richard Dawkins The Selfish Gene and Robert Wright, The Moral Animal. Or the textbook by Buss on Evolutionary Psychology.

  4. nichael November 12, 2022 at 12:11 pm

    Might it be reasonable to assume that part of the reason earlier copies might have been “sloppier” is that the earlier copyists weren’t trained scribes at all; but rather likely tended to be (literate) amateurs who were simply making copies, either for there own personal use (or for their own local community of believers); or to pass along to other believers?

    (To ask what is no doubt an obvious question, how did the “penmanship” of the earlier copyists compare with that of the later scribes? E.g. how consistent was the size/shape/form of individual written characters? How uniformly level were the lines of text they wrote? Etc….?)

    • BDEhrman November 14, 2022 at 5:13 pm

      Yup, that’s a major factor. Penmanship varied, of course, from scribe to scribe, but there is rarely a problem *reading* the writing. One study has shown that the early mss we have were apparently produced by those who were trained to produce documents (legal documents, e.g.) rather htan literary works (different writing styles were used)

  5. nichael November 12, 2022 at 1:38 pm

    Concerning the “GODISNOWHERE” problem:

    – Is there a technical term for this problem?
    (I know that in Linguistics a somewhat related term is “ rebracketing”.)

    – How common is this problem really, say, in the NT?
    (I seem to remember reading somewhere that there are only a half dozen or so cases in all of the NT where this causes actual uncertainty of the reading.)

    – Also, am I remembering correctly that this is actually less of a problem in ancient Greek manuscripts (I.e. than in English) because 1) In Greek there are far fewer letters with which a word or syllable can end (as compared with the comparable letter-distribution in English); and 2) during this period manuscripts were virtually always read aloud (which tended to make the correct reading of the text more obvious)?

    • nichael November 14, 2022 at 10:53 am

      As a footnote (again, if I recall correctly) one interesting example where this issue occurs is the use of “MARANATHA” in 1Cor 16:22.

      That is it can be read either as:
      — MARANA THA (“Lord, Come!”)
      — MARAN ATHA (“Our Lord has come.”)

      (I vaguely seem to remember that there is a third possible parsing, although I can’t seem to find it.)

      But as before, in context it seems pretty certain that the first parsing (“Lord, Come!”) is the intended reading.

      • BDEhrman November 14, 2022 at 6:02 pm

        Ah, thanks! Yes, that’s one!

    • BDEhrman November 14, 2022 at 5:15 pm

      1. There probably is, but I don’t know it; 2. Not very, but it does happen. 3. I’m not sure how relatively common/uncommon it was, mainly since I don’t know how often it would happen in English. But reading aloud is just the same problem. Do you read it as God is Now Here or as God is Nowhere? Depends how you read it to yourself. In either case, the real problem that tends to be created with scriptio continua is that letters tend to be repeated or omitted accidentally.

    • BDEhrman November 14, 2022 at 5:15 pm

      1. There probably is, but I don’t know it; 2. Not very, but it does happen. 3. I’m not sure how relatively common/uncommon it was, mainly since I don’t know how often it would happen in English. But reading aloud is just the same problem. Do you read it as God is Now Here or as God is Nowhere? Depends how you read it to yourself. In either case, the real problem that tends to be created with scriptio continua is that letters tend to be repeated or omitted accidentally.

  6. KeitaTakahata November 12, 2022 at 1:49 pm

    When studying the OT, do you read it in Hebrew , or in the more accurate English translations?

    • BDEhrman November 14, 2022 at 5:16 pm

      These days, English. If I want to look up a word, I’ll go to the Hebrew, but that doesn’t happen much these days since I’m not doing much serious research on the OT.

  7. KathleenM November 12, 2022 at 2:33 pm

    Writing gets harder as you age, as you have old wrist injuries or carpel tunnel syndrome and also because vision gets impaired, cataracts etc. Jesus did good with healing folks if you take the miracles as science, carried on by the followers, and apostles too. Also the farther back you go in time, the less free time there was I bet. With the Hebrews, the pious figures, like Jesus in the family of David, probably did honor the Sabbath. In that sense they might have Saturday to write under a fig tree, but scroll paper or stretched skin parchment could be imperfect too. Even today if you write a lot there is a hurry tendency to “get more writing done.” On the NYTimes on-line comments section, sometimes they close the section while you are submitting your blurb (inadvertently), so your only hope is desperately quick copying the text into the cloud and resubmitting it later with modifications under a different topic. (In the Chosen series, delightful OCD Matthew gets tapped to start writing the Jesus stories down into Matthew’s journals. but realistically books hadn’t been invented yet. Scrolls are hard to manage totally.)

  8. illogician November 12, 2022 at 4:15 pm

    Matthew often speaks of the “kingdom of heaven” but sometimes substitutes “kingdom of God.” Given that we don’t have the original manuscript, do scholars have any way of investigating whether these differences are more likely to be original or introduced by scribal error?

    • BDEhrman November 14, 2022 at 5:17 pm

      The only place that we would normally *suspect* a change is one in which we have later manuscripts that give different readings at that point (some saying God and others heaven)

  9. LazyK November 13, 2022 at 2:21 am

    You’ve mentioned before that reading and writing were two different skills in ancient times, and that the bar for writing wasn’t particularly high. Would it be fair to say that it was the same for reading as well? I find it hard to believe that some of the mistakes (e.g., placing God in the middle of Jesus’s genealogy) could be made by someone who could read what they were copying.

    • BDEhrman November 14, 2022 at 5:20 pm

      I don’t think we have any evidence of a copyist of a long text not being able to read. Though this would be a good candidate for a piece of evidence! The problem is that this scribe doesn’t give other evidences of illiteracy, so it’s usually thought that he was jsut not paying attention. It happens!

  10. allesser37 November 13, 2022 at 4:36 am

    Dr, Ehrman,

    I happened upon this documentary on Netflix, “Creating Christ” with James S. Valliant, Norman Fahy and Dr. Robert Price. It makes a case for Roman Creation of Christianity. While I found it very unconvincing could you comment on it. they also have it as a book available on Amazon.

    • BDEhrman November 14, 2022 at 5:21 pm

      Haven’t seen it. I only know Robert, and did a debate with him on Did Jesus Exist; you can see it online. The idea that Romans created Xty has been floated, and I don’t know of any expert that gives it the time of day.

  11. brenmcg November 13, 2022 at 4:59 am

    It’s probable that none of the originals were copied just a single time, but probably multiple times. If the originals were copied a dozen times each we could say it’s unlikely that any single verse was transcribed incorrectly onto all dozen copies.

    Also the originals would have been copied singly and not as part of a complete NT. Making the scribes less tired and less prone to error.

  12. giselebendor November 13, 2022 at 5:03 am


    Good to hear from you! You are missed. I am paranoid ( Jews are programmed to think the worst) , so even as we were reassured you are fine, it is a relief to read a new post.

    I found at random a short interview about Moses with Emma Thorne. Can’t wait to hear all the rest of what you have to say ( whether I will ” agree” or not)😊

    I have two questions:

    1. Where can I read about serious mistakes made by scribes , mistakes that change the whole meaning of a passage, including “intentional” mistakes? ( ” intentional mistakes” sounds almost conspiratorial). I don’t remember these types of mistakes specifically from Misquoting Jesus. Did I miss something?

    You write that some mistakes matter a lot ( for the intentional mistakes I guess we should use quote marks).

    2. Are there many mistakes in Paul’s writings, let’s say, proportional to the rest of the NT? I ask because these were written so much closer to Jesus’ time, and because I never heard about known mistakes in Paul, either his own or in the other writings attributed to him.

    • BDEhrman November 14, 2022 at 5:24 pm

      Yup, I’m fine. 1. Yup, it’s in MQJ. If you want a full exposition and don’t mind some tough scholarly sledding, I deal with a bunch of these at length in my book Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. 2. NOt as many *intersting* and *sgnificant* mistakes as in the Gospels — but in part it’s because his corpus is so much smaller (in terms of length, not numbers of books). Still, there are some good ‘uns. and the accidental mistakes are probalby just as abundant proportionally.

  13. AngeloB November 13, 2022 at 6:45 am

    Re: Manuscripts over the centuries. Practice makes near perfect!

  14. fdloose November 13, 2022 at 8:36 am

    Dr. Ehrman, could you give an example in Greek of scriptio continua causing an interpretation problem similar to the English examples you provided? I know the “play on letters/words” won’t be apparent to me since I don’t speak Greek, but the difference in meaning would still apply. I’m interested in seeing the problem of interpretation in an actual example, and what the two outcomes would be. Thanks.

    • BDEhrman November 14, 2022 at 5:30 pm

      I’ll be giving one that is comparable in a vew posts (from 1 Thess. 2:7); there are others that are interesting, and exactly like the ENglish examples, but I’m not near my books (out of town just now) and can’t retrieve them. It’s the sort of thing I should have memorized!

  15. SteveHouseworth November 13, 2022 at 11:35 am

    Seems to me the major impact of scribal competence are positions originally developed by the Catholic church that we now know cannot be supported based on historical facts. Examples include the Nicene Creed – in response to the Arian heresy which must have been based on conclusions from documents, and the inerrancy of the gospels/bible. Many of these you present in Lost Christianities, which enlightened me to the validity of beliefs that morphed over time and regions.

    I recently mentioned docetism and Marcionism to a christian, unaware of such previous positions, who said “Well, we know those are wrong.” But that person is firm that their current positions are valid, which is what the early docetists and Marcionists thought also.

    • BDEhrman November 14, 2022 at 5:34 pm

      Modern Christians can be … interesting.

  16. apmorgan November 13, 2022 at 5:21 pm

    “I am come that they might have life, and have it in a barn dance.”

    From _An Alien at St Wilfred’s_ by Adrian Plass, 1992. Actually one of my favourite Christian fiction novels, and not just for the puns.

  17. tom.hennell November 13, 2022 at 6:53 pm

    “The earliest scribes were on average far, far worse than our later scribes. …. Their manuscripts differ more significantly from later manuscripts than later manuscripts differ from one another. And, as important, the earliest manuscripts differ from *each other* more than later manuscripts, as a rule, differ from each other.”

    That argument does look weak. In any perod, the key question is not “whether manuscripts differ more or less from one another?”; but “whether copies differ more or less from their exemplars”. The first does not require the second. Obviously we don’t have enough identified copy/exemplar pairs to test the second question rigorously; but treating the first question as equivalent to the first is an argument from analogy; and such arguments are rarely conculusive.

    Alternatively, may I pose three propositions?

    – that in every period there are good scribes and bad scribes;
    – that a good scribe always prefers to copy from a previous good scribe;
    – that a good scribe can always distinguish a good exemplar.

    From these it is not impossible that a surviving manuscript will have been the outcome of a chain of ‘good’ scribes all the way back to the author.

    • BDEhrman November 14, 2022 at 5:52 pm

      Yes, that’s obviously the question. The problem is that we almost NEVER have both a manuscript and its exemplar. I wrote about this in a critique of Kurt and Barbara Aland’s classification of papyrus mss based on whether they represented “strict” “”normal” or “free” transcriptions of their exemplars, in my article “A Case of Textual Circularity” As to your propositions: 1. Yes, that’s true. BUT not every period has the same proportion of good to bad scribes; 2. No, there’s no way to establish that. A scribe copies a text that has been given him, he doesn’t go through a group to choose one out, and even if he chose one, he would not be able to tell if it’s *base text* (that’s the main thing) was reliable, since he would not have engaged in a full analyses of all surviving mss to know, but would prefer simply the form of text he was familiar with. 3. We have numerous references to scribal mistakes in chruch fathers. None of them mentions this as an assumption. They never say anything like it. If by “good exemplar” you mean “one whose scribe was careful” that’s fine — he didnt misspell many words or leave out sentences and such. But that doesn’t mean that the base text he was copying was any good. Only that he faithfully preserved it. I’m not sure if you’ve actually studied the field, but it sounds like you’re interested enough to do so! Have you read DAvid Parker’s The LIving Text of the Gospels for a starter? He’s the top textual critic in the English speaking world, in my judgment.

      • tom.hennell November 15, 2022 at 6:58 am

        Thanks for your detailed response Bart, and for your suggestion for further reading.

        i may have been slippery with the term ‘good’; I was not implying that a good scribe could distinguish a manuscript as a better representation of the author’s text; only that they would recognise which manuscript (after correction) had fewer unintentional mistakes. These scribes were not monks, but many would still have been professionally trained.

        And it is indeed true that scribes may not have had any choice of exemplar at all.

        But I remain unconvinced by your reliance on ‘average’ differences between manuscripts; since we do not establish the text by head-counting. Rather compare the ‘best’. My understanding is that later Byzantine manuscripts demonstrate over 90% agreement with one another. I have seen counterpart estimates for agreement between P75 and Vaticanus as 92% in John and 94% in Luke.

        I agree with you that Barbara Aland’s defence of her ‘strict’ text is circular; but still it does not seem demonstrated to me that Vaticanus and P75 (in Luke and John) do not demonstrate together a reliably accurate reproduction stream from early exemplars. Was this fortuitous, or the product of shared systematic practice?

        • BDEhrman November 18, 2022 at 3:22 pm

          This was a major issue in my dissertaton work, as it turns out. What I argued, based on the scholarship of othres (I modified some of the standard views) is that in Alexandria Egypt in particular there appears to ahve been a stream of textual tradition that was unusually strict. But we can’t determinie how strct one particular s ribe or another was. The close relationship of P75 and B has always been seen as a partial confirmation of Hort’s views of (an unfortunately labeled) “Neutral” text (which was by no means neutral but was far closer to the autographs than others). My dissertation was focused on so-called secondary Alexandrian witnesses and what we make of what htey used to call the “Late Alexandrian text”

          • tom.hennell November 18, 2022 at 9:39 pm

            Thank you Bart; that is most informative.

            But it jogs my memory of a question I have several times fancied asking you; which is whether there is any significant association between the Egyptian Gospel text known to Didymus the Blind, and that which served as the source text for the early versions of the Ethiopic – now that Zuurmond, Niccum and co. have published a critical text (except, as yet, for Luke)?

            The Ethiopic translation of the Gospels must have been completed when Didymus was directing the Alexandrian school; and Zuurmond, I think, proposes that – like the contemporary Gothic version – it presents a number of readings which would later be considered characteristic of the Byzantine tradition, albeit a Byzantine tradition that is very different from what is now recognised as the “Majority Text”.

            So might there have been a cluster manuscripts with similar mixtures of readings (differing from the strict “Alexandrian”) in Egypt in the mid 4th century; or otherwise does the pattern of surviving witnesses rather indicate a pattern of divergence.

          • BDEhrman November 23, 2022 at 1:00 pm

            I haven’t looked at the matter closely for a long time. THe Zuurmond/Niccum essay in Text of the NT: Essays on the Status Quaestionis (2nd vol) is as recent as my knowledge gets. They argue that hte different parts of the Ethiopic NT were translated at different times by different people. As Zuurmond earlier argued, parts of the text are more inclined toward and “early Byzantine” form of text, but some of John, the Pastorals, and Catholics are more Alexandrian. I don’t recall that they draw any precise historical connection between Alexandria as a Xn location and Ethiopia as another, or that they posit the actual lineage of the various Vorlagen.

  18. GeoffClifton November 14, 2022 at 9:39 am

    Fascinating. But I can’t help wondering whether, in the way that we can identify ‘slip of the pen/typo’ errors, then presumably so could the 9th, 12th (or whatever) century scribes. And wouldn’t they have just corrected them? Or, if they were ultra religious and believed they were preserving the word of God, then maybe they just left well alone?

    • BDEhrman November 14, 2022 at 6:00 pm

      They often did correct them.

  19. giselebendor November 14, 2022 at 2:58 pm

    Halleluyah, I read the 3rd chapter of Misquoting Jesus again after many years. I found what I was looking for, and then some……a few of the mistakes are quite amusing.

  20. matthew November 15, 2022 at 10:13 pm

    The variant in Matthew 23:14 has to be one of the most ironic. While Jesus is ranting on the Jewish scribes – calling them hypocrites – it is the CHRISTIAN scribes who are messing with the VERY WORDS of Jesus. Some manuscripts say this, some say that. It makes me think people have been misconstruing him and cramming words in his mouth since long before the gospels were ever even written :-/ (see Paul)

  21. Helen Young November 24, 2022 at 8:04 pm

    Is there any evidence that more mistakes were made in the copying of the epistles than there were in the copying of the gospels?
    If, like John Shelby Spong says, that the gospels were created in the the synagogues, people there might have had more dedication and training as scribes, and been more familiar with the practice of copying what they considered to be sacred texts.

    Concerning the letters of Paul, for instance, these were sent to and read and collected by non-Jewish people. They might not have had the same understanding about copying and transmitting written materials. They also might not have had the same understanding or outlook towards these letters as the Jewish Christians did towards the gospels.

    I’m just wondering if maybe there were more mix-ups and mistakes and changes made to the letters and other books in the New Testament, than there were made to the gospels. Thanks

    • BDEhrman November 26, 2022 at 5:20 pm

      I don’t think the Gospels could have been created in teh synagogues; Luke and Mark were almost certainly gentile, I owuld say. (Mark 7:3 is explaining a Jewish custom to its readers, which means they had to be informed about it. That means they weren’t Jewish. But more than that, it explains it incorrectly, since it’s not true that “all Jews” washed hands before eating; that show that the author too was probably not Jewish but had learned about Judaism from others.)

      • Helen Young November 27, 2022 at 8:04 pm

        Now I’m in trouble. Yourself and John Shelby Spong are my two favorite writers and scholars on the bible and the New Testament. I don’t know whose ideas or perspective to take most seriously on this subject.

        In his book ‘Jesus for the Non-Religious’, chapter 18 called “Jesus: a man for all Jewish Seasons”, JS Spong pretty clearly lays out how he thinks that the gospels were written as liturgy, in the Greek speaking, Jewish-convert-to-Christian, synagogues. He says that they were designed to step the people/congregation through the liturgical year in a similar way that the Torah is/was used. – There’s a lot in this book on this subject, and on how their ideas about pre-existing Jewish heroes, patriarchs and other Jewish symbols got painted onto Jesus.

        I’d love to know your take on this book and on this chapter if you ever get the chance.
        Thanks for your reply

        • BDEhrman November 29, 2022 at 10:51 am

          Spong (whom I knew a bit and liked very much, and think he did a TON of good for the world), thinks that the Gospels arose out of Jewish liturgies spoken in the synagogues. And so one fairly obvious question is what we actually *know* about Jewish liturgies in first-century syngagogues. Unfortunately, apart from some broad outlines (they read scripture, probably heard some comments on it, and prayed, e.g.) we know almost *nothing*. So to say that we can explain the Gospels by liturgical practices that we don’t know about doesn’t seem very productive to me. We usually try to explain what we *don’t* know on the basis of things we *do* know, rather on things that we also don’t know. Look for his sources of information for what we know avout hos the Torah was used in teh liturgical year in Hellenistic synagogues at the time. What sources? There aren’t any!

          • Helen Young November 29, 2022 at 12:27 pm

            On pages 194 – 195 of ‘Jesus for the Non-Religious’, Spong states that the synagogues liturgical year follow and order that seems to be outlined in Leviticus 23.

            They are Passover, Shavuot or Pentecost, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkoth or Tabernacles, and Hanukkah.

            Also on page 195, Spong goes on to say, “I would go so far as to argue that Mark, the first gospel, was organized around this liturgical year, and that the gospels of Matthew and Luke, both of which followed Mark’s general outline, … reflect quite significantly this same organizing principle.”
            The rest of the chapter is about how he places the events in Marks gospel to line up with the Jewish events and holy days. For instance lining up the crucifixion with Passover, both in terms of the meaning and the actual date(s). Or lining up Marks opening story of Jesus with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

            I could go on a bit, but the post/blog board only allows me so many words, (200), (as well as only 2 comments per day, & this is already my 2nd comment).

            Still I’d love to get your take on this book if you ever have the chance. Thanks so much

          • BDEhrman November 30, 2022 at 8:44 pm

            Right. I believe all that this is saying is that Mark begins in the Fall (he doesn’t mention Rosh Hashanah) and ends at Passover. Passover, of course, is the only festival mentioned in Mark. Given his theology of atonement, it’s a little odd he doesn’t end it on Yom Kippur instead of Passover. (The passover sacrifice, of course, was not an atonement for sin). One major argument against Mark being inspired by Jewish liturgical practices is that he doesn’t appear to know them. (Not just assuming the passover sacrifice was an atonement, but not, for example, understanding the Pharisaic practice of hand-washing or that in f actd it was NOT practiced by most Jews; Mark 7)


  22. Helen Young November 25, 2022 at 2:53 pm

    I have never seen a bun dance on the table.

    But, it being the day after Thanksgiving, I can surely say that I have seen abundance on the table.

    I hope you are doing well. <3 Happy and Best Thanksgiving

    • BDEhrman November 26, 2022 at 5:51 pm

      Ha! One Thanksgiving I had a bit too much wine and I could have sworn that I *did* see a bun dance on the table!

      • Helen Young November 27, 2022 at 8:23 pm


        Was this a “group Hallucination”?


        • BDEhrman November 29, 2022 at 10:54 am

          Well, there were bodies strewn everywhere, so I guess so…. 🙂

          • Helen Young November 29, 2022 at 9:04 pm

            Maybe they were having a *pair-of-blipes* occasioned by a *home-you-telethon*


  23. cliffsnyder February 29, 2024 at 1:28 pm

    Regarding ancient scribes, do we believe that they could all read what they were copying? In other words, are we aware of instances where scribes were trained how to copy precisely, but not trained how to read?

    • BDEhrman March 1, 2024 at 6:41 pm

      Yes, in almost every case (possibly one odd exception) the scribes of NT mss almost certainly could read and completely understand what they were copying. Reading was taught before copying in the standard school curriculum.

  24. Blaise May 6, 2024 at 12:03 am

    In Candida Moss’ book ‘God’s Ghostwriters’ she argues that slaves and apprentice artisans were used to copy long texts because it was arduous work that lead to disabilities like carpal tunnel, arthritis, and blindness. The elite, educated writers considered this work to be drudgery. She also argues that these slave copyists may have change things that reflect their social environment.
    For example (p.141) citing the Bobiensis & Mk 16:4 contains a novel sentence; “At the third hour of the day, darkness came over the whole world and angels from heaven descended and, as he [Jesus] was rising in the brightness of the living God, at the same time [the angels] ascended with him….”
    This sentence explains the mechanics of the resurrection, angels help the still recovering body of Jesus to rise up, just as family members and slaves would help people who are experiencing temporary weakness or immobility.
    She also postulated that the Gospel spread rapidly via Rumor, Hearsay, and Gossip among slaves, women during marketplace exchanges, etc.
    any thoughts about this?
    Bible & Quran left me with brain freeze it was so packed with new info. Thanks, great class, your best!

    • BDEhrman May 6, 2024 at 4:29 pm

      I don’t think slaves were the only ones copying texts, no. There just isn’t any evidence of that. And certainly slaves did tell stories about Jesus that were based on gossip and rumor, etc. So did free persons. I agree with her that we have to take the situations of slaves very seriously when it comes to the NT, but I think it is speculation to get into details such as that Mark was probably a slave, most of the scribes were probably slaves, etc.

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