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Textual Criticism Syllabus

This semester I am teaching my PhD seminar in precisely the topic I've been discussing for the past number of weeks, New Testament textual criticism.  Here, for your reading pleasure, is the syllabus for the class.     Reli 809: New Testament Textual Criticism   Instructor:  Bart D. Ehrman    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill    Fall 2015   Course Description This class focuses on one of the foundational disciplines of biblical studies.  New Testament textual criticism has experienced a significant resurgence over the past twenty years or so, as scholars have begun, again, to recognize its importance for exegesis, theology, and the history of Christianity, and have realized, contrary to general perception, how much of real significance is yet to be done in the field. Your work for this seminar will assume sundry forms.  A substantial portion of it will be devoted to the study of a significant textual problem, on which you will write a term paper.  The basic task, of course, is to establish the earliest form of the text.  But [...]

2020-05-11T13:03:09-04:00August 29th, 2015|New Testament Manuscripts, Teaching Christianity|

Ruffling the Feathers of My Fellow Textual Critics

I seem to get under the skin of a lot of my fellow textual critics.  Or at least a lot of them find my views somewhere between troubling and irritating.   That became most clear when I published my book Misquoting Jesus.   From what I can gather, the most common complaints about the book were about its perceived “tone.”  Some scholars thought that I made the situation of our manuscripts to be worse than it really is.  I, on the other hand, am not so sure about that. What has probably struck me the most in the years since the book was published (it’s been ten years now!  Very hard to believe….) is that critics almost never say that anything I claimed in the book is actually wrong.  In fact, so far as I know, everything I said in the book is completely right.  How many books are attacked for not saying anything wrong? Here are the main points that I stress in the book. We do not have the originals for any of the books [...]

2020-04-03T13:23:15-04:00August 28th, 2015|Book Discussions, New Testament Manuscripts|

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 [...]

How Textual Criticism Became Relevant

COMMENT: Dr. Ehrman, I am an enormous fan of you and your work. Truly. But some of the recent claims you've made in your  blog posts seem rather grandiose. You're saying that the field of textual criticism was all but dead before you showed up and imparted your uncommon wisdom?   RESPONSE: WHOA!!!   That’s not what I’ve been saying (or *trying* to say) (evidently unsuccessfully!) at all!   I’m not claiming that I myself am personally responsible for turning around the discipline.   I’m glad this reader has made this comment, because others might be thinking the same thing, and so I need to clarify. What I *am* saying is that when I got into the field it was moribund.  And now it’s vibrant.  I was very lucky to get in when I did, as it was at the beginning of a resurgence of interesting and a new direction that the field has since taken.  If it had kept on going the way it had, it may well have died out.   But things have happened that have [...]

2020-12-29T01:20:06-05:00August 22nd, 2015|New Testament Manuscripts, Reader’s Questions|

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|

An Amusing Anecdote about the State of Textual Criticism

I’d like to sum up my posts so far on the state of New Testament textual criticism – my original field of scholarship – when I entered into the field of student as a graduate student in the early 1980s by telling an anecdote. It has always struck me as rather amusing.  (I am basing all this on memory, and as I’ve just written a book on memory, I am acutely aware of how frail this particular human function is.  But this is exactly as I remember it!) I was attending, for the second or third time, I suppose, the annual Society of Biblical Literature meeting.   This is the professional meeting that nearly all scholars of biblical studies – mainly professors (and graduate students) in colleges, universities, and seminaries – attend every year.  Today the meeting has probably 6000 or 7000 attendees.  Back then it was probably half that. At the meeting there are papers being read in different sessions, simultaneously – maybe 30-40 sessions going on at a time, in all sorts of areas:  [...]

My Original Foray into Textual Criticism

I have been explaining why “textual criticism,” the discipline that examines the surviving manuscripts of a text and then tries to reconstruct what the author originally wrote, had fallen on hard times by the time I got into the field.   The main reason, I think, is that most New Testament scholars thought that all the serious work in the field had been done, that we pretty well knew what the “original text” said, and that all that was left were a few mopping up exercises. Moreover, to engage in those exercises required extraordinary expertise in remarkably recondite areas of inquiry.  It was a lot of very hard work to deal with all the evidence, and the yield was so slight (change of a word or phrase here or there throughout the New Testament), that most scholars didn’t see why they should bother.  Why not do more interesting things, like actually *interpret* the text? I was an exception to that rule.  I was passionate about the field of textual criticism.  Looking back, I think I became [...]

The Malaise in New Testament Textual Criticism

I indicated in my previous post that the overall character of the text (as opposed to the apparatus) of the Greek New Testament in 1981 was widely perceived by New Testament scholars in to be pretty much “set,” and not all much different from what it had been in 1881.  I need to explain that a bit. I chose 1881 intentionally (not just for personal reasons: by fluke, it happens to have been exactly a century before I finished my Master’s degree in which I focused on New Testament textual criticism).   1881 was a very big year for the field.  It was the year that two famous New Testament scholars from England, named Fenton John Anthony Hort and Brooke Foss Westcott, published their highly significant edition of the Greek New Testament, which they called, with some temerity, The New Testament in the Original Greek.  (Temerity because they were claiming to have solved virtually all the problems of establishing “the” original text.) This was a huge event, as it turns out.   But to make sense of [...]

Why New Testament Textual Criticism Had Grown Moribund

In my previous post I had begun to indicate that the field of New Testament textual criticism had grown notably and depressingly moribund in America by the late 1970s when I began my graduate studies.   But I didn’t explain just *why* most New Testament scholars – let alone scholars in other fields of religious studies or the humanities more broadly – did not find the field interesting and / or important.   The reason has to do with what I laid out as one of the almost-universally-held views among textual critics (and other scholars at all connected with the field):  That the entire goal, purpose, and raison d’être of the discipline was to establish what an author originally wrote (a goal, purpose, and raison d’être that may seem both reasonable and self-evident.  But keep reading my posts). Why would that view have created such apathy toward the field, such a lack of interest in pursuing its objectives?  For the most part, it was because New Testament scholars assumed that the field had achieved its goal.  We [...]

When I Started in Textual Criticism

For a very long thread now, I have talking about the textual criticism of the New Testament.  As I said early on, “textual criticism” is a technical term.  It does not refer to any kind of analysis of the texts of the New Testament; that is to say, it is *not* about the interpretation of the New Testament texts.  It is specifically about how one goes about evaluating the surviving manuscripts (and versions, and church father quotations) of the New Testament in order to reconstruct what the authors originally wrote:  (that is, it does not ask what the authors *meant* by what they wrote; it is instead concerned  with establishing what, exactly, they did write.  Textual criticism needs to be applied to every surviving writing – from Homer’s Iliad to Wordsworth’s poems to … the Bible.  Without textual criticism you would not know what an author said. All of this discussion has been preliminary to answering the question asked by a reader concerning what I had in mind when I wrote my book The Orthodox [...]

2020-05-08T14:50:04-04:00August 14th, 2015|Bart’s Biography, New Testament Manuscripts|

Paul’s Letter to the Thessalonians

In my two previous posts I discussed a textual variant that could be explained either as a scribal accident or as an intentional change.   I thought it might be interesting to point out a few other variants that also could go either way.   These are all intriguing problems in and of themselves, and by talking about them I can illustrate a bit further the kinds of quandaries textual critics find themselves in when trying to decide what an author wrote when we have different versions of his words in different manuscripts.   My plan right now is to look at three variants in three different mini-threads (all of them subsumed under the larger thread of why I wrote The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture).   Today is one of my favorites, a particularly thorny issue found in 1 Thessalonians 2:7. I can’t get to a discussion of that issue without providing some important background; just the very basics of the background will take me two posts, before I can even start to explain the textual problem. First Thessalonians [...]

2020-04-03T13:27:46-04:00August 5th, 2015|New Testament Manuscripts, Paul and His Letters|

Mark 1:1 as an Intentional Alteration of the Text

In yesterday’s post I began to explore a textual variant in Mark 1:1 that could be explained either as an accidental slip of the pen or an intentional alteration of the text.   We’re plowing into some heavy waters here – I know some members of the blog like me to go deeper into serious scholarship on occasion, and others would rather prefer that I not.  But here I am, in the thick of it. All of the posts in this thread are a lead up to answer the question from weeks ago now, about what led me to write The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.   I’ve found that I can’t really get to that without providing some substantial background on what it is the field of textual criticism actually does. So where we are just now, by way of review:  there are thousands of textual witnesses to the NT (Greek manuscripts, manuscripts of the versions, writings of the church fathers who quote the text); these witnesses attests hundreds of thousands of variance among themselves; the vast [...]

2020-04-03T13:28:14-04:00August 4th, 2015|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|

A Variant in Mark 1:1 — Accidental or Intentional?

I have been talking about different kinds of changes made in our surviving New Testament manuscripts, some of them accidental slips of the pen (that’s probably the vast majority of our textual variants) and others of them intentional alterations.  One of the points that I’ve been trying to stress is that at the end of the day it is, technically speaking, impossible to know what a scribe’s “intentions” were (or if he had any, other than the intention of copying a text).  None of the scribes is around to be interviewed, and so – as with a lot of history – there is a good bit of scholarly guess-work that has to be done. This guess work is not simply shooting in the dark, however.   And it is dead easy for a highly trained expert to tell the difference between informed guesswork and just plain guesswork.   But at the end of the day we are always talking about historical probabilities, not historical certainties, when it comes to figuring out why a scribed decided to change [...]

An Intentional Change in Mark 15:34

I have started giving some instances of what appear to be “intentional” changes made by scribes, as opposed to simple, accidental, slips of the pen.  In my previous post I pointed to an example in Mark 1:2, in which scribes appear to have altered a text because it seems to embody an error.   If I’m wrong that this is the direction of the change – that is, if the text that I’m arguing is the “corruption” is in fact the original text – then there is still almost certainly an intentional change still involved, but made for some other reason.   But either way, the change does not appear to have been made simply by inattention to detail. Here I’ll give a second instance from Mark of what appears to be an intentional change.  I stress that these alterations “appear” to be intentional since, technically speaking, we can never know what a scribe intended to do.   I use the term I simply to mean an alteration to the text that a scribe appears to have made [...]

2020-04-03T13:28:51-04:00August 2nd, 2015|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|

Illustration of a Textual Change: Did Mark Make a Mistake?

I have started discussing “intentional” changes of the text of the New Testament – that is alterations found in manuscripts of the New Testament that appear to have been made by scribes who *wanted* to change the text, presumably in order to make it say (more closely) what they wanted it to say.   Let me illustrate my discussion by dealing with three of the most interesting textual variants in the Gospel of Mark, one of which is an easy problem to solve, one that is a bit more difficult, and one that has generated a lot of discussion over the years and no firm consensus.  This will take a couple of posts. In a still later post I will talk about the criteria and arguments that scholars typically use in order to resolve these questions.  I will be alluding to those criteria and arguments here in my explanations of why one form of the text appears to be what the author originally wrote, and the other form of the text appears to be the scribal [...]

2020-10-16T21:54:02-04:00July 31st, 2015|Canonical Gospels, New Testament Manuscripts|

Intentional Changes of the Text

I’m getting back now, with this post, to the thread that I started a full month ago in response to a question a member of the blog had related to the field about one of my books that deals with the textual criticism of the New Testament.   Just to bring us all back up to speed, I will here repeat the question and briefly summarize what I have covered so far.   READER’S QUESTION: Dr. Ehrman, I do not know if others would find this interesting, but I would love to know how you developed the idea for The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. How did you go about researching it? How long did it take? Is it a once in a lifetime work?   RESPONSE: To start with, I have devoted a number of posts to unpacking what the title of my actually means.   First, in several posts, I’ve explained what the term “orthodoxy” means to scholars of early Christianity, and what it doesn’t mean.  To sum up as succinctly as I can (for fuller [...]

Kinds of Changes in our Manuscripts

In this post I continue to provide some more of the background necessary to understand what my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture was about.   So far I have indicated that since we do not have the originals of any of the books of the New Testament, we have to rely on later copies, all of which have mistakes in them.   We have far more copies of the NT than of any other book from antiquity –and as a result, far more differences among our copies (i.e. more mistakes).   In addition we have ancient translations of the NT (the early “versions”) and quotations of the NT in the writings of church fathers.   These also provide further pieces of evidence – as well as further variations in wording. As a result, it is a very complicated business trying to establish what the authors of the NT originally wrote.   Scholars continue to debate the precise wording of this that or the other verse.  In some cases we simply will never know. No one has been able to [...]

2020-04-03T13:30:48-04:00July 22nd, 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|
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