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Magic and Manuscripts

In my post yesterday I mentioned something about the importance of our surviving manuscripts for understanding practices of magic in the early Christian tradition.  Several people have asked me about it, so I thought I would follow it up. There’s been a lot written about magic over the years.  When talking about antiquity, “magic” is not what we think of today: we think of illusion artists who do tricks in order to make think something has happened which in fact has not.  In antiquity, magic was understood to be a real thing, not a clever illusion.  It involved the manipulation of the physical world through suprahuman means.  The big question was then (and still is for scholars studying the phenomenon) how to differentiate between magic and miracle.  The (very) short answer is that miracles were performed by those who were thought (by the observer) to be on the side of the good (or God or the gods) and magic was performed by those who were (thought by the observer to be) on the side of [...]

New Testament Manuscripts: Good News and Bad News

In my previous post I started talking about the different kinds of manuscripts of the New Testament we have, as a prelude to my discussion of my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.  I now want to say something further about these manuscripts and how they can help us reconstruct what the authors of the NT originally wrote (and why they pose problems for us to that end). Below is what I say about the matter in my textbook on the New Testament, in the new sixth edition that has just appeared. **************************************************** When trying to reconstruct what the authors of the New Testament actually wrote, based on the surviving copies, we have both good news and bad news. The good news: We have more manuscripts for the New Testament than for any other book from the ancient world—many, many more manuscripts than we have for the writings of Homer, Plato, Cicero, or any other important author. We have something like 5,700 manuscripts of the New Testament—from small fragments of tiny parts of a single [...]

2017-11-29T21:27:57-05:00July 18th, 2015|New Testament Manuscripts|

The Manuscripts of the New Testament

Before I start explaining what The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture was about, why I wrote it, what motivated me, and what I wanted to accomplish I (quite obviously, you may be noticing) have to provide a lot of background information.  We’ve now moved on from talking about early Christian diversity (orthodoxy and heresy) and are now into discussing “textual criticism,” the academic discipline that tries to establish what an author actually wrote if you don’t have his original but only copies made from later times. To set the stage for what I really want to talk about, first I have to summarize some of the most important information about the textual “witnesses” to the text of the New Testament.  I won’t be going into this information at any serious length.  We could have many, many, many posts on virtually every single detail that I mention.   But trust me, you don’t want that. There are three kinds of witnesses to the text of the New Testament, that is to say, three kinds of documents that can [...]

2020-04-03T13:33:43-04:00July 16th, 2015|Book Discussions, New Testament Manuscripts|

What Is Textual Criticism?

In discussing the background to my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture I have so far been talking about the issue of early Christian diversity, so as to explain what the term “orthodox” in the title means.  I now want to turn more fully to a discussion of the term “corruption,” and to do that I need to provide some basics about the general field of inquiry that the book is devoted to, the textual criticism of the New Testament. The first thing to emphasize is that the term “textual criticism” is a technical term with a very specific meaning.  Lay people often misuse the term, not knowing that it refers to a particular and highly specialized field of study.   The term does *not* simply mean “the study of texts” or “literary analysis of texts” or anything similar.   Thus, if someone is engaged, for example, in the interpretation of a text, that is *not* “textual criticism.” Instead, textual criticism is the discipline that seeks to reconstruct the text that an author wrote when we no [...]

2020-04-03T13:33:50-04:00July 15th, 2015|Book Discussions, New Testament Manuscripts|

Where Does One Deal with Textual Criticism?

There were other organizational dilemmas that I faced in doing my textbook.   As I indicated, I decided to begin with chapters on the Greco-Roman world and the Jewish world of the New Testament, and – before getting to the Gospels themselves – a chapter on the controversies in early Christianity that led to the formation of the 27-book NT canon.   But there was one other rather fundamental issue.   If I was talking about the canon of the NT before getting into a discussion of the NT books – shouldn’t I also talk about the text of the NT, that is, the surviving manuscripts of the NT, before discussing individual books? Many readers on the blog will be familiar with the textual problems posed by the New Testament.  In broad outline, the problems are no different from those posed by every book, or sets of books, from the ancient world, whether the Hebrew Bible, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, the plays of Euripides, the writings of Plato on down to the plays and essays of Seneca to [...]

2020-04-03T16:31:35-04:00October 7th, 2014|Book Discussions, New Testament Manuscripts|

Manuscripts and Christian Magic

My last post on the discovery of an amulet with passages from the Bible on it brought to mind part of an essay I wrote and recently edited for the second edition of the book that I edited (with Michael Holmes), The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis.  The book contains essays on every major aspect of NT textual criticism by different authors, all of them internationally known experts in the field, with articles on papyri manuscripts, majuscule manuscripts, minuscule manuscripts, lectionaries, Greek Patristic citations, Latin Patristic citations, early versions such as Syriac, Coptic, Latin, methods for studying the manuscripts, and … lots of other things.  My essay is called “The Text as Window.”  It is about how the manuscript tradition of the NT can tell us about the social history of early Christianity – including the use of magic.   Here is the short section devoted to that question of magic (endnotes are at the bottom): *********************************************************** The incursion of the social sciences into the study of early [...]

Problems with the Hebrew Bible Manuscripts

QUESTION: Bart, these issues you've found in the New Testament, have you studied and found similar issues in the Old Testament?" RESPONSE: Yes indeed!   Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) was my secondary field in my PhD program, and I taught Introduction to Hebrew Bible at both Rutgers and UNC.   A few years ago when I decided to write my Introduction to the Bible I decided that to do it right I had to re-tool in Hebrew Bible.  I’m by no means an expert, but I have caught up on a good deal of scholarship and re-learned Hebrew (I hadn’t read it in years).  I try to read some Hebrew Bible every morning; I’m not great at it, but I can slog through with a dictionary….. So, I think it’s fair to say that the problems that I have talked about in my publications about the New Testament are even more pronounced for the Hebrew Bible.   I think I will take three of the big issues (I’m happy to address others if there are any [...]

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