Saturday, April 4, 2009

More Musings on the Determination of the Original Text

Nick Norelli reacts to a portion of an entry which he came across in The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics:
If we possessed only a handful of manuscripts for the Old and New Testaments, it would indeed be difficult to reconstruct the reading of the original. However, the large amount of textual evidence for the Old and New Testaments, while increasing the number of the textual variants, makes it easier for us to reconstruct the reading of the original text. Rather than undermining our confidence in the Bible, these variants make it possible for us to determine, with near-perfect accuracy, what God originally communicated in His Word. (p. 110)

Nick's response included the following measured words of wisdom:
At best we can know with precision what the earliest extant text said; but we can only guess with varying degrees of probability what the original text said. So when the Alands say that the original reading is present somewhere in all the variant readings, and this claim is repeated by men like Dan Wallace or James White, it’s at best wishful thinking. It’s a statement that will always need to be qualified with “I think” rather than “I know.” This isn’t to say that we can’t guess with a very high degree of probability, but if we’re honest, in the end we’ll always have to succumb to some kind of textual agnosticism with respect to the originals.

His comments are well taken, although it's important to point out that the reading which is ultimately determined to stand closest to the original is not always that of the earliest extant manuscript (and I'm not exactly sure what "textual agnosticism" means, although it sounds cool!). But I've always shared his incredulity over the Alands' absolute certainty that the original reading exists within every set of variants, even if this is true in a large majority of cases. The ending of the Gospel of Mark represents one notable instance where some scholars believe that none of the extant variants are original; Rudolf Bultmann, for example, argued that the gospel must have initially concluded with a series of resurrection appearances in Galilee. And of course (and I've repeated this so often that I feel a bit like a broken record) we have very, very few New Testament manuscript witnesses from the most dynamic period in the life of any document: the first century after its composition. So while we can feel relatively confident about the reconstructed text of the New Testament, we should bear in mind the limitations of that reconstruction.

As for the argument that variants make the determination of God's Word even more certain, this is largely lost on me. I'm not sure how particularly difficult critical decisions (e.g., Romans 5:1, which I've discussed here) would support such a view.

Latest Issue of TC Available Online

Thanks to the folks at Evangelical Textual Criticism for noting that a portion of the current issue of TC: A Journal of Textual Criticism is now available online. Thus far one review has been published:

Andrew F. Gregory and Christopher M. Tuckett, eds., The New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers, Volume 1: The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers (Dan Batovici, reviewer)

RBL Highlights: 4/4/09

Highlights from the most recent Review of Biblical Literature:

Piotr Bienkowski, Christopher Mee, and Elizabeth Slater, eds.
Writing and Ancient Near Eastern Society: Papers in Honour of Alan R. Millard
Reviewed by Raymond Person

Gerald L. Borchert
Worship in the New Testament: Divine Mystery and Human Response
Reviewed by Tony Costa

Thomas L. Brodie
Proto-Luke: The Oldest Gospel Account: A Christ-Centered Synthesis of Old Testament History Modelled Especially on the Elijah-Elisha Narrative
Reviewed by Gerbern S. Oegema

Stephanie Lynn Budin
The Myth of Sacred Prostitution in Antiquity

Reviewed by Mayer Gruber
Reviewed by Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer

Neil Elliott
The Arrogance of Nations: Reading Romans in the Shadow of Empire
Reviewed by Glenn E. Snyder
Reviewed by Graydon F. Snyder
Reviewed by Ben Witherington III

Weston W. Fields
The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Short History
Reviewed by Eric F. Mason

Benjamin Fiore
The Pastoral Epistles: First Timothy, Second Timothy, and Titus
Reviewed by Matthew D. Montonini

Joseph A. Fitzmyer
First Corinthians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary
Reviewed by Anthony C. Thiselton

Matthew E. Gordley
The Colossian Hymn in Context: An Exegesis in Light of Jewish and Greco-Roman Hymnic and Epistolary Conventions
Reviewed by Vincent Pizzuto

Wouter J. Hanegraaf, ed.
Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism
Reviewed by David E. Aune

Edith M. Humphrey
And I Turned to See the Voice: The Rhetoric of Vision in the New Testament
Reviewed by Greg Carey

Andreas J. Kostenberger and Scott R. Swain
Father, Son and Spirit: The Trinity and John's Gospel
Reviewed by Mary Coloe

Oded Lipschits, Gary N. Knoppers, and Rainer Albertz, eds.
Judah and the Judeans in the Fourth Century B.C.E.
Reviewed by Allen Kerkeslager

Linda M. MacCammon
Liberating the Bible: A Guide for the Curious and Perplexed
Reviewed by Martin Meiser

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

From Dove: Limited Quantity Sale

Now through April 13, buy two titles and get the third free. Sounds like a pretty good economic stimulus to me! Check out the available titles here.

Watch Your Words

Rod Decker offers a brief list of style manuals and writing guides which should prove extremely helpful to anyone in the midst of a research project (e.g., the dreaded dissertation). It's well worth a look.

He also offers an insight which I cannot echo strongly enough:

Sloppy writing is one of the scourges of the Internet, nearly equal to anonymous web sites/blogs/posts in detrimental effect—but that’s another subject! If you have something to say, it’s worth saying at least in grammatical English, but better yet, in good, clear English. If you want to be heard, write it well. There’s no excuse for sloppiness. If you don’t have time to proofread it and don’t care how it sounds, why should anyone else?

Bloggers, heed these wise words and proofread your posts and comments. Whenever I come across typos or other grammatical mistakes in the blogosphere, I find that it inevitably diminishes the authority of the writer (at least in my estimation). Take a few seconds and look over your writing before committing it to the vastness of the internet. And if you don't know how to say it correctly, perhaps you shouldn't be saying it at all.

Engberg-Pederson's Paul and the Stoics: In Two Pages!

In conjunction with Prof. Harry Gamble's seminar on Paul in modern scholarship, I foolishly volunteered to provide the class with a review of Troels Engberg-Pederson's magisterial Paul and the Stoics (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000). This is an absolutely outstanding (albeit thoroughly challenging) and provocative analysis of the relationship between Pauline and Stoic thought. As many reviewers have noted, it is not possible to condense such a rich study into any kind of brief precis, but I crammed as many juicy tidbits as possible into a single handout. Check it out here... but more importantly, check out the entire book. It's well worth your while!

New Testament Notes: Week 11 (Wednesday)

Key issues from Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians:

RELC 122 Notes: 4/1

Biblical Studies Carnival XL

This month's carnival is hosted by James Gregory. He's done a truly outstanding job gathering together and helpfully sorting the best odds and ends from the biblioblogging world... and I should know, because several of those odds and ends came from this very blog. ;-)

Be sure to check it out... I always discover valuable posts and comments that I've missed.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ehrman v. White: A Scorecard (Opening Statements)

I've been reading through the transcript of Bart Ehrman's recent debate with James White regarding the question, "Did the Bible misquote Jesus?" The first hour was devoted to opening statements. Ehrman's remarks were pretty familiar to anyone who has read his recent popular treatments of New Testament textual criticism, emphasizing the following:

* The ease with which ancient scribes made errors

* The relative lack of early witnesses to the text of the New Testament (as he notes, ninety-four percent of the extant manuscripts date from beyond the ninth century, and many of the earliest copies are extremely fragmentary)

* The obviously large number of variant readings between the surviving witnesses (although he admits that many of these are inconsequential, relating to minor matters such as spelling)

* Passages which display significant scribal alteration/interpolation (e.g., the Pericope Adulterae, the ending of Mark, etc.)

For his part, White echoed Ehrman's earlier comment that the majority of variants are not significant in terms of the meaning of the text, noted the extreme similarities between P75 (second century) and Codex Vaticanus (mid-fourth century) and concluded that it reveals the existence of "a very clean, very accurate line of transmission... that goes back to the earliest part of the second century itself," and suggested that while there may be places in the New Testament where a single variant cannot be chosen with absolute certainty, there are not any places where all of the variants may be dismissed as a possible original. Thus he quotes Rob Bowman, who describes the text-critical process as working a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle with more than a thousand pieces in the box. "The task is weeding out the extra; the originals are there." His characterizations of brave Christians diligently copying the scriptures in the face of extreme persecution were at times overly romantic (and potentially misleading, as the first systematic persecution of the early Christian movement did not take place until the mid-third century), and his comment that "[w]e have a dozen manuscripts within the first 100 years after the writing of the New Testament" requires clarification (P46, the famous codex of Pauline writings, was certainly copied within a century of the completion of the last portions of the New Testament, but approximately 150 years after the death of Paul). Generally, however, I found it to be a vigorous, passionate presentation.

I'm eager to see the debaters engage one another directly... that should make for more exciting reading.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Two Especially Worthwhile Posts from James McGrath...

... some brief comments on homosexuality in Romans 1-3, and a review of Bart Ehrman's latest offering, Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them).

Check them out!

Forthcoming from Brill: The Pericope Adulterae, the Gospel of John, and the Literacy of Jesus

Thanks to the folks at bibbiablog for passing this one along... I'm looking forward to checking it out. Given its arguments concerning the most familiar placement of the pericope (John 7:53-8:11), I'm curious as to what judgments Keith makes regarding its alternative placements in other New Testament manuscripts (e.g., after John 21:25, after Luke 24:53, etc.). Are these also deliberate insertions? Deviations? Something else entirely?

Although consistently overlooked or dismissed, John 8.6, 8 in the Pericope Adulterae is the only place in canonical or non-canonical Jesus tradition that portrays Jesus as writing. After establishing that John 8.6, 8 is indeed a claim that Jesus could write, this book offers a new interpretation and transmission history of the Pericope Adulterae. Not only did the pericope’s interpolator place the story in John’s Gospel in order to highlight the claim that Jesus could write, but he did so at John 7.53–8.11 as a result of carefully reading the Johannine narrative. The final chapter of the book proposes a plausible socio-historical context for the insertion of the story.

All those interested in text criticism, the New Testament, the Pericope Adulterae, the Gospel of John, early Christian book culture, literacy in the ancient world, and New Testament backgrounds.

About the author(s)
Chris Keith, Ph.D. (2008), University of Edinburgh, is Assistant Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Lincoln Christian University.

The Pericope Adulterae, the Gospel of John, and the Literacy of Jesus
Chris Keith

Expected: June 2009
Series: New Testament Tools, Studies and Documents, 38
ISBN-13 (i)The ISBN (International Standard Book Number) has been changed from 10 to 13 digits on 1 January 2007: 978 90 04 17394 1
ISSN: 0077-8842
Cover: Hardback
Number of pages: xvi, 350 pp

GBCS Lobbies Obama Regarding Racism

The latest from the General Board of Church and Society:

GBCS directors urge Obama to send delegation to racism review conference

U.N. conference to review progress since South Africa event that U.S. walked out of in protest.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Board of Directors of the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) issued a statement this week that urges the Obama administration to send a U.S. delegation to the Durban Review Conference on Racism in Geneva, Switzerland, April 20-24.

In their statement, GBCS’s directors declare that silence and inaction are not the ways to engage the painful issues stemming from racism. The statement calls President Obama to fulfill his commitment to diplomacy and engagement in U.S. foreign policy.

The United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries and GBCS will send delegations to Geneva to review progress since the U.N. World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa, in September 2001 just days before the atrocities of 9/11. The United States and Israel walked out of the Durban conference in protest of a resolution that equated Zionism with racism.

In Durban, United Methodists were part of a faith-based presence, which produced a 10-point Ecumenical Caucus statement that declared: “Racism is a sin.” The 10-point statement was read to the media on Sept. 5 by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. (The 10 points are available on the World Council of Churches website:

GBCS Assistant General Secretary Liberato Bautista chaired the committee that prepared the 10-point statement. He directs GBCS’s United Nations and International Affairs ministry. He is also president of the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CoNGO).

“Some quarters described the Durban Conference as a ‘fiasco,’” Bautista said, “due to bitter wrangling on issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and slavery reparations. The United States and Israel walked out just before the resolution by Arab nations was dropped from the final conference declaration.”

Some U.N.-member states and non-governmental organizations are wary of the review conference, according to Bautista. He said they fear conferees may use the platform to attack Israel. The draft declaration of the review conference contained references to Israel and Palestine, as well as to “defamation of religion.”

Bautista identified paragraphs in the draft that were problematic to the United States and others, including Israel, Canada and Australia. All have withdrawn from the review conference.

Offensive paragraphs in the draft include the following:

Paragraph 53: “Acknowledges that a most disturbing phenomenon is the intellectual and ideological validation of Islamophobia …”;

Paragraph 160: “Calls on States to develop, and where appropriate to incorporate, permissible limitations on the exercise of the right to freedom and of expression into national legislation” (relating to the defamation of religion, which the U.S. identifies as a threat to freedom of speech and expression);

Paragraph 156: “Urges States that have not yet condemned, apologized and paid reparations for the grave and massive violations as well as the massive human suffering caused by slavery, the slave trade, the transatlantic slave trade, apartheid, colonialism and genocide, to do so at the earliest.”

The Obama administration inherited a Bush administration stance that distanced itself from the process, according to Bautista. He said President Obama “reengaged” by sending a team to Geneva to explore rewriting the outcome document in hopes of dropping objectionable language. The team returned dissatisfied with revised draft language, though.

According to the Irish Times, a new compromise draft, circulated to diplomatic missions, removed all specific references to Israel and the Palestinians. "Passages relating to so-called ‘defamation of religion’ were also dropped from the reworked draft,” the Times reported.

“Prior to this reworked version, the Obama administration said it will not officially participate,” Bautista pointed out. “Instead, the administration said it will send a ‘note taker,’ who will not sit behind the U.S. delegation name.”

Bautista said there are other active calls for the United States to send a delegation to Geneva. He mentioned the TransAfrica Forum, which described U.S. non-engagement as a “painful irony” because it is happening under its first African-American president. The forum asserted that U.S. non-engagement will be felt throughout the African-American and African-diaspora communities. The forum urged the Obama administration to reconsider its decision, participate in the preparatory meetings and send an official delegation.

The General Board of Church & Society is one of four international general program boards of The United Methodist Church, which has more than 11 million members worldwide. The board’s primary areas of ministry are Advocacy, Education and Leadership Formation, United Nations and International Affairs, and resourcing these areas for the denomination. It has offices on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and at the Church Center at the United Nations in New York City.

The GBCS statement follows:

The Durban Review Conference on Racism

Geneva, April 20-24, 2009

The General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) of The United Methodist Church urges President Barack Obama to send a U.S. delegation to the Durban Review Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, this April. The conference is a follow up to the 2001 United Nations World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa.

The United States cannot afford to vacillate on such an urgent issue as racism. U.S. participation in Geneva will demonstrate President Obama’s commitment to diplomacy and engagement in U.S. foreign policy.

Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance are crucial issues. We cannot relegate them to silence and inaction. Silence will only postpone the debates. Inaction will only exacerebate the many ways people are being violated.

It would be disappointing if the Obama administration chose inaction, or worse, absence, from the Geneva conference. It is imperative that we discuss racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance in an open debate. Engaging the issues now will surely help usher in, sooner than later, a world that is diverse and plural, equal and equitable, just and peaceable.

We must deal honestly and openly with racism that for too long has perpetuated violence and has killed far too many in the name of slavery, colonialism and occupation. Surely, we have reached a point in human history where we can abandon racism and hatred, and instead pursue tolerance and equality. Abandonment of hate and pursuit of peace and justice cannot be postponed, let alone ignored.

The Durban Review Conference is an opportunity for members of the world community to speak openly with one another to resolve the issues stemming from racism. We must not be sidetracked by contentions over our varied understandings of racism, painful and dissonant as they may be.

Differences can be turned into blessings as we collectively identify the many ways to address the complexity of racism. Embracing the exchange of views will no doubt develop advocacies.

The General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) holds a common purpose with the United Nations in pursuing human rights, social justice, sustainable development and a just, peaceable governance in communities and nations. To this end we, as GBCS, will be present at the Durban Review Conference.

We therefore urge President Obama’s leadership in healing the painful wounds of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance.

Washington, D.C.,
March 21, 2009

SBL Newsletter: April and May

A number of upcoming events:

April 2009

The Septuagint and Christian Origins - Die Septuaginta und das frühe Christentum
Place: Theologicum (Universität Tübingen), Liebermeisterstr. 12-14, D-72076 Tübingen
informational pdf

First International Scientific Conference Of Belgrade Theological Seminary in Belgrade. Topic: Scholarly Understanding Of The Language Of Religion.
For further information contact Laslo Galus, academic dean BTS

ARAM Twenty Eighth International Conference: The Western Missions in the Levant
University of Chicago
Click Here for more information.

The Duke Symposium on Archaeology, Politics, and the Media
The Duke Symposium will explore the often-strained relations between archaeologists and the media and the concomitant impact on local communities in the United States and the Middle East. Specifically, the conference will investigate the methods and values of media representation and those of archaeological investigation, as well as the effects of archaeological excavation and media coverage on the scholarly world, local inhabitants, and American faith communities. Ultimately, the symposium intends to outline better methods of communication between archaeologists, media representatives, and non-specialist audiences.

For more information about conference registration and funding opportunities please contact Erin Kuhns-Darby, Conference Coordinator.

Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls and Biblical Interpretation Conference
Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary
More information

SBL New England Regional Meeting
More information

SBL Pacific Northwest Regional Meeting
More information

Registration Closes
Genesis 2009 Conference, University of St Andrews, Scotland, UK. Conf. dates: July 14-18
Call and Meeting information

May 2009

Ongoing -5/17
Reel Religion: A Century of the Bible and Film
An exhibit at the Museum of Biblical Art in NYC.

The Hebrew Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls
Day Conference at King's College London (Strand Campus)
More Information

Scholarly Publishing in Africa: Opportunities and Impediments. A two-day international conference hosted by The Africa Institute of South Africa (AISA).
e-mail for Meeting information

Deadline for Proposals
'Texts beyond Borders: Multilingualism and Textual Scholarship' Sixth International Conference of the European Society for Textual Scholarship Location: Academy for Science and the Arts (KVAB), Brussels, Belgium 11/19-11/21 2009

See Informational PDF or contact Dr. Caroline Macé (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) or Dr. Dirk Van Hulle (University of Antwerp).

From Dove: JPS Commentaries, and the Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters

One of these days I'll end up buying the Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters, although I wish that it included more living examples...

McKim, Donald K (ed)
Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters
(InterVarsity Press, 2007)
Hardcover List: $55.00 Dove Price: $43.99
Save $11.01 (20%)

From Athanasius to Albright, the history of Christian biblical interpretation has been shaped by great thinkers who delved deeply into the structure and meaning of Christianity's sacred texts. With over two hundred in-depth articles, the Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters introduces readers to the principal players in that history: their historical and intellectual contexts, their primary works, their interpretive principles and their broader historical significance. In addition, six major essays offer an overview of the history of biblical interpretation from the second century to the present. This one-volume reference by Donald K. McKim, a revised and vastly expanded edition of IVP's Historical Handbook of Major Biblical Interpreters, will serve as an invaluable tool for any serious student of the Bible and the history of biblical interpretation.

JPS Torah Commentary Series

The JPS Torah Commentary series guides readers through the words and ideas of the Torah. Each volume is the work of a scholar who stands at the pinnacle of his field. Every page contains the complete traditional Hebrew text, with cantillation notes, the JPS translation of the Holy Scriptures, aliyot breaks, Masoretic notes, and commentary by a distinguished Hebrew Bible scholar, integrating classical and modern sources. Each volume also contains supplementary essays that elaborate upon key words and themes, a glossary of commentators and sources, extensive bibliographic notes, and maps.

Levine, Baruch A
(Jewish Publication Society, 1989)
Hardcover List: $75.00 Dove Price: $62.99
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Milgrom, Jacob
(Jewish Publication Society, 1990)
Hardcover List: $75.00 Dove Price: $62.99
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Sarna, Nahum
(Jewish Publication Society, 1991)
Hardcover List: $75.00 Dove Price: $62.99
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Sarna, Nahum
(Jewish Publication Society, 1989)
Hardcover List: $75.00 Dove Price: $62.99
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Tigay, Jeffrey H
(Jewish Publication Society, 1996)
Hardcover List: $75.00 Dove Price: $62.99
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Other JPS Commentaries

Berlin, Adele
(Jewish Publication Society, 2001)
Hardcover List: $34.95 Dove Price: $26.99
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Fishbane, Michael
JPS Bible Commentary on the Haftarot
(Jewish Publication Society, 2002)
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Fox, Michael V
(Jewish Publication Society, 2004)
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Simon, Uriel
(Jewish Publication Society, 1999)
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Tabory, Joseph
JPS Commentary on the Haggadah: Historical Introduction, Translation, and Commentary
(Jewish Publication Society, 2008)
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RBL Highlights: 3/30/09

I'm admittedly a little behind, but here are some recent highlights from the Review of Biblical Literature (hey, maybe some of you missed them the first time around):

Stephen P. Ahearne-Kroll
The Psalms of Lament in Mark's Passion: Jesus' Davidic Suffering
Reviewed by Steve Moyise
Reviewed by Adam Winn

Adele Berlin
The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism
Reviewed by Allan Rosengren

Gabriele Boccaccini and John J. Collins, eds.
The Early Enoch Literature
Reviewed by William Loader

Pieter Craffert
The Life of a Galilean Shaman: Jesus of Nazareth in Anthropological Perspective
Reviewed by Robert J. Miller

Pauline Nigh Hogan
"No Longer Male and Female": Interpreting Galatians 3.28 in Early Christianity
Reviewed by Susan G. Eastman

Uwe-Karsten Plisch
The Gospel of Thomas: Original Text with Commentary
Reviewed by Tobias Nicklas

Good Book: A Review

Courtesy of my father: a recent review of Good Book, in which David Plotz (the editor of the popular electronic magazine Slate) chronicles his journey through the entire text of the Hebrew Bible. It sounds interesting, although reminiscent of other similar accounts which have appeared in recent years (e.g., A.J. Jacobs' The Year of Living Biblically).

Sunday Book Review: Good Book, by David Plotz

Plotz also blogged about his readings here.