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Did Scribes Add the Passage of the Bloody Sweat?

In my previous posts I’ve been puzzling over the textual problem of Luke 22:43-44, the so-called “bloody sweat” passage, where Jesus, before his arrest, is said to have been in such deep agony that he sweat drops “as if of blood,” so that an angel came down from heaven to minister to him.  These verses are found in some manuscripts of Luke, but not others.    So which text is “original”?  The version of Luke with the verses or the version without them? In previous posts I have argued that the verses run contrary both to the structure of Luke’s passage and to the theology of Luke, who worked to *eliminate* any sense of Jesus actually suffering from his Gospel.    In my last post I began to ask, not which of the two texts the author Luke himself would have written (scholars call that kind of question “intrinsic probabilities”: what is more intrinsically likely to go back to the author?) but which of the two texts scribes of the second century, when the passage came to [...]

The Bloody Sweat and the Scribes Who Changed It

I have been talking about the famous passage in Luke 22:43-44, the account of the so-called “bloody sweat,” where we are told that prior to his arrest, Jesus went into deep agony and began to sweat great drops “as if of blood,” and to be so deeply disturbed that an angel had to come down from heaven to support him. These verses can be found in a lot of manuscripts, including those used by the translators of the King James Bible, which is why the passage became so familiar to English-Bible readers over the years; but they are absent from many or our earliest and best manuscripts, which is why some modern translations put the verses in a footnote or, more commonly (as in the NRSV), in double brackets, indicating that in the opinion of the translators, the verses were not original (the translators keep them – bracketed --  in the text because they knew they are familiar and judge that they are very ancient). In my previous posts I have given two reasons for [...]

Jesus’ Lack of Agony

Did Jesus feel deep agony in the face of death, in virtual despair up until the end?  Or was he calm and collected, confident in both himself and God’s will?  It depends which Gospel you read. And that is one of the reasons (not the only one, as we will see!) that the textual problem of Luke 22:43-44 – the passage that narrates the “bloody sweat” --  is so important.   If the verses were originally in Luke, then Jesus in Luke, as in Mark, is in deep agony looking ahead to his crucifixion.  If the verses were not originally in Luke, then there is no evidence of any agony in Luke’s entire account.  Just the contrary.   So were the verses originally in Luke or not?  It’s a question that really matters. It is worth stressing what I showed yesterday, that in this passage, Luke has changed Mark (his  written source for the account) in significant ways.   Many of these changes achieve one overarching purpose: Luke has eliminated every reference and hint to Jesus’ agony.   No [...]

2020-10-16T22:18:59-04:00August 21st, 2015|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|

When I First Realized the Importance of Textual Criticism: The Bloody Sweat

I think I first came to see precisely why textual criticism could be so important my first semester in my PhD program, during a seminar I was taking that had almost nothing to do with the study of the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.  It was an “exegesis” course (i.e. focused on interpretation) on the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke – studied, of course, in the Greek).  My realization of the importance of text-critical issues was not even connected to my own research.  It had to do with what a friend and colleague of mine had discovered. For that seminar we had to make a class-presentation of our study of a passage in the Synoptics.  My fellow-first-year student Mark Plunkett (who later went on to teach at Ohio Northern University before deciding to scrap the academic thing and become a gynecologist) (really!) was devoting his term paper to the prayer of Jesus before his arrest as found in the Gospel of Luke. As many readers of this blog know, Luke had as one [...]

2020-04-03T13:24:03-04:00August 20th, 2015|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|

The Bloody Sweat and Historical Plausibility

QUESTION: The following question was raised by a reader on the blog, based on my discussion of the so-called “bloody sweat” passage of Luke 22:43-44, which I maintained was not originally part of Luke’s Gospel (or any Gospel) but was added by later scribes.  Here’s the question Even if this event of Jesus sweating, as it were, great drops of blood was in the original manuscript, one must wonder how the author knew of it. Luke 22:41 tells us that Jesus left his disciples and went off on his own to pray. Then, after his agony and the angelic assistance, he rises up and goes back to his disciples only to find them sleeping (v.45).  And, according to V.46, “while he was yet speaking” he was betrayed by Judas and arrested. How then, did the author know what had happened? When I was a believer, such questions never occurred to me. They do now. A lot.   RESPONSE: This is a great question.  It reminds me that with any passage in the New Testament, there [...]

2020-04-03T16:29:09-04:00October 22nd, 2014|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Jesus Sweating Blood: Transcriptional Probabilities

I’ve been discussing the kinds of evidence that textual critics appeal to in order to make a decision concerning what an author originally wrote, when there are two or more different forms of the text – that is, where a verse or passage is worded in different ways in different manuscripts.  And I have been using the passage found (only) in (some manuscripts of) Luke of Jesus’ bloody sweat as an example.  Yesterday I discussed one kind of “internal” evidence.    Remember: external evidence deals with figuring out which manuscripts have which reading: how many manuscripts (not so important), age of the manuscripts, geographical distribution of the manuscripts, and (something I didn’t discuss) quality of the manuscripts.   And recall that internal evidence is of two kinds, the first of which is “intrinsic probabilities,” which seeks to establish which form of the text is more likely to have been written by the author himself. The second kind of internal evidence is a kind of flip side of the coin, and it’s called “transcriptional probabilities.”   With arguments/evidence of [...]

2020-04-03T16:29:24-04:00October 17th, 2014|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|

Why Did Scribes Add the Bloody Sweat?

I have explained why it is almost certain that Luke did not himself write the passage describing Jesus “sweating blood” in Luke 22:43-44: the passage is not found in some of our oldest and best manuscripts, it intrudes in a context that otherwise is structured as a clear chiasmus, and it presents a view of Jesus going to his death precisely at odds with what Luke has produced otherwise. Whereas Luke goes out of his way to portray Jesus as calm and in control in the ace of death – evidently to provide a model to his readers about how they too suffer when they experience persecution – these verses show him in deep anguish to the point of needing heavenly support by an angel, as he sweats great drops as of blood. But if the verses were not originally in Luke, why were they added by scribes? The key to answering the question comes from considering two data.   First, when were the verses added to the text?  And second, how were they first “used” [...]

More on The Bloody Sweat

I mentioned that I first got interested in the textual problem of Luke 22:43-44 (“the bloody sweat”) when I was taking a graduate seminar at Princeton Theological Seminary, my first year in the doctoral program.  The seminar was devoted (the entire semester) to the Greek exegesis of Luke.   My fellow student, Mark Plunkett, presented a seminar paper in which he dealt with the passage.  He was not at all interested in the textual question of whether vv. 43-44 were original.  He was assuming that there were not, but it had nothing to do with his presentation.  In his presentation he argued that there was a clear structure to the passage of Jesus’ prayer before being arrested (in Luke’s source this takes place in the Garden of Gethsemane, but Luke doesn’t say so) and he made a convincing argument (to my mind).  And then I realized that the structural argument was relevant to the textual problem of whether the verses were original or not.   While we moved on to other things in the seminar that afternoon, [...]

Problems with the NRSV (Part 5)

Trust me. I will eventually get back to the question of my relationship with Bruce Metzger. I keep getting sidetracked. But the tracks on the side are interesting. At least I *think* they are!! ********************************************************************************************************************* In my last post I pointed out that the famous passage of the so-called “bloody sweat” in Luke 22:43-44 is thought by some scholars not to have been original to the Gospel of Luke. I count myself in that number. One of my very first scholarly articles was devoted to the question; I wrote it when I was a first-year graduate student – or rather, I co-wrote it, with a friend of mine who was in the PhD program at Princeton Seminary with me, a fellow named Mark Plunkett. Mark had done a study of the passage of Jesus’ prayer before his arrest and had realized something about the structure of the passage, which made me, in turn, realize, that if he was right, then the two verses about the bloody sweat could not have been original to the passage. [...]

Problems with the NRSV (Part 4)

I will give just one other textual disagreement that I have with the translators of the NRSV: by “textual” disagreement I mean a disagreement over what the original Greek text of a passage was that should have been translated. For this second example I’ll stick with Luke, and again with the Passion narrative. The full passage of Jesus’ prayer in the garden in Luke 24:39-46 reads as follows in the NRSV: FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a Member. Click here for membership options. If you don't belong yet, JOIN!!  39 He came out and went, as was his custom, to the mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him.  40 When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”  Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.”  [[ 43 Then an angel from heaven appeared to [...]

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