The 2013 Acumen Publishing ‘Religion’ Catalog is Up!

You can all sit in joy (and joyness) and flip through the digital catalog here:

http://www.acumenpublishing.co.uk/pdf/Acumen-ReligionCatalogue2013.pdf

And make special note of pages 26-27!  ‘What is there, on those specific pages?’ you ask.  Well, none other than a feature on the Copenhagen International Seminar!  Especially the new and forthcoming volumes of the new series in CIS: Changing Perspectives!  In addition, you will find ‘Is This Not the Carpenter’ in paperback form, in full color, ready for those interested to preorder!

Here is a screen capture:

ciscatalog

Go check it out!

Unless Someone Finds a First Century Copy of Mark…

…we will never have an original.  Yet, somehow, lots of people find this to be a difficult concept to grasp.  In class for the past few weeks we have been trying to come to a firm understanding of Textual Criticism and the most difficult aspect seems to be getting across that TC is not about locating an original text.  Any Textual Critic who argues that they are trying to find an original text in our current variants (I don’t know of any) is wrong or they’re completely delusional.    It just can’t be done.

I used two analogies to try to explain this problem; the first I posted up a few days ago.  The second one involves the construction of a house.

So let’s say you’re walking through the woods and you come across a pile of building material.

This never happens…

You find logs, some stone, etc…  and there is a construction foreman standing there.   He sees you and points to an empty square foundation and yells, “Build me the original structure that stood on this foundation.” and then walks away.  He leaves you no blueprints, no plans, no measurements.  You have no original photographs of what used to stand there, no grasp of the sort of structure it might have been.

Now, could you build the original structure?  No.  But you could build something (supposing you had the knowledge and trade skills to do so).

Perfect!

This is precisely what we have with our manuscript evidence.  We have a foundation (tradition) with no plans, no blueprints.  Nothing by which we can establish an original text of, say, the Gospel of Mark.  We can build you something (i.e., we can analyze the various manuscripts and choose which ones we thing contain the oldest elements), but the chances that we’ll magically construct an original building is  unlikely.  It would be like winning the lottery eight times in one month.  Sure, it may happen given a long enough timeline, but chances are better that you’ll see a UFO than ever see an original copy of Mark.  Frankly, we wouldn’t even know what an original copy of Mark would look like even if we did have it.  In the end, Textual Criticism, like all historical methodology, is tentative.

Why is that?  Because we just don’t have any early manuscripts full texts from the First Century CE.  We don’t even have any full texts from the Second Century.  We don’t see full textual evidence for the Gospels until the Codex Sinaiticus in the Fourth Century (of course we have a few fragmentary slivers of manuscripts here and there from the second century, but not as many as could be useful).   And even then they don’t always match other earlier manuscripts in Latin and Greek.  In actuality, most of our manuscript evidence comes from the medieval period or later.  Therefore our earliest manuscripts of Mark are not even close (chronologically) to the original version.  There is simply no way to tell what was added or removed without a reference point.  That is the sorry state of the evidence, I’m afraid.  And this is why we will likely never have an original.

‘The Bible’ Series and the History Channel

So the History Channel is going to air a new ‘The Bible’ series.  What does this mean?  What is it exactly?  What are the implications?

a-brief-history-of-the-history-channel

“History”

As you all know, I’m not a fan of the History Channel.  It often airs an overabundance of crap (Swamp People?  Really?  That is what you’re going with?), conspiracy theory nonsense (UFO Hunters, Ancient Aliens, shows about secret government takeovers etc…); I mean I remember a time when the history channel aired programs about Nazi’s and WWII all the time.  It was crap back then too, but at least it was about history.  Now what is their excuse?  (Ratings, I know…it was a rhetorical question)  Over the years I’ve learned to live and let live; I don’t bother the History Channel (most of the time) and the History Channel stays off my ‘suitable network television’ list (except American Pickers and Pawnstars…. I admit, they’re guilty pleasures).  Yet when the History Channel sets out to make anything related to the Bible and history, it seems like the producers get together and conspire on ways just completely screw it up.    I mean statistics dictate that they could not possibly produce so many terrible ‘history and the bible’ programs that just suck so bad; at this point, they just have to be doing it on purpose.   There is no other logical scenario (but then, look at their target audience, so I guess that explains some things).

But on occasion, sometimes, the History Channel produces some real gems.  Their miniseries on the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s for example, just outstanding.  Also their miniseries on the Civil War, also very well done.  So what am I expecting–and what should you expect–from this new Bible miniseries?  Let’s get into some specifics.

“The Bible” sounds better than “a collection of random narratives that have been thrown together, then edited, copied, and redacted over a period of hundreds of years in order to make it appear to read like a chronological history”.

First and foremost, (and please repeat this to as many of your friends) this miniseries is not an attempt to be historically accurate.  That is to say, the History Channel is not presenting this new series as historical fact.  It is a dramatization.  Essentially, they are taking some of the really entertaining and interesting parts of the Biblical narratives and turning them into live-action mini-movies.  Remember the movie ‘Jason and the Argonauts?’  It is essentially the same thing, but instead of basing their series on Greek mythology or an ancient Greek epic like Apollonius of Rhodes’ Argonautika, they’re using the Bible.  I hope that was clear enough.  In short ‘The Bible’ miniseries :: the movie ‘Troy’.

‘Why is this so important?’, you may ask.  Why make such a distinction?  This may sound crazy to all you sane and rational readers of my blog, but there are people out there who cannot really understand the distinction between myth and fact.  Mel Gibson made a movie called the Passion of the Christ which based on a narrative that is both contradictory and highly mythologized–and Mel Gibson made it even more disgusting, more dramatic, and added all sorts of fictional elements (like Jesus making a modern day table in a carpentry workshop–because Mel Gibson doesn’t know Greek and thinks that τέκτων has only one meaning).  And people believe it represents a historical event.  People left the theater in tears, so emotionally distraught that some could not bear it.  Why?  Because they could not separate reality from the fiction they were seeing.  And this is the trouble with dramatizations.

Even as an academic, a student of history, I get annoyed with dramatizations.  I can’t help it, factual inaccuracies drive me

They’re essentially just doing this.

completely bonkers (as do ‘certainty statements’ in portrayals of events).  It will be a real challenge watching the exodus occur on television without thinking “Oh, now come on! There is absolutely no way this happened.”  Though I will say, I’m looking forward to this.  Mark Goodacre had a hand behind the scenes as an adviser and I can’t help but appreciate that fact.  If a scholar as stable as Mark can deal with helping to produce this dramatization, then I suppose I can deal with it too.  But I won’t let the chance to express my fears over the possible backlash that this program may produce.

After all, Mel Gibson’s Passion movie will influence more Americans than the Gospels; most laypeople will see the Passion before ever going to a bookstore to read what actual scholars have to say about it.  I have a sneaking suspicion that the same problems scholars faced during the showing of Gibson’s movie will follow this dramatization.  Undoubtedly, certain religious groups will not understand that what they’re seeing is not ‘history’.  Some who actually believe the History Channel produces history might not know that this is not history.  So the implications here are quite clear: people will undoubtedly believe what they’re seeing because it reenforces certain preconceived ideas about the past.

And don’t tell me it won’t happen.  I have people searching out ‘Discovery Channel Mermaids’ every day…hundreds of people every day keep falling for a fictional documentary…ON MERMAIDS.  And some even accuse me in comments of being on the government payroll to coverup the facts (i.e., that I’m writing to cover up the fact that mermaids actually do exist).  I wish I was making this up.  So if a show on mermaids, which was clearly fiction (and they even stated it on their website and during the airing of the program), can be taken at face value as fact, the Bible is not a stretch considering most Americans believe it to be historical anyway.

C-logging: Variants and Manuscripts (Or Textual Criticism vs Literary Criticism)

In my previous post I discussed some of the difficulties of Textual Criticism, but I probably could have spent more time on an example.  The opportunity came up in class tonight.

Since the professor was out sick, she assigned some work for us to do on the accompanying message board on a Rutgers-run website meant to give an additional resource for classes.  One of the students responded to my criticisms but either because I wasn’t clear or they misunderstood, presumed I was suggesting that TC is a flawed analysis.  I responded in this manner:


I am not so sure I’d say that TC is a flawed analysis.  It depends on the question, doesn’t it?  If I wanted to demonstrate that the many differences between manuscripts make it difficult to compile an ‘authoritative New Testament’ (that is, a New Testament that is the closest to the original), TC is the perfect method to use.  But if I wanted to explain why these differences exist, TC is not helpful.

For example, in Matt. 3.15, some manuscripts contain an additional sentence.  The original:

But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.

In some manuscripts, the text goes:

But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented; and when he was baptized a huge light shone from the water so that all who were near were frightened.

So why the addition?  Was it original?  Well this addition is found in some of the Old Latin manuscripts.  So someone arguing from a TC perspective might argue that this is probably not original.  In fact they might say that, since Luke and John do not repeat this particular incident, chances are good that this is an addition only found in the Latin, and not original to the Greek.  It certainly doesn’t seem to appear in any of our early Greek manuscripts.  But does that ipso facto mean that it wasn’t part of an original composition?

Well, who can say for sure.  But this is why I prefer literary criticism to textual criticism.  In my humble opinion, I think that it fits the context of Matthew quite well.  Matthew’s Gospel contains many elements of light vs. dark (cf. Matt 5.13-16, 10.27, 24.29, etc…); this dualism is seen most specifically in Matt 4 and in Matt 24:

Matt 4.14-16: So that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”

Matt 24.29: Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

The themes are clear, from beginning to end.  Matthew is playing with this dualism up until the passion narrative, where at the time of the death of Jesus, there was a darkness over the land (Matt 27.45).  This is intentional, mind you.  Matthew is drawing upon motifs found commonly in the Hebrew Bible.  The thematic elements of Matt 24 are found in Zechariah 14.7:

And there shall be a unique day, which is known to the Lord, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light.

And the author of Matthew ties this all together when the angel appears to the women outside the tomb in Matt 28.  His appearance “is like lightening”.  Indeed, Zechariah writes of this period of time that “Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him.”  (14.5) And in Matthew is the only appearance of the holy ones rising from the graves (located, actually, on the Mount of Olives…mentioned in Zech 14.4):

The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. (Matt 27.52)

Now, I could belabor the point and make a paper out of this.  But my argument here is that TC, while very useful at certain things, is not useful entirely–that is, I don’t think it is very effective in and of itself.  It lacks that exegetical function that is so valuable to literary theory.  By my argument, the variant containing Jesus being baptized, with a light coming up from below, just adds to the same motifs found throughout Matthew.  I don’t know if it was present in an original–I am skeptical that an “original” existed at all (perhaps there were many originals and not just a single Matthew.  After all, the name ‘Matthew’ is just a designation we give to this collection of variants!).  The Textual Critic like Ehrman might wholly dismiss this variant simply because it isn’t present in some early Greek manuscripts.  But, I’m not so sure.  Even if it had been a later addition, it certainly adds another flavor to the narrative, don’t you think?

Clogging: Blogging About My ‘Introduction to the New Testament’ Class (Week 2)

So this semester, I am taking an Introduction to New Testament course.  This is a 200 level course and I’m pretty excited about it so far (if only because I predict an easy ‘A’).  While I anticipate a good grade (I’ve been studying the subject independently for years now and have published on the subject), I have an excellent professor–who is both clever and attentive to the details–and am guaranteed to learn much from her as the course progresses throughout the semester.

The one gripe I have–of course there is always one, right?–is that we are using Bart Ehrman’s The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (5th Edition).  Don’t get me wrong, it is an excellent ‘introduction’ book in some respects, especially when dealing with Textual Criticism.  For the average student in the class who is only taking the course for kicks, because they think it will reinforce their beliefs, or because they need it as a prerequisite for another course, I imagine it works out just fine as it covers the mainstream view nicely.  But it has some factual errors and glosses over too many important details that I feel are rather important.   On the plus side, my professor recognizes the books shortcomings.

Anyway, some important subject matter before going forward.

One of the really fantastic things about this class is that it really gives me a new take on exactly what it is that the general person knows about the Bible.  As someone who has been involved in academia for going on five years now and who is intricately involved in the Biblioblogging community, it is easy to lose sight over the little things–for example, there are many who still get hung up on how to define ‘manuscript’ or ‘variant’ (something I see as common knowledge).  Even New Testament terms like ‘Textual Criticism’ are old hat for me.  So being *in a class* and listening to conversations from fellow students (many of whom have not been as involved as I have) is a really important learning experience for me.

Since I am blogging through the class, I should state some general practices of the blog here for the reader so they know where I stand.  First, I will not be giving away any test or quiz information about the course (sorry to all the students who will be taking the same class in the years to come).  Second, all opinions expressed herein are mine alone.  All feedback and comments are welcome, so long as you follow the comment policy.

Now, some thoughts on this past week’s readings and conversations.  We started off by reading about Textual Criticism and the state of our current textual evidence.  Nothing here is necessarily new to me, but perhaps some of you will enjoy it.

Textual Criticism (briefly defined):

  • Textual Criticism is the academic process of analyzing the thousands of variant manuscripts in an attempt to locate the most recent context based upon our manuscript attestation.

Bulleted list of some benefits and problems with Textual Criticism:

    1. Textual Criticism (TC) plays a big part in our conversations over the next few weeks.  It’s very important and, in my mind, supports our understanding of the manner in which the transmission and reception of the New Testament texts occurred throughout the early Christian centuries.  But there are some factors that limit TC as a firm and (always) useful methodology.
      • We don’t have the autographa.  So one has to ask: How accurate are our manuscripts? How can we even begin to answer this question?
      • Without the autographa, we have no direct knowledge of what the original texts might have said–or how much was added or removed, or how ‘controversial’ it might have been compared to our accepted textual representation.
      • All the current Bible’s are the products of scholarly reconstruction.  In other words, the Bible we now possess (or more accurately, the version of the Bible you use) is not ‘the original word of god’ but the result of scholars picking and choosing (voting is often involved) on which particular variant is accepted into the volume.  Some variants disagree on rather important details (i.e., whether or not Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ in Lk 23.34–some ancient manuscripts omit this and many believe this was a later addition to the Gos. of Luke; or it may have been removed and then later re-added, but who knows for sure?).  So this process can–with the example given in class of Paul writes (or is portrayed to have written) “women must be silent in church”, it’s inclusion or removal from a version can produce an edition of the New Testament that is more suitable for a feminist or more suitable for a misogynist (it is crazy how extremely dichotomous the texts can be, the implications of how this might impact exegesis notwithstanding).
    1. TC also takes much for granted (i.e., it doesn’t analyze the reasons why a text might have been altered in a specific way, or if it does, it neglects imitatio or reception criticism).  The function of the text is lost.  For example, the very definition of ‘variant’ presumes a standard by which all other manuscripts have deviated–it implies, essentially, that a variant is ‘wrong’.  This, in my humble opinion, is not how ancient texts should be read.  “Right” and “wrong”, “standard” and “deviated” are terms that are not helpful, and perhaps should not applied anachronistically.  That isn’t to say that anyone in particular is making such an argument (though some do), simply that such language has the context to evoke these sorts of thoughts about the manuscripts.  Besides, it is the function of the text that is most relevant to the conversation, since we do not have any of the originals–all we have are the representations of copies of originals and at best that can only give us an understanding of what later Christians valued (certainly not the first ‘Christians’).  We can only refer to the books of the New Testament as ‘the version we now have’; this limits our understanding of the history of Early Christianity (to the point where one has to question if we have any evidence of the period at all).
      • This also means that using this method to date texts is essentially useless.  While we can see how the texts we have were altered and transmitted, what we don’t have is a grounding for the composition of the texts (since, again, we don’t have the originals).  How were these texts composed, when, and with what narrative constructions in mind?  Was this originally a vocal/oral narrative?  If so, how much had that original performance changed in its telling prior to someone writing it down?  What was added between its performance form and its written form?  Did it start as just a passion play or did it evolve into that?  Did the original narrative contain  an infancy or birth narrative that is now lost from our version of Mark (probably not, but who knows)?  Without answers to these questions, all dating is tentative and even textually it is impossible to know how late or early our Gospels are (though there are many tentative arguments).
      • As an example to the above, Mark 13 is used often to date Mark after (or before, depending on your particular theological beliefs) the fall of the Temple since he “predicts” the fall (the argument goes: Mark must have written this in after the destruction of the Temple, after 70 CE, to give Jesus credibility as a prophet).  But parts of Mark 13 have already been altered in the manuscript evidence (e.g., 13.14), and our earliest copy of this passage comes to us via the Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, dated to the 4th Century (so far as I’m aware).  between the time the Gospel of Mark is alleged to have been written to the time we have our earliest extant attestation to this verse, we have roughly 250 years or more.  To put that into context, that is almost as long as we have had the Declaration of Independence (approx. 237 years).  Between that time there had existed hundreds of competing theologies, vying for a chance to win out over the others.  Establishing ones theological framework using texts seemed to have been a common motif during this period, and what better way than to have your variant having a Jesus portrayed as foretelling events.  I’m not saying this is certain, or even probable, but it is likely and with no means to compare it to an original how can one use this as a definitive dating of the composition of a Markan Gospel?  Certainly we can say, “After 70 CE is when this variant of the text originated” but can we really say that ‘Mark composed his Gospel immediately after 70CE’?  I’m not so sure.    Even if this fragment were original to the text, there may be a relative function to it (i.e., Jesus may not be predicting the fall of the current Temple but repeating an ancient motif relating to Solomon’s Temple–a thematic element commonly found in the Hebrew Bible).  Again, this may be why using TC to date may simply be a waste of one’s time.

Awesome moment of the week: The professor used a stack of paper to demonstrate the variants and where most of the manuscripts fall in a timeline.  She set up an impromptu timeline on a desk representing the first four centuries in the Common Era.  Using the paper she immediately “discarded” about 90% of it.  What she had left she leafed out mostly after the 3rd Century CE and then tore up some sheets and spread a few here and there throughout the second and third centuries.  The visual aid was brilliant and clever and I’m sure that anyone in the class who had questions about the manuscript attestation had them solved with this one demonstration.  It was very nicely done.

Addendum: ‘Clogging’ = ‘Course Logging’ or ‘Class Logging’.

‘Is This Not the Carpenter’ in Paperback (on Amazon)

A few weeks back I announced that the collection of essays I co-edited with Thomas Thompson, Is This Not the Carpenter?, was coming out in paperback.  At the time, I had (wrongly, it seems) believed it to be ready for preorder.  Alas!

But then…

34134767

…and on Amazon.com ($29.95) and Amazon.co.uk (£19.99) for preorder!  And the prices are, as I had said previously, incredibly reduced compared to the hardback!

‘Is This Not the Carpenter’ in Paperback – Available for Pre-Order!

It’s here!  Sort of…  The paperback edition, published through Acumen (a subsidiary of Equinox), has produced the volume on their website for pre-order starting now!  And what an attractive volume it is:

1844657299

I’m quite happy with the relief of the Egyptian carpenter, making wondrous things in his shop, as an example of some of the motifs one may locate in the Jesus narratives; such a conceptual and engaging visual is perfect for our volume.

I am also thrilled to see the price significantly reduced!  While the hardback fetched for $110, this volume in paperback is available at a list price of $33.00, with a reduced (discounted) price of only $26.00!  Pre-order your copy today and spread the word!

UPDATE: Apparently the Acumen group has not yet set up the Amazon page so attempts to pre-order the volume may not work yet.  Sometime in the next few weeks, the volume should be available.  I’ll update this page when it is available.

UPDATE #2: It’s finally available for preorder now!

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